Today’s blog post covers activity from last week (25th and 26th Legislative Days) through this week (27, 28 and 29th Legislative Days) and closes out the 2015 Legislative Session.
The Senate slowed to a crawl last week, entering a deadlock of wills as opposing views on how to solve the perennial budget crisis spilled over and impacted other pending legislation – collateral damage if you will. That posture continued into this week and the Senate adjourned Sine Die today after passing the General Fund Budget. By all accounts the Governor will call the legislature back for a special session later this year – at a cost of approximately $24,000 a day – to once again take up the 2016 budget.
While I support continuing to work through the budget issues I’m left pondering what will change in the weeks ahead? Are we going to see an unexpected windfall from somewhere that will solve the budget problem? Are we going to see widespread support for tax increases? Hopefully we will finally address the foundational problems of our state budgets.
This was a challenging session - the most challenging I've been a part of in 5 years serving in the Senate. We made difficult decisions and will face more in the days ahead. I reaffirm; I answer to the people that sent me to Montgomery, not the people in Montgomery.
In closing out the blog – for those that have inquired about the pictures accompanying each day’s blog – early on this year I decided to not repeat a tie during this year’s session. I’ve been blessed by my wife and daughters with quite an assortment of ties for birthdays, father’s day, etc over the years and featured a tie in each day’s blog...a way to break the monotony of the daily blog. Assuming I’ve not lost readers to this point in today’s blog, I must admit one tie was repeated by accident!
I look forward to returning home and working for the people I represent across the Senate District that I am honored to represent in the days and weeks ahead.
*Edited on 6/5/15 to add the following;
As I drove the 3 hours home last night I pondered the budget and realized the silver lining in the dark clouds that hung over this year’s entire session – we didn’t kick the can down the road for another year. Yes, we passed an austere budget – the legislature believed it was workable but the Governor saw different and followed through with his threat to veto the budget – but the silver lining is we must still address the budget shortfall. By passing a stripped down budget and not coming up with some 11th hour fix (of which we’ve done in years past) we are forced to address the foundational problems in our budgets. Readers should understand the budget in question doesn’t go into effect until October of this year – we still have time to come back together, focus singularly on the budgets and find some common ground – working together from the Governor’s office, the House and the Senate - and that’s what I’m looking for from leadership across the board.
Semper Fi – Bill
Today was committee day in the State House. In addition to various committee meetings, I had several meetings in my office with lobbyist and special interest groups regarding legislation in a range of status, moving through the legislative process.
As discussed in yesterday’s blog, time is running short for the session – 9 legislative days left – and a sense of urgency of sorts is emerging as members in both the House and Senate prioritize efforts to pass legislation.
I’m hearing through the halls of the State House that the House Budget Committee may finally bring the House General Fund Budget to a committee vote tomorrow, positioning it for a full House vote on Tuesday of next week – note that’s the 23rd legislative day....leaving just 7 days for the Senate to pass the budgets on to the Governor. I’ve encouraged leadership and members to move the budgets so that we can pass the budgets during this regular session. Some of my colleagues have already accepted that we will be unable to pass the budgets during the regular session and will need to go into a special session later this year to address the budgets.
I’m simply not ready to surrender to that notion.
The Senate will go into session at 10AM tomorrow.
Semper Fi - Bill
I started the morning chairing the Legislative Contract Review Committee. The committee agenda included a total of 51 contracts totaling almost $25M. After discussion with committee members we decided to carry all of the contracts over until our next meeting in June due to growing uncertainty with the budgets. Hopefully by our next meeting we will have a better understanding of the budget situation. The Contract Review Committee is unique in that we see how the budgets are actually obligated.
The Senate went into session at 10AM and after some procedural matters began work on an 11 bill Special Order Calendar. The House passed the Prison Reform Bill but only after have the 100 pages plus bill read at length; a tactic used by members to further delay the work before the body.
I was engaged in a lengthy debate in the Senate regarding one of my bills, SB256 which would require organizations that have been legislatively granted an exemption for state, county and local sales and use taxes to annually file a report with the State Dept. of Revenue. The intent of this legislation is to determine the amount of exemptions that have been granted. My research shows that some exemptions have been granted over 40 years ago. I describe this bill as a way to determine just how big the iceberg is. As I work to prevent tax increases I think it is only sensible that we determine the magnitude of tax exemptions that have been granted as we are truly all in this together. The bill had some opposition – for some reason a few Senators (including republicans!) are afraid to look under the waterline to determine the size of the iceberg....just how big are the exemptions? The bill was carried over at the call of the chair and we will continue our work on the bill.
The Senate adjourned a little after 6PM and will reconvene on Tuesday at 2PM.
I was honored to have Dr. Tommy Gray, a pastor from Asbury United Methodist Church where my family and I worship, deliver the opening prayer for today’s session.
This weekend I plan to enjoy time with my family and I hope everyone remembers Sunday is Mother’s Day!
Semper Fi - Bill
Today was committee day at the State House. I started the morning with the Senate General Fund Committee meeting where we debated and passed four bills. We continue to work through consolidation measures, alleviating some pressure on the budget.
At 11:30 the Banking and Insurance Committee met. We debated a handful of bills, most notably one dealing with Pay-Day Lending. This bill increased the minimum amount borrowed from $500 to $1000 per loan. There was some discussion with this bill regarding the interest rate that could be charged for loans currently and the bill was carried over to allow these questions to be addressed.
I had two meetings at 3PM this afternoon; a Senate Committee meeting and a House Committee meeting with bills in both committees....creating a dilemma of sorts for me! Thankfully the House Committee members moved my bill regarding a Veteran’s Preference for State Government without me being present as I was hung up in the Senate Committee debating a bill that would allow – better put; clarify laws allowing rewards programs that provide a price discount on gasoline when combined with other purchases. I’ve sponsored this bill in years past and many examples exist where rewards programs are currently operating. The rub comes in with some “big box” grocery stores not offering these types of rewards programs in Alabama due to conflicting view of how the law reads. After some debate the bill passed the Senate committee.
I’ll start tomorrow morning chairing the monthly Contract Review Committee meeting; we’ll review 51 contracts totaling $24.8M in state and federal spending....great way to start the day! The Senate will go into session at 10AM.
Semper Fi - Bill