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The Senate went into session at 10AM this morning. After some procedural work we began work on a Special Order Calendar that included two bills; HB210 relating to the Administrative Procedures Act and HB211 making changes to the Legislative Council.

The Senate then went on adopt a second Special Order Calendar with 12 bills. The Senate worked though this bill passing all 12. Of note, HB241 creating the Alabama Homeowner’s Association Act passed and will go to the Governor for consideration. I have worked with several others on this legislation – actually first working on this as the Madison City Council President to address citizen concerns from that level. I’m happy to see this bill pass and feel that it will address a majority of the concerns that have been brought to our attention.

The House passed the Education Budget in a 105 – 0 vote...a truly amazing feat that no one seems to have every recalled. The Education Budget approves and appropriates $5.9B for education in our state. Some changes were made in the House requiring the bill to go to a Conference Committee. Both the Senate and House concurred with the changes. The bill now goes to the Governor for consideration.

The Senate adjourned just before 4PM and will reconvene on Tuesday of next week at 2PM. As discussed in previous blog posts, we are nearing the end of the 2015 Regular Session. Our State Constitution limits each regular session to 30 Legislative Days (a Legislative Day is counted when we are called to the floor for a vote whether it be one bill or 100 bills). Tuesday will be the 25th Legislative Day leaving us just 5 days to pass the General Fund Budget.

Whether you gather with friends at home for a BBQ, at the lake or the beach, I hope everyone enjoys a great Memorial Day weekend. Please remember the true meaning of Memorial Day on Monday - recalling those that have fallen in defense of our nation and our way of life.

Semper Fi - Bill















 
 
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Today’s blog post covers two days as I was unable to post yesterday’s blog due to an unstable internet connection at the hotel. I typically write/post the blog updates in the evening when I’m at the hotel unwinding from the day.

In yesterday’s action, the 23rd Legislative day of the 2015 session, the Senate went into session at 2 PM and after some procedural work took up an ambitious Special Order Calendar. In the end we worked our way through the entire calendar with only a handful of bills being carried over so that members could work out some details.

I discuss several bills of note below:

The bill to remove the state from the liquor business, closing the ABC stores was brought up for a vote. I support this bill for a variety of reasons including that it saves the state General Fund Budget between $18 and $24M. No small amount as we look to balance a budget without raising taxes. The bill passed a procedural vote 17 – 11 but was carried over to another day due to the slim margin of support. Some Senators were not present or did not vote and we will need more votes to overcome the opposition on this legislation.

The House version of a bill I’ve carried in the Senate allowing stores to establish allowing rewards programs that provide a price discount on gasoline when combined with other purchases. This bill moves to the Governor for signature now.

In budget news, I want to commend the House as they passed the General Fund Budget yesterday afternoon. The General Fund started in the House this year and after 23 Legislative Days of debate in the House will now come to the Senate for consideration. It is my hope that we will work through the bill in committee next week and debate the bill for final passage Thursday of next week. The House has also passed the Education Budget out of committee. It could be up for the full House debate as early as tomorrow. This bill started in the Senate this year and was voted out of the Senate on the 15th Legislative day.

As I’ve previously stated, we are duty bound to pass a balanced budget during the regular session – we can and should do so and I will continue to work every possible angle to ensure the balanced budgets are sent to the Governor prior to the session ending. A special session will cost approximately $120K dollars a week, money we don’t have and can’t afford.

In today’s actions (Wednesday) committees met throughout the State House on a variety of bills. There is a sense of a hurried pace with some legislation as lobbyist lobby and we near the end of the session...things tend to get interesting this time of year!

I am working to have the Growler Bill on the Senate Calendar for Thursday – fingers crossed. We go into session at 10AM.

Semper Fi - Bill


 
 
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I started the morning with the Transportation and Energy Committee meeting at 0830.  We debated two bills; one was carried over and one was passed. The bill that passed is the House version of the Senate bill we passed last week; legislation allowing rewards programs that provide a price discount on gasoline when combined with other purchases

The Senate went into session at 10AM and after some procedural votes we started working on a very ambitious 25 bill Special Order Calendar.  We were able to debate and pass a total of 6 of those bills before the body decided to adjourn for the week.

And for a budget update, on this the 22nd Legislative day, the House finally voted the General Fund Budget out of committee – via a voice vote meaning there is no record of how committee members voted. Nonetheless, that General Fund Budget should come to a full vote of the House on Tuesday of next week. The soonest the Senate would see the budget, assuming it passes the House on Tuesday, will be when it gets a first reading in the Senate on Tuesday – the 23rd Legislative Day. At that point the General Fund Budget could be debated in the Senate Committee on Wednesday. No doubt there is still much work to be done as the Governor has already announced that he would veto the budget passed by the House Committee today.

I’m looking forward to a few events across District 2 this weekend including speaking at the annual members meeting of the Semper Fi Community Task Force and running a 5K at Blue Springs Elementary School. The highlight of the weekend though will be seeing our youngest daughter graduate High School. Congratulations to all of the graduating seniors and to their families for this great accomplishment. They sure grow up fast!

Semper Fi - Bill


 
 
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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


 
 
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It was an early start this morning as I backed out of our driveway at 6AM headed to Montgomery for this week’s session. The Senate Republican Caucus met at 9AM as we continue to work through the budget challenges before us. The House continues to debate several options – including tax increases. Both the Senate and the House are dedicated to passing a workable budget solution but time continues to pass and the 2015 Regular Session is rapidly coming to a close.

Today was the 21st Legislative Day. As discussed in the blog a few days ago, our Constitution limits each regular session to 30 Legislative Days...9 days remain in this session; far from the ideal situation to address the perennial budget crisis.   

In today’s action the press reported the House was poised to vote on a handful of tax increases, further setting up the House version of the General Fund Budget.  However, as the day progressed, an apparent shift away from supporting the proposed taxes was reported...and so we wait and the clock continues to tick on the 2015 Session.

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On another note, today was Military Appreciation Day in the Alabama Legislature. I was honored to participate in the ceremony honoring two of Alabama’s living Medal of Honor recipients during today’s Joint Legislative Session. We also recognized The Alabama Veteran’s Network – ALVetNet – which continues to play an important role in assisting our Veterans and their families.

In closing I want to thank everyone for all the Happy Birthday wishes today!

Semper Fi - Bill




 

Wrapping up Week 9

05/07/2015

 
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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.



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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


 
 
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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


 

Kicking Off Week 9

05/05/2015

 
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The Senate Caucus met at 11 this morning and went into session at 1PM this afternoon. We worked through one of the longest Special Order Calendars in recent memory...a total of 33 bills. You can review the legislation here.

The Senate adjourned at approximately 5:30PM and immediately went into a caucus meeting to further discuss the budgets.

As we continue to work through the budget challenges, the House Republican Caucus released their plan today. The plan includes additional streamlining and government consolidation measures coupled with some tax increases and further exploring a pact with the Poarch Creek Indians that could provide $250M to the state.  The House GOP Caucus press release is located here.

Proposed gambling legislation in the Senate continues to be discussed with a bill filed today. The current measure includes an expansion of gambling and a state lottery.

Today was the 19th Legislative day; 11 days remain for us to pass the budgets. The Education Budget started in the Senate and has been passed on to the House. The General Fund Budget started in the House and remains in a House Committee. The earliest the General Fund Budget could move to the Senate is next Tuesday – requiring the General Fund to pass the House Committee tomorrow and a vote of the full House on Thursday, and be transmitted to the Senate before the Senate adjourns on Thursday. The General Fund could then receive its first reading on the 21st Legislative Day.

I’ll start tomorrow with the Senate General Fund Committee meeting at 9:30 in the morning followed by three other committee meetings throughout the day. The Senate goes back into session on Thursday at 10AM

As you can see we have a lot of moving parts in the days ahead. I’ll do my best to continue to keep you posted.

Semper Fi - Bill

(Edited 5/6/2015 with link to gambling/lottery bill that was filed late Tue)



 
 
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The Senate went into session at 10AM this morning. After working through some procedural actions we began working on local legislation and various resolutions before taking up a 14 bill Special Order Calendar.

Several bills were carried over for further action including what I refer to as a “speed trap” bill (SB91) which would allow small towns located along interstate highways to enforce speed limits. I have opposed this bill in the past. In my view this encourages speed traps and I support the position that law enforcement should be working for the residents in the community rather than setting speed traps along the interstate.

Another bill of interest, SB273 was passed allowing the use of electronic versions (such as an email mail on your cell phone) of the insurance documentation required in your vehicle.

I opposed SB310, a bill allowing a tax exemption for the Birmingham Zoo. I hope it is obvious that I don’t have any concerns with the Birmingham Zoo but as I defend against tax increases I must questions when the legislature continues to provide tax credits to entities across the state. Furthermore, as a former Madison City Councilman, I am keenly aware that when the state legislature grants a tax exemption they do so at the local, county and state level – effectively impacting the local budgets at the city and county level.

The Senate adjourned at 3:20PM. I’m looking forward to a great weekend that includes volunteering with the Asbury Oil Change Ministry, serving as a BBQ Judge at the Whistlestop Festival (oh the sacrifices I make!) and attending the Regional Awards Dinner and Meeting of the Patriot Guard Riders where visitors from Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee will join the Alabama group.

Semper Fi - Bill


 
 
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Today was committee day in the State House. I attended four committee meetings today, two in the Senate and two in the House where I presented two bills; SB22 – cleaning up the Flexible School Calendar Act but allowing the 1080 hours equivalent to 180 calendar days, and SB269 – allowing the private sector to have written Veteran’s hiring preference policy. Both bills were supported and voted out of the House Committees.

The Senate will go into session tomorrow at 10AM. I look forward to seeing the mood of the body now that we have completed the Sunset Bills.

To close out tonight’s blog I’d like to offer some thoughts regarding news that I follow while working through the budget options we are facing this year.  The Governor has proposed and continues to champion a tax package including a assortment of increases as a means to fill the budget holes. I look to recent tax votes made by THE PEOPLE -  arguably votes made locally to tax themselves for local purposes as opposed to tax increases that go to what has been described as “the black hole” in Montgomery.

Lawrence County voters overwhelmingly voted down a proposed property tax increase last night by a 79% margin.  In March, Baldwin County voters did the same in a 2-1 margin.  I look to these examples as a litmus test of sorts to gauge the will of THE PEOPLE with regards to tax increases. They do not support.

Couple the above with reports that the US economy grew at a very sluggish 0.2% in the first quarter of 2015.  We are fortunate as a state to have low unemployment and the work we are doing at the state and local levels to encourage business and job growth is paying off but - fact is the economy at the local, state and national level remains stagnate. Simply put, our economy is not shrinking but it is not growing either. 

As I’ve shared before, I represent those that sent me to Montgomery, not those in Montgomery. It is clear to me that THE PEOPLE do not support increasing taxes and so the state must do what families across our state are doing – live within our budget.

Semper Fi - Bill