I started this morning at 0730, calling WVNN and speaking on-air with Dale Jackson. We discussed a variety of topics including last night’s passage of the Charter Schools Bill. As discussed in the blog last night, my support of the bill was based on several items including not allowing virtual charter schools. Virtual classes are fine; the possibility of a full-up K-12 virtual charter school is very concerning. We will continue to work towards a solution regarding the absence of prohibitive language allowing virtual K-12 charter schools.
My first committee meeting of the day was Transportation and Energy at 0900. We debated two bills, one was passed out of committee and the other held over after a public hearing. We will continue to work on this legislation regarding automobile dismantlers and auctions of salvage automobiles.
The Senate went into session at 0930 this morning and debated at total of seven bills; five were passed and two carried over. A bill proposing changes to the Alabama Accountability Act and a bill regarding economic incentives in rural areas of were carried over. The bulk of our day – approximately 4 hours – was devoted to debating and passing SB191, the bill establishing a two-year college board.
The Senate adjourned for the week just before 5 PM. The Legislature will be out of session next week, coinciding with Spring Break in most areas of the state, and will reconvene on Tuesday, March 31st. I will resume the blog at that time.
Semper Fi - Bill
I started today at the State House with the County and Municipal Government Committee meeting. We debated and passed two bills out of the committee; one was carried over at the request of the bill sponsor. SB164, dealing with non-substantive amendments to local bills that have been advertised prior to introduction. SB210, dealing with wet/dry referendums and the time frame between when an election may be announced and held. My second committee meeting of the day was Banking and Insurance where we debated and passed three bills out of committee. SB124 proposing shortening the time frame for redemption on foreclosed properties, SB147, an insurance department bill that standardizes the time frame for releasing potentially confidential information resulting from an audit of an insurance company, and SB153 relating to automobile rental companies and their ability to offer insurance with the rental – something currently being done in Alabama but this legislation clarifies the rental person is not required to be a licensed insurance agent. The Senate went into session at 4:30 this afternoon to debate a 10 bill Special Order Calendar. A few of the bills on the calendar were carried over but the Senate debated and passed several non-controversial bills. The final bill of the evening was the Charter Schools Bill. The Charter Schools bill was passed by the House in a 58 – 41 vote. The House added a couple of amendments requiring the Senate to vote to concur; the final Senate vote was 24 – 11. I, along with a couple other Senators expressed concerns regarding the ability of virtual charter schools being allowed in the legislation. I support virtual, or online courses (this is done now in schools across the state) I do not support a full-up, K-12 virtual charter school. The original legislation as proposed in the Senate included a virtual charter schools option. This was removed prior to the bill moving to the Senate. Concerns began to arise when talk of the possibility of virtual charter schools being allowed because the legislation did not contain prohibitive language. I asked that an amendment with prohibitive language be added during the floor debate in the House but was unsuccessful in my request. As the bill had already passed the Senate our only other option was to ask that the Governor consider adding an executive amendment including prohibitive language. Removal of the virtual charter schools language was key to my support. If a door was left open, allowing them as indicated in this report, I will work with others and attempt to close the door. Stay tuned, more to follow one way or another here. I have committee meetings in the morning, starting with Transportation and Energy. The Senate goes into session at 9:30.
We had several special visitors at the State House today; I was able to visit with the Limestone County Schools Superintendent and Country Music legend, Hank Williams, Jr who was in town to support legislation regarding hunting.
Semper Fi - Bill
I arrived in Montgomery a little after 10 AM for this week’s session. First up was the Caucus meeting where we were joined by the new AL GOP Chairwoman, Terry Lathan. Terry provided a great update to the Caucus and explained her vision. We look forward to working with her in the months ahead. The Caucus meeting wrapped up with a discussion on several bills that are working through the legislative process. This will be another three day voting week as we will not meet next week during Spring Break. The Senate went into session this afternoon and debated a total of 13 bills on the Special Order Calendar; linked here – I encourage readers to click on the bill number and download/review the bills. A couple of bills were carried over during debate as some members had questions; this included SB191 – a bill to establish a separate board for the 2 year college system. Governance is currently included under the State Board of Education. I’ll report more on this debate in the days ahead. Several Bills of interest were passed by the Senate today; SB126, the Open Meetings Act, SB157, a Bill establishing the Fostering Hope Scholarship Act. This Act authorizes a program to assist with fees for college and/or job training courses for children in the state’s foster care system. I opposed SB1, the Alabama Ahead Act which is designed as a technology infrastructure program for local schools. One might ask why I would oppose such a bill as I generally am in support of technology advancements, especially in our local schools. We’ve debated this legislation in years past and my concern with this legislation is rooted in the funding mechanism. As introduced the bill called for a $100M bond issue (similar to years past) but was amended so that funding now comes from savings achieved through pro-ration prevention, better known as the Rolling Reserve Act. I do not support using funding of this nature to expand other programs and therefore voted against the bill at final passage. The Senate adjourned a little after 5 PM for the day. I finished up with a few meetings in my office and then headed to the hotel gym for a 5 mile jaunt before dinner. I’ve crossed over the 230 mile mark for 2015! Tomorrow’s activities will start with the County and Municipal Government Committee meeting at 9AM. The Senate goes back into session at 4:30 PM. Semper Fi - Bill
I started today on the treadmill at the hotel, three miles this morning puts me at 218 miles for the year. I went to the workout center convinced I was only going to do two miles; funny how you can talk yourself into just a few more minutes…and another mile! My first meeting of the day was the Legislative Council Meeting at 8:30 AM. I’m newly elected to this council. As I understand it, members of the House are appointed to the council by virtue of various Chairmanships they hold. Senators are either elected by the body at large – such as in my case – or they serve by proxy as a committee chairman. This was the first meeting of the Council for this quadrennium and our first order of business was to elect a new chair and vice-chair. We then re-adopted the Legislative Sexual Harassment Policy for this quadrennium. My next meeting was the Transportation and Energy Committee meeting at 9:00 AM. We debated several bills today in this committee and I am pleased to report that SB44, the legislation I’ve introduced to reverse the newly increased driver’s license fees as discussed in the blog here, was given unanimous support and passed out of the committee. I hope to be able to bring this timely and important legislation before the full Senate early next week. The Senate went into session at 10:00 AM. I’m pleased to also report that there seems to be some early progress with respect to negations regarding the Birmingham Water Works legislation that stalled the Senate yesterday. I’m encouraged to see the two sides working to find some middle ground that this legislation can then move forward on. Several bills were passed out of the Senate today, most notably were bills relating to alcohol sales in small municipalities. Again this legislation was a result of the Alabama Supreme Court ruling earlier this year. These were House bills and are now on the way to the Governor for consideration and signature. We also debated the “3-foot” bicycle law. I maintain, as discussed in the blog last week, I’m in favor of passing a law that actually does more to prevent bicycle vs. automobile accidents while we share the roadways across our state. This afternoon I have received emails from a couple of Police Chiefs stating that the law, as written, cannot be enforced. The bill sponsor agreed to carry the bill over so that we can work together, along with bicycle enthusiasts and law enforcement, to craft a better solution. I have a busy weekend ahead with out of town family visiting…they are really here to see Holt, our new grandson but I’m sure they’ll spend a few minutes with me. I’m also excited about running my first 5K of the year – Lead Me to the Cross 5K, benefiting the Monrovia Volunteer Fire Department. Same day registraition is available if you’d like to join in. It looks like we’ll finally have some warm and dry weather so I hope everyone enjoys a great weekend. Semper Fi - Bill
I started the morning putting in 3 miles; I’ve ran, jogged or walked 215 miles so far in 2015 – only 785 miles to go on my quest to cover 1000 miles this year! My first committee meeting of the day was the General Fund meeting. We debated and gave favorable report to all five bills on the agenda. These were non-controversial bills addressing a range of issues. Readers can review committee meeting agenda and the bills we debated at this link. I held several meetings throughout the morning concerning other legislative items that we will see in the days and weeks ahead. The Military Stability and Job Creation Committee met via a telephone conference this afternoon to discuss a variety of topics including the possibility of future BRACs and the impact of Sequestration on our state. The current administration and members of the Joint Chiefs have indicated support for a future BRAC (2017, 2019?). The Senate and House Armed Services Committee have also shown movement towards supporting another BRAC evolution. The Commission continues to work with stakeholders across the state and in the legislature to ensure Alabama is poised for success. My next committee meeting was the County and Municipal Government Committee meeting. We debated two House Bills relating to the recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling - Bynum v. City of Oneonta - regarding a 2009 law and cities voting on alcohol sales in dry counties. More details can be found on the ruling and subsequent need for legislation at this link. Wednesdays are normally committee days but this week the Senate will be session three days. We went into session at 3:30 this afternoon with a plan to debate several bills. Our process was slowed down due to the mood of the minority party being soured, a result of the Birmingham Water Works legislation having been voted out of a Senate Committee earlier today. This legislation has a storied past and impacted the Senate's effectiveness in years past. There were other dynamics at play in the Senate today but in the end we were able to pass one bill - SB38, allowing counties and municipal governments more flexibility in the use of funds collected for garbage and solid waste fees. A full Senate dinner with all 35 members is scheduled for later this evening, something we’ve done a couple of times in the past. I always look forward to breaking bread with my colleagues in a relaxed environment...although this could be as awkward as any family reunion. The Senate adjourned at 5:00 PM and will reconvene tomorrow at 10 AM. Semper Fi - Bill
I started Tuesday morning visiting in studio with Dale Jackson at WVNN where we discussed topics ranging from budgets to the increase in driver’s license fees. I then began my trek south on I65, arriving at the State House just before 11AM. The Republican Caucus met for lunch and to discuss plans for the week ahead. We were joined by the Alabama Chief Justice where he provided an overview on the legal issues between the state and federal courts regarding sex marriages. The Senate went into session at 2PM and, after some administrative and procedural actions, began debate on SB45, the School Choice legislation which enables Charter Schools in Alabama. We remain one of 8 states that do not allow Charter Schools. The Senate is a deliberative body and the debate continued for almost 5 hours, with several amendments being added. I encourage everyone interested in this legislation to invest the time and read the 60 page bill linked here. The bill passed the Senate and now goes to the House.
The Senate adjourned just before 8 PM last night. My position on Charter Schools has remained the same since I started campaigning for this office back in 2009; I believe in school choice. We are blessed with great schools in our area but in other parts of the state children are sentenced to chronically underperforming schools – we are on the path to give these families another choice. Like many of you, I am fortunate to be able to find work and live in this area. Some families, due to financial, job, family or other circumstances, are unable to simply move to another school system. Charter Schools should be allowed in our state but – as we’ve come to this junction late – my support was dependent upon a very measured approach with backstops and defined metrics. We don’t need a Charter School on every corner. There are plenty of good and bad models that we can learn from and we have implemented best practices in the legislation. I also believe the local school boards should work in concert with local communities – keeping the decision making closest to the community. I feel all of this was accomplished in the legislation.Semper Fi - Bill
Today was a quick day in the Senate; putting things into perspective, there is not much that can be accomplished in the first few days of a legislative session due to the deliberative process - which is a good thing.
A bill can only have one action taken in a single day. When session opened on Tuesday bills were introduced – this is the first reading. On Wednesday committee meetings are held and bills are debated and then either held over or receive favorable report. On Thursday, today, committees reported out those bills with favorable reports; this is known as the second reading. The next step is for the bills to be taken up by the full Senate which will happen on Tuesday of next week.
The only other business conducted in the Senate today was several confirmations; the most notable being confirmation of a new director for the Ethics Commission.
I held several meetings in my office this afternoon regarding pending legislation and a few contracts held over in this morning’s Legislative Contract Review meeting.
On Saturday I plan to attend the monthly coffee call at the Athens Veteran’s Museum followed by the ribbon cutting for new improvements at the Rainbow Mountain Trailhead in Madison. Monday includes several constituent meetings and Congressman Mo Brooks’ Washington Update at the VBC. We will return to session on Tuesday of next week for the 3rd Legislative Day of the 2015 session.
Reports of ice/snow back home in North Alabama – apparently not nearly as much fun as last week’s snow. I hope everyone stays safe and warm. I say bring on Spring and Summer!
Semper Fi - Bill
I was up and at it early this morning, putting in 3 miles towards my quest to complete 1,000 miles in 2015. I should hit 200 miles by the end of the week. You can join in on the challenge here. As promised in last night’s blog – following is the link to Governor Bentley’s proposed budget.My first committee meeting of the day was actually cancelled due to some technology issues regarding getting the newly filed bills into the legislative computer system. The system was updated earlier this year and has experienced some hick-ups (...tech term there).
My next committee meeting was Transportation and Energy – formally known as CTU, Commerce, Transportation and Utilities. We debated eight bills and ultimately passing six bills out of the committee. I discuss a couple of the bills further below.
Driver's License Fee Increase - The bill I’ve introduced regarding the over 50% fee increase in Driver’s Licenses fees (linked here - SB44) was debated in this committee today. Background information on this increase can be found at this blog post.
There were some concerns by committee members that perhaps the bill should include other agencies. I agreed to hold the bill over for one week so that members could make recommendations to “widen the net", so to speak, adding other agencies to the bill that have the ability to increase fees without legislative oversight. I maintain a narrow focus here – addressing a specific concern but certainly respect other’s desire to expand the bill if deemed necessary.
Some interesting numbers provided for today’s debate in the Fiscal Note (linked here), the fee increase will provide $12.7M annually to the department. The fee increase was imposed on 9 February; from that date through 3 March a total of 79,000 licenses equating approximately $1M of additional funding for the department.
I maintain that some fee increase may be warranted but the legislative oversight was missing. The legislation I’ve introduced closes the loophole, requiring oversight in the future; resets the fees to pre-9 February date ($23.50 vs. $36.25); and requires a credit be issued to drivers who renewed licenses during the time frame that the new fees were implemented. The credit would be available for when a person renews their driver's license in the future.
3 Foot Law - A bill defining “safe distance” for automobiles passing bicycles was also debated (SB4). I support the intent of this legislation as we’ve seen several unfortunate accidents and even fatalities in North Alabama with automobiles vs. bicycles. My concern is should we pass a “feel good bill” or pass laws that address the problem. I’ve asked that we look into further information such as – what is the penalty/fine (none are listed in the bill) and, most important, how will this be enforced by the police. In other words, how will they be able to determine a less than 3 foot violation? I think this would be considered a moving violation by law enforcement and I’ve recommended we match the shortest distance of a moving violation that is currently enforced. This question is being researched. Even if you are not a bicyclist, imagine passing someone on a bicycle in your car at 3 feet...pretty scary. And that’s without getting into the discussion of is it 3 feet from the fender, or the side mirror? Now imagine being a police officer, attempting to determine that distance so as to enforce this law. My goal is to pass a good law, one that actually solves a problem.
My next committee meeting was County and Municipal Government; 8 bills were debated in this committee today. These were mostly non-controversial bills and after limited debate all 8 were passed out of committee.
I closed the day out with several meetings in my office regarding various pending legislation. I’ll start tomorrow morning chairing the monthly contract review meeting at 0830. The committee will review a total of 59 contracts totaling $18.7M. The 2nd day of the legislative session starts at 0930.Semper Fi - Bill
I left my home in Madison a little after 6 AM this morning, headed to Montgomery for the start of the 2015 Legislative Session. After a brief stop north of Birmingham – I pulled over to speak with the Matt Murphy Show – I arrived at the State Capitol at 0930, in time for the budget hearings presented by the Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO) and the State Finance Director. I’ve linked the LFO presentation here and encourage readers to review the budget presentation. Governor Bentley’s proposed budget should be made available sometime tomorrow; I will provide a link once available. We start committee meetings in the morning where we will begin reviewing bills that have been introduced. I have the General Fund Committee meeting at 9:30 followed by meetings in my office. The Transportation and Energy Committee meets at 11:30 and I'll close out committee meetings with County and Municipal Government at 2:30.
It is tradition for family members to be granted floor privileges for the Senate on the first day of session and I was honored to have my wife Pam, daughters Abby and Sydney, son-in-law Michael and our three week old grandson, Holt, join me on the Senate floor. We made some special memories, no doubt.
I'll continue to keep the blog updated throughout the session - with information on bills and debates, and maybe a picture or two of Holt. Yes, I'm a proud Grandpa!
Semper Fi - Bill
I drove down to our property in Winston County around noon on Wednesday for what was supposed to be an overnight stay. The forecast for 2-4 inches of snow was spot on and forecast called for a warmer day on Thursday so that I could drive home... except it kept snowing overnight and I awoke to about 8 inches of snow (please forgive the homemade ruler).
Now I enjoy a pretty snow as much as anyone but I don’t enjoy trees falling on power line and blocking the narrow road out. I couldn’t do anything until the trees on the power lines were removed. The power company cleared the trees on their lines early Friday morning and I was left clearing the others with a small camp hatchet and shovel (note to my wife and daughters if you’re reading this – a chainsaw is now at the top of my birthday wish list!)
I made it safely home today and, with the recent news coverage, I am a little behind on emails and phone calls. I have no outside connectivity via my primary cell phone and have limited coverage with our alternative phone at this very remote location.
My apologies to the reporters and friends who have attempted to contact me over the past couple of days. I was not kidnapped nor hunkered down in a hole somewhere until the barrage passed – I was simply “off the net”. I’m back. We are holding a press conference Monday at 1 PM. Stay tuned.
Semper Fi - Bill