Published April 15, 2011 |

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The House came in on Tuesday facing the Education budget and everyone knew it would be a long day; but no one suspected that the House would go past midnight and use up another day. Under the legislative rules, if you go past midnight, you automatically go into another workday. Although they adjourned at 1 AM the day still counted. So, the legislature has used on half of their thirty working days. There were several bills that the House had to pass before they could pass the $558 billion Education budget. They spent over 11 hours of debate on these bills. The toughest of these bills was the one that would raise the employee’s contributions to their retirement funds, which would cost the teachers about $1,000 a year. If this legislation had not passed, as many as 1,000 teachers would lose their jobs. The Democrats in the House complained that the pay cut would also increase the class size. The Democrats felt the Education budget was balanced “on the backs of teachers.”

Meanwhile, up in the Senate they spent most of the afternoon debating the euthanasia of cats and dogs in animal shelters by method of the gas chamber. This bill would prevent the use of gas chambers for cats and dogs. After finally passing this legislation, they passed several other bills before leaving for the day.

Wednesday was a full day of committee meetings. Everyone is striving to get their bills out of committee since they have passed the half-way mark and the legislation needs to be moving if the sponsor is going to have a chance at passing the legislation. It was a long day; starting at 8 AM and going past 4 PM.

On Thursday a joint session was called and the House and Senate were addressed by Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, the first female African American surgeon general. She is the first doctor from Alabama to serve in this capacity. She was very impressive and did not give your normal political speech.

After the joint session, the House came in facing another tough issue with the continuance of the Forever Wild legislation. Money from the Oil and Gas Trust fund was put aside to purchase wetlands and woodlands to preserve for generations to come. The opposition came from the Farmers’ Federation who contended they were buying up cropland that should be used for the production of food. The bill passed after several hours and now goes to the Senate. The House passed several more bills before leaving for the week.

The Senate came in at noon, passed several bills of non-controversial nature and did not hang around very long. Their next big issue will be the passage of the Education budget which was passed by the House. The Senate has already passed the General Fund budget and it is now in the House to consider.

The issue that will be tough in the following weeks will be the teacher tenure law; known as “the Students First Act.” Many people feel the current dismissal system is difficult, lengthy and expensive. Some of the teachers feel the bill would make teachers hesitant to speak up to their supervisors and would return schools to the days when school boards served as both judge and jury.

The legislation to prevent corporations from not paying state taxes that amount to $200 million will be interesting. This would prevent layoffs and pay cuts of teachers and is being pushed by the Alabama Education Association.
The Business Council of Alabama will fight this legislation. It will be tough to close these loopholes with the Republicans normally supporting business.

In an effort to increase jobs in Alabama, Governor Bentley is promoting legislation that will give tax breaks to companies that locate in Alabama. The legislature passed similar legislation in 1993 that was used to attract the Mercedes auto plants to Alabama. Over the next two years the tax break attracted 14 other industries, before the legislature-with the help of the Alabama Education Association-was repealed in 1995. AEA said bringing back the tax would mean that income that should be used for public schools would be used to build plants. The Governor will have his work cut out for him on this.

Governor Bentley-a doctor and former Representative-returned to the House floor this morning to introduce Surgeon General Regina Benjamin for the joint special session.

The House will reconvene Tuesday, April 19 at 1 PM and the Senate at 2 PM.