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WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 17, 2007
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Area senators get committee spots

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — "No retribution," is the way one powerful North Alabama senator described the process that Senate leaders used to assign committees where senators will do most of their work during the next four years.

Not everyone agreed, foremost among them Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, who led a pre-organizational session move against the Senate establishment. He said the committees were stacked.

After announcement of the assignments, area senators, including Limestone's senator, Tom Butler, D-Madison, said they fared OK. Butler said he "got some fairly good things," in committee assignments. Butler helped organize the bipartisan group that wanted Democrats and Republicans to share power on Senate committees. Preuitt lost by one vote, and Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, won the election for pro tem.

Lawrence County emerged with the area's most powerful senators — Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, and Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville. Bedford is head of one purse-strings committee and a member of another. He also is on the Rules Committee, which determines the bills the Senate takes up each day. Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, replaced Preuitt as chairman of Rules.

Because he is majority leader, Little is on every Senate committee. His post, along with the election of Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., offers a chance for Cullman County to regain political clout it once had when the county claimed the lieutenant governor's and the governor's posts.

Preuitt, who grew up in Danville, would have been president pro tem instead of Mitchem had he won his bipartisan campaign.

He predicted a long four years, particularly with an operating rules change that shortens the length of debate on key bills and enables a smaller number of senators to call for a vote on measures under debate in some instances. He is most concerned about debate on money bills.

"The committees are stacked," Preuitt said. "This puts a few people in control, primarily trial lawyers and the Alabama Education Association."

While Mitchem pledged that the governor's legislative package would get a fair hearing in the Senate, Preuitt said,"that is not going to happen."

Although Preuitt wanted on Rules again, Mitchem favored him with the chairmanship of the Small Business and Economic Development Committee. He secured a seat on the powerful Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee and also on Commerce, Transportation and Utilities.

"We are trying our best to put the fighting behind us and move on," said Bedford.

Newcomer Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, got a good assignment — the Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee, where budget bills for most non-education state services start.

Orr said he is pleased with assignments enabling him to continue working with business and economic interests "in the legacy of Tommy Ed Roberts." Roberts, D-Hartselle, retired from the same Senate seat in November.

The new senator's other committee assignments include the Economic Expansion and Trade Committee, which considers bond issues for economic development; Constitutions and Elections, which considers bills related to elections and constitutional changes; Local Legislation 1 Committee, which considers local bills for North Alabama; and Confirmations, the committee that approves or rejects the governor's appointments to boards and commissions.

Orr said he plans to continue meeting with heads of different state agencies and learning how the agencies work in the weeks leading to the regular session in March.

Butler will serve on Finance and Taxation Education Committee, the main education-related budget committee for K-12, colleges and universities and related services.

"With 9,000 new students expected with BRAC and their related needs, I am happy to continue on that committee," Butler said. He will serve on the Industrial Development and Recruitment committee, Agriculture and Forestry Committee and chair the Children and Youth Affairs Committee.

Overall, Butler said his assignments will help him work on development and farm issues that his district needs.

Bedford's other committees are Confirmations, Judiciary, Constitutions and Elections, Agriculture and Forestry, Banking and Insurance, Commerce, Transportation and Utilities, Local Legislation 1 and Health, Energy and Natural Resources.

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