Fireworks ahead on bond issue, property appraisals
By M.J. Ellington
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MONTGOMERY – When several powerful lawmakers introduce bills on the same issue, people expect political posturing.
Elected officials on both sides of the aisle say they want to pass a bill allowing a bond issue for education construction and improvements.
At least two prefiled bills in the Senate and one in the House would do that.
Gov. Bob Riley’s version is not prefiled, but he promises one similar to a bill he tried to pass in 2006.
Bond amounts in the bills range from Riley’s $500 million to the $850 million proposals of the House and Senate budget chairs.
Riley toured the state last week promoting his $500 million bond issue. Creekside Elementary in a growing area of East Limestone County was his last stop.
The trouble likely will be over how to divide up the money and the amount of the bonds. Teacher lobbyist Paul Hubbert said last week that the state should pass what it can afford to pay back.
He may demand another teacher pay raise to gain his support of a bill.
Difference in details: Senate President Pro Tem Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, said last week he believes his proposed $750 million education bond issue will unify rather than divide factions in the Senate and could help heal fractured feelings among Senate lawmakers.
Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, who chairs the Senate Finance and Taxation, Education Committee, and Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, who heads the House Education Finance and Appropriations Committee, also filed education bond bills.
Morton happy: Education Superintendent Joe Morton is happy that school needs are getting attention.
Mitchem said his bill divides bond issue proceeds 75 percent-25 percent with K-12 getting the larger share.
“He’d rather have had 80 percent-20 percent, but he said this is fine,” Mitchem said about Morton’s reaction.
Butler, Orr important: Even though Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, and Mitchem were
on opposite sides in a struggle for Senate leadership before
the organizational session, Mitchem said Butler, with 25 years in office, deserves good assignments.
“I was on the committee on assignments, and I made sure that Sen. Butler got some good committees,” Mitchem said.
Mitchem said chairing a committee also helps pay for staff and Butler has that as well. New, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, has a key committee.
Property tax re-evaluation: You can bet that yearly property tax re-appraisals are in serious jeopardy.
Lawmakers say voters in most areas want reappraisals every four years and are fired up about yearly appraisals.
In some cities where yearly appraisals are now routine, officials are concerned about building budgets, especially for schools, if appraisals stay the same for four years. Most property tax stays at the local and county levels.
Four pre-filed Senate bills by Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, and one House bill by Rep. Elwyn Thomas, R-Oneonta, address the issue.
Traffic ticket: A bill by Rep. David Grimes, R-Montgomery, would allow law enforcement officers to give electronic tickets for traffic violations they did not witness if an investigation justifies a ticket.
Current state law requires law enforcement officers to witness an infraction before ticketing someone.
Grimes sponsored bills allowing cameras at traffic signals to record tag numbers of cars when drivers run red lights.
The bills, which did not pass, would provide a method of issuing tickets without a police witness.
The bills drew heated opposition, especially from some black lawmakers, who suggested that the cameras had resulted in racial profiling arrests in other states. Grimes denied the charge. Law enforcement officers generally supported the measures.
School bus seat belts: Rep. Steve French, R-Birmingham, wants the state to require seat belts for school buses, a possible reaction to the Huntsville school bus overpass accident late last year.
His prefiled bill exempts students whose doctors say they have medical reasons not to wear a safety belt.
The future of the bill may depend on a governor’s committee study now under way to determine whether seat belts on school buses help prevent deaths and injuries. Morton chairs the committee and state Board of Education member Mary Jane Caylor, D-Huntsville, is a member.
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