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Riley urged not to call special session
Senate Democrats pledge support for fast action on bills to help industrial recruiting

By M.J. Ellington (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Senate Democrats pledged their support Thursday for fast action on bills to increase the state's debt limit for economic development.

But in a letter to Gov. Bob Riley, Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little, D-Cullman, urged the governor not to call a special session before the Legislature's regular session convenes March 6.

Instead, Little proposed a special session within the regular session, if Riley believes the issues demand a special session. A special session within the regular session would cost taxpayers less because lawmakers already would be in Montgomery.

Little said Thursday that his letter's purpose is to assure Riley that Senate Democrats will work with him to pass the legislation.

"The Alabama Senate Democratic Caucus believes strongly that we can pass whatever legislation is needed for economic recruitment and related issues early in the Regular Session," Little's letter said.

"We commit to you that we will do everything in our power to achieve this goal," Little's letter continued. "We do not need to burden taxpayers with a costly special session one week prior to the 2007 Regular Session."

Governor still undecided

In response, Riley's communications director, Jeff Emerson, said the governor hasn't decided on the special session's timing. But Emerson stressed the need for quick action and reminded Democrats of the 2004 regular session, when the Legislature declined to recess for a requested special session.

Emerson said Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., Speaker of the House Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, and Senate President Pro Tem Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, all see the need for the state to act quickly.

The governor wants the Legislature to act in time for Alabamians to vote in June on a constitutional amendment needed to raise the state's borrowing limit. By law, the vote cannot take place until at least 90 days after the end of the session in which lawmakers approved the increase. If the Legislature doesn't hold a special session, then September would be the earliest an election could occur.

Timing critical

Timing is critical because the companies involved will make decisions about their U.S. sites long before September. Alabama is competing with several surrounding states for what Riley's Finance Director Jim Main has said could be as many as 6,000 jobs.

Emerson said the state cannot take the chance that legislators "will again refuse to go into special session because of their differences over issues totally unrelated to economic development."

Senate Minority Leader J.T. "Jabo" Waggoner, D-Birmingham, said earlier this week that a separate special session would help avoid a slowdown or filibuster in the Senate that some Republicans believe will occur during the regular session.

Little said Waggoner's comments imply that Republicans already plan slowdown tactics and filibusters.

Some GOP senators, upset with operating rules and committee assignments after a failed attempt in January to organize the Senate with bipartisan leadership threatened such a move at that time.

Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, who helped lead that bipartisan coalition, agreed with Little about the timing of a special session. He sees no need to spend $100,000 on an early special session.

"I know there is some dissension now and some operating rules need to be changed, but we can work those out later in the regular session," Butler said. "With the stakes this high on projects to bring this many job to Alabama, everyone will work together on this."

Butler continued, "The Democratic caucus has talked, the governor has talked, but we're not all talking together. That will come. People are just feeling each other out. But this legislation is something we need. We all know that, and we can work together on it."

Main said earlier this week that the governor may call a special session as early as Feb. 26.

The governor wants to increase the amount the state can borrow via capital construction bonds from $350 million to $700 million to help provide the recruitment incentives.

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