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Lawmakers say bills not read, more time needed

By M.J. Ellington 334-262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Area lawmakers agree that the state needs to increase its bond borrowing power and came to Montgomery on Monday to take up legislation on the issue.

But some lawmakers criticized Gov. Bob Riley for not giving them copies of the bills until they got to Montgomery.

Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, said the complicated nature of some of the bills makes errors likely if legislators do not have time to study them.

On his way to Montgomery on Monday, Little said he had not seen the four bills that the Legislature will consider in the special session.

When the Legislature convened the special session late Monday afternoon, one particularly vocal Montgomery lawmaker said he wants to know that the state will do competitive bidding for bond attorneys and bond underwriters involved in dealing with the increased bond funds.

"I can tell Gov. Riley right now that we are not gonna rush this," said Rep. Alvin Homes, D-Montgomery.

Two of the measures before the Legislature this week set up constitutional amendments that voters must approve in an election proposed for June 5. Once the measures are in the state constitution, then only another constitutional vote can change them.

The four-bill package includes legislation creating boards to oversee the retiree health insurance trust funds. The legislation also requires constitutional amendment votes on increasing the state's bond debt ceiling and restricting the use of funds in the two retiree health insurance accounts.

Rep. Ronald Grantland, D-Hartselle, said it is important to check bills and have time to ask questions about the bills before a vote, something he said is not possible when lawmakers get the bills late.

State Finance Director Jim Main said an oil and gas study completed only days before Riley called the special session was the critical element in the timing. Without the study, Main said, the state would not have had the information it needed for the bills.

Riley's communications director, Jeff Emerson, said sponsors of the four bills received copies before last weekend and the governor has contacted other lawmakers as information became available.

Rep. Jeremy Oden, R-Eva, said he did not get the bills before he arrived in Montgomery and had not had a chance to read them Monday afternoon. But Oden said it is important for the state to stay competitive.

"But I want it to be spread around the state, for North Alabama to get its share," Oden said.

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