Senate battle centers on Enterprise
Politics stalls bill to fund replacing schools destroyed by recent tornado
By M.J. Ellington
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MONTGOMERY — Senate politics has stalled a bill to provide emergency funding to rebuild Enterprise schools destroyed in a tornado two weeks ago.
Senate leaders in charge of the legislative calendar didn't include the $79 million bill, introduced by Sen. Jimmy Holley, D-Elba, on Thursday's agenda.
In response, Republicans, already unhappy with Senate operating rules they say unfairly favor Democrats, slowed down Senate action on other bills, including a measure giving lawmakers money for special projects in their home districts.
The Enterprise bill would use state funds to rebuild two schools and related facilities. But during a committee meeting, questions arose about the amount requested and plans for its use.
"All we want is some answers about costs," said Senate Rules Committee Chairman Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe.
"Once the senators with questions have answers, the bill should and will move rapidly."
Barron said he wants to know more about how the $79 million will be spent. There are schools all over the state operating with substandard buildings and newly constructed schools that did not cost $79 million, he said.
Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, who also serves on the rules committee, said he wanted the Enterprise bill included on the calendar but was outvoted during a committee meeting Thursday morning.
"Half of the Senate wanted to do that bill first," Butler said. "Common sense says that you do the Enterprise bill first because you have school kids without a school. If it was any of us we would want that.
"We had expert testimony on the Enterprise bill in a committee last week," Butler said. "We know the essence of the bill, what is in it. Any questions would be answered on the floor."
Bulter was one of a group of Senate Democrats who joined with Republicans in a failed attempt to organize the Senate in January.
"The majority is 18 to 17, and y'all lost," said Majority Leader Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, referring to the January organizational vote. "Your actions today are just delaying our bringing up the Enterprise bill."
Bill next week?
Little said the Senate would take up the bill next week.
Sen. Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb, said she appealed to Barron to reconsider the decision to delay discussion of the bill, but he would not.
Smith said people in her home district, near Enterprise, called her last night "excited and looking for some hope," she said. "Now they're hearing what happened today."
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he believes the Senate should play by the rules, but did not do so Thursday. Orr wanted to vote on the Enterprise bill first to help the children.
Orr said one bill on the day's calendar supposedly received unanimous approval of a committee on which he serves, making it eligible for full Senate consideration. Orr said he received no notice of a committee meeting and did not attend, so the vote couldn't have been unanimous.
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