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Senate leader extends olive branch with committee

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

MONTGOMERY — Senate President Pro Tem Hinton Mitchem held out an olive branch in the form of an ad hoc committee Tuesday to hunt common ground among unhappy senators who stopped most action in the Legislature's upper chamber this session.

Mitchem, D-Union Grove, appointed eight Democrats to the committee to study rule changes proposed by a coalition of Senate Republicans and conservative Democrats who are unhappy with operating rules the Senate adopted in January. Mitchem asked Senate Minority leader Jabo Waggoner, R-Birmingham, to appoint eight senators aligned with the Senate Bipartisan Coalition and Waggoner agreed to do so.

Waggoner said Mitchem's action is a positive step.

"I do feel that he is taking the role of pro tem very seriously and wants to be the pro tem of all 35 senators," Waggoner said.

Waggoner said he and Sen. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, will meet Wednesday with Democrats on the committee and follow soon afterwards with eight appointments of their own. He expects the committee to work about two weeks and report back to Mitchem after the Legislatures' spring break the week of April 16.

Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, probably will be among members he appoints to represent the minority coalition on the committee, Waggoner said. Butler is a logical choice because of his role in forming the bipartisan coalition that fell one vote short of organizing bipartisan Senate leadership in January, he added. Wagoner was uncertain if Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would be a part of the committee.

The bipartisan group wants to change Senate operating rules.

The Democratic majority amended several when it took control in January. The minority coalition said the rule changes disenfranchise their constituents.

Mitchem said it is time for the Senate to look "beyond party and philosophy to accomplish the will of the people." He called for an end to the "petty bickering" that has plagued the chamber this session and replace it with "serious debate on issues people care about such as campaign finance reform and a school construction bond issue.

Butler said Mitchem's action is a positive move. "I applaud Sen. Mitchem for making the effort," Butler said. "The rules need changing. It is hard to play the game until you know what the rules are."

Orr said the Senate needs more transparency in the legislative process. He said he hopes the ad hoc committee can come up with changes that accomplish that goal.

Mitchem appointed Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, chairman of the committee. Democratic committee members include Sens. Vivian Figures of Mobile, Hank Sanders of Selma, Bobby Denton of Muscle Shoals, Myron Penn of Union Springs, Lowell Barron of Fyffe, Ted Little of Auburn and Parker Griffith of Huntsville.

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