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CAPITOL LETTER
A week of foster children, budgets

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — The work of soft hearts in the House helped temper a legislative week during which the Senate remained in a logjam.

It’s not all about politics

State House members and employees quietly collected money Thursday for 14 House pages unlike any they’ve had before. The teenage pages, who run errands and deliver messages for legislators when they are in session, were all foster children who live in group homes in Birmingham, Montgomery and Opelika. Pages serve for one-week stints at the recommendation of individual legislators and receive $15 per day as pay.

Speaker of the House Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, said the pages’ eagerness and hard work touched lawmakers. Representatives and House staff members collected money for the youngsters all day Thursday and ended up with $2,002 for the children to divide.

Hammett said foster-care children in Alabama have never received much recognition and the week helped give them positive attention. All of the children live in group homes because there are not enough foster homes for them in the state, he said.

Alabama Foster and Adoptive Parent Association Vice President Linda Williams wiped tears from her eyes as Hammett recognized the children. “People never see our kids this way,” she said.

House productivity

Unlike their warring upstairs neighbors in the Senate, members of the House passed the $6.75 billion education budget, a safety plan for school boards and a bill prohibiting violent inmates from profiting from the sale of art or writings about their crimes. The Senate dug in for another week of stalemate, which subsided just long enough to pass an economic incentives bill meant to attract the German steel manufacturer ThyssenKrupp to Alabama.

Sheer frustration

Hammett said House members feel “sheer frustration” at the Senate’s apparent inability to work through personal differences, which have locked down the upper chamber for most of the session. When the House adjourned for the week Thursday, Hammett said 80 general House bills and 66 local bills were awaiting action in the Senate.

Work-force development funds questioned

Some House members questioned why the education budget committee sliced $22 million from the work-force development line item in the education budget. Hammett said the committee asked for but did not receive work- force project budget details from Gov. Bob Riley’s office. Hammett said Riley thought the figures went to the committee.

The House voted to add a $22 million conditional appropriation back into the budget. Hammett said the Alabama Development Office is actively recruiting 11 different economic-development projects, each with 500 or more employees. The state also has prior commitments with existing employers for economic incentives.

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