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Alabama Senate dispute continues

From staff, AP reports

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate was forced to adjourn Thursday afternoon because not enough members were inside the chamber to do business. The rules fight that has stopped action for most of the session seemed to be getting worse.

With the regular session two-thirds complete, few bills have passed the Senate because of a dispute between the 18 Democrats who make up the majority and 17 members of a minority caucus that includes Republicans and a few Democrats.

The sudden adjournment came after an all-night session Wednesday night that caused many lawmakers to sleep in the Senate chamber or in their offices.

The all-night session was forced Wednesday night when the minority senators used delaying tactics to keep debate going on routine bills and Democrats refused to adjourn.

The sudden adjournment Thursday left hanging three incentives bills needed to try to lure a railroad boxcar plant to the Shoals area of Northwest Alabama. The plant is expected to employ about 1,600 people and Sen. Bobby Denton, D-Muscle Shoals, said the pending bills would raise the sale tax one-half cent in Colbert and Lauderdale counties to help pay the cost of incentives.

Senators called a truce last week long enough to pass an incentives bill needed to lure a giant steel mill to the Mobile area, but Denton said he could get no such cooperation for what he said is a badly needed project for Northwest Alabama.

"We have a great work force up there and this project is made for us. It's going to be a shame to see it lost," Denton said.

Also in limbo are two pieces of local Madison County legislation backed by Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, and a bill by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, which would enable the Morgan County Port Authority to participate in the development of a proposed industrial park along Interstate 65 near Hartselle.

The education and operating budgets have already passed the House and are waiting in a basket in the Senate, stalled by the dispute.

The senators spent much of Thursday in recess as members tried to resolve their differences, but went back into session and resumed delaying tactics Thursday afternoon. Minority senators then moved for a quorum call and immediately left the chamber. That meant there were not enough senators present and Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom adjourned the Senate until 10 a.m. Friday.

Legislators normally meet Tuesday-Thursday and Friday sessions are rare. The House will not meet again until Tuesday.

Senators on both sides blamed the other for the impasse.

"If they are continuing to do what they are doing, they are going to kill both budgets," Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little, D-Cullman said of the minority senators. Little denied allegations that the Senate operating rules are unfair to the minority senators.

"They know the rules aren't unfair. They have proven the rules are fair. They have proven they can use the rules to shut the Senate down."

But Senate Minority Leader Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, said the minority members had no choice but to walk out and force adjournment Thursday to prevent another all-night session.

"We had senators sleeping on the floor, others were sleeping in their offices," Waggoner said.

Waggoner said Democrats were being inflexible.

"They don't want to bend. They don't want to compromise. They don't want to talk. It's their way or no way," Waggoner said.

Shortly before midnight Wednesday, Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, told senators the all-night session would not accomplish anything, because there were no negotiations going on to break the impasse. The minority senators have said the rules adopted by the Democrats are unfair and give the Democrats too much power.

"This is crazy, people. You don't stay here all night with no one talking to each other," Dixon said.

Senators on both sides said they see no immediate end to the dispute, which is threatening passage of the state budgets and other legislation.

"I guess most of us have been counting on the good judgment of people to prevail. I think this could go on a few more days. This is shameful," said Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, a member of the majority. "We could be passing the budgets."

Copyright 2005 THE DECATUR DAILY. All rights reserved.
AP contributed to this report.

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