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SATURDAY, MAY 12, 2007

Alabama Senate clears bill to lure plant, resumes feud

MONTGOMERY (AP) — State senators took a brief break from their session-long fight over rules Friday to pass an incentives bill needed to bring a railroad boxcar plant and more than 1,500 jobs to the Shoals area of Northwest Alabama.

But the truce was short-lived and senators quickly returned to stalling tactics and bickering that has slowed down action in the Senate all session. The dispute over Senate operating rules has blocked passage of the education and government-operating budgets and more than 100 other bills that have passed the House.

The Senate later adjourned to come back into session Monday night, a move one Senate leader said could mean the session will end without the Legislature passing budgets. That would force Gov. Bob Riley to call lawmakers into special session to pass budgets before the next fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

“This is a message we are serious about moving on with the people’s business,” said Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and a leader of the Democratic majority.

The Senate minority, made up of 12 Republicans and five Democrats, believes the rules give the 18 senators in the Democratic majority too much power and have used stalling tactics to prevent action on routine bills required to continue state regulatory agencies. The stalling forced senators to return to the Statehouse for a rare Friday session on what was the 22nd day of the 2007 session.

Lawmakers have only 30 days to complete their session. Barron said the majority may decide to meet daily beginning Monday night until all 30 days have been used, unless minority senators agree to end their stalling tactics. In addition to the budgets, issues at jeopardy because of the deadlock include pay raises for teachers and state employees, a bond issue to fund as much as $1 billion in school construction and a bill to ban the practice of transferring campaign contributions from one political action committee to another.

One Republican senator, Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said the stalling tactics are the only way the minority members can get around Senate rules that say debate on budgets can be cut off after 30 minutes.

“This gives us time to study a $7 billion budget,” said Marsh of the $6.7 billion education budget.

He said members of the minority group are willing to stop stalling to pass bills one at a time, but won’t agree to finish work on the bills to continue the regulatory agencies.

“For them to keep saying that we don’t want to pass any bills is untrue,” Marsh said.

The senators took a break from their bickering when they arrived Friday morning to attend a news conference celebrating a German company’s decision to locate a giant steel mill near Mobile. Returning from the news conference, senators were in a mood of reconciliation and voted 33-0 to pass a bill by Sen. Bobby Denton, D-Muscle Shoals, that set up the mechanism for Colbert and Lauderdale counties in northwest Alabama to pay incentives to recruit the boxcar plant.

Denton said the proposed site for the boxcar plant is on the Tennessee River about 10 miles west of Tuscumbia. Senators also agreed to allow Denton to introduce another bill needed to establish the mechanism for awarding incentives.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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