Senate holds rare Monday session; more work ahead
By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate held a rare Monday night meeting to kick off a make-or-break week that could determine whether a special session is necessary for major leftover work, including the state budgets.
The Senate's Democratic majority set the Monday night meeting time in hopes of breaking stalling tactics by the Senate minority, which has been slowing down action for weeks to protest Senate operating rules they consider unfair. The Democratic majority plans to keep the Senate meeting throughout the week to build pressure — much as they did last week.
A member of the Senate minority, Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, said he brought a blanket, pillow and towel to the Statehouse Monday night.
"I'm planning on living at the Statehouse if that's what it takes," he said.
Senate President Pro Tem Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, said Monday the two sides have been talking and he is optimistic a compromise will be worked out before week's end that will salvage the legislative session.
Pressure is on
"The time element is putting pressure on everyone," he said.
After Monday, only seven meeting days remain in the legislative session. The House has passed the state education and General Fund budgets, but the Senate has not received either state budget from the House. Once the stalling ends, it will take at least three meeting days for the Senate to process the budgets.
The House has been holding off on considering a record $850 million bond issue for school construction projects while it waits to see what the Senate does with the education budget.
The House has passed more than 100 other bills, including a ban on transferring money between political action committees, but the bills have not yet been considered by the Senate. When time gets short in the Senate, low-profile bills affecting everything from crime to government regulations, often get tossed aside.
"If we can get both budgets, the school bond issue, and the PAC-to-PAC ban, we can save the session," Mitchem said in an interview.
If the state budgets aren't passed, the governor will have to call the lawmakers into special session to reconsider them before the state's new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Riley held out hope Monday during a public appearance in Monroeville. "I see no reason we can't come together and reach an agreement before there's a need for a special session," he said.
Representatives, meanwhile, are getting frustrated with the senators' inaction.
"We need them to do something because we've been working and working and working and right now what we've done has been in vain," Rep. Harry Shiver, R-Bay Minette, said.
The Senate's minority — 12 Republicans and five Democrats — is upset about operating rules written by the 18-member Democratic majority that make it easier for the majority to cut off filibusters by the minority over state budgets and legislative and congressional redistricting plans.
The minority is also complaining about key Senate committees being stacked with majority members, leaving the minority with little influence despite being only one member smaller than the majority.
But the session-long standoff in the Senate stems from more than the rules and committee assignments. In last year's legislative elections, some senators in the Democratic majority raised money to try to beat some Democrats who traditionally side with the Republicans, and some Republican legislative leaders helped their party raise money to try to defeat some members of the Democratic majority.
House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, said the Senate battle is more personal than ones that have occurred during organizational struggles of the past.
"The difference is that in the Senate things have reached a point where people simply don't like each other," he said in an interview Thursday.
Sen. Jim Preuitt, one of the Democrats who sides with Republicans, survived a Democratic primary challenge last year where his opponent received help from Democratic senators. Preuitt, D-Talladega, said last year's elections contributed to the Senate split.
"It's more deep-rooted than I've ever seen," said Preuitt.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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