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Senate's 'Groundhog Day'
Action resembles film as Alabama senators discuss same bills day after day

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate has become a real life version of the Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day," with senators discussing the same bills day after day after day.

In the 1993 movie, Murray plays a TV weatherman who repeats Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pa., day after day.

In Montgomery, the Senate has spent each meeting day for about three weeks talking about the same non-controversial bills to extend the life of several state regulatory boards. Before getting into that time loop, the Senate had a different agenda of bills that repeated day after day for a few weeks.

Sen. Bradley Byrne of Fairhope, a Republican who's soon to vacate his post to become postsecondary chancellor, was the first to notice the comparison to the movie when the repetition started a few weeks back. Standing at the chamber microphone, he questioned whether the Senate's situation "had been inspired by that movie."

On Tuesday, he marveled at how long the repetition has gone on.

"I didn't know it was going to be 'Groundhog Day' this long," he said.

Operating rules

In the Senate, the minority coalition of 12 Republicans and five Democrats is angry about operating rules enacted by the 18-member Democratic majority. Throughout the session, the minority has been slowing down action to try to force a change in the rules.

Since April 26, the Senate has been required by state law to consider a package of bills that extend the life of several state regulatory boards. State law keeps the Senate from doing other work until the so-called "sunset bills" are completed or the Senate agrees to set them aside temporarily.

In a normal year, the Senate would dispense with all the "sunset" bills in one day and move to other business. But this session, the minority is blocking the passage of resolutions that would allow each bill to come to a vote.

In negotiations the last two weeks, the minority allowed some of the routine bills to pass. But the Senate has been stuck on the remaining two sunset bills for days. They would extend the existence of the state Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors and the Alabama Board of Examiners of Landscape Architects.

The Senate held a rare Monday night meeting to try to break the stalling tactics and continued Tuesday. The Senate took a brief respite from the stalling tactics Tuesday when the lawmakers passed two bills offering economic incentives to a company considering locating at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.

Paul Hubbert, executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, and Mac McArthur, executive director of the Alabama State Employees Association, said they took the rare moment of harmony as a positive sign the Senate may yet pass the two state budgets and pay raises for public employees before the session ends.

State Sen. Bobby Denton, who's serving his eighth term in the Senate, said Alabama voters don't understand why the Senate is nearing the end of its session and many important bills, including the budgets, haven't come to a vote.

"All they understand is we aren't getting it done," Denton, D-Muscle Shoals, said.

Freshman Sen. Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville, said the Democratic majority won the Senate's organizational battle 18-17 in January and the losers can't get over it.

"The winners made the rules, but the losers decided they would not respect the Democratic process," he said.

Byrne, R-Fairhope, said Democrats share the blame for enacting rules that disenfranchise the minority and not being willing to compromise.

"The people are going to say all of you are to blame," he predicted.

In the movie "Groundhog Day," Murray repeats the same day enough times that he begins to re-examine his life and his priorities. In the end, he becomes a better person and gets the girl, Andie MacDowell.

"It doesn't look like that is going to happen in the Senate," Byrne said.

The Senate is taking Wednesday off because members have other business, including some being invited to a golf tournament in Birmingham, and it will resume the discussion of "sunset bills" on Thursday.

In the movie "Groundhog Day," Murray is never quite sure who is forcing him to repeat each day.

A member of the Senate majority, Ted Little, D-Auburn, suggested to his colleagues Tuesday the same is true in the Senate.

"I'm not sure the 35 of us have the brilliance to orchestrate this as well as it has been orchestrated," Little said.

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

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