Pressure mounts to pass budgets, end deadlock
By M.J. Ellington
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MONTGOMERY — With six days remaining in the regular session, the state Legislature returns to work Thursday with hope, but little confidence, that senators will settle their differences and pass legislation.
At risk are both the General Fund and education budgets and a $1.1 billion capital improvements bond issue for education. Also awaiting action are more than 180 local bills that must pass before county and city governments can move ahead with plans that require legislative approval.
The House already has approved the budgets, the bond issue and most local bills. The Senate, meanwhile, has approved neither of the budgets nor the bond issue and has yet to take up most of the local bills.
The Senate closed the day Tuesday with Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, asking his colleagues to consider his bill expanding the jurisdiction of port authorities to include all of the counties in which they operate.
Morgan County officials hope to expand the Decatur-Morgan County Port Authority's jurisdiction to include a proposed economic development along Interstate 65 near Hartselle. Orr said the project would be similar to Mallard Fox Creek Industrial Park. He plans to try to bring up the bill again Thursday.
While there are no objections to the bill, it was caught up in the continuing disagreement over the Senate's operating rules. That dispute has stopped action in the chamber for most of the session.
Speaker of the House Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, said the biggest problem in the Senate is that some people just don't like each other.
Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, a leader of a group of dissident Democrats who sided with Republicans in an attempt to change Senate operating rules, said it's true that some senators dislike each other. But he said he was encouraged after the Senate majority helped pass two of his local bills Tuesday.
"This was a step forward by the majority," Butler said.
In the sometimes-acrimonious 2006 session, the Senate passed more than 100 bills on the last day of the session, Butler said.
Local House lawmakers said they hope, but do not have confidence, that the Senate will end its war of wills in time to pass the budgets and other key bills.
Soon after the education bond issue passed the House unanimously, Rep. Jeremy Oden, R-Eva, called the measure one of the best things the state could do for education — if it gets through the Senate.
"It is frustrating," Oden said. "The Senate does not even seem interested in passing anything. I am really frustrated that we may have to come back and do this all over again if they do not."
If the budgets do not pass, the Legislature will have to return to Montgomery by September for a special session because the constitution requires that the Legislature pass balanced budgets before the beginning of the fiscal year Oct. 1.
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