Area senators have mixed opinions on sunset vote
By M.J. Ellington
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MONTGOMERY — One local senator said the Senate majority's tactics in ending a session-long logjam Tuesday do not bode well for the future and show that the minority's concerns about operating rules are valid.
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said the swiftness of Tuesday's 18-17 vote, over objections from the minority, reminded him of when senators raised their pay over similar objections.
Two area senators who are part of the Senate's Democratic leadership said that when Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom gaveled two remaining sunset bills as "indefinitely postponed" on a simple majority vote, he did the one thing that may allow the state's budgets to pass before the session ends.
Orr said that vote came over objections from Republicans who have been stalling bills in order to force changes to the Senate's operating rules.
Tom Butler, D-Madison, who is allied with the Republican minority, declined to comment.
Without the rule changes, Orr said, the majority can limit floor debate and introduce substitute bills that substantially change critical legislation. Orr said he is concerned about that happening with regard to budget bills and a $1.1 billion capital improvements bond issue for education.
Orr said the minority coalition of Republicans and five Democrats offered over the weekend to give up its fight over sunset bills in exchange for a promise that the Senate would pass the bond issue bill as proposed by Gov. Bob Riley. The House passed a different version Tuesday, which would lessen the governor's power to make decisions about how the bond money is spent.
That version would add the chairmen of the House and Senate education budget committees and the lieutenant governor to the body that decides how to spend up to $100 million of the bond money. In the past, education bond decisions went to the three-member Public School and College Authority made up of the governor, the finance director and the superintendent of education.
Sens. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, and Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, praised Folsom's action and said he correctly used a law that allows the Senate to bypass sunset bills and move on to other legislation on a simple majority vote.
In the past, bypassing the sunset legislation took 21 votes.
Senate Republicans, stunned by the tactics, said the vote disenfranchised their constituents, and some vowed to seek court action.
"Schoolteachers and children deserve to know that school will open on time," Bedford said. "It is time to quit the partisan bickering and pass the budgets."
The vote "indefinitely setting aside" the sunset bills came after 460 attempts to pass the same measures this session. The result effectively kills regulatory boards that issue licenses for architects, engineers and land surveyors until the Senate can bring the measures up again, said Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma.
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