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CAPITOL LETTER
Senate begins to take action

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Last week the Legislature said goodbye to a senator, uninvited and re-invited a presidential candidate, fussed over a slavery apology and played nice unless strategy suggested otherwise.

A busy week in the capitol saw action in the House as usual but, for the first time in weeks, also saw action in the Senate as a tenuous truce enabled the chamber to begin action on hundreds of bills already passed by the House.

Agreement, maybe

Despite a temporary lapse in Thursday’s Senate cease-fire, many senators say Democrats and Republicans may have enough agreement on the General Fund and education budgets to pass both this session.

Agreements reportedly involve amounts in each budget that senators will take home to their districts and how much Gov. Bob Riley will receive in his discretionary fund.

If the truce holds Tuesday, the House versions of the budgets, which passed Senate committees Wednesday, will reach the full Senate.

Both committees expect to offer substitutes to the House bills on the Senate floor, something minority coalition members said is one reason they wanted Senate operating rules changed.

Education bond issue

The future of the $1.1 billion capital improvements bond issue for education was a bigger question mark at the end of the week than the budgets.

Negotiation seemed to hinge on the composition of the board that would decide how to spend a $44 million discretionary fund.

Originally the governor objected to including the lieutenant governor and the chairmen of the House and Senate education committees on the selection authority. Currently all are Democrats.

Past education bond spending decisions always went though a three-person authority made up of the governor, the state finance director appointed by the governor and the state superintendent of education.

The bill’s passage may depend on how happy the final version leaves all major players.

Senate President Pro Tem Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, gave the measure a 50-50 chance late Thursday.

Byrne back next year

On Tuesday, the Finance and Taxation Education Committee in the Senate took up education employee raises.

During the discussion, a senator long familiar with education funding issues referred to Alabama’s ranking in a Southern Regional Education Board study of teacher salaries.

We’re better than we used to be but could still stand to do better, said Sen. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope.

“I guess we better get used to getting speeches from Sen. Byrne,” quipped Little.

“Next year, he’ll be up before this committee on his own budget.”

Byrne became chancellor of the state two-year college system Thursday.

Just a resolution

Speaker of the House Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, told reporters at his weekly wrap-up later Thursday that he shared Gov. Bob Riley’s position on the slavery resolution.

The governor said if the resolution came across his desk, he would sign it.

“Some say that the resolution went farther than it should have,” Hammett said.

“But it was just a non-binding resolution.”

Slavery issue

House minority members gathered after the House adjourned for the week Thursday to draft a protest of the way the House handled Senate modifications to a resolution by Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, apologizing for slavery.

Members of the group included Reps. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, and Jeremy Oden, R-Eva.

The Republicans wanted a recorded vote, but the House ignored their request and used a voice vote with no record of how each House member voted.

The resolution passed.

Upstairs, the Senate changed the resolution’s language. The changes included language that Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, wanted.

Most Democrats, including Sens. Tom Butler, D-Madison, and Zeb Little, D-Cullman, voted for the resolution and most Republicans voted against it.

Sens. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, abstained.

“It has not been a good week for parliamentary procedure in the Legislature,” said House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn.

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