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FRIDAY, JUNE 22, 2007
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Little to lead review of Senate punch

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The state Senate’s Democratic majority leader will serve as chairman of a committee that will recommend what punishment, if any, a Republican senator should receive for hitting a Democratic senator in the head.

The Senate Ethics and Conduct Committee held its organizational meeting Thursday and elected Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little, D-Cullman, to serve as chairman. Little had no opposition for the post.

The five-member committee will consider a complaint that Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, filed against Sen. Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, after Bishop hit Barron on the Senate floor on the final day of the legislative session June 7.

Neither senator attended the meeting, but Bishop’s lawyer, Jim Ward of Birmingham, was present.

After the meeting, Ward said, “I thought Senator Little did a good job to see it was fair.”

Ward said Bishop still plans to file a complaint against Barron, accusing him of using provocative language with senators.

The Senate’s rules allow the ethics committee to meet in private to review specific complaints, and it did that for about 40 minutes Thursday, including calling Ward into the meeting briefly.

Little, who represents parts of Lawrence and Winston counties, said the committee will get back together in three to four weeks to start working in public on rules it will use to review complaints, but he said the Senate’s operating rules prohibit committee members from talking publicly about specific complaints filed against senators.

Committee members declined to speculate on how long the process might take, but Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, said there is no rush. If the committee recommends some action to the full Senate, the Senate is not scheduled to meet again until February, he said.

After choosing Little unanimously, the committee split along caucus lines to elect Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, as vice chairman. Singleton received three votes from members of the Democratic majority on the committee, and Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, got two votes from minority caucus members.

Beason said he was concerned initially that the vote was a carry-over from the fractious legislative session this spring. “That’s typical of the way the Senate has been run,” he said. But he said later he felt better about the process.

“I feel confident things will be handled correctly,” he said.

Little said he wasn’t concerned about the committee splitting 3-2 along caucus lines as it tackles its duties.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Little said.

Under the Senate’s rules, the committee can issue a private warning to a senator by a majority vote. Committee members said a warning would not be public unless a senator who received it chose to discuss it publicly.

Preuitt, a Democrat who sides with Republicans in the Senate’s minority caucus, pressed Little for his interpretation of a Senate rule that says it takes “a four-fifths vote” of the committee to recommend further action to the full Senate.

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

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