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CAPITOL LETTER
Democrats try to mediate differences, GOP strategize

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

MONTGOMERY — With Senate Democrats meeting and Republicans plotting strategy, a sleepy summer week in the state capitol became interesting.

Meeting? What meeting?

The state Senate Democratic caucus held a session with a mediator and invited five Democratic senators, who usually had sided with Republicans on key votes in the 2007 session, to attend.

Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, a leader of the group of five, said he spent the day at his day job, working as a pharmacist. Butler said he believed only one, at most, of the five senators went to the mediation session.

Later, Sen. E.B. McClain, D-Midfield, announced he had rejoined the majority, saying voters in his district expected it.

Tough policies or politics

The word in the capital is “compromise” with regard to two-year college Chancellor Bradley Byrne’s proposed restrictions on how two-year college employees use their earned leave.

Byrne wants to limit, and by 2010 prohibit, system employees from serving in the state Legislature.

Byrne was a Republican senator from Fairhope before becoming chancellor in May at Gov. Bob Riley’s urging. Byrne and Riley announced the four proposed reforms they want the state Board of Education to adopt.

The board will discuss the proposals at its work session Monday.

Byrne’s name comes up often on lists of proposed gubernatorial candidates, but he said he has not decided whether to run.

Affects all employees

Wording in Byrne’s policy on use of personal leave and vacation time would affect all two-year college employees, not just lawmakers.

Riley proposed legislation in the 2007 session is similar to the proposals that Byrne will ask the Board of Education to consider Monday. The legislation, including one double-dipping bill Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, sponsored, got nowhere.

Brian Taylor, Riley’s policy director, wanted to stress the climate that the measures faced in the Legislature and e-mailed copies of the failed bills to reporters with a cover note.

The note included a quote attributed to Sen. Myron Penn, D-Union Springs, at a Senate committee meeting where Republican Sen. Scott Beason’s, version of the double-dipping bill was brought up.

This is what Taylor recalled of Penn’s comments: “I could run through Hades with gas shorts on and get out of there alive before this bill can pass.”

Penn was unavailable for comment.

Double-dipping

Hammon said when he introduced the double-dipping bill in the House last spring, he did not think the bill would pass.

“I did not think it would go anywhere,” Hammon said. “But I think the people want something done about abuses in the system.”

He said he believes a loophole in the federal Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees from holding government office, helped fuel education employees holding public office and college jobs. The federal law exempts education employees. Hammon said that shows the power of the education lobby extends to Washington.

If Byrne’s proposals pass the school board and survive any court tests, Hammon said, he believes restrictions on public office will extend beyond the two-year colleges.

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