House passes education budget, pay raises
by Will Heath
ST. CLAIR COUNTY — Area representatives this week lauded the passage of the state’s Education Trust Fund budget, which includes both pay raises and liability insurance for state educators.

“I think the big highlight was being able to reward our teachers,” said Rep. Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City. “If we can continue to keep growing the economy, that will be better for all of us.”

The pay raise would be the first for state teachers since 2008. Butler noted that was also the last time proration affected the state’s education budget.

“The big thing about teacher pay raise, you have to be so careful,” Butler said. “The majority of teacher pay raises, proration follows.

“We’re not anticipating proration to follow this one; we feel the money’s going to be there. We’re committed to being good stewards of the state’s money.”

Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, helped to co-sponsor “a package of bills,” designed to combat illegal acquisition and abuse of prescription drugs.

House Bill 150 — sponsored by McClendon, chairman of the House Health Committee — would allow physicians and up to two of their designated employees to access the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program database maintained by the Alabama Department of Public Health. The State Medicaid Agency would be provided similar access, as well.

“There’s no doubt that Alabama is suffering from a drug abuse epidemic as evidenced by statistics from just a few years ago showing just under 200,000 adults abused prescription drugs in our state,” McClendon said. “In addition to the human toll, the National Institute of Health estimates the societal cost of prescription drug abuse is as high as $50 billion a year in the United States, so dramatic steps are obviously needed.”

Two other bills, sponsored by Rep. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, allow for “regulation of pain management service” and empower law enforcement to investigate “doctor shopping,” in which patients visit different doctors looking for the same pain medication.

Rep. Dickie Drake, R-Leeds, on Tuesday announced passage of a bill through the House of Representatives aimed at child abuse and neglect. The legislation — first proposed by Drake in 2012 — broadens the designations that are required to report such crimes to include “physical therapists and employees of public or private postsecondary or higher education institutions. The legislation includes a provision that would charge “a public or private employer who discharges, suspends, disciplines or penalizes an employee for reporting suspected child abuse or neglect” with a Class C misdemeanor.

“Few actions are as offensive as abusing a child, violating their trust or failing to provide the very basic needs that parents, guardians and other adults are required to give,” said Drake. “In order to protect the most precious and vulnerable lives among us, child abuse or neglect must be reported any time it is even remotely suspected, and this bill requires just that.”

In the Alabama Senate, President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said the passage of legislation that increases penalties for fraud in taxpayer-assisted programs is a big step towards eliminating government waste.

Senate Bill 105, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, makes it a crime to defraud many state and federal government-funded public assistance programs, including Medicaid, Social Security, food assistance and public housing.

“Now more than ever, we have to make sure that tax dollars are being spent responsibly and Senator Orr’s legislation does that by helping to curb fraud and abuse,” Marsh said.

Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, and Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, were unavailable for comment Friday.

Contact Will Heath at wheath@thestclairtimes.com.

© 2013