Republican legislators laud work done in 2013 session
by Chris Norwood
The last day of the 2013 legislative session came to a productive end Monday, with Republican majorities in both Houses overriding the executive amendments of a Republican governor on the School Accountability Act and passing a flurry of local legislative acts before adjourning at midnight as required by law.

“We passed 82 local bills and 56 statewide bills in the Senate,” Sen. Jerry Fielding, R-Sylacauga, said. “We’ve still got about 60 confirmations that we passed out of committee that the full Senate didn’t get to, and that might make it difficult for some of these committees to have a quorum. But we did pass a General Fund and Education Trust Fund budget, and I hope we did some good, and hopefully no bad, with those.”

Fielding particularly mentioned a bill passed Monday known as the 21st Century Work Force Act, which will allow for a bond issue to improve career tech programs at all levels, “and that’s definitely a positive step,” he said. “We also passed a pretrial diversion bill, which the district attorneys’ offices will come under. We can’t keep on just locking everybody up, and this will provide drug courts and rehabilitation for non-violent offenders, things like that. There was also a bill to allow cities to do the same thing.”

Other last minute bills included amendments to existing statutes that require appellate court justices (but not Supreme Court justices) to have a residence in Montgomery and that bars two appointments to the Public Service Commission from the same Congressional District. “This just says they have to be a day’s drive away, so it clears some things up,” Fielding said.

Other highlights of the session include passage of three classes of the crime failure to report a missing child, and amended the procedure for property owners redeeming property auctioned off due to unpaid taxes. The crime of trespassing on a school bus was created, and the requirement that a capital murder defendant who has pleaded guilty and is not facing the death penalty must still be tried by a jury was done away with.

Collaborative law agreements were allowed in domestic cases when both sides agree, and aggravated animal cruelty was elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony, Fielding said.

A schedule for contingency fees for private lawyers working on behalf of the state was established, and a bill requiring motorists to slow down and yield to garbage and recycling trucks was also passed. Another bill, allowing the redistribution of prescription medications to prisons and jails, also passed.

“Guns were one of the big things we talked about all session,” Fielding said. “The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives us the right to keep and bear arms, and now the voters will have an opportunity to vote on similar language in the Alabama Constitution in November 2014. We received messages from the House and the governor, including the House overriding the governor’s amendment. The Senate concurred. This version of the bill, without the amendments, is better for the taxpayers, the students and for local school boards. It cuts the number of failing schools, with few to start with, and I don’t think any here (in Talladega County). And if you have no failing schools, then the tax credits are not in play for you.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, largely agreed.

“It was a good day,” he said. “We already had our budgets out, and we overrode the governor’s amendment, passed the Accountability Act and sent it to the secretary of state. We passed some good campaign finance reform laws, the state law institute and insurance agencies. And the career tech bill was definitely needed.”

He added that “it was a productive session, with more than 100 local bills passed, and that means a lot.”

Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, said the last day of the House session also “went quite well, although it was hectic as always. We passed four major local bills, and we overrode the amendments to the Accountability Bill. We took what needed to be fixed, and we took care of those problems. That passed both Houses. And we passed a gun registration and pistol permit compromise, and the fact that not everyone was happy is a sign of a good deal. The sheriffs and the (National Rifle Association) liked it OK, and the Business Council of Alabama didn’t so much, but they can live with it.”

The local bills include a pretrial diversion program in Moody, the annexation of a blighted area outside of Springville (so the city can clean it up), as well as a health care issue. Another local bill would provide travel expenses for the probate judge going back and forth between Ashville and Pell City.

McClendon sponsored a bill regarding transfer of nursing homes to limited liability corporations, which didn’t exist when the current law was passed. The House also passed 80 or 90 local bills pertaining to other parts of the state.

“Overall, there was some controversy,” he said. “But looking at the big picture, we were successful. We did a good job, and we completed our mission for 2013.”

McClendon also pointed to the Education Trust Fund Budget, which includes a 2 percent raise for teachers and provides additional savings by letting them purchase liability insurance from the state. Unfortunately, other state employees are paid through the General Fund, where money is tighter and there will be no raises this year.

McClendon also touted Medicaid reform, which he said was “trying to do something about the exponentially increasing expenses. This will put some more strings on the program and give us some more control. We were also able to move some money to help out the courts and prisons, especially Julia Tutwiler Women’s Prison in Wetumpka.”

Rep. Dickie Drake, R-Leeds, said, “We could have done more if the Democrats didn’t filibuster so much. But we did pass some significant bills. I sponsored a bill that I ended up tagging onto someone else’s for the National Guard Foundation, which is a benevolent organization for the families of Guardsmen. It uses funds from the sale of National Guard tags to fund grants for those families.”

Drake added that he “hated to have to go against the governor, but needed to address some issues” in the Accountability Act. “But going against the governor was the only way for me to keep my promises to my constituents. Otherwise, it would have reverted back to its very first form, and all the problems it had.”

He also sponsored pretrial diversion bills for Leeds and Irondale, which became redundant when a statewide bill passed.

Drake also sponsored a joint resolution pointing out that the four men that a stretch of Interstate 459 had been named for had all earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Rep. Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City, said it was an exciting day (Monday),” coming at the close of his first session as a legislator. The highlight for him was “passage of a $50 million bond issue for career tech. I am a product of career tech myself, so I was very glad to see we got this covered. When I was on a school board before serving in the House, we partnered for skills training programs with Airbus, and hopefully this will allow us to do something similar all over the state.”

The gun bill, he said, was probably the most controversial, with sheriffs, district attorneys and the NRA signing off on it. “The BCA didn’t like it, but they got immunity, so they’ll be all right. And although I have the utmost respect for the governor, we had to get up and override his amendment out of fiscal responsibility. We’re saving about $60 million over the budget he submitted.”

Butler added that “this is a great group of people who worked well together, at least in the House.”

Rep. Ron Johnson, R-Sylacauga, said, “The last day was pretty busy. We passed some benevolent bills and a lot of local bills, and we overrode the governor’s veto, which will turn out good or bad down the road. All of the local bills for Talladega County were dead by last Thursday. We just didn’t have enough votes to suspend the rules. But still, over all, it was a good session.”

Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston; Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston; and Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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© 2013