Time has way of forcing legislative issues

Published 10:01 pm Tuesday, May 26, 2015

It’s coming to an end. We have a few days left in the 2015 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature. That’s about two legislative days per week for the next three weeks. The projected last day is June 11. The 2015 Legislative Session is coming to an end.

As the end of the session approaches, so many things change. Therefore, I want to share several legislative matters that I participated in during the past week.

Item No. 1 – I had challenged a bill that would abolish marriage licenses in Alabama. Under this bill, Alabamians would marry by contract which would be filed in the County Probate office. Probate judges would not have to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples or anyone else.

I did not like this bill. First, marriage licenses have been issued in Alabama since 1819. To abolish them just so some probate judges can avoid having to issue a marriage license to same sex couples seems to reduce marriage in some kind of way. I remember when some probate judges would not issue marriage licenses to interracial couples.

I held up the bill in the Senate. However, after consulting with various citizens including strong supporters of same sex marriage, I determined that they were not opposed to the bill. I realized that I was the only one opposing the bill. I was still against it but decided not to prevent its passing. I did not vote for it. The session is coming to an end.

Item No. 2 – Some months ago, certain persons contacted me about a proposed local bill that would allow draft beer to be served on premises in the city of Selma. They were strongly opposed. Others subsequently contacted me in strong support of such a local bill. They said that it would help promote tourism. The Selma City Council adopted a resolution calling for the sale of draft beer. I eventually came down in support of on premise sale of draft beer in Selma. I am a strong supporter of expanding tourism infrastructure in Selma. I took some heat from those opposing the bill.

As required by the Alabama Constitution, the bill was published in a local newspaper once a week for four consecutive weeks. I did not see the bill until after it was published, introduced and passed in the House of Representatives and arrived in the Senate. When I was contacted by opponents of the bill, I read it in detail. I understood why they were upset. It appeared that I was going back on my word. I had told them that the local legislation would be limited to the city of Selma and on premises sales of draft beer. However, the local bill authorized off as well as on premise sales in Dallas County as well as Selma. I was in a bind.

I did my research and amended the bill to delete off premise sales. The calls from those supporting the bill as it currently exists commenced the same day. Now, both sides are upset with me, but that’s alright. The Legislative session is coming to an end.

Item No. 3 – For several weeks, I had been holding up a general bill that would increase the jurisdiction of small claims court from $3,000 to $6,000. Small claims courts usually do not have lawyers representing either side. I was concerned about the impact on poor consumers. I talked with various persons about this 100 percent increase in jurisdiction. It was not a big problem for consumers. Because the Session is coming to an end, I decided to let the bill pass.

Item No. 4 – Several years ago, the Dallas County Commission passed a one half-cent sales tax to help the Dallas County School system. Even though the Dallas County School system and the Selma system have roughly the same number of students, Selma receives about a million dollars more each year to educate its children. In addition, the Selma School system does not have the huge costs of transportation, which the Dallas County School system has. The tax was passed by the commission in part because the Dallas County School system was in some danger of being taken over by the State Department of Education for financial reasons.

Last year an audit determined that Alabama law required that such sales taxes levied by a county commission for education purposes must be divided on a per pupil basis with any municipal school systems in the county. That meant the city of Selma would get about half the money in spite of its much better financial condition. The Dallas County School system was in a fix. They would now get one half of what was provided for them. Moreover, the Dallas County system has to repay the Selma School system $1 million. Dallas County was in a fix.

We decided to fix the problem through a local bill that authorized the Dallas County Commission to put on a one half cent tax with 90 percent going to the Dallas County School system and 10 percent to the Selma City School system provided the current one half cent tax is taken off. I thought everything was in place. However, after the bill was published things commenced to fall apart. The House member said that he was under pressure not to introduce the local bill. I did not receive any calls. I strongly believed we needed to correct the problem.

Several weeks ago, representatives for all parties met to resolve the matter. Last week was the next to last opportunity to initiate the local legislation. There were other efforts to reach a compromise, but they also came to naught. A terrible problem is getting worse. I hope the Dallas County School system will not be taken over by the State Department of Education. The 2015 Legislative Session is coming to an end.

Time has a way of forcing issues. This is no less true in the Alabama Legislature than in other walks of life. As the Regular Legislative Session draws to an end, everything is affected including the passage of general and local legislation.