Breaking down the latest Senate happenings

Published 5:53 pm Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Can you move with me? Can you move with me through one legislative week in this 2017 Session? Do you want to? I hope so because I want to share just a little of my legislative experiences this week. Can you move with me through this legislative week?

I had lots of meetings with various organizations, groups and individuals. But I’m not going to involve you in those meetings. I want to deal strictly with matters on the Senate Floor, in Senate committees or other during Senate processes.

First, it was an unusual Senate week. Usually, we have two days for legislative session and one for committee meetings. The session days are usually Tuesday and Thursday. The committee days are usually Wednesday. However, this week had three legislative days, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Committee meetings had to be squeezed in earlier on Wednesday or on other days.

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When I viewed the Special Order Calendar (agenda of bills to be considered on this day), I was surprised. I was surprised because my bill to keep driver’s license offices open in every Alabama County was on the special order. I was further surprised because it was very high up on the special order. I believe that it was second to be considered out of some 16 bills. I was not only surprised but pleased. I appreciated that I had some special help.

First, let me refresh your recollection. The governor of Alabama closed 32 drivers license offices in 28 counties in October of 2015. Citizens in 28 counties would be forced to go to other counties to secure drivers licenses. I helped lead the fight against these closings in various ways including public protests. During last year’s regular session, I passed a bill to require drivers license offices be open a minimum of two days a week in each county. The governor pocket vetoed the bill at the end of the session by refusing to sign it into law.

The strange thing is the bill passed this Tuesday while I was sitting down. I do not have the space to explain what happened. I am just glad it passed. Now, the bill will have to go through a house committee, get on a house special order calendar, and be considered on the house floor. I asked Representative A.J. McCampbell to handle the bill in the House. He had successfully handled the bill in the House last year.

I had three local bills before the full Senate: one for the town of Thomaston in Marengo County; one for the county of Washington; and one for the county of Lowndes. Each of these bills passed the Senate without discussion. In fact, each bill passed by what is referred to as the “previous roll call vote.” With unanimous consent, we simply use the vote count from the previous roll call vote.

Talladega College has been in the education budget since the 1980s. The chair of the budget committee asked me to sponsor the bill this year because I am a graduate of the college. At first, I said “no.” The governor had Talladega in his budget for one million dollars. The budget chair had the amount at $882,997. I really did not want to introduce a bill for a lesser amount. But I relented because no one else accepted the challenge. Can you move with me?

When the bill came up on the Senate floor it was separated from similar budget bills on the special order. I was concerned. The bill needed 24 of a possible 35 Senate votes because it is a private college. Last year, the bill received exactly 24 votes. When it came up for consideration this week, the Senate President Pro Tem was standing at the podium and quickly moved the bill. He used the “previous roll.” The bill passed with 27 votes. It was over in less than a minute. Can you move with me?

I have been introducing bills to take sales taxes off groceries since 1996. It has never passed the Alabama Legislature. One time we came within one vote of passing a House version of this bill.  Last month, the governor set up a Task Force on Removing Sales Taxes From Groceries. I welcomed the governor’s interest after more than 25 years of efforts. This week I was surprised to receive a letter from Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh appointing me to the Task Force.

We also considered the $6.4 Billion Education Budget on the Senate floor. However, it did not pass after several hours. The budget chair was trying to pass it on this day because the next two weeks will be Spring break. We also considered and passed an abridged version of Prison Construction Bill, I voted no.