A bill was introduced last week by Rep. Steve Hurst (R-Munford) that would require sex offenders who’ve violated a child under the age of 12 to pay for their own castration prior to release from the pen. While it hasn’t come up in committee yet, it seems like Democrats will have a hard time arguing that pedophiles deserve to keep their misused parts.
In committee hearings March 8, a bill banning the use of police decoy cars — those villainous voyeurs that pop up around the capital city with no officer in the car to clock unwitting drivers — was passed and sent before the full House.
But perhaps the biggest news that Tuesday was the impressive effort by House lawmakers to pass an ambitious education budget, which would provide additional funding for myriad operations, as well as a pay raise for teachers. The $6.3 billion budget — which provides a 4 percent raise for public school teachers making less than $75,000 a year, an additional $14 million for the state’s top-notch pre-K program, $9.8 million for transportation and $5 million for technology — cleared the House by an almost unheard-of unanimous vote.
As has previously been stated, my favorite part of the legislative week is Wednesday, when committee hearings get underway and the true legislative gears begin to grind. Few people realize what a bill has to go through to get passed — committee, floor, committee, floor — it’s similar to what I once went through trying to get an unemployment check (my experience must have been similar to a Democratic bill, because I was never able to get an unemployment check).
The Senate Education Committee approved the PREP Act (Preparing and Rewarding Education Professionals) from Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston), which moves Alabama teachers to a five-year tenure track and hinges their maintaining their tenure on student evaluations and performance, along with other observations and evaluations. Marsh believes the bill will improve the quality of education in the state but, unsurprisingly, teachers have spit and cussed over the legislation.
The Senate Committee on General Fund Finance and Taxation gave a favorable report to two Medicaid-related bills. One from Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Daphne) would increase penalties for people who “knowingly engage” in Medicaid fraud, making the offense now a Class C felony. Pittman said the offense wasn’t made a Class D felony, a charge more in line with a nonviolent offense, because “taking taxpayer money” is a crime “of the worst type.”
The second bill approved by the committee was from Sen. Vivian Figures (D-Mobile) that would put a constitutional amendment before the people for a vote. The amendment would raise property taxes by 5 mills, roughly $15 for properties worth $50,000, and allow the proceeds to go toward funding the state’s beleaguered Medicaid fund. According to Figures, the move would generate roughly $280 million a year by 2019.
The Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act faced stiff opposition in the same committee, as engineers, contractors and architects railed against the bill’s language allowing one company to design and build the new facilities. The bill is part of Gov. Robert Bentley’s “Great State 2019” plan and sets out to demolish all but two of Alabama’s 16 prisons and replace them with four new prisons. The bill would be paid for with an $800 million revenue bond, which is said would be repaid simply through savings. But more opposition came from the head of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, who condemned the bill’s use of a 1 mill tax as collateral — the same 1 mill tax that currently goes to the VA and the Department of Human Resources. Ultimately, committee members decided to carry the bill over until this week’s meeting.
That same afternoon, the House Committee on Economic Development and Tourism passed two alcohol-related bills — one of which would allow ABC stores and retailers to conduct liquor and wine tastings and another that would allow a site straddling wet and dry counties to serve booze. The first bill came from Rep. William Beasley (D-Clayton) and only saw opposition from Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program.
When you spend a little time at the Statehouse, you begin to recognize the faces of not only the legislators, but those citizen activists that show up to chant down any bill that will allow public input. Godfrey is one of that sort — a spirited man, with Christian-conservative ideals, who shows up any time a bill is discussed concerning alcohol or gambling.
Beasley’s bill cleared the committee and discussion moved to a bill from Rep. James Buskey (D-Mobile), which would allow Lake Patti Sue, whose 160-acre recreational area sits partially in a dry county, to serve alcohol. Again Godfrey contested, urging lawmakers to make it more difficult to get alcohol, but Buskey’s bill cleared the committee with widespread support, aside from Rep. Tommy Hanes (R-Scottsboro), who lives in a dry county and believes the bill overlooks the will of people living in such counties.
Legislators reconvened for the session Thursday morning and, after welcoming officials from NASA who were visiting the state for Aerospace Week, house Democrats launched into a filibuster aimed at upending plans to bring forth a General Fund void of adequate Medicaid funding before the body next week. The budget leaves a gaping $100 million hole in the Medicaid budget and Democrats argued that funding the program should be made a priority.
In the Senate, Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) single-handedly derailed efforts to pass a constitutional amendment that would add Alabama’s status as a “right-to-work” state to the constitution. A vote was also stalled on a payday lending bill, which would greatly diminish the predatory power of the industry, by Republicans who’d fallen victim to the industry’s abundant lobbying power.
At the close of the House session, Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) noted he expects Bentley to call legislators back for a special session if Medicaid is not properly funded.
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