North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

Opinion

March 30, 2013

Steve Flowers: Legislature approaches midway point with full steam

COMMENTARY — The legislature is approaching the midway point of their 2013 regular session. They are grappling with the woes that beset the General Fund Budget. The ongoing struggles with the general fund are a priority. Despite the lean times, most state agencies will receive level funding. Even though there are increased insurance costs for state employees, the administration will not be forced to layoff or furlough any state workers. However, a pay increase is out of the question.

Gov. Bentley’s proposed $5.8 billion education budget does allow for a 2.5 percent raise for education employees as well as $12.5 million in additional funding for voluntary pre-kindergarten programs.

Traveling on a fast track in the super-majority Republican legislature is a tough anti-abortion bill that clinic operators say would close them down. The bill would place regulations on abortion facilities, requiring these clinics to have a doctor available when an abortion is performed. The sponsor, Republican Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin of Pelham, said the new rules would require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as most facilities that perform surgical procedures in the state.

Democrats in the legislature want to place police or resource officers in every school to help protect children and teachers. In addition, they are proposing a statewide referendum to allow voters in the state to decide whether they want a cigarette tax to fund Medicaid.

House Democrats also are strongly supporting a state lottery to raise $250 million a year for education. Lotteries have become so prevalent throughout the nation that we are essentially the only state that does not allow any form of gambling that raises money for state coffers.

Indeed, 45 states have a lottery. Of the five that have no lottery, two  — Mississippi and Nevada — have full-scale casino gambling that is the linchpin of their state revenue. That leaves only the Mormon state of Utah; Wyoming, which really does not need any revenue because it has very few people; and us as the only three states that derive no income from a lottery or regulated gambling.

Gov. Bentley and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh have reached a compromise deal on a GOP plan to streamline the state’s law enforcement divisions. The governor’s proposal would consolidate all state law enforcement programs into one cabinet-level agency called the Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency. The governor has chosen former State Rep. Spencer Collier to be the chief law-enforcement officer.

The Republican grip on the state legislature has become tighter in recent months with two more defections. Sen. Jerry Fielding of Talladega County moved to the Republican ranks. His switch makes the numbers in the State Senate 23 Republicans, 11 Democrats and one independent.

Veteran State Rep. Richard Laird did not quite go all the way. He left the Democratic ranks but chose to be an independent, although he will caucus with the Republicans. Laird has been one of the most conservative members of the House during his 35-year tenure. His move makes the House makeup 66 Republicans, 38 Democrats and one independent.

A significant chairmanship appointment has also occurred this year in the House of Representatives. House Speaker Mike Hubbard appointed Rep. Mac McCutchen (R-Capshaw) to be Chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, which sets the daily agenda for all bills. McCutchen succeeds former Rep. Blaine Galliher, who resigned from the legislature in July to become Gov. Bentley’s legislative affairs director.

A war between longtime Retirement Systems of Alabama CEO David Bronner and Alabama Education Association Executive Secretary Henry Mabry, over appointments to the board that oversees the state’s pension system, was won by Bronner.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. He served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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