Just days from tax reform

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 6, 2003

MONTGOMERY &045; Gov. Bob Riley says he is now but days away from announcing his plans to resolve the financial crisis facing public education as well as General Fund agencies.

In an address to a gathering of local school superintendents, an upbeat Riley said he had a plan to prevent massive cutbacks in schools and that he would reveal it soon.

He also left little doubt that he would call a special legislative session in the immediate future to consider his program.

In fact, talk in the State House is that the session may have been called by the time you read this column. The plan reportedly agreed upon is a four-week session with the lawmakers meeting one day the first week, five days for each of the next two weeks, and then the last day in the fourth week. Special sessions are limited to 12 days.

He hopes that during those four weeks the often-times balky Legislature can agree on a variety of tax-raising measures.

It shapes up as what truly can be called an historic session … one that will separate the men from the boys.

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last week in which it refused to hear a case from Kentucky involving a Ten Commandments monument may have been bad news for Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore as well as the taxpayers of this state.

Some legal experts interpreted the ruling as a clear signal that the high court would also refuse to hear any appeal on the more celebrated Ten Commandments case in Alabama.

A U.S. District Judge has already ruled that Moore must remove the monument from the State Judicial Building, and he, in turn, has indicated he would take an appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. Now it seems he may not have that option.

What this means to the taxpayers is that they could likely end up picking up the tab … the sizable tab … for the legal fees of the attorneys who brought the suit against Moore.

For the record, that bill has already topped $700,000, and the meter is still running. It will most surely exceed $1 million as the case is still being pursued before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

All of this puts Judge Moore in an awkward position. On the one hand, he has publicly complained about insufficient funding for the judicial system, but on the other hand, his Ten Commandments fight may cost the state a great deal of money.

The State House of Representatives has passed a controversial bill increasing the monetary levels for some property crimes.

Presently the theft of property valued at $250 or more is a felony and conviction of that crime could lead to prison time.

The new limit … if enacted into law … would increase the level to $500. You can blame the increase at least partly on inflation.

Many retail merchants who have been vicitimized by shoplifters opposed the measure, but proponents insisted it would make a major dent in the overcrowding crisis in state prisons.

A law passed by the Alabama Legislature in 1998 which got the state a lot of attention (and ridicule) on the late night talk shows has surfaced again.

Last week, the legislature refused to repeal a law which outlawed the sale of so-called &uot;sex toys&uot; in this state.

The measure as originally introduced

by Sen. Tom Butler, D-Huntsville, was intended to outlaw X-rated video stores and nude dancing establishments in Madison County.

However it was amended to also ban the sale of &uot;any device designed or marketed as useful

primarily for the stimulation of human genitals.&uot;

A federal court later ruled the law unconstitutional on a suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, but that decision has since been appealed by the state.

The likes of Jay Leno and David Letterman had a field day poking fun at Alabama when that law was passed.

Which leads to a question I have long wanted answered: Why is it a political no-no for these comedians to crack jokes about so many folks but it is always open season on Southern whites