Transportation atop Wards list during session
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Transportation is once again at the top of the list for one Shelby County representative.
District 49 Rep. Cam Ward said he plans to again introduce a bill that would create a nine-member Transportation Commission to head the Alabama Department of Transportation.
Currently, the DOT is led by one governor-appointed individual.
Under Ward&8217;s proposal, members of the commission would also be appointed by the governor; however, they would serve staggered six-year terms.
They would prioritize road projects throughout the state based solely on need, according to Ward, not politics as has been the case in the past.
He said the proposal calls for commission members to have professional knowledge and an engineering background that would enable them to be of help in creating a comprehensive state transportative plan.
The commission would appoint a DOT director, Ward said, &8220;preventing
the governor&8217;s office or the legislature from dictating the future of transportation needs in our state.&8221;
Ward said this transportation commission bill will be one of the first to be discussed in the House.
&8220;I feel like we&8217;ll do well in the House,&8221; he said.
Sen. Bobby Denton will introduce the bill in the Senate.
When the Legislative session began on Jan. 10, Ward said, senators and representatives jumped into prison reform.
&8220;It&8217;s not the most exciting thing,&8221; he said, &8220;but it&8217;s probably the most important statewide.&8221;
He introduced two of the prison reform bills in the House.
&8220;Year after year, out dysfunctional corrections system has continued to deteriorate to the point that if something is not done now we will face a problem that could easily financially bankrupt Alabama for years to come,&8221; Ward wrote recently.
One of the reform bills Ward has introduced would require that transition centers be set up. These centers would be used by just-released inmates who are attempting to ease back into life outside of prison successfully.
Ward said the transition centers would help former inmates find jobs and offer drug rehabilitation if needed. While there, however, up to 45 percent of their salary would be used to pay for their living expenses, rehab costs and any restitution and court costs they might owe.
&8220;Right now, the state&8217;s just eating those costs,&8221; Ward said.
He said there is opposition on both sides of the issue – the far left, for instance, the black caucus believes these former inmates should not have to pay for their rehabilitation. Many on the far right, on the other hand, do not believe the state should offer drug rehabilitation to begin with, Ward said.
The second prison reform bill he has sponsored would allow for pre-sentence electronic forms to be required in all cases.
&8220;In the past, since they were paper forms and they were not required, there has been a four to five week delay in sentencing,&8221; he said. &8220;This will make forms much easier to access for our judges.&8221;
Ward said he expects the House to clear these prison reform bills by the end of the week.
Ward said the most important local bill will deal with school zones.
This bill will allow each zone to have a referendum to call for up to 10 mills which will be used for construction of a new school in that zone.
&8220;Helena and Calera have expressed interest in this,&8221; Ward said.
Since several local bills died in the Shelby County Legislative Senate Delegation Committee last year, however, Ward said he and other representatives who passed those local bills would wait for the Senate to introduce and pass the local bills.
Sen. Hank Erwin has said he planned to introduce the bill that would allow for the referendums on property tax increases in individual communities.
&8220;It&8217;s hard to argue with the notion that our residents should not be allowed to vote for themselves,&8221; Ward said.
Other bills of interest:
-Ward will introduce Dangerous Dog legislation.
&8220;In my opinion the right to have a pet stops when the safety of my family is at stake,&8221; he said.
This bill would impose hefty financial penalties on dog owners who do not take precautions with dangerous animals.
&8220;At one time, you could let your dogs run free. But the suburbs out here are growing so fast, that&8217;s no longer possible,&8221; he said. &8220;We must do something to protect our families.&8221;
-Ward does not foresee problems with this year&8217;s budgets.
&8220;The general fund is the best it&8217;s been in my time (in Montgomery),&8221; he said. &8220;There will be a small raise for employees and more for basic services. It should go smoothly this year. It&8217;s like that when there&8217;s excess.&8221;
-Ward said he also supports the governor&8217;s proposal to divide some of the excess among school systems statewide based on population.
&8220;This is an excellent idea,&8221; he said. &8220;There is nothing they need more than to use on school construction. And basing it on population is a good system.
&8220;It&8217;s one-time money, so this is a good way to use it,&8221; he said