Lawmakers hope for more productive session

Published 5:54 pm Monday, January 12, 2009

At least two of Shelby County’s representatives in the state legislature say Alabama residents can ill afford another gridlocked session in the Alabama senate.

However, both say they fear that is exactly what is ahead.

Cam Ward, who represents residents of Alabama’s 49th district, said the situation in the state senate has “reached a point where the two parties are almost a parody. It’s really a bipartisan catastrophe.”

He said a special legislative session was required simply to get last year’s budget passed.

“Right now, I see no hope for anything different,” Ward said. “There’s a Republican caucus and two Democrats join them in that. Then, there’s a Democrat caucus. Now, we hear some of those have broken away and are forming another caucus.”

He said Alabama residents don’t have time to waste on another gridlock session.

“It’s especially not a pleasant situation in the times we’re dealing with now, when we have our biggest economic shortfall since 1982. We are talking about laying off thousands of education personnel statewide.”

State Rep. Mike Hill, who serves District 41 in Shelby County, said he’s not sure what to expect from the Senate next session, which begins Feb. 3.

“I can’t read them. I think that being two years out from the election, some may be worried what people will think if they start fighting again, but you never know. There are lots of egos up there,” Hill said. You never know. They may get mad at each other the first day.”

Hill said more time will be spent on the budget during the coming legislative session than ever before.

“Money is going to be our major issue. Tax revenues are down 12 or 14 percent under what we estimated. We must make adjustments in this year’s budget and start working on next year’s. No one’s going to like it, either,” Hill said.

In addition to budget work, Hill hopes to make headway on a state energy policy. Hill served on the committee that introduced energy legislation passed by representatives last year, only to have the legislation dies in the senate.

“We need incentives for alternative fuels and some other things,” he said.

Hill also predicts a re-writing of the state’s banking code, mainly dealing with mortgages.

“The re-write will get rid of the ‘fly by nighters’ and tightens things up. It should take care of a lot of problems – not totally, but will go a long way,” he said.

Ward’s priorities for the coming legislative session include strengthening the Alabama ethics law by giving the commission subpoena power, creating an independent transportation commission, which would take politics out of decisions involving road improvements, and passing the “Notoriety Bill,” which would prevent perpetrators of crimes from profiting from their crimes.

“We currently have no consistency and no long-term planning of transportation project,” Ward said. “Projects and improvements should be based on traffic counts and road needs, not how someone voted in the senate.”

He said the success or failure of the coming legislation will depend solely on the Alabama senate.

“The House doesn’t pass every bill, but it keeps a decent pace. The senate gets bogged down for weeks and weeks with nothing even being debated,” he said. “If that happens again this time, I’m really, really concerned for the people of Alabama.”