Legislators talk recent session at town hall meeting

Published 1:51 pm Monday, June 1, 2009

More than 50 people gathered at the Chelsea City Hall Monday morning to hear state Reps. Mike Hill (R-Shelby), Jim McClendon (R-Shelby/St. Clair) and Mary Sue McClurkin (R-Jefferson/Shelby) speak about the recent legislative session.

Hill started off the town hall meeting by acknowledging that the legislative session ran into problems before it even started.

“For the first time, I think we had less income come into the state than we had the year before. I don’t think that’s ever happened before,” Hill said.

Hill said it was a productive session, with the full Legislature passing 479 bills.

“The (bills) that have a huge impact on the state take priority,” he said.

McClurkin, who spoke next, drew laughter from the crowd by saying, “I represent part of Jefferson County, and I don’t say that a whole lot.”

She spoke about certain bills that she knew the public had an opinion on, such as the food tax bill, which would have removed the state portion of sales tax on groceries.

McClurkin said the Democrat-backed food tax bill, which came up four times for debate but did not pass, would have cost Alabama taxpayers almost $400 million.

Jim McClendon talked about bills that actually passed, such as the steel coil bill, which regulates the transportation of steel coils over state highways, and the “move over” law, which requires that motorists move over or slow down when approaching emergency vehicles on roadsides.

He also spoke about a bill that raised the minimum age for dropping out of school from 16 to 17, in an attempt to remedy Alabama’s low graduation rate.

After the representatives spoke about the session, citizens got the chance to ask their own questions, which touched on issues such as the Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program and bills that increased the alcohol content for selling wines and provided for sales of gourmet beers.

When asked about the PACT program, McClendon said legislators feel honor-bound to find a way to honor the state’s commitments.

“I feel that in the Legislature, there’s a strong sense of moral responsibility,” he said. “There’s strong concern that if this problem is not dealt with quickly, confidence will be gone and people will take what money they have out.”

Hill said a study is being conducted to find out how much money the state will need to pay into the program if it is to meet all its commitments.

Hill also said the alcohol bills got more response from constituents than any other.

“There’s a lot of gourmet beers made overseas that people really wanted,” he said. “I probably got more calls on that one bill than on any other.”

The town hall meeting was sponsored by the South Shelby Chamber of Commerce, Alabama Power, Shelby Baptist Medical Center, Bryant Bank and the Shelby County Reporter.