Committee meetings to mark second week of legislative session, Ward says

Intense committee meetings likely will mark the second week of the 2010 Alabama Legislative Session, Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said Jan. 18.

Although controversial bills usually do not appear before the State Senate and House of Representatives until the third or fourth week of the session, legislative committees likely will begin discussing hot-topic items Jan. 19-22.

“The first and second week are always the easiest,” Ward said, noting he felt bills regarding the state’s budget, gambling and grocery taxes likely will be hotly debated.

“The House usually tries to get to the easier stuff first before it tackles the tough bills,” Ward added.

One of the major bills the House will consider later in the session is a Ward-sponsored bill aimed at strengthening the State Ethics Commission.

The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee Jan. 13, clearing it for full-House approval. Ward said he expected the ethics bill to come before the House the week beginning Jan. 25.

If passed, Ward’s bill would grant subpoena power to the Ethics Commission, which is one of the only government oversight boards in the country without the power to subpoena documents and people to court.

“Every session for the past few years I have worked hard to get a bill out of the House Judiciary Committee which would give our Ethics Commission teeth it needs to enforce Alabama’s ethics laws,” Ward said. “I am very pleased that my fellow members of the committee saw fit to pass this bill a second year to the full House consideration.”

Because a bill similar to Ward’s, sponsored by Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, also passed the House Judiciary Committee, Ward praised the bipartisan efforts in passing the bill.

“Though the Democrats have stalled efforts in the past to give subpoena power to the Ethics Commission, I will lend my support to Rep. Holmes’ bill if that is the version considered on the House floor,” Ward said.

“I am in support of any legislation to grant subpoena power to the Ethics Commission, regardless of which party passes the bill,” Ward added. “The issue is more important than partisan politics. I am glad that the Democrats are supporting me in my efforts.”

Ward also said he was impressed by the State Senate’s work ethic early in the session. Before the session began, Ward said the evenly divided Senate might have trouble working together to pass bills.

“It’s surprised me to see the Senate has been working very well,” Ward said. “The fact that they are working as efficiently as they are is a good thing, and I hope it carries over into the rest of the session.

“I’m cautiously optimistic, I guess is a good way to say it,” Ward added.