Legislators reflect on ‘historic’ 2011 session

Published 5:18 pm Tuesday, June 14, 2011

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Several of Shelby County’s legislators agreed setting the state’s general and education budgets were the largest achievements of what they called the “most productive” legislative session in years.

This year, Alabama legislators were forced to set a budget using about 30 percent less funds than they have worked with in the past few years, said state Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster.

“Hands down, the budget was the biggest issue we faced this year,” Ward said. “It’s hard to balance the budget when you have 30 percent less money to work with.

“And the law says you have to have a balanced budget every year. That’s not a bad thing, but it means you have to make some hard decisions when it comes to funding things,” Ward added, noting he believes the budget will be an issue again next year.

State Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana, said a lack of federal funding this year made it difficult to set a budget without widespread layoffs. He said he was pleased the state was not forced to lay off any teachers because of budget cuts.

“The state has been living on federal stimulus money the past few years, and this year we didn’t have it,” Hill said. “To have 20 or 30 percent taken away from our budget, and not have to cut any teachers, I think that’s pretty good.”

Lawmakers also said they were happy the Legislature was able to agree on redistricting Alabama’s congressional districts without calling a special session after the regular session.

“We did redistricting in the regular session, which is amazing in itself,” said state Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Indian Springs.

However, the legislators also said they were disappointed some bills did not get taken up during this year’s session.

Ward said he would have liked to see his anti-school bullying bill pass, and McClurkin said she was disappointed the Legislature did not pass her bills aimed at streamlining hospitals’ certificate of need process when attempting to open new medical centers.

“(The CON issue) was on the calendar for the last night of the session, but it didn’t get taken up,” McClurkin said. “That would have saved millions of dollars and lots and lots of time if it was passed. Maybe next year.”

The legislators also said they had never worked as hard as they did during this year’s session. Freshman state Rep. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, said she was glad her first year saw more than 400 bills passed out of the House of Representatives.

“It was absolutely wonderful to be a part of a legislative session that will go down in history as being so productive,” Weaver said. “I think we can build on what we did this year. I’m really excited about the next three years.”

“There were several days that the Senate was in session for 24 hours straight. It was probably the hardest-working session I have ever been a part of, but the rewards were also very high,” Ward said. “We got more done this year than we ever have in my nine years as a legislator.”