18 Feb 2013
- Published Date
By State Senator Cam Ward
Since taking over control of the state senate in 2010, the Republican Majority has set their sights on reducing waste and redundancy in government. While a government of laws will always play a vital role in the lives of citizens, too much government leads to complacency, lack of innovation and shoddy services.
This session has already seen bills to consolidate law enforcement agencies in Alabama and IT services to the various government agencies that use them. Both of these bills are aimed at reducing the size and scope of government while making the services they provide more efficient and the people that provide them more accountable to the taxpayers.
Next week I will be working a bill that consolidates all of the state’s vehicles under an Office of Fleet Management. This is an idea that has been around for some time, and in fact was worked up under Governor Bob Riley early in his first term. It will put the management of all the vehicles of all state agencies under one roof, and answerable to one person.
Currently, each agency buys its fleet vehicles piecemeal, based on their individual needs. The truth is that most of the cars and trucks we use have the same specs and the same usage requirements. Combining the purchase of all vehicles under one office will allow the state to use buying power as a force multiplier and negotiate for better deals.
We will also use modern statistical analysis and metrics like lifecycle costing and greening to ensure that while we are getting better up front costs, we are also taking into account the total cost of vehicles like wear and tear and gas mileage to save money over the long term.
Another issue that will help the state save money under this legislation is energy use reduction. Alabama has pioneered biofuel research and usage, and we intend to make use of all types of energy and all types of vehicles in our quest to save the state and our taxpayers money. Whether it is hybrids, cars that run on ethanol, or even electric cars for local usage, we are committed to not only reducing the overall cost of purchasing vehicles, but also the overall cost footprint of vehicle usage.
The themes of our Republican agenda are reducing the size of government and making government more accountable to the people. This plan will accomplish both of those goals by making one person responsible for fleet management, and by reducing the size of the state vehicle fleet while reducing the overall energy costs associated with using and maintaining that fleet.
18 Feb 2013
- Published Date
by Representative Allen Farley
The second week of the Alabama Legislative Session was an especially tough one for me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m 61 years old and my head just refuses to turn sometimes, or if it’s because some legislators think the rest of us are deaf, dumb, and stupid? (They have made a mistake). For two years I have watched and listened to the same legislators fan flames of hatred and distrust to apparently keep their constituents walking in straight lines behind them to the poles.
On Valentine’s Day I spent several hours sitting in the House Chamber listening to Democrats filibuster the “School Flexibility Act”. It was amazing. At one point I turned and asked if the democrats had a copy of the bill. One by one they walked to the podium. Each would complain about how HB-84, “The School Flexibility Act”, was going to end tenure for Alabama teachers. (Pinch me). Time and time again Representative Fincher would calmly direct the pontificating democrat to the page and line where it explained that a school system “may not use this bill to force a current or future employee to involuntarily relinquish their tenure rights or rights obtained by reaching nonprobationary employment status”.
Try to get this painful visual. The day before HB-84 came to the House Floor for debate, the bill’s sponsor, Representative Chad Fincher, went to the Wednesday Democrat Caucus luncheon to discuss “The School Flexibility Act” and answer any questions. Now, the next day, we have a circus parade of democrats going to the House podium to talk about things we knew they knew were not in the bill. (Stay with me, it gets worse). Next, we listened to a representative tell a beautiful story of spending the weekend meeting with constituents who asked this representative to please vote against “The School Flexibility Act” because it was going to remove tenure from Alabama teachers. (By this time I’m praying for the rapture).
Question: Why would an elected official not read a printed document to constituents that would dispel false reports and rumors?
Just before entering the House Chamber for the HB-84 debate I was handed a letter written by AEA’s Henry Mabry. It was addressed to “Members of the House”. Let me share the first part of the fourth paragraph with you:
“House members are again being led astray. If you want to get rid of tenure, then you should vote for the bill and the Fincher amendment. If you want to hurt teacher benefits and working conditions, then vote for the bill and the Fincher amendment”.
Toward the end of Dr. Mabry’s letter he states “You need to know the Fincher Bill and Fincher Amendment are anti-public education bills at this point in time”. He also writes “The 100,000 members of AEA will know the truth about this legislation”.
Fact: “The School Flexibility Act” will inspire creativity and innovation in our schools. It will give all schools a chance to redesign the future, while protecting the rights of our teachers and our students. It has been endorsed by The Alabama Association of School Business Officials, The Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools, The School Superintendents Association of Alabama, The Alabama Association of School Boards, The A+ Education Partnership, The Alabama State Department of Education, and The Business Council of Alabama.
My Opinion: We live in the greatest nation in the world. We have been truly blessed by God. And, just like our ability to read God’s word, we also have the ability to obtain and read all laws adopted or proposed that will govern us. So, why don’t we see more distribution and open discussion of official documents? What if we put away our Bibles and made our “eternal life” decisions based on the opinions of others rather than reading God’s word? “The Truth shall set you Free”. (Go to www.alhousegop.com/truth).
Amos 5:10-13 They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth. (11)Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink the wine. (12)For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins- you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate. (13)Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time.
God Bless America!!!
11 Feb 2013
- Published Date
By Senator Cam Ward
As the Chairman of The Senate Judiciary Committee, one of my jobs is to evaluate legislation that helps strengthen our laws, balancing the equation with an eye toward our civil liberties and the size and scope of our government.
Coming into the 2013 session, my colleagues and I identified several areas of the law that need strengthening. We realized there was a problem with school bus trespass and safety even before the tragic and shocking events in Midland City last week, so there is legislation clarifying and strengthening the penalties against entering a school bus. Because of that tragedy, we are honoring the heroic efforts of the bus driver and naming this the “Charles Poland School Bus Safety Act.”
We are aware that there is a national debate on gun control, and we believe in the right to keep and bear arms as enshrined in our nation’s Bill of Rights, and we filed legislation to ensure that right to Alabamians no matter how many executive orders the president signs, and unenforceable laws our congress passes.
Recognizing that despite past efforts which have done a good job at cutting down on the manufacture of methamphetamine – such as tracking the purchase of and limiting the amounts allowed to purchase of base materials – there is still a major problem with the hazard and cost of cleaning up a manufacturing site. Senator Whatley sponsored legislation to add the cost of clean up to the fines and punishments of those convicted of making meth.
We also have a serious prescription painkiller problem in our country – and Alabama is severely affected by this epidemic. In his state of the state address Gov. Robert Bentley proposed cracking down on illegitimate prescription selling pain management clinics while protecting the rights of doctors and the access to care required by patients. This legislation will also codify the crime of doctor shopping – wherein an addict goes to several different doctors in the pursuit of numerous prescriptions. This legislation will be the first on our docket for next week’s Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.
At this week’s first meeting the committee also moved legislation establishing the crime of and punishment for Elder Abuse. Every day in Alabama, elderly citizens are abused, neglected, defrauded and intimidated by family members and caregivers whose job it is to take care of their health, well-being and financial needs. These crimes are not the ones that are splashed on the front pages of our newspapers, but they nonetheless affect a significant proportion of our population.
Defrauding and deceiving by commission or omission will be codified in Alabama’s Criminal Procedure Codes as a tool for law enforcement to use against people and companies whose practices result in harm to Alabama citizens over the age of 60.
These laws will also encompass crimes of neglect such as not feeding, sheltering or properly tending to an elderly person’s medical needs – no matter if it is their intention to abuse the person or not.
I want to make our intentions very clear: abusing or neglecting, stealing from through fraud, the promise to perform work and not performing it, or outright theft will not be tolerated in our state.
14 Feb 2013
- Published Date
by House Minority Leader Craig Ford
“The school flexibility bill would allow school systems to opt out of having adequate insurance for their buildings if a tornado hits, and to opt out of liability insurance for school buses. This bill allows school systems to hire teachers who have no training or certification. They wouldn’t even have to have a college degree!
Under this bill, school systems could also opt out of providing career technical education, and could opt out of requiring students receive at least six hours of instruction time each day.
Today is Valentine’s Day, and the Republicans in Montgomery have shown they have no love for our schools, educators, or students. This bill is nothing more than a backdoor approach to putting charter schools in Alabama.”
Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2000. In 2010, Representative Ford was elected House Minority Leader by the House Democratic Caucus. He was re-elected Minority Leader in 2012.
11 Feb 2013
- Published Date
By Minority Leader Representative Craig Ford
Public education is one of the most important services our state and local governments provide. All of us want to see our schools improve, and our children’s quality of education rise.
For Republicans in Montgomery, their signature proposal for public education is a bill they call the “School Flexibility Act.”
What this bill would do is allow local school systems to seek a waiver that would allow them to opt out of virtually any state law, statute, or regulation. Their argument is that the teachers and local school boards know better than the legislature and state school board how to manage their classrooms and educate our children.
I wholeheartedly agree that teachers and local school systems understand their unique circumstances better than the state school board or legislature. And I am all for giving teachers more flexibility to be innovative in the classroom; to explore new methods and try new tools to improve our children’s education.
But I have several concerns about the current version of the school flexibility bill, and unless these issues are addressed, I cannot justify voting for the bill.
First, I am deeply about the possibility that this bill could allow local school systems to opt out of meeting any kind of academic standards.
As it is currently written, the school flexibility bill would allow school systems to seek a waiver requiring them to meet any state-mandated academic performance standards, meaning we would have no idea what kind of quality of education our children would be getting.
The bill would also allow local school systems to seek waivers for teaching standards and requirements. Among other concerns, this would allow a school system to opt out of requiring teachers to be licensed educators.
Supporters say this is so school systems can hire people who are skilled in trades to teach technical classes like shop or welding. But it could also mean that a school system could hire somebody to teach a math or science class who does not have any training in teaching those subjects.
Just because somebody is knowledgeable about a subject or good at a skill does not mean they are capable of teaching others in that subject or skill. Look no further than former Alabama football coach Mike Shula. Mike Shula was a good SEC quarterback, but how many Alabama fans would want him to come back and coach Alabama football again?
Getting rid of requiring teachers to be licensed could also lead to corruption. For example, an elected official or school board member could get a teaching job for an unqualified friend or family member and get that person in the state’s retirement system and health benefits.
This bill could allow schools to seek waivers to meet all kinds of standards, such as nutritional requirements or physical education requirements.
And under this bill there is no appeals process if parents want to challenge the school board’s decision. Their only option would be to file a lawsuit, which is both expensive and time consuming.
Aside from the adverse effect on our children’s education, the school flexibility bill also hurts our educators.
Under the current version, there are no protections in place to prevent a school system from opting out of the pay scale established by the state. Local school boards could freeze teachers’ pay even and opt out of giving raises based on merit, experience, or academic advancement.
That kind of instability in a teacher’s personal finances could lead several teachers and support personnel to find work in a different field or to teach in another state where their pay and benefits would be more stable. This would also discourage our teachers from getting their master’s degree or doctorate, since there would be no point. And that hurt’s our children.
The bill also allows local schools systems to get rid of planning time, classroom supply money, and sick leave or catastrophic leave, which makes it more difficult for teachers to do their jobs and discourages our young people from becoming teachers in the first place.
Lastly, the school flexibility bill does not put into place any oversight or protections to prevent corruption and to make sure our children’s education and our tax dollars are protected.
Without oversight, school systems could contract out services like providing lunch or bus drivers to companies that cost more and do not meet our standards. Without oversight, these contracts could go to companies that would financially benefit elected officials or school board members.
So while I am all for giving teachers more freedom to be innovative in the classroom, that is not what the school flexibility bill really does. Until these concerns (any many others) have been addressed, I cannot and will not support this bill.
14 Feb 2013
- Published Date
by Thomas Scovill
It railing against SB54 and HB84, The Local Control School Flexibility Act of 2013, it seems that Representative Craig Ford, leader of the Democrat minority in the Alabama House of Representatives, is not able to distinguish between a waiver being requested and a waiver being approved. And he seems to have overlooked the role and continuing responsibilities of the Alabama State Board of Education.
The purpose of the bill is to encourage innovation by local school systems as a means to improve education in Alabama. School systems would be allowed to request waivers of some rules, regulations, and laws to remove obstacles that impede learning and innovation in education. Approval of the requests for waiver would have to be approved by our elected State Board of Education.
In his article in Alabama Political Reporter (School Flexibility Bill Must Be Fixed or It Should Be Rejected, February 11), Mr. Ford identifies a number of concerns about potentially adverse consequences if the proposed law is enacted. He writes of concerns with budget protection, teacher pay, teacher planning time, classroom supply money, leave, academic standards, teacher standards, nutritional requirements, physical education requirements, and opportunities for corruption.
Mr. Ford has made so many strawmen that we must now have a fire hazard.
I see nothing in the bill not to like. Local systems can ask for waivers and the state board can approve the good ideas and reject the bad ones. If we have a deficiency of trust and confidence in the honesty and competence of our local systems and our state board, we have a huge problem now and it will be with us whether the School Flex Bill is enacted or not. What does Mr. Ford propose to address this deficiency of confidence? Or is he merely smearing our education establishment?
Although challenge by lawsuit is a standard tactic of the Alabama Education Association (AEA) as Mr. Ford suggests, the ultimate oversight of our schools and education bureaucracy rests with parents and other citizens. They have ready access to teachers, principals, superintendents, and local boards which they do not have with the State Department of Education in Montgomery. And ultimately, schools will never be any better than these citizens demand. The School Flex Bill gives local systems a tool to help them be responsive to the parents and students they are supposed to serve.
The political and bureaucratic status quo can be a pernicious tyranny unless it is continually challenged. Its past time to challenge the education status quo in Alabama.
Alabama needs The Local Control School Flexibility Act of 2013 and I urge the legislature to enact it now.
07 Feb 2013
- Published Date
Two years ago, when I first took the oath of office as Commissioner of Agriculture & Industries for Alabama, little did I know what awaited me. The Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries, through years of neglect, had barely enough cash reserves to make payroll, much less pay for the many demands on the operation including maintenance of the buildings, laboratories and equipment.
On top of this, we were twice hit with a proration that, compounded with a lack of cash reserves, forced the layoff of 25% of our employees.
Shortly thereafter, tornadoes struck North Alabama, killing 249 residents and destroying towns, schools and livelihoods. Our state's poultry industry, concentrated in this region, was dealt a severe setback. Since that time, poultry producers have rebuilt, as have others.
At that point, I resolved to rebuild the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries so that we would be more resilient in times of financial distress. First thing we did was assess our expenditures and prioritize them. We then focused on what it cost us to conduct inspections and other important services for our stakeholders. In many instances, taxpayers were forced to bear the burden of an outdated fee structure that barely covered the costs for inspections and licensing.
Thanks to a good working relationship with our stakeholders, the Alabama Legislature and Governor Robert Bentley, we were able to work through many of our fee issues and resolve them to the satisfaction of most everyone involved.
Finally, we are beginning a program that will vastly improve the productivity of our inspectors and other personnel who are the face of our department. One feature is replacing the laboratory equipment in our seed testing facility in Montgomery. We also made upgrades in our other labs to better serve farmers and agribusinesses. Our food safety lab in Montgomery has new equipment that enables our technicians to more accurately test the foods we eat.
We hope that by the end of this year to complete the foundation for our technology upgrade that will lead to connecting our field inspectors with the latest in digital tools that are badly needed. Once this program is in place and operational, our workers will not only have joined the 21st Century in workplace technology, they will be able to improve the accuracy and speed of their work by over 100%.
At this mid-point in my first term as your Commissioner of Agriculture & Industries, I can report dramatic progress in restructuring this department. Our cash reserves are such that we are able to replace old, worn out technical equipment and vehicles that had become undependable and problematic. We are renovating our headquarters building that still has many of the operating systems when it was built 42 years ago.
Yes, we have had to do much more with a lot less in terms of resources. But, this is what had to be done. We had no other choice, as our mission is to protect consumers and assure the safety of our food supply while ensuring that the state's largest industry - agriculture - is able to its customers.
Also, I want to commend Governor Bentley for his appointing me to the board of the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation & Improvement Program (ATRIP), which recently announced 300 road and bridge projects located across Alabama. Rural Alabama, including farmers and agribusinesses, will long enjoy the benefits from ATRIP.
You can be assured that we at the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries will continue to improve the way we do business and serve the public and our stakeholders. Because if we don't, the jobs and livelihoods of one in five Alabama families would be in jeopardy. That is a scenario no one wants to see.
Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries
1445 Federal Drive
Montgomery, Alabama 36107