By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY–The bill designed to overhaul and consolidate the Alabama legislative branch, SB122, was carried over to the call of the chair during session on Wednesday. The 102-page bill seeks to streamline government by redesigning agencies, boards and operations by creating the Joint Committee on Legislative Operations who would manage the functions of the legislative branch. It would also create the position of Chief Legislative Officer (CLO) who would oversee the committee.
Senator Quinton Ross (D-Montgomery) said that while he supports the human resources management aspect of the bill, he could not agree with it as it is currently written.
Ross questions the need for such a position and the amount of political power that would be granted to one individual member.
Originally the bill called for a 12-member committee, six senators and six House members. An amendment was added to raise this number to 16. Senator Jimmy Holley (R-Elba) is the sponsor of the bill but last week offered a substitute which was discussed on the floor on Tuesday. Ross offered a substitute to Holley’s substitute saying that this would make the committee more of a human resources management tool, would raise the committee members to 18 and would make the CLO answerable to the committee instead of the other way around.
Ross said of the mood on the Senate floor, “There is a lot of dismay in the chamber but they get into ‘group thinking’ and people just go along to get along.” He said that many Republican Senators were not comfortable with the bill in its current state and expressed concern that they would be swayed by “group thinking.”
Ross is also listed as one of the sponsors of SB122. He said, “If I see something that I can work with I am going to embrace it, I am not going to run away because it has a Republican behind it.”
He expressed respect for the work that Holley had done to produce the bill and that Ross had gladly worked with him but was concerned because, “When you look at the top of this legislation and the way it develops, it becomes top heavy. It becomes top heavy with the power of how this legislative process functions in the hands of a few.”
Referring to the parts of the bill regarding the Legislative Fiscal Office, Legislative Reference Office, the Public Examiners’ Office, and the Alabama Law Institute, Ross said, “It concerned me that we have a Chief Legislative Officer that would be over some of the functions of the legislative body that have been independent for years.”
Ross said that he agrees that there is a need to “provide some type of systematic human resources aspect to the operations of the Alabama State Senate but not by giving over or turning over my ability to represent the people that I have been elected by to a chief legislative officer and to just a few members within this body. The problem that I have is with the concentration of power that has been suggested in this legislation.”
Ross called on senators to take more time with this bill. He said he felt that the bill in current form creates an idea of bureaucracy and a culture of uncertainty.
“Let’s work on it a little more to get it where it needs to be and come back with a new bill. I ask my colleagues to think about what we are doing as we are moving forward.”
After Ross finished his hour, Senator Hank Sanders (D-Selma) began his hour only to have the Senate Rules committee invoke cloture. After the time had expired, Holley asked for the bill to be carried over. There were not objections from the senators.