By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
This Friday, citizens across Alabama – many of whom are just now settling in from the frosty conditions – have some legislative news to catch up on. Although one legislative day was effectively wasted, both the Senate and the House did manage to meet for some business this week, with both bodies passing bill and resolutions.
The House of Representatives did not have enough legislators present on Tuesday to conduct business. Though the body was required by its own rules to meet again on Wednesday to seek a quorum again, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard advised members not to attempt a trip to Montgomery if they deemed it a safety risk, though he said lawmakers had a “constitutional duty” to try and meet. House Minority Leader Craig Ford also urged his caucus members to heed on the side of caution for their safety.
On Thursday, though, the House came to order, with 59 members present – seven over the needed 53. The body passed a resolution, as did the Senate, that applauded the heroic efforts of those involved in rescues during this week’s dangerously icy weather. It also debated at length a bill proposed by Representative Jack Williams, (R) Vestavia Hills, that would allow those receiving unemployment to receive payment for part time work, up to a certain threshold – around a third of his or her previous earnings. Early on, some GOP members even voiced opposition to the bill, questioning whether the new provision would amount to a tax increase for businesses or employers. Representative Williams’ proposal, HB88, has a fiscal note which says that the “bill…will increase the obligations of the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund for benefits payments, which are funded by employer contributions, by an estimated annual amount of $980,000.”
At one point, a motion to carry over the bill – basically delaying the final vote until another time – was put on the floor, but it failed by a vote of thirty to twenty five.
Further, despite their vocal concerns early in debate, most of the GOP caucus ended up voting for the legislation when it came up for final passage. The bill eventually passed the Alabama House of Representatives, and will move on to the Senate.
Finally in the lower chamber, Representatives could be heard yelling “Vote!” when a bill sponsored by Representative Beckman came up that would increase the penalties for fatal boating while drinking accidents.
In the Senate, a quorum of about two dozen was able to meet as early as Tuesday to conduct business, though GOP and Democratic leaders decided early on to only consider “noncontroversial legislation.” Out of this came many bills of just that description, such as bills involving cotton regulations, introduced by Democrat Billy Beasley. Eventually though, the interesting “non-controversy” came out. On Thursday, the Alabama Senate passed a bill outlawing bestiality, sponsored by Republican Tom Whatley of Auburn.
Next week, many subjects could arise, the most high profile of which is likely to be Senator Del Marsh’s bill attempting to further restrict in-legislature lobbying, known as the ‘revolving door’ bill. The proposal was supposed to receive an up or down vote last Tuesday, but due to his commitment to keep big ticket items off the floor during the weather emergency, Senator Marsh, (R) Anniston, advocated the bill’s temporary delay.
In addition, the Senate Pro Tem has also noted that sunset provisions must be considered on Tuesday.
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