By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
Late yesterday afternoon, the Alabama Senate passed an amended version of the so called “revolving door” legislation, but not without a serious debacle over an amendment proposed by veteran Democratic Senator Hank Sanders. At one point, chaos broke out on the floor as Senate Democratic leadership hurried to the lecturn, raising their hands and shouting in an attempt to be recognized by Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey, who presides over the Senate.
For weeks now, lawmakers in Alabama – particularly in the upper chamber – had been anticipating passage of SB36. The bill, proposed by Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh of Anniston, extended some lobbying restrictions on former members of the legislature, preventing them from lobbying the opposite body as well as the one from which they retired, resigned, or otherwise left office.
In addition, Senators on both sides of the aisle had been in discussions over further restrictions proposed by Senator Sanders, D-Selma. These proposed amendments to the Senate Pro Tem’s bill include an extension of revolving door regulations to executive offices such as the Governor’s, an increase of so called “double dipping” limitations, and a clarification on who exactly is a lobbyist – with the newly proposed definition expanded to include anyone who advocates for an issue in the State House. “This amendment attempts to close every conceivable loophole,” Sanders said on the floor.
Senator Sanders’ amendment came up early in the day, but its vote was carried over after the body was forced to consider sunset legislation, a practice that is required by law every tenth legislative day. After a couple of hours and the passage of about the same number of sunset bills, Marsh moved to put SB36 and the pending amendment back on the floor for debate. Then, with members still trickling back in after the bore of sunset legislation, the Anniston Senator asked that the chair rule on whether the Sanders amendment was germane to the bill before the body.
The chair, Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey, then ruled that the amendment was not relevant to the bill. The ruling would have led to the amendment’s demise, but Senator Sanders appealed and the decision went to the floor for a vote. With many members of the GOP supermajority absent from the chamber – but indeed with a few bipartisan votes – the Lieutenant Governor’s ruling was not sustained, allowing the amendment to eventually come up for a vote (and pass.) Before that, though, Senator Del Marsh quickly moved to table the amendment, which would also prevent an up or down roll call, saying that he did not want the amendment to “jeopardize” his legislation.
At that point, with Ivey trying to call a vote on the tabling motion, Democratic leadership stormed to the lecturn to respond, forced to shout and wave hands to gain recognition. After much back and forth, the Pro Tem eventually withdrew his motion, effectively allowing the amendment to pass.
In addition, Senator Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, challenged Ivey directly on a point of personal privilege, saying she “abused her power” by ruling the amendment was not germane. Ivey responded to the press after the Senate recessed.
As for Senate Minority Leader Vivian Figures, she said yesterday’s events were troubling mainly because of a lack of trust between leadership. “You said we could vote it up or down, and then you come here and you in bring a trick – asking whether or not or questioning the chair whether it would be germane, knowing the ruling you are going to get before you even ask the question. I feel like Senator Sanders was done wrong. I feel like I was lied to, and that is not something that we should be doing in this chamber.”
Some have pointed to the passage of the Accountability Act as occurring in a similar manner, with the GOP, though, having adding major changes to the legislation.
While the Pro Tem says he has no intentions of getting the bill gutted in the House, he thinks the bill may face opposition in its current form, and that “legal experts” in the other body will need to look closely at its scope and implication.
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