By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
A bill that would transform the day to day functions of the Alabama Legislature and give much more day to day control to legislative leadership passed out of the House Internal Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
State Representative Mike Ball (R) from Madison is carrying the legislation in the Alabama house. The Alabama Senate has already passed the legislation, but Rep. Ball introduced a substitute bill in Committee.
Rep. Ball said, “This is a project that has been going on for some time.” Ball said that the bill organizes the administrative functions of the state legislature and admitted that, “…Not everybody is 100% happy with it.” Rep. Ball said, “There has been some questions about how much it costs.” Rep. Ball said that in his opinion the measure would lead to neither a major increase or decrease in the cost of operating the state legislature. “It looks to me like it leads to a more efficient operations that is generally cost effective….I don’t see anything that would drive costs up.”
Chairman Alan Boothe (R) from Troy said that he believed that there would be cost savings potential in combining purchasing powers into one authority.
Rep. Ball said that Mr. Langham who heads the Alabama Law Institute has done yeoman’s work on this legislation and introduced him to explain the details to the committee.
Langham said that this process began when Senator Jimmy Holley (R) from Elba approached him and asked that they craft legislation that would, “Put more authority in the hands of those who answer to voters instead of staff.” Sen. Holley thought it was too easy for administrative agencies to make law instead of coming back to the legislature.
Langham said that the bill reorganizes the legislative council. The council will include the Speaker of the House, the President Pro Tem of the Senate, the Majority Leader of the House, the Majority Leader of the Senate, the Minority Leader of the House, the Minority Leader of the Senate, the Chairs of all four budget committee, and members elected by the House and Senate as a whole. “The Lieutenant Governor would continue to be a nonvoting ex officio member.”
Langham said that there is diversity language in the bill that the council should reflect the diversity of the state, ethnically as well as urban and rural, but that that was largely an aspirational statement since these positions are filled by elections.
The bill creates one Director of IT for the whole Legislative Department and one Director of Personnel for the whole Legislative Department. The House currently has an HR position the Senate does not. “There is currently a director of computer operations on the 8th floor,” the position is not new but the responsibilities would change.
The new Council will have 20 members. 10 from each body, but “The Senate could not vote as a block and steal one house member.” For anything to pass is must have six from each body to vote in favor.
Langham said that under Section 42 of the 1901 Constitution Alabama does not have “branches of government,” but “Three departments of government” because that is the language that is used in the state constitution.
The new HR director would not have hiring and firing authority, the department heads would still have hiring and firing power. The HR director is much more advisory in nature as opposed to that person making the hire and fire decisions.
The Legislative Council would have approval power over budget requests and would evaluate the Department heads performance on an annual basis. The Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate would be chosen by the legislative council. “The Secretary and the Clerk would be elected at the beginning of the quadrennium.”
Under current law once the Secretary and the Clerk are there for nine years they have tenure and can be replaced only with cause. This changes that to a quadrennium by quadrennium election process. The Secretary of the Senate and Clerk of the House would have complete hiring authority to pick the positions of asst. sec. and deputy clerk.
Currently the office of the President Pro Tem is not a permanent position. It evaporates on the next election. This has been an issue in the past with those employees. This bill puts the President Pro Tem on the par with the Speaker of the House and would serve until the organizing session of the new Senate.
Rep. Jamie Ison (R) from Mobile said that currently there is some disparity in salaries among different staff members. “Am I correct that we have resolved some of these issues that?”
Langham said, I am not a policy setter, but I think you are correct in that.
Rep. Ison introduced an amendment protecting the independence of the legislative fiscal office. The amendment passed.
Chairman Boothe said that since the Committee introduced a substitute of the bill that passed the Senate (if the full House agrees) the bill would go back to the Senate. “I am assuming a conference committee would be appointed to work out the differences between the House and the Senate.”
Chairman Boothe asked, “Is there a $220,000 position to be the Czar?”
The Senate version has an Executive Secretary to the Legislative Council. That position is eliminated in the House substitute. There is protection that the director of the Legislative Fiscal Office must be a unanimous selection of the four budget chairs.
Rep. Ball said that one reason for the salary disparities is that, “We didn’t have a good process in place.” A lot of individuals made a lot of individual arbitrary decisions that led to the disparity.” Having a central HR guy will help with that.
Rep. Randy Davis (R) from Daphne asked, “Are we looking at a $2 million savings?”
Langham said, “I don’t think you are looking at a significant cost.” In the short term you are not likely to see savings, but it will definitely save money over the long term. I view the bill more as a creation of efficiency.
Chairman Boothe said that, “A new fiscal note will be prepared once we adopt a substitute.”
The substitute was adopted in a 5-0 vote.
Rep. Ball said that the Secretary and Clerk should choose their chief assistants and every department head as well as the Secretary and Clerk should receive annual performance review by the council.
Rep. Davis added a salary schedule as an amendment. The amendment was adopted.
The Committee passed the substitute of SB 11 with a favorable report, with Reps. Weaver, Ball, Ison, Boothe, and Davis all voting in favor. Joseph Mitchell (D) and Charles Newton (R) were both absent.