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Alabama Legislature adjourns for Wednesday with budgets still incomplete

The Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Alabama.

Wednesday, the Alabama legislature arrived expecting to finish the budgets and end the session on a positive note. When the day ended, the Senate still had not completed the budget and the two chambers had exchanged more than a few harsh words.

The session did not end and instead continues at least through Thursday.

The Senate arrived early, but instead of taking up the education trust fund (ETF) budget and getting the most important piece of work done first, Senate President Pro Tem, R-Anniston, made the much-questioned decision to instead spend hours working on a new substitute version of HB317.

The bill, which exempts economic developers from portions of the 2010 ethics law, was being carried by Marsh in the Senate where the body was bitterly divided on the legislation. Eventually Marsh carried HB317 over at the call of the Chair and had not even begun debate on HB175, the ETF budget, which had come out of conference committee the day before and had already been passed by the House of Representatives.

The Senate took a long recess so members could attend the funeral of prominent businessman Milton McGregor. The House of Representatives arrived at 12:30 p.m. expecting that the Senate had accomplished something. Instead, members were disgusted to find that the Senate had not passed neither HB175 or HB317, the two biggest priorities of the day.

The House had its own internal issues. It was bitterly divided over whether or not to pass SB84, sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham.

SB84 requires law enforcement officers to report the age and race of everyone they stop, whether a citation or arrest are made or not. SB84 is being carried by State Representative Merika Coleman, D-Midfield.

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Coleman said that SB84 is the top priority of the Black Legislative Caucus. The bill had been brought to the floor on Thursday but most Republican had voted to reject the controversial legislation, which is opposed by the Alabama Sheriff’s Association and law enforcement across the state.

State Representative Randy Wood, R-Anniston, told the Alabama Political Reporter that he, “Will not do anything to hinder enforcement in doing their job.” The Republican rank and file in the House were dead set against the bill,  but the leadership has promised the Black Caucus that it would pass. This presented a problem throughout the rest of the day.

The House swore in new State Representative Rex Reynolds who won a special election in House District 21 the night before then the House set out to do its work.

The House concurred with the changes that the Senate made to House Bill 470 setting an internet sales tax.

The House concurred with the changes that the Senate made to HB180, a supplemental appropriations bill.

The House concurred with the changes that the Senate made to HB179, dealing with conditional appropriations.

The Senate had approved HB68, by State Representative Jim Hill, R-Odenville, that allowed the Chief Justice to temporarily reassign judges from circuits with the lowest case loads to circuits with heavy case lands. Even though Jefferson County has too many judges, the Senate exempted Jefferson County Judges from the bill. The House concurred knowing time was running out on the session.

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The House voted to concur with the changes that the Senate made to HB199.

The House voted to concur with the changes that the Senate made to HB118 dealing with the Gulf Coast Zoo. There were a number of these as well as bills amended by Gov. Kay Ivey.

SB301 had passed both Houses. It is a bill dictating that interlock devices where you have to blow into a breathalyzer to start car be ordered for people charged with DUIs.

The conference committee version of the bill came to the floor where it was opposed by Rep. Christopher John England, D-Tuscaloosa, and other attorneys and municipal judges. The House voted to non-concur and send it back to conference committee. The House did the same with a similar bill, SB1 by Jim McClendon, R-Springville. Both were sent back to conference committee.

The House took a recess til 4:45 p.m. for the Republican Caucus to poll its members about SB84, Smitherman’s controversial racial profiling bill.

While the House was in recess, the Senate returned from its recess. The House had not moved to the special order calendar yet; so an angry Senate voted that they would recess to 6:00 pm.

The House passed SB151, by Sen. Smitherman, raising the punishments for making terroristic threats; but amended it and sent it back to the Senate.

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The House passed SB371, by Senator Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, reforming the Board of Trustees at Alabama State University.

Coleman told reporters that the leadership told the Black Caucus they would contact them after the GOP Caucus meeting. They had not which Coleman interpreted as the leadership not having the votes to pass the racial profiling bill.

The House approved the conference committee version of SB36 increasing the penalties for trafficking in Fentanyl.

The House went back to recess saying that they were going to stay in recess until the Senate passes the Education Trust Fund budget.

The Senate returned and went back to work, but did not take up the budget. After working on several routine bills the Senate resumed debate on HB317, passing it on a 15-14-1 vote.

The House returned and began work on SB267 by Representative Cam Ward, R-Alabaster. This bill increases the ability of the Alabama Ethics Commission to deliver fines for bigger offenses. They had been capped at $250 violation. This bill raises that to $1500. Some members claimed that the bill would weaken the 2010 ethics law; others that it would reduce pressure on district attorneys and the Attorney General’s office.

The Senate took another recess.

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The House went on recess until 9:00 p.m.

The Senate returned to work, but Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, took to the floor, announced that he was going to filibuster everything until the House passes SB1, the interlock device bill by McClendon. Bussman said that the House was trying to kill SB1 and that they did not care about the victims of drunk drivers.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon had been listening to the debate on the intercom. Furious, he left his office on the fifth floor to confront Bussman on the seventh floor. The two men had an angry confrontation on the floor of the Senate.

The Senate voted to take a 15-minute recess until 8:30 p.m.

The Senate took up some local bills dealing Coosa County that the governor has rejected with amendments. Senator Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, began to filibuster.

Pro Tem Marsh asked Senator Clyde Chambliss to carry over his Coosa County bills and the Senate finally began to consider whether or not to pass the conference committee version of the ETF budget, HB175.

The House resumed work, bringing up the Senate’s substitute version of HB317.

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There were numerous changes to Representative Ken Johnson’s, R-Moulton, original bill.

State Representative Phil Williams, R-Huntsville, suggested an amendment to deal with the issue of whether or not the bill could be applied retroactively to events that have already occurred and may be under investigation now.

Johnson said that he had looked at that, but at this point he was fearful that if they did not just concur with the Senate that could kill this whole bill.

Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, said that if this passes economic developers can’t come talk to me about money for bringing in jobs. Instead they would have to hire a lobbyist.

Johnson said that if this doesn’t pass there will be a fear nationally of coming to Alabama.

Rep. Artis “A.J.” McCampbell, D-Livingston, said that in 2010 the Republican wanted to have the toughest ethics law in the country but this is an unintended consequence and that he feared that not enough thought has occurred on the unintended consequences of this bill.

The Senate voted to carry over the education budget and adjourn for the night.

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With the supposed last day of the session now in shambles, Rep. McCampbell made a motion that the House sine dies, effectively killing every Senate bill left in the House.

McCutcheon said that he could not entertain that motion and the House should stay and work on the people’s work. Another legislator suggested coming back after midnight then declared sine die to end the session.

McCutcheon said no to sine die because the House is the house of origin of the education budget. The House can not sine dies with the education budget still incomplete.

Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, made a motion to adjourn until 9:00 a.m.

The Senate is returning to work at 9 a.m. and presumably will resume the work on the budget today.


Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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