The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

March 30, 2014

Alabama Legislature returns to work on April Fool's Day

— The Legislature reconvenes from spring break on April 1.

And that’s no April fool’s joke.

Then again, maybe it is. After all, one of the issues awaiting the lawmakers is to designate cornbread the official state bread.

But, they do have plenty of serious issues on their plate and just three meeting days to clean it off.

Among the bills are the education and General Fund budgets, abortion restrictions and a Senate-passed bill allowing motorists to have loaded handguns in their cars without a permit.

To think, the talk before this session was that there wouldn’t be any controversial bills. This is an election year and none of the lawmakers wanted to take on anything to make waves.

Well …

“It’s been controversial,” chuckled state Rep. Dan Williams, R-Athens. “About everything that came up was controversial.”

Controversy was one of the elements in the debate over the $5.9 billion education budget. The House and Senate passed their own versions: The House had more money for health insurance benefits than the Senate version, which had a one-time, 1 percent bonus for education employees.

Democrats pushed for the pay raise while Republicans wanted the funds for the health benefits.

On March 21, the legislators reached an agreement with Gov. Robert Bentley, who was seeking the pay raise for teachers and increased health insurance benefits.

The agreement was to drop the pay and increase funding for health insurance to help educators avoid paying higher premiums.

Williams was hesitant in agreeing with the deal: “We have to wait and see if it covers the entire cost.”

Another budget facing the House is the Senate-approved General Fund budget. State employees have a $400 one-time bonus included in the $1.8 billion spending plan.

The Legislature has 30 meeting days every year and Williams doesn’t think that’s enough time to study the bills, debate and then vote on them.

Especially spending bills, he said.

“I really wish we could spend more time on the budgets,” Williams said. “These are important and need to be seriously considered.”

Williams said one of the items he expects to pass is legislation making the Athens State University president a member of the state’s Council of Presidents. The bill would treat Athens State the same as the state’s four-year colleges for the “purpose of setting tuition and distance learning rates.”

It has passed the House and now awaits approval by the Senate.

“They assured me it was going to pass,” he said. “It just ensures Athens State will be in the same category as four-year institutions.”

One of the most controversial issues was a bill to allow motorists to have loaded pistols in their cars without a permit.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, but is roundly opposed by the Alabama Sheriffs Association.

The sheriffs said their departments would lose a revenue source but they also feared for the safety of the public and their officers.

Williams, though, has his doubts it will see the light of day.

“It has to go through the (House) Public Safety Committee and, if it’s passed there, it has to get through the Rules Committee,” he said. “I don’t think there’s enough time …

“With just three days left, I don’t see how it will pass.”

Williams said he has enjoyed the break from the capital but after next week, he’s got more work to do.

“It’s nice to have a week off,” he said. “After next week, though, we go into the campaign (for re-election).”

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