The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

April 20, 2013

Alabama Legislature enters session's final days


Associated Press

— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Legislature is moving onto the final stretch of the 2013 regular session.

Lawmakers plan to work Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week. After that, lawmakers will have five days left in the 2013 session.

Completing work on budgets will be the priority for lawmakers in the House and Senate next week. The state education budget has already passed the House, and the Senate has passed the General Fund spending plan.

House Speaker Mike Hubbard said he expects to begin work in the full House on Tuesday on the General Fund budget. The education budget is expected to be approved by a Senate committee Tuesday and to be up in the full Senate by Thursday.

Lawmakers must finish the session in 30 work days total, during 105 calendar days.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said he expects the education budget to get approved by the Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee on Tuesday or Wednesday and be up for consideration in the full Senate on Thursday.

He said the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday will consider his bill to clarify the Alabama Accountability Act. Among other things, he said he wants to be sure that students zoned for failing public schools but already in private school can qualify for the tax credits. He said he also wants to make it clear that public schools can't be forced to take students from another school system or that private schools can't be forced to take a student.

In addition, he said the governor wants the Senate to vote next week on the bill that would allow a private company to develop a convention hotel at Gulf State Park. "That is a key piece of legislation for the governor," he said.

In the House, lawmakers are expected to take up the General Fund budget. A House committee has approved a $1.75 billion General Fund budget to fund most non-education state agencies during the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. That's slightly more than the $1.749 budget for the current fiscal year.

The tight spending plan calls for nearly level funding for most agencies.

Prisons Commissioner Kim Thomas said the spending plan underfunds his agency and will make it difficult to improve problems with care of female inmates or upgrade women's facilities.

But House Speaker Mike Hubbard said, "We don't have enough money to fund everybody's needs."

The General Fund budget will be on the agenda in the House on Tuesday. Hubbard said Friday that the House has adopted a calendar that will allow for several days of debate on the spending plan for most non-education state agencies.

He said he expect the Legislature to mostly wrap up work on both budgets by the end of the week or early next week.

"Our goal is to get it done earlier than in the past," Hubbard said.