What#039;s on the agenda in 2002
Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 12, 2002
Happy New Year, belatedly! The deadline for printing the newspaper last week was earlier than usual because of the holidays, and I did not get a column prepared in time to meet that deadline. So please permit me to take this opportunity to wish you and your family a wonderful New Year in 2002.
The members of the Alabama legislature hardly had a break in 2001. We had a regular session which lasted from February until the latter part of May, after which we were called into four separate special sessions that finally adjourned the Friday before Christmas.
If that's not enough, we have now convened again to meet in our regular, annual session for the current year. Many of the issues are repeat issues which have been around for several sessions, but a few of these are gaining momentum and will be considered, in my opinion, over the next few months.
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Those issues which I feel are reaching a state of readiness to be considered are voter identification at the polls, lethal injection as an alternative to the electric chair in carrying out the death penalty, some form of home rule legislation for our counties and cities, realignment or reform of taxes, especially as they relate to education expenditures, and constitutional reform.
There will, in my opinion, be a number of other issues that are debated, such as a graduated driver license for teenagers, more access to criminal information about juveniles, competitive bid issues which have drawn center stage because of the large number of contracts awarded without bids by the Siegelman administration, possible pay adjustments for state employees and teachers, and a pensions benefit bill which affects teachers and state employees who work beyond 25 years for the government or school system.
With respect to some of the first issues I mentioned that have been around for some time, it is not unusual for big issues to be debated for several sessions before final action is taken. To many this seems like a very inefficient way to do business, but I have learned in my long tenure in the legislature that it would be very easy to pass a bad bill and it benefits everyone to see a large issue scrutinized and examined very carefully.
With respect to the issues which involve taxes and public disbursements of funds, it seems that money always is the dominant issue in a legislative session. It is obviously time that some bold initiatives were brought forward to put a permanent fix on a number of these problems, but I would not count on that happening during this election year session.
The problem of school budget cuts is solved for at least the next two or three years, but this "good news" cannot be expected to last past a time period when school expenses increase beyond the current level of expenditures. In other words, if pay raises to teachers are granted, or if insurance costs continue to increase, or if additional students are brought into the system, or if new buildings have to be built, then you can know that it will require more money than we presently have.
This is also an election year and the incumbent governor is opposed by the incumbent lieutenant governor, and several other prominent Alabamians. This could make for a controversial and interfering situation with respect to legislation.
I expect it to be a lively session, and I will keep you informed on the status of all issues.
In the meantime, please know that "I'll go with you or I'll go for you" to help you solve any problem related to state government.