quot;Doing nothingquot; is often a blessed thing

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 16, 2002

The Alabama Legislature made more news for doing nothing than doing something last week. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives spent the entire week in a filibuster mode and only three bills came up for consideration.

Our first thoughts might be to criticize the legislature for "doing nothing", but I can tell you from over twenty years of legislative experience that sometimes doing nothing serves the public quite well. There are just about as many bad bills introduced as good bills, and the only way to insure that the chaff will be separated from the wheat is to slow down the process and deliberate over these measures.

When I first started following politics as a teenager, I heard the expression that the Senate is a "deliberative body", especially when compared to the House of Representatives. It was then that I learned I did not fully appreciate this term until I became a member of the body. The tradition is very strong that the Senate filters out those measures which are highly questionable. This is the way it should be.

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In fact, the Senate rules are written in such a manner as to allow longer periods of debate than are permitted in the House of Representatives. With 105 members, the House can become unwieldy at times, whereas the senate, with its 35 members, can come closer to controlling procedures, including debate on legislation.

What were the extended debates about in the legislature this past week? The House was tied up over the Republicans' displeasure with a bill realigning Alabama's congressional districts.

When Congressman Bob Riley elected to run for governor, his district became the natural battleground for the changes that had to be made statewide under the most recent U.S. Census. This resulted in a larger number of so-called democratic votes going into that congressional district, making it more likely that a democrat would prevail in a contested election.

Those House members who did not vote for this bill took out their objections to its passage on any legislation that came before them. The result was that they moved at a snail's pace in considering all legislation on their agenda.

In the Senate, it was a totally different matter. There was earnest, legitimate debate over the distribution of prospective funds from an Exxon court settlement. Some Senators want the money divided equally between the education fund and the general fund, whereas a different set of senators wanted to earmark some of the money for senior citizens programs. Hopefully there will be a compromise worked out when the Legislature reconvenes this week.

I devoted a full day this week to reviewing state contracts as a member of the Legislative Contract Review Committee. There always seems to be some controversy when this committee convenes and usually the issue contains large volumes of state business which are awarded by the administration without putting the work up for competitive bidding.

This was the case again this past week and several of us on the committee objected to the approval of no bid contracts, especially when the cost exceeded what we felt were reasonable charges for the services to be performed. In addition, there was some controversy over the lack of reporting of lobbyists on the disclosure forms, who are pushing for approval of certain contracts.

A law passed last September requires the disclosure under oath of the names and addresses of "any paid consultant or lobbyist" who helps a company seek state business worth more than $5,000. The bill was part of a package of ethics reforms pushed through the legislature after the administration came under severe criticism for political favoritism in awarding contracts.

There was not a single lobbyist listed on a contract submission for those contracts which we were asked to review. This raised a legitimate "red flag" since it has been widely reported that lobbyists were advocating certain of these contracts.

In any event, it was an interesting week in the legislature. We are almost half-way through with this regular session and I anticipate that the pace will pick up over the next several weeks.

Remember, "I'll go with you or I'll go for you" to help you solve any problem related to state government. While we are in session, you can reach me at 334-242-7883.