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Streamlined polling hours OK#039;d

The Alabama Legislature acted on a number of interesting bills this past week.

A bill streamlining polling place hours throughout the state gained favorable approval from the House Elections Committee. This bill has already passed the Senate, therefore it is only one step away from final passage.

The legislation sets the minimum hours a polling place can be opened during an election from 7 am to 7 pm. Under special circumstances, a county could keep its polls open as late as 8 pm.

The objective of this legislation is to standardize the voting opportunities for all Alabamians. I think it is a smart bill which can bring about fairness and uniformity in elections.

The same House committee voted down a measure which would mandate state contracts be competitively bid. This legislation took the form of a constitutional amendment which would let voters decide if state contracts of more than $25,000, with no exceptions, should be competitively bid.

My service as a member of the Joint Legislative Contract Review Committee has opened my eyes to a lot of abuse that has taken place in the awarding of state contracts. The public is not getting all the "bang for the buck" to which it is entitled.

The good news is that this committee has been successful in eliminating many unnecessary contracts for state work and paring back those which have been awarded under what I would call the "buddy system". In fact, working toward this objective has been one of the most rewarding parts of my Senate service during this most recent quadrennium.

The House of Representatives turned down a resolution that would have allowed voters to approve a constitutional convention. The Senate has been poised to approve this measure, and it came as a surprise to most of us in the Senate that the House would deny voters an opportunity to voice their views on whether or not we should correct constitutional defects through a constitutional convention.

The debate on this issue was very heated. Some representatives feel that a convention lends itself to raising taxes, legalizing gambling, and uncontrolled home rule, while other representatives feel that a convention is the best way to avoid special interests having a dominant role in rewriting the constitution.

Some members of the House argued that the minority population would be underrepresented at a convention because working class citizens would not be able to leave their jobs and meet for up to four months crafting a document.

There is some validity to all of these attitudes, but I believe we can trust the people of Alabama to prepare a document that at least could be considered by the voters. We must remember that any work product of a constitutional conventional would have to be ratified by the voters of Alabama.

This past week Governor Don Siegelman signed into law a bill that provides $118 million in incentives to entice the Hyundai Motor Company to build a $1 billion vehicle assembly plant south of Montgomery. The bill provides for a $75 million bond issue to pay training costs for the automotive industry and authorizes use of $43.5 million from an earlier incentive package for the Mercedes auto assembly plant near Tuscaloosa.

Many of the local economic development directors and committees in and around Montgomery County are already making efforts to lure suppliers for Hyundai to their respective areas. I joined two groups from parts of our district to meet and greet prospects from Korea who apparently feel Hyundai is coming to our area. I understand that there are many other companies getting ready to check us out with respect to locating near this plant when the final decision is made.

The Alabama Legislature is taking this week off for spring break. We will reconvene on Tuesday, April 2, and the focus of that week's work will be the two state budgets, the general fund budget and the education fund budget.

Until next week, remember that "I'll go with you or I'll go for you" to help you solve any problem related to state government. You can contact me by telephone at 334-242-7883 or write me at 735 Alabama Statehouse, 11 South Union Street, Montgomery, Alabama 36130.