Favored special session

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 21, 2004

The Alabama Senate by a vote of 16 for and 19 against refused to recess in order to allow Governor Bob Riley to call a special session on government reforms.

I was among the 16 who cast a vote in favor of allowing the Governor to call a special session and present his reforms.

My vote did not mean I was for all of his proposals, but as a courtesy to a sitting governor I feel he should be given the opportunity to have a forum on his legislation.

This is a courtesy we have extended to all past governors, and to my knowledge, this is the first time the Alabama Legislature has ever refused a governor's request for a special session.

The motives of the Governor are good.

He wants to enact some government reforms and put in place some accountability measures to make the state operations more efficient.

One of the problems the Governor is having is that many legislators, as well as some special interests groups, see accountability as being "in the eye of the beholder."

For the Governor to be successful, I think he needs to separate the reform issues from the accountability issues to keep a clear distinction between the two.

This will take away his opponents' opportunity to muddy the water and it will allow legislators to focus on single issues.

For instance, I would put in the category of government reform banning "pass-through pork", banning transfers on money between political action committees, banning legislators and gubernatorial appointees serving on university boards of trustees, and similar legislation.

I would then specify some accountability measures such as streamlining the process of disciplining tenured teachers, requiring public school administrators to operate under contracts, rather than tenure laws, implementing a process to see that all major contracts for state services are bid, zero based budgeting and related legislation.

Coupled with this approach, I think the Governor needs to reassess his position on reducing benefits for current state employees and teachers.

In my opinion, he also needs to revisit his proposals which adversely affect retired employees and teachers.

It is not right to take away benefits from those who have retired or who have entered the service of the state or the public school system with a knowledge of what their salary and benefits would be.

This is tantamount to breaking a contract with someone after it has been signed, delivered and the services have been rendered.

If he wants to make changes for future teachers and employees not presently "in the system", then I think he would get a more positive response from the Legislature.

To summarize, I think the Administration needs to sort through its proposals and submit to the Legislature those which truly bring about efficiency in government but eliminate those which are unfair, such as I have cited above.

I believe the Governor will get a fair hearing if he does this and can accomplish some good for the state.

Senator Wendell Mitchell can

be reached at 334-242-7883, or by writing

to P.O. Box 225, Luverne, AL 36049.