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Legislative session all around strange

This time next week I can and will give you a complete wrap-up of the 2004 annual regular session of the Alabama Legislature.

The final meeting day of our session is this week.

Each annual session includes 30 meeting days which much be accomplished within 105 calendar days.

That time limit expired on May 17.

During my six terms as your Senator, I have never experienced a session quite like this one.

There were no pre-session budget hearings, which was the first time this had ever occurred, and the Governor was several weeks late submitting any form of a budget to the Legislature.

It was mid-session before either the Senate or the House had any idea of the funding requests of the various state agencies, nor did we have any projections on revenue with which to consider funding the budgets.

One thing, however, all of us did know — the monies would be extremely limited and a lot of careful planning would have to go into the budget process.

Several of my colleagues began to predict that we would not pass state budgets but I am pleased to report that a very sound $4.5 billion budget for education has been passed and signed into law by Governor Bob Riley.

The plight of the general fund will be known this week, however it appears that the passage of this legislation will be accomplished as well.

It was my privilege last week to join Governor Riley in Prattville at the Daniel Pratt Elementary School to sign the education budget.

The Governor picked this particular Autauga County school because of his emphasis on the highly acclaimed Alabama Reading Initiative.

Our education budget includes a record $40 million for this program.

These funds will enable the Reading Initiative to be placed in every kindergarten through third grade classroom in Alabama.

Statistics show that students in schools with the Reading Initiative are reading more by an average of 43 percent.

Schools participating in this program continually report increases in reading scores and library book checkouts, as well as decreases in discipline programs and in special education referrals.

The Governor has commended the Legislature for enacting a responsible education budget, and we are appreciative to him for his leadership in promoting education in Alabama.

Both the education and general fund budgets will be passed without dipping into the Economic Development Fund that originally was part of the House passed plan.

The Senate, and the Governor through executive amendment, removed all appropriations from this fund.

The economic development leaders throughout our 67 counties are to be applauded for their work in getting this issue favorably settled.

Several weeks ago the Governor was threatening to call a special session if the Legislature did not pass budgets acceptable to him, but I think that talk has died down somewhat since the Legislature and the Governor have been working together during these past few legislative days.

I certainly hope so because we do not need an expensive special session that, in my opinion, would be very unproductive.

Senator Wendell Mitchell can

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

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