Mitchell, Newton confident on recent session

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 5, 2004

Butler County’s legislative delegation, Sen. Wendell Mitchell of Luverne and Rep. Charles Newton of Greenville, both feel the recently ended session was a success.

Both men expressed their pleasure over the passage of the education and general fund budgets without extensive tax increases.

&uot;I think this session was very productive in the sense that there was grave concern about passing the budgets without implementing broad-based taxes,&uot; Newton said Friday from his office in Greenville. &uot;I feel good about the budgets because we were able to pass them without having to cut services.

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So we did it and kept the same level of services.&uot;

Sen. Mitchell agreed it did turn out to be a productive session.

&uot;Despite a slow start, it did turn out to be very productive,&uot; Mitchell, said from his office in Montgomery.

&uot;It surprised me at what we did get accomplished, because two factors hindered us at the start of the session.&uot;

Mitchell said the legislature got no cooperation from the administration.

&uot;I was working with the administration on its accountability measures for the session, but it lost that vote early on,&uot; he said.

&uot;After that, the administration shut down cooperation.&uot;

Mitchell said the second factor simply put, there just wasn’t any money to give.

&uot;We absolutely had no money to plug in to the requests being made of us,&uot; he said.

&uot;The requests for aid were overwhelming.&uot;

Mitchell said after that, the legislature decided to write their own budgets without administration support.

&uot;The House took money from the economic development fund and Gov. Riley didn’t like it and the Senate didn’t like it,&uot; he said.

&uot;At that time, the governor started finding his own sources of revenue such as the cigarette tax, the nursing home bed tax and such and then everything fell into place.&uot;

Mitchell said everyone got a share of the ever-decreasing pie.

&uot;We didn’t over fund anybody this year,&uot; he said.

&uot;At least every agency got funds to an adequate level.&uot;

Mitchell and Newton also both agree that despite this session’s productivity, there are still serious challenges facing the state financially.

&uot;It is important to remember that monies we used in this session were simply put, one time appropriations,&uot; Mitchell said.

&uot;Because these agencies are minimally funded, we must find a sustaining revenue source quick and build on that.&uot;

Newton sees healthcare as a major challenge for the state in the near future.

&uot;This is a major challenges that Alabama and the nation with the continuing increase in the cost of healthcare,&uot; he said. &uot;We have to prepare to meet this challenge as small businesses and the average citizens buy their own health coverage. It is a problem that is here and is going to be here for a long time.&uot;

Both men also agreed that Gov. Riley should not call a special session to bring his accountability proposals back.

&uot;Accountability is such a broad term,&uot; Newton said.

&uot;I have my idea of what accountability means, just as others believe they have their own versions. I would suggest that the governor have a specific plan and not just a generic plan before he called a special session. If it is focused and not so broad, it might be merited in a special session.&uot;

Mitchell flatly doesn’t see a need following his work on various accountability measures.

&uot;I don’t think there should a session because they are expensive,&uot; he said. &uot;We don’t need to be spending money when we don’t know if there will be a positive outcome.&uot;

Like Newton, Mitchell does not believe true accountability proposals were brought forth, because they were so broad.

&uot;We have never truly defined accountability,&uot; he said.

&uot;When we do that, we can pass some true forms of accountability. Everyone has their own idea of accountability.&uot;

Mitchell said many of the governor’s accountability bills died because they were so generic.

&uot;They don’t really know where to go once they go into session,&uot; he said. &uot;I sponsored a lot of his accountability package and I saw early on that many people didn’t conclude that was true accountability.&uot;

One final issue they were questioned on was the death of the Open Meetings Law reform.

Legislation to rewrite Alabama’s Sunshine Law did not pass in the 2004 regular session of the Alabama Legislature but made it further than any previous year. Rep. Blaine Galliher’s House version received a favorable report from the House Judiciary Committee but did not make it to the floor for a vote of the full House membership.

Newton, who served on the committee, said he supported the change and did vote for it.

Sen. Little’s Senate version was heard in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee but the public hearing was continued, and time ran out before a vote was taken.

Representatives of the Attorney General’s Office, Alabama Association of School Boards, the Alabama League of Municipalities and other interested parties worked with APA representatives to craft compromise language on the original bill as introduced. Representatives of Alabama Watch and the Alabama League of Women Voters were also involved in promoting the legislation. The compromise, although not perfect, was a much-improved version of what the law became after the decision rendered by the Alabama Supreme Court in the Auburn Board of Trustees case.

The Association of County Commissions of Alabama remains opposed to the bill.

Newton said the legislation was important for Alabama.

Mitchell said he supported the legislation and hated to see it not pass.

He said he is taking action for the next session.

&uot;Just last week, I wrote the executive director of the press association, Felicia Mason, to tell her that I would be glad to sponsor the bill next time,&uot; he said.

&uot;I don’t think the bill’s sponsors pushed it hard enough. The bill didn’t have the momentum or the organized effort this time.&uot;

Mitchell said he is &uot;strongly for this bill.&uot;