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February 20, 2004   Email to Friend 

Committees kill, delay Riley’s reform bills

Gov. Bob Riley’s reform measures took a beating in the committees Wednesday where legislators killed or delayed several of his proposals.

Among the casualties was Riley’s plan to eliminate the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, often called DROP, which costs the state millions of dollars each year.

The House Education Finance and Appropriations Committee voted 10-3 against Riley's proposal to prevent any more state employees or education workers from enrolling in DROP.

DROP, instituted in 2002, allows longtime state employees to defer retirement checks into an escrow account while continuing to work. They receive the balance of the account in a lump-sum payment upon retirement, which in some cases could cost the state more than a million dollars for an individual worker.

Rep. Yvonne Kennedy, D-Mobile, abstained from the DROP bill vote. As president of Bishop State Community College, she is eligible for the program. At least three other public employees on the committee -- Reps. Betty Carol Graham, D-Alexander City; John Rogers, D-Birmingham; and James Thomas, D-Selma -- voted to keep the retirement plan in place.

DROP BILL COMMITTEE VOTE

Voting to indefinitely postpone (10) — Richard Lindsey, D-Centre; John Rogers, D-Birmingham; Robert Bentley, R-Tuscaloosa; Joe Carothers, D-Dothan; Tommy Carter, D-Elkmont; Betty Carol Graham, D-Alexander City; Todd Greeson, R-Ider; Jeremy Oden, R-Vinemont; Terry Spicer, D-Elba; and James Thomas, D-Selma.

Voting against (3) — Mac Gipson, R-Prattville; Ray Garner, R-Huntsville; and Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn.

Abstaining (1) — Yvonne Kennedy, D-Mobile.

Absent or not voting (1) — James Buskey, D-Mobile.

According to news reports, Riley blames lobby groups for some of the losses, saying it showed teacher and state employee unions dictate too much of what happens in the Legislature.

Riley had asked the Legislature to convene a special session to consider his reform package, but legislators refused that request last week.

Wednesday was the first day that Riley’s accountability bills have topped the agenda. That same day, legislators also killed a bill that would have created term limits for legislators and would have expanded veto powers of the governor.

But Democrats said Riley was late proposing his agenda and filed his bills after Democrats had filed proposals to do many of the same things.

Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, told reporters that he thinks many of the governor’s goals will be accomplished, but added that they may not be through bills sponsored by Riley’s people.

Also on Wednesday, legislation requiring future state employees and teachers to work 30 years instead of 25 to draw full retirement benefits was defeated in House committee by a vote of 14-0.

House committees gave preliminary approval to two bills that would reduce the governor’s powers. One would ban the state finance director, a member of the governor’s cabinet, from reducing budget spending by an agency without the approval of a commission of 12 lawmakers. That plan is headed to the House for a full vote.

Legislators, including chairman of the House Finance and Taxation Committee Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, said the bill would retain the constitutional right of the Legislature to appropriate money.

The second bill passed out of committee aimed at lessening the governor’s powers would place control of the Alabama Department of Transportation under a commission of seven members appointed to staggered six-year terms by the governor. Currently, the governor controls the Department of Transportation through his appointed department director.

Last week, the House approved a bill that would increase health insurance costs for teachers and education employees only when they receive pay raises. That bill awaits action in the Senate.

The increase in employee contributions will not come close to the increases in the cost of the PEEHIP plan. PEEHIP (Public Education Employee Health Insurance Plan) cost taxpayers $373.7 million in 2000. The 2005 cost is estimated to be $684.4 million - an 83 percent increase.

The House also passed legislation last week that creates uniform accounting standards for local school systems and establishes the position of chief financial officer at the state Board of Education. That bill also is awaiting action in the Senate.

Last week, the Senate approved four of Gov. Bob Riley's five appointees to the expanded state parole board and approved three new trustees for Auburn University and two for Troy State University.

The Senate also approved the governor's selection of Randy McKinney of Orange Beach to serve on the State Board of Education.


Wildlife committee offers amendments to game-feeding bill

Members of the Alabama Farmers Federation’s State Wildlife Committee met with Sen. Myron Penn, D-Union Springs, Tuesday to discuss amendments to a bill he’s proposing in the Legislature.

Penn’s bill, Senate Bill 49, would allow deer and turkey hunters statewide to legally use game feeders during hunting season.

Currently, a game feeder must be emptied or consumed at least 10 days before hunting is legal in its vicinity.

Penn agreed to offer a substitute bill that will include changes recommended by the committee.

According to Federation Wildlife Division Director Steve Guy, the biggest change in the bill would be the qualifications for permits that allow supplemental feeding during the hunting season. The bill would stipulate that landowners and leasees must be involved in an overall deer management program to qualify for permits.

Another change offered by the committee, and accepted by Penn, specified that hunters cannot hunt within 100 yards of the feeder and it must be out of the line of sight of the hunter. An original portion of the bill that remains in place requires that a feeder must be in the proximity of a wildlife food plot.

“Members of the state committee were very appreciative that Sen. Penn allowed them to have input into this legislation,” Guy said. “And the committee feels that the bill will clarify laws concerning the feeding of wildlife and Alabama’s wildlife baiting laws.”

Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, has agreed to sponsor the bill in the House.

Twenty-six other states, including all of Alabama’s neighbors, allow supplemental feeding during hunting season. The bill provides penalties for violators which range from $300 to $500 upon conviction. The bill requires that bucks harvested under the feeding program must have at least three one-inch points above the hairline on one side.


BILLS IN BRIEF

Gleaning – HB 23

The bill allows farmers to invite non-profit agencies to gather remaining agriculture crops, with limitations of civil liability, and donate them to charitable organizations. The liability risk does not exceed that of a trespasser. The bill passed the House on Thursday and now heads to the Senate.

Public Timber Sales – HB 33

Sponsored by Rep. Allen Layson, D-Reform, HB 33 allows timber on public lands to be sold as surplus property without bidding. It increases the minimum sale allowed without bid from $500 to $25,000. The bill was passed by the House Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Committee and awaits action by the full House.

Shellfish Restrictions– HB 206

Establishes penalties for the direct retail sale of shellfish treated with certain veterinary drugs. In addition to shellfish, the bill includes all wild fish and farm-raised fish. The bill was passed by the House Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Committee and awaits action by the full House.

COOL -HB 254

Requires the labeling of the country of origin for retail sales of farm-raised fish and wild fish. An amendment was added to place a notice in restaurants for customers “upon request” to get COOL information. The bill was passed by the House Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Committee and awaits action by the full House.

Shrimp & Seafood Checkoff HB 267-268

Allows members of the shrimp and seafood industry to establish a checkoff program. The second proposed bill is the enabling legislation. The bill was passed by the House Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Committee and awaits action by the full House.

Poll Watchers – HB 108

Establishes the appointing of poll watchers in issue elections by political parties only. The Federation opposes the bill as written. The bill has been assigned to the House Constitution and Elections Committee.

Motor Vehicle Reports SB 267 HB 306

Sponsored by Sen. Hap Myers, R-Mobile, in the Senate and Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, in the House, the bill would increase the statutory fee for obtaining a motor vehicle report from $5.75 to $11 – a 91 percent increase. If the increase is approved, according to past records for Alfa, it would cost the company an estimated $1.33 million to obtain such reports. The Senate version of the bill is assigned to the Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee. The House version is assigned to the Government Finance and Appropriations Committee. Alfa and the Federation oppose this legislation.


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