Sen. Jerry Fielding, D-Sylacauga, said there was some initial controversy over the passage of a supplemental appropriation for the state prison system, but the bill ended up passing overwhelmingly.
“There were a lot of people at first who said we need to be finding money for Medicaid and the mental health system, but when all was said and done, we all supported the appropriation,” he said.
Thursday’s session in the Senate lasted until 8:30 p.m. and was quite productive.
“We passed a bill relative to unemployment compensation where you wouldn’t get paid for your first week out of work,” Fielding said. “That’s going over to the House, but it may come back. We passed some ad valorem and sales tax abatements for companies that manufacture airplane components, like one in Mobile and one in Houston County. I think the vote on that was 31 to 1. And we passed a House bill that would allow for a pharmaceutical call center in north Alabama that is supposed to create about 500 new jobs. But we had to change the existing law a little bit to let them come in.”
The Senate also passed a House bill that would allow access to consumer credit information to be temporarily frozen under some circumstances.
As usual, Wednesday was spent in committee meetings.
“In the judiciary committee, we approved an innocent spouse bill that would protect people whose husbands or wives try defraud the government by lying on their tax forms. There is already a federal law in place that does just that, and this one would provide the same protection at the state level,” Fielding said.
The committee also passed a bill that would extend the life of a vehicle tag, which would save the state money on manufacturing the tag, and would save the people some money as well. “It’s not like they wear out or anything,” he said.
The judiciary committee is also working on a revised form of last year’s immigration bill. “Rather than rewrite the whole thing, we marked out some portions of it and modified other parts of it. We added military identification to it, for example.”
The committee also passed a good Samaritan law that would provide civil immunity for counselors, social workers and psychiatrists rendering aid to disaster victims, he said.
“I hope to see that one become law,” he added.
The committee also approved a domestic violence bill that would require counseling for perpetrators, increase the penalties for stalking in the first and second degree, and a bill that would make it a capital offense to kill someone under a protection from abuse order.
Another pair of bills are designed to benefit Alabama’s vineyards.
“Right now, people in the wine business in Alabama are limited in how much they can produce per year,” Fielding said. “This would allow them to operate on a larger scale. We’ve actually gotten a lot of opposition on this from the beer companies. I probably got more calls on this than anything else so far this session. So we’ll see what happens when it gets to the full Senate.”
The other bill would allow restaurants to reseal unfinished wine bottles and let the diners take them home, as long as the bottles are transported in the trunk.
Another bill the committee is considering, but has not voted on yet, would allow disabled people to issue parking tickets to people taking up handicapped parking spaces without a placard.
Fielding also serves on the confirmation committee, which also had a busy week.
“We confirmed five members of the Auburn Board of Trustees, including James Pratt, Robert Dumas, Clark Sahlie, Ben Thomas Roberts and Elizabeth Huntley. All of them are outstanding, and all of them went through with no trouble,” Fielding said. “We also appointed members to the textbook committee, the Education Television Commission and about 25 other state agencies and boards. All of those will go to the full Senate for approval.”
In the House, the biggest news last week was approval of the bailout of the Prepaid Alabama College Tuition Fund, according to Rep. Ron Johnson, R-Sylacauga.
“This is a big deal for people that paid into it,” Johnson said. “This bill will correct something the court said was wrong with a previous bill. It got a first reading in the Senate Thursday, so we’re hoping it passes the Senate next Thursday. The courts have said we had to fix the problem by Friday. Hopefully that will take care of it. We’ve passed three different bills that would give grandparents more rights, as far as visitation and things like that. And every time, the courts have struck them down for different reasons. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
Tuesday was spent dealing with general bills, Johnson added, and all pending local bills have already been passed and are with the governor.
Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, concurred with Johnson on the importance of fixing the PACT fund.
“I really think we have a moral obligation to fully restore that fund for people that have already paid into it,” Hurst said. “I don’t have a problem with making changes for people that might want to do that in future, but we need to make sure it’s fully funded for those who have already paid. We have a contractual obligation to these people.”
Hurst said the House has not taken any action on immigration reform yet, but he has been studying some of the changes being made in the Senate.
“It would remove a lot of the red tape, but if you’re illegal, you’re illegal. I have no problem with anyone being here, but you need to do it right. This would help keep families together and take care of some gray areas. But you have to be able to track where they are and what’s going on. I have a name, a Social Security number a driver’s license. America is a great place to be, and I don’t blame anyone for wanting to come here. But you need to get a certificate or apply for citizenship if you intend to stay.”
Hurst said the more recent sessions have been “more productive, more harmonious than the start of the session. It was a lot more partisan to start with, but people are working together more now. I hope we can keep that attitude when we start working on the budget.”
Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, was not available for comment Friday afternoon.
Contact Chris Norwood at firstname.lastname@example.org