County representation sought on Water Works Board
by Will Heath
Feb 22, 2014 | 959 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ST. CLAIR COUNTY - A legislative act that would give St. Clair County representation on the Birmingham Water Works Board went before a public hearing in Montgomery this week.

Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, introduced the bill before the Alabama House of Representatives Health Committee, and the committee conducted the public hearing on the legislation. In essence, McClendon said, the bill would require the Birmingham Water Board to appoint representatives of the outlying counties it serves.

Currently, Birmingham sells water to entities in five counties outside its own city limits. One of those is St. Clair County – the city of Moody purchases water from Birmingham for roughly 3,500 customers.

Moody Mayor Joe Lee attended Wednesday's hearing, along with city attorney James Hill, St. Clair County Commission chairman Stan Batemon and chairman pro tem Paul Manning. McClendon said he expects the Health Committee to pass the bill Tuesday.

"Then it will go into the rules committee," McClendon said. "The job of rules is, to select from those bills that have been approved by the appropriate committee, which ones go before the House, for consideration."

McClendon noted that Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, represents a portion of St. Clair County as part of his district, as well.

"The weight will be on Randy Wood's shoulder," he said. "We'll see what happens when he tries to get it out and get it before the House."

Wood said he expects the rules committee to pass the bill "with no problem."

"I really think we can pass it out of the floor without a problem," Wood said. "At least it's getting both sides to talking. I think that's important."

City and county officials have voiced their support for the legislation — McClendon, Wood and Rep. Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City, met at Moody City Hall on Monday to discuss the matter. McClendon also noted that a number of other legislators have prepared separate pieces of legislation related to Birmingham Water.

"It looks like a lot of people have an issue with the way Birmingham Water Works is run," he said.

Rep. Dickie Drake, R-Leeds, said he supports McClendon's bill, and another from Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Birmingham, which limits the pay for water board members.

"They spent like $48,000 in travel last year," Drake said. "If they have a phone call meeting, they get like $285. They had 12 of them in one month. That's the kind of stuff we're trying to stop with this bill."

Rep. Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City, said legislation he authored to affirm religious liberty for public school students passed out of committee this week. A separate bill, which deals with the Ten Commandments on public property, drew a great deal of debate and attention on Thursday.

Butler, however, said the bill he authored is constitutionally sound and well researched.

"I spent a good time of time the American Center for Law and Justice," Butler said. "I spent an afternoon at our Supreme Court with our Attorney General, and everybody signed off on it."

According to Butler, the bill states that students can initiate public prayer at school and at school events, and can use Scripture for research and other academic purposes.

"It's a religious liberties bill," Butler said. "A student can pray at a ballgame or whatever, with a microphone. A lot of places, it already happens.

"Hopefully, this is something that comes to fruition."

Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston and president pro tem of the Senate, noted that his body passed several key bills, including a protection for veterans' scholarships that would "delete the requirement that the service of the veteran had to have been during wartime or extra-hazardous conditions to ensure children of all veterans are able to take advantage of scholarship benefits, not just those who served during wartime."

The Senate also passed legislation that states a preference for Alabama companies on state contracts ($100,000 or less) within 5 percent of the lowest reasonable bid, and a tax credit for research and development.

Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, introduced two pieces of legislation this week — one to repeal the federal "Common Core" standards in Alabama, and another to regulate "predatory lending" in the state.

"I'm opposed to usury," Beason said. "I don't know where interest ends and usury begins, but I don't think 300-plus percent is appropriate."

Contact Will Heath at wheath@thestclairtimes.com.