Number 1524 - August 24, 2016
The First 2016 Special Legislative Session is more than half over. So many of us started the session with lines drawn in the legislative sands. We said what we will or will not do. Now we have come face to face with the squeeze of reality.
Before the Special Session commenced, I heard that a five component deal was in the works. It included the following: (1) a lottery; (2) comprehensive gaming; (3) a merger of General Fund and Education Trust Fund revenues with certain percentages for each fund; (4) designated funds for Medicaid; and (5) a constitutional amendment to be voted in the November General Election. I heard that the proposal would start in the Alabama State Senate and the votes were solidly in place for this deal. But then came the squeeze of reality.
Four gaming bills were introduced. Two made it through the committee process. One had four of the five components. There was not a provision to merge the revenues of the Education Trust Fund and the General Fund. Some of us were adamantly opposed to such a provision. With this component left out, the squeeze of reality was already at work.
The multi component gaming bill (SB 11) came to the Senate Floor for consideration on the third legislative day. This is the fastest possible time allowed by the Alabama Constitution. The bill did not seem to have the votes to pass. One reason may have been that the component merging revenues for education and general government had been left out. Such a move picked up some votes on one side and lost votes on the other side. The bill was carried over to the next day. The squeeze of reality was at work.
When the bill came to the Senate Floor for consideration on the fourth day, certain Republican Senators commenced a filibuster. A petition to cut off debate was filed. It needed 21 votes but received only 11 yes votes and 20 no votes. Although I favor a component bill, I did not vote for cloture. I have not voted to cut off debate in many years. It was a resounding defeat. The squeeze of reality was working full time.
Out of desperation, two other bills began to move in the Alabama Senate. One, (HB 36), allotted some of the $1 billion BP Settlement for debt, highways and other matters. The $1 billion settlement is scheduled to be paid to the State of Alabama over 18 years, therefore a bond issue is necessary to obtain monies now. It proposes a $497 million payment toward debt and $191 million for highways in Mobile and Baldwin counties. This approach supposedly frees up $70 million in the general fund for Medicaid. The bill had already passed the House but had not been assigned to a committee apparently to force more senators to vote for Senate Bill 11. Now, it quickly came out of Committee. By law it could not be considered on the Senate Floor on the same day it was reported from Committee. It is awaiting a vote on the next legislative day when we return. The squeeze of reality was at work.
The other bill (SB 3) was a straight lottery proposed by Governor Robert Bentley. I was concerned that it was not as straight as it appeared on the surface. Some provisions in the bill could be interpreted to permit gaming in selected places but not others. Lowndes County has a bingo law, but could be left out. Also, the bill was supposed to help education as well. It does not. I voted against the bill. It needed 21 votes to pass. After some arm twisting by the Governor, it received exactly 21 yes votes and 12 no votes. The squeeze of reality was at work.
I expect to support the BP Settlement bill even though it provides only $70 million indirectly for Medicaid instead of the $85 million needed. Alabama already has the least funded Medicaid Program in the country. We really need that additional $15 million. I expect the bill to pass the Senate. The squeeze of reality also squeezes me.
When we return on Tuesday, the Senate will consider the BP Settlement Bill, while the House will take up the Lottery Bill. I have no idea whether SB3 will pass or fail in the House. I do not know what will happen if it is amended and something different comes back to the Senate. The squeeze of reality is also squeezing me.
The goal is to finish this legislative session by Wednesday, August 24. That is the last day that a Constitutional Amendment can pass the Alabama Legislature and be placed on the November 8 General Election ballot. That means we have just two days left - Tuesday and Wednesday. However, some Republicans in Jefferson County do not want a lottery bill on the November General Election ballot because too many of the wrong voters may show up to the polls. The squeeze of reality is really at work.
We were in session from Monday through Friday. There were discussions about working on the weekend. That notion was soundly squashed. We adjourned on Friday to return on Tuesday. The squeeze of reality continues.
Now on to the Daily Diary.
Saturday, August 13, 2016 – I walked, handled certain home related matters, traveled to Lowndes County for the Jonathan Daniels Memorial Event, then to White Hall for the Ben Wallace Celebration, then back to Selma. I went to see about Faya who is recovering from her operation and worked into the night. Among others, I communicated with the following: Patrick LeShore, Brenda Miles and Azali Fortier of Selma; Lowndes County commissioners Carnell McAlpine and Brent Crenshaw; Gladys Dunston and Leonard Dunston of North Carolina; Ralph Paige of Georgia; Reporters Al Benn and Fred Guarino; White Hall Town Council Mayor Pro Tem Eli Seaborn; Joyce Kelley and Mims Hackett of Lowndes County; Julian McPhillips of Montgomery; and White Hall Mayor James Walker.
Sunday – I walked and did Radio Sunday School with Dr. Margaret Hardy and Radio Education with Perry County School Superintendent John Heard, III. I handled many matters as I worked into the night. Among others, I communicated with the following: Dr. Fannie McKenzie of Georgia on her birthday; and Gus Townes. LaBarron Boone and Dianne Howard of Montgomery on their birthdays.
Monday – I walked, handled many matters, traveled to Greene County, returned to Selma and worked into the night. Among others, I communicated with the following: Greene County School Board members Dr. Carol P. Zippert, Carrie Dancy, Leo Branch, William Morgan and Morris Hardy; Gloria Pompey and Amadi Sanders of Selma; Shelley Fearson and Jeanette Thomas of Alabama New South Coalition (ANSC); Angelina Hood of the Greene County Schools; La Tanya Cockrell of Greene County; Leon Dowe of Jefferson County; and Lowndes County Commissioner Dickson Farrior.
Tuesday – I walked, handled various matters, traveled to Montgomery for a Senate Session, a Senate Democratic Caucus meeting and various other meetings. I shared lunch with Joe Fine of Montgomery, handled many matters, returned to Selma and worked into the night. Among others, I communicated with the following: Senator Vivian Davis Figures; Senator Harri Ann Smith; Representative John Knight; Montgomery Businesswomen Sharon Wheeler and Suzanne Webb; Dickey Whitaker of the Medical Association of Alabama; John Teague of Montgomery; Robbie McGhee of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians; Post-Secondary Interim Jimmy Baker; and Consultant Joe Binns of Atlanta.
Wednesday – I was in my Selma office by 6 a.m. and in Montgomery by 8:45 for meetings and a Senate Session. I handled various matters before leaving and returning to Selma. Among others, I communicated with the following: Wallace Community College Selma (WCCS) President Dr. James Mitchell; Jerry Spencer and Kim Adams of Montgomery; Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford; Deborah Madison of St. Clair County; Paula Bird and Brenda Burke of Greene County; Greene County Commissioner Tennyson Smith; Selma Businessman Noopie Cosby; former White Hall Mayor John Jackson; and Sharon Calhoun of Montgomery.
Thursday – I went to my Selma office early, then to Montgomery for a Senate Session and other meetings, then to Birmingham to speak at the Estelle Witherspoon Awards Celebration and back to Selma, arriving at midnight. Among others, I communicated with the following: former United States Ambassador Andrew Young; Cornelius Blanding, John Zippert and Shirley Blakely of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives (Federation); Lola Sewell of Selma; Senator Rodger Smitherman; Senator Greg Albritton; Rev. Randall Myers of Mississippi; Carolyn Wheeler of Signal Mountain, TN; Ebony Gaines of Montgomery; and Jerry Pennick and Heather Gray of Atlanta.
Friday – I walked, handled various matters, traveled to Montgomery for a Senate Session, a Senate Democratic Caucus meeting and other meetings. I returned to Selma, checked on Faya and worked into the night. Among others, I communicated with the following: former State Senator Roger Bedford; Representative Kelvin Lawrence; Representative Thad McClammy; Law Professor Emeritus Martha Morgan; Dr. Roberta Watts of Gadsden; Senator Steve Livingston; Holly Caraway and Kirsten Barnes of the Senate Minority Leader Office; and Beth Marietta Lyons of Mobile.
EPILOGUE – We all have our principles. We all have our positions on various things. We all declare what we will or will not do. But when reality squeezes us, we violate our stated principles, change our positions and do different than we intended. That’s the squeeze of reality.