Governor Bob Riley is determined to have a special session within the Regular Session which commenced last week. He is pulling out all the stops. No stone is being left unturned.

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 20, 2004

The Constitution of Alabama permits special sessions of the Legislature in times of extraordinary emergencies. The Governor says that his accountability bills rise to the level of extraordinary emergencies. Therefore, he wants to stop this Regular Session to call a special session. Mr. McDowell Lee has been the Secretary of the Senate for almost 51 years. In all that time, he has seen only a handful of special sessions within a regular session. The questions are: “Why does the Governor want a special session in this Regular Session? Will such a session meet constitutional muster?”

Every bill the Governor is proposing can be introduced in this Regular Session. In fact, similar bills have already been introduced by various legislators. Moreover, legislative leaders have assured the governor that his accountability bills will be considered in the first weeks of the Regular Session. In fact, committee meetings have been set for this week to consider all accountability bills. Making his bills a priority is unacceptable to Governor Riley. Nothing less than a special session within this Regular Session will suffice. The question is why.

Governor Riley says the people spoke so loudly in the September 9th referendum they created an extraordinary emergency. I wonder why it was not an emergency in September when we met in special session to handle the budgets. I wonder why it was not an emergency in October, November, December and January. Why has this become an extraordinary emergency in February during this Regular Session?

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During September, October, November, December and January, the Governor could have called a special session without permission of the Alabama Legislature.

Legislative leaders urged him to call any special session before the 2004 Regular Session.

He did not. Now, both houses of the Legislature must adjourn this 2004 Regular Session for the Governor to call a special session. Why did he not call a special session while we were out of session?

A majority of legislators have expressed strong positions against having a special session within this Regular Session. The Governor, however, has put on a full court press to have such a session. The question is, “Why?”

We are facing serious financial challenges, especially in the General Fund. The Governor has emphatically stated that he will not propose any tax increases and will in fact oppose them. Last year he said the state needed $1.2 billion in increased taxes. Now he says he opposes all taxes. His proposed General Fund Budget, however, contains $123 million in new or increased fees. What are fees except taxes in disguise?

Why is the Governor so determined to have a special session that he is going such great lengths to entice legislators to abandon strongly held positions? How does this package of accountability bills rise to a level of an extraordinary emergency specified by the Constitution of Alabama?

I don’t know the answers to the questions I have posed. I do, however, have perceptions and beliefs involving these questions.

I believe there is an extraordinary emergency, but it is not accountability. Don’t get me wrong, accountability is important, and such measures will be enacted by this Legislature. There is an extraordinary emergency, but it is in the General Fund where we stand to lose nearly a billion dollars in Medicaid services to our children, our seniors and others in need. Without addressing this emergency, 25,000 seniors will be kicked out the nursing homes, thousands of children will be without health insurance and thousands of workers will lose their jobs. Where is the call for a special session for this extraordinary emergency?

I believe the extraordinary emergency is in the Governor’s political career. He must do something extraordinary to revive his declining political fortunes. His solution is to call a special session to bash the Legislature. Making someone else look worse in hopes of looking better is a well-worn political approach.

For any Governor so inclined, a special session is a bully pulpit. He can more effectively focus attention on himself. He can more effectively focus attention against the Legislature. In addition, a special session redirects attention from real emergencies. Whatever the special session is called for appears to be the emergency. Worse of all, it redirects attention from real emergencies. We all lose. Ultimately the governor loses as well.

When a governor really wants something badly enough, he has enough roads, bridges, grants and other enticements to persuade many legislators against positions secured in common sense. This Governor may eventually get his special session within this Regular Session, but the price to the people of Alabama will be high.