The issue hung over the Alabama Legislature from the moment the session commenced. The time to vote had arrived. I did not know what the outcome would be. I don’t think anyone really knew for sure.
Published 12:00 am Friday, February 20, 2004
This moment was rooted in the months between the failed September 9th tax referendum and commencement of the 2004 Regular Legislative Session.
Governor Riley announced that he was considering a special legislative session on various legislation he dubbed “my accountability package.”
Legislative leaders strongly advised him to call any special session before the Regular Session but he chose not to do so.
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He wanted the special session within the Regular session.
The issue hung over the first two weeks of the session like a low hanging storm cloud absence the thunder and lightning.
It overshadowed everything.
As a result, most legislators were on edge since we did not know when, how or what might come.
Just the specter disrupted the Alabama Legislature.
The arguments advanced by the Governor for a special session within the Regular Session centered on the notion that the September 9th vote rejecting his $1.2 billion tax package was a mandate for his accountability legislation package.
Therefore it was a mandate for a special session within the Regular Session.
It took a giant leap of logic to reach this conclusion.
In my opinion, the September 9th vote was a mandate against the $1.2 billion tax package, nothing more and nothing less.
My reasoning, and that of some others, was as follows:
(1) any bills introduced in a special session could be introduced in the Regular Session; (2) most accountability bills had already been introduced in the Regular Session; (3) legislative leaders had committed to serious consideration of all accountability bills in the first part of the Regular Session; and (4) a special session would simply divert attention from the real financial crisis facing us.
We usually meet in Legislative Session on Tuesdays and Thursdays of each week with Wednesdays designated for committee meetings.
Mondays and Fridays enable legislators to handle affairs back in their districts.
We started the session on Tuesday, February 3rd, but no recess resolution was introduced.
On Thursday, the second legislative day, we waited but no resolution was presented.
On Tuesday of the following week, the third legislative day, a resolution was introduced which went to the Senate Rules Committee.
We continued to wait.
We knew it was a matter of securing enough votes to win.
On Thursday at 10:18 a.m., the move finally came, both barrels blazing.
A motion was made by one Senator to recess from February 11th to March 8th.
Another immediately made a substitute motion to recess until March 9th.
These motions collectively provided two shots at the recess target.
These motions created all kinds of potential problems because neither would recess both the Senate and House.
We risked the Senate recessing for nearly 30 days while the House continued to work.
Such a development would bring great embarrassment to the Alabama Senate in particular and the Alabama Legislature in general.
We had counted our votes again and again.
Each time a majority appeared to be committed against the resolution, but the vote was very close.
However, we never knew when promises of highways, bridges, grants or other enticement might overwhelm both commitments and common sense.
Finally, rumors abounded about this senator or that senator cutting a deal on the vote.
As a result, the outcome was truly unknowable.
After the motions were made, a series of points of order were requested by senators to clarify the situation.
Lieutenant Governor Lucy Baxley allowed each point of order.
We all understood the ramification of our votes.
I tried to relax, saying to myself, “Whatever comes, comes.”
Finally it was time to vote.
As the roll was called, I listened to each senator voice an “aye” or “nay”.
Our side needed “nays.”
Their side needed “ayes.”
The first break came as the 17th senator voted.
A senator counted on by their side voted “nay.”
I relaxed just a little bit.
Then, the 26th senator, a vote we had counted on, was silent.
I tightened up again.
I continued counting as the votes were called.
I then heard the voice of the missing vote and it was “aye.”
I remained on edge.
In the end, the vote was 16 “ayes” and 19 “nays”.
The first attempt to recess for four weeks had failed.
We could not relax because the vote on the other motion was coming right on its heels.
Again, it was 16 “ayes” and 19 “nays.”
Both motions were now defeated.
The House also defeated a motion to recess for a special session by a vote of 50 to 39.
The attempts to insert a special session within the Regular Session have now been defeated in both houses.
I hope we can proceed to handle the accountability bills, budgets and other legislation.