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Can’t say much for 2004 session

There wasn’t a lot of talk about the prospects for the Legislature in the places where I hang out. Those who indicated some interest in the session didn’t expect much.

It was just as well.

Legislators found time this year to designate an official state fruit, which is harmless, and an official state bourbon, which is dumb.

And, with some smoke and mirrors, they cobbled together a general fund budget and an education budget to get by for another year.

But they didn’t find the time or the will for legislation that would make government more transparent and responsive – accountable, if you will.

(In fairness, some really bad legislation died, too. But don’t we send our representatives to Montgomery to act for the good of the state and to kill proposals that are bad?)

Perhaps some thought that the defeat of Gov. Bob Riley’s mass tax and reform package would bring a burst of reform. The post-vote reading of public sentiment was that the voters wanted to see more accountability from government before they would approve tax increases.

Riley, to his credit, offered a reform package of 22 bills. To his discredit, though, he lacked the political savvy and/or the clout to get them passed.

The Legislature simply ignored any real reform and taped over the most gaping budget fissures by passing taxes that didn’t require voter approval. In raising the cigarette tax lawmakers preempted local governments from passing new cigarette taxes or raising current ones.

So, the 2004 session has come and gone and lobbyists still can spend up to $250 a day – yes, a day – entertaining public officials without having to report it.

And political action committees can still play the shell game of shifting money from PAC to PAC so that no one really knows who paid for what.

Legislation to establish a transportation commission to take the politics out of planning and scheduling of highway projects died, leaving road building as a prime lever for whoever is in the governor’s office.

Legislators clung to their power as sort of super-county commissioners, unwilling to give county governments authority to deal with such local issues as animal control and litter without seeking legislative approval.

Nor could they bear to pass a new open-meetings law that would give citizens at least some chance of learning what their elected officials are doing. The current open-meetings law was a fairly effective tool until the Alabama Supreme Court gutted it.

Legislators weren’t about to require (itals) future (unitals) state employees to work for 30 years (instead of the current 25) before drawing full retirement benefits.

And they sure as shooting weren’t going to vote to limit their own terms.

But the session wasn’t a total loss.

Even in tight times, lawmakers found $12 million in the education budget for individual legislators to dole out pretty much as they see fit.

And in their wisdom they overrode the governor’s veto to give us an official state whiskey – even if it’s made and bottled in Kentucky.

(bullets)

A (hopefully) final report on Yellow Cat’s recuperation: Yellow Cat was administered his last antibiotic pill and freed from some solitary confinement. He peers through the glass door morning and evening until his food dish is set out. He stays close to the house most of the time, but keeps a clear line of escape, just in case.

Bill Brown can be contacted at 377 Quail Hollow Drive, Dadeville AL 36853 or by e-mail at williambrown1@charter.net

(c)2004 William B. Brown