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Legislature concludes a productive session

There is an old political saying that nobody’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the Alabama Legislature is in Session. If this adage is true then you only have a few more days to hide your billfold because the Session ends this Monday.

An even more accurate maxim would be that you can bet on two things in an election year session, a pay raise for teachers and state employees. Legislators are hopeful that the rewarded teacher and state employee will remember and reward them with their vote.

Not much usually gets done in an election year session. Legislators are reluctant to address any issue containing any controversy in fear that they will antagonize a prospective voter who will not have time to forget and forgive their position. However, this has been one of the most productive election year sessions in decades.

Foremost on accomplishments is legislation which will raise the annual income level at which working Alabamians began paying state income taxes from $4,600 to $12,500 for a family of four. This hallmark change in our tax policy has been heralded throughout the State.

Also the Legislature has passed legislation to allow voters to restrict broad powers of eminent domain. If approved this will restore Alabamian’s property rights powers usurped by the courts.

Big boats have been banned from three east Alabama lakes and the primary runoffs have been set back by three weeks from June 27 to July 18 to assure that military members overseas have time to get and return their absentee ballot.

Both budgets are passed and are in the barn. However, they are pork laden and spent to the hilt, possibly by using surplus money which may not be quite as flush next year.

It has been a surprisingly productive session; however, there were a lot of major issues left on the table.

Gov. Riley’s broad proposals to return money to the taxpayer and his aborted attempt to pass a $500 million bond issue for school construction were quietly and quickly shelved and basically ignored. This has pretty much been the case for all of Riley’s legislative proposals during his four year tenure. If he is reelected there will have to be a tremendous change in the party makeup of the Legislature for Riley to have any significant or relevant involvement in the legislative process. Unfortunately partisan bickering and divisiveness have extended from Washington and is a fact of life in the legislative Statehouse halls in Montgomery.

Neither the Legislature nor the Governor deserves gold stars for essentially ignoring the present crisis in our prison system. The State Prison Commissioner faces the possibility of being held in contempt of court for failing to meet a judge’s order to get state prisoners out of county jails. The Governor’s proposed budget would not have given any relief. The administration proposed a $5 million increase which would have done nothing to relieve the problem of Alabama’s aging prisons. We have twice the number of prisoners crammed into the prisons than they were designed to hold and far too few corrections officers to guard those prisoners. The proposals of both Riley and the Legislature for sentencing reforms and new programs to reduce prisoner recidivism have passed both chambers and are commendable but offer no help for the present situation.

Other prevailing issues swept under the rug to be addressed for the next quadrenium are numerous and real. The issue of whether property values should be appraised annually has been batted around and demagogued by the gubernatorial candidates but should ultimately be addressed by the Legislature. The perennial issue of our holding a convention to revamp our antiquated 1901 Constitution was run up the flag poll and saluted but then put off until still yet another year of review and consideration, while the voters decide who will represent them in state government.

See you next week.

-Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 66 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.