Several factors lead to a successful session

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 20, 2006

“Hank, you had your best legislative session.

It was outstanding.”

I didn’t know how to respond so I said, “I think the Legislature had a great session.”

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My friend said, “Well, you were key in the things that made the session great.”

My friend, who asked not be mentioned in any Sketches, specifically pointed out the education budget, the income tax threshold law and the new community service grants law as foundations of this “great legislative session.”

When my friend talked about how I had had a great year, I realized that my name would not appear on any of the three bills since each started in the House.

I am fine with that situation.

I had just come from an event celebrating one of the successes: a press conference where the income tax threshold bill was signed into law.

Even though I was the Senate sponsor, I had not been invited to the signing until Representative John Knight insisted at the last minute.

After I dropped everything and drove fifty miles to Montgomery, I was not invited to speak until Representative Knight pushed the issue.

Let’s begin with the education budget.

It was a struggle from the first day of the session.

Governor Riley proposed and pushed an education budget that would allow for a $500 million capital improvement program.

We felt the proposal was not good for education.

Representative Richard Lindsey and I worked hand in hand, helping frame the issue and developing an alternative.

I wrote about the issue in Sketches and other mediums.

I appeared on radio and TV programs.

I met with others, including the state superintendents’ group.

I spoke to the media.

We, Rep-resentative Lindsey, Dr. Paul Hubbert of AEA and others did whatever it took.

Collectively we turned the tide.

In the end, it was, as declared by many,

“The best education budget Alabama has ever had.”

The income tax bill was also a struggle from the opening day of the legislative session.

Gov. Riley rightly seized upon the glaring and shameful fact that Alabama’s working poor commence paying income taxes at $90 per week or $4,600 per year.

We certainly appreciated Gov. Riley’s pushing this issue.

Gov. Riley, however, overreached by proposing a tax break for everyone, not just those suffering from the woefully low income tax threshold.

His $233 million proposal would come directly from the Education Trust Fund, reducing funding for the education of our children.

Notwithstanding Governor’s Riley’s role, Representative John Knight was the chief architect and engineer of this initiative.

He had been working on this issue for years.

He really stood tall.

He and I talked almost daily, coordinating our efforts.

We framed the issue by writing, speaking, interacting with the media, and meeting with others.

We pulled key leaders to the middle from opposite ends of the spectrum.

With the aid of Dr. Hubbert, Joyce Bigbee of the Legislative Fiscal Office and others, a compromise bill was developed that only required $60 million.

Dr. Hubbert’s role must be lifted as well as Rep. Knight and Gov. Riley.

We passed this compromise.

So many contribute in so many ways.

The community service grants bill was a joint effort by several House and Senate leaders.

It was developed over several months by the following: Senate President Pro Tem Lowell Barron; Speaker of the House Seth Hammett; House Education Budget Chair Rep. Richard Lindsey; House General Fund Budget Chair Rep. John Knight; Senate General Fund Budget Chairs Senators Hinton Mitchem and Roger Bedford; and me as Senate Education Budget Chair.

Then came the challenge of steering it tahrough the Legislature.

Rep. Lindsey sturdily and quickly steered the bill through the House.

However, in the Senate I had to force passage by stopping all other legislation from being considered.

There were so many other factors that helped make this a successful session.

A few are as follows: we passed more legislation than in any of the previous 10 years; we passed both budgets before the last week; we passed other impactful legislation in the areas of landlord-tenant, election law reform, etc.; we stopped a lot of bad stuff from passing; we avoided intense partisan fights; and we ended the session a week early.

When we consider everything, this success was indeed broad and deep.