Alabama legislature session vital in 2007

Published 3:20 am Wednesday, June 13, 2007

By By Steve Flowers
The Alabama Constitution calls for the Legislature to meet every year. The session is to last for 105 days, about three and a half months. It commences the first Tuesday in February of each year, except in the first year of the quadrennium when it meets later. An organizational session precedes the regular session that year. It occurs in January and it is important because the President Pro Tem of the Senate and other leadership positions are selected and the rules are set for the four years ahead.
It was vitally important this year. The emergence of the Republican Party in Alabama has made it dominant in all areas of state politics except in the State Legislature, and especially in the State Senate.
This year's organizational session was a bloodbath. The final result was that a majority of 18 Democratic Senators won control leaving a frustrated minority of 17 Senators, comprised of the 12 Republicans and 5 renegade Democrats, fuming. They reacted similar to school kids who lost a game in the schoolyard and decided to take their ball and go home. They stuck their tongues out at the victors and vowed that they would not allow anything to pass.
They only came off of their threat for a fleeting instance early in the session and then only for self-serving reasons. To give themselves a 62% pay raise and to give one of their members, Jimmy Holley, a chance to get emergency relief for the tornado ravaged Enterprise school system. After this short hiatus they reverted back to their avowed shutdown. They were good on their word.
The Constitution allows for 30 session meeting days out of the 105 calendar days. In 26 out of the 30 the Senate was absolutely shutdown and did no work. The 17 minority Senators protest was based on the rules of the senate enacted by the majority in the organizational session. In defense of the minority the rules were punitive and allowed for the majority to have an ironclad filibuster-proof control over the Senate.
The division in the Senate is more than political. It is the deepest divide ever seen on Capitol Hill. The acrimony and bitterness is so deep that neither side seems to even talk with the other. It has created a rancor and lack of action in the legislative process never before seen. The animosity is so severe that it culminated with one of the minority Senators, Charles Bishop, actually punching Rules Chairman, Lowell Barron, in the face on the floor of the Senate Chamber on the last day of the session.
The House of Representatives is affected by partisan politics, but it worked through the partisanship and progressed slowly but functionally. It is frustrating to House members who dutifully passed necessary legislation only to see it languish in the Senate.
This Senate stalemate almost lost Alabama the largest industrial plum in decades. Gov. Riley had to plead and maneuver with the Republican Senators to stop their strike long enough to pass the necessary incentives to lure the German steel maker ThyssenKrupp to Alabama.
The only thing the State Constitution requires of the Legislature in a session is to pass the budgets. In the final days, the Senate minority blinked at their game of Russian roulette and allowed the budgets to pass. They figured that their constituents would not understand or appreciate that their juvenile pouting was more important than at least passing a budget.
The irony is that the majority wrote and passed the budgets without the minority senators having any input. The two budget chairmen became even more powerful than ever. Sen. Hank Sanders of Selma became the czar of the Education budget and Sen. Roger Bedford of Russellville was the czar of the General Fund budget. Both budgets were the largest in state history. They passed earlier than normal without much debate. It allowed the session to end eleven days earlier on June 7th, rather than June 18th. The budgets passed with little fanfare. It prompted a young Republican House member, Cam Ward, to astutely observe and comment that "It kind of reminds me of the kid who knows he has a final exam coming up but refuses to study in the weeks leading up to it. Instead he crams the night before. Unfortunately we are the same way in Montgomery."
The session accomplished very little due to the war in the Senate. At least the budgets passed and a special session has been avoided. Maybe over the next six months wounds can heal in the Senate before the 2008 Session convenes next February.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox