Several objects of legislation caught eye of public

Published 5:48 am Wednesday, June 3, 2009

By By Steve Flowers
Although the marquee issues, such as the removal of sales tax from groceries, the ethics overhaul, relief for the PACT program and the adoption of the plan to regulate and tax bingo, failed to pass during the just ended Legislative Session, some legislation did make it through the legislative labyrinth.
Legislation that would allow a resort hotel and convention center to be built at a state park on the Alabama coast won legislative approval. This move was a compromise that allows a privately operated hotel and state operated convention center to be built at the location of the old motel at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores. The hotel site has been dormant since being devastated by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 because of disagreements over how to proceed.
The Legislature passed a measure that would require Alabama judges to have some experience prior to going on the bench. The new requirements are that a State Appeals Court Judge must be a lawyer for ten years, Circuit Judges would need five years experience and District Judges three years. These new experience requirements take effect for judicial candidates in next year’s elections. Prior to this new legislation, there were no experience requirements to become a judge in Alabama. In fact, our current Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, who has been a judge her entire career, became a District Judge in Conecuh County immediately after law school when she was in her mid-twenties.
Alabama’s largest phone company, AT&T, was able to pass legislation that would end regulation of home and business telephone services and deregulate landlines the same as cell phones and internet based calling. This special interest legislation seemed to get special consideration. It was on a fast track the entire session.
Finally, there was a lot of media attention brought to bear on the monumental 61 percent pay increase Legislators voted themselves in 2007. It appears there was a rider on the pay increase bill that gives them an automatic cost of living increase every two years. Their constituents were reminded of the pay increase by this automatic provision.
It appeared that Legislators, especially Senators, were cognizant of the fact that their performance as a body has been ridiculed extensively for two years. There was a concerted effort to try to work together to find some semblance of harmony and activity. The partisan discord and total lack of action coupled with the pay increase has actually affected the reelectability polling numbers of most of the State Senate members.
One Senator Phil Poole, seems oblivious to the criticism. He staged a one man filibuster for most of the Session disrupting the flow of even basic perfunctory measures. Poole will not be chosen “Senator of the Year” by either his Senate colleagues or the media.
One of the most confusing aspects surrounding the Session was the concept of the “Sweet Home Alabama” plan. The initiative would indeed give some clarity to what is electronic bingo in Alabama. There is total ambiguity surrounding the interpretation of the laws. Attorney General Troy King says one thing, while Gov. Bob Riley says another. Even churches and senior citizen centers throughout the State are concerned about their bingo games. The legislation would clear up the legality. It would also regulate and tax bingo.
The primary supporters are the developers of the new Country Crossing entertainment complex being built near Dothan close to the Florida and Georgia state lines. A good many famous country music entertainers with Alabama roots are backing the “Sweet Home Alabama” plan.
The confusing thing to most Alabamians is that the extensive and expensive media blitz supporting the measure made it appear to most Alabama voters that there was an imminent and current vote coming up to approve the measure. Indeed most public opinion polls indicate it will pass overwhelmingly. However, the ads were designed to get Legislators to simply put it on the ballot to be voted on in 2010. It is a constitutional amendment and goes directly to the ballot after being approved by the Legislature. The Governor has no input or veto power. All the Legislators are voting for is whether to allow their constituents to vote on the measure. It lacked two votes getting out of the Senate. However, there are three vacant Senate seats all of which are districts that will have a Senator who will favor the plan and these seats will be filled next year.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 75 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be contacted at

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