Busy legislative session comes to end

Published 7:18 pm Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Alabama Legislature ended its 2013 session Monday by passing major gun legislation — and by rejecting Gov. Robert Bentley’s last-minute attempt to delay implementation of a controversial bill that would give tax credits to families of children in “failing” school districts so their children can attend private school.

The final day also saw Bentley sign an education budget that gives a 2 percent raise to public school teachers, their first in five years.

State Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton — who voted against the Alabama Accountability Act — voted Monday for the governor’s amendment to delay implementation.

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But after the amendment failed, Baker said he felt it necessary to support a revised version of the AAA.

“In light of the governor’s failed executive amendment and my soliciting input from local public school officials along with others strongly affilliated with public schools to determine our best course of action with any vote going forward, the overwhelming sentiment was to support HB658 through the remaining process which meant an override of the governor’s veto to improve on the existing law,” Baker said.

Supporters of the Accountability Act have said the new law will give families in failing schools a choice — and financial support — to switch to a better school.

The law does not require private schools to accept students, however.

Opponents of the law have said it takes money from public schools and will further segregate schools, and that poor families will still not be able to afford private school, which might require transportation costs and other fees.

Also on Monday, the Legislature gave final passage to a compromise gun bill allowing residents to carry guns in their cars at their places of work. The bill — largely proposed by the National Rifle Association and originally opposed by law enforcement across the state — is the result of talks among legislators, the NRA and police and sheriffs.

Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith said law enforcement was initially opposed to the bill because it a sheriff’s right of discretion in denying pistol permits. The law now sets up an appeals process in those cases.

The gun bill now goes to the governor for his signature.