It Was the Best of Times; It Was the Worst of Times

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Charles Dickens, in his classic novel A Tale of Two Cities, described the plight of both London and Paris in the days leading up to and during the French Revolution. While the situation in the Alabama Legislature is not on par with the French Revolution, certainly some comparisons can be made.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

These words by Dickens in many ways could describe the situation in the Alabama Legislature this past week. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. Tuesday saw great progress and success in the House while in the Senate Tuesday was a non-starter. The House passed an Education Budget very quickly on a unanimous vote and passed a 4% teacher pay raise. The Bills related to the Education Budget moved so quickly through the House that the House moved on to a second Special Order Calendar passing a number of other Bills before adjourning. The Senate, on Tuesday, stalled on the first piece of legislation, SB 67 by Sen. Cam Ward, and adjourned after more than two hours debate without passing any legislation. Thursday proved to be a mirror image of Tuesday. The Senate swiftly moved through a lengthy agenda while the House adjourned without passing any legislation.

During debate on the proposed Special Order Calendar House Democrats filibustered the Special Order Calendar promising to bring things to a halt in the House until the majority brings to the Floor of the House a debate on funding Medicaid in a meaningful and sustainable way. Tuesday, the General Fund Budget and associated Bills are scheduled to be debated. It is expected that there will be more fireworks and filibusters as the day wears on. Some are suggesting that the Speaker will allow the filibuster to proceed for some predetermined time and then the cloture petitions will appear shutting off debate and moving the process forward. It will be interesting to see how long the majority will have to employ the cloture process to keep the House moving.

With the Legislature having completed 14 of its allotted 30 Legislative Days observers of the process at the State House are beginning to wonder aloud just how much longer the Legislature will remain in Session. We had everything before us, we had nothing before us. It is all but a forgone conclusion that the Governor is going to veto the General Fund Budget that will pass the House on Tuesday. That Budget will go to a Conference Committee, be agreed to by both the House and Senate, and then go to the Governor. The Governor has already indicated he will veto the General Fund Budget as it now stands. It is also very possible that the Education Trust Fund Budget will run its course next week. Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) commented that if the Governor vetoes the General Fund Budget that he should also veto the Education Trust Fund Budget. It is expected that once the Governor vetoes the budget(s) the Legislature will override the veto and that they will become law, the Governor’s veto notwithstanding. As things stand currently, the Governor has announced that he will likely call the Legislature into Special Session to deal with Medicaid funding and, by extension, deal with revising the General Fund Budget. Speculation is rampant that a Special Session might also include in the Call an increase in the state gasoline tax. Combining an increase in the gasoline tax at the same time could be very problematic for both issues.

Backed up against all of the other drama in the Legislature is the pending trial of House Speaker Mike Hubbard. Judge Jacob Walker is expected to rule in the next week or so whether the trial will proceed as scheduled on March 28, or if he will once again continue the trial until late spring as he mentioned as a possibility in the most recent hearing in his Court. A seasoned lobbyist quoted his mentor, a former confidant and holder of several cabinet positions in the George Wallace administrations, as advising him when he first started lobbying the Alabama Legislature “Believe nothing of what you hear in Montgomery and very little of what you see”. This is not in any way to suggest that one should distrust Members of the Alabama Legislature but only to remind those who frequent the State House that rumors abound and very few bear edible fruit. One of those “rumors” is that if Judge Walker maintains the start date of the trial as March 28, and, if the budget(s) have been pass, vetoed and overridden, that the Legislature could move adjournment, Sine Die, on Thursday, March 24, so that the Legislature was not in Session during the trial. The thinking is that if the Governor is going to Call a Special Session they might as well not be in Session during what is sure to be a very interesting trial. While there are many opinions as to what the result of the trial maybe, we should all remember that under the American system of jurisprudence that an accused is innocent until a jury of his/her peers determines otherwise.

There have been a number of good Bills before the Legislature. There are still a number of both, good and bad Bills before the Legislature this Session. Only time will tell if the balance of this Session will be The Best of Times or The Worst of Times. One thing is for certain, the times ahead will be interesting.

The Alabama House will reconvene at 1:00pm on Tuesday, March 15, 2016
The Alabama Senate will reconvene at 2:00pm on Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The views and opinions contained in this report do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the clients of Public Strategies, LLC