Prince – 1999 – The Alabama Legislature

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What in the world, could these three things have in common, as we look at the past week within the Alabama Legislature? An open minded look at the lyrics to 1999 by Prince ( www.lyrics.com/1999-lyrics-prince.html ) and a knowledge of what happened in the Alabama Legislature during the Organizational Session and subsequent Regular Session might shed a light on the comparison. Below are just the first few verses from 1999 but these verses lay the foundation for the comparison:

Dont worry, I wont hurt u

I only want u 2 have some fun

I was dreamin when

I wrote this Forgive me if it goes astray

But when I woke up this mornin

Coulda sworn it was judgment day

The sky was all purple,

There were people runnin everywhere

Tryin 2 run from the destruction,

U know I didn’t even care

cuz they say two thousand zero zero party over,

Oops out of time

tonight I’m gonna party like its 1999

I was dreamin when

I wrote this

So sue me if I go 2 fast

War is all around us, my mind says prepare 2 fight

So if I gotta die I’m gonna listen 2 my body tonight

Heading into the 1999 quadrenium those working around the State House generally looked forward to the Legislature coming back to town. Old friendships were rekindled. There was a level of trust and collegiality among the Members, lobbyists and staff. There was an opportunity for social interaction and cooperation. There was not the partisan divisions that exist today. Back in early January 1999, the political splits were business vs. trial lawyers vs. AEA. Though they were intense at times at the end of the day, it was not uncommon to see representatives of each of these groups socializing at a local watering hole. That all changed when the Senate organized itself during the 1999 Organizational Session. Prior to the 1999 Organizational Session, when a Legislator made a commitment he/she stood by that commitment. Today, many Legislators remain committed to that principal but it is not as strong a bond as once existed. That changed when former State Senator Phil Poole committed to support the effort to organize the Senate around the first Republican Lt. Governor, Steve Windom, and 10 minutes later voted with the organizational plan laid out by Governor-elect Don Siegelman. On an 18-17 vote Windom was stripped of virtually all of the power previous Lt. Governors had held. The position of Lt. Governor has remained largely a ceremonial position other than presiding over the Senate and assuming the Office of Governor should that office be vacated. In an effort to try to maintain some sense of power and control Lt. Governor Windom remained in the Chair for such an extended period that his staff delivered a large “jug” to the desk for the Lt. Governor’s convenience. “Juggate” became a notable event in the 1999 quadrenium.

After the Organizational Session in January 1999, the “fun” started to disappear and what once had been somewhat of a game became intense work. It is still a wonderful job to have if you enjoy political theater but the social aspect is no longer what it once was.

As for the past week, there were a number of issues that were considered and dealt with. Among them:

  • The Education Trust Fund Budget passed the Senate, went to Conference Committee, the Conference Report was adopted by both the House and the Senate and transmitted to Governor Bentley. Therein, the Legislature has now accomplished their Constitutionally mandated obligation of funding state government;
  • The Prison construction legislation and related bond issue came out of Committee. One big change in what was reported was that instead of being paid for from the savings of consolidation some of the cost was to be paid for by increasing the fee for an auto title from $13.50 to $28.00. That has thrown a huge fly in the ointment;
  • Lottery legislation came out of Committee this week but much still remains to be discussed and decided before it will move to a vote of the people; and
  • In one of the more bizarre Committee meetings this past week a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would move the State Auditor and Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries from elected positions to appointed positions was up for discussion in the House Constitution, Campaigns & Elections Committee. The Committee allowed the current Commissioner and Auditor to speak to the Committee about their respective jobs and make their respective cases for election versus appointment. During the questioning of State Auditor Jim Ziegler, one of the Committee Members asked the Auditor “Mr. Ziegler, how many people work in your office”? Ziegler, with a straight face replied “about half of them”. The entire room broke into uncontrollable laughter after realizing just what Ziegler had said. Before carrying the legislation over, effectively killing it for this Session, Chairman Davis offered an amendment that would add the State Treasurer to the positions to be appointed rather than elected. That amendment was adopted on a voice vote. Davis then offered another amendment to have the Members of the State Board of Education appointed rather than elected. A recorded, roll call, vote was requested and that proposal died on a tie vote of 4-4. This legislation will probably resurface in the 2017 Regular Session.
  • With the Session drawing close to Sine Die, many Bills have been piling up in need of floor action. Thursday was planned to be a day that both the House and Senate could move Bills to the opposite house for final action. As is said, “the best laid plans”, often do not materialize. On Thursday, the Senate was not able to move past filibusters to consider adopting a Special Order Calendar thus leaving many Senate Bills in limbo. In the House, a lengthy Special Order Calendar was adopted but the House adjourned after debating only the first two Bills on the Calendar.

When the Legislature returns on Tuesday, they will have a maximum of five (5) Legislative days remaining in which to complete its work. There are as many different theories about when the Legislature will adjourn Sine Die as there are people at the State House. The current plan is for the Legislature to meet for three (3) days next week. The consensus, if such a thing exists, is that the final day very well may be Thursday, April 28, the 28th Legislative Day.

One thing is a given with this Legislature, nothing can be predicted with any degree of certainty.

The Alabama House will reconvene at 1:00pm on Tuesday, April 26, 2016
The Alabama Senate will reconvene at 1:00pm on Tuesday, April 26, 2016

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