Senate passes legislative reorganization bill

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The Alabama State Senate Chamber. (Montgomery Advertiser file)

The Alabama State Senate Chamber. (Montgomery Advertiser file)

The Senate Wednesday evening passed a bill to reorganize the Legislative Council, the body overseeing rules promulgated by state agencies.

Republicans said would streamline the various committees overseeing those operations and save tax dollars. Democrats said the measures would concentrate a number of powers — including the wages of legislative employees — in the hands of GOP leadership.

11 Democrats voted against the legislation. Sens. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale; Paul Bussman, R-Cullman; Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville and Harri Anne Smith, I-Slocomb, also voted no. In the local delegation, Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery voted for the measure and Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, voted against it.  The bill now goes on to the House.

Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, said the goal of the bill was to economize spending in the chambers.

“The Legislative Council is being changed, with obligations to reduce the legislative cost to its fullest extent possible,” Holley said.

The Legislature passed similar legislation last year, but supporters were unable to get final approval before the session ended. Republicans, citing real and potential cost savings, have made consolidations of government operations a priority, and have passed legislation aimed at streamlining state law enforcement and information technology.

“If it is operated correctly, and I feel confident it will be, it will definitely be more efficient and save the state dollars,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said after the vote.

Democrats objected to portions of the bill they said would put too much power in the hands of legislative leadership.

Under the proposal, the Speaker of the House and Senate President Pro Tem, who currently have seats on the 30 member Legislative Council, would also appoint two members to 20-member council, divided into 10-member House and Senate Councils. The bodies would also include the chairs of the House and Senate budget committees, whose appointments are effectively controlled by the Speaker and the President Pro Tem. In all, the Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem would have appointment power over half of the Legislative Council.

Senate Minority Leader Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, said the proposal put “too much power in the hands of too few people.”

“I’ve never known it was a problem or catastrophic for us to keep running the government as it is,” she said.

Marsh said he “stayed out of the process” of determining the committee composition, and did not ask for the appointments.

“They did not want a situation where this particular committee was at odds with leadership,” Marsh said. “I would think that would be the thought process.”

The council would remove tenure for the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives and subject them to performance reviews. The council would also have final approval over hiring and would set salaries for the Legislature. Under questioning from Figures, Holley said the council would bring in a “new pay scale,” but said he did not anticipate reductions in salaries for employees.

“I don’t think we senators should be in the business of being employers,” Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said shortly before the submission of a cloture petition.

The legislation also allows the Senate President Pro Tempore to continue serving after an election, until a successor can be named.

– posted by Brian Lyman

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