Under the Dome: Senate ETF, like Governor’s, spends above Rolling Reserve Cap

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Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, the chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation Education committee. (Advertiser file)

Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, the chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation Education committee. (Advertiser file)

The 2011 Rolling Reserve Act, touted as a restraint on reckless spending in the state’s education budget, increasingly seems more like an obstacle for lawmakers to overcome.

Gov. Robert Bentley’s budget proposal, submitted to the Legislature last month, included $92 million in spending outside the cap, which the governor said did not violate the caps on growth in the Education Trust Fund because it was not spending within that budget. Bentley’s arguments drew a skeptical response from lawmakers, including Senate Finance and Taxation Education committee chairman Trip Pittman, R-Daphne.

“He has to present a budget and he has,” Pittman said in January. “But I believe we’re going to have to recalibrate.”

Recalibrate they did, and the Education Trust Fund budget that the Senate approved Thursday didn’t include $92 million in spending outside the cap, but did include $23.5 million outside it. Instead of the outside money going into the K-12 Foundation program, as in Bentley’s proposal, the money now goes to the state’s troubled PACT program, the appropriation for which is moved out of the Education Trust Fund

Pittman said Wednesday that redoing the $92 million proposed by the governor — along with a move to increase repayments to the Rainy Day Account by $35 million — left a $127 million deficit that required reprioritization.

“I didn’t want to do it, but right now, it’s trying to be able to still offer resources to the needs we have out there,” Pittman said.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said Thursday he didn’t want to do it, either, but felt that the budget chairs did the best they could do with what they had. He hoped a few years of stronger growth would eliminate the need to spend outside the cap.

“We had a couple of bad years that are factored in there, a couple of really bad years,” he said. “I really believe it’s going to smooth on out and do what it’s intended to do.”

Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia

Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia

Bill deals with the sale of domestic fowl between sunset and sunrise

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed what looked like a strange bill at first glance. Its next stop is the Senate.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, repeals a law that imposes a criminal penalty for selling domestic fowl or animals between sunrise and sunset, unless you’re a grocer or market man who has a fixed place of business selling those goods at the place of business.

The law from 1907 imposes a $50 to $500 fine for the misdemeanor, and can also carry a sentence of “hard labor for the county” for a period not exceeding one year.

The question is, why would such a law still be on the books? Why was such a law carried through the revisions to the Code of Alabama in 1923, 1940 and 1975?

For two years, Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, has been working on finding antiquated bills that are no longer applicable in this day and age. He said cleaning up the code is one of his goals.

“If they’re never taken off the books, the code grows,” Jones said. “It’s not meant to be heavy lifting stuff. It’s meant to be housecleaning.”

Othni Lathram, director of the Alabama Law Institute, said Alabama is a state that doesn’t have a legislative history or intent that’s carried along with legislation, so he’s not sure what the original intent of the law was.

He said today, the code collector places all the laws that are passed specifically into the code section where they belong. But that wasn’t always the case, which is why some of the archaic laws were likely to have been carried forward instead of cut during a process known as recompilation, which happened in 1923, 1940 and 1975.

Jones said he thinks the law had something to do with selling animals at night, when there’s not a lot of light.

“Obviously, it was in very different times,” Lathram said.

Lathram said the law was written before crimes were classified as different levels of misdemeanors and felonies in 1977. He said each criminal law had its own specific sentence. The phrase “hard labor for the county” meant a prison sentence back then, he said.

“There are no recent cases decided under this code section,” Lathram said. “I can’t find anyone convicted of this crime in the last decade.”

Nordgren said Jones is “meticulous” when it comes to uncovering archaic language and concepts in laws.

“We’re here to unclutter,” she said. “We feel like that’s doing our due diligence. Things are more transparent and clean.”

Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Huntsville

Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Huntsville

McCutcheon returns

House Rules Committee chairman Mac McCutcheon, R-Huntsville, returned to the Legislature last week after a prolonged absence due to scheduled heart surgery and, shortly afterward, unexpected gall bladder surgery.

McCutcheon said Thursday he was feeling good after his recovery. His wife has been chauffeuring him back and forth to Huntsville, and said that he had missed the Legislature, “surprisingly.”

“I’ve never been sick, so this was a major deal for me,” he said.

McCutcheon received an ovation from senators when he appeared on the floor Thursday.

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