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Special session, oversight bills advance

By MARY SELL and CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A bill to allow the Legislature to call itself into a special session was approved Tuesday in the Senate Government Affairs Committee.

The House version of the bill is in committee on Wednesday.

The state constitution says that special sessions — those outside the normal 30-day regular session each year — may only be called by the governor, who sets the agenda of items to be debated and voted on during the 12-day special session.

Gadsden Republican Rep. Becky Nordgren’s House Bill 21 and Sen. Will Barfoot’s Senate Bill 259 say the Senate President Pro Tem and the Speaker of the House could convene the Legislature by a joint proclamation. 

The bills say, “On the first day of the special session, each house shall adopt a resolution by a two-thirds vote of all members elected to each house affirming the convening of the Legislature, or the Legislature shall stand adjourned sine die.”

The bills require a constitutional amendment voted on by Alabamians. The legislation does not impact the governor’s ability to call a special. Because it’s a constitutional amendment, the bill would not have to be signed by Gov. Kay Ivey.

Barfoot, R-Pike Road, told the Senate committee on Tuesday that Alabama is one of 14 states that doesn’t allow their Legislatures to call their own sessions.

Barfoot said the legislation has nothing to do with Gov. Kay Ivey or any of her decisions in the last year regarding the coronavirus pandemic, but is about future leaders.

“Whether it’s four years from now or 20 years or 100 years, we may have somebody in office that doesn’t have the leadership ability that (Ivey) has,” Barfoot told Alabama Daily News. “…This is not an indictment in any kind of way, this is not a knock on the governor. This is to say, looking forward, if something happens in the future and we have a governor that doesn’t act decisively, that might not have the best interests of the folks around the state in mind like Gov. Ivey does, then how can we as a Legislature be active and deal with some of those issues that may come up in the future?”

Legislative Oversight Committee

A bill passed the House on Tuesday that would create a joint legislative oversight committee to review any large expenditures from state agencies in the General Fund budget.

House Bill 392 is sponsored by Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, and would require any state agency or department planning to spend more than $10 million or 5% of their annual budget, whichever is less, to first be approved by the oversight committee on obligation transparency.

“It’s actually to make sure that we do the job we’ve been elected to do,” Jones said.

The bill passed unanimously.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, is a co-sponsor on the bill and said the committee would review expenditures similar to the multi-million dollar leases Gov. Kay Ivey has signed onto recently for building new prisons in the state.

“This is not to penalize the governor, but from a legislative perspective we feel like it’s just good government and good policy,” McCutcheon said. “Right now, the governor is working on a multi-billion-dollar deal for new prisons and the Legislature has had very little input on that and because of that we feel like if we are going to be spending taxpayer dollars to the tune of billions then there should be some legislative input into that.”

The governor’s office has said they have worked with legislators for months as the prison lease agreements have been negotiated.

The oversight committee would include the chairs and vice-chairs of the House and Senate General Fund committees and the ranking minority members of those same committees.

The committee would have 45 days to review the submissions and can hold public hearings. If the committee disapproves the proposed agreement it won’t become effective until the “adjournment of the next regular session of the legislature that commences after the obligation or agreement is submitted.”

Jones said the gap in time was to allow the Legislature to hold public hearings and gather more information about the agreement and possibly address the concern in standalone legislation or the General Fund budget.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said having oversight on large expenditures is an important duty the Legislature should always be dealing with, including spending billions on new prisons.

“It should have the most oversight of anything we do down here,” England said.

If approved, the legislation would not impact the governor’s prison plans.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, voted for the bill but said he had some concerns about the new committee abusing its power in the future.

“I certainly hope that there is no abuse of powers from the oversight committee, and in other situations with the governor and we are not limiting her ability because if we continue to have this overreach, we will basically be the governor and I don’t want that to happen,” Daniels said.

Driving in construction zones

House Bill 245 would expand existing law regarding moving violations in designated construction zones created by the Alabama Department of Transportation or county transportation departments.

Current law says a person who commits a violation of a construction zone speed limit shall be assessed a fine of double the amount prescribed by law outside of a construction zone. House Bill 245 expands that to all moving violations committed within a construction zone.

Fines would be “the greater of $250 or double the amount prescribed by law outside a construction zone.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, said the bill came from the Alabama Department of Transportation.

He said there may be a push for an amendment to require ALDOT to remove construction zone signs promptly when the work is completed or halted.

“When you see a sign that says road work, there ought to be road work and you need to slow down and be careful,” Greer told Alabama Daily News.

The bill will be in the House Transportation, Utilities and Infrastructure Committee, which Greer chairs, on Wednesday. 

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