Legislature concludes successful session

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sen. Wendell Mitchell described this year's session of the Alabama Legislature as the most successful in a decade, sending a good number of beneficial bills through to the governor while passing both an education and General Fund budget that Mitchell called &#8220balanced” and &#8220significant.”

&#8220I believe this is one of the three most successful sessions out of the 24 years I've been in the senate,” said Mitchell, (D - Luverne). &#8220We passed more good bills and defeated more bad bills. We were more focused. There was no infighting, no one attacking another based on political party. I'm proud we were able to accomplish so much.”

Mitchell said he felt last year's session played a role in making lawmakers cooperate more. In 2005, Alabama taxpayers had to foot the bill for a special called session in July after the senate failed to pass the General Fund budget.

&#8220My personal view was that we saw how unhealthy the atmosphere was last year and we came in and decided to do right,” said Mitchell.

Rep. Charles Newton (D - Greenville) said he was pleased the budgets received priority this year. $6 billion was earmarked for the Education Trust Fund - the best ETF to date according to education officials - and the General Fund received $1.65 billion.

&#8220Most observers feel like these are a pair of good budgets,” said Newton. &#8220Most agencies were funded at a level allowing them to accomplish their respective mission.”

Riley initially vetoed the Education Trust Fund budget when it left the senate, asking for an additional $60 million for his tax cut plan. But his veto was supplanted by the legislation.

Still, both legislators cited the tax cut that did pass as a positive for Alabama's poor families.

The tax cut raises the income threshold at which Alabama starts taxing a family of four from $4,600 to $12,500.

Alabama has been the only state that taxed a family of four who made less than $10,000.

&#8220I consider this a major piece of legislation,” said Mitchell. &#8220This will impact a lot of our low income families.”

Mitchell was especially proud of passage of the &#8220Brody Bill,” which he helped sponsor. The law now allows the murderer of a pregnant woman to be tried for two crimes instead of one. Also, he helped sponsor a bill that ensures Alabama's military overseas will be able to vote in a primary runoff election. The new law moves the runoff from June 27 to July 18 in order to allow for absentee ballots.

&#8220Without this bill, our military wouldn't have had time to get their ballots in,” said Mitchell.

Newton said he would have liked to seen the senate give more thorough consideration to a bill that would have restricted the transfer of money from one Political Action Committee to another. PACs can exchange funds freely and disguise its sources before donating it to candidates of office. Newton said the bill passed the house, but not the senate.

A bill allowing Alabamians a vote on whether or not to have a constitutional convention also died.

&#8220There has been repeated efforts to do something about our constitution,” said Mitchell. &#8220It's a little controversial. That's another issue that was set aside, but it will be back at some point in the future.”