Legislative leadership chiefs of staff outline 2013 session’s past and future

The chiefs of staff to House Speaker Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh reviewed the 2013 legislative session and outlined their expectations for the final one-third of the session that cannot last beyond May 20.

Speaking to the Business Council of Alabama’s Governmental Affairs Committee, Josh Blades, chief of staff to Hubbard, R-Auburn, and Philip Bryan, chief of staff to Marsh, R-Anniston, discussed the timetable for the 10 legislative days that remain in the 30-day session.

Blades had bad news and good news, the bad news being SB 286, the omnibus gun by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, that is opposed by the BCA, will pass in some form. The Senate passed the bill that makes some business concessions and sent it to the House last week.

“Y’all aren’t going to be really happy with it but I hope it least it will be palatable and we can get a good balance between gun rights and property rights,” Blades said.

The BCA believes the omnibus gun bill infringes on the rights of business to prohibit firearms on their private property. The Senate-passed bill would not allow businesses to ban firearms in an employee’s locked vehicle while at work but would allow employers to restrict employees from carrying concealed pistols under certain conditions, would give immunity to businesses, and allow businesses to post trespassing warnings.

Blades said Hubbard wants to make the bill as “palatable as possible to people sitting in this room” but in the end, “We’re going to have do something, we’re going to have to have a bill.”

“We intend to make that immunity language stronger,” Blades said. “Yes, we want an employee to be safe on the way to work but that should not endanger that employee or his or her colleagues once they get to work.”

The good news, Blades and Bryan said, is that the House and Senate intend to continue passing business-and taxpayer-friendly legislation and will support Governor Robert Bentley’s goal of cutting spending by $1 billion a year. “We’re about 75 percent of the way to that goal,” Blades said.

The Republican-dominated legislature ended the $50 million Deferred Retirement Option Program, helped cut state employment by 3,000, shifted $243 million in retirement and insurance costs to state employees and teachers, changed state pensions, saving $325 million over three years, and voted to reimburse $437 million to  the Alabama Trust Fund that voters “borrowed” last year. “The point is so we don’t have to raise taxes,” Blades said.

Bryan revisited the House and Senate leadership’s controversial passage of the Education Accountability Act of 2013 that allows parents to move children from failing public schools to other public or private schools and receive certain state financial aid.

“What we saw was an opportunity to make a bold move, a bold strike to do something good for education,” Bryan said. “The reason we did it that way was there are a lot of major forces in this town that do not want education to be reformed.”

The Senate-passed General Fund probably will make it to the House floor next week and a compromise Medicaid revision bill that hospitals and medical providers “are good with” remains on schedule.

Bryan said eight of the first 19 bills that have passed both houses so far are business and taxpayer friendly including repaying the Alabama Trust Fund, the school accountability act, film incentive rebates, the Major 21st Manufacturing Zone Act, law enforcement consolidation, streamlining information technology functions, agriculture economic incentives, and the so-called Airbus bill . “There is nothing on here that is fluff or is just a feel good bill,” Bryan said.

-Dana Beyerle