State House Update – Week of May 11 – 17, 2009

The House returned from furlough this week to focus on the last two weeks leading up to the May 21 end of session deadline. On Tuesday, just after entering into session, the House was faced with voting immediately on whether to concur with the Senate budget with House Ways and Means changes in it BEFORE House consideration. In the past, a conference committee with members from both the House and the Senate met to work out differences between the two budget versions. This year, a conference committee did not meet. Instead, House Ways and Means Chairman Cooper and Senate Finance Chair Leatherman met over the weekend before we returned to work out differences in the budget. Upon returning at noon on Tuesday, we were given a summary of the budget at 1:55 p.m. and then we had to vote on it at 4:15 p.m. Some of us wanted 24 hours to review the budget but a motion to do that failed. Therefore, a vote was conducted and the budget passed.

I did not vote for the budget that passed for several reasons. First, I was not comfortable voting in favor of a budget that I had not had a chance to review. Second, I did not support appropriating stimulus funds BEFORE we know that the funds are available. Third, I supported the alternative budget in place of the one that passed because the alternative budget funded education and law enforcement at higher levels than the budget that passed without stimulus funds. Fourth, I believe that we have to make tough choices as to cutting some programs that are not related to education and law enforcement versus funding them with one time money. I thought the alternative budget did a better job of doing that than the budget that passed. My decision was not easy and I struggled with it. However, I think that based on the circumstances, I made the best decision for the majority of folks in our district and in our state.

Additionally, when I ran for office last year, I said that I supported spending limitations in state government and that the legislature needed to make hard decisions on prioritized spending rather than across the board cuts. I think that the budget proposal that is most in keeping with that position is the alternative budget rather than the one that passed on the fast track on May 12.

Some folks may question whether I support accessing the stimulus funds. Let me be clear: I support accessing the stimulus funds and that is why I voted in favor of S.577 on Thursday, May 14, which was the Concurrent Resolution calling on the Governor to accept the stimulus funds within 45 days.

Other bills that came up on the House floor included a bill reforming the State Ports Authority and the bill creating a tax reform study commission. A special conference committee of House and Senate conferees will be working now on the final version of this bill focused on reviewing the state’s entire tax structure.

Judicial elections were held this week with Kaye Hearn being elected to serve as the second woman in history on the Supreme Court. Other slots filled included vacant circuit, family, and administrative law court seats.

In the budget that passed, there is funding for the Conservation Land Bank. Funding for this state entity was a concern of many people in the district.

Several good bills will not pass this year. They include the school district consolidation bill; restructuring legislation; permanent dedicated funding for roads and bridges; and spending cap legislation. They are filed and will be ready for consideration in January 2010.

The third graders from Mead Hall School visited on Tuesday. I had the chance to speak with them and then was able to introduce them to the House as they sat in the House gallery.

Thank you for the opportunity to represent you. Please let me know if I can help you in any way.

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