Archive for the ‘Rep. Todd’s Posts’ Category

Legislative Highlights

Monday, March 10th, 2008

The waters are warming up nicely and the last few weeks in the Legislative pool have been busy! Time to look back on some highlights as to where we are in improving the lives of all Alabamians.

So when you think of the Legislature improving lives, a good foundation for this is through a tide that will bring ethics reform. You may have heard that the House passed an important ban on PAC to PAC transfers, a critical and long-overdue piece of legislation. Unfortunately the Senate amended that bill in such a way that would exempt certain political groups from the ban. Recognizing that this amendment would completely weaken the bill, the House voted unanimously NOT to concur with the Senate amendment PAC to PAC transfer ban. It now goes to conference committee to work out a compromise. I voted for the House version of the PAC to PAC transfer ban and will continue to oppose any amendment language that dilutes the efficacy of this bill.

The perennial battle for Constitutional Reform has again made some gains this past week. The bill calling for a Constitutional Convention was voted out of the Constitutions and Elections House Committee in a 9-4 party line split vote. I’m proud of my yes vote to move this forward and am hopeful that it will see the light of day on the House floor.

And I could not forget that we freed the hops! This is a bill that would allow those of legal age to purchase gourmet beer in Alabama. It was a close vote, but the bill passed. It’s interesting that I received more calls and emails this year to date about Free the Hops and Constitutional Reform than any other issue before us! I hope more of you will let me—as well as your own legislators—know how your feel about issues we are reviewing.

The House is working hard, as always, and has passed at least 50 bills already. Unfortunately, the Senate continues to drag its heels in contentious debate and party politics as always. It’s frustrating when the House gets lumped in with the Senate when people talk about how bad the legislature is; this is not to say the House couldn’t benefit from some improvements, but I can assure you that my colleagues in the House want to work together and are typically eager to let you know how they feel about a bill.

In the midst of this positive work, however, bad news looms on the state budget front. February revenues were below what had been forecasted and it looks like we will have to cut $400 million from the Governors’ Budget. We are going to have to make some tough decisions and I will continue to do my best to protect services for the poor, children and seniors. We can not afford to cut Medicaid, Public Health, Children’s Services or Senior Services, we have got to look at our tax and revenue structure and figure out a way to fund needed programs and not overburden families with more taxes.

I think what’s most interesting for me at this point, is that I find that although freshman legislators totally agree with this kind of philosophy, recognizing that we must reexamine our tax and revenue structure in a fair and balanced manner, some who have been in power for a longer time aren’t as interested in this kind of policy discussion. It leaves me convinced that we need to elect more open minded, independent thinkers.

Interested in running? Come on in, the water’s fine!

Alabama Poverty Task Force Report

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Note from Kathy: Rep. Todd sponsored HB360, which makes the Poverty Task Force permanent. It’s unfortunate that we need this in Alabama, but we do. The bill passed the House on Thursday.

As you know, poverty affects all Alabamians whether it is through raising crime rates, declining neighborhoods and even through our state’s inability to pay for services we all need like additional state troopers and more funding for our public schools. Recognizing this, the Alabama House Poverty Task Force was charged with the responsibility of identifying and assessing conditions that create or worsen poverty throughout the state and to develop and propose public policy initiatives that would reduce and eliminate those conditions.

This past week the Poverty Task Force presented its recommendations in its Final Report, making public its legislative priorities and recommendations for change.

As Chair of the Poverty Task Force, I am pleased to present you with a copy of this report and invite you to contact me with your questions or comments.

And so it begins…

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

The Alabama 2008 legislative session opened with budget conflicts, ethics reform and the age-old mix of hope and disgust. Let the games begin…

We have been hearing for the past several months as to the dire condition of both of our state budgets—education and general. The Governor presented his proposed 2008 budget to the legislature on Wednesday and I am reviewing it to make sure that needed services are not in danger of being cut. Having chaired the House Task Force on Poverty this fall, I am continuing to fight for those who have been left behind in our so-called “economic growth” year and am determined to maximize opportunities and resources for those who have so little in our state and in my District.

The House passed twelve bills on Thursday – eleven of which I endorsed– including:

  • The PAC to PAC transfer ban,
  • A ban on pass-thru “pork”,
  • An expansion of the definition of a lobbyist to include those who lobby the Executive Branch,
  • Mandatory ethics training for elected officials,
  • A disclosure requirement for any ad trying to influence an election,
  • The establishment of a Transportation Commission to review transportation projects and funding, and
  • A bill to allow the Department of Transportation to enter into a private-public partnership to set up toll roads.

As we begin the 2008 session I feel it is unfortunate that Governor Riley has stated that he and the Republican Party are raising funds to unseat Democrats in the 2010 elections. My concern here is that this kind of overt political strategy doesn’t exactly encourage the Democratic majority to work with him. Rather than diminish one party in order to elevate another, we must work together and build support for the kind of legislative priorities that raise everyone together. Alabama politics never cease to amaze me.

If you read the paper or hear the news you may have already guessed that the fallout of the two year college investigations is already having its effect. Rep. Sue Schmitz’s (D-Toney) arrest caught many folks off guard; unfortunately, I’m sure that this is not the end of the indictments.

Like most of you, I don’t know all the facts in these cases, but I do know many of the people who are under investigation and recognize that there are good legislators in the bunch who genuinely care about and serve their districts. While I believe that justice must be served, I have to admit that sometimes I wonder about the extent to which politics has intruded into this entire scandal.

This coming week, the House will continue to pass bills and move legislation forward–and it is our hope that the Senate can keep peace and pass good policy. As always, I will keep pushing for transparency in government and good public policy. To this end, my priorities for this session include:

  • Increasing funding for Head Start programs
  • Increasing funding for Medicaid
  • Increasing the cap on business privilege tax from $15,000 to $30,000 so as to provide additional revenue for public education and allow for a tax deduction for small businesses who offer health insurance to their employees
  • Increasing tax on cigarettes from .46 to .75 a pack to provide additional revenue for public health programs such as ALL KIDS, providing health insurance to those children without private insurance who fall above the Medicaid eligible level
  • Increasing sales tax on automobiles over $40,000 to provide additional revenue to public education
  • Passing a bill to allow for a Constitutional Convention
  • Pushing for Ethics Reform including a ban on PAC to PAC transfers (This is the bill that already passed the House last Thursday and I am proud to have been a co-sponsor), mandatory disclosure of who is paying for campaign ads, registration of all persons trying to influence government and full disclosure of lobbying expenses
  • Allowing Alabama women to choose a certified midwife in the State of Alabama
  • Establishing a permanent legislative commission on the Reduction of Poverty
  • Mandating that workforce development programs recruit low and moderate income workers into their trainings
  • Mandating that companies receiving economic incentives report how many jobs they created and the pay scales and benefits of their workforce and also requiring those companies to pay a living wage to ALL employees
  • Decreasing the time a municipality must wait to tear down or sell an abandoned structure.

This session—as has been true of all the ones preceding it—bears the signs of hopefulness and struggle as we slog through the mud of public policy and politics; I begin this session renewed and invigorated at the possibilities before us as elected leaders, ever committed to building strong healthy families and strong healthy communities.

My door is always open to you.

AL Legislative Session Ends

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

(My apologies for the delay in posting this — and big thanks to Patricia for taking the time to post here.  Of course, politics doesn’t take a break even when the Legislature does, so I hope she’ll keep us up-to-date in the off season.  –Kathy) 

In case you haven’t heard, the 2007 legislative session ended with a bang!

I was appalled to learn that Sen. Bishop (R) landed a punch to his session rival Sen. Lowell Barron (D).  Embarrassingly, the Senate’s session  ended as it started…with a fight.  Upon leaving the Senate floor Senator Bishop commented that he would “do it again” if anyone made a slur/comment about his mother.  He capped this off by noting he would not respect anyone who didn’t throw a punch if their mother was insulted.

I listened in disbelief to his rationale and continue to wonder what messages his actions send to our youth.  Many House members were ashamed of the Senator’s actions as a legislator.  Clearly we have little to be proud of from this session and the public, already disgusted with our inability to take care of the people’s business, always deserve better.

Often I am asked about my impression from my first session in the House.  My response is simple:  the process is frustrating and really meant to keep legislation from passing.  Any change in Alabama politics is painfully slow.

But I was elected to represent the people of my District to the best of my ability regardless of these systemic problems.  To this end I am proud of the legislation that I sponsored, especially the Alabama Minimum Wage Law, despite its eventual death in the House Commerce Committee.

Here are the Top Ten Lessons I Learned this first Session:

10.  NEVER COMPROMISE YOUR BELIEFS – Many times during this session I found myself in situations that I felt conflicted on how to vote.  The pulls and strains upon what I thought was best for the community was sometimes in direct opposition to the will of those in power.  Although it wasn’t always a popular vote, I believe one must always do what is right and in the best interest of the community before all else.  This philosophy was never more apparent than in my vote against the 62% legislative pay raise.

9.  RESPOND TO YOUR CONSTITUENTS – Even when they disagree with you or may be entirely contentious, constituents who have expressed their opinion have taken time to share their concerns and their opinions and should be valued whether through return calls, emails or letters.

8.  PICK YOUR BATTLES – I never found myself at a loss for things to get angry and disgusted about; what was critical was recognizing early on that you cannot win them all.

7.  THINGS ARE NEVER AS THEY SEEM – Often what one thinks is a non-controversial piece of legislation actually turns out to be the biggest fight of the session.  It is imperative to always listen to each motion and each action on the floor, as House Rules are often used as weapons.

6.  NEVER MAKE THE SPEAKER OR THE RULES COMMITTEE CHAIR MAD AT YOU – These two people always control the flow of legislation; if they are upset with you over something, kiss your bill goodbye.

5.  NEVER SPONSOR MORE BILLS THAN YOU CAN HANDLE – It takes time to educate members about your bill and gain critical support.

4.  PATIENCE – Regardless of the situation…never commit to a vote until you really know all of the facts and have exhausted your quest for deeper understanding for the bill’s consequences.

3.  LISTEN and OBSERVE – Always listen to the opposition and try to minimize their concerns.

2.  DO YOUR HOMEWORK – Know your legislation inside and out; it is always your responsibility to research and understand the impact of a bill–not a lobbyist’s.

1.  MAKE FRIENDS- True in the community, true in the Legislature:  the more people who like you, the more likely they are to help you.

I want to close this blog entry with my thanks to Kathy at Birmingham Blues for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts, frustrations and joy in serving House District 54 this past year.  (You’re welcome!  -K)

This Week in the House

Saturday, May 12th, 2007

As the House completed its 21st day in session (we have only 9 session days left) it has become apparent that the Senate will keep the Legislature from having a meaningful legislative session. The Senate is still deadlocked in a power struggle with no compromise in sight. If the Senate fails to pass the two state budgets, we could be heading for a Special Session during the summer months.

Personally, I have learned more about moving issues and policies through the political process as a legislator in these few short months than I have in my 25 years of experience as a community activist. As I continue to learn, I look forward to joining with other progressive activists in making change down the road.

Some days are very frustrating…case in point: this past Thursday when the House failed to pass the Budget Isolation Resolution or BIR considering the addition of “sexual orientation” to the State’s existing Hate Crimes Law. (Until the budgets are passed by both chambers, we are required to pass a “BIR” by 3/5ths majority vote in order to consider any other legislation.)

Rep. Alvin Holmes has introduced this legislation for the past two years, both times failing to pass the BIR to consider the legislation. I was the first Representative recognized to speak on the Hate Crimes bill this year and tried to make a plea to my fellow Representatives about the fear that all gay people face as we come out and live our lives as openly gay citizens. I knew that the legislation would probably fail, but hoped that my presence in the House would raise awareness. In the end, we lost the BIR vote 43 to 45.

In the face of this defeat, however, I am not discouraged. While the Republicans stood firm in their opposition (citing that “murder is murder” and that laws should not question the motivation of the intent of a crime) none of them spoke against the bill. At the same time, most of the Democrats voted with us. Rep. Demetrius Newton followed my comments with his own words stating that “hate crimes that go unpunished will encourage other hate crimes”.

It is clear that we still have work to do and that as more of us live our lives “out” and educate our elected officials about our lives, we will gain more supporters.

Even some of my Republican peers came to me after the vote and said they were moved by my words and were sorry they could not vote with me, but they were convinced by their party that a vote with us would hurt them in their next election. I was told by one that one of the Republican floor leaders came to him and said “a vote for the BIR will kill you in your re-election”. Sad that some still care more about their re-election than they do about fairness and justice. Sadder, still, that some have little idea that this bill would positively impact many whom they represent.

Overall, the House has been busy passing some good legislation – but chances of the Senate acting on them is slim at this point. The Constitution and Elections Committee (on which I serve) has considered and passed important ethics legislation and campaign finance restrictions. I enjoy this Committee and commend our chair, Rep. Randy Hinshaw, for his fairness. While we might have heated debates on issues, he always allows both sides to voice concerns. While this Committee voted to approve the Constitutional Convention bill, it didn’t appear that we had enough votes in the House for consideration (Rep. Newton moved to carry over the bill on the House floor when he realized that we did not have the votes to pass the BIR). Even if it passes the House later in this year’s Session, it is almost certain that the Senate would not consider the bill.

In closing, I want to invite all of you to my first TOWN HALL meeting, Monday, May 14th at 7:00 p.m. at Woodlawn High School.

Rep. Todd — Followup On Minimum Wage Bill

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

The federal government has failed to raise the minimum wage in over 10 years.  While both the House and Senate passed a raise to $7.25 an hour phased in over 2 years, the US Senate amended the bill which sent it to a Conference Committee.  The Conference Committee has failed to schedule a meeting on the bill and I believe working people deserve a raise NOW!

If you are making minimum wage your annual income is ONLY $10,700 and I would challenge any legislator to live on that salary.

UPDATE:  Further comments from Rep. Todd:

Are you disgusted yet?  I am.

This week in the Legislature my minimum wage bill was sent to a subcommittee to die.

The federal government has not raised the minimum wage in over 10 years and it still stands at $5.15 an hour.  Annually that comes to ONLY $10,700!!!!  I believe that passing legislation to raise the minimum wage is the most important “family values” issue we face.

I have heard the arguments against raising the minimum wage and understand that some are concerned that it will hurt small businesses while others suggest it is not needed because a free market will dictate wages.  The best one I’ve heard is that “nobody pays minimum wage.”  Right.

It is unbelievable to me that the same legislature that voted to give themselves a 62% pay raise would vote to kill a bill to raise the minimum wage to just over $2.00 an hour for over 126,000 minimum wage workers in Alabama.  Over a hundred thousand Alabamians.  Isn’t Alabama politics great?!?

I knew it would be a long shot to get the Alabama Minimum Wage bill passed.  It was sent to the Commerce Committee where most of the members are Republicans or conservative Democrats (with the exception of my Democratic friends including Representatives Earl Hillard, Jr., Rod Scott, Peblin Warren, AJ McCampbell and Alan Harper).  True to form, the Chair of the Committee, Rep Frank McDaniel, gutted my bill and the committee voted (by a voice vote) to send it to a subcommittee stacked with members who oppose the bill (except for Rep. Pebblin Warren).

On the positive side, we have started a dialogue about a living wage and the importance of growing our economy top to bottom.  We should celebrate the growing economy of our state, but we need to remember those we have left behind–those who don’t have access to reliable transportation, access to health care and safe affordable day care.  I will continue to work with others who believe, as I do, that poverty affects all of us and it is not about blaming the poor for their lack of resources and a systemic structure that can be paralyzing to overcome.  I want to thank those who stood with me this week in this effort: Alabama Arise, the Alabama Poverty Project, AFL-CIO, UAW, Appleseed, the YWCA of Birmingham along with many more.

On other matters of the legislature, the Constitution and Elections committee passed the Constitutional Convention bill and it now awaits action in the full House.  I think we will have a lengthy debate on the floor, but hope that it will pass the House and make its way through the Senate.  The opposition is concerned about the influence of special interest groups (i.e. AEA) and they believe that we should revise the constitution article by article. [Ironically in so doing we the House has only taken up only a handful of articles over the past five years].  But in the spirit of compromise and progress, I say let’s do both!  Let’s work on article by article as we move through the convention process, itself a lengthy, multi year process.  Short term and long term solutions…now there’s a concept!

Thanks again for letting me share my experiences with you and I always look forward to your comments.

Rep. Todd: Exciting Times in the Legislature

Thursday, April 5th, 2007

The legislative session is getting interesting.

This week the House failed to pass the Budget Isolation Resolution (BIR) that would allow the body to consider a Gourmet Beer Bill permitting a higher alcohol content in gourmet beers such as those manufactured by micro-breweries.  Of course, the religious lobby worked to defeat the measure by proclaiming that teenagers would get drunk faster and kill more people on the road if the bill were to pass.  I voted in favor of the BIR and support the legislation because I believe adults have the right to drink whatever beer they choose to drink.  If we can legally purchase pure grain alcohol, why should beer makers be compelled to limit their alcohol content?

My own legislation – the Alabama Minimum Wage Bill that I have authored and am sponsoring – will be considered in the Commerce Committee at 9:30 on Wednesday.  I am holding a press conference and rally on Tuesday, April 10th, at 11 am on the steps of the State House.  I invite you to come and encourage everyone to try and make it.  Show your support for working folks in our state!  I don’t know if we have the votes to get the bill out of committee, but I am committed to continue pushing this bill through the process.  This bill is good public policy.

Next week we begin a 3 day full Session week, a bit different than our usual Session Day–Committee Day–Session Day schedule.  In addition, Republican Presidential Candidate Rudy Giuliani will be addressing a joint session of the Legislature at 1:30 on Tuesday.  Come join in the fun!  This Tuesday’s going to see lots of activity!

I am really enjoying my time in Montgomery.  It is amazing the number of lobbyists that line the hallways, always wanting a second of your time to talk about a bill.  And while just the word lobbyist can sometimes evoke a vision of big money and special interests, I think it’s important to remember those who tirelessly lobby on behalf of those with little or no money and those who are without a voice and marginalized within our communities.  To this end I am impressed with the efforts of Alabama Arise and other social justice groups that continue on despite significant challenges in the hope of truly effecting change and bringing hope to so many.

Rep. Todd: This Week In the AL Legislature

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

UPDATE:  The Alabama Democratic Party Blog has linked to Patricia’s first post here.  Thanks! 

Rep. Todd highlights the pay raise vote, discussion of a bill that would penalize state contractors who hire illegal immigrants, and her proposed minimum wage bill:

Yesterday was the countdown vote on the legislative pay raise and I again voted in opposition to this pay increase.  The resolution to overturn the Governor’s veto subsequently passed thereby increasing legislative pay.  I could not vote in favor of this pay raise when so many residents of House District 54 live in poverty.  Hopefully with this vote behind us the Legislature can now get onto the business of helping the citizens of our state.

On Tuesday, we also considered a bill that would penalize state contractors who hire illigal immigrants.  The bill was amended about 4 times and we ended the day asking the interested party to clean up the bill and present it to us on Thursday.  There is strong support for the bill, but some of the language was too vauge to stand up in court.  I am supportive of this bill but want a bill that clearly defines enforcement and punishments.  There has been so much discussion about the illegal immigration problem and many states have been waiting for Congress to act, but they have not passed any meaningful legislation to date.  I have always believed that companies (especially those who are getting money from the state government) should not be hiring illegal immigrants…but enforcement is an issue.  Who is going to go to jobsites and review employment records?  What if the employer didn’t know the employee was illegal (fake paperwork, etc.)?  These issues need to be resolved before the House can act on the bill.

Next week I will be holding a press conference on the Alabama Minimum Wage Law bill that I have sponsored.  The bill is currently in the Commerce Committee and the Chair told me this morning that it is not yet scheduled for a hearing.  If he schedules my bill, he will also bring up Rep. Jack Williams’ bill that would restrict any government entity [such as the Alabama Legislature] from raising the minimum wage to a level that’s higher than the federal minimum wage.  This bill contradicts, or at best, significantly limits, the intent of the bill I am sponsoring.  Rep.Williams assured me yesterday that the timing of the introduction of his bill coinciding with mine was merely coincidence as he originally planned on introducing his bill last year, but ran out of time.

Rep. Todd Is In the House

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

Following the lead of some of my favorite Alabama bloggers, who are going straight to the source for information and commentary on the legislature, I’ve asked freshman Representative Patricia Todd (D-District 54) to give us a newcomer’s perspective.  Some of you followed the District 54 election dispute here; I’m happy to say that’s all behind us now and Patricia is in Montgomery serving all of her constituents.  Here’s her first summary (thanks, Patricia!):

I have completed my second week in the legislature and introduced my first bill last week, The Alabama Minimum Wage Law.  This bill would establish a minimum wage statute in Alabama (that’s right, we are one of only 6 states without a minimum wage statute).  Right now, Alabama follows the federal minimum wage laws.

It has been over a decade since the Congress has raised the federal minimum wage, which stands at $5,15 per hour.  Take into consideration that you should allocate about 30% of your income for housing and you would have to earn $10.55 an hour to afford a 2 bedroom apartment at fair market value.  How are people supposed to live on $5,15 an hour??

Congress has considered an increase in the minimum wage to $7.15 over a two year period, but the bill is stuck in a conference committee.  Alabamians deserve better and shouldn’t have to wait for the federal government to tell us what we should be doing here!

The bill has been referred to the Commerce Committee for consideration.  Please contact members of the committee and encourage them to vote for the bill.

I have also drafted legislation to convene a Poverty Task Force, as well as an Affordable Housing Task force.  The legislature can convene a task force to study an issue and make recommendations to be considered in the next legislative session.  These two issues are of particular concern in House District 54 as well as throughout the state; as such, they deserve special attention.  These task forces are the starting points for us to take significant steps in the fight against poverty. 

In addition, I am pleased to report that I have co-sponsored the PAC-to-PAC transfer ban legislation that passed the House last week.  I hope that the Senate will consider this long-overdue bill quickly.  Rep. Paul DeMarco’s bill to require ethics training for legislators passed after a lengthly debate.  Another good piece of public policy.

The Constitutions and Elections Committee will meet this week to consider the Constitutional Convention bill being introduced by Rep. D. Newton.  I am a co-sponsor of this bill and hope that we can get this bill passed this year!