We've just come back from Spring Break, and now we have the final third of the legislative session before us. The biggest tasks ahead: pass the education and the general fund budgets. That will and must be the main focus as we head to the end of the 2010 session.
However, this is a good time to reflect on the major accomplishments of the state Senate thus far. As you will see, our focus has been on those issues that impact the daily lives of Alabamians, and these achievements prove it.
Without question, the passage of the Senate's Highway Jobs bill has huge implications for all of Alabama, and will help create jobs and fix our infrastructure in every county in the state. This is actually a constitutional amendment, which means that you, the voters, will get a chance to approve the amendment this November. The amendment will create more than 30,000 new jobs.
Alabama workers are suffering with 11 percent unemployment. Not only will this create new jobs in construction, but good roads create good jobs. The long-term impact on jobs will continue far into the future.
The plan calls for a constitutional amendment that will withdraw $1 billion ($100 million per year) from the Alabama Trust Fund over 10 years to build highways, roads and bridges in every county of Alabama. Every $1 billion invested in highway construction creates approximately 30,000 jobs, and the annual $100 million investment will boost the economy by $350 million in the decade after the roads and bridges are complete.
You hear a lot of talk about government “accountability” and government “transparency.” Well, the state Senate is doing something about it. Earlier this year, we passed one of the most important ethics laws in the nation. We voted to ban no-bid contracts in state government. In the last seven years, Alabama has spent more than $2.6 billion in no-bid contracts. Our legislation eliminates all no-bid contracts more than $7,500, but makes exceptions for emergency situations. We also made the legislation retroactively apply to current no-bid contracts worth more than $250,000 that have not reached 50 percent completion.
In addition, we passed legislation requiring disclosure of all subcontractors who receive work as part of state no-bid contracts. Currently, Alabama can have contracts where one company – fully disclosed – can receive a no-bid contract, yet hire another company to do all the work. And in such cases, the taxpayers have no idea about the second company -- who they are, if they are qualified or what connections, if any, they may have with state officials or elected officials. This bill stops that.
If you are a parent enrolled in the PACT pre-paid tuition program, then I have some good news for you as well. The Senate passed legislation that will fund the state's financially troubled PACT program run by the Alabama State Treasurer's office. Our plan will appropriate $236 million over the next eight years to the PACT program, and we did that without taking money from existing education programs. Once state bonds are fully paid, the debt service payments are reduced. This plan takes the money that once paid debt service and uses it to finance PACT contracts.
In addition, the Senate has passed the following:
- The Senate passed legislation requiring immediate termination and loss of future pay and benefits of any Alabama educator or education employee convicted of Class A felonies or any sex offense.
- The Senate passed legislation that cracks down on sexual predators who use the Internet to attract children.
- The Senate passed legislation to create and provide funding for new graduate degree nursing scholarships.
- The Senate passed legislation making it unlawful for a day care provider or a person for hire to leave a child 12 years of age or younger in a motor vehicle unless the child is supervised by a person who is 14 years of age or older. The legislation provides penalties and makes the violation a Class C felony if the child is injured or a Class B felony if the child is fatally injured.
- The Senate passed a bill making it a crime for a school employee to engage in a sex act or to have inappropriate contact with a student under the age of 19 years. Under existing law, certain acts between a minor student and a teacher at the school where the student attends may or may not be a crime depending on the capacity of the student to consent to the act.
As you can see, it has been a very active session filled with important accomplishments. The best news is that we will continue our focus on creating new jobs, keeping our kids safe and making government accountable for every penny it spends.