State of the state House at mid-term

AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID STANDRIDGE

Rep. David Standridge, elected in the Republican runoff on Dec. 11 to fill the vacancy in House District 34 left when Elwyn Thomas resigned last September, was sworn in to the state House in January and has experienced a full-dress initiation into the world of high-stakes politics since that time, according to a telephone conversation with him early this week.

Below is a summary of legislative developments in the state House of Representatives in the first half of the 2013 session, as reported by Standridge in that interview. Dare to defend our rights

“Dare to defend our rights” is the motto adopted by the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives for this legislative year, Standridge said. It is intended to signal Alabama’s stand in contrast to the federal government’s position on several issues. One such issue is protecting gun rights, in contrast to the federal position on imposing significant restrictions on them. Standridge said that legislation is considered a priority initiative, but is still being worked on and was not yet come before the House for a vote.

A bill that has already passed the House is an effort to toughen restrictions of abortion clinics in the state by mandating they meet the same requirements as emergency health care centers, including a provision that an attending physician with admitting privileges at an area hospital be a part of the clinic staff. Medicare Fraud Act

This bill makes it easier to investigate and prosecute Medicaid fraud, particularly fraud arising through corporate wrongdoing. The bill has passed the House and been referred to the Senate for deliberation. Red Tape Reduction Act

Standridge said this is his name for a bill that endeavors to reduce red tape and bureaucratic regulations that businesses, especially small businesses, must cope with in getting established and doing business in the state. Strict criteria to limit complicating details are specified for any agencies proposing to add new regulations to impose on business, Standridge said. The bill has passed the House and been referred to the Senate. Repayment of Alabama Trust Fund

The bill insures that the $437 million borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund with the passage of the Constitutional amendment in September 2012 will be fully repaid by 2026. The bill spells out how that is to be done, including a specific schedule including deadline dates to make payments to reduce the balance. Standridge said he thinks that bill has passed both the House and Senate, been signed by the Governor and is now in effect. That was the first item on the agenda in this session, he said. Bills to streamline state government agencies/functions.

“This is another biggie,” Standridge said. The main bill aims to reduce duplication in state law enforcement agencies by consolidating law enforcement elements in a number of different state agencies into two overall organizations: all uniformed officers would be assigned to one organization and all investigative and other non-uniformed officers would be placed in a separate organization. The reorganization is expected to reduce duplication and funding requirements by millions of dollars over 10 years, he said. It should also improve internal communications by reducing interagency competition.

In similar fashion, a separate bill addresses technology in general and information and computer systems in particular throughout state government in an effort to functionally consolidate responsibility for planning, operation, and funding within one department head-level organization. It should result in significant savings over time as well, Standridge said. Alabama Accountability Act

The Blount Countian asked Standridge to comment on passage of this bill and his position on it. (The controversial part of this bill, passed March 2, provided tax credits to families with children in “failing” public schools, permitting them to transfer to other, non-failing public schools or to private schools. It was introduced and passed quickly by the Republican Legislature, allowing little time for the public, school administrators, and legislators themselves to be properly informed as to its provisions, which were added to an existing bill that was not considered highly controversial. Ed.)

“I voted against it,” Standridge said, “and my reasons had to do with what is best for my district.” Standridge said he had discussed the matter with Blount County Supt. Jim Carr and was convinced it was not in the best interests of schools in Blount County. He said the initial and shorter part of the bill dealing with school flexibility was generally beneficial to public schools. It provided the ability for public schools to apply for waivers from state Department of Education regulations if they wished to introduce new or innovative programs that did not exactly match state guidelines for new academic offerings.

The second, more controversial part of the bill would have paid for the tax credits it created by funding them from the Education Trust Fund, in effect removing that money from the reservoir used to fund public schools statewide. Estimates of how much the trust fund will be reduced vary widely from modest to more than modest, but the impact is thought to be large enough to affect public schools, chronically underfunded anyway, compared to other states, according to opponents of the bill.

Standridge also said he did not agree with the several definitions used to designate failing public schools. Those definitions resulted in some schools – including Susan Moore High in Blount County – being labeled “failing” wrongly and inappropriately, he said. “I don’t agree with Susan Moore being listed. I’ve talked to the principal there, I know what they’ve done, and I know what they’re planning to do. I just don’t agree,” Standridge said. Other bills

•Standridge said he is sponsoring a bill to protect against public disclosure of personal information of criminal justice employees including law enforcement officers, judges, district attorneys, and others to prevent them being targeted in reprisal for actions they take in carrying out their official duties. Personal information would include addresses, names of dependents, and other identifying data. He said he introduced the bill before the recent murders of law enforcement officials in Colorado and Texas, but that those assaults dramatically point up the need for the bill.

•A bill to allow veterans and their spouses living in Alabama temporarily from out of state to be considered residents for purposes of college tuition for their children. Standridge is a co-sponsor.

•A bill to exempt ammunition from sales taxes. Standridge is a co-sponsor.

•A bill to shorten the appeal process for capital murder convictions. Currently a capital murder sentence goes on automatic appeal to the state Court of Criminal Appeals then to the Alabama Supreme Court. The bill would eliminate the Court of Criminal Appeals from the process, referring all capital murder convictions directly to the Alabama Supreme Court. Standridge is a co-sponsor.

The Blount Countian asked Standridge to comment on two other legislative mat- ters that have been in the news lately:

•two bills in the Legislature that would take about $25 million from the Children First Trust Fund to aid in balancing the state General Fund budget. “I do have concerns about that,” he said. “It could possibly have an effect on agencies like The Children’s Center in Blount County.” Standridge said debate on the matter would probably take place in committee, and adjustments, if any, would be worked out there. He is not a member of that committee, he said.

•Roy Moore’s recent comment that this year’s budget cuts would further harm Alabama’s already-beleaguered court system. “We are basically being cut out of existence,” Moore said earlier this year.

“The amount of money available on the General Fund side of things is so tight, everybody in state government is having a tough time,” Standridge said. “It looks like the outlook for General Fund revenues is starting to turn around, so maybe things will improve for everyone.” Looking ahead

Standridge said the biggest legislative items remaining are to balance the two state budgets: the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund. “Lots of people are going to be working to protect their interests,” Standridge said.

An item of local interest is the bill to restore the Jefferson County Occupational Tax. Rep. John Rogers of Birmingham is expected to introduce that bill soon, Standridge said. “I’m going to oppose that because I don’t think Blount County residents who go into Jefferson County to work should have to pay for the privilege. They’re already spending a lot of money there anyway, for gas, food, other things. I’m a member of that delegation because I represent a small area of Jefferson County. The discussion could get heated.”

In a recent public meeting at Hayden, Standridge was called on to speak extemporaneously about legislative developments. “The best way to describe it is that it’s a fight,” he said in opening his remarks. That seems an appropriate close to this report.