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Legislative session proves to be a productive one

By By Sen. Arthur Orr, Guest columnist
The Alabama Legislature recently concluded its 2009 regular session, which was the most productive assembly during my tenure in the State Senate. In addition to passing operating budgets for state agencies and public education, several other bills of note were passed into law. Senate filibusters and legislative disagreements slowed work in the upper chamber for much of the session, but a late thaw in relations opened the gates for many worthy bills.
Five major bills which I had the honor of sponsoring passed into law, three of which have broad statewide implications.
The most prominent of the bunch is a bill that increases the legal age for students to drop out of school from 16-years-old to 17. In a challenging and competitive 21st Century economy that relies increasingly upon high-tech, highly-skilled labor, we cannot continue to lose generations of students who choose to leave school far too early.
Most 16-year-olds are simply not mature enough to make such an important decision that could very well steer them toward a life of poverty and struggle. Passing this bill is not a panacea to the problem, and it is not the ‘magic fix’ that we are all looking for, but it is a solid first step toward addressing a serious social and economic issue facing our state. It will go into effect with the beginning of the coming school year.
Two bills in a six-bill government transparency and accountability package that State Rep. Mike Ball (R – Madison) and I sponsored were also passed into law. One of the bills requires the state comptroller to create a searchable Internet database of all state expenditures, contracts, legislative grants and state grants. Once implemented, any Alabamian will be able to see precisely how their tax dollars are being spent with just a few clicks of a computer mouse.
The other bill in the package mandates that all candidates for public office, whether they face opposition or not, must comply with deadlines for publicly disclosing campaign contributions to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Several senators became involved in controversy following the 2006 primary elections because they failed to file timely campaign finance disclosures, and many of the same senators funneled thousands of dollars in largely untraceable contributions to other candidates on the ballot. Passage of this legislation effectively ends that questionable practice.
The two remaining bills previously referenced are equally important, but both have a more local flavor and impact. Retired physicians and dentists, who no longer have malpractice insurance coverage but are volunteering their efforts in free clinics, such as the ones in Decatur and Huntsville, will now have the umbrella of liability coverage from the state extended to them through the Department of Public Health. As one of the founders of the Decatur free clinic, I believe strongly that those who freely give their time, talents and skills to help their fellow man should not fear frivolous lawsuits or vilification, and this act finally provides them the protection they deserve.
And because it is important in the current fiscal climate to empower our local entities to recruit, attract and retain economic development prospects, it was an honor to work with the Morgan County Legislative Delegation members by sponsoring a bill that will facilitate the issuance of bonds to finance the new industrial park on I-65. Rep. Micky Hammon (R-Decatur) was the House sponsor of this bill. Passage of this bill would not have been possible without the help and input of all members of our local delegation – Representatives Dukes, Grantland, Hammon and Oden — both Democrats and Republicans – and I appreciate each of their efforts.
Many times it is easy to criticize our Alabama Legislature. However, there are pieces of legislation which do pass and which will have a positive impact on our state. I am honored and humbled to play a role in trying to make our state a better one in which to live, work and prosper.

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