The life of a bill in Montgomery
by Daniel Gaddy
May 20, 2012 | 1024 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rep. Bill Roberts (R-Jasper) addresses the Alabama House of Representatives, where he carried Republican Sen. Greg Reed’s bill, which gives state teachers a $300 annual stipend for supplies. Photo Courtesy of House Republican Caucus
Rep. Bill Roberts (R-Jasper) addresses the Alabama House of Representatives, where he carried Republican Sen. Greg Reed’s bill, which gives state teachers a $300 annual stipend for supplies. Photo Courtesy of House Republican Caucus
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While he was campaigning in 2010 for his state Senate seat, Republican Greg Reed received comments from educators who — like teachers throughout the country — have to spend their own money to purchase basic classroom supplies.

He decided to sponsor a bill that would give Alabama teachers an annual stipend to purchase school supplies.

Like the majority of legislators in the initial stages of drafting a bill, Reed met with representatives from the Legislative Fiscal Office and the Legislative Reference Service to draft the bill.

Reed said that, even in cases where the bill is suggested by a interest group, lawmakers still consult with both of the state offices.

The Legislative Reference Service works with lawmakers to take their ideas and compose a bill that has the proper legal prose to accomplish what the lawmaker wants.

“They serve a great purpose with us,” Reed said.

The job of the Legislative Fiscal Office is to review the bill and determine what impact it will have on the state’s general fund, or in the case of Reed’s bill, the effect on the Education Trust Fund. That report is called a fiscal note and is accompanied with practically all bills taken before the Alabama Legislature.

Reed said the amount of the annual stipend in his bill, $300, was set after he talked with the chairs of the House and Senate budget committees. He said they worked to hit a figure would help teachers while not causing significant budget cuts elsewhere.

One lawmaker suggested making the annual stipend $1,000. However, Reed said the budget chairs said that amount would take out around $50 million from the Education Trust Fund.

Reed’s bill, SB 257, had a unique characteristic of having little opposition throughout the legislative process.

“It’s not that everybody didn’t agree with it; it’s that everybody wanted to take credit for it,” he joked.

When a draft of Reed’s bill was ready, he then had to lobby Republican Sen. Trip Pittman, the chairperson of the Finance and Taxation Education Committee.

The chair of a committee decides which bills will be placed on the committee’s calendar to be discussed for a vote.

Once SB 257 passed the education committee, Reed had to lobby the chair of the Senate Rules committee to have the legislation placed on the Senate floor for a vote.

The bill passed the Senate 31-1.

Rep. Bill Roberts (R-Jasper) then carried the bill in the House, where it went to the House Ways and Means Education Committee. There, Roberts had to lobby the chair to have the bill placed on the calendar. He also had to do the same for the chair of the House Rules Committee to have the legislation go to the House floor for a vote.

While in the House, the bill received an amendment further clarifying the definition of a teacher for the purposes of the stipend. Reed said lawmakers wanted to make sure the allowance wasn’t going to aides or employees that do not oversee classrooms.

The House ultimately voted 103-0 to approve the bill. However, because the House added an amendment, the bill went back to the Senate for approval.

The Senate voted 33-0 to concur and adopt the legislation. Had the Senate not concurred, the bill would have gone into a conference committee where representatives from the House and Senate would have worked out the differences, and sent a compromise bill back for a vote by both House and Senate.

Since the Senate concurred, however, the bill went to the desk of Gov. Robert Bentley and was signed into law on May 14.

Reed said nearly 2,000 bills are proposed every legislative session in Alabama, and approximately 10 percent of those actually make it to be a law.

Reed said the process is made difficult on purpose, though.

“The fact that you have to go through all these steps to become a law is frustrating, but even though that can be frustrating, it’s not a bad process,” he said.