Ken Hare In Depth: Legislature fiddles away a costly special ses - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

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Ken Hare In Depth: Legislature fiddles away a costly special session

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

A few weeks wasted, a few hundred thousand dollars of taxpayer money down the drain, and what do Alabamians have to show for the special session of the Legislature that just ended? Nothing, absolutely nothing.

If anything, the House and the Senate may be further apart on how to deal with the shortfall in the General Fund budget than they were before the special session.

The House passed a General Fund budget that would have gutted the state Medicaid program, which funds medical coverage for one out of every five Alabamians. The draconian cut in the state's already bare-bones Medicaid funding probably would have caused the state not to be able to meet federal minimum standards for operating a Medicaid program, which could have meant the whole program would have collapsed. That would have caused grandmothers to get tossed out of nursing homes, and children to lose medical coverage. Under that budget, innocent people could have died.

The Senate balked at such wholesale carnage. So what was its solution? Senators essentially passed the same budget they put forward in the regular session -- you know, the one that Gov. Robert Bentley already had vetoed because it would have devastated the prison system and state trooper force and dozens of other necessary programs.

The House, in turn, voted down the Senate version overwhelmingly.

So that puts the state back where it was when the regular session ended. But now the new budget year looms ever closer. There are only about six weeks remaining before the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

Legislative leaders tried to blame Bentley for calling the session too soon, but that dog won't hunt. If he had waited, there would have been no time for a second try if the Legislature had failed.

Bentley has given the Legislature lots of options for new revenue to offset the General Fund shortfall. Most appealing is the cigarette tax, which would have the added benefit of reducing smoking and saving lives. But the Legislature seems intent on bowing to the will of the tobacco lobby.

Sadly, only a handful of legislators have shown the political courage to support new revenues. Unless more of their fellow lawmakers find a backbone, the next session may prove as disappointing as the one that just ended.

WHAT WAS HE THINKING?

What was state Sen. Clay Scofield thinking? Scofield, R-Arab, sponsored a bill that would have given Alabamians who love the outdoors -- and that's a lot of Alabamians -- a choice between ending the Forever Wild program or closing state parks.

Obviously Scofield did not take into account just how popular the Forever Wild program has been.  His proposal created an almost instant furor, and he back-pedaled so fast that he may have gotten a charley horse in both legs.

But before Scofield asked that his proposal be killed, the Senate voted 32-1 to put the issue on the ballot at a later date.

That shows just how out of touch senators are with the Alabama public, which just voted overwhelmingly in 2012 to extend the Forever Wild program.

WHAT WAS HE THINKING? Part 2

Meanwhile, with issues of huge import on the table, what was on Sen. Tom Whatley's mind? Whatley, R-Auburn, proposed that the Senate adopt a resolution urging Auburn University to claim an additional seven national championships, including championships for years in which AU finished third or fourth in the polls.

So the special session is going down in flames, and Whatley is concerned with claiming football titles for seasons going back to 1910? Surely no one else is wasting time on such minutiae, right?

Wrong. Six other senators joined Whatley in sponsoring the resolution, including Sen. Pro Tem Del Marsh. Among the others were Clay Scofield (see above).

Luckily enough senators (probably Alabama supporters) saw how foolish this was and the resolution was buried in a committee, leaving Auburn to wisely claim two national titles. But it is sad that seven senators -- one-fifth of the membership of the Senate -- saw fit to waste time with this nonsense.

Ken Hare is a veteran newspaper editorial page editor and editorial writer who now writes a regular column for WSFA.com. Feedback appreciated at khare@wsfa.com.

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