Thursday's Happenings From Inside Alabama's Legislature

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - A proposal to remove the state's 4 percent tax from groceries has passed the first hurdle in the Alabama Legislature. The bill by Rep. John Knight of Montgomery was approved Thursday morning on a voice vote with several members expressing opposition. A bill to remove the tax from food purchases passed the House last year, but was defeated in the Senate. The bill is a constitutional amendment and would have to be approved by Alabama voters if it passes the Legislature. The measure would replace the lost revenue from the sales tax by removing the deduction for federal income taxes paid from some higher income taxpayers. That's a change from last year's bill that would have removed the federal income tax deduction for all taxpayers.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - House Speaker Seth Hammett says legislators will be in no hurry this year to pass budgets to fund education and other state services until Congress completes work on the stimulus package. The chairman of the Senate committee that writes the General Fund budget, Sen. Roger Bedford of Russellville, said the Senate will also delay work on the spending plans. Budgets proposed by Gov. Bob Riley were introduced in the House Thursday. But Hammett said the House's two budget committees would not begin working on the budgets until the stimulus plan passes Congress or it becomes evident it won't pass. Because of the recession and reduced tax revenue, Alabama lawmakers will likely have to cut both budgets from last year's spending levels unless Congress passes the economic stimulus plan, which could include nearly $1 billion in state budget aid alone.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - State Sen. Rodger Smitherman of Birmingham has been elected president pro tem of the Alabama Senate. His election came as state Sen. Hinton Mitchem, a Democrat from Union Grove, resigned the position Thursday afternoon. A majority of the Senate elected Smitherman, a Democrat, over Republican Sen. Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia Hills. The president pro tem is the top spot that a senator can hold. Democrats in the Senate promised Smitherman in 2007 that they would elect him president pro tem in 2009 if he sided with his own party in organizing the Senate rather than siding with the Republican minority.

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