State Senate burns a day in dispute over quorum
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Mar 19, 2013 | 4711 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — With the legislative clock ticking, the Alabama Senate lost a day of its 30-day session Tuesday to a dispute over whether the body had a quorum present.

"There was not a single piece of legislation passed today," said a frustrated Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, the president pro tempore of the Senate.

When the 35-member Senate convened at 10 a.m., nearly all of the 11 Democratic senators were absent. Several members of the Republican supermajority also were not in the chamber.

Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey gaveled the Senate into session, but Democratic Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, challenged the presence of a quorum. An official roll call from 10:12 a.m. showed 16 senators present — Singleton and 15 Republicans. That roll call also counted the vacant seat in Senate District 35 as a senator present in the chamber, for a seeming total of 17, still too little for a quorum.

Both parties claimed trickery by the other side. Marsh said he'd noticed early on, before the roll call vote, that few Democrats seemed to be in the chamber. He said he'd asked Singleton and Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, to stay in the chamber to maintain a quorum. He claimed Ross walked out just before the vote.

Lt. Gov Kay Ivey said she saw a quorum in the chamber before the roll call.

"There were 18 in the chamber a moment before I banged the gavel," she said.

The Star found Ross in his Senate office shortly after the quorum debate broke out. He said he'd been called away from the chamber to do work related to his day job. Ross is an administrator at a technical college in Montgomery.

"I didn't realize that they didn't have a quorum," Ross said.

The two parties have been in trench warfare in the Senate since the passage, three weeks ago, of a school tax-credit bill called the Alabama Accountability Act. Democrats say last-minute changes to the bill amounted to a breach of faith. The Supreme Court dismissed a court challenge to the bill and Gov. Robert Bentley signed it into law — but Senate Democrats have filibustered Republican action in the Senate since.

Asked if Senate Democrats had an advance plan for a walkout Tuesday, both Ross and Senate Minority Leader Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, said no.

"Everybody was genuinely running late today," Figures said.

The Senate session began at the same time as a joint House/Senate hearing on Medicaid reform, one of the major issues facing legislators this year.

Figures was quick to point out that Democrats wouldn't have planned a walkout because they had no chance of killing the quorum, due to their small numbers.

Marsh said the supermajority should always be able to get a quorum no matter what the Democrats do. He said he'd make sure there will be a quorum in the future — because blame will fall on Republicans if they don't.

"We have 22 people in the body," he said. "There's no excuse for us not to have a quorum."

The Senate adjourned without action, with a plan to meet again at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The move appears to have burned one day of the 30-day session for both the House and Senate.

State law allows each House to convene for only 30 days. Even a moment in session counts that day toward the total. If one house meets, the other house is required to meet on the same day.

There was no quorum dispute Tuesday in the House of Representatives, which met later in the day. The House voted to reconvene at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and "call it a week," said Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn.

Wednesday will be the 15th day in session for both houses.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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