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Subject: Emergency funding bill pending in final hours 

Emergency funding bill pending in final hours 

The Associated Press
6/16/03 8:09 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- The Alabama Legislature's regular session moved toward a mandatory end Monday night with Gov. Bob Riley unsure if he would get $39 million in emergency funding for prisons, courts and other programs. 

Riley had threatened to call the Legislature back for a summer special session if the bill failed, but the Senate did not immediately consider it. 

Legislators said the emergency funding had become entangled in negotiations over a bill to consolidate work force training programs in Alabama's two-year college system. The legislation would take authority away from one of the governor's Cabinet agencies, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, which now handles funds for the training. 

The $39 million sought by Riley would provide $25 million to the prison system to pay its bills, including medical care for inmates, $4.7 million to the Department of Human Resources to pay for daycare services, and $3 million to the courts to prevent another stoppage of trials like the one that occurred in 2002. Several other agencies would get smaller amounts. 

The 2003 regular session began March 4 and was filled almost immediately with stalling tactics in the Senate, where fights over committee membership kept much from happening until late in the session. 

The final day of the session was a whirlwind, with the House and Senate approving legislation to remove segregationist language from Alabama's constitution and make Alabama the first state to create a Department of Homeland Security. 

The Senate also gave final approval to two bills that have been introduced and killed more years than most legislators have served. One bill will require voters to show IDs at the polls, and the other restores the voting rights of many felons when they complete their sentences. 

Former Secretary of State Jim Bennett said he introduced the voter ID bill when he was in the state Senate 15 years ago. 

"I am thrilled that finally, after 15 years of all those failed attempts, we have brought this most worthwhile issue to closure. In truth, nobody should be afraid of proving who they are at the polling place but the crooks," Bennett said. 

A bill to limit lawsuits against nursing homes -- an issue that prompted massive TV ad campaigns by the Alabama Nursing Home Association and plaintiff lawyers -- died on the final day when the two sides could not reach a compromise. 

Alabamians can expect to see a repeat of the issue when the Legislature meets again. 

"The problems facing seniors and nursing homes will continue into the future," said nursing home owner Norman Estes of Northport. 

The 2003 regular session was unusual because the Legislature did not write state budgets for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. Gov. Bob Riley asked the lawmakers to wait until after the Sept. 9 referendum on his $1.2 billion tax and accountability package. 

Riley is planning a special session of the Legislature immediately after the referendum.