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Alabama Legislature approves budget, ends session without governor-sought teacher raises

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MONTGOMERY, Alabama — The 2014 legislative session ended Thursday with approval of the education budget and a political rift between Republican Gov. Robert Bentley and GOP lawmakers.

The Alabama Legislature on Thursday gave final approval to a $5.9 billion education budget that increases funding for education employees' health insurance but does not grant the 2 percent raise for K-12 employees that Bentley wanted.

Bentley made an 11th-hour push for the raise on Thursday saying, "That's what we should do to reward our teachers and support personnel."

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh fired back that the governor was being "fiscally irresponsible" and accused Bentley of breaking an agreement brokered a week ago. Marsh said a Bentley veto threat forced them to adjourn early, a move that he said killed several bills.

"It was against what we agreed upon for him to continue to push for it. The money is simply not there and we refuse to bust the budget," said Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn.

Bentley said they did not have an agreement over the raise.

Lawmakers adjourned the session soon after the budget vote so Bentley could not send the spending plan back with an executive amendment. Bentley, earlier in the day, would not say if he would sign the budget or call a special session to seek the raise.

"We have not made any decision, and I'm not going to make any commitments yet," Bentley said.

After the vote, Bentley Communications Director Jennifer Ardis said, "There are a lot of disappointed teachers."

Education employees received a 2 percent raise in the current school year, but Democrats argued that was not a raise since they had been asked to pay more for their health and retirement benefits.

"It is a shame, after all we ask of our educators, that the leadership in Montgomery would not make a pay raise for our educators their top priority in this budget," said House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden.

House Ways and Means — Education Committee Chairman Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, said the state couldn't afford a raise and insurance funding.

"I think protecting our education employees from increased health care costs, that everybody else in the private sector is experiencing, is the greatest benefit we can provide to them under the circumstances," Poole said.

Bentley had proposed doing both by skirting a spending cap more than Republican legislators wanted to do. The governor said legislators were skirting it as well in their approved budget.

"That's like being either six months pregnant or nine months pregnant. You are still pregnant," Bentley said.

The Republican-vs.-Republican drama capped a busy final day in the legislative session. It was the last regular session of the party's first term in control of both chambers of the Alabama Legislature.

Lawmakers also approved a one-time $400 bonus for active and retired non-education state employees. The groups last received a cost-of-living raise in October 2008.

Lawmakers gave final approval to a bill that would require parents to present a birth certificate or other proof of parenthood when giving parental consent for their teen daughters to have an abortion. They also gave final approval to bills to drug test some welfare applicants and prohibit lawmakers from becoming lobbyists for two years after leaving the Alabama Legislature.

Marsh said adjourning quickly to avoid the governor's amended budget caused the death of two other bills that were awaiting action that he had hoped to pass: an opening-meetings bill and a lethal-injection bill.

"In his attempt to break that agreement, I had no other choice," Marsh said.

Numerous high-profile bills died on the final night, included a proposal to ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, something that can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

A bill to establish a payday loan database to enforce an existing $500 loan limit also did not win final passage. Legislation to allow nonprofit spay and neuter clinics to remain open also died on the final night of the session for the third year in a row.

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