- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The Alabama House couldn’t hold its scheduled meeting Tuesday because many members were blocked by icy roads, but the Senate had an unusually busy day without bickering between Democrats and Republicans.

Tuesday is the first meeting day each week for the Legislature. Twenty-two of the 35 senators showed up Tuesday - one more than the number required by state law to conduct business. The Senate gave final approval to a bill that moves up Alabama’s deadline for Democratic and Republican candidates to sign up for elections by two months. The bill is the result of a lawsuit filed against the state by the U.S. Justice Department over problems getting absentee ballots to the military and other Alabamians living overseas in time to be counted in elections.

The two sides recently reached agreement to move up the candidate qualifying deadline, which will give county election officials more time to prepare and send absentee ballots. The bill passed by the Senate implements that agreement and moves this year’s deadline for candidates from April 4 to Feb. 7. The bill now goes to the governor for signing into law.

The bill was one of 20 non-controversial measures that passed on unanimous votes Tuesday. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and Senate Minority Leader Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, said that after senators drove over terrible roads to get to Montgomery, they decided to put together a work agenda of bills that members of both parties could support. The result was a busy day without the delaying tactics that have marked most days of the 2014 session.

In the House, 40 of the 105 members were present when House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, gaveled the chamber to order. That was 12 short of the number needed to meet. Legislative rules require the House to keep trying to meet every day at 10 a.m. until 52 members show up. Hubbard said the House wouldn’t try Wednesday because roads are supposed to remain treacherous. But another attempt will be made Thursday, when the snow and ice are expected to clear.

The Senate canceled all activities Wednesday, but will meet Thursday. Skipping Wednesday will result in the Legislature wasting one of its 30 meeting days, but Hubbard and Marsh said it’s best for safety reasons.

Some legislators began driving to Montgomery on Tuesday morning but gave up when the snow and ice turned out to be worse than expected.

Republican Reps. Ed Henry of Hartselle and Terri Collins of Decatur were carpooling south on Interstate 65 to Montgomery, but they turned around near Warrior because of numerous wrecks. “We could see semis spinning out and sliding,” Henry said.

He said traffic was moving less than 10 mph when they gave up. “We decided at that point it was only going to get worse,” he said in a phone interview.

In the Senate, members passed a bill to require circuit clerks’ offices to take debit and credit cards. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur, said it will make it easier for people to make payments because many people don’t carry checks any more. Under his bill, the person using the debit or credit card will have to pay the transaction fee. His bill now goes to the House for consideration.

The Senate also passed a bill clarifying that the state Department of Education doesn’t regulate private schools, but the schools have to comply with state laws on school attendance and child safety. Another bill that cleared the Senate allows the military to renew a car tag without paying a late fee if the tag expired while they were deployed elsewhere and they renew it within 30 days of returning to Alabama. Both bills now go to the House for consideration.

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