Supporters of bill to approve regulatory boards in bulk say it will make legislative process more efficient
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Dec 30, 2013 | 3578 views |  0 comments | 53 53 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, debates Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, during regular legislative session at the State House in Montgomery. (Photo: AL.com, Julie Bennett/via AP)
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, debates Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, during regular legislative session at the State House in Montgomery. (Photo: AL.com, Julie Bennett/via AP)
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MONTGOMERY — State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, is sick of sunsets.

Sunset boards, that is. Squirreled away within the halls of Alabama's state government are dozens of state boards designed to regulate a thicket of professions, everything from geologists to hearing aid salesmen.

All of them are doomed to vanish — or "sunset" — after a number of years unless the Alabama Legislature gives them the approval to go on.

Which means that every year, Marsh, the president pro tempore of the Senate, has to shepherd another handful or so sunset board re-approvals through the state Senate.

"It's taking too much of our time," Marsh said.

Long a critic of the existence of sunset boards, Marsh has thrown his support behind a bill that would actually make it easier to get them re-approved. He's a co-sponsor of a bill that would give lawmakers the power to approve a whole group of sunset boards in a single vote.

There's nothing unusual about a state setting up a board to regulate a profession, and there's nothing unusual about putting a sunset provision on such a board. Most Southern states, at least, have them now or have had them in the past, according to the Southern Office of the Council of State Governments.

According to the council, Alabama has 77 entities running on sunset provisions. They range from the well-known to the obscure. The Public Service Commission, set up to regulate the state's power companies, is one. There are also boards to register interior designers, grant licenses to people who sell hearing aids, and to certify licensed geologists.

The existence of those boards has always irked some of Alabama's small-government conservatives, including Marsh, who see them as bureaucratic red tape. When he was first elected president pro tempore, Marsh told The Star he wanted to retire many of the sunset boards as soon as they came up for review.

"Special interests want to eliminate competition, so they create these boards to regulate their industries," Marsh said at the time. The statement generated some controversy at the time, particularly with the state's locksmiths — one group he'd singled out as not necessarily in need of a licensing board.

But the pro tem who wanted debate on sunset boards wound up getting more than he bargained for. In the 2013 legislative session, Democrats spoke at length on every board that came up for reapproval.

Few Democrats openly acknowledged that the debates were a stalling tactic, but the facts were clear. With a Republican supermajority in both houses, Democrats had little chance to stop GOP bills. But senators were entitled, by House rules, to a certain amount of time to discuss each bill. By holding forth on boards, they could slow down the process.

A blanket approval would speed the process up again, said Sen. Phil Williams, R-Gadsden, the bill's sponsor.

"This is a matter of legislative economy," he said. Williams acknowledged that the sunset situation worked to Republicans' advantage when Democrats controlled the Senate.

The Star's attempts to reach two of the Senate's most prominent sunset debaters — Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham and Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro — for comment on the sunset bill were unsuccessful.

Marsh said that under the bill, blanket renewals would be granted only for sunset boards that have been approved by a sunset review committee — meaning that the more controversial boards will still come up for debate.

Williams said the bill is scheduled for a vote early in the session, and would go into effect immediately once passed.

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

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