Dial’s e-textbook bill advances in Alabama Senate
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Jan 15, 2014 | 3602 views |  0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Weaver Elementary School students Anna Dunteman and Drew Bence work on tablet computers in class in October. (File photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Weaver Elementary School students Anna Dunteman and Drew Bence work on tablet computers in class in October. (File photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
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MONTGOMERY —A plan to issue up to $100 million in bonds to replace school textbooks with e-readers or other computing devices moved forward in the Alabama Senate on Wednesday.

The Senate Finance and Taxation Committee voted to send the Alabama Ahead Act, a bill sponsored by Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, to the full Senate for a vote.

Dial’s bill was one of a flurry of bills to pass through legislative committees Wednesday, as lawmakers work an expedited schedule. Legislative leaders have said they intend to complete their work earlier this year and get back on the campaign trail.

Dial's bill would allow the state to issue bonds to help local school systems pay for computing devices, with the goal of phasing out printed textbooks.

The state created a board to oversee the adoption of electronic textbooks two years ago, and authorized it to raise up to $100 million in bonds, but made that spending contingent on approval by the Senate. Dial’s bill would give the board the go-ahead to raise the money.

Dial has said a $100 million bond issue would cost $7 million per year to repay, while the state spends about $35 million per year on textbooks. Due to the long time it takes to approve and acquire textbooks, Dial said, those books are usually out-of-date from the start.

"They're obsolete when you send them to the classroom," he said.

Some committee members said they were concerned that electronic devices purchased for use in the classroom could quickly become obsolete. Others said poorer and smaller districts may not have the computing infrastructure to make the change to electronic textbooks.

Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, said she couldn't support the bill unless she could be sure all districts would be able to buy e-readers.

"I don't think some of the children should have this access, and have the advantage, when others don't," Figures said.

Dial said that Roanoke City Schools, one of the least-funded school systems in the state, managed to establish a technology program by shifting money from textbooks to electronics.

School systems already spend large amounts of money on items with a short working life. Print textbooks last only seven years, Dial said.

"We do the same for school buses and they only last 8 to 10 years," he said.

The committee's vote in favor of the bill moves it on to the full Senate.

Other bills by local lawmakers were also passed out of committee Wednesday:

— A Senate committee voted unanimously for a “revolving door” bill, sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, that would ban lawmakers from lobbying either house of the Legislature for two years after leaving office. A loophole in the current law allows ex-senators to immediately lobby the House, and vice versa.

— A Senate committee approved a bill that would move the state’s deadline to qualify for this year’s elections to Feb. 7. The original deadline was in April, but the Secretary of State’s Office is seeking the new deadline as part of a settlement in a Justice Department legal action over absentee voting.

— The Healthcare Rights of Conscience Act, sponsored by Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, was approved by a House committee. The bill would allow medical professionals to opt out of providing any service that violates their conscience. Abortion clinics would be exempt from the bill, and critics say the primary effect would be on women seeking birth control through pharmacies.

Each bill approved in committee Wednesday will move on to the full House or Senate for a vote.

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

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