Thursday, April 20, 2006

Take a deep breath

Refreshing, isn't it? You can breathe freely now -- humidity and April temperatures in the 90s aside, of course -- secure in the knowledge that Alabama legislators completed another regular session early Tuesday morning, giving them plenty of time to subject you to months of glad-handing and grinning and pledging to do things they're pretty sure they either can't or won't do, followed for most of them by four more years of accruing credit toward a pretty sweet state-funded retirement.

And the advertising! If there exists a finer art form than the well-crafted television attack ad rooted in distortions and half-truths, then I have yet to see it, dear readers. But those who demand more of a back-to-basics approach should fear not: Your craving for a splash of color around every bend surely will be satisfied by the sundry campaign signs spreading across our beauteous roadsides like kudzu on steroids. By August, they actually should be in the roads, bestowing daily commutes with that special touch of Watkins Glen they've all been missing.

OK, back to the here and now. Legislators once again saved a lot of their work for the last minute -- the last day just wouldn't seem as special if they didn't -- and as always, bills running the gamut from great to bizarre wriggled their way out of Goat Hill.

Among the good: The Legislature will require children to ride in booster seats until they turn 6, a compromise version of a measure that originally extended to 12-year-olds. The state also will institute a statewide back-to-school tax holiday on the first weekend of every August, giving parents some needed relief on the costs of school clothes and supplies.

Among the bad: Legislators overrode Gov. Bob Riley's veto to create a new system of legislative pork allocations after the state Supreme Court struck down the old system as unconstitutional. They also failed to strike a deal on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban the use of eminent domain to benefit private owners, but being that Alabama already has a law barring such actions, the real-world legal fallout amounts to precisely zero.

Among the bizarre: Alabama now has an official state tree fruit. It's the peach, and it's not to be confused with the blackberry, which is the state's official non-tree fruit. The move is believed to be unrelated to the Legislature's designation of the black bear, which sometimes eats berries, as Alabama's official state mammal last month, though Stephen Colbert certainly should investigate.

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