Hurst says he's not done yet; has more work to do

TALLADEGA COUNTY — Steve Hurst is seeking a fourth term in the state House of Representatives, and while he says he sponsored many bills through the years that he is proud of, he’s not done yet.

“The legislature, in the next four years, is going to be looking at financial survival, to continue functioning at this economic level. The economic downturn hurt us, and then the oil leak in the Gulf devastated tourism. it hurt the general fund and devastated the education trust fund. What I want to do is find a way to get government grants through Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. I don’t have anything against bike trails or concerts, but I want to see if there’s a way, if we have to declare proration, that some projects low on the priority list would be frozen and the money could be diverted to education. some grants have very specific uses and others have broader categories. but it doesn’t make sense to fund some of these things when you’re laying off teachers. I can get support here, but I don’t know about Washington yet. I’m going to see how much we can do in the House, because we’ll need a framework to present in D.C. I’m not talking about cutting meals on wheels or senior drug programs, but people are getting grants for industrial studies. We’re just asking D.C. for some leeway.”

A property tax increase would require a popular vote, “and that’s not going to happen,” Hurst said. “People aren’t going to vote for it, they feel they’re taxed enough, and I understand that. They’re already mad, then they see their paycheck and it makes it worse. but the good thing here is that people are highly intelligent. There’s only been one school tax increase in Talladega County that’s been voted down. when I was first in the legislature, I proposed creating a proactive account to be used in times of proration. If there was any funding left over from the previous year, it would go into a lock box. You couldn’t touch it unless there was proration. it never really got anywhere. Rep. Greg Canfield approached me about his proposal to use a 15 year average, and I told him about my experience. He’s made some advances, but it’s still not where it needs to be. but there’s got to be a lock box, so the money isn’t diverted elsewhere. Otherwise there’s no incentive to budget realistically.”

He expressed mixed feelings about charter schools. “I’m not opposed to alternatives, but you set them up, get federal funding for three years, and then you have to either use money from the trust fund or raise taxes to sustain them. Charter schools do offer flexibility, but I would support them only if they didn’t take money out of the education trust fund.”

One of the bills Hurst cites as most important to him in seeking another term deals with punishments for people who sexually abuse children.

“The attorney general presented a package two years ago, I think, that would have provided chemical castration for convicted sex offenders. I added an amendment calling for surgical castration. The AG asked me to remove the amendment so the federal courts didn’t strike down the whole thing, but promised me he would support me on a stand alone bill that would do just that. I want it to be tested in the federal courts. You don’t ever get in if you don’t keep knocking.”

The attorney general offered no help with the stand alone bill, but Hurst said he kept up the effort anyway.

The most recent version of the bill required life in prison for conviction of a sex crime against a child less than 12. Release would require surgical castration, which would be up to the inmate. Under Hurst’s original bill, molestation of a child under the age of six could carry the death penalty. In the version that passed the House Judiciary Committee, a sentence of life without parole was required for the rape, sodomy or sexual torture of a child under the age of 8.

“That’s the reason I want to go back,” he said.

Another ongoing project involves bringing a high-speed rail line from Atlanta to Birmingham, possibly through Oxford.

“If Amendment 3 passes, you’re going to be creating a lot of jobs that are going to roll back over into the economy, and the improved infrastructure will help attract industry. but if you use all that oil and gas money, you will be losing the 10 percent of the interest per year that goes into the general fund. it would be better to use that money to match federal funds that will make it go a lot further.”

The city of Oxford has already committed to match some federal funds for the rail line, which Hurst said could get commuters to Birmingham in 20 minutes and to Atlanta in 25.

The project would create 31,000 jobs altogether, and also create a hub that would be very attractive to industry, since it could draw from a much larger potential labor market.

Hurst also particularly proud of passing the “home castle bill,” which did away with the requirement that a person acting in self defense must first retreat if they are in their home, vehicle, place of business or hotel room.

Rep. Alvin Holmes attempted to block the creation of the “God Bless America” vanity license tag, but Hurst said he prevailed. Now, $50 from each tag sold goes to the American Village in Shelby County and other programs to benefit veterans. The tags are expected to raise $11 million.

He said also sponsored legislation that removed Social Security numbers from public documents and the addition of a safety arm for school buses. he also sponsored a bill, which passed the house, banning the outsourcing of public information calling centers, “but the governor had that one killed in the Senate. but there is language in a current contract that will start bringing those jobs back in the next few years,” he said.

Hurst said he is not in favor of calling a constitutional convention. “We need reform, without question,” he said. “The constitution doesn’t need to say that you can’t sleep in church on Sunday. I personally think we should get a committee with outside people and elected officials, pull out the antiquated parts that don’t apply anymore and properly amend them to get rid of them. then take the part that relates to taxes and leave it alone. Divide up the rest, and let the people vote on it in one portion at a time. People can digest one chapter at a time. but we don’t have any business voting on laws for Mobile or Jefferson or Madison counties, and they don’t have any business voting on bills for Talladega County. but if you do it all at once, you end up with total chaos, and you end up killing it with unintended consequences. one of the things I would like to see is us divide the session in half, the first part passing bills and the second part repealing other ones.”

That said, Hurst added that he did not favor local home rule that would grant counties taxing or zoning authority.

“People live in rural areas because they don’t want zoning,” he said. “I’m all for local people voting for local bills, but only if there is no zoning and no tax authority.”

On ethics reform, Hurst has now voted to ban PAC to PAC transfers in seven straight legislative sessions. The ban has never made it out of the Senate, however.

“They should be eliminated,” Hurst said of the transfers. “They’re nothing but methods to hide money from unknown donors. and the officials need to be able to track them, too. a PAC could be lobbying for a church group, a bank and an Indian Casino. I take money from them, and my opponent says I’m getting money from illegal gambling. some of the lobbyists represent great groups, and everybody needs a voice, and most of the time they’re honest, because if they’re not they’re dead in the water. for me, my credibility is what I’ve got. My Lord, my family and my credibility.”

He also favors broad ethics reform, but added, “I would favor giving the Ethics Commission subpoena power only if it was justified and only if the accused could bring a lawyer with them.”

Hurst voted in favor of a bill to delay a third circuit judgeship in Talladega County until 2011, but said he had not made a decision on another delay. “I’m going to wait and see if the Administrative Office of Courts says it’s necessary and if John Knight (Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee) says the money’s is there. That’s why I voted for the delay before, and that’s what I’ll base my decision on again.”

He added he was also not opposed to bringing in retired judges or judges from other counties to help.

While Hurst himself does not gamble, he said it is time for the people of Alabama to vote on the issue and put it rest once and for all.

“I don’t think it will pass anyway,” he said. “People voted down the lottery because they were afraid it would lead to casino gambling. People don’t want that kind of thing in their back yards.”

He said he voted against a gambling bill last year “because it was just a terrible bill. it all but gave Milton McGregor sovereign immunity.”

Hurst has worked in several different small businesses, including as a licensed builder, and currently owns a fencing company. “It helps to know how to run a small business, how to make payroll, how to deal with everyone but you getting paid, how to deal with workers compensation and the IRS. I’ve done all these things.”

Contact Chris Norwood at

<a href="—has-more-work-to-do?,2005:cluster=—has-more-work-to-do?instance=home_rightSun, 31 Oct 2010 04:20:45 GMT 00:00″>Hurst says he’s not done yet; has more work to do

Hurst says he's not done yet; has more work to do

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