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Last updated 8:29AM ET
February 28, 2021
Legislative Punch Still Causing Division
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - The blow that ended the last session of the Alabama Senate is still causing disagreements as lawmakers prepare to start another session in two months.

At a meeting of the Legislature's Contract Review Committee on Thursday, Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, held up a contract for the Senate Ethics Committee to hire an attorney. The ethics panel wants to hire a lawyer to help in its review of a formal complaint filed against Republican Sen. Charles Bishop after he hit Democratic Sen. Lowell Barron in the head.

Butler, who usually sides with the Senate's Republican minority, called the contract "a waste of money" and said it's time to put the blow behind the Senate.

"What they really need there is an old-fashioned handshake and let bygones be bygones," Butler said.

Bishop, who was not at the meeting, said later in a phone interview that he appreciated Butler's suggestion and said he's ready to put the blow behind him.

"Nobody hates that happened any worse than me," Bishop said.

The chairman of the Ethics Committee didn't find Butler's suggestion realistic.

"That's a very simplistic idea that in a utopia would work. But we don't live in a utopia. We live in a litigious society," Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, said in a phone interview.

A member of the Contract Review Committee, Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, also criticized Butler's proposed solution.

Calling the blow "an embarrassment to the state," Bedford said, "This is not something that settles on a handshake."

Butler said the proposed contract allows the attorney to be paid up to $75,000, and that money could better be used on other state needs.

The Ethics Committee had proposed hiring former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones of Birmingham at $175 per hour to help the committee prepare rules and then review the complaint against Bishop.

Bishop, R-Jasper, struck Barron, D-Fyffe, with a fist to the head on June 7, the final day of the last legislative session. The blow was captured by Alabama Public Television, and its video was seen on news shows around the world.

Under the rules of the Contract Review Committee, one member can hold up a contract for 45 days but can't stop it from eventually being signed.

Butler was the only member of the committee who objected to the Ethics Committee's contract.

Little, who was not at the Contract Review Committee's meeting, said the Senate's rules prohibit him from discussing specific complaints against senators, but the committee had hoped to hire Jones and wrap up its work before the next session starts Feb. 5.

"The result is it will delay us," he said.

Bishop has hired an attorney to represent him before the Ethics Committee.

Little, who's a lawyer, said the Ethics Committee also needs legal advise from someone who is not in the Legislature and who can help if the committee gets sued over its decision.

"My recommendation would be not to proceed until we have the benefit of legal counsel," he said.

After reviewing the complaint against Bishop, the Ethics Committee can either do nothing, reprimand him or recommend the Senate expel him.

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