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In Case You Missed It

Legislative Session is winding down

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

There are only six Legislative days left in the 2017 Alabama Legislative Session. There is still an awful lot of work to do however.

The primary purpose of even having Legislative Sessions is to pass the budgets. The State General Fund (SGF) budget was passed in the Senate on Thursday. The House passed the Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget on Wednesday. Both Houses have now passed both budgets. Both Houses however have to vote on whether or not to concur with changes made by the other house.

Conference committees are expected to address the differences in the House and Senate versions and then the budgets will go back to both Houses on whether to concur or not. Our sources expect that both budgets will go to Governor Kay Ivey (R) by Thursday, if not sooner.

The US Supreme Court sent the State an extremely divisive issue when it rejected Alabama’s current Legislative districts declaring that the legislature has packed minorities into majority/minority districts. On Thursday, April 27, 2017 the Joint Committee on Reapportionment delivered new redistricting plans for both the House and Senate. Unhappiness with the new redistricting plans led to a House filibuster by the Black Legislative Caucus on Tuesday, May 2 that slowed House business considerably and with the budgets largely out of the way more filibusters could be coming. The Senate has passed the Senate plan; but the House leadership has sent the House plan back to committee for changes. This partisan feud could slow the pace of legislation to a crawl and kill a lot of other legislation in the crossfire.

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The Prison bill is another highly divisive issue. Robert Bentley (R) is gone; but his grandiose $800 million prison construction plan is still making its way through the Legislature. The state Senate has passed a much modified version of the Bentley plan where the counties that get the new mega-sized prisons assume a large portions of the $800 million cost; but the State would still be on the hook for $50 million a year for decades to come from the long troubled SGF to service the bonds and rent the new prisons from the counties. Many Republicans are opposed to making Alabama’s children pay for such a grand public works plan. While Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) was able to push the Bentley prison plan through the Senate, the bill appears to be stalled in the House, where it is reportedly being rewritten to include more rehabilitation. State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R), State Representative Allen Farley (R-McCalla), and gubernatorial candidate Stacy George (R) have all presented their own less expensive prison plans. If the House takes up the prison bill it will likely stall numerous other pieces of Legislation with time running out on this session.

The Alabama House has passed the controversial Autism bill. There is enormous grass roots support for HB284 which extends coverage for Autism therapy and ensures access to those services for low-income families, passed out of the House of Representatives with bipartisan support. HB284 was sponsored by State Representative Jim Patterson (R-Meridianville). Powerful special interests oppose the measure which could raise insurance costs. Some conservatives are also fearful that it could create a strain on the State’s General Fund, as nearly half of the children in Alabama are insured by the Children’s Health Insurance Plans. A public hearing was held last week in the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee. HB284 needs to pass out of committee and get assigned to the Senate calendar for it to get to the floor to pass before time runs out on this year’s session.

The Senate has passed Constitutional Carry, SB24 sponsored by State Senator Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) giving every lawful Alabama gun owner the right to carry their guns with them concealed across Alabama without purchasing a concealed carry permit. There is enormous support for the bill from state Second Amendment rights groups including Bamacarry, Alabama Gun Rights, and the National Rifleman’s Association (NRA). It is opposed over by special interests including the Alabama Sheriff’s Association and the Alabama County Commissioners association. While the Senate passed SB24, the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee where it was assigned to a subcommittee. Some SB24 supporters have accused Committee Chairman Allen Treadaway (R-Morris) with preventing the bill from getting out of committee and coming to a vote.

Alabama is one of only six states in the country where midwifery is actually a crime, punishable by jail time. HB315, sponsored by state Representative Ken Johnson (R-Moulton), would make it legal for certified professional midwives (CPMs) to practice in Alabama. There is an enormous grass roots movement in support of midwife legalization; but an extremely powerful coalition of special interests opposing this, even though Alabama has a doctor shortage that is only getting worse and one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country. HB315 had a public hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, May 3. The committee is supposed to vote on the bill on May 10. To actually pass this on the floor is going to require it getting put on the Senate calendar.

The Memorial Preservation Act, SB60 sponsored by Senator Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) has passed both Houses of the Alabama Legislature. Both the House and Senate Republican Caucuses have pledged to voters that they would protect the State’s cultural heritage from the political whims of the moment; but there are still differences between the House and Senate version of SB60 that passed. The Senate voted to non-concur with the House version and has appointed a conference committee to resolve the differences with the House. That work needs to happen then both Houses would still have to vote on the conference version before SB60 could be sent to Gov. Ivey.

On Thursday, May 4, the Alabama House passed a ballot access bill, HB552, 83 to 6. HB552 is sponsored by State Representative Christopher John England (D). It would reduce the number of voter signatures that an independent candidate would need to get ballot access in a special election to just one percent. This bill is in response to a federal lawsuit where the Judge ruled that the existing standard was too high a bar in a special election for Congress in the first congressional district. HB552 still has to be addressed by the Senate. It has been assigned to the Senate Constitution, Campaigns, and Elections Committee.

The 9 cent per gallon gas tax bill, sponsored by State Representative Bill Poole (R from Tuscaloosa), was carried over when it became apparent that bipartisan opposition would kill it on the BIR (budget isolation resolution) vote. Because it wasn’t voted down it can be brought back at any time. Powerful special interests are pressuring legislators to craft a gas tax bill that could actually pass. Some opponents have warned that they fear that the bill could be back before the House as early as Tuesday. If the gas tax increases passes, the plan is to sell $2 billion worth of bonds in order to fund a sudden burst of election year road project spending. The future gas tax dollars would all be pledged to pay the debt down.

On Thursday, May 4, 2017 the House passed HB283, sponsored by Rep. David Faulkner (R-Mountain Brook) which would license ride sharing services statewide. Currently services like Uber and LIFT have to be licensed one municipality at a time. There are a lot of cities in Alabama where Uber can neither pick you up or drop you off legally. This would still allow a municipality to choose to drop out of the statewide network. Most states have already passed similar legislation.

While these are the major pieces of legislation under consideration, there are literally hundreds of bills in various stages of the legislative process.

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In Case You Missed It

House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”

Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

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The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.

Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.

 

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Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.

The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

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Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.

Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

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Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.

Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

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Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

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Legislative Session is winding down

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 6 min
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