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2018 Legislative Session just 92 days away

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Halloween is not here yet, and most people are just beginning their Christmas shopping list. That said, it is time to begin preparing for the 2018 Legislative Session. The 2018 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature begins early this year so that the members can go out and campaign ahead of the June 5, 2018 major party primaries.

This Session begins on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, and must end no later than Monday, April 23, 2018 at midnight. If both Houses pass both the Education (ETF) and State General Fund budgets, they can leave earlier than that.

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The Legislature has not set their spring break yet; though we expect them to take a week off at some point in March.

Legislators have already begun pre-filing bills for the 2018 Session, and now is the time for you, citizens, to begin lobbying your legislators for what you want passed and against the ideas you don’t want to see become law.

There are seventeen House bills that have already been pre-filed. Seven of them sponsored by state Rep. Tommy Hanes, R-Scottsboro, including a controversial plan to bring back the DROP program. DROP allowed state workers and teachers to collect retirement benefits while still employed by the state. The new Republican controlled majority ended the costly benefit as a cost savings measure in the fiscal chaos following the Great Recession. State Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, has introduced two bills, HB14 and HB15. One repealing the Memorials Preservation Act and the other essentially gutting the Legislation. In 2017, the Legislature passed legislation to protect historic monuments in the wake of the destruction of historic Confederate monuments and memorials by the city of New Orleans. Rep. Steve Clause, R-Ozark, has introduced HB17, which would change the law regarding how U.S. senators are appointed when there is a vacancy, is another highly controversial piece of legislation.

There are already 15 Senate bills that have been pre-filed ahead of the 2018 Alabama Regular Legislative Session.  Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, is carrying the Senate version of the effort to revive the DROP program for Tier I and II employees, SB2. Another controversial Senate bill is SB11 by Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, exempting schools from the Memorials Preservation Act. Sen. Rusty Glover, R-Decatur, whose SB15 is a state constitutional amendment that would take away the people’s right to choose their own legislators in a special election when there is a vacancy if there is less than two years until the next regularly scheduled election. Under Glover’s amendment, the governor would appoint someone to the Alabama House or Senate for the remainder of the unexpired term. Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, has introduced another gun bill. His crusade to make Alabama a constitutional carry state passed the Senate in 2017; but died, buried in a subcommittee in the House without coming to the floor. That has been reintroduced as SB3. Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, whose effort to get the state out of the business of issuing marriage licenses is back; this version is SB13.

To read the introduced versions of pending legislation, go to the Legislature’s website at: Here. 

At this point, sources are confident that the improving employment situation will be a boon for the education budget. All state income taxes are earmarked for the Education Trust Fund, and those collections appear to be increasing. In the last several years, higher education has been level-funded as legislators focused more resources on the state’s historically under-performing K-12 system. Will higher education get a boost in state support, or will parents and students have to shoulder an even larger burden in the form of higher tuition?

The General Fund Budget is, again, a problem. Some sources have told the Alabama Political Reporter that the federal court case alleging that Alabama underfunds its prisons could cost the state another $20 to $30 million a year. To actually fully staff the prison with the proper number of guards could cost the state another $80 to $100 million a year. While the improving economy is helping SGF collections, there is like to be another General Fund Budget crisis, and that could get worse if Congress cuts its supports for the Children Health Insurance Program. If that happens, the state would have to pick up a portion of the program, and over 40 percent of Alabama children receive their health insurance through CHIP. Suggestions that all children could lose their insurance is alarmist nonsense; but it is very possible that the state could spread more costs to the families in higher premiums, copays and deductibles. It is difficult to see how the state can find enough revenue to fully fund the other state agencies, while increasing the Alabama Department of Corrections and the insatiable demands of the state Medicaid Agency.

This will be the first budget that Gov. Kay Ivey will have a role in creating, and it will be interesting to see how her budget varies from the ones that former Gov. Robert Bentley (R) submitted.

For two years in a row, the once-powerful Business Council of Alabama has been lobbying for a gas tax increase to pay for a billion dollar bond issue for a bunch of road projects. There could be an effort to resurrect some form of that proposal; but passing any tax increase in a Republican-controlled legislature during an election year seems unlikely.

Gambling expansion appears to be another dead on arrival proposal in 2018. A paper lottery could have, and would have, passed during Gov. Robert Bentley’s special session on gaming; but that effort ended in disaster when Democratic gaming supporters killed the bill that passed out of the House because a paper-only lottery would not benefit any of the gaming magnates who support their campaigns. Republicans won’t pass a lottery bill that opens the door to legalization of some form of electronic bingo, and Democrats won’t pass a lottery bill that does not allow the existing bingo parlors to benefit. There is a sizable portion of GOP legislators who want no gaming expansion of any kind.

As always, APR is your go-to source for all things having to do with Alabama state legislature.

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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.

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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.

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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In Case You Missed It

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.

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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.

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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In Case You Missed It

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.

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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.

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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2018 Legislative Session just 92 days away

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 5 min
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