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Education Trust Fund Budget to be voted on in Committee today

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Tuesday, the Alabama House Ways and Means Education Committee held a public hearing on the Education Trust Fund fiscal year 2019 budget.

Committee Chairman Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, said this is a very good budget. Education employees will receive a 2.5 percent pay increase across the board.

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The trust fund budget will be roughly $6.7 billion in 2019. The committee will provide reporters with spreadsheets Wednesday morning.

June Jackson said that she was speaking on behalf of giving education retirees a $400 one time bonus. “It has been since 2007 that employee retirees have gotten any increase, but the cost of living has increased.” A bus driver who retires after 25 years of service only gets $700 a month pension check.

Education retirees get no raise or bonus in the House budget as introduced.

Paula Larida, the executive director of the Athens Public Library said that public libraries are the backbone of the education system.

“I am glad that there is more funding for that essential education infrastructure that offers equal access to everyone in our community,” Larida said. “This is true lifelong learning for everybody.”

The Co-Chair of the Alabama School Readiness Task Force Bob Powers urged the Committee to put us back on track to our goal of fully funding pre-K by 2023. This year, 30,000 four year olds applied, but only 17,000 were accepted.

Powers said that a study by UAB showed that students in pre-K were more likely to be proficient than their peers on state assessments, and nationally, they are more likely to graduate, do better in the work force and go to college.

“We have been very supportive of every budget and we are supportive of this budget, but I would like to point out some things that we could do better,” Alabama Education Association Representative Susan Kennedy said. “One of these is providing a bonus for retirees. We have $659 million available in reserve accounts for education. We have too many needs to continue to stock money away when we already have $659 million in reserves for proration. Not adding to the rolling reserve fund this year could free up $65 million. That is enough for a bigger pay raise, the retiree bonus, and fully fund pre-K and leave additional money for other things for higher ed. The economy is doing well. The only way classroom teachers can get a raise is if you give them one. If Tennessee and South Carolina pass the raises they have planned, then only Mississippi and Arkansas in the Southeast would have lower teacher pay than we do. When those guys or gals that work in that will work at the Toyota-Mazda plant, they could too send their kids to school in Tennessee, even some of our teachers are going to go to Tennessee. It has been 11 years since teachers got anything, and the teachers got one, but it got eaten up by the pension cost increase. I appreciate the chairman, and I have never asked for a raise when we didn’t have the money. We have the money, and I am asking for it today.”

“I want to tell you how appreciative we are of your willingness to sit down and talk to us about education and workforce development,” two year college system Chancellor Jimmy Baker said. “We made a commitment to you a year ago that we would become more data-driven, and we are making strides to be more data-driven.”

Acting State Education Superintendent Ed Richardson said he was a proponent of the bill and called it a “strong budget.”

Richardson said that he was grateful for the additional funding for the Alabama Reading Initiative.  He told reporters that the state is lagging on performance for reading and that emphasizing teaching reading by the end of the third grade needs to be a focus.

Richardson thanked the Committee for funding a program to attract science and math teachers to underserved areas.

Richardson said that Alabama Math Science and Technology Initiative is only level funded, or did not get an increase, which is what we agreed. “We need to conduct an objective study of that program to confirm that it is doing what it is supposed to do. I hope the next person who has this job will continue that.”

State Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said, “The last pay raise was 2016. We passed that, and six months later the PEEHIP board came back and took 6 percent of that on the back-end. I hope the board does not do that again. There are 90,000 education retirees. If each of them got $400, that would be $36 million. We have the money. It is a good budget, and I know the Senate is going to muddy it up. It is great to go back home and tell our educators they are getting a small raise; but it is not great to tell our retirees that they are getting zero.”

State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said, “I think we have to find a way to do something for retirees.  I expect that the Senate will.

Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, asked, “What is the amount of the PEEHIP request?”

“They requested level funding,” State Rep. Bill Poole, chairman of the committee, said. “I would be disappointed if there was a premium increase. For TRS, the increase is 7.1 percent.”

State Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, complained, “Once something gets in the budget, it never gets out of the budget.” She pointed to the Alabama Motor Sports Hall of Fame as an example.

“I will have some amendments tomorrow. I don’t expect you to pass them, but this is my last budget,” Todd said.

Todd announced last week that she would not seek another term in the Alabama House of Representatives. She complained in that announcement about the ethics law which has made it difficult for her to find a job. Todd said receiving a subpoena in the ongoing campaign finance investigation was “the last straw,” prompting her to announce her leaving the legislature at the end of this term.

Poole said that the Committee would meet again today at 9 a.m. to vote on the Education budget. He said that the bill could be on the floor of the House as early as Tuesday next week.

Alabama has two budgets the Education Trust Fund budget and the State General Fund Budget with different moneys earmarked for each fund.

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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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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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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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Education Trust Fund Budget to be voted on in Committee today

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 5 min
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