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Legislative Session is winding down

The Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Alabama.

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.

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.

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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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Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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