By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
There are four days left in the 2017 Legislative Session and this session has been made much clearer,.even though the week was dominated by a bizarre partisan filibuster where members of the House literally had to sit at their desks listening to a robot read for over 18 hours.
The General Fund Budget has been passed and sent to the Governor. The education budget has been sent to a conference committee. Both Houses will still have to agree to the terms of the conference committee compromise but that should happen easily.
With the budgets essentially out of the way, the biggest issue left is the court ordered redistricting of both houses for the 2018 election. The House has passed redistricting of the House. The Senate has passed redistricting of the Senate. Both will still have to pass their plans in the other house. State Representative Thomas Jackson (D-Thomasville) asked for the House plan to be read at length. This burned up 18 hours of legislative time and they could still do the same with the Senate bill (though with 35 districts it is a shorter bill. If a Senator should do the same thing lots of legislation that appears to be on track will die in the Senate.
Several major issues died last week.
The Alabama House of Representatives completely repudiated the gun lobby over Sen. Gerald Allen’s (R-Tuscaloosa) constitutional carry bill. SB24. Alabama Gun Rights (AGR), the National Rifleman’s Association (NRA), and Bamacarry have all expended tremendous energy on passing SB24 and the House leadership has not budged. SB24 appears dead for this Session.
The ballot access bill went down in committee and will not be resurrected in time for this year’s Senate Special Election. Would be independent candidates seeking to have the number of ballot signatures reduced for a Special Election are going to have to look for another session, or a Federal judge.
Efforts to resurrect the gas tax failed and were abandoned. The gas tax is dead for this year and likely for 2018 as well since legislators don’t want to be raising taxes in the middle of their primary races. The only thing that could possibly change that is if Congress somehow passed President Trump’s trillion dollar infrastructure plan. Our sources tell us that ALDOT and most counties do not have the funds to provide matching dollars if a big pot of federal infrastructure dollars did become available. The Trump infrastructure plan appears to be dead this year (and likely beyond). Democrats in Congress are so focused on the Russia scandal that they aren’t likely to give Pres. Trump a legislative victory and many conservative Republican congressmen are cool to the idea of borrowing a $trillion for government infrastructure work.
Midwife legalization appears to be finally on track. House Bill 315 by Representative Ken Johnson (R-Moulton), finally got out of committee in the Senate. The bill however was amended in the Senate Judiciary Committee so that doctors and hospitals treating an emergency following a midwife’s care have civil immunity if something goes wrong. The bill is expected to get to the floor of the Senate this week. Alabama is one of just a few states where having a certified professional midwife present at a home birth could be criminal.
The insurance coverage for autistic children bill, HB284 sponsored by state Representative Jim Patterson (R-Meridianville) managed to get out of committee in the Senate. The bill, which would mandate insurance coverage for an autism spectrum therapy called applied behavioral analysis therapy, passed the House unanimously; but the Senate leadership has expressed reservations. There is no reason why this bill could not be on the floor of the Senate this week.
The prison bill appears to be on life support; however Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Capshaw) told The Alabama Political Reporter team that they are going to try to pass a substitute version of the bill. The plan to borrow $848 millions to build four new mega prisons did appear in committee last week but there was no vote. Growing bipartisan opposition to the controversial plan means that this could eat up a lot of time if leadership brings this bill to the floor. Even if it passes, the bill would still have to go back to the Senate and a conference committee set up to resolve the differences.
The Memorials Preservation Act by Senator Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) appears to be on track for passage. The House finally appointed its members of the conference committee so there is no reason that this should not get done and sent to the Governor early in the week.
The House also is set to deal with the latest version of the Accountability Act. Less Alabamians donated their income tax dollars to pay for the private school scholarships in the past year. Contributions plummeted from $25.8 million to just $19.9 million. The new bill would: raise the limits on the amount of tax credits that could be claimed to 100 percent for individuals and 75 percent for corporations; allow persons to direct their utility gross-receipts tax to the scholarships; expand the pool of donors by allowing trusts and estates to participate and set the cumulative cap on donations at $30 million and reserve $15 million for individuals. This bill could also be controversial.