The 2019 regular legislative session began on Tuesday, but following the adjournment of her state of the state address Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey called a special session to address Alabama’s infrastructure issues.
The regular session has been recessed until March 19. Only one of the regular sessions’ 30 legislative days has been used.
The special Session is focused on legislation to levy an additional excise tax on gasoline and diesel fuel; legislation concerning the Legislature’s Permanent Joint Transportation Committee to provide for effective legislative oversight of the Alabama Department of Transportation; and legislation to provide the Alabama Highway Finance Corporation with authority to borrow money and issue bonds for the purpose of improving the Alabama State Docks and the Mobile Bay ship channel.
“Due to the dire need to act now, I am the Alabama Legislature into a special session, focused solely on passing this critical infrastructure legislation,” Ivey said in a statement. “Beginning tomorrow, as we enter this special session, we must shift our focus and tackle this issue together! It’s time to make our crumbling infrastructure system a problem of the past.”
Ivey made a pitch for the fuel tax increase during her state of the state address:
“Each year in Alabama, 69 billion miles are driven on our roadways,” Gov. Ivey said. “We have urban roads in poor condition. Our drivers are experiencing major congestion on our freeways. County governments currently operate on a 56-year resurfacing schedule; when, in fact, we should be operating on a 15-year rate. In Alabama, half of our more than 16,000 bridges are older than their 50-year life span. Bridges should be replaced every 50 years. Yet, county governments are on schedule to replace their bridges every 186 years! Folks, that’s almost as long as Alabama has been a state. From 2015 to 2017, Alabama saw nearly 3,000 traffic fatalities. One-third of those were due to deficiencies in our roadways.”
Gov. Ivey said that state Representative Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, and Senator Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, will carry the legislation.
“Leading the charge in the Legislature on this issue is Representative Bill Poole,” Governor Ivey said. “He along with Senator Clyde Chambliss, will guide this legislation over the coming weeks. I thank both of them for their leadership.”
The plan which was released only days before the regular session even though Gov. Ivey called for this tax increase during her inauguration speech weeks ago and even though supporters admit they have been working on this for 18 months.
”Much work has gone into this issue by many people over the last 18 months including over 30 public meetings regarding every aspect of infrastructure,” said Sen. Chambliss. “I attended many of those meetings and so did a lot of others. I have reviewed the only other alternative plan out there and it is based on one-time monies. Relying on on-time monies is what got us into the mess we are in. I cannot support such temporary measures to a need that will be with us until we don’t use roadways any more.”
One of the most controversial parts of the plan, other than there is any tax increase at all, is that Alabama motorists are subsidizing the international transoceanic shipping industry; but repairing, updating the state docks, and dredging the shipping channel for the Port of Mobile. The Port improvements will cost the transportation budget $10 million a year.
“Each year, $436 billion dollars in goods are shipped to and from businesses using our state’s roadways,” Ivey said. “The Port of Mobile, Alabama’s only deep-water port, moves approximately 64 million tons of cargo each year. Deepening and widening the Port will increase Alabama’s economic capability. This will enhance our status as a primary industrial and agricultural hub in the Southeast.”
Opponents claim that an additional ten cents per gallon of gas is overtaxing the people of Alabama. Sen. Chambliss, however, points out that the Alabama tax burden per capita as a percentage of household income peaked in 2001 at just 6.4 percent. That has since plummeted to just 4.7 percent in 2017, the lowest that it has been in decades.
Supporters claim that the increase will cost the average Alabamian just $55 more a year. Obviously, families where both parents commute to work and where children have to be driven to a number of extracurricular activities like ball games or people who work out of their vehicle and drive considerably more than 200 miles per week will pay more than that in taxes. There is also a special penalty imposed on people who drive electric or hybrid vehicles in the plan.
Ivey argued that better roads will actually save motorists money.
“Driving on rough roads costs the average Alabamian $507 dollars annually in additional vehicle maintenance – a total of $2 billion dollars statewide, each year!” Ivey said in her state of the state.
The tax increase, which will be phased in over three years, is projected to raise $310 million a year. The tax increase is indexed with the cost of construction so the ten cent per gallon tax may rise over time.
The bill has the support of Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, and Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, as well as the powerful Business Council of Alabama (BCA) and even some Democrats. If it does not pass in the special session, the legislature could bring is back in the regular session or Gov. Ivey could call another special session.
The Alabama Republican Executive Committee has passed a resolution urging the legislature to reject the tax increase.
The special session begins today at 9:30 a.m.
Alabama Legislature plans to return to work briefly March 31
The Alabama Senate is planning to get to only a few big, constitutionally mandated items before calling an end to the year’s legislative session amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but whether they’ll get those tasks accomplished remains to be seen.
Senate leadership is advising lawmakers who fall into “at-risk” categories because of their age or pre-existing medical conditions to not attend the Senate’s meeting when it resumes.
Among the items legislators tentatively plan to tackle before gaveling the session closed sometime in the future are the passage of the Education Trust Fund budget and the General Fund budget, which is the Legislature’s only constitutionally mandated duty.
And “other bills deemed necessary.”
The state Senate’s Plan of Action, obtained by APR Friday, states that the Senate will meet at 2 p.m. on March 31 for its 14th legislative day.
“The intent for this legislative day is to advance only essential attendance items and then to adjourn to a date certain for the 15th Legislative Day. April 28 has been discussed with the House,” the plan reads.
The State Senate’s plan:
“As leaders, it is imperative that we demonstrate that the business of this state carries on in an orderly and systematic fashion while adhering to the recommendations of our public health officials.
The Alabama Senate will meet on Tuesday, March 31 at 2:00 pm at the Statehouse in the Senate Chamber as scheduled. This will be the 14th Legislative Day.
The intent for this legislative day is to advance only essential attendance items and then to adjourn to a date certain for the 15th Legislative Day. April 28 has been discussed with the House.
Below is a draft agenda for Tuesday, March 31.
- Gavel In
- Pledge and Prayer
- Roll Call
- Excuse all Senators
- Points of Personal Privilege
- President Pro Tem Marsh
- Majority Leader Reed
- Minority Leader Singleton
- Adjourn to date certain for 15th Legislative Day.
“It is highly recommended that any Senator that falls into any of the at-risk categories stay away from the March 31 Legislative Day,” the plan advises. “However, each Senator’s personal wish will be accommodated.”
Any Senator or staff member that is ill, has been ill, or has been in the same room of anyone that has had any symptom of illness in the 72 hours preceding the March 31 Legislative Day must stay away from the March 31 Legislative Day, according to the Senate’s leadership.
A disinfecting station will be provided under the canopy of the second-floor rear entrance for each senator to disinfect hands and cell phones as they enter the State House and as they leave the Statehouse.
“We must ensure that we practice all Health Department recommendations while at the Statehouse,” the plan reads.
Social distancing will be accomplished by having senators report to their offices by 1:45 p.m. They will then walk into the chamber as the roll is called and then go back to their offices.
“As much separation as possible is required therefore greetings must be verbal only from a distance of 6 feet or greater,” the plan reads.
The remainder of the session will be held possibly Tuesday, April 28 through Monday, May 18.
This timeframe includes three weeks of the session plus the last day of May 18.
A specific plan for meeting more days than normal will be developed and provided prior to the next legislative meeting date.
$200,000 in campaign finance penalties deposited into State General Fund
Act 2015-495, which went into effect beginning with the 2018 Election Cycle, allows the Secretary of State’s Office to issue penalties to Political Action Committees (PACs) and Principal Campaign Committees (PCCs) that fail to timely file campaign finance reports.
As of today, the Office of the Secretary of State has collected $202,504.20 which has been deposited into the State General Fund to benefit the people of Alabama.
Conversations with the Senate and House General Fund Chairmen are currently underway to determine the best way to allocate these resources to counties.
Anyone who receives a campaign finance penalty is able to appeal their penalty to the Alabama Ethics Commission who has the authority to overturn a penalty.
“When I campaigned for this office in 2014, I made a promise to the people of Alabama that I would work to see that it is easy to vote and hard to cheat in this state. Since then, we have worked to make the electoral process more fair and transparent through requiring the honest reporting of all PACs and PCCs,” stated Secretary of State John H. Merrill.
Anyone who suspects an individual may be in violation of the Alabama Election Fairness Project is encouraged to report suspicious activity to StopVoterFraudNow.com.
Daniels: We have to get help to those who need it most
There is not enough help coming fast enough to the people struggling the most.
That was the message from Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, who was asked on the “Alabama Politics This Week” podcast about the efforts of Alabama’s state government to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If you’ve never been poor, you don’t fully comprehend how things like this affect the poor and the unique problems the poor people face,” Daniels said. “I commend Gov. (Kay) Ivey and her staff for working to try and address this crisis the best they can, but I just think there’s a lack of understanding among all of us in some cases of how people need help.”
To address those issues, at least in part, Daniels is writing a series of letters to different entities, including Ivey, to explain how they can best help the state’s most vulnerable.
Daniels plans to ask the Alabama Supreme Court to order lower courts to halt foreclosure proceedings and evictions for those affected by coronavirus job losses and illnesses. He also will ask Ivey to intervene with banks on behalf of customers who are falling hopelessly behind on mortgage, car loans and other installment loans. And he will seek additional assistance from the state for borrowers with overwhelming student loan debt.
“I want people to understand that I’m not criticizing what’s being done or trying to take control, I just hear from these folks on a daily basis and believe there are some better ways to help people,” Daniels said. “President Trump has addressed student loan debt by knocking the interest of those loans, but what does that really do for a person who just lost a job? Or someone who’s had hours and pay cut? We need to pause those payments and give people substantial forgiveness.
“Otherwise, it’s going to be ugly.”
Democrats in the House also have been putting together potential legislation that could be passed to help the state’s poorest citizens and those who have been laid off from jobs. The specifics of those pieces of legislation weren’t available, but Daniels said they would have the same focus — providing real help for those who need it most.
If those bills are anything like the measures taken during the last economic downturn, you can expect a relaxing of rules on social programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and unemployment assistance programs.
One of the first moves could be overturning a measure passed during the last legislative session that cut the number of weeks of unemployment pay in the state from 26 to 14. State Sen. Arthur Orr sponsored that legislation, and critics argued at the time that a downturn, such as the one that occurred in 2008, could suddenly leave thousands in the state without jobs and job prospects. It passed anyway.
Alabama House cancels March 25 committee meetings due to coronavirus
The Alabama House of Representatives announced on Monday that committee meetings scheduled for Wednesday, March 25 will be cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The legislative day on March 26 has not technically been cancelled but the House is not expected to have a quorum for that day.
A “quorum” is the minimum number of House members that must be present at any meeting to make the proceedings of that meeting valid. If there are not enough members present, then the meeting cannot proceed and House rules state that the speaker of the House is allowed to set a new date for the meeting.
The Legislature is currently on an annual spring break. The House and Senate are both expected to reconvene on March 31. According to the statement from the House, a joint decision will be made regarding the future legislative meeting days.
The full statement reads:
“The leadership of the Alabama House of Representatives has made several changes to the upcoming meeting calendar because of the coronavirus crisis in the state.
House committees that were scheduled to meet on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 have been cancelled.
The House is scheduled to meet on Thursday, March 26, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. but no quorum is expected that day.
Under House Rule 5(b), if there’s no quorum to conduct business during a state of emergency declared by the governor, the speaker of the House is allowed to set the date and time of the next meeting day.
Both the House and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 and at that time a joint decision will be made as to future legislative meeting days.”
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