Tuesday, the Alabama legislature started the 2020 legislative session. The first order of business was to swear in two new members who had won special elections since the 2019 legislative session ended.
Republican Charlotte Meadows was elected by Montgomery voters to fill the vacancy created by the sudden death of Dimitri Polizos (R-Montgomery).
Republican Van Smith was elected by Chilton and Autauga County voters to fill the vacancy created by the death of Jimmy Martin (R-Clanton) from a long illness.
“We want to welcome our two newest members,” Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) said at the swearing in ceremony. “We are happy to have them as part of our body.”
Speaker Pro Tem Victor Gaston (R-Mobile) said, “We congratulate Rep. Meadows and Smith and welcome them as part of the House of Representatives.”
The two new Representatives swore to defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Alabama.
Both Meadows and Smith defeated multiple Republican primary opponents and a general election opponent to win their seats.
The House passed a resolution honoring the heroic sacrifice of 23 year-old Navy Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson. Watson had just finish his studies at the U.S. Naval Academy and was stationed at Pensacola, Florida for flight training, when a foreign flight student turned terrorist an. d attacked the base. Watson was the duty officer of the day and confronted the shooter rather than running away. Watson was shot seven times; but still found security teams and told them where to find the shooter, potentially saving dozens of lives. The shooter was killed. Watson and two other sailors died in the attack. Ensign Watson’s brother and girlfriend were both there to celebrate his life and heroism.
At 6:30 Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) addressed both Houses of the Alabama legislature in a joint session in the Old House Chambers of Alabama’s Capital building.
Under legislative rules, the legislature has to wait for committee approvals to address legislation. A number of bills will be addressed in legislative committees on Wednesday. Both Houses of the legislature will return for day two of the Alabama legislative session on Thursday.
The legislature is limited to just thirty legislative days per regular session.
Legislature told budgets are in good shape despite pandemic and economic downturn
Members of the Alabama Senate were in Montgomery Thursday for hearings on the budget, where Senators were told that both of the budgets are in good shape looking forward to 2021.
The meeting was chaired by Senate Finance & Taxation Committee Chairman Greg Albritton.
Kirk Fulford is the Deputy Director for the Fiscal Division of the Legislative Services Agency.
“I don’t know a better time to do this than in the middle of the biggest health emergency we have ever see and a recession,” Fulford said of the Senate decision to hold a budget hearing in July while the legislature is not in session. “I hope you hold more of these between now and the start of the next legislative session.”
“Both budgets you passed are in good shape looking forward to 2021,” Fulford said predicting that both the State General Fund (SGF) and education trust fund (ETF) would be able to avoid proration even if the economic downturn is protracted and state revenues experience no growth at all in fiscal year 2021, which starts October 1.
The state of Alabama uses a very arcane budgeting system where over 93 percent of revenues are earmarked and all the money goes into two budgets set by the Legislature (the ETF and SGF). There are also $billion of dollars in revenues to state agencies not included in the budgeting process. The state also collects another roughly $7.5 billion in federal dollars in a typical year, most of it in matching funds.
Despite the economic crash that occurred in March due to the forced economic shutdown and the lingering economic costs to fight the spread of the coronavirus, Fulford said that he expected that both budgets will finish 2020 with growth. Much of that was due to the robust economy the state experienced from Oct. 1 to Feb. 28 before the coronavirus crisis and Fulford broke the state’s fiscal performance down for both budgets into separate income statements for the Oct. 1 to Feb. 29 period and the Mar. 1 to June 30 period.
The SGF, which funds non-education state agencies, budget was $2,151,954,704.
“Things were growing great through February,” Fulford said.
Since then the state’s lodging tax receipts have experienced a decrease of $7,4 million and oil and gas revenues are down $4.4 million; however the new Simplified Sellers USE Tax grew by $51 million thru June. More people are buying more of their stuff online and SSUT allows the state to collect much more taxes on those online sales.
“The General Fund’s strength is built on several changes that have been made by the legislature,” Fulford said. “The state has not prorated the general fund budget since 2012.”
Fulford predicted that the state will not need to prorate the general fund, “Even if there is a recurrent COVID situation and even if there is another shutdown.”
Fulford praised the legislators for moving that growth revenue to the general fund. Prior to the redistribution of use taxes from the ETF to the SGF, use taxes brought in less than $one million to the general fund. The Simplified Sellers Use Tax and the Supreme Court ruling in Wayfair vs South Dakota changed all of that. In FY2019 the SSUT brought in $70 million. Fulford anticipates that it will bring in $125 million in FY2020 is complete.
In addition to the SSUT Fulford credited legislators for their conservative budgeting and for in 2012 the legislature changed how the Alabama Trust Fund pays out its oil and gas trust fund moneys from a market fluctuating model to a fixed payment model. The Alabama Trust Fund will pay $104 million for the SGF in the current year and $116 million for the next year.
Fulford predicted that the SGF will have 2021 receipts of $2.406,000 receipts with $46 million in growth in FY2021. Fulford said that the FY2021 SGF budget passed by the legislature is $170 million more than the FY2020, but $170 million less than the Governor had predicted in February. “It is still the highest general fund in state history.”
Fulford next broke down the ETF, the education budget.
“We were anticipating above average growth rate in 2020,” Fulford said.
The 2020 ETF budget estimated receipts of $7,582,260.
Fulford said that thru February the ETF receipts were up 8.04 percent primarily due to increase in income and sales tax revenues. From March 1 to June 30 revenues have declined by 17.83 percent versus the same period in 2019. ETF revenues in that period have declined by $405,862,551.
Fulford said that part of that is due to moving the payment dates back, both the income tax deadline of April 15 to July and the quarterly estimated payments.
“We will know more by the end of the month,” Fulford predicted, “We anticipate that a lot of that money will come in in July. We will know by the end of the month what those numbers look like.”
Despite the economic collapse total ETF growth for 2020 is 1.09 percent. Net receipts are $5,473,075 by the end of June. $58,980,858 in growth due to the large annual growth before the COVID-19 impact of $224.5 million.
Fulford said that a provision in the Rolling Reserve Act allowed the state Finance Director to transfer $301.6 million from the budget Stabilization Fund to alleviate cash flow problems in the ETF. The state may not need that money anymore by the end of July, depending on July receipts.
Citing the Rolling Reserve Act and the conservative budget passed by the legislature, Fulford predicted that the state an cover ETF next year even at zero growth in revenue.
State Finance Director Kelly Butler explained to the Senators how the CARES Act was being appropriated to the state. The estimated total allocation to Alabama was $4.100,738,000 for COVID-19 expenses. $1.9 billion was appropriated to the state to spend. $115 million had to go to Jefferson County leaving state government with $1.789 billion to appropriate. Butler explained that the money is very limited in what it can be spent on and the state has had to have guidance from federal officials on their latest interpretations of the CARES Act rules.
Fulford explained that the Payroll Protection Program has greatly benefitted state finances.
Alabama businesses received 7,878 loans thru the closing of the PPP program deadline on June 30.
“408,803 jobs were retained because of the loan program,” Fulford said. “The situation with our economy would be vastly different if that program had not been established.”
State Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) said that a record over 2000 people tested positive for coronavirus just today. If everyone follows the health protocols, that person and everyone in that household have to self quarantine for 14 days if they don’t have it and if they do get COVID-19 or have to care for someone with COVID-19 they could be out from work for over a month.
Fulford acknowledged that there was a “Trickle down effect to everyone in that household,” and that “Has an impact going forward and one that you have to pay attention to.”
“I am concerned about the long lasting effects of this virus,” Butler said. “We are going to have to learn to live with this virus until it is cured, an effective therapy is developed or a vaccine.”
Alabama lawmaker pre-files legislation to allow removal of Confederate monuments
If passed, the measure would permit counties and cities to relocate historic monuments currently located on public property.
Alabama State Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, introduced legislation this week in advance of the 2021 legislative session that, if passed, would permit counties and cities to relocate historic monuments currently located on public property. Givan’s bill, HB8, would also provide for the relocation of historic memorials to sites appropriate for public display.
“Across the state of Alabama, citizens are calling for the removal of prominently placed statues and monuments that are insensitive or offensive to the communities that surround them,” Givan said. “City and county governments must be able to address the demands of their citizens. This legislation provides a tool for local governments to safely remove these artifacts so that they can be moved to a site more appropriate for preserving or displaying the historical monument.”
Removing the monuments and historical markers is currently illegal under Alabama’s Memorial Preservation Act, which the state Legislature passed in 2017. Givan has been an outspoken opponent of that Republican-sponsored legislation. In 2018, Givan introduced a measure to repeal the bill that barred the removal of monuments.
“I believe HB8 can achieve bipartisan support,” Givan said. “My bill seeks to balance the wishes of the people. It respects the will of communities that want the monuments removed. It also respects those who wish to preserve history. With this legislation, Confederate monuments could be relocated to a public site, like Confederate Memorial Park, whose purpose and mission is to interpret and tell these stories. When the Legislature convenes, I hope to have the support of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.”
If enacted, HB8 would permit county and municipal governments to remove memorial monuments, including permanent statues, portraits and markers, located on public property in their jurisdictions. It would require a transfer of ownership of the removed monuments to the Alabama Department of Archives and History or the Alabama Historical Commission. Finally, the bill would instruct Archives and History or the Historical Commission to maintain and display monuments removed by local authorities in a location accessible for public display.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps track of Confederate monuments and memorials across the country, released an update to its Whose Heritage report, which tracks symbols of the Confederacy on public land across the United States. They report at least 30 Confederate symbols have been removed or relocated since George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020.
These include 24 monuments removed, 5 monuments relocated and the Mississippi state flag replaced. Since the Charleston church shooting in 2015, 115 total symbols have been removed from public spaces. These include 87 monuments that have been removed or relocated from public spaces. At least 78 monuments were removed and nine were relocated.
SPLC says there are still nearly 1,800 Confederate symbols on public land, and 739 of those symbols are monuments. The SPLC has prepared an “action guide” to help community activists target Confederate historical markers and memorials for removal.
President Donald Trump has denounced what he calls “cancel culture” that seeks to remove historical monuments and statutes.
“There is a growing danger that threatens every blessing our ancestors fought so hard for, struggled, they bled to secure,” Trump said. “Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.”
Senate pro tem requests general fund committee begin hearings in July
Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, announced today that he has asked Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Range, to begin holding General Fund Committee meetings in preparation for the next session.
In an effort to be better prepared because of uncertainty in state revenue as a result of COVID-19 pandemic Senator Albritton has agreed with Senator Marsh and has invited Legislative Services, the Department of Finance, Pardons and Paroles, Corrections and the Personnel Department to provide updates to the committee.
“Typically, we begin this process closer to sessions however because of uncertainty about state income and possibility of special sessions, we felt like it was important to get started much earlier than usual in this process,” Senator Albritton said. “The Legislature has done an excellent job managing our budgets over the past few years. So much so that Alabama was able to weather the storm of the COVID-19 shutdown this year with little impact to our vital state services. We understand that we will not have final revenue projections until after July 15th, but we must continue to do our due diligence and ensure that we use taxpayer money sensibly.”
“We want to make sure that all public money is being used wisely, now and in the future,” Senator Marsh said. “We have many pressing issues facing the state such as a potential $2 billion-dollar prison reform proposal and a stunning lack of rural broadband investment which need to be addressed whenever the Legislature is back in session and it is our duty to make sure we are prepared and kept up to speed on these matters. Furthermore, the taxpayers deserve a clear and transparent view of how their money is being used.”
The hearings are scheduled to begin July 9 in the Alabama State House.
Part-time employee in lieutenant governor’s office tests positive for COVID-19
A part-time employee in Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth’s office, who the office said works only a handful of hours each week, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, according to a press statement.
The employee, whose work area is separated from the rest of the staff, last worked in the office on the morning of Thursday, June 18.
All members of the office staff have been tested or are in the process of being tested for COVID-19 in response, and, thus far, no additional positive results have been reported.
In addition, the State House suite has been thoroughly cleaned and will remain closed until all employees’ test results have been returned.
Employees are working remotely from home, and phones are being answered in order to continue providing services to the citizens who need them.