February 20, 2017 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday, February 14, for the 3rd day of the session. Here are a few highlights:

  • On Tuesday (3rd day of session): The House debated the rules report for several hours before breaking for dinner. After the recess, they quickly voted on a resolution voicing support for President Donald J. Trump. They also passed a bill clarifying the status of institutions of higher education as agencies of the state under the Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act and requiring them to comply with all immigration laws or be subject to forfeiture of certain funds. The Senate passed several bills of local application only and a number of general bills including a bill to further define and regulate the sale of over-the-counter, nonprescription eyeglasses and to allow the Department of Transportation only, greater flexibility on bids on certain public improvement projects. Others passed included bills: to require seatbelt use for each occupant while a vehicle is in motion; to revise the statutes of limitations for certain fraudulent activities relating to Medicaid; and to further provide for the Department of Environmental Management to set fees for centralized waste treatment facilities. They carried over a bill to extend the weight allowances for motor vehicles converted to the use of compressed natural or liquefied gas.
  • On Wednesday (committee day): The House Boards, Agencies and Commissions Committee gave a favorable report to a bill to allow Marriage and Family Therapy licensees to diagnose mental and emotional problems. The House Education Policy Committee approved a bill to establish as a corporate body the Community College System and to further provide for employees and the disposition of property. The Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee approved a bill to prohibit from requiring residents of the state who live within 75 miles of campus from living on campus. The Senate Finance and Education Committee approved bills to provide grants for educational programs provided by the State Department of Education and to implement the Simplified Sellers use Tax.
  • On Thursday (4th day of session): The House approved several bills of local application only and a number of bills under the sunset provision of state law to continue the following agencies and boards: the board of Licensure for Professional Geologists, the Board of Nursing, the State Board of Pharmacy, the Dental Examiners Board, the Elevator Safety Review Board, the Manufactured Housing Commission, the Board of Optometry and the Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.  The Senate approved bills to create the Alabama Space Authority within the Department of Economic and Community Affairs and to authorize the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections and the Secretary of ALEA to establish a program to issue non-driver IDs to resident parolees upon release.

2/20/2017 Group Watch: Major Hospitals Pull Out of Medicaid Reform

An overhaul of the state’s Medicaid program has already been postponed a year and could face more delays after the departure of several healthcare systems over concerns about the program’s direction and costs. In recent months, several of Alabama’s largest hospitals, including UAB and the University of South Alabama, have suspended plans to create regional care organizations. The CEO of UAB Health System said lawmakers should postpone the October start of the plan to evaluate loopholes that opened the market to out-of-state companies that specialize in managing Medicaid programs. Although several large hospitals have shelved plans to put together regional care organizations, not all have pulled out of the program. Leaders of a regional care organization with participation from DCH Hospital in Tuscaloosa and Huntsville Hospital are still pushing for an October rollout of Medicaid reform. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has stated that an extension beyond October 1, 2017, will result in the withdrawal of waiver approval and the loss of approximately $748 million in waiver funding.

February 13, 2017 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The 2017 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature began last Tuesday, and legislators wasted no time diving into some important and interesting work. Here’s a quick recap of the first two days and the pressing issues facing them:

  • The Medicaid Commissioner reported another Medicaid crisis. The Bentley Administration is hoping that the federal government will block grant the state their share of the Medicaid money with no strings attached about who gets coverage and deductibles.
  • Building prisons is the governor’s No. 1 priority. Alabama prisons are drastically overcrowded, and the governor wants the legislature to approve an $800 million bond issue to address constitutional deficiencies.
  • While the 2010 census is in the past for most Alabamians, the state is still trying to get a legislative redistricting plan through the Federal court system. Three state senate seats and nine house seats were recently ruled unconstitutional and the state is forbidden from using those districts ever again. During this session, the Joint Committee on Redistricting is going to have to draw up a new plan to satisfy the plaintiffs and Federal court prior to the 2018 election.
  • Roadbuilders want more money to fund needed road and bridge work across the state. As cars have become more fuel efficient, gas tax revenues have stagnated, leaving less state money available to draw down Federal road and bridge funds
  • Alabama is a pro-gun rights state however there is still debate on just what gun rights mean. A bill has been introduced to allow citizens carry a concealed weapon without a permit.
  • Sanctuary cities became an issue after the Birmingham City Council passed a resolution declaring the state’s largest city open as a sanctuary.

2/13/17: Sessions Confirmed as U.S. Attorney General

The U.S. Senate confirmed Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama as U.S. Attorney General by a vote of 52-47. Sessions voted “present” on his nomination, while Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia was the lone Democrat to cross the aisle to vote for Sessions. Sessions was elected U.S. Senator from Alabama in 1996 after serving two years as the state’s attorney general. Sessions was among the first in Congress to support candidate Donald Trump and served as an advisor in Trump’s successful presidential campaign. Sessions, who graduated from Huntingdon College in Montgomery, and the University of Alabama Law School, was the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee. He was also a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

2/13/17 Group Watch: Luther Strange Appointed to U.S. Senate

Governor Robert Bentley appointed Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to the U.S. Senate following the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General. Strange, 63, was elected the state’s attorney general in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. The appointment follows a lengthy process of interviews and questions about what role, if any, the Alabama attorney general’s office had in probing controversies swirling around the governor. Bentley expressed confidence in Strange’s ability to serve the people of Alabama.

2/13/17 Group Watch: Governor Bentley Appoints New AL AG

Governor Robert Bentley announced on Friday the appointment of Steven Marshall, former Marshall County District Attorney, as the new Alabama Attorney General. Marshall will fill the vacancy left by Luther Strange upon his appointment to the Unites States Senate. Read more here.

January 2017 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The new year is starting off strong, with tons of political news swirling around Inauguration Day on January 20 as well as hearings on Trump’s cabinet appointees, including Alabama’s Jeff Sessions. More localized stories are revolving around the Alabama Legislature’s soon-to-start 2017 session, including some ideas on education reform.

Bentley Setting Senate Special Election for 2018
Governor Robert Bentley will soon be appointing a replacement for Senator Jeff Sessions, but that person will only be temporary. The governor recently announced that he would schedule the Special Election to coincide with the 2018 statewide elections. He cited two reasons for his decision: this timeline will save money and is likely to have a larger turnout since voters will have a number of local and statewide matters to spark interest and bring them to the polls. The governor has interviewed 20 state and federal officials and a businessman as possible contenders for the interim appointment. Read the full list:

  • Jim Byard, ADECA Director
  • U.S. Representative Mo Brooks
  • Alabama State Senator Bill Hightower
  • Former Representative Perry Hooper Jr.
  • Alabama State Senator Del Marsh
  • Chief Justice Roy Moore
  • Alabama Supreme Court Associate Justice Glenn Murdock
  • State Senator Arthur Orr
  • State Senator Tripp Pittman
  • Representative Bill Poole
  • Representative Connie Rowe
  • State Senator Cam Ward
  • Alabama Revenue Commissioner Julie Magee
  • U.S. Representative Robert Aderholt
  • Alabama State Senator Phil Williams
  • Tim James
  • Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange
  • U.S. Representative Martha Roby
  • State Senator Greg Reed
  • U.S. Representative Gary Palmer

And read Bentley’s latest comments on the special election here.

Sessions’ Chief of Staff to serve in White House
President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team recently announced the appointment of Rick Dearborn as Deputy Chief of Staff in the White House. Dearborn is the longtime chief of staff to Senator Jeff Sessions. In his new role, Dearborn, who is currently executive director of the Presidential Transition Team, will lead the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Cabinet affairs. Dearborn has worked for six U.S. Senators and spent more than 25 years working on Capitol Hill.

State Senator calls for Education Plan 
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh of Anniston is calling for a comprehensive plan for public education in Alabama. Marsh has sponsored high-profile education reform bills in recent years says the development of a cohesive school strategy should start with educators and not lawmakers. Directors of two groups representing education leaders said Marsh’s idea has merit. Dr. Eric Mackey, executive of the School Superintendents of Alabama, said test scores show Alabama students lagging behind those from other states to a degree that can’t be fully blamed on Alabama’s high poverty rate. He said a comprehensive plan needs to account for the wide disparity among Alabama school systems. The executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards agrees and said the time is right because of new leadership and other changes in education.

January 2017 Group Watch: Talladega College Part of Inaugural Parade

Talladega College President Dr. Billy Hawkins announced that the Marching Tornado Band has accepted an invitation to perform in the president’s inaugural parade. We’d like to congratulate Talladega College, a longtime The Bloom Group client, on this wonderful opportunity. The school established a GoFundMe page (click here to visit it), which set a goal of $75,000, to defray the expenses. On Thursday, Dr. Hawkins appeared on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor,”  where he described the educational value of the experience for the 300-member band. Former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain shared news of the GoFundMe page on his personal website, urging others to make donations. As of this morning, the fund was reporting contributions close to $600,000. Talladega College under the leadership of Dr. Hawkins has been described as one of great hidden treasures of Alabama.

January 2017 Group Watch: More Automotive Jobs Possible in Birmingham

Mayor William Bell says one of the city’s existing suppliers is looking to expand its current facility and create 400-600 jobs in Birmingham. The mayor declined to release what automotive supplier may be expanding, or when the formal announcement will be made. The comments were made during the mayor’s “state of the city” address at a Kiwanis Club luncheon in downtown Birmingham. When asked about the status of a stadium near the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, Bell said a decision will be made soon on what type of stadium will be constructed to house UAB football and other events. The mayor commented that stakeholders may need to decide to build a larger, dome facility that can be used year-round. The estimated cost for such a facility is $400-$500 million.

December 2016 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The holidays are almost here, and 2016 is winding down, but there’s still plenty of political activity: Jeff Sessions’ U.S. Senate seat is up for grabs, as is a spot in the Alabama House. Plus, you may have to wait longer to get part of your tax refund in 2017.

Luther Strange to Run for U.S. Senate
Alabama Attorney Luther Strange has announced his intention to seek the U.S. Senate seat left open by Jeff Sessions’ nomination to be the nation’s attorney general. Strange says he filed the appropriate paperwork with the federal election authorities. Once Sessions formally vacates his Senate seat, Governor Robert Bentley will appoint his replacement and call for a special election. State law does not set a specific time for the special election but says the governor must “forthwith order an election” if the vacancy occurs more than four months before the next general election, which is in 2018. Sessions’ current term runs until 2020.

Representative Oliver Robinson Resigns House Seat
Representative Oliver Robinson from Birmingham recently announced he will retire immediately from Alabama House of Representatives. Robinson has served since 1998 and said he is retiring to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. Robison’s daughter works for Governor Robert Bentley and will be serving as the governor’s liaison in the House. With Robinson’s retirement, Birmingham Mayor William Bell has lost an advocate and friend. Robinson supported bills backed by the Mayor intended to take power from Birmingham’s City Council President, who has been a fierce rival of Mayor Bell. Governor Bentley will determine a date and call a special election to fill Robinson’s vacated seat.
Federal Tax Refunds to be Delayed 
It is estimated that almost 500,000 Alabamians will not receive their federal tax refunds until after February 15, 2017 due to a new law aimed at reducing identity theft and fraud. The Internal Revenue Service will hold refunds until mid-February 2017 for people claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit. The additional time allows for closer scrutiny for the tens of millions of people who claim credits. The IRS will begin accepting electronic tax returns on January23, 2017. The filing deadline for 2016 returns is April 18, 2017, three days later than usual, because April 15 falls on Saturday, and Emancipation Day, which is celebrated in Washington D.C., is commemorated on Monday, April 17.

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