April 17, 2017 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday, April 11 for the 16th day of the session. A proposed gas tax didn’t make it very far, and we got a new governor. Here are a few other highlights:

  • On Tuesday (16th day of session): The House Transportation, Utilities and Infrastructure Committee met and approved a bill to increase gasoline taxes to be used for road and bridge repairs. The House approved several bills of local application only, including two bills affecting the lowering of percent of investments in fixed income securities for the Birmingham Firemen and Policeman’s Supplemental pension System and revising the operation of the Birmingham retirement and relief system. They passed a general bill to authorize certain correctional officers, firefighters and law enforcement officers to retire with full benefits after 25 years. The Senate passed several bills of local application only and general bills to increase the income tax credits for rural physicians and dentists; the Alabama Renewal Act, which provides extended tax credits for newly qualified broadband telecommunication network facilities; to further specify that schools and churches are protected against threats of terror; and final approval of a House-passed bill to authorize the Community College System to acquire and dispose of property.
  • On Wednesday (a committee day): The House Insurance Committee approved insurance coverage under certain circumstance for those with autism spectrum disorder. The House State Government Committee approved a bill providing for the qualifications of the Secretary of Early Childhood Education. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved bills to make it unlawful to inquire from a job applicant information relating to arrests or convictions of crimes with certain exceptions as well as House-passed bills to provide additional requirements for violations of restrictions on Stage II driver’s licenses and to authorize the Department of Revenue to tax additional steps to combat identity theft of tax refunds. The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee approved a bill to provide a one-time lump sum retirement payment in December 2017 to retirees in the Teachers’ Retirement System. The Jefferson County Local Legislation Committee approved a bill relating to the salary of the city council in Birmingham.
  • On Thursday (17th day of session): The House attempted for several hours, without success, to get the procedural votes to allow them to consider a proposed gas tax, after which, they adjourned. The Senate passed several bills of local application only, including some House-passed bills. They also passed general bills to exempt from sales and use tax certain adaptive devices for the blind; to authorize the Department of Revenue to employ auctioneers for the sale of state land; and to authorize judges to use discretionary funds to provide therapy dogs in the courtroom with vulnerable witnesses.

4/17/2017 Group Watch: Governor Kay Ivey Sworn In

Lt. Governor Kay Ivey was sworn in last Monday as Alabama governor by acting Chief Justice Lyn Stuart after the resignation of former Governor Robert Bentley at the Capital in Montgomery. Ivey is the second woman to serve as governor of the state and the only woman to serve as both Lt. governor and governor of the state. Alabama’s only other female governor, Lurleen B. Wallace, served only 16 months in office before her death in May 1968. Governor Ivey is a native of Camden in Wilcox County. She is a graduate of Auburn University and worked as a high school teacher and banker before leaving to serve in the cabinet of Governor Fob James. She served as director of governmental affairs and communications for the Alabama Commission on Higher Education before running for state treasurer in 2002 and subsequently being reelected in 2006. Ivey was elected Lt. Governor in 2010 and reelected in 2014.

Up Your Gov IQ
Check out this article on ALToday.com that outlines a few things you may not know about our new governor.

4/17/2017 Group Watch: Gas Tax is Dead

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon proclaimed the plan to raise the state tax on gasoline and diesel to pay for infrastructure improvements as “dead” on Thursday. The bill was pulled because it did not have the votes to clear a procedural hurdle. Bill Poole of Tuscaloosa, the bill’s sponsor, said it would have passed if the procedural hurdle had been cleared. The bill would have raised the tax on gas and diesel 4 cents a gallon on September 1, with another hike of 2 cents on September 1, 2019. Under the bill, the legislation would have had the option of raising the tax an additional 3 cents a gallon on September 1, 2024 through a joint House and Senate resolution. The bill is not likely to be considered again until at least after the 2018 election.

April 10, 2017 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday, April 4 for the 14th day of the session, following a two-week break. Debate on the Education Trust Fund Budget dominated the Senate on Tuesday. Here are a few other highlights:

  • On Tuesday (14th day of session): The House passed a couple of bills of local application only and general bills to prohibit a court from overriding a unanimous jury verdict and to require tax preparers to provide federal identification on Alabama income tax returns; to exempt counties and municipalities such as water works from competitive bids for repair of heavy equipment or vehicles when the repair is performed by an authorized dealer or service center; and to revise the process by which local governments approve new municipal solid waste facilities.  The Senate debated the Education Trust Fund Budget and finally passed it as well as a supplemental appropriation for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and a bill to provide tuition assistance to the dependents of veterans.
  • On Wednesday (a committee day): The House Ways and Means Education Committee approved bills to exempt from sales and use tax the proceeds from the sale of gold, silver and platinum bullion and coins; to provide exemptions from state and local sales and use tax certain public water, sewer, gas, electric and fire protection authorities, boards and systems; and to authorize an income tax credit for rehabilitation of historic buildings. The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee approved bills to authorize the use of proceeds from the Circuit Clerk’s Judicial Administration Fund for pay raises for circuit clerks and to exclude from lodging tax areas not used for lodging.  The Jefferson County Legislation Committee approved bills relating to the investment of funds in the Birmingham Fireman and Policemen’s Supplemental Pension System and revisions to the operations of the Birmingham retirement and relief system. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill to authorize a mayor to remit court costs under certain circumstances.
  • On Thursday (15th day of session): The House passed everal bills of local application only and general bills to provide certain exemptions from workers’ compensation and to establish an optional increased standard deduction for qualifying taxpayers. They also gave final approval to a Senate-passed bill referred to as the “Tax Exemption Reform Act of 2017.” The Senate passed several bills of local application only and general bills to exempt the Southern Research Institute in Birmingham from state, county and local taxes and to require appeals of board of zoning adjustment decisions be filed with circuit court.

4/10/17 Group Watch: Ethics Commission Believes Gov. Bentley Broke Laws

Following more than nine hours in an executive session, The Alabama Ethics Commission voted to refer Governor Robert Bentley’s case to the Montgomery County district attorney’s office for consideration and possible prosecution. The commission said it found probable cause to believe the governor violated the state’s ethics laws and the Fair Campaign Practices Act, both Class B felonies. They contend Bentley misused state resources and improperly accepted a campaign contribution and loan. Punishment for such violations can range from a prison term of up to 20 years and fines up to $20,000 on each count.

4/10/17 Group Watch: Children’s Advocacy Centers Get Grants from Governor

There was some good news involving the governor last week. Governor Bentley awarded a grant to the Alabama Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers to help the nonprofit enhance services for child abuse victims in the state. According to the Office of the Governor, the grants total $159,326 and will help fund a victim advocate to assist victims directly. The grant will also fund a training coordinator who will assist the centers across the state. The grant from the U.S. Department of Justice is being administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Governor Robert Bentley notified Jim Ed Clayton, president of the Alabama Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers of the award.

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

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday, March 14th for the 11th day of the session, and on that day, the House passed a General Fund Budget. Here are a few other highlights:

  • On Tuesday (11th day of session): The House passed a couple of bills of local application only and worked late into the night before passing a $1.8 billion General Fund budget for FY2018. They also passed supplemental appropriations for the Board of Prosthetic and Orthotists and the Alabama Forestry Commission and general appropriations for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Children First Fund. The Senate passed a couple of bills of local application only and general bills to require drivers’ license offices be operational in each county at least one day a week and to provide for medical furlough for certain people not withstanding Medicaid eligibility.
  • On Wednesday (a committee day and 12th day of session): The House Boards, Agencies and Commissions Committee approved bills to regulate the practice of midwifery and a Senate-passed bill to immunize the Board of Licensure for Engineers and Land Surveyors when acting to protect public safety. The House County and Municipal Government Committee approved a bill to define the approval process by local governments for municipal solid waste facilities. The House Ways and Means Education Committee approved a Senate-passed bill to extend tax exempt status for United Way and related agencies from all taxes. The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee approved an education budget that is substantially level funded for all agencies, including entities such as Tuskegee University, Lyman Ward Military Academy and Talladega College, which has achieved considerable recognition for the State of Alabama from its band’s participation in the recent presidential inauguration. The House passed a few bills of local application only and general bills to increase the jurisdictional limits for district courts relating to filing and docket fees and a standardized system for collecting excise taxes on compressed and liquefied gas. The Senate passed a general bill to create the crime of homicide by a vehicle or vessel.
  • On Thursday (13th day of session): The House passed a number of bills of local application only and general bills to create the Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act to prohibit the state from discriminating against childcare service providers under certain conditions; to create the Assisted Suicide Ban Act; to affirm the state’s commitment to the right to life of unborn children; and to authorize healthcare providers to decline to perform services that violate their conscience. The Senate passed several bills of local application only and general bills to authorize loan repayment programs for advanced practice nurses for certain currently certified nurses; to transfer the Information Services Division and State Business Systems Division from the Department of Finance to the Office of Information Technology; and Education Appropriations for FY2018 for Lyman Ward Military Academy, Tuskegee University and Talladega College.

3/20/2017 Group Watch: Gov. Bentley Denies Resignation Rumors

At the end of last week, a spokesperson for Governor Bentley made a definitive statement, saying the governor had no intention of ending his term early by resigning from office. The statement said he was committed to the people of Alabama and to “finishing the race.” Read more here.

3/20/2017 Group Watch: New Prison Plan

An updated version of legislation to build new prisons in Alabama has been filed, and it’s a scale back of previous plans. The plan calls for construction of three new prisons, but the updated version requires at least two of them to be built by local governments or groups. The state would build a third prison, but only if it first gets leases on the two local facilities. If two communities or groups don’t build, the entire plan becomes null. The new plan stipulates that the state could bond out at $350 million, down considerably from the $775 million and $800 million of previous plans. The new plan shifts the financial burden to local governments or groups. Local communities that build prisons would be required to enter a 30-year lease-to-own agreement with the state and would be paid at a rate of $13.5 million per year, per agreement. The Department of Corrections will have the final say on which groups get the go-ahead to build.

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

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday, March 7th for the 9th day of the session. The General Fund Budget came up in committee, and here are a few other highlights:

  • On Tuesday (9th day of session): The House passed several bills of local application only and general bills to allow marinas to be designated an additional type of community development district; to authorize the State Fire Marshal to issue permits to certain fire protection sprinkler contractors for systems and changes to systems designed by a licensed engineer; and a Senate-passed bill to further define and provide penalties for Medicaid fraud. The Senate passed general bills to further authorize temporary license plates and registration certificates for manufacturers and dealers of boats and boat trailers; to repeal the requirement for probate judges to issue marriage licensees while providing for the recording of the event and transmission to the office of Vital Statistics; to create a tax credit for hiring an unemployed veteran regardless of whether the veteran was recently deployed; and to immunize the Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors for promulgating rules relating to antitrust laws that effect public safety. This is the companion bill that passed the House on this same day.
  • On Wednesday (a committee day): The House Judiciary Committee approved bills to authorize churches to establish security programs and designate who may carry firearms and to establish Defense Advisory Boards with immunity for board members. The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee approved a substitute General Fund Budget, which will be debated next Tuesday, and bills to extend the supplemental privilege assessment for nursing facilities and to extend the private hospital assessment. The Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee approved bills to give preference on competitive bids on public contracts by state entities to vendors owned by veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to authorize the use of an auction company for sale of state land by the Revenue Department. The Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee approved a bill to require the county superintendent of education be appointed unless provided otherwise by the constitution.
  • On Thursday (10th day of session): The House passed general bills to authorize the use of sunscreen at school and to authorize police powers for the Poarch Creek Indians on tribal lands. The Senate passed a few bills of local application only and general bills to exempt prescription drugs from business license tax based on gross receipts and to authorize the use of sunscreen at school.
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