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

Students may still be enjoying their summer break, but the Alabama State Board of Education is working to find the right new state superintendent, the state Medicaid agency is making cuts and more.

State Board Narrows Search for New Superintendent
The Alabama State Board of Education recently narrowed its search for a new state superintendent to six candidates. The board also elected new leadership, elevating Yvette Richardson to the position of vice president and Mary Scott Hunter to president pro tem. Board members agreed to interview the candidates on August 4 and make a selection at the boards regularly scheduled meeting on August 11. The six candidates that will be interviewed for the job are: Craig Pouncey, current Jefferson County School superintendent; Janet Womack, current superintendent for Florence Schools; William Evers, a research fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University; Dee Fowler, current superintendent of Madison City Schools; Jeana Ross, secretary for the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education; and Michael Sentence, a longtime Massachusetts educator and administrator.

Alabama Medicaid Agency Announces 1st Major Cut
The Alabama Medicaid Agency announced its first major cut due to budget cuts. The agency announced it would end enhanced reimbursement payments for primary care doctors. The enhanced reimbursement put some Medicaid primary care reimbursement rates on par with Medicare rates. It was designed to get more doctors to serve Medicaid patients. Alabama lawmakers approved a budget that was $85 million short of what was needed to fund Medicaid. The cut in reimbursement will save an estimated $14.7 million. Additional cuts are expected.

Judge Temporarily Halts New Restrictions on Abortion Clinics
A federal judge temporarily stopped the state from enforcing new restrictions on abortion clinics in Alabama that were scheduled to go into effect August 1. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson’s restraining order keeps the state from implementing a law that bans abortion clinics within 2,000 feet of a K-8 public school and a ban on what abortion advocates call the safest second trimester abortion procedure. The lawsuit was filed by the Alabama Women’s Center in Huntsville and the West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa claim the 2000 feet restriction would force both of them to close, leaving only three clinics that provide abortions in the state. Judge Thompson set a hearing on the request of both clinics for October 4.

Alabama Will Not House Immigrant Children
In the June issue of Group Watch, we wrote that federal agencies were in the process of deciding if the state would be forced to take in immigrant children who were in the country without their parents. The feds have scrapped those plans, according to Representative Bradley Byrne of Mobile and Representative Martha Roby of Montgomery. The federal government initially wanted to house children at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, as well as military fields in Baldwin County. Representative Byrne and Representative Roby said they were told that there are no plans to use military installations in the state as part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ plan. The children, detained at the U.S. and Mexico border, must await processing by the Office of Refugee Resettlement since they are in the country without their parents.

July 2016 Group Watch: Principal Perspective

by Allen Sanderson

The news in the last few weeks has been dominated by tragedy, and here at The Bloom Group our thoughts and prayers especially go out to the families of the slain police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. We have always and will continue to proudly support the men and women who work in law enforcement, those who bravely put themselves in danger daily to protect us and our rights. I’d like to take this opportunity to say “thank you” to police, sheriffs and others in law enforcement across Alabama and our country.

July 2016 Group Watch: Birmingham Funding ShotSpotter

The Birmingham Police Department has been using ShotSpotter, a gun location and detection service since 2008. The Birmingham City Council approved paying more than $52,000 to let officers keep using the gunfire detection system. The detection system can determine the difference between a gunshot and something else like a firecracker. If a sound goes off like gunfire, sensors will triangulate the sound and get as close as possible.

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

If you thought summer meant a slow-down in business and political news, think again. In the month since the 2016 regular session ended, we’ve seen several positive economic development announcements and the trial and subsequent conviction of the Alabama Speaker of the House. Read on for more details.

Mercedes-Benz Supplier Adding 200 Jobs
German supplier Eissmann Automotive will build a new 130,000-square-foot facility for production in Pell City. The St. Clair County facility currently has 650 employees, and the expansion will add 200. Eissmann makes car interiors, shifter modules and other parts for auto makers like Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Jeep and Volkswagen. The $14.5 million expansion is the most recent of several since the facility located in Pell City. A $2.3 million expansion completed in 2015 added 80 new jobs. Eissmann North America is one of the largest private employers in Pell City.

Auto Supplier to Invest $530 Million in Birmingham
Auto supplier Kamtek will break ground in coming weeks on an $80 million, 148,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in the City of Birmingham. The project will include an investment of $530 million and create 354 jobs through 2020. The facility will produce aluminum automotive casting parts for major auto manufacturers in the United States. Mayor William Bell said the company is valuable to the community in terms of economic development and employment. Of the more than 900 employees, 37 percent live in the City of Birmingham and 78 percent live in Jefferson County. The company could expand further, with the potential to increase to 400,000 square feet by 2025.
In other news…

On June 10, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard was convicted on 12 counts of using his office for personal gain. The guilty verdicts cost him his seat in the legislature, his position as Speaker and could lead to jail time (sentencing is scheduled for July 8). He maintains that he is innocent and has promised to appeal. In the meantime, the process of replacing Hubbard as Speaker has already begun. A vote of the full House will elect the new Speaker at the start of the 2017 session or during a special session later this year, if the governor calls one. Current contenders include:

  • Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa
  • Rep. Victor Gaston, R-Mobile
  • Rep, Phil Williams, R-Huntsville
  • Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle
  • Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Capshaw
  • Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia

Several other representatives have also expressed interest.

June 2016 Group Watch: Will Alabama House Illegal Immigrant Children?

Federal agencies will decide. Officials from the Department of Defense (DOD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) are scheduled to come to the state and visit facilities in Baldwin County. They will be looking at two Naval Outlying Fields in Foley and Summerdale to determine whether unaccompanied minors, who entered the country illegally, could be temporarily resettled at the sites. The site assessment will determine the feasibility of utilizing the property for semi-permanent shelters should the number of children referred by HHS exceed the shelter capacity currently available. While DOD officials will be present for the tour, HHS officials will make the final determination about whether the site is appropriate. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and United States Senator Richard Shelby say the proposal is inappropriate. Governor Bentley says the states should play a more active role in the determination process and describes the effort as usurping the authority of the State of Alabama.

June 2016 Group Watch: No More Common Law Marriage in AL

On January 1, 2017, Alabama will join 40 other states no longer recognizing common law marriage. Governor Bentley signed into law legislation abolishing common law marriages. Common law marriage is when a couple decides to live together without a license or a ceremonial marriage. This arrangement often leads to certain legal issues when couples break up, or one of them dies or if children are involved. There is no provision for division of marital property and no division of marital debts. Common law arrangements before the law goes into effect will still be recognized.

May 9, 2016 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The 2016 regular session of the Alabama Legislature ended last week with two major bills that had shown promise “dying” in Wednesday’s final hours, leaving the door open for a possible special session later this year to address the issues the bills would have remedied, namely prison problems and Medicaid funding (see articles below). On the positive front, both state budgets were passed and signed into law, and plenty of other good and important work got done.

On Tuesday, May 3 (29th day of the session):

  • The House gave final approval to bills to authorize municipalities in Jefferson County to retroactively retain issuance fees for license plates; to further provide for camera enforcement of traffic speed and red light violations in Bessemer; and to prohibit municipal governing bodies from contracting with private auditing firms regarding the regulation of sales and use tax.
  • The Senate gave final approval to bills to reduce the cost for copies from the Secretary of State for certain entities; to delete the requirement that county superintendents of education maintain an office at the county seat; and to authorize the continued participation in the Local Government Insurance Program for Children’s Advocacy Centers.
  • The Senate also gave final approval to bills to extend the assessment and Medicaid funding through 2019, using 2014 as a base year and clarifying the uses of certified public expenditures by publicly and state-owned hospitals; to permit physicians to indicate electronically if generic drugs are allowed as a substitute; to authorize fire and rescue personnel to administer opioid antagonists and provide for their immunity; and to authorize the mayor of a municipality where a water board is located and provides service to other counties to appoint additional board members.

On Wednesday, May 4 (30th and final day of the session):

  • The House gave final approval to bills to prohibit municipalities and governing bodies from contracting with private audit firms regarding the regulation of sales and use taxes and to require counties and municipalities to levy business license tax for home health and hospice only where the headquarters or branch office is located.
  • The House also gave final approval to bills to require individual and corporate income tax returns at the state level correspond with the filing date for federal returns, and to require municipalities to have an affirmative vote of the municipal council before extending police jurisdiction.
  • The Senate gave final approval to bills to create the Office of Minority Affairs as a cabinet level position; to require courts to provide interpreters for non-English speaking and deaf individuals in the juvenile court intake process; to require economic development tax abatement correspond between the county and municipal entities; and to require instruction in cursive handwriting by end of the third grade in public schools.
  • Learn more about what the Senate got done (and didn’t get done) on this, the final day of the session, on the“Senate Minute” video, here.)

In other news…

Leni’s Law was signed into law by Governor Bentley last week (and becomes effective on June 1) and allows and expands access to a marijuana derivative called cannabidiol that has shown success in helping those who suffer from certain debilitating diseases, including seizure disorders. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, decriminalizes possession of CBD for those with conditions such as those that produce seizures and strokes. For some, the effects are so dramatic that the outcome is considered to be lifesaving. The law is named for Leni Young, a young woman whose family moved to Oregon so she could have access to cannabidiol to treat her seizure disorder. Her parents stayed active in Alabama, pushing and garnering support for the law.

The bill from the House that proposed splitting up BP settlement money and therefore freeing up additional funds for Medicaid died in the Senate on the 29th day of the session after Senators became embroiled in debate over the allocation of road money, and the committee adjourned without voting the bill out of committee. Medicaid officials say the budget shortfall will result in changes to the state program that will include cuts to physician reimbursement as well as cuts to the adult pharmacy and outpatient dialysis for patients.

Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey was recently named one of the “50 Most Influential Female Republicans” by Newsmax, which stated that every woman on the list would “play a key role in shaping America’s future.” Ivey tweeted that she was humbled by the recognition. Read more here.

5/9/16 Group Watch: Prison Bill Dies

The Senate voted 23-12 late Wednesday for a compromise on the governor’s prison construction project, which originally had a price tag of $800 million. The compromise plan cut the bond offer to $550 million for two new prisons in addition to a new women’s prison. The House did not vote on the compromise before midnight due to an inability to muster enough votes to shut off debate, and the bill died.

5/9/2016 Group Watch: Stay Tuned…

Group Watch will go back to its regular monthly publishing schedule now that the 2016 regular session is over, but we’ll send out weekly GW issues if a special session is called. Governor Bentley made it clear he was “disappointed” by the death of his prison bill and that he will not give up on it. He mentioned the possibility of a special session, but said it would not be “anytime soon,” saying everyone’s “got to rest a little bit.”

May 2, 2016 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

Last week was a busy one: the Education Budget for FY 2107 has been signed into law and marks the first time school systems in the state have been fully funded since 2008; the governor’s prison plan made more progress; and a temporary solution for Medicaid cuts made it through the House (see article below).

On Tuesday, April 26 (26th day of the session):

  • The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill authorizing courts to order deferred payments to pay traffic fines and court costs and to prohibit the suspension or revocation of driving privileges if payments are being made.
  • The House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee approved a bill requiring that advisors to the executive branch of government be paid by public funds.
  • The Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee approved a bill to require the State Board of Education to report to the legislature on the development of a model evaluation system for teachers, principals and assistant principals.
  • The Senate passed bills to clarify periods of confinement as part of prison reform and to create the position of Office of Minority Affairs as a cabinet level position.
  • The House Health Committee approved a Senate-passed bill to allow a county or municipality to collect business license tax for home health and hospice only where the headquarters or branch office is located.
  • The House passed bills to cap the penalty of juvenile offenders convicted of capital offenses to life in prison and to create the position of Office of Minority Affairs as a cabinet level position.

On Wednesday, April 27 (27th day of the session):

  • The House passed a Senate-passed bill to give certain authority to the Department of Transportation to award contracts for maintenance of road and public improvement projects, and a bill to authorize universities that operate medical schools to incorporate authorities to own and operate healthcare facilities.
  • The Senate passed bills to give preferred vendor status to businesses owned by veterans who were deployed for Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) or Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq) and to prohibit municipal governing bodies from using private firms in the collection and regulation of sales and use taxes.
  • Learn about “Leni’s Law” and what the Senate got done on this day on the“Senate Minute” video, here.)

On Thursday, April 28 (28th day of the session):

  • The Senate approved House-passed bills to provide tax exempt status for LifeSouth Community Blood Centers; to provide a process for special elections in municipalities with a commission form of government; and a local gasoline tax for Tuscaloosa County for road improvements.
  • The House passed Senate-passed bills to establish a Dental Scholarship Awards Program within the Board of Dentistry to be funded by the Education Trust Fund; to authorize universities that operate medical schools to incorporate authorities to own and operate healthcare facilities; and to further authorize for the licensure of Social Workers in Alabama.

In other news…
After seven hours of debate, the Alabama House approved an $800 million plan to build new prisons in the state and close all but a handful of existing ones. This proposal was the centerpiece of Governor Robert Bentley’s agenda and now goes back to the Senate for concurrence. The House added an amendment requiring a second vote on the prison bill after plans are completed.

The House and Senate reconvene on Tuesday, May 3, at 1 p.m.  Find a link to live audio of both chambers here.

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