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.

5/2/16 Group Watch: Split of BP Settlement $$

The Alabama House of Representativesapproved a bill to split settlement money from BP under a plan that could stave off Medicaid cuts for 2017. Instead of $1 billion over 18 years, the state general fund would receive an estimated $639 million up from a bond issue. The state would use $450 million for debt payment and $191 million for road projects in coastal counties. The Senate will have to approve the measure next week in the two remaining days of the session.

5/2/16 Group Watch: Alabama & Israel

In the April newsletter put out by Lt. Governor Kay Ivey, she outlined Alabama’s longstanding support of Israel and stressed its continuance. She also mentioned the April 7 visit to the Alabama Legislature from Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Hilik Bar, noting that on the same day that the high-ranking official addressed Alabama lawmakers, SB81 was passed by the Senate. The bill requires all government entities to include a provision in certain purchasing contracts assuring that the business providing the good or service is not engaged in and will not engage in the boycott of an entity doing business with a jurisdiction with which the state can enjoy free trade. The bill has not yet been passed by the House.

April 25, 2016 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The largest Education Budget since the recent recession passed both chambers easily last week, with two unanimous votes. Plus, the governor’s prison plan made it out of committee, a RCO bill made progress, and lots of local business got done.

On Tuesday, April 19 (23rd day of the session):

  • The House County and Municipal Government Committee approved a Senate-passed bill to prohibit police jurisdiction from extending into additional territories after the effective date of the act without an affirmative vote of the city council.
  • The House Commerce and Small Business Committee approved a Senate-passed bill to authorize universities that operate medical schools to incorporate authorities to own and operate healthcare facilities.
  • The Senate Jefferson County Local Legislation Committee approved House-passed bills to revise the composition of the county Retirement System Pension Board; to allow municipalities to retain issuance fees relating to license plates; and to further provide for camera enforcement of traffic speed and red light violations in the City of Bessemer.
  • The House passed bills to provide interpreters for non-English speaking and deaf persons and juvenile court intake; to require that salary and expense increases of municipal bodies be introduced at least 30 days prior to adoption; and to prohibit the use of sky lanterns and novelty lighters in certain settings.
  • The Senate passed bills to prohibit racial profiling by law enforcement officers and to require the reporting of certain statistical information to the Attorney General.
  • The Senate also passed bills to provide income tax credits for rural physicians and dentists; to revise and strengthen the penalties for violations of restrictions on new, young drivers, and to revise the notification requirements by local governments regarding tax levies; and to authorize certain collection services at no cost.
  • Learn more about what the Senate got done on this day on the“Senate Minute” video, here.)

On Wednesday, April 20 (24th day of the session):

  • The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee approved a Senate-passed bill to provide bonds for up to $800 million for construction of new prisons and the repair of existing prisons.
  • The House State Government Committee approved a bill amending the statute prohibiting municipalities from using private auditing or collecting firms relating to sales and use tax.
  • The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee approved House passe-bills to prohibit the use of sky lanterns and novelty lighters in certain circumstances; to exempt prescription drugs from business license tax based on gross receipts; and to extend the hospital assessment and Medicaid funding through 2019 using 2014 as a tax base.
  • The Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved a bill to extend the time period for achieving certification as a Regional Care Organization (RCO).
  • The House passed bills to require that municipal tax abatements correspond to county abatements; to revise the membership of the Jefferson County Pension Board, and to prohibit city council members in Birmingham from serving on other city boards.
  • The Senate passed bills to further provide for penalties for driving under the influence and to further provide for camera enforcement of traffic speed and red light violations in the city of Bessemer.
  • Learn more about what the Senate got done on this day on the“Senate Minute” video, here.)

On Thursday, April 21 (25th day of the session):

  • The House passed bills to extend the time period for certification of Regional Care Organizations (RCO) and to provide enhanced penalties violations against law enforcement officers, firefighters and other specified persons.

In other news…
While it has barely made any headlines in the last few months, the idea of a state lottery entered the discussion again last week. A bill calling for a statewide referendum on a lottery made it out of the Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee. But with the session nearing its end, many think the chance of getting a lottery bill passed is small. Even proponents of a lottery cite issues with the current bill, mainly its lack of specifics about distribution, as reasons to put the issue on hold, while the bill’s sponsor, Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville), believes he has enough time to work on the bill and add the details many legislators are seeking.

On Thursday, the $6.3 billion Education Budget made it through the legislature and is expected to be singed into law by Governor Bentley. A bill authorizing pay raises for educators also passed and is also expected to get the governor’s signature. The budget is the biggest since 2008, and the pay raise is the first in three years.

The House and Senate reconvene on Tuesday, April 26, at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. respectively. Find a link to live audio of both chambers here.

4/25/16 Group Watch: Medicaid Commissioner Makes a Case

Alabama Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar appeared before a standing-room only crowd and talked with legislators about the need for additional funds. Azar said the agency started the current fiscal year with a $37 million carryover and relied on another $36 million of one-time funds. She said the absence of the non-recurring funds and the growth in the number of eligible persons means that additional money is needed. Azar pointed out that the cost per enrollee of $5,800 is almost the same per-enrollee cost as in 2008. According to Commissioner Azar, the General Fund provides 11 percent of the $6.1 billion Medicaid program. This was likely the first of a number of similar sessions as Alabama grapples with a Medicaid funding crisis.

4/25/16 Group Watch: IRAs for New State Hires?

This week the Alabama House of Representatives approved a bill that would enroll new state employees in individual retirement accounts. The legislation would automatically enroll state employees hired after January 1, 2017, in an individual retirement account. The initial contribution rate would be set at 1.5 percent, though employees could adjust that to a higher rate. One member said that this mechanism would encourage employees to plan for inflation if there were to be no more cost-of-living adjustments for retirees. This bill now goes to the Senate in the waning days of the 2016 regular session.

April 18, 2016 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

With the General Fund Budget done, attention was turned to the Education Budget. And a transportation bill, which passed almost unanimously in both the House and Senate, was one of the other important votes last week.

On Tuesday, April 12 (21st day of the session):

  • The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee approved a House-passed Education Budget with changes, appropriations for Talladega College, Lyman Ward Military Academy and Tuskegee University. The proposed budget includes an absolute 4-percent pay raise for K-12 education employees and a conditional, one-time lump sum bonus for retired educators.
  • The House passed a number of bills with local application only: to provide additional fees for the Shelby County Probate Court; to provide for a referendum for Sunday alcohol sales in Cherokee County; to authorize additional sales tax in Randolph County for jail construction; and to establish continuing education requirements for the Wilcox County Sheriff’s office. They also passed general bills to require wireless communications providers to provide to law enforcement location information of a customer upon request; to protect vulnerable adults from financial exploitation; and to exempt from sales, use and rental tax certain subscription services.
  • The Senate passed general bills to require municipal or county business tax for home health and hospice are due only where the headquarters or branch office is located. If this legislation becomes law, it would cost cities thousands of dollars and put a strain on already stretched budgets.
  • Learn more about what the Senate got done on this day on the“Senate Minute” video, here.)

On Wednesday, April 13 (22nd day of the session):

  • The House Health Committee approved a bill to extend the time period for probationary certification of regional care organizations (RCO’s).
  • The Senate Education and Youth AffairsCommittee approved bills to delete the requirement that county superintendents of education maintain an office at the county seat, and to allow 6 year olds to enroll in the first grade.
  • The Senate approved a House-passed Education Budget with changes that includes a 4-percent pay increase for K-12 education employees and a conditional, one-time bonus for retired educators. They also approved House-passed appropriations for Talladega College and Lyman Ward Military Academy. The Education Budget now goes to a conference committee to resolve differences between the House- and Senate-passed versions. The budget is the largest Education Budget since 2008 and the first to include a pay raise for teachers in several years.
  • A bill establishing the Alabama Safety Transportation Fund was passed and ushers in the use of a new way to fund bridges and roads in the state that provides more local control. It was passed with an overwhelming majority.
  • The House Jefferson County Local Legislation Committee approved a bill to prohibit members of the Birmingham City Council from serving on other city boards.
  • The House County and Municipal Government Committee approved bills affecting how municipal governing boards may increase salary and expense allowances, and the process by which water, sewer, and fire protection authorities cover adjoining territory.
  • The House passed a bill of local application only relating to the Sunday sale of alcoholic beverages in Jackson County. They also passed general bills relating to possession Cannabidiol for certain debilitating health conditions; to authorize additional board members for municipal works boards serving multiple counties; and to provide for the allocation and apportionment by the Department of Revenue of excise tax paid by financial institutions.

The House and Senate reconvene on Tuesday, April 19, at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. respectively. Find a link to live audio of both chambers here.

4/18/16 Group Watch: AL Already Feeling Medicaid Cuts

The passed General Fund Budget underfunds Medicaid by $85 million for the upcoming fiscal year. Cuts to the program will likely result in lower physician payments and the elimination of optional programs including prescription drug coverage for adults. Dothan Pediatrics had opened a temporary facility in rural Ozark while a permanent facility was to be constructed. The new facility would bring jobs and better access to healthcare to children. The project is now on hold, and without adequate funding, the temporary arrangement may also go away.

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