5/3/2013 Group Watch: Mercedes-Benz Groundbreaking

Governor Robert Bentley and other state and local officials attended a ceremonial groundbreaking for the latest expansion of the Mercedes-Benz auto plant in Vance. The 900,000-square-foot parts consolidation center will create about 600 jobs, although with plans still being finalized, it is unclear how many of those jobs will be at Mercedes or at its contractors and service providers. A combination of all three is expected to work from the facility, which will streamline logistics operations and support the receiving, handling and sequencing of parts. Construction is underway, and the facility is being built by Birmingham-based Harbert International.

5/3//2013 Group Watch: Next Week?

The House and Senate return on Tuesday at 1:00 pm and noon respectively. With three legislative days remaining, the Senate is likely to debate the education budget. They will likely try to pass a version with which the House can concur.

April 26, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday for the 23rd day of the session, and as it nears its end, there’s still some important work to be done.

Tuesday: The House Commerce and Small Business Committee held a public hearing, but did not vote on, a Senate-passed gun bill. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved a bill to lower the fees charged by payday lenders to limit the number of loans a consumer could receive and to set up a database to keep track of loans. Both chambers worked until midnight with the House approving a bill to overhaul the State’s Medicaid program, changing it from a fee-for-service model to a network of regional managed care organizations. After hours of debate, they also passed bills to transfer one-time tobacco receipts to the ailing General Fund budget and passed a lean General Fund budget for FY2014. The Senate approved bills to allow the state to partner with a private developer to build a hotel and conference center at Gulf State Park and to prohibit state welfare recipients from using their benefits on booze, casinos and tobacco. They defeated a bill to exempt current legislators from an upcoming ban on legislators holding two government jobs, and debated, but did not pass, the “Tim Tebow Act” that would allow home-schooled children to play public school sports and participate in extracurricular activities.
Wednesday (a committee day): The House Health Committee approved a Senate-passed bill to allow certified registered nurse practitioners and midwives to prescribe some controlled substances. The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee approved an education budget that reduced the size of a proposed teacher pay raise from 2 percent to 1 percent while providing a 1 percent non-recurring bonus for teachers. The Senate Education Policy Committee voted 6-3 to approve a bill to allow existing private school students to benefit from tax credits designed to help families move out of “failing” schools. The House gave final passage to a Senate bill to streamline the process of terminating parental rights for children who have spent extensive time in foster care. The Senate passed a bill that requires drug testing for welfare recipients with a history of drug use and a series of sunset bills that authorize continuation of state boards, commissions and agencies.
Thursday: The House Commerce and Small Business Committee approved a substitute version of a Senate-passed bill that would change state law on carrying firearms. The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee approved a bill to allow the state to partner with a private developer on a conference center at Gulf State Park. The House passed bills to authorize a $50 million bond issue for school security equipment such as door-locking systems, metal detectors and surveillance cameras; to require barbers to be licensed and regulated; and to eliminate the requirement for the state to prove to a jury the guilt of a defendant who pleads guilty to a capital offense. The requirement will remain for cases in which the death sentence imposed. The Senate passed bills to revamp the Alabama Medicaid Agency so that it would provide services through a network of managed care organizations and to lower fees paid by burying hazardous waste at the Emelle landfill, which proponents say will create jobs.

4/26/2013 Group Watch: Hubbard Says Republican Agenda Will Pass

Four of the 10 bills in the “We Dare Defend Our Rights” agenda for the Republican caucus in the Alabama House of Representative have passed the legislature so far. With a handful of days remaining, House Speaker Mike Hubbard of Auburn said he expects all of the bills to pass except a proposed constitutional amendment on gun rights. That bill would require courts to use strict judicial scrutiny in evaluating state laws that infringe on the rights to keep and bear arms. In its place the caucus will work to pass a broader gun regulations bill that has already passed the Senate. So far, the legislature has given final passage to bills to add new regulations for abortion clinics; to allow local school boards to have more control over programs, hiring and spending by entering into flexibility contracts with the state; to establish a schedule to repay by 2026 the Alabama Trust Fund the $437 million that was borrowed to bolster the General Fund, and to require state agencies to prepare a business economic impact statement before adopting any rule if a business claims the proposed rule negatively affects them.


4/26/2013 Group Watch: Next Week?

The House and Senate return on Tuesday at 1:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m. respectively for the start of the 26th legislative day. The House is likely to begin debate on the Senate-passed legislation to change the way firearms are regulated in the state. The Senate will take up the House-passed Education Trust Fund budget that was changed by a Senate committee this week.

April 19, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday for the 21st day of the session, and a good part of the week focused on education.

Tuesday: The Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on proposed changes to the new law that gives tax credits to families zoned for “failing schools.” The House passed a bill for a second time that would authorize a volunteer school security force in Franklin County schools. They also approved a bill to limit the contingency fees charged when the state hires outside legal counsel. The House later bogged down over a bill to move the deadline to register to vote in Alabama from 10 days before an election to 17. The Senate passed a couple of bills to allow the continuation of state boards and commissions and a bill to allow nurse practitioners to prescribe certain drugs.

Wednesday (a committee day): The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee approved a Senate-passed budget with minor changes, which will likely be debated by the full House next week. The Senate Education Committee approved a second attempt to repeal Alabama’s common core curriculum standards. Most observers believe the bill has little chance of final passage, but will resurface next year. That committee also approved a bill that would allow school resource officers to carry weapons. The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee approved a bill to phase out the 4 percent state sales tax on food and replace the revenue by raising the sales tax on non-food items. The House and Senate Health Committees approved bills to dramatically overhaul the state’s Medicaid program, dividing the state into a number of community-run, risk-bearing regions that would manage patient care. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees approved bills to increase the penalty for possession of an illegal gambling machine to a felony.

Thursday: The House approved bills to raise the penalties for killing a person while operating a boat under the influence of drugs and alcohol; to require schools to develop a “code red” safety plan to respond to threats of violence and to require code red drills; and to authorize the State Employees Insurance Board to offer a high-deductible health plan along with a health savings account and a reimbursement arrangement. The Senate passed a number of non-controversial bills, including one to establish a special event hunting license for disabled veterans and a bill authorizing draft beer sales in New Brocton in Coffee County.

4/19/2013 Group Watch: First Secretary of Information Technology Appointed

This week, Governor Robert Bentley announced the appointment of Brunson White as Secretary of Information Technology. Brunson previously worked for Energen for 33 years. During his tenure with the company, he was responsible for over $100 million in information technology projects completed on-time and within budget. While at Energen, Brunson was also responsible for strategic planning and corporate development. The position of Secretary of Information Technology was established by Senate Bill 117 during the current session. The Secretary will develop and implement a comprehensive plan to coordinate the purchasing, management and use of IT across state agencies.

4/19/2013 Group Watch: Tweet of the Week

From @YHPolitics

“”Ongoing debate in Senate gallery re: what Senator would win if massive brawl broke out. Early $ on Beason cuz he’s most likely to be packing.”

April 12, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday for the 18th day of the session. The House and Senate continued a deliberate pace of conducting business, spending hours on each bill.

Tuesday: The House passed bills to further strengthen animal cruelty statues; provide for sales and use tax exemption for entities involved in certain construction and highway projects in the state; and to authorize 2-year schools to charge resident tuition for nonresident distance learning students. The House Ways and Means-Education Committee approved an education budget that includes a 2 percent pay raise for teachers and a state-financed teacher liability insurance program. The $5.7 billion budget passed the committee on a 9-3 vote. The Senate passed bills to continue the Board of Marriage and Family Therapy and the Board of Examiners of Nursing Home Administrators, and to further provide for powers and duties of the Alabama Land Bank Authority.

Wednesday (a committee day): The House Financial Services Committee left in subcommittee legislation that would put new limits and regulations on the title loan and payday lending industry. The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee approved a bill that could divert an estimated $22 million from the Children First Trust Fund to the state General Fund should the state receive additional tobacco revenue as part of the national tobacco settlement. After hours of debate, the House passed a $5.7 billion Education Trust Fund budget. They also passed separate appropriation bills for Talladega College, Tuskegee University and Lyman Ward Military Academy. They also passed legislation granting K-12 teachers and support workers a 2 percent pay increase and also provide teachers with state-funded liability insurance.The Senate passed several non-controversial bills including bills to fund the office of the State Treasurer through a newly created State Treasury Operations Fund; to amend the state law on unclaimed property; and two sunset bills to continue the operation of the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners and the State Board of Medical Examiners as well as the Medical Licensure Commission.

Thursday: The House approved bills to allow gill net fishing in the Tennessee River; to restore property tax exemptions for the disabled regardless of income; and considered but took no vote on a bill to change the voter registration deadline from 10 days before an election to 17. The Senate approved bills to curb fraud in government-funded public assistance programs; to establish the Office of Fleet Management in the state Transportation Department to manage the state’s fleet of vehicles; and delayed consideration of a bill to prohibit minors from buying electronic cigarettes. They also approved two sunset bills to continue the Board of Physical Therapy and Board of Athletic Trainers.

4/12/2013 Group Watch: Bentley Running Again

Governor Robert Bentley announced this week he is running for re-election in 2014. The governor says he remains humbled and honored to serve the people of Alabama. He says that after prayerful consideration with his wife, he has decided to seek the Republican nomination for a second term. The announcement surprised few, if any, as the governor has strongly suggested for some time that he would seek a second term. Bentley, a former legislator from Tuscaloosa, was initially a long shot in the 2010 GOP primary for governor. He overcame the odds to become the GOP nominee and then won a decisive victory over his Democratic opponent. Bentley, a retired physician, vowed to be a doctor to an economically ailing state. He promised not to take a salary until the state achieved an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent, a promise he has kept.

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