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These desks won’t be empty for much longer! The 2015 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature starts on March 3 this year (instead of in February) as this is the first year of the Governor’s new four-year term. Watch your inbox for weekly issues of Group Watch with updates on all the happenings at the State House.

February 2015 Group Watch: Alabama Congresswomen Shine

U.S. Representative Terri Sewell, a Democrat from Selma, and Representative Martha Roby, a Republican from Montgomery, recently teamed up for a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the foot soldiers who took part in the March 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Sewell introduced the bill, Roby served as an original sponsor, and all the members of the Alabama delegation served as co-sponsors. Sewell, the lone Democrat in Alabama’s delegation said the support for the legislation, both by the delegation and the House, where the bill passed unanimously, was a tribute to all those who marched.

February 2015 Group Watch: Former Gubernatorial Candidate Dies

Winton Blount III, the son of the late Montgomery philanthropist Winton “Red” Blount and a 1998 candidate for governor recently died of natural causes. The former businessman and chairman of the  Alabama Republican Party was 71. He will be remembered as a great visionary and strategist. Blount was a former chairman of the Business Council of Alabama and served as its acting president.

January 20, 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The 2015 Organizational Session of the Alabama Legislature started last week. Leadership roles were filled and budget discussions began.

  • Leadership: The  Legislature met on January 13 and 14 to formally elect its leadership for the next four years. There were no surprises as the House predictably re-elected Mike Hubbard of Auburn to another term as the Speaker and Victor Gaston of Mobile as Speaker Pro Tem. The Senate likewise re-elected Del Marsh of Anniston as Pro Tem and Greg Reed as Majority Leader. See below for for a full list of House and Senate committees. The highlight of the session occurred in the Senate where Senator Clay Scofield of Arab proposed to his girlfriend on the Senate floor and she accepted!
  • No More “Kicking the Can Down the Road”: House Speaker Mike Hubbard said during a press conference that the Legislature does not need to settle for another short-term solution to recurring budget problems. Hubbard acknowledged legislative leaders have been meeting with the governor about ideas for the legislative session that begins March 3. The General Fund is projected to be about $250 million short next fiscal year. Hubbard said he is hopeful that a solution can be achieved, one that won’t just “kick the can down the road,” which has done for decades. Hubbard said, “That’s just not acceptable anymore.”

House Committee 2015

Senate Committees 2015

1/20/2015 Group Watch: AG Encourages Gambling Prosecution

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange recently issued a memorandum to state prosecutors and law enforcement officials reminding them that electronic bingo machines are illegal, and state law, as settled by the Alabama Supreme Court, is “absolutely clear” on the issue. Strange said the Alabama Supreme Court upheld that bingo cannot be played with machines, and no local rule can override state law. He is encouraging local law enforcement and prosecutors to go after electronic bingo operators. Strange noted in the memo that his office can assist, as can the newly consolidated Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.

1/20/2015 Group Watch: Governor’s Accomplishments

Governor Robert Bentley recently gathered his cabinet to discuss their first-term accomplishments. Bentley said the state announced 63,00o jobs during the last four years, including Airbus, Remington Arms Company and Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group. He said that that size of state government has been reduced by not replacing state workers who retired. He also pointed to the soon-to-be completed consolidation of Information Technology services and the consolidation of state law enforcement under one umbrella. In addition, the governor said his cabinet saved money by negotiating interest rates on loans, cutting one loan’s rate from 4.2 percent to 1.7 percent. His office released a booklet that lists his accomplishments.

December 2014 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

Several bits of Alabama education news came out recently.

  • High School Graduation Rate Rises: The State Department of Education recently announced the high school graduation rate has risen to 86 percent. In 2011, the rate was 72 percent; in 2012 it rose to 75 percent, and in January 2013, it was reported at 80 percent. The increase means the state is four years ahead of schedule with the department’s plan to reach 90 percent by 2020. According State School Superintendent Tommy Bice, each percentage gain represents about 600 additional students graduating from Alabama high schools. The graduation rate is calculated using the National Governors’ Conference graduation rate formula. A recent report commissioned by the Business Education Alliance showed that reaching a 90 percent graduation rate would have a positive economic impact on the state of $430 million.
  • State Gets $17.5 Million to Expand Pre-K Programs: The State of Alabama was approved to receive $17.5 million under the federal Preschool Development Grants program to develop more pre-kindergarten programs in the state. Alabama was one of 18 states to be awarded grants and received the second-highest grant award amount, just behind Arizona’s $20 million grant. The grant will be renewed over the next three years. State officials say the funds could add up to 75 classrooms over the next year, bringing an additional 1,350 students into the voluntary program.
  • New Oversight for Teachers’ Pension System?: State Finance Director Bill Newton recently asked the board of control for the teachers’ retirement system to consider broader oversight of the fund due to the downward trend in the ratio of assets to liabilities. Newton said the pension system had a funded ratio of over 100 percent in 2000, but that has dropped to 64 percent. The board did not act on the recommendation. Retirement Systems chief Dr. David Bronner called the idea a slap at him and the staff. He pointed to the system’s recent returns, which are in the top 13 percent in the country.

December 2014 Group Watch: Happy Holidays!

It’s the time of year to give and get gifts, and we here at The Bloom Group would like to thank all of our clients for the gift of trusting us to help you reach your goals. Our gift to you is our continued promise to serve you with the professionalism, integrity and effectiveness you’ve come to expect. We wish you and yours a happy and safe holiday season, Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, and we look forward to continuing our prosperous and productive partnerships with clients, colleagues and legislators in the coming year.

December 2014 Group Watch: AL GOP Chair Stepping Down

Alabama Republican Party Chair Bill Armistead recently announced he will not seek a third term as party chair. He was first elected 2011, and Armistead’s tenure saw continued electoral success for Alabama Republicans. The outgoing chairman inherited a party that under Hubbard’s leadership had just won control of state government. Armistead made a priority of working to build the Republican Party in local counties, hoping to break the Democrats’ control over local offices. The party will choose a new chair in February 2015, a process Armstead says he will stay out of and “let the chips fall where they may.” Former state Representative Mary Sue McClurkin announced that she will run for the position. Read more here. 

November 2014 Group Watch: Alabama Leads South in Children’s Health Insurance

Alabama has done a better job than all of its Southern neighbors and ranks fifth in the nation in providing health insurance to children, according to a recent study by Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. The report found that the steady decline in the children’s uninsured rate across the country since Congress created the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997 has slowed. Alabama stands out among Southern states. The 48,181 residents younger than 18 who had no health insurance in 2013 represented just 4.3 percent of all children. This is the 10th lowest rate in the country, well below the national average. Alabama moved up eight places from 2011, when it ranked 18th.

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Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee

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