3/22/2013 Group Watch: New Branding to Lure New Business

Governor Robert Bentley shared some bright economic news from the capitol steps. He announced that the state created more than 38,000 new jobs in 2012, representing $9.4 million in investments by companies in the state, a 32 percent increase over the previous year. The governor also unveiled to lawmakers and economic development partners the state’s new website, www.MadeInAlabama.com, the cornerstone of branding for an even greater push for economic development. Made in Alabama is the state’s new calling card for recruiting prospective businesses. The governor said, “Job creation is our number one priority.”

3/22/2013 Group Watch: Proposed Medicaid Overhaul

Representatives from community groups and managed-care companies are lauding the legislature’s efforts to reorganize Alabama’s Medicaid program. This week, speakers told House and Senate members that the proposal is a major first step, but also voiced concerns for the bill before it goes to committees for public hearings and revisions. The bill would change Medicaid from a fee-for-service program to one where private-sector contractors develop care networks in up to eight regions of the state. Executives with four patient care networks in the state asked the legislature to consider expanding their community healthcare efforts during any reorganization. Advocacy groups voiced hope that consumers are involved at each step of the legislative process.

March 15, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday for the 12th day of the session. Both chambers were subjected to slowdown tactics due to the Democrats’ disapproval of the Alabama Accountability Act.

Tuesday: The House voted 98-0 to give final passage to a bill to provide tax credits for irrigation equipment and voted 98-0 to approve a bill related to the exemption of certain aviation fuel purchases from excise and sales taxes. The Senate passed a bill to allocate up to $50 million one time from a pending tobacco settlement to the state General Fund. They also passed the Children First appropriation for FY 14 as recommended by the governor and a $1.75 billion General Fund budget for non-education agencies of state government. The 22-9 vote on the budget was along partisan lines. The budget provides for $615 million for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the same as the current year, a $22 million increase for the Department of Corrections, a $1 million increase for the judicial system and an $8 million increase to the Department of Human Resources. Two bills passed earlier in the session by the Senate and amended by the House won final approval by the Senate when they concurred with the changes. One of those measures consolidates law enforcement and public safety into one mega agency, and the other creates a new position in the governor’s cabinet to oversee information technology for state agencies. Both measures are heralded as streamlining and reducing the cost of government going forward.

Wednesday (a committee day): The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would add language about operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the law on criminal negligent homicide in cases of fatal accidents. The Senate Education Committee delayed indefinitely consideration of a bill to repeal the state’s common core curriculum standards. The bill’s sponsor moved to kill his own bill rather than accept amendments that he thought would weaken his intent. The same committee approved a bill to remove the head of the Alabama Education Association from the board of control for the Teacher’s Retirement System of Alabama. The bill’s sponsor proposes to add a higher education representative. The committee vote was along party lines. The Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee approved a bill to allow private companies to run the lodging facilities and golf courses at Alabama state parks. The House Health Committee approved a bill to require the Department of Public Health to develop information for breast cancer patients about treatment options, reconstructive options and insurance coverage.

Thursday: Conducting business in both chambers was a slow process. The House approved a bill that allows the new Airbus plant in Mobile to be held liable for manufacturing defects only if they arise during the first 12 years a plane is in service. The Senate-passed bill returns to the Senate for concurrence on changes made in the House. The Senate passed two sunset bills that continue the existence of state boards and agencies and a bill to make a supplemental appropriation from the Education Trust Fund: $10.8 million for workplace development in the Industrial Development Training Institute program and $5.3 million to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for the Student Financial Aid Program.

3/15/12013 Group Watch: Alabama Accountability Act Goes to the Governor

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled the Alabama Accountability can be transmitted to the governor for his action(s). The all-Republican Supreme Court issued a decision vacating a temporary restraining order that had blocked the bill from being sent to the governor. In a three-page ruling, the court said the restraining order was premature and should not have been filed until the governor signed the bill into law. Plaintiff’s lawyers say they will file a lawsuit as soon as the governor signs the bill. The original lawsuit alleged lawmakers violated the Open Meetings Act and their own rules when they added the tax credit program to a bill on a different subject. Recent polls suggest the majority of Alabamians support the concept of tax credits, but likewise don’t support the manner in which the bill was passed. On Thursday, the governor signed the bill into law.

3/15/2013 Group Watch: Governor Backs Changes to Medicaid

Governor Robert Bentley announced his support for his Medicaid commission’s recommendations to overhaul the way the state delivers services in the healthcare program for the poor. Bentley said the proposal will end the state’s fee-for-service model in favor of a network of locally run managed-care networks. State Health Officer Don Williamson called the plan “potentially the most important health transformation” the state has seen. According to Williamson, the plan is built on the notion of paying for outcome and quality instead of visits and volume. The plan is estimated to save the state $50 million to $75 million each year over what Medicaid would otherwise cost. The Alabama Medicaid Agency will establish up to eight regions that will group Medicaid patients and hospitals and providers. The networks would help manage a patient’s care and provide wrap-around services to help get people to the doctor. There are approximately 940,000 people in Alabama on Medicaid – roughly 20 percent of the state’s population. Medicaid covers 53 percent of births, 43 percent of children and almost 67 percent of people in nursing homes. Many in the legislature favor a hybrid plan that would include local managed-care networks and commercial managed-care networks.

 

March 8, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday for the 10th legislative day of the session with each chamber meeting for several hours without passing any bills thanks to most of the attention at the State House being focused on Montgomery courtroom where Circuit Judge Charles Price heard arguments in a lawsuit regarding legislation passed last Thursday.

Tuesday: The House spent the day hearing Democrats denounce the passage of the tax credits bill that’s now tied up in a lawsuit. They objected to its substance and the process. The Senate adopted a list of bills to consider, but adjourned while still debating the first one. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a compromise version of a gun bill by Senator Scott Beason of Gardendale. The bill would require sheriffs to grant people concealed weapon permits unless the sheriff can establish documented, specific reasons for denying the permit.

Wednesday (a committee day):The Senate Health Committee approved a House-passed bill to add new regulations for abortions clinics. The Senate Education Committee narrowly approved a bill to allow home-schooled children across the state to participate in public school athletics. That same committee postponed for a week voting on a bill to overturn the state school board’s adoption of Common Core curriculum standards and require legislative approval for future statewide standards and limit the sharing of student and teacher data with entities outside the state. They also took no action on a bill to prohibit schools from considering seniority when they decide whom to layoff during workforce reductions. The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee approved the General Fund budget bill, the Children First Appropriations Bill and a bill to transfer certain tobacco revenue to the General Fund in the 2014 fiscal year.

Thursday: The House passed a Senate-passed bill to create the cabinet level position of Secretary of Information Technology and a legislative oversight committee with certain powers and duties. They also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current year for the Department of Commerce and to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. This measure also has passed the Senate. The House refused to override the governor’s veto of Franklin County bill that would let some teachers carry guns. Administration sources say they appreciate what the bill’s sponsor was trying to do, but the administration believes that only trained, certified law enforcement officers should be carrying weapons in schools. The Senate passed a bill establishing policy and causes of actions relating to Right to Work. Work in both chambers was deliberate and slow and not much was achieved.

3/8/2013 Group Watch: AL Accountability Act Challenged in Court

On Tuesday, a Montgomery judge heard testimony before granting a temporary restraining order to prevent Governor Robert Bentley from signing into law a controversial bill giving tax credits to families zoned for “failing schools” to help pay for private school. The order comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the Alabama Education Association over the matter. On Wednesday, Montgomery Circuit Charles Price heard more testimony and extended his order until a hearing on March 15. The lawsuit alleges lawmakers violated the Open Meetings Act and their own legislative rules when they added what some call essentially a school voucher program to a bill on a different subject. Judge Price said that evidence presented during hearings indicated that lawmakers might have violated their own rules and the state constitution. The Republican leadership in the legislature says they will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

3/8/2013 Group Watch: Governor Recognizes Companies for Excellence

This week, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley recognized eight Alabama companies that are excelling in international trade. The value of Alabama exports reached a record $19.5 billion last year, a 9.4 percent improvement from 2011. The 2013 Governors Trade Excellence Awards went to the following: Atlas RFID Solutions of Birmingham, Intergraph of Madison, Mack Manufacturing of Theodore, Quincy Compressor of Bay Minette, Induron Coatings LLC of Birmingham, LINE-X LLC of Huntsville, Motion Industries of Birmingham and Von Corporation of Birmingham. Governor Bentley said that the success of these companies shows how Alabama products are reaching a global marketplace.

March 1, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday, the 8th day of the 2013 regular session. The hot topic this week was education.

Tuesday: The House Committee on Transportation, Utilities and Infrastructure favorably reported out a bill that passed the Senate last Thursday. This measure would allow persons who impair utility service work to be charged with criminal tampering. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees approved bills to limit the timeframe for lawsuits against Airbus and its suppliers. The House passed a number of sunset bills to allow certain boards, commissions and agencies to operate. They also approved a “Caylee’s Law”-type bill to make it a Class C felony to fail to report a missing child and a bill that authorizes warrantless arrest for people trespassing on school property. The Senate approved a bill allowing the Mobile County Board of Education to have security personnel or resource officers employed by the county school system carry firearms. They also approved a local bill allowing Franklin County school employees to train as reserve law enforcement officers and possibly carry guns at school as part of a school defense force. They also approved a $25 million bond issue to help some counties obtain matching funds to draw federal money for road and bridge projects.

Wednesday (a committee day): A public hearing was held by the House and Senate committees on Education Policy. The committee heard testimony on a bill designed to wrest control over common core policy decisions from the State Board of Education. The concern over curriculum was described as opening the door for unnecessary federal intrusion into K-12 education under the Obama administration. State Superintendent of Education contradicted claims by supporters of the bills, saying the state voluntarily adopted the current standards and did not cede any control to the federal government by using them. He also stated that the state was involved in the development of the standards and is not sharing student or teacher personal information with the federal government. The committee did not vote on the proposals.  The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee voted 13-2 to approve legislation to let the state partner with a private developer to build a hotel and convention center on prime state-owned beachfront property in Gulf Shores. The Senate Finance and Taxation Committee approved a bill that would call for a $50 million bond issue for public school boards to purchase career and technical education equipment. The same bill has already passed the House. The Senate Health Committee considered, but took no action on, a House-passed bill that would require doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges in the cities where they perform abortions. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that amends current state law that prohibits local governments from imposing a ban on handguns. This measure would add rifles and shotguns.

Thursday: The highlight of the day was the passage of a school flexibility bill by the Senate in mid-afternoon. The hotly debated bill passed on a 26-7 vote. Due to variances between the House and Senate versions, the measure was sent to a conference committee to resolve the differences. Later in the evening, a conference committee reported what is described as a dramatically different bill that was ultimately adopted by both chambers.  The conference committee report included language that would allow parents  of children in failing schools to receive an income tax credit equal to 80 percent of the average annual state cost for attendance of a public K-12 student to offset the cost of private school or a transfer to another public school. A failing school is described as one in the bottom 10 percent of statewide reading and math scores, has earned three consecutive D’s or an F on upcoming school report cards or is  designated by the State Department of Education as failing. After a lengthy debate, the House also voted 67-26 to approve a revamping of public safety functions. The bill would consolidate more than 20 agencies with law enforcement or investigative missions down to nine, with most offices answering to a new secretary of law enforcement. That person will be appointed by the governor. The bill as passed is estimated to save $260 million over 10 years.

3/1/2013 Group Watch: Legal Experts Agree with AG

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has maintained for some time that BP was not offering the state all it was entitled to receive during settlement talks in the case. This week, legal experts are saying that the pressure is mounting on BP to settle civil charges brought against the company for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil spill. BP and its partners are being sued by the U.S. Department of Justice, private plaintiffs and the states of Alabama and Louisiana in federal court in New Orleans. Legal experts familiar with the case are surprised that the case went to trial and predict if testimony continues as it has gone so far, BP might well raise its current $16 billion offer to $18 billion by the end of the week. Attorney General Strange was quoted as saying that evidence is mounting that BP deserves the harshest possible punishment under the law. Gross negligence could be potentially catastrophic for the company.

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