2/8/2016 Group Watch: Governor Bentley’s Plan

During his recent state-of-the-state address, Governor Robert Bentley unveiled his strategic plan for Alabama called “2019 Great State.” The governor is calling for a major bond issue to replace the state’s prisons as well as new investments in health care and broadband in Alabama’s rural areas. The governor is also calling for the closure of four prisons and replacing them with new facilities strategically located in the state. He proposes raises for teachers and public employees and continued expansion of the pre-K program. Click below to read his 2019 Great State plan.

Governor’s 2015-2019 Strategic Plan 2-1-2016 Final

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

The new year is here, and the next session will be starting soon, but in the meantime, here are a few of the latest headlines topping the list in Alabama politics news.

Lottery Coming to Alabama?
Republican legislators pre-filed a bill last week that would put the question of a state lottery in the hands of voters. The bill, a constitutional amendment, would make the establishment of a state lottery a yes or no question. The proposal does not lay out mechanics for the operation of a program, how much the state would receive or the spending of the money. If passed by the legislature and approved by the voters, lawmakers could establish a lottery in the 2017 Regular Session. The legislation is permissive, but not mandatory.
Business & Veterans Groups Endorse Shelby
The Business Council of Alabama announced that it has endorsed U.S. Senator Richard Shelby ® for re-election. This endorsement comes just days after a prominent North Alabama veterans group voiced its support for Senator Shelby. Senator Shelby is regarded as the most respected and influential member of the U.S. Senate. The group of Huntsville area veterans said that Senator Shelby has always worked to support those who currently serve in our Armed Forces as well as the veterans who have sacrificed so much to keep us safe. Business leaders tout Senator Shelby’s understanding of and commitment to business. They point specifically to progress in manufacturing, technology and medical science.

Alabama Gas Prices Among Lowest in Nation
The national average for gasoline is at its lowest point in at least seven years. A recent report indicates prices may drop to as low as $1 per gallon. According to AAA, the average price of gasoline in Alabama is the sixth lowest in the country. This information is very significant in Alabama since some key legislator want pas a gasoline tax to allow the state to access more federal dollars for road and bridge repairs. Legislative proposals will likely be tied to pricing. Governor Bentley has said that he will sign the gas tax should the legislature send it to him.

January 2016 Group Watch: Regular Session Begins Feb. 2

At noon on Tuesday, February 2, the 2016 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature convenes. This is in keeping with the law that states that the legislature begins its regular annual sessions on the “first Tuesday in February, except (1) in the first year of the four-year term, when the session will begin on the first Tuesday in March, and (2) in the last year of a four-year term, when the session will begin on the second Tuesday in January.”

The length of the regular session is limited to 30 meeting days within a period of 105 calendar days. There are usually two meeting or “legislative” days per week, with other days devoted to committee meetings. Special sessions of the legislature may be called by the Governor, with the Proclamation listing the subjects which the Governor wishes considered. These sessions are limited to 12 legislative days within a 30 calendar day span. In a regular session, bills may be enacted on any subject. In a special session, legislation must be enacted only on those subjects which the Governor announces in his proclamation or “call.” Anything not in the “call” requires a two-thirds vote of each house to be enacted.

Read more about the legislative process here.

January 2016 Group Watch: Alabama Governor Sues Federal Government over Refugees

Governor Robert Bentley recently announced the State of Alabama is suing the federal government for non-compliance of the Refugee Act of 1980, which requires the federal government to consult with state governments before placing refugees in the state. The governor claims this consultation never occurred and the state was not provided with sufficient information about the refugees who have settled or will be settled in the state. Bentley says the state cannot adequately plan for the arrival of refugees in terms of security, social service and public assistance. The state is asking the federal court compel the federal government to consult with the state on this matter.

December 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

As 2015 draws to a close, gambling legislation is out (for now) and a possible gas-tax hike is in (at least in the governor’s mind). Stay tuned to Group Watch to see what actually happens when the Alabama Legislature starts its work again in February. Until then, enjoy your holidays!

Senate Leader Pulls Plug on Lottery & Gambling
State Senate leader Del Marsh said he has decided not to introduce gambling legislation in the upcoming legislative session due to begin in early February. Marsh says the votes are not there at this time to pass such legislation, adding that he thinks the idea is worthy of consideration for generating revenue and jobs. Marsh, who is known for coalition building, says that lottery and gaming legislation would tie up the Senate and keep the body from taking up other important measures than can pass and are good for the members’ constituents. A study completed earlier this year by Auburn University of Montgomery found that the economic impact of a lottery and casino-style gambling would raise an estimated $400 million in annual revenue for the state and create as many as 11,000 jobs.
Governor Bentley to Support Gas Tax Increase
In a speech to the Alabama Asphalt Pavement Association, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said he would support an increase in the state gasoline tax to support road construction and maintenance. The governor did not give specifics on the amount of increase he would support, but the last tax increase in 1992 was 5 cents to raise the total state tax to 16 cents a gallon. The Alabama Association of County Commissions is on the record supporting an increase in gasoline taxes for highway maintenance and construction. Gas tax revenue is earmarked mostly for road construction and for cities and counties. One-third of the state’s bridges on county roads are more than 50 years old.
DHR Task Force Hears Options for Reform
Governor Robert Bentley signed an executive order earlier this year creating a nine-member task force to look at ways to possibly improve the way the Department of Human Resources delivers services. Some of the proposals looked at reducing the high turnover of social workers and finding a uniform standard for how parental rights termination hearings can be carried out. State Representative Chris England of Tuscaloosa differed with one of his colleagues who filed a bill in the 2015 regular session to create an ombudsman’s office. England took exception to adding another layer of bureaucracy at an annual price of $700,000. England suggested an investment be made in the existing system instead of throwing more government at it. He was supported by Fairhope attorney Rick Drummond, who suggested that it is not policy that is the problem, but how policies are enforced in individual counties.

December 2015 Group Watch: New Group Protecting Education Budget

The University of Alabama System’s chancellor is spearheading a coalition from kindergarten to four-year institutions to advocate the state’s education system. The Alabama Unites for Education Coalition was recently launched to protect the state’s education budget. The group includes the leadership of the UA System, the Alabama Community College System and the Alabama Department of Education as well as the Presidents of the UA system’s three campuses and Auburn University. Chancellor Robert Witt envisions the coalition as a long-term advocate for education in the state capable of addressing issues ranging from workplace development to funding for school nurses in the K-12 system.

December 2015 Group Watch: Happy Holidays!

All of us at The Bloom Group are looking forward to the upcoming holidays and the start of a fresh new year. We know we’ll enjoy a short break from the hustle and bustle and the opportunity to eat, drink and be merry with our loved ones, and we hope you and yours do the same. We’ll be right back at it as soon as the fun is over, working to make sure your voice is heard and helping you accomplish your goals. Watch for upcoming issues of Group Watch, which will come out weekly when the 2016 session begins in February; we’re always your source for the news, views and issues that matter to you and your business or organization.

November 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The holidays are approaching, and we’re all looking forward to some relaxation with family and friends, but there’s still a lot of work to do around the state. Here’s what’s been happening this month so far.

Governor Says Healthcare Plans in Works for Rural Alabama
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, who has opposed expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, has indicated that the state’s Medicaid reform efforts could eventually make healthcare coverage available to more people. The governor said that he will be announcing in his State of the State address in early 2016 a plan to expand healthcare for rural Alabama.

Under the governor’s new plan, Medicaid would pay regional care organizations (RCO’s) a designated amount per recipient rather than pay doctors and hospitals for each service provided. Alabama is working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to obtain a waiver and money to help make the transition. The governor says the state could get between $600 million to $1 billion to help develop the regional care programs. The governor’s State of the State address will be at 6:30 p.m. on February 2, the first day of the 2016 regular session of the legislature.
Alabama Senate Budget Chairs Swap Positions
The chairs of the Senate budget committees will swap their positions overseeing $7.6 billion in state spending. Senator Arthur Orr of Decatur, the current chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee-General Fund, will switch with Senator Trip Pittman, who is currently the chair governing education funding. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said the change presents an opportunity to have a fresh set of eyes examining each budget.

The swap comes after a protracted budget battle that took the regular session plus two special sessions to pass budgets. Neither Pittman nor Orr discussed any plans for their committees. They acknowledged that the General fund budget will be a challenge with little appetite among legislators to pass revenue generating bills and even less to transfer monies from education to shore up anticipated shortfalls in the General Fund. Analysts are projecting at least $30 million in new revenues are needed to adequately fund General Fund obligations, which include Prisons, Medicaid, Mental Health and the Department of Human Resources.
Alabama Gets “A” For Teaching Personal Finance
Alabama recently earned an A in teaching personal finance. According to the 2015 Report Card on State Efforts to Improve Financial Literacy in High Schools, Alabama is one of five to receive the grade of A for teaching the course. Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia require a semester-long course in personal finance in high school. The report evaluates how states teach the basics of need-to-know life skills involving finance. States are graded on the belief that students should have certain financial management skills before entering college or the workplace.

 

Gambling Enforcement News

Governor Robert Bentley said his order sending gambling enforcement back to the county level is aimed to clarify “the right approach” to the issue. According to the governor, constitutional officers such as sheriffs and district attorneys have the responsibility to interpret the law and make decision on whether they will prosecute.

He recently rescinded his 2011 executive order putting the power of gambling enforcement in the hands of Attorney General Luther Strange. That order followed an announcement earlier this year by the attorney general that said local officials would take the lead on those prosecuted in the future. Many believe both moves signaled a retreat from the state’s years-long battle with bingo operators, and may provide one way for casinos such as VictoryLand in Macon County to reopen. The governor has stated he would not oppose allowing Alabama citizens to vote on gambling. Legislative budget chairs acknowledge a need for more revenue for the General Fund and say they expect legalized gambling to be one option explored.

We’re Thankful!

As the day to give thanks approaches, we at The Bloom Group have spent a little time counting our many blessings, not the least of which are our colleagues and clients. Thanks for being a part of a very interesting 2015 with us, and we look forward to continuing to work with you and serve you through the holidays and in the coming year. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

The Bloom Group, Inc.

401 Adams Avenue, Suite 710
Montgomery, Alabama 36104
Telephone: (334) 244-8948
Fax: (334) 213-0688

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Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee

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