April 27, 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

This past week in the Alabama Legislature, the Senate was deep in debate about Medicaid, the House passed bills related to voting and a bill allowing the medical use of marijuana made it through a Senate committee.

  • Tuesday (15th Day of Regular Session): The Senate became mired in debate after passing a resolution asking the governor not to expand Medicaid and ended the day without passing bills. The House passed several bills related to voting and the elections process that include approving a list of felony offenses that disqualify Alabamians from being able to vote, but excludes those convicted drug possession. The House also passed bills to authorize the Secretary of State to share voter lists with other states free of charge; to bar members of the Board of Registrars from running for elective public office while serving on the board; to notify absentee voters of defective and uncounted ballots; and to establish a procedure for local board of registrars for investigating reports of death  or non-residence of a voter for purposes of purging the name from the list of eligible voters.
  • Wednesday (Committee Day): The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee voted 9-1 against a Senate-passed bill to repeal an increase in the driver’s license fee. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said the fee increase was needed to help cover the cost of issuing licenses. The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee approved bills to delay for one year a scheduled $15 million repayment to the Alabama Trust Fund and to allow up to $60 million from bonds to be used for prison construction. The committee is expected to take up the General Fund budget in two weeks. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill on a 4-3 vote to enact the Medical Marijuana Patient Safe Access Act, which would allow the use of marijuana for defined medical purposes. Many will be watching to see if the Senate leadership will allow the measure to come up for debate on the floor.
  • Thursday (16th Day of Regular Session): The House passed Senate-passed bills to establish a new state board to oversee the state’s two year colleges and the Right of Publicity Act to define the elements and scope for infringement. They also passed a local Jefferson County bill designating that a member of the county retirement system shall be a retiree and a measure further regulating the payday loan industry. The Senate passed Sunset Legislation continuing the Historical Commission; State Board for Architects; General Contractors Licensing Board, Security Regulatory Board; Athletic Commission; and the Board of Examiners for Landscape Architects.

4/27/15 Group Watch: Governor’s Memo on Revenue

Last week, in a nine-page executive summary to legislative leaders and members, Governor Robert Bentley outlined the impact to statutorily mandated services if revenue measures he proposed are not enacted by the them.  See the full memo below.

 

4/27/15 Group Watch: Principal Perspective: What’s Wrong with the Bham Water Board?

by Allen Sanderson
Senate Bill 89 has been proposed to “fix” issues concerning the Birmingham Water Board. But what’s wrong with the current board and its operations? Nothing, if you review these key factors:

  • The board’s management team has a combined 100+ years of professional management, accounting and engineering experience, much of it directly related to water works.
  • The Water Works’ financial position has improved every year for the past 10 years, as has its bond rating, moving from single A to double AA with a positive outlook for the future.
  • The board’s pay is properly managed and completely transparent, with the 2014 average pay per board member staying under $20k. The board’s pay has actually decreased 47% since 2009.
  • The board has successfully put money back into the water system with main replacements and improvements.
  • The board has been and is in strict compliance with state ethics law and routinely issues operational reports and holds required public hearings regarding rate increases.
  • The board has recently earned national recognition for its training practices with awards, ranking  No. 24 in Training Magazine‘s Top 125 Award.

 

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

This past week, the Alabama Legislature passed bills to provide education funding, to promote the employment of veterans and to empower municipal planning commissions.

  • Tuesday (13th Day of Regular Session): The House passed bills to allow physicians providing pain management services to do so at multiple locations without additional registration fees; to hold liable employers who protect the wages of employees from child support withholding orders; to permit municipal planning commissions to adopt regulations authorizing approval of minor subdivisions without notice and a public hearing under certain conditions; and to provide for single point online transactions (ONE SPOT) filing of county and municipal lodgings taxes, which has already been passed by the Senate. The Senate passed a $6 billion education budget for FY16 with minimum debate. The bill will provide additional money to expand the state’s voluntary Pre-K program, purchase new textbooks, hire additional teachers for middle schools, increase funding for school buses and provide additional money to local systems for other current expenses. The Senate also passed bills to allow for preference in employment and promotion of veterans in state government; to establish criminal penalties for persons who fraudulently hold themselves out as having received military decorations and medals; and to authorize parents or legal guardians to authorize certain medical treatment where a minor refused.
  • Wednesday (Committee Day): The SenateFinance and Taxation Education Committee onEducation approved appropriations for Lyman Ward Academy, Tuskegee University and Talladega College. The Senate Committee on Education and Youth Affairs voted 5-3 in favor of a bill that would repeal Common Core standards in Alabama public schools.
  • Thursday (14th Day of Regular Session):  The House debated for several hours a special order calendar that contained a controversial lead-off bill before adjourning. The Senate passed bills to establish a streamlined process of licensing physicians in multiple states; to designate the Lane Cake as the official state dessert; and a number of bills of local application only. Near the end of the day, they passed a bill restructuring the board makeup of the Birmingham Water Board, after agreeing to accept an amendment by Birmingham Senator Rodger Smitherman. The measure was brought up, out of order by sponsorSenator Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia, and divided the body over the potential implications statewide.

4/20/15 Group Watch: New AL News Source

Alabama now has a new source for comprehensive political and business news. The recently launched Alabama Today, led by veteran political activist Apryl Marie Fogel, offers a distinct editorial voice as it covers politics, public policy and business news. In addition, it will feature expansive coverage of women’s growing influence in politics, business and philanthropy throughout the state.

“The primary goal for Alabama Today is to provide a place where news is news and opinion is opinion,” Fogel says. “We’re excited to combine our coverage of politics and business while focusing on and recognizing the impact women are having as leaders and influencers throughout Alabama.”

Alabama Today’s editorial team will feature experienced, independent journalists and a wide variety of guest columnists representing important and diverse views.

While Alabama Today will cover politics, policy and business for a broad audience, insider news surrounding the business of politics will be an important part of coverage. “Our content gives readers the edge in knowing what’s happening not just on the legislative floor, but in the behind-the-scenes where business and politics intersect,” Fogel says. “We want to keep our readers informed about the moves of influential people, key staff and consultants.”

Alabama Today will provide free content for readers at ALToday.com with updates and e-newsletters available by signup. Alabama Today will also generate an opinion based content service for media group partners throughout the state and the region.

4/20/15 Group Watch: Lethal Injection Brief

Alabama and 12 other states filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the three-drug combination being used in Oklahoma to execute inmates. Alabama and the other 12 states argue that the three-drug lethal injection protocol used in Oklahoma complies with U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. States have adopted the protocol because of their inability to acquire other drugs. The states joining Alabama in the amicus brief are Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

April 13, 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

This past week, the Alabama Legislature passed bills to provide more autonomy to county governments, to provide a tax deduction to those contributing to catastrophic savings accounts, and to place emphasis on hiring military veterans.

  • Tuesday (11th Day of Regular Session): The House passed bills to prohibit the use of eminent domain for purposes of acquiring mortgages or deeds of trust; to give county governments more autonomy so they don’t have to go to the legislature before establishing new programs related to transportation, emergency assistance programs and other areas; and a number of bills of local application only. The Governmental Affairs Committee approved a House-passed bill that would require state employees receive a yearly statement of their salary and benefits each year. The Senate passed bills to provide a tax deduction for taxpayers who made contributions to a catastrophic savings account; to clarify the exemption for degree-granting entities operating under reciprocity agreements; to add a subcontractor to the Licensure Board for General Contractors; and to allow for the families of certain firefighters and peace officers who died in the line of duty to resubmit applications for consideration.
  • Wednesday (Committee Day): The SenateFinance and Taxation Education Committee onEducation approved a $5.0 billion budget, very similar to the budget approved last year. The bill would provide for the hiring of 70 new teachers in grades 7 and 8, provide an additional $13 million for textbooks, an additional $2 million for distance learning and $13 million additionally for expansion of the state’s Pre-K program. The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee discussed in great detail a bill to close or privatize the state’s liquor stores, but the measure was defeated by a vote of 7-6.
  • Thursday (12th Day of Regular Session): The House passed a number of bills of local application only as well as bills to allow local schools more flexibility to establish school calendars; to require food service establishments to list the country of origin of food containing fish products with siluriformes; and to permit competitive bids be awarded to a responsible bidder in preference zones with no more than 10 percent variance from an out-of-state competitor. The House also passed final approval of a Senate-passed bill relating to board appointments and compensation to the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority. The Senate passed bills to prohibit state entities from charging a fee for a person using a camera or other electronic device to make copies of public documents and to rename the Heroes for Hire Tax Credit of 2012 the Veterans Employment Act.

4/13/2015 Group Watch: Getting the Budgets Done

House Speaker Mike Hubbard says the legislature will pass budgets before the regular session ends. He says it is important to show the people of Alabama the legislature is doing everything to shrink the size of government before considering any new revenue measures. Speaker Hubbard says that lawmakers see the shortfall as closer to $250 million as compared to the $541 million projected by the governor. He mentioned that a bill is coming to dissolve the Tourism Department and the Department of Economic and Community Affairs and move their responsibilities under the Department of Commerce.

April 6, 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

This past week, the Alabama Legislature returned from a week-long spring break and got straight to work. They passed bills to revamp the state’s approach to providing economic incentives, to enhance the school Accountability Act and to make it easier for senior citizens and disabled people to vote.

  • Tuesday (9th Day of Regular Session): The House passed bills that further clarify the fines for illegal parking in handicap parking areas; to authorize elderly and disabled voters to go to the front of the line at polling places; to make electric utility transmission facilities subject to regulation by the Public Service Commission; and to increase the filing fees for matters in the small claims division of district court. The Senate passed bills to require the Transportation Department Fleet Management Program to purchase vehicles from dealerships located in the state; to provide for a fee increase for drivers’ licenses and non-driver identification cards; to designate the brown shrimp as the official state crustacean; to enhance the provisions of the school Accountability Act; and to require that those who attend 2-year public colleges and who transfer to 4-year public colleges and universities be granted an associate degree when they qualify.
  • Wednesday (Committee Day): A House and Senate Joint Committee on the General Fund revealed projections on how the budget would look without additional revenue, and the picture was not pretty. Overall, the General Fund agencies would average a cut of 11 percent, with some agencies being reduced as much as 23 percent. The tax proposal by the governor that seems to have gained the most traction is a tax on cigarettes, which would place the state far below the necessary revenue to adequately fund the essential functions of government. The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee approved a bill that would require payday loan companies to give customers at least six months to pay off loans and restrict the terms and rates for such loan activity.
  • Thursday (10th Day of Regular Session): The Senate passed a bill to help alleviate prison over-crowding in Alabama. Currently, our state’s prison’s are filled to twice their capacity. The bill, by Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), passed on a vote of 31-2 and would reduce penalties for some nonviolent property and drug crimes and tweak parole and probation programs while also putting emphasis on community corrections programs designed to keep some offenders from entering the prison system. The bill now moves to the House. The House passed a number of Sunset bills allowing the continuation of state boards and several bills with local application only. The Senate gave final approval to a House-passed bill providing economic development incentives for rural counties; to create within the Department of Public Safety an Emergency Missing Child Alert System; and to provide that general contractors can not be restricted by municipal bodies for exemptions related to residences and private dwellings. 

4/6/15 Group Watch: New Dept. of Corrections Commissioner

Governor Bentley announced Senate confirmation and the swearing in ceremony of the new Department of Corrections Commissioner, retired Colonel Jefferson Dunn. Dunn recently retired from the United States Air Force after 28 years of service. His top priority is to address the challenges of the problem plagued system to avoid a federal takeover.

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