5/28/19 Group Watch: Rural Broadband Coming

The bill that will expand access to high-speed internet throughout the state was passed on Wednesday, and it is expected that Governor Ivey will sign it into law. The bill allows electric utility companies to use their existing networks to offer broadband internet to rural areas by letting them add high-speed cable lines to their current power line systems. The increased access should have positive impacts on education and economic development in these areas. Not only does this increase access to what is today an almost-crucial service, it does it at a reduced cost since often, existing infrastructure can be used and new lines won’t have to be run. Earlier in this session, Ivey signed the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act, which creates a grant program for broadband access that will be administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

5/28/19 Group Watch: Distracted Drivers-Watch Out

It’s no question that driving while distracted, specifically by a phone, is dangerous, leading to multiple car accidents, often resulting in injury or even death, every year on Alabama roadways. Last week, HB 404 was passed by a vote of 77-9, and the bill makes it illegal to hold an electronic device in your hand while driving. Texting while driving is already against the law, but this bill takes things further. It prohibits writing, sending or reading a text-based communication; watching, capturing or recording a picture or video; and holding a device to talk on the phone. The bill goes to the Senate this week.

5/28/19 Group Watch: Fantasy Sports Wagering-A Good Bet

A bill to allow betting on fantasy sports passed the House earlier this month, but last week, it got hung up in the Senate. The bill would make it legal for Alabamians to place wagers on fantasy sports games through popular sites like Draft Kings and others. Competing in fantasy sports (baseball, football, basketball and more) is legal now, but betting on the contests is not. It is expected that the Senate will revisit the House-passed bill, sponsored by Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette, this week.

5/28/19 Group Watch: Education Budget Debate

The House Ways and Means Education Committee publicly aired its version of the Senate-passed education budget last Tuesday and efficiently passed it of committee on Wednesday. The $7.2 billion budget includes raises for public education employees but differs from the Senate version. The bill will be before the full House on today, where it will likely be passed and have the differences worked out in a conference committee.

5/28/19 Group Watch: Marsh Education Plan Approved

The House of Representative Education Policy Committee approved a Senate-passed proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh to overhaul the state board of education. The legislation would replace currently elected board members with members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. The legislation would also abolish the position of state superintendent and replace it with a secretary of education position. This position would be appointed by a commission and subject to confirmation by the Senate. The bill would mandate that the newly formed commission replace Common Core in Alabama.

5/28/19 Group Watch: AL Tourism Industry Growing

At a press conference last week, Governor Ivey announced that one million more people visited Alabama in 2018 than ever before, and they spent $15.5 billion, which was $1.2 billion higher than the previous year. The industry attracted more than 27.7 million visitors, which paid $954 million in state and local taxes. State Tourism Director Lee Sentell credited increased marketing activities, ranging from social media and paid advertising to public relations activations in places such as New York and Dallas, for the success.

May 20, 2019 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

As the legislature carried out its 19th, 20th and 21st days of the regular session last week, an international spotlight was turned on Montgomery and Alabama with the passage of the country’s most restrictive abortion law. On Tuesday, the law passed both chambers with overwhelming majorities (74-3 in the House; 25-7 in the Senate). On Wednesday, Governor Ivey signed the bill into law.

Emotions on both sides were running high, with those against it preparing to quickly use the court system to prevent it taking effect and its proponents declaring a victory for life and announcing its ultimate purpose is to pose a challenge to Roe vs. Wade in our nation’s highest court. No one can say yet whether the Supreme Court will choose to take up the case though.

Coverage from national and international media and intense debates on social media made it “the issue” last week, and some of the information circulating has been inaccurate. The law makes almost any abortion at any time illegal; the only exception in the law’s current form is if the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother. But the law will not punish women seeking or getting abortions; it goes after those performing abortions, who can receive a sentence of 99 years for the act.

The law is sure to remain a hot topic over the coming weeks.

5/20/2019 Group Watch: Airbus Workforce Development

Airbus launched two new programs aimed at putting applicants with little or no aviation or aerospace experience in jobs where its A220 and A320 production facilities are located. The FlightPath9 and Fast Track programs seek to expand Airbus’ production workforce from within the Mobile community. The FlightPath9 program targets high seniors with a desire to work in aerospace. Fast Track is a 12 to 15-week program that brings individuals lacking aviation manufacturing experience into the company and provides them with knowledge, skills and ability for an aerospace maintenance career.

5/20/2019 Group Watch: Possible Special Session?

To address the state’s continuing prison woes, it looks like the legislature may get a special session. Leaders on both sides of the aisle say a special session would give them the time needed to deal with the issues highlighted by the DOJ. Plus, the relevant information from the DOJ likely won’t be ready before the regular session ends.

5/20/2019 Group Watch: Replacing State School Board?

Last Thursday, the Senate unanimously approved a bill sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) that would change how Alabama’s Board of Education is formed. His plan calls for a constitutional amendment to remove the current election process for board members and instead, have them appointed by the governor and confirmed by a Senate vote. Marsh claims that the unquestioned failure of the status-quo in Alabama’s public education drove him to sponsor the legislation. Governor Ivey has already expressed her support of the plan. If it makes it through the House, as a constitutional amendment its next step is to be voted on by Alabama voters.

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