February 29, 2016 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

This week brought a new lottery bill and saw the Senate pass a budget all while many local application bills and bills to continue various boards sailed through committees and each chamber.

On Tuesday, February 23 (8th day of the session):

  • The House Health Committee held public hearings on four bills including one that would ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat and another that would ban physician assisted suicide in Alabama.
  • The Senate passed bills to prohibit education entities from using public funds or property to advocate for or against ballot measures and to permit a retail licensee and state liquor store to conduct distilled liquor and wine tastings.
  • The House passed bills to further define the terms for road hazard insurance; to provide for pay increases for county officials; and to prohibit the executive branch from hiring lobbyists.

On Wednesday, February 24 (committee day and 9th session day):

  • Tthe House Ways and Means Education Committee approved bills to exempt Life South Community Blood Centers to be tax exempt; to approve the Alabama Renewal Act, which provides certain tax credits for the state’s port facilities; and to provide certain tax credits for rehabilitation of qualified structures.
  • The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee approved the Children’s First Trust Fund Appropriation, the General Fund Appropriations Budget and a bill providing for a simplified seller use tax remittance.
  • The Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved a bill to further define the practice of Social Work; to rename the Impaired Drivers Trust Fund to the Alabama Head and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund; and to prohibit the Department of Public Health from renewing the licenses of abortion clinic located near schools.
  • The House Education Policy Committee approved bills to remove the requirement for county superintendents of education to maintain an office at the county seat and to allow children to enroll in the first grade at the age of six.
  • The House Boards Agencies and Commission Committee approved Senate-passed bills to continue the State Board of Public Accountancy; the Liquid Petroleum Gas Board; the Pilotage Commission Board; the Plumbers and Gas Fitters Examiners Board; the Real Estate Appraisers Board; the Statewide 911 Board; the Private Investigation Board; the Alcohol Beverage Control Board the State Board of Auctioneers; the Board of Examiners in Psychology; the Public Services Commission; and the Board of Examiners of Mine Personnel.
  • The House passed two bills of local application only affecting Greene and Choctaw Counties only, and Senate-passed bills to continue the Boilers and Pressure Board; the Board of Cosmetology and Barbering; the Board of Social Work Examiners; the Funeral Service Board; the Board of Court Reporting; the Department of Insurance; the Board of Examiners in Counseling; the Electrical Contractors Board; the Electronic Security Board of Licensure; the State Board of Respiratory Therapy; the Real Estate Commission; the Assisted Living Administrators Board of Examiners; and the Behavior Analyst Licensing Board.

On Thursday, February 25 (10th day of the session):

  • The Senate approved the General Fund Budget; an appropriation for the Coalition for Domestic Violence; the Children First Appropriation and a bill to simplify the remittance of sales and use tax.
  • The House passed the Alabama Renewal Act to provide certain tax credits for the state’s port facilities; to provide for simplified seller use tax remittance; to create the Alabama Longitudinal Data System; and to provide for a hospital assessment and Medicaid funding for fiscal years 2017, 2018 and 2019 using 2014 as a base year. They also approved a Senate-passed bill to continue the Board of Cosmetology and Barbering.

The House and Senate reconvene on Tuesday, March 1 at 2 pm. And find a link to live audio of both chambers here.

2/29/16 Group Watch: It’s Back! New Lottery Bill

There have been plenty of lottery bills proposed, all as a solution to fix the state’s ongoing budget shortfall issues. This week, another one surfaced, this one sponsored by Senator Tripp Pittman (R-Montrose). It would allow Alabama to be a part of multi-state lotteries but not create its own. According to Pittman, this bill would generate $53 million a year exclusively for the General Fund and cost far less than establishing an Alabama-only lottery. The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee held a hearing on the bill on Wednesday but took no vote.

2/29/16 Group Watch: Public Insurance Adjusters – Why They’re Needed

Alabama is poised to license public insurance adjusters, and the legislature can’t do this soon enough. Extreme weather has been plaguing many parts of the country, and home and business owners are often left feeling helpless and alone in the aftermath of these severe storms and in dealing with the property damage they cause. The same can be said of dealing with other types of property damage as well.

Public insurance adjusters are licensed in almost every state and work as advocates for home or business owners who have suffered property damage; they are on the ground every day fighting for policyholders and have seen the heartbreaking damage that storms can cause as well as the problems that people face after such an event. Unfortunately, the claims process can be long and difficult, and the homeowner must navigate many obstacles to recovery. Public insurance adjusters help policy holders, both commercial and residential, through this complex process.

Why are public insurance adjusters needed by homeowners? And how can the homeowners be made whole if they have to pay a public insurance adjuster a portion of the recovery? The answers to these often-asked questions are simple.

After suffering a loss, most people do not have the time and/or expertise to properly evaluate their insurance coverage or to estimate the actual damage and effectively negotiate with the insurance company adjuster who does have such expertise. A policyholder must rely on the insurance company to evaluate the extent of the loss, determine coverage and provide a prompt and fair financial settlement. The interests of the insurance company in this process are directly opposed to the policyholder, yet the policyholder must rely on the insurance company to perform these services. Most insurance company adjusters act with professionalism and treat the policyholder fairly, yet, the homeowner is still at a great disadvantage. The insurance company adjuster is not an advocate for the homeowner, but is a paid employee of the insurance company, or a third party who has been hired for the purpose of adjusting the claim on behalf of and for the benefit of the insurance company, and will put the interests of the insurance company ahead of the consumer. This inequality leads to the undervaluing of claims.

Historically, in Alabama, attorneys have stepped in to help those who have suffered property damage, but attorneys aren’t always a cost-effective solution for a homeowner in adjusting a claim. According to the 2015 Insurance Information Fact Book published by the Insurance Information Institute, the average sized homeowners’ claim nationally from 2008-2012 was $8,384. As a result, the victim of the “average” claim is not often able to hire an attorney for representation, due to the prohibitive cost of paying the attorney on an hourly basis, or finding an attorney to charge a contingent fee on a small claim. Licensed public insurance adjusters provide the necessary, yet cost-effective, expert help these people need to fairly evaluate and adjust these property damage claims.

A few years ago, the state of Florida conducted a study and found that homeowners who used public insurance adjusters on non-catastrophic claims received, on average, a 574% higher settlement amount than homeowners who did not use a public insurance adjuster (OPPAGA Report No. 10-06, p.8). These results indicate that the homeowner receives greater value even when having to pay the public adjuster’s fee from the recovery. Therefore, instead of asking how the homeowner can be made whole when using the services of a public insurance adjuster, the question should be whether the homeowner can be made whole without the services of a public insurance adjuster. Empirical evidence suggests that the answer is usually “No.”

By enacting legislation to allow for the licensing of public insurance adjusters, Alabama will be doing a great service to its property owners, both residential and commercial. For more information of the value of a public insurance adjuster, please visit www.aapia.org.

2/29/16 Group Watch: Senate Passes General Fund Budget

Thursday night, after much debate, the Senate passed a $1.8 billion General Fund Budget on a 23 to 10 vote. If enacted, it provides level funding for most state agencies, but it prohibits Medicaid from moving to managed care. With plenty of time in the session left, some believe this opens the door for a needed discussion of Medicaid’s part in Alabama health care.

February 23, 2016 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

News & Views from the State House

The legislature reconvened last Tuesday, February 16, and learned that plans to build a hotel and conference center on the coast have been blocked by a federal judge (learn more below). They also quickly moved through several sunset bills and bills of local application only.

On Tuesday, February 16 (5th day of the session):

  • The House passed one bill of local application only relating to retirement benefits for the county revenue commissioner in Choctaw County and a general bill to prohibit local governmental entities from requiring minimum wage or other benefits.
  • The Senate passed sunset bills to continue the Securities Commission, the Board of Examiners of Assisted Living Administrators, the Behavior Analyst Licensing Board, and the Board of Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Contractors.
  • The Senate also passed a bill of local application only related to the proceeds from bingo games in Calhoun County and creating the crime and penalties for theft of cargo in commercial transportation.

On Wednesday, February 17 (committee day and 6th session day):

  • The House Judiciary Committee gave a favorable report to a bill to create the charge of aggravated child abuse of a child under the age of six and affix penalties and to prohibit the presence of minors under the age of 21 at house parties where alcohol or controlled substances are consumed.
  • The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee approved bills to revise and stiffen the penalties for violations of restrictions on Stage II drivers’ licenses and to extend the renewal period to six months prior to the expiration of drivers’ licenses.
  • The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee approved a bill to simplify seller use tax remittance.
  • The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee approved the Alabama Ahead Act relating to the use of technology in local schools on a voluntary basis and the creation of grants for talented children in programs provided by the State Department of Education.
  • The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee approved a bill to further distribute state tax revenues from agencies with earmarked funds used to match federal funding.
  • The House passed several bills of local application only and general bills relating to the final disposition of fetal tissue, a proposed constitutional amendment related to right to work and requiring a ballot statement to be posted on the website of the Secretary of State.
  • The Senate passed sunset bills to continue the State Board of Public Accountancy, the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Board, the State Pilotage Commission, the Plumbers and Gas Fitters Examining Board, the Real Estate Appraisers Board and the Alcohol beverage Control Board. They also approved a bill to further clarify the authority of the Board of Medical Examiners.

On Thursday, February 18 (7th day of the session):

  • The House passed a bill to authorize the hunting of whitetail deer or feral swine by means of bait.
  • The Senate passed sunset bills continuing the State Board of Auctioneers, the Private Investigation Board, the Board of Examiners in Psychology, the Public Service Commission, the Historical Commission and the Board of Examiners of Mine Personnel.
  • The Senate also passed bills to rename the Heroes for Hire Tax Credit Act to the Veterans Employment Act; to increase the bid guarantee if the Department of Transportation is the awarding authority; and to clarify the 45-day period of review by the legislative contract review committee to begin once all required information is presented to the committee.

The House and Senate reconvene on Tuesday, February 23 at 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm respectively.

2/23/16 Group Watch: Gulf Park Plans Stalled

When the legislature returned on Tuesday, February 16, for the 5th day of session, they were greeted with news that a federal judge has blocked Alabama from using a portion of oil spill funds for the construction of a hotel and conference center at Gulf State Park. Senior U.S. District Judge Charles Butler ruled that federal trustees failed to examine alternative uses for the money. Gulf Restoration Network sued state and federal trustees over the state’s plan to use $58.5 million in early restoration funds for the project. The court order prohibits the state from using the money for the hotel development until the analysis is completed.

February 15, 2016 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The legislature convened last Tuesday for the third day of the 2016 session, and members were met with big healthcare news. They also moved along a bill to strengthen the penalties for child abuse.

On Tuesday, February 9:

  • The federal government has given the state approval to change the delivery of Medicaid and move to a managed care system that many hope will control cost growth and lead to better outcomes. Alabama was granted an 1115 waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, which will allow the state to create 11 regional care organizations (RCOs) to enroll Medicaid patients with the goal of encouraging preventive care and cutting costs. The state could receive up to $748 million from the federal government over the next five years to implement the program. At least $328 million will go to set up the RCOs over three years.
  • The House passed bills to empower the Governor to appoint a taxpayer advocate in the Department of Revenue and to extend a $1500 tax credit to businesses with 75 or fewer employees for creating jobs paying $40,000 or more a year.
  • The Senate passed bills to further define the crime of aggravated child abuse that results in the death of a child and to further provide for penalties involving the aggravated child abuse of a child under the age of six years old.

On Wednesday, February 10 (committee day):

  • The House Ways and Means Education Committee gave a favorable report to the Alabama Ahead Act relating to the use of technology equipment in schools.
  • The House State Government Committee gave a favorable report to a bill to require communication service providers to provide location information to law enforcement upon request when there is a risk of serious injury or death involved.
  • The House Boards, Agencies and Commissions gave a favorable to a bill to further define the practice of social work.
  • The House State Government Committee gave a favorable report to a bill to prohibit practices relating to employers and employee relationships regarding leave, benefits and minimum salary requirements.
  • The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee gave a favorable report to a bill to provide tax credits for hiring veterans.
  • The Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee gave a favorable report to a bill to require all professional education associations be given the same access to represent employees of public school districts.

On Thursday, February 11:

  • The House passed one bill of local application only and spent the remainder of the day embroiled in debate over a bill relating to the disposition of fetal tissue (Unborn Infants Dignity of Life Act).
  • The Senate passed sunset bills to continue the Board of Social Work Examiners; the Board of Funeral Service; the Board of Court Reporting; the Department of Insurance; and the Board of Examiners in Counseling. They also passed a bill to allow top executives of the Ethics Commission to provide contract work following retirement for a transitional period of time.

The House and Senate reconvene on Tuesday February 16 at 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm respectively.

2/15/16 Group Watch: Are RCOs the Real Answer?

With medical costs still a player in the state’s ongoing budget woes, the announcement that the federal government granted Alabama approval to create regional care organizations (RCOs) for Medicaid patients came as good news to some. But many legislative leaders are concerned that RCOs cannot and will not solve the problem. They point out that it is unlikely that the state can get the RCOs operational by the federal government’s deadline. Plus, they don’t believe the RCOs will result in the the savings that the state is expecting.

February 8, 2016 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

A new session has started, with the Alabama Legislature meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 2 to get things going.

General Fund Still Not Fixed
While the sparring over tax increases has mostly subsided, it’s not because the General Fund budget is fixed. There remain tough choices ahead to figure out how to pay for state services. Despite raising about $180 million in 2015 for the General Fund, revenue receipts are down an estimated $40 million for the year going forward. The legislature is likely to consider a lottery proposal that will allow the people to vote on the issue, but there would be no immediate financial impact for the next budget cycle.

There appears to be a consensus that teachers are overdue for a pay raise, but there are varying thoughts about who would receive raises and how much. Business groups and local government officials are calling for a gasoline tax increase to support road construction and maintenance.

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

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