April 19, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday for the 21st day of the session, and a good part of the week focused on education.

Tuesday: The Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on proposed changes to the new law that gives tax credits to families zoned for “failing schools.” The House passed a bill for a second time that would authorize a volunteer school security force in Franklin County schools. They also approved a bill to limit the contingency fees charged when the state hires outside legal counsel. The House later bogged down over a bill to move the deadline to register to vote in Alabama from 10 days before an election to 17. The Senate passed a couple of bills to allow the continuation of state boards and commissions and a bill to allow nurse practitioners to prescribe certain drugs.

Wednesday (a committee day): The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee approved a Senate-passed budget with minor changes, which will likely be debated by the full House next week. The Senate Education Committee approved a second attempt to repeal Alabama’s common core curriculum standards. Most observers believe the bill has little chance of final passage, but will resurface next year. That committee also approved a bill that would allow school resource officers to carry weapons. The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee approved a bill to phase out the 4 percent state sales tax on food and replace the revenue by raising the sales tax on non-food items. The House and Senate Health Committees approved bills to dramatically overhaul the state’s Medicaid program, dividing the state into a number of community-run, risk-bearing regions that would manage patient care. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees approved bills to increase the penalty for possession of an illegal gambling machine to a felony.

Thursday: The House approved bills to raise the penalties for killing a person while operating a boat under the influence of drugs and alcohol; to require schools to develop a “code red” safety plan to respond to threats of violence and to require code red drills; and to authorize the State Employees Insurance Board to offer a high-deductible health plan along with a health savings account and a reimbursement arrangement. The Senate passed a number of non-controversial bills, including one to establish a special event hunting license for disabled veterans and a bill authorizing draft beer sales in New Brocton in Coffee County.

4/19/2013 Group Watch: First Secretary of Information Technology Appointed

This week, Governor Robert Bentley announced the appointment of Brunson White as Secretary of Information Technology. Brunson previously worked for Energen for 33 years. During his tenure with the company, he was responsible for over $100 million in information technology projects completed on-time and within budget. While at Energen, Brunson was also responsible for strategic planning and corporate development. The position of Secretary of Information Technology was established by Senate Bill 117 during the current session. The Secretary will develop and implement a comprehensive plan to coordinate the purchasing, management and use of IT across state agencies.

4/19/2013 Group Watch: Tweet of the Week

From @YHPolitics

“”Ongoing debate in Senate gallery re: what Senator would win if massive brawl broke out. Early $ on Beason cuz he’s most likely to be packing.”

April 12, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday for the 18th day of the session. The House and Senate continued a deliberate pace of conducting business, spending hours on each bill.

Tuesday: The House passed bills to further strengthen animal cruelty statues; provide for sales and use tax exemption for entities involved in certain construction and highway projects in the state; and to authorize 2-year schools to charge resident tuition for nonresident distance learning students. The House Ways and Means-Education Committee approved an education budget that includes a 2 percent pay raise for teachers and a state-financed teacher liability insurance program. The $5.7 billion budget passed the committee on a 9-3 vote. The Senate passed bills to continue the Board of Marriage and Family Therapy and the Board of Examiners of Nursing Home Administrators, and to further provide for powers and duties of the Alabama Land Bank Authority.

Wednesday (a committee day): The House Financial Services Committee left in subcommittee legislation that would put new limits and regulations on the title loan and payday lending industry. The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee approved a bill that could divert an estimated $22 million from the Children First Trust Fund to the state General Fund should the state receive additional tobacco revenue as part of the national tobacco settlement. After hours of debate, the House passed a $5.7 billion Education Trust Fund budget. They also passed separate appropriation bills for Talladega College, Tuskegee University and Lyman Ward Military Academy. They also passed legislation granting K-12 teachers and support workers a 2 percent pay increase and also provide teachers with state-funded liability insurance.The Senate passed several non-controversial bills including bills to fund the office of the State Treasurer through a newly created State Treasury Operations Fund; to amend the state law on unclaimed property; and two sunset bills to continue the operation of the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners and the State Board of Medical Examiners as well as the Medical Licensure Commission.

Thursday: The House approved bills to allow gill net fishing in the Tennessee River; to restore property tax exemptions for the disabled regardless of income; and considered but took no vote on a bill to change the voter registration deadline from 10 days before an election to 17. The Senate approved bills to curb fraud in government-funded public assistance programs; to establish the Office of Fleet Management in the state Transportation Department to manage the state’s fleet of vehicles; and delayed consideration of a bill to prohibit minors from buying electronic cigarettes. They also approved two sunset bills to continue the Board of Physical Therapy and Board of Athletic Trainers.

4/12/2013 Group Watch: Bentley Running Again

Governor Robert Bentley announced this week he is running for re-election in 2014. The governor says he remains humbled and honored to serve the people of Alabama. He says that after prayerful consideration with his wife, he has decided to seek the Republican nomination for a second term. The announcement surprised few, if any, as the governor has strongly suggested for some time that he would seek a second term. Bentley, a former legislator from Tuscaloosa, was initially a long shot in the 2010 GOP primary for governor. He overcame the odds to become the GOP nominee and then won a decisive victory over his Democratic opponent. Bentley, a retired physician, vowed to be a doctor to an economically ailing state. He promised not to take a salary until the state achieved an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent, a promise he has kept.

4/12/2013 Group Watch: Airbus Breaks Ground



On Monday, Alabama welcomed the groundbreaking of a $600 million assembly plant to be constructed for European jet manufacturer Airbus in the port city of Mobile. When construction of the plant is complete, the new factory will employ more than 1,000 people as the company works to fill orders on the Airbus A320. Production of the plane is set for 2015. The ceremony comes just a week after state lawmakers approved a key part of the incentives package for Airbus, limiting the liability on Airbus and its suppliers as they set up in the state. The plant did not come to Alabama overnight. Airbus’ parent company EADS wanted to build refueling tankers for the U. S. Department of Defense in Mobile. It initially won the contract but later lost it after rival Boeing contested the process and ultimately won the contract. Mobile leaders expressed their excitement and enthusiasm over Airbus’ decision to make the port city its home.

April 5, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The legislature returned to work on Tuesday the 16th day of the session following a week off. There was renewed energy in both chambers as they worked long into the night amid continuing dilatory tactics by Democrats.

Tuesday: The House Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing on the proposed education budget that would provide teachers a 2 percent pay raise and also give them a state-funded alternative to the Alabama Education Association for liability insurance. The House approved a bill to keep nonprofit spay/neuter clinics open in the state and a measure to make it legal to brew small quantities of beer and wine at home. The Senate approved bills to impose new regulations on abortion clinics; a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit unfunded mandates for local boards of education without a two-thirds vote in the legislature; to replace the Board of Cosmetology with the board of Cosmetology and Barbering; to change the name of J.F. Drake Technical College to J.F. Drake State Community and Technical College, and adjourned without taking a vote on a gun bill that would allow carrying a firearm in vehicles without a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Wednesday (a committee day): The House Ways and Means General Fund committee carried over a bill that would divert potential tobacco settlement money from the Children First Trust Fund to the General Fund. The House Constitution, Campaign and Elections Committee approved a bill to change state law relating to primary elections and allowing a candidate to be declared the winner if they received at least 35 percent of the vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill saying the state will not recognize federal laws that it considers contrary to the constitutional right to bear arms. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved a bill to provide that religious employers would not have to furnish insurance coverage for contraception to employees. The Senate Health Committee heard testimony on a bill to change the way health care services are delivered under the Alabama Medicaid Agency, including using a group of regional managed care networks.

Thursday: The House and Senate met into the evening, with each chamber passing several bills. The House gave final passage to a Senate bill that sets up a process to allow posthumous pardons of the Scottsboro Boys. They also passed bills to permit distinctive motorcycle tags for veterans to be purchased at the same cost as car tags; to create the crime of criminal trespassing on a school bus in the first degree; to provide a tax credit against the tax liability of taxpayers for the rehabilitation, preservation and development of historic structures; to require vehicles to yield the right- of-way, slow down and move over for garbage, trash, refuse or recycling collection vehicles; and a bill establishing a “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.” After hours of debate, the Senate passed a bill to allow free, lifetime permits to carry pistols in vehicles and other changes to current state gun laws. The bill also provides appeal rights for those denied a permit, prohibits an employer from taking actions against an employee for storing a gun in their private vehicle at work and generally loosens restrictions on persons carrying guns in public. They also gave final approval to a bill to require state agencies to file Business Economic Impact Statements with the legislature on proposed rule changes and post the same on agency websites.

4/5/2013 Group Watch: Tweet of the Week

From Senator Cam Ward’s wife Julie Cain Ward:
“Last day to donate for Team Riley Ward in #Autism Society AL Walk tomorrow.@autismsocietyAL  http://t.co/g191G8fipD via @firstgiving RT!”
The Ward family will be walking in the Autism Society of Alabama’s Autism Walk tomorrow in Birmingham in honor and support of their 10-year-old daughter Riley and to help raise awareness and funds to provide greater access to needed autism services. April is Autism Awareness month across the country, so take a moment today to use the link in Julie’s tweet and check out Team Riley’s page to see how you can get involved.

4/5/2013 Group Watch: State Park Bill On the Table

Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores boasts a pristine stretch of undeveloped beachfront property. Last year, the legislature entertained a proposal that would allow a private developer to build a large convention center and hotel on the site, but opponents defeated the measure. The legislation is back this year as the state parks face significant financial challenges created in part by the redirecting of revenue once dedicated to the park system. Governor Bentley has placed the matter in the lap of the legislature and asserts that parks will have enough operating capital if the legislature approves a bill to allow the development at Gulf State Park. While lawmakers continue to search for ways to fund the essential functions of government, many wonder if this is a deal they can’t refuse.

March 22, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday for the 14th day of the session. This week began as last week ended, in turmoil. And there will be zero activity next week as everyone, including the legislature, takes a Spring Break.

Tuesday: The Senate adjourned for the day without conducting business after Democrats and a Senate official accused the Lt. Governor of improperly calling the Senate to order without enough senators present to conduct business. The Lt. Governor ruled that she visually counted 18 members in the chamber, but Democrats say the official roll call shoed only 17 members were present, short of a quorum, and one of those showing present was a vacate Senate seat. The House convened later in the day and despite dilatory tactics, was able to pass two measures before adjourning. They passed a bill to alter the fee structure disposal of certain hazardous waste materials and a bill to further define “special fuel” and the level of taxes paid on those products.

Wednesday: On a day that is usually a  committee day, the Senate canceled all committee meetings and reconvened for the 15th day of the session. The mood remained tense and after contentious debate the Senate approved Secretary of State Beth Chapman as a member of the University of Montevallo board of trustees. The Senate also passed a bill to strengthen anti-nepotism statues by including cousins and other relatives and a bill to create the possibility of parole for some juveniles convicted of capital murder. A subcommittee of the House Education Policy Committee gave a negative recommendation to a bill to repeal the Common Core curriculum standards. The House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee approved a proposed constitutional amendment to allow the display of the Ten Commandments and other historic documents in public buildings. The House County and Municipal Government Committee discussed but did not vote on a bill related to property tax exemptions for the elderly and disabled. The House approved a bill to make it a crime to use a dangerous instrument to threaten utility workers when they come onto a person’s property to shut off a utility, read a meter or perform other official duties. They also approved a bill to allow the Alabama Highway Finance Corporation to issue up to $25 million in bonds to help some counties come up with the matching funds to get federal money for road and bridge projects.

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