May 2014 Group Watch: Nowhere to Go

The mentally ill who have nowhere to go and find little help from those around them often land hard in emergency rooms, county jails and city streets. The lucky ones find homes with family; those not so lucky show up in the morgue. States looking to save money have chipped away at both the community mental health services and the hospital care needed to help heal after a crisis. For decades, states have been reducing hospital beds due to pressures from insurance companies as well as a desire to provide more care outside institutions. Tight budgets during the recession caused devastating cuts related to mental health services in this country. It is estimated that states cut $5 billion from 2009-12. Nearly half of adults with severe mental illness such as schizophrenia receive no treatment, and most suicides result from untreated mental disease. It’s an issue that deserves attention and action.

May 2014 Group Watch: Tweets of the Month

From @thebloombroup: Former House Speaker Seth Hammett named interim chief of staff for Gov. Bentley.

From @thebloomgroup via @ALForestry: Beason is a strong second in U.S. House District 6 primary without spending any campaign money.

April 7, 2014 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The session ended amid the announcement of the resignation of a prominent House member and the subsequent announcement of a plea deal with state prosecutors.

  • Tuesday (28th legislative day): TRepresentative Greg Wren of Montgomery entered a plea arrangement for an ethics violation, using his office for personal gain. After getting over the shocking news, the House went on to give final approval to a $1.8 billion General Fund budget, which includes a one-time $400 bonus for state workers and additional funding for the maligned Department of Corrections. They also gave final approval to bills that would allow people who are accused but not convicted of certain non-violent crimes to apply to have their arrest records expunged and that exempt lunches and sales of tangible property from state sales and use taxes. They debated but took no vote on a wind-farm regulation bill. The Senate Health Committee approved three abortion regulatory bills, including one banning abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. The Senate paused to remember former Alabama U. S. Senator Jeremiah Denton who recently passed. They passed bills to encourage adoptions by providing a one-time state tax credit of $1,000; to allow the Revenue Department to suspend the collection of any tax where the cost of collection exceeds the revenue generated for three years, and approved the conference committee report on the $5.9 billion education budget that increases funding for education employees’ health insurance but provides no cost-of-living raises for active or retired educators.
  • Wednesday (a committee day and the 29th legislative day): The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee considered but did not approve a bill that would let people carry loaded pistols in their vehicle without having to get a concealed carry permit. The full House held a moment of silence for shooting victims at Fort Hood, Texas, and passed a resolution honoring the late U.S. Senator Jeremiah Denton. They also passed a non-binding resolution calling for a constitutional convention to put a gay marriage ban in the U. S. Constitution. They passed bills to block bars, strip clubs, casinos and psychic services from accepting electronic welfare benefit cards; to prohibit sex offenders convicted of a crime involving minors from being within 500 feet of a school during instructional hours, and to require welfare applicants to show proof that they have applied for at least three jobs. The Senate Confirmations Committee rejected two of four nominees to the Alabama State University board of trustees. Robert Gilpin and Larry Thornton were approved by the Senate as trustees to the Alabama State University Board. They also approved a bill doubling the waiting period for an abortion, increasing it to 48 hours after a woman receives information from an abortion clinic about the risks of abortion, gestational development and alternatives to abortion.
  • Thursday (30th and final legislative day): The House gave final approval to a bill requiring drug testing for welfare applications with a drug conviction in the last five years and also approved the conference committee report on the Education Trust Fund budget that includes expanded funding for education employee insurance but no pay raise. The Senate gave a standing ovation to Democratic Senator Marc Keahey of Grove Hill after he announced he is dropping his re-election bid. They joined the House in approving bills to require a person making application for public assistance to have applied for at least three jobs; to expanding parental consent for females under the age of 18 seeking an abortion; and to prohibit a legislator who leaves office from lobbying both the House and Senate for two years. They also blocked consideration for final passage of bills to protect low cost spay-neuter clinics; to develop a database of payday loans; and to keep secret the names of companies that supply drugs for lethal injections.

4/7/2014 Group Watch: Principal Perspective

by Allen Sanderson
We’ve just wrapped up another busy session, one that was particularly productive and successful for our clients. We worked hard over the last few months, but we’re always ready to work harder and to serve more businesses and organizations seeking a voice in the halls of government. If you’re looking for a governmental relations firm that operates with integrity and gets results, (or know someone who is), find out more about us and all we offer on our website, here. Or feel free to call me directly at 205-222-3769. We look forward to putting our experience and expertise to work for you

4/7/2014 Group Watch: Next Year

It will all begin again in 2015. Legislators elected in November will return to the State House in January 2015 for an organizational session. The 2015 regular session will start in March 2015.

March 24, 2014 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

While some progress was made this week, the education budget is still not ready to go to the Governor. The issue will be taken up again when the legislature returns from Spring Break.

  • Tuesday (25th legislative day): The House passed a number of local bills, and after lengthy discussion, passed a House substitute for the Senate-passed Education Trust Fund budget of $5.9 million. That measure will likely end up in a conference committee. The Senate, following some pre-convening haggling, passed a number of bills that included allowing students to carry auto-injectable epinephrine to counter potentially fatal allergic reactions; allowing public employees to accept awards from third parties for outstanding performance in their jobs; allowing trained school workers to administer diabetes drugs to students; allowing income tax deductions for donations made to catastrophe accounts; allowing school districts to install devices on school buses to track and find cars that overtake those vehicles; and a bill to establish the Alabama Space Authority. They also gave final approval to House-passed bills to establish penalties for persons who interfere with a public safety communication or damage public safety equipment; to increase the burial expense allowed under workers’ compensation; and to provide a tax exemption to certain persons for the purchase of certain medical equipment and supplies.
  • Wednesday (a committee day and the 26th legislative day): The House Health Committee held a public hearing but did not vote on a bill to allow non-nurse midwives to assist women who choose to deliver their babies at home. The Senate Health Committee approved a bill to keep secret the names of execution drug suppliers, but added an amendment that allows a judge to order the release of the information. The House worked until midnight and reconvened at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday and passed bills to fund a $1 million University of Alabama at Birmingham study on the effectiveness of using cannabidiol to control seizures and other debilitating disorders; to reorganize much of the legislative branch of government; to allow persons arrested, but not convicted, of certain crimes to petition to have the arrest removed from their record; to make revisions to the Alabama Accountability Act, which provides private school tax credits to families zoned for failing schools; and to clarify candidates are responsible for reporting campaign contributions when a donation check is deposited or within 10 days of receipt. The Senate worked until 10:00 p.m. and passed bills to allow motorists to carry loaded handguns in their vehicles without buying a pistol permit and to prohibit birth parents from trying to contact an adopted child without the adoptive parents’ approval until the child turns 19. They delayed consideration of a bill to merge the Alabama Forestry Commission and the state Department of Agriculture and Industries and voted to go to a conference committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate on education funding.
  • Thursday (27th legislative day): The House passed bills to allow for the expungement of a criminal record if the charges were dropped or if there was not a conviction and to criminalize bestiality. The Senate approved the House-passed General Fund budget with minor changes, which included the one-time $400 bonus for state workers. Efforts to further amend the budget and provide for a recurring cost-of-living raise for state workers was defeated on a roll call vote. They also passed bills allowing prosecutors to gain access to certain juvenile court records regarding children; revising the separation of powers article of the State Constitution; and granting limited powers to county commissions in the state. Proposed constitutional changes require a vote of the people before enactment.

Next Week
The Legislature is off this week for Spring Break. The House and Senate return on Tuesday, April 1, at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. respectively for the 28th day of the 2014 regular session.

3/24/2014 Group Watch: Education Budget, Getting Close

Early in the day on Thursday, many thought a compromise education budget was headed to Governor Bentley for his review over the legislative spring break next week. The governor had publically voiced his support for a teacher pay increase and full funding for teachers’ health insurance plan. As negotiations continued throughout the day, it became apparent that a cost-of-living increase was not doable; it also became obvious that while many senators supported increased support for the health insurance plan, a fully funded plan was not sustainable. The earliest a compromise can be voted on by both chambers is Tuesday, April 1, when legislators return from spring break.

March 17, 2014 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The education budget and several education-related bills, including one aimed at Common Core, came up in both chambers this week.

  • Tuesday (23rd legislative day): The House passed several local bills and general bills to provide a sales tax exemption for an original work of art sold in a municipality’s cultural district and to authorize the Alabama State Council on the Arts to develop criteria to establish such a district; to impose a minimum 20-year sentence if the victim of first-degree rape, sodomy or burglary is older than 65; and final passage to a Senate-passed bill to transfer the duties associated with collecting motor vehicle ad valorem taxes in Montgomery County to the probate judge. They also passed bills to exempt the Association of Retarded Citizens from sale, use and ad valorem taxes and to exempt businesses in Class 1-5 in municipalities’ cultural districts from taxation. The Senate passed general bills to further clarify when the State Board of Education can intervene in educational operations of local boards of education; to change the composition of the Birmingham Water Works Board, and to authorize the University of Alabama at Birmingham to conduct a study of the health effects of cannabidiol on chronically ill patients, and allow patients and caretakers to possess the drug without fear of criminal prosecution.
  • Wednesday (a committee day): The House Education Policy Committee approved a bill making changes to the Alabama Accountability Act. The proposed measure lifts the individual tax credit cap on contributions made to scholarship granting organizations and moves the date for dispersal of leftover funds to non-failing school students from September 15 to May 15. TheHouse Ways and Means Education Committee approved a committee substitute to the Senate-passed education budget. The committee version provides increased funding for healthcare benefits, but no funding for a pay raise for teachers. Governor Bentley has threatened to veto a bill that did not contain a pay raise for teachers. The Senate Education Committee approved a bill that would allow local school systems to “opt out” of the Common Core standards.  The measure is expected to be hotly contested on the Senate floor, and most observers give it little chance of passage. The House Health Committee defeated a Senate-passed bill to ban smoking in many businesses. Opponents of the measure say the bill contains too many exemptions and may in fact authorize electronic cigarettes. Little, if any, research is available about the health effects associated with electronic cigarette use.
  • Thursday (24th legislative day): The House passed several local bills including one for Etowah County permitting and regulating wind energy conversion systems with certification by a licensed engineer, and general bills to increase the statute of limitation for the prosecution of theft by deception and other securities violations; to place the Examiners of Public Accounts under the authority of the Office of the State Auditor; to further define the definition of draft or keg beer; to expand the ability of the state to award multiple contracts pursuant to a single invitation-to-bid; and to require contractors to pay subcontractors in a timely manner for completed work. They also gave final approval to Senate-passed bills to provide additional educational assistance to members of the National Guard; to clarify and strengthen provisions of the law regarding trafficking of synthetic drugs; and to remove exceptions for local school boards of education from the requirements of unfunded mandates. The Senate passed several local bills and a general bill to authorize the Attorney General to investigate and initiate enforcement actions on behalf of an alleged target of bad faith. They adjourned after a lengthy debate over the rights of persons to carry fully loaded firearms without permits.

March 11, 2014 Group Watch: News & Views from the Statehouse

Four abortion-related bills passed the House this week, and bills changing the way in which teachers are laid off were approved by committees in the House and the Senate.

  • Tuesday (20th legislative day): The House passed a couple of bills of local application and several general. After considerable debate they passed four bills relating to abortion in Alabama. They passed bills that would change the abortion waiting period from 24 to 48 hours after the patient visits a physician; to ban abortion when the fetal heartbeat is detected; to require hospice information be given to women seeking an abortion based on lethal anomaly; to change the process for minors who seek abortions without parental consent; and require more documentation for minors who seek abortions with parental consent. They also passed legislation codifying Acts from the 2013 regular session. The Senate confirmed several persons to state boards including Hal W. Bloom to the Board at the University of West Alabama. Bloom, an alumnus of the University is widely known for his philanthropic efforts to and on behalf of the school. The Senate passed two measures that had already passed the House: one to establish a state income tax credit for contributions to support students in dual enrollment programs and a second authorizing Faulkner University in Montgomery to appoint police officers. They also passed bills requiring court-ordered attorney fees and related expenses to be deposited into the Attorney General’s Litigation Support Fund; extending the deadline for registration before an election to 14 days; and to provide a one-time non-recurring bonus to state retirees. The Senate confirmed several persons to state boards including Hal W. Bloom to the Board at the University of West Alabama. Bloom, an alumnus of the University is widely known for his philanthropic efforts to and on behalf of the school.
  • Wednesday (a committee day & 21st legislative day): The House Ways and Means Education Committee approved a bill to change the manner in which teachers can be laid off. The committee received public testimony on the education budget but took no action. The House Financial Services Committee approved a compromise payday loan regulation bill that would create a central database to track loans. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved a similar bill by Senator Arthur Orr of Decatur. The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee approved a bill to change the manner in which teachers can be laid off. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill to allow the carrying of loaded pistols in vehicles without having to get a concealed carry permit from the county sheriff. The House passed several bills of local application only and a number of non-controversial measures that included bills that designate the queen honey bee as the official state insect of Alabama; to prohibit re-corked wine bottles or resealed alcohol bottles from being considered open in motor vehicles; and to allow HIV clinics to re-dispense drugs not used by patients. The Senate passed several bills of local application only and general bills to require funds set up to distribute proceeds from class action lawsuits to develop plans to send leftover funds to the Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention; to shorten the time for termination of lease for noncompliance with a rental agreement and extending the time a landlord has to refund deposits; and to exempt personal property worth less than $250 from ad valorem taxes.
  • Thursday (22nd legislative day): The House passed a few bills of local application only and general bills to exempt from state and local taxes certain durable medical equipment such as prosthetics and orthotic devices; to make information about providers of materials used in capital punishment confidential; and to provide for limited use of golf carts on streets. The Senate passed a few bills of local application only and general bills to establish with the Department of Mental Health the Behavioral Analyst Licensing Board and to require public retirees to provide notice to the system when they work as independent contractors for a governmental entity. They also gave final approval to a House-passed bill removing the requirement for the provision of vacation leave for private businesses doing business with governmental entities in Alabama.

3/11/2014 Group Watch: Veto Threat?

This week, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said he would send back to the legislature an education budget that does not include a 2 percent pay increase and an increase in health insurance for funding education employees. Last week, the Senate passed an education budget with a one-time 1 percent bonus for teachers and without the state’s share of insurance premiums proposed by the governor. A spokesperson for the governor confirmed that he will attach an executive amendment if the document reaching his desk does not include his proposals. A House committee had a public hearing on the Senate-passed bill this week, but took no actions. The committee chair says he will prepare a substitute spending plan for the committee to consider next week.

The Bloom Group, Inc.

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