6/12/2105 Group Watch: Education Budget Becomes Law

Governor Robert Bentley signed into law a nearly $6 billion Education Trust Fund Budget. The budget provides $13 million more for textbooks; $3 million more for classroom materials; $5.2 million more for Dual Enrollment Programs; $4.5 million more for transportation operations; and $10 million more First-Class Pre-Kindergarten. The Legislature is expected to return in August to address revenue shortfalls in the General Fund.

June 1, 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

This past week, as the regular session winds down, the Alabama Legislature passed bills to further streamline government, moved the House-passed general fund budget out of Senate committee and more.

  • Tuesday (25th Day of Regular Session): The House passed bills that would not provide unemployment compensation to certain individuals; to remove the provision of the law allowing free copies of voter lists for members of the Legislature; to create the crime of unlawfully installing a tracking device and requiring a warrant for installation by certain judges; to provide greater protection to victims of domestic abuse; to create the Human Trafficking Safe Harbor Act relating to the exploitation of children; to not renew of licenses of abortion clinics located near schools; and to provide penalties for violations of restrictions on stage II driver’s licenses. The Senate passed bills to allow the owner of residential and commercial property, statewide to claim discounts for structures retrofitted to resist storms; to move Bishop State Community College, Southern Union State Community College and Bevill State Community College who are part of the Alabama Career Center System to the Department of Labor; to permit the transporting of school children to and from extracurricular activities by means other than by bus, and to eliminate certain exemptions of the privilege or license tax on a contractor’s gross receipts.
  • Wednesday (Committee Day): The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee made minor changes to the House-passed general fund budget and favorably reported the bill out of committee. They also approved bills that would transfer monies from state use tax to the general fund and allow the citizens to vote to end all earmarks and combine general fund and education trust fund receipts.
  • Thursday (26th Day of Regular Session): The House passed bills to require ethics training members of public colleges and universities boards of trustees; to require the Retirement Systems of Alabama to submit a biannual audit of investments to the Legislature; to amend the requirements for the retirement system in Tuscaloosa County for police officers and firefighters and a Senate passed bill requiring that local boards of education use a qualified depository for textbooks. The Senate passed bills to prohibit racial profiling by law enforcement and to establish a process for filing complaints with the Attorney General; to allow state agencies to increase fees based upon the consumer price index by administrative rule; and to establish a process by which Medicaid funded long-term care services to the elderly and disabled be provided on a managed-care basis.

6/1/2015 Group Watch: Dire Predictions & Possible Solutions

The House-passed general fund budget includes cuts to Alabama’s Medicaid Agency that, according to Dr. Don Williamson, Chair of the Medicaid Transition Task force, could prove disastrous. Click on the link below to read more of his predictions. But while the regular session of the legislature is drawing to a close, House Speaker Mike Hubbard suggested last week that a special session will take place and probably in mid-August. The special session is needed to find solutions to the shortfalls in the General Fund budget, and by the time it convenes, Hubbard said he believes there will be new information and recommendations from his task force, which was created to study the impacts of earmarking and combining the state’s two budgets. Read more here.

Medicaid Budget cut

6/1/2015 Group Watch: Charter School Commission

On Tuesday, the Alabama State Board of Education confirmed a list of appointed nominees to the state’s new charter school commission. A few weeks ago the board declined to confirm nominees, prompting the introduction of legislation to remove that authority from them. Upon hearing of Tuesday’s confirmation by the state board, Representative Terri Collins withdrew her bill from the House calendar. State Superintendent Tommy Bice said the board will serve the commission as administrative support.

6/1/2015 Group Watch: Prison Reform

On Thursday, the Alabama Department of Corrections reached an agreement with the Department of Justice to protect inmates at Julia Tutwiler Prison from sexual assault and abuse.The agreement calls for a full-time monitor, and the federal court will retain jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the agreement.

May 26, 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

This past week, the Alabama Legislature passed bills to provide for the continued operations of educational and non-educational functions of government and to assist local governments in functioning with autonomy and efficiency.

  • Tuesday (23rd Day of Regular Session): The House Ways and Means Education Committee approved a substitute education budget that had passed the Senate. The committee substitute provided $10 million in additional funding for pre-k, which when coupled with the $17 million in recently received federal funding, provides for a $27 million expansion in the next 12 months. The House passed bills to provide for regulation by the Public Service Commission of gas and hazardous liquids; to appropriate tobacco revenue to the Children First Trust Fund; to provide for the appropriations for the ordinary expenses of the executive, legislative and judicial departments of government, also known as the General Fund Budget. The controversial proposal contains deep cuts in the absolute appropriations to agencies, but provides conditional amounts that would restore most agencies to level or near-level funding if new revenue measures are found. The House also passed bills to authorize business license taxes for home-health agencies to be due to the municipal or county government where the headquarters or branch office is located; to limit the operation of golf carts on streets and require liability insurance where such use is authorized; and to extend the supplemental privilege assessment and monthly surcharge to nursing facilities. They also gave final approval to a Senate-passed bill requiring that at least one member of the Jefferson County Retirement System Board be a retiree. The Senate passed bills to authorize drivers in accidents with no apparent physical injury to move motor vehicles from the roadway; to create the Property Insurance and Energy Reduction Act of Alabama; to create the State Campaign Finance Commission; to permit a retail licensee and state liquor store to conduct distilled liquor and wine tastings; and to integrate into the Medicaid care network the provision of long-term care to elderly and disabled persons on a managed-care basis.
  • Wednesday (Committee Day): The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee approved a bill to permit Briarwood Presbyterian Church to hire certified police officers to patrol its campuses, which include an elementary, high school and seminary. The Senate Education Committee gave a favorable report to a bill known as the Tim Tebow Act, which would allow students who are home schooled to participate in sports at the public school in their district. The Chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee announced the House-passed “bare boned” General Fund budget will be in his committee next week and said he is hopeful that options other than the House-passed budget will be on the table. He went on to say that he will not rule out new revenue proposals. Informed sources say there are renewed discussions about a tobacco tax and a soft drink tax.
  • Thursday (24th Day of Regular Session): The House passed bills to create a Legislative Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability; to exempt regional care organizations from state, county and municipal taxes; and to fund the essential education functions of government to include Talladega College, Tuskegee University and Lyman Ward Military Academy. The Senate passed bills to authorize disabled and elderly voters to go to the front of the line at polling places; to provide for appeals of the Administrative Procedures Act directly to the Lt. Governor; and to reconstitute the Legislative Council and make the Alabama Law Institute part of the Legislature.

5/26/15 Group Watch: Jobs Numbers

Governor Robert Bentley and the Alabama Department of Commerce released a report that shows there were 392 projects in 2014 for a total of 18,137 jobs and investments of $3.37 billion. According to the report, Madison County lead the state in job creation with 3,418 new jobs. Other top job producing counties include Jefferson (1,929), Tuscaloosa (1,264), Lee (755) and Cullman (704). Top counties for investment were Lee ($482 million), Escambia ($376 million), Madison ($321 million), Jefferson ($189 million) and Mobile ($168 million).

May 18, 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

This past week, the Alabama Legislature passed bills to assist local communities in addressing their needs, to further address improvements in education, and to assist local communities during the electoral process.

  • Tuesday (21st Day of Regular Session): The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee held a public hearing on a bill to allow a statewide vote on a lottery and gambling at the state’s dog tracks but took no vote on the measure. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh of Anniston said he would consider suggestions from other legislators on possible changes before seeking a committee vote. The House passed bills to amend the Administrative Procedure Act to allow for appeals to the Lt. Governor; to further provide distribution of sales and use taxes in Jefferson County; and to provide for an increase in sales and use taxes in Tuscaloosa County and further provide for the distribution of the proceeds. They carried over a bill to cap the interest rates on payday loans. The Senate passed appropriation bills from the Education Trust Fund to Lyman Ward Military Academy, Tuskegee University and Talladega College and supplemental appropriations to several state entities for the current fiscal year.
  • Wednesday (Committee Day): Tthe House Boards, Agencies and Commissions Committee voted favorably on a bill to allow veterinarians to work for non-profit spay and neuter clinics, but as in previous years, many say it probably won’t achieve final passage in both chambers. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would allow judges and clergy to refuse to perform a marriage ceremony for any reason. The bill also known as Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act has already passed the House and now awaits consideration by the full Senate.
  • Thursday (22nd Day of Regular Session): The House passed bills to provide electronic books in lieu of printed lists to qualified voters at polling places; to provide warrant recall fees in municipal court cases in Shelby and Jefferson Counties be deposited into the Corrections Fund; to provide that unemployment compensation benefits are reduced if the individual receives or is eligible to receive pension payments from a plan maintained or contributed to solely by the employer; and to revise the membership and terms to the boards of trustee at Jacksonville State University and the University of North AlabamaThe Senate passed bills to further define what constitutes a failing school and to increase the homestead and personal exemptions. The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee reported out a General Fund budget with massive cuts, but did provide consideration for conditional appropriations that would undo the devastating cuts if new revenue is available. The measure will likely face strong opposition when it reaches the floor for debate next week. The governor says that he will veto the plan if it reaches his desk as reported out of committee. The House Ways and Means Education Committee heard testimony on the education budget but delayed a vote until next week. The reaction to the committee proposal was generally positive and well received. The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee approved a bill to allow a statewide vote on a lottery and gambling at the state’s four greyhound tracks.

5/18/2015 Group Watch: Why Public Insurance Adjusters?

By: Holly K. Soffer, Esq., General Counsel, AAPIA

Alabama is poised to license public insurance adjusters, and the legislature can’t act too quickly. 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 or after any type of property damage.

Public insurance adjusters are licensed in almost every state in the country 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 negotiate for those who have suffered property damage, but attorneys aren’t always a cost-effective solution for a homeowner. 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 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-percent 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 click here  and scroll down to the video “The Value of Hiring a Public Insurance Adjuster” to view an interview with Gene Veno, president of the American Association of Public Insurance Adjusters.

5/18/2015 Group Watch: Mental Health Rally

Hundreds of people rallied at the State House in support of mental health services. The rally took place on Wednesday, after the House leadership pulled all the budget bills that will generate revenue from being voted on. The governor is predicting that more than 24,000 people will lose some or all of the services they receive and more than 1,000 mental health workers will lose their jobs. The cut in state dollars will result in the loss of $64 million in federal dollars because the of the agency’s inability to generate the state match.

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