May 11, 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

This past week, the Alabama Legislature passed bills to protect children from labor law abuse and proposed measures to address the state’s revenue woes and the state’s prisons problems.

  • Tuesday (19th Day of Regular Session): The House passed bills to revise the formula for calculating the weekly benefit for individuals receiving unemployment; to revise Limited Liability Law relating to wrongful distributions; to authorize the Law Enforcement Agency to appoint a designee as Homeland Security Advisor; and to designate the age of majority as 18 years old for participation in college/university research. After hours of debate and maneuvering, the House voted to cloture debate and passed a Senate-passed bill relating to the Birmingham Water Board. The Senate gave final approval to a House-passed bill to increase certain insurance fees and licenses and to provide for an appropriation to the Insurance Department’s Strengthen Alabama Homes Fund for fiscal year 2016. They also passed bills to create the Alabama Space Authority; to strengthen current law on child labor law enforcement; and to further expand the authority of the Department of Corrections Investigation and Intelligence Division.
  • Wednesday (Committee Day): The House Financial Service Committee approved a bill that provides new limits on payday loans. The proposed bill gives borrowers more time to repay the loan and much lower interest rates. The Ways and Means General Fund Committee wasted little time approving bills to raise cigarette taxes from 42.5 cents a pack to 67.5 cents a pack; raising car title fees from $15 to $25; raising auto rental/leasing taxes from 1.5 percent to 2 percent; changing the assessment on lubricating oils from a 6-cent excise tax to a 4-percent sales tax; treating two state holidays as mandatory furlough days for nonessential state workers; and suspending longevity pay for state workers for one year. The House Health Committee approved three bills that would prohibit providers from performing abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected; would allow healthcare providers to decline to participate in any procedure that violates their conscience; and to ban abortion clinics or reproductive health centers within 2,000 feet of a public school.
  • Thursday (20th Day of Regular Session):  The House passed a Senate-passed bill to reform the state’s correctional system in hopes of avoiding federal intervention. They also passed bills to provide that compensation may be determined solely by a local governing body if a district is within a 21st Century Manufacturing Zone, which must be ratified by voters in a statewide referendum; to require public schools to allow home school students to play sports at the public school to which they are zoned; and to transfer certain programs of the Department of Economic and Community Affairs and the Department of Postsecondary Education to the Department of Commerce. The Senate passed bills to provide certain restrictions on vision care services provided by optometrists and ophthalmologists who have contracts with insurers and to provide for a compliance certificate being substituted for a certificate of good standing relating to business privilege taxes. The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee reconsidered and tabled bills to require mandatory furlough days for state workers and to suspend longevity pay for state workers. The House State Government Committee amended a Senate-passed bill relating to architects and engineers.

5/11/2015 Group Watch: Republican Revenue Plan

The House Republican Caucus in the Alabama House of Representatives proposed raising taxes on cigarettes, car titles and car rentals as part of a plan to fix the state budget. The overall plan calls for $200 million in revenue increases and cost reductions. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh has proposed a lottery and expanded gaming at the state’s four greyhound tracks. Twenty-two members of the house Republican caucus introduced legislation to make it illegal for a gambling interest, or a person acting on behalf of a gambling interest, to make campaign contributions to a person running for elective office.

May 4, 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

This past week, the Alabama Legislature passed bills to continue a number of state boards and commissions, to assist local government in functioning efficiently. Also, plans for possible expansion and regulation of gaming in the state were discussed.

  • Tuesday (17th Day of Regular Session): The House gave final approval to Senate-passed bills for electric utility facilities regulated by the Public Service Commission to connect with other electric suppliers; to provide immunity for damages arising from products not designed, manufactured, sold or leased by a manufacturer; and to clarify the exemption for degree-granting (colleges and universities) entities operating under reciprocity agreements. They also passed local bills for Tuscaloosa County relating to member contributions for the retirement system for police officers and firefighters, and to change the local election date. The Senate gave final approval to House-passed bills to continue the Athlete Agents Commission; the Massage Therapy Board; the Board of Examiners on Admission to the State Bar; the Occupational Therapy Board; the Polygraph Examiners Board; the Onsite Wastewater Board; the Engineers and Land Surveyors Board of Licensure; and Board of Examiners for Chiropractors.
  • Wednesday (Committee Day): The House Health Committee held a public hearing on three abortion-related bills. One of the bills bans abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, and another allows medical professionals to opt out of procedures based on their conscience. A third bill, which is said to be designed to shut down a Huntsville abortion clinic located across the street from a school, is said to be about protecting school-age children.The committee heard from parties on both sides of the matter but took no vote. The committee will likely vote this week.  The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would require couples wanting to be married to enter into a properly executed contract witnessed by two adults. The contract would then be filed in the probate office, and would govern same-sex marriages no matter the outcome of a Supreme Court ruling. The House Commerce and Small Business Committee considered a bill to establish a statewide framework to allow the transport company Uber to operate in the state, but took no action on the measure. The committee also conducted a public hearing on a Senate-passed bill relating to the Birmingham Water Board. Although they did not vote on Wednesday, they approved the measure on a voice vote on Thursday morning.
  • Thursday (18th Day of Regular Session): The Senate passed bills to establish a line item in the General Fund Budget for dredging navigable waters; to prohibit certain public officials from serving as lobbyists for a two-year period; to exempt the Birmingham Zoo, Inc. from state, county and local sales and use taxes; and to provide that at least one member of the Jefferson County Retirement Board be a retired member.

5/4/2015 Group Watch: Poarch Creek Bail-Out?

Last week, it was revealed that the Poarch Creek tribal leaders approached state officials regarding a state bail-out to address the budget shortfall in exchange for a compact that would give the tribe exclusive gaming rights. The proposed compact would also require the tribe to pay the state a percentage of earnings each year. A study by Auburn University Montgomery researchers projects the effects of allowing full casino gaming at existing dog racing tracks could generate $400 million and create 11,000 new jobs. Members of the Senate received a copy of a draft bill relating to a state lottery and gaming regulations prior to adjournment on Thursday. See the full proposal below.

Draft Alabama Gaming 43015-1

April 27, 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

This past week in the Alabama Legislature, the Senate was deep in debate about Medicaid, the House passed bills related to voting and a bill allowing the medical use of marijuana made it through a Senate committee.

  • Tuesday (15th Day of Regular Session): The Senate became mired in debate after passing a resolution asking the governor not to expand Medicaid and ended the day without passing bills. The House passed several bills related to voting and the elections process that include approving a list of felony offenses that disqualify Alabamians from being able to vote, but excludes those convicted drug possession. The House also passed bills to authorize the Secretary of State to share voter lists with other states free of charge; to bar members of the Board of Registrars from running for elective public office while serving on the board; to notify absentee voters of defective and uncounted ballots; and to establish a procedure for local board of registrars for investigating reports of death  or non-residence of a voter for purposes of purging the name from the list of eligible voters.
  • Wednesday (Committee Day): The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee voted 9-1 against a Senate-passed bill to repeal an increase in the driver’s license fee. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said the fee increase was needed to help cover the cost of issuing licenses. The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee approved bills to delay for one year a scheduled $15 million repayment to the Alabama Trust Fund and to allow up to $60 million from bonds to be used for prison construction. The committee is expected to take up the General Fund budget in two weeks. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill on a 4-3 vote to enact the Medical Marijuana Patient Safe Access Act, which would allow the use of marijuana for defined medical purposes. Many will be watching to see if the Senate leadership will allow the measure to come up for debate on the floor.
  • Thursday (16th Day of Regular Session): The House passed Senate-passed bills to establish a new state board to oversee the state’s two year colleges and the Right of Publicity Act to define the elements and scope for infringement. They also passed a local Jefferson County bill designating that a member of the county retirement system shall be a retiree and a measure further regulating the payday loan industry. The Senate passed Sunset Legislation continuing the Historical Commission; State Board for Architects; General Contractors Licensing Board, Security Regulatory Board; Athletic Commission; and the Board of Examiners for Landscape Architects.

4/27/15 Group Watch: Governor’s Memo on Revenue

Last week, in a nine-page executive summary to legislative leaders and members, Governor Robert Bentley outlined the impact to statutorily mandated services if revenue measures he proposed are not enacted by the them.  See the full memo below.

 

4/27/15 Group Watch: Principal Perspective: What’s Wrong with the Bham Water Board?

by Allen Sanderson
Senate Bill 89 has been proposed to “fix” issues concerning the Birmingham Water Board. But what’s wrong with the current board and its operations? Nothing, if you review these key factors:

  • The board’s management team has a combined 100+ years of professional management, accounting and engineering experience, much of it directly related to water works.
  • The Water Works’ financial position has improved every year for the past 10 years, as has its bond rating, moving from single A to double AA with a positive outlook for the future.
  • The board’s pay is properly managed and completely transparent, with the 2014 average pay per board member staying under $20k. The board’s pay has actually decreased 47% since 2009.
  • The board has successfully put money back into the water system with main replacements and improvements.
  • The board has been and is in strict compliance with state ethics law and routinely issues operational reports and holds required public hearings regarding rate increases.
  • The board has recently earned national recognition for its training practices with awards, ranking  No. 24 in Training Magazine‘s Top 125 Award.

 

April 20, 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

This past week, the Alabama Legislature passed bills to provide education funding, to promote the employment of veterans and to empower municipal planning commissions.

  • Tuesday (13th Day of Regular Session): The House passed bills to allow physicians providing pain management services to do so at multiple locations without additional registration fees; to hold liable employers who protect the wages of employees from child support withholding orders; to permit municipal planning commissions to adopt regulations authorizing approval of minor subdivisions without notice and a public hearing under certain conditions; and to provide for single point online transactions (ONE SPOT) filing of county and municipal lodgings taxes, which has already been passed by the Senate. The Senate passed a $6 billion education budget for FY16 with minimum debate. The bill will provide additional money to expand the state’s voluntary Pre-K program, purchase new textbooks, hire additional teachers for middle schools, increase funding for school buses and provide additional money to local systems for other current expenses. The Senate also passed bills to allow for preference in employment and promotion of veterans in state government; to establish criminal penalties for persons who fraudulently hold themselves out as having received military decorations and medals; and to authorize parents or legal guardians to authorize certain medical treatment where a minor refused.
  • Wednesday (Committee Day): The SenateFinance and Taxation Education Committee onEducation approved appropriations for Lyman Ward Academy, Tuskegee University and Talladega College. The Senate Committee on Education and Youth Affairs voted 5-3 in favor of a bill that would repeal Common Core standards in Alabama public schools.
  • Thursday (14th Day of Regular Session):  The House debated for several hours a special order calendar that contained a controversial lead-off bill before adjourning. The Senate passed bills to establish a streamlined process of licensing physicians in multiple states; to designate the Lane Cake as the official state dessert; and a number of bills of local application only. Near the end of the day, they passed a bill restructuring the board makeup of the Birmingham Water Board, after agreeing to accept an amendment by Birmingham Senator Rodger Smitherman. The measure was brought up, out of order by sponsorSenator Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia, and divided the body over the potential implications statewide.

4/20/15 Group Watch: New AL News Source

Alabama now has a new source for comprehensive political and business news. The recently launched Alabama Today, led by veteran political activist Apryl Marie Fogel, offers a distinct editorial voice as it covers politics, public policy and business news. In addition, it will feature expansive coverage of women’s growing influence in politics, business and philanthropy throughout the state.

“The primary goal for Alabama Today is to provide a place where news is news and opinion is opinion,” Fogel says. “We’re excited to combine our coverage of politics and business while focusing on and recognizing the impact women are having as leaders and influencers throughout Alabama.”

Alabama Today’s editorial team will feature experienced, independent journalists and a wide variety of guest columnists representing important and diverse views.

While Alabama Today will cover politics, policy and business for a broad audience, insider news surrounding the business of politics will be an important part of coverage. “Our content gives readers the edge in knowing what’s happening not just on the legislative floor, but in the behind-the-scenes where business and politics intersect,” Fogel says. “We want to keep our readers informed about the moves of influential people, key staff and consultants.”

Alabama Today will provide free content for readers at ALToday.com with updates and e-newsletters available by signup. Alabama Today will also generate an opinion based content service for media group partners throughout the state and the region.

4/20/15 Group Watch: Lethal Injection Brief

Alabama and 12 other states filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the three-drug combination being used in Oklahoma to execute inmates. Alabama and the other 12 states argue that the three-drug lethal injection protocol used in Oklahoma complies with U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. States have adopted the protocol because of their inability to acquire other drugs. The states joining Alabama in the amicus brief are Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

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