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.

February 28, 2014 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Education Trust Fund budget, abortion-related bills and welfare reform bills were all on the agenda this week.

  • Tuesday (17th legislative day): The House Health Committee passed four abortion bills with little discussion, including one that would ban the procedure after six weeks. One of the bills would place restrictions on minors seeking abortions; another would change the waiting period from the time a woman sees a doctor and get an abortion from 24 to 48 hours; and the final one would make it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. The House passed several bills of local application only and general bills to allow veterinarians to practice at spay neuter clinics and to require state contractors be paid within 30 days and establish timeframes for pre-bid conferences. The Senate passed several local bills before abruptly adjourning in the middle of debate over a bill requiring drug testing of public assistance applicants with prior drug convictions. The leadership said afterwards that important changes to a series of “welfare reform” bills had not been communicated to the members and thought the delay was warranted.
  • Wednesday (a committee day & 18th legislative day): The House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee considered a Senate-passed bill to prohibit former legislators from lobbying either chamber of the Legislature within two years after their term ends and other changes to the ethics law. The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee, after hours of discussion, approved an education budget that included a non-recurring bonus for teachers. The House gave final approval to a Senate-passed bill to make supplemental appropriations to several agencies including the Court of Civil Appeals.  They also passed a General Fund budget for the 2015 fiscal year and a separate bill that would conditionally provide a 4 percent cost-of-living increase for state workers. The Senate passed bills requiring drug testing for public assistance applicants with convictions for use or distribution of drugs within five years of the application or use of benefits; forbidding the state from seeking statewide waivers from workfare requirements for able-bodied recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits without dependents; creating the crime of fraudulently obtaining public assistance benefits; requiring Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) applicants to apply for at least three jobs before submitting  benefits for application for assistance; and forbidding the use of  TANF benefits for alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets and other items.
  • Thursday (19th legislative day): The Housepassed several local bills and general bills to restore exclusive jurisdiction to the juvenile court over actions for the terminations of parental rights and to allow local school boards to set each school calendar by number of instructional hours instead of days. It also passed a a Senate-passed bill to require municipalities to disclose certain information about the purchase of real property, as well as a Senate-passed bill to require biodegradable plastic containers to be clearly labeled to prevent contamination of recyclable plastic containers. The Senate passed several local bills and general bills to create regulations for wind farms; to revise the state’s Open Meetings Act; and to allow individuals who have completed sentences for drug-related felonies or who are serving satisfactory probation to qualify for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits. It also passed the Education Trust Fund budget, which includes appropriations for Tuskegee University, Talladega College Marion Military Institute and Lyman Ward Military Academy.

2/28/14 Group Watch: Governor’s Economic Recovery Tour

Governor Robert Bentley is visiting the Shoals area today during his statewide Road to Recovery Tour. This tour allows the governor to discuss state-level job efforts and local economic conditions in communities across the state of Alabama. Early in the day, the governor will visit with leaders, residents and small business owners and have lunch in downtown Florence, followed by a business roundtable discussion. The governor speaks this evening at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Civil Wars band member and Grammy Award winner John Paul White is hosting the event.

February 21, 2014 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

Lots of general bills passed both houses this week, and the push to repeal Common Core is back.

  • Tuesday (15th legislative day): The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill keeping secret the manufacturers and suppliers who furnish the drugs for Alabama’s executions by lethal injection. The House passed several bills of local application only and gave final approval to several sunset bills. They gave approval to sunset legislation to continue the Department of Insurance, the Public Service Commission, the Board of Podiatry, the State Board of Registration for Foresters, the State Board of Prosthetists and Orthostists, and the State Oil and Gas Board. They also approved general bills to create a gap insurance program so schools destroyed by fire or natural disaster can rebuild to current school standards, to create a board to govern the Local Government Health Insurance Program, and to facilitate business rapid response to declared disasters in the state by out-of-state businesses. The Senate honored 2002 Olympic gold medalist Vonetta Flowers of Birmingham. They also passed several bills of local application only and a general bill to require biodegradable plastic containers to be labeled to prevent contamination of recyclable plastic containers. They debated at length but took no action on a House-passed bill to establish an independent administrative law judge to hear appeals of state tax assessments. This measure is also known as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
  • Wednesday (a committee day): The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee approved several bills including a $1.8 billion General Fund budget for the 2015 fiscal year. The committee budget closely follows the governor’s recommendations, which include funding Medicaid at $685 million, an increase of $70 million; $389 million for Corrections; $92.3 million for Courts; and minor increases for Public Health and Forensic Science.  The House Health Committee conducted public hearings on four bills relating to a ban on abortion and a bill related to the terms, compensation and authority of certain municipal water boards, but took no action on any of the contested matters. The House Committee on Boards, Agencies and Commissions voted favorably on a Senate-passed bill related to the State Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. The House Committee on County and Municipal Government approved a bill to further clarify the liability of local government employees acting within the scope of their job. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill to keep the manufacturers and suppliers of drugs for lethal injections private. The Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee conducted a public hearing on a bill to phase out the state sales tax on groceries, but did not vote.
  • Thursday (16th legislative day): The House approved several bills of local application only. They gave final approval to Senate-passed sunset bills to continue the Home Medical Equipment Service Providers Board, the Manufactured Housing Commission, the Sickle Cell Oversight and Regulatory Commission, the Athletic Commission, the Recruitment Institute and the Surface Mining Commission. They also passed general bills authorizing the display of the Ten Commandment on public properties; to further regulate the sale of pre-need funeral services; to establish boundaries governing territorial waters and submerged lands; and to establish training and certification of persons communicating during emergencies.  The Senate approved several bills of local application only and general bills to give preference for resident businesses under certain conditions; to provide a limited state income tax credit for qualified research expenses under certain conditions; to authorize the omission of residential addresses of victims of domestic violence on computerized statewide voter registration lists; and to prohibit sex offenders convicted of a crime with a minor from being within 500 feet of a public K-12 school during instructional hours.

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