June 2013 Group Watch: New Secretary of IT Aims for Customer Service

Alabama’s new secretary of information technology says state agencies in some ways need to operate more like partners in a giant corporation rather than like independent companies. Brunson White, who retired from Energen Corporation in January, started in April in the new position in the governor’s cabinet. White says the newly created position can benefit taxpayers and state government. He plans to change what he said is a tendency for agencies to handle IT independently. White, who lives in a Birmingham suburb, worked for Energen for more than 30 years and was chief information officer for 16 years.

June 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

Election announcements top the current political news, and the governor is asking questions about the recent collection of blood and saliva samples in several Alabama counties.

  • A Long List: Two legislators are among the long list of people running for the vacant congressional seat in the first district. Both Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne, and Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes, have thrown their hats in the ring. A broad field of candidates expressed interest in the seat in May when incumbent Jo Bonner announced he was resigning to take a job with the University of Alabama System. Bonner’s resignation is effective August 15. Keep up with who’s in and who’s out of the race thanks to al.com. Find their continually updated list here.
  • Boozer to Seek Second Term: Alabama State Treasurer Young Boozer is officially seeking a second term. The Republican treasurer recently announced his plans for another term while in Tuscaloosa to address Girls State. Boozer said that since his election in 2010, he’s led the effort to reach a successful settlement of the state’s prepaid tuition plan. He said he has also streamlined the state’s unclaimed property process and worked with the legislature to pass a law that saved money by consolidating treasury budgets. Boozer said there is more work he wants to get done in a second term.
  • Governor & A.G. Question Road Blocks: Governor Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange want to know more about road checkpoints set up in Bibb and St. Clair counties where drivers were asked for samples of blood and saliva. Local officials say the checkpoints were part of a study looking into how many people get behind the wheel with alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs in their system. Officials said the samples were collected voluntarily and anonymously. Governor Bentley said he is asking his secretary of Law Enforcement to investigate the issue. He said he wants to find out from the federal government exactly what is being done with the information collected. Attorney General Strange expressed shock and said he is troubled by the actions.

May 23, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature convened on Monday, for the 30th and final day of the regular session. They addressed a number of issues, some more controversial than others, and by the midnight adjournment, both sides had triumphs they touted. The House gave final approval to bills to expand the ability of people to legally carry or store a pistol in a vehicle, to make other changes to gun laws and to propose a constitutional amendment for a $50 million bond issue for plans, construction and renovation of National Guard armories. The Senate passed a number of local bills and a general bill to repeal the requirement for “mini-trials” for those who plead guilty to capital offenses and are not facing the death penalty; to license and regulate barbers; to authorize a bond issue of up to $30 million to repair tornado-damaged schools; to allow local school systems to use local money to hire school resource officers who would carry firearms; to revise the state’s campaign finance laws allowing for greater corporate giving to candidates; to specify the authority of the State Board of Education to intervene with local school systems; to allow the Children Advocacy Centers in Alabama to participate in the state  employees insurance plan; and to limit the liability of engineers who are performing construction management services to contracting authorities. The House voted to override the governor’s effort to delay implementation of the private school tax credit in the Alabama Accountability Act.

5/23/13 Group Watch: So, What Died?

The end of each session brings joy and disappointment for all of the interested parties. This year the “dearly departed” included bills to require drug testing for welfare applicants who had a drug conviction in the last five years; to reorganize the legislative branch of government; to create the Alabama Space Authority; to issue up to $50 million in bonds to secure building entrances in public schools; to allow employers to not provide insurance coverage for their employees for contraception (aka The Religious Liberty Act); to change the deadline for voters to register from 10 days to 17 days before an election; and to authorize a $100 million bond issue to help school systems provide digital tablets for K-12 students. Once again, non-profit spay/neuter clinics failed to get a bill passed that would allow veterinarians to work for them, therefore protecting these clinics from state efforts to shut them down.

5/23/13 Group Watch: AL Accountability Act Could be Limited

State education officials are looking at how to implement the Alabama Accountability Act. A member of the state board says the board may be able to narrow the scope of the law through non-legislative policy making. The board could use its policy making authority to limit how many students are affected by the law if problems surface related to broadness of its application. State school superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice said that his legal department will be working with the Department of Revenue to review the multiple areas of the law that were not clarified in the amendatory language. Bice said that once the review process is complete, they will follow the statutory process for administrative code revision and adoption associated with implementation. Included will be the determination of what constitutes a “failing school” under the law. The law defines failing schools as the bottom 6 percent of schools in reading and math if they have been in the bottom 6 percent for three of the last six years.

May 10, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday for the 28th day of the session.

Tuesday: The Senate Education Committee approved a House-passed bill to clarify that schools would not be forced to take transfers from failing schools under the Alabama Accountability Act. The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee approved a House bill to authorize a $30 million bond issue to help Murphy High School and other schools damaged by tornadoes. The Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a House bill to remove a requirement that the state must prove to a jury the guilt of a defendant who pleads guilty in a capital case. The requirement would remain in death penalty cases. They also approved a House-passed bill proposing a constitutional amendment to require that any state gun control law be subject to “strict scrutiny” when reviewed by courts. The Senate Business and Insurance Committee approved a bill to permit Child Advocacy Centers to participate in the State Employee Insurance plan with all costs to be responsibility of the local entity. No state funds are involved. The House passed bills to overhaul the state’s Medicaid system and to allow certified registered nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives to prescribe some controlled substances. The Senate approved a House passed Education Trust Fund budget with some modifications. The Senate version includes a 2 percent pay increase for K-12 education employees and $9.4 million for expansion of the state’s voluntary pre-K program. They also approved a House-passed bill to make it legal to brew beer at home in limited quantities.

Wednesday (a committee day): The House Commerce and Small Business Committee held a public hearing on a bill to allow VictoryLand to operate machines that are programmed the same as those operated at Indian casinos. The committee took no vote on the measure, effectively killing the bill for this session.  The same committee approved a bill to create the Alabama Space authority, which would work to establish a spaceport in Alabama. The Senate Constitution and Elections Committee approved a bill to move the deadline to register to vote from 10 days before an election to 17 days prior to the election.

Thursday: Governor Robert Bentley signed into law a bill allowing private citizens to brew beer and wine at home in limited quantities. The House approved an overhaul of campaign finance law that included ending the state’s limit on corporate contributions to candidates, and the Senate approved a conference committee report on gun legislation. The House and Senate jointly gave final approval to the nearly $5.8 billion education budget; to the $1.75 billion General Fund budget; to remove the head of the Alabama Education Association from the board that controls teachers’ retirement; and to revisions to the Alabama Accountability Act, which gives income tax credits to help families transfer out of “failing” schools.

5/10/2013 Group Watch: State Finance Director Resigns

State Finance Director Dr. Marquita Davis is resigning to accept a position as executive director of the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity, according to the office of Governor Robert Bentley. Dr. Davis will resign at the end of the legislative session and will assume her new position in June. Governor Bentley praised her for doing an outstanding job leading the Finance Department during one of the most challenging times in our state’s history. Bentley appointed Davis as Finance Director in 2011. She was the first female and the second African American to hold the position. She previously served as Bentley commissioner of the Department of Children Affairs and as the director of the Office of School Readiness. She was a carry-over from the Riley administration since her appointment by former Governor Bob Riley to head the Office of School Readiness. A replacement for Davis has not been named at this time.

5/10/2013 Group Watch: The End is Near

The House and Senate are off next week and return on Monday, May 20 for the 30th and final day of the 2013 regular session. They both will convene at 9:00 am. Look for a 2013 Session Wrap-Up edition of Group Watch on May 22.

May 3, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

On Tuesday, House and Senate members returned to work for the 26th day of the 2013 regular session.

Tuesday: The House passed bills to change the deadline to register to vote from 10 days to 17 days before an election and to require that any restriction on the right to bear arms would be subject to “strict scrutiny” by the courts. The latter is a proposed constitutional amendment.The Senate passed bills to declare federal gun control laws to be null and void in Alabama if they were in violation of the Second Amendment; to ensure that the murder of a person under a protective order is a Class A felony; to allow local school systems to use education funds with the approval of the local board of education to hire armed school resource officers with certified state training; to make changes to state campaign laws including lowering the fundraising and spending threshold that triggers reporting requirements; to restore many of the property tax exemptions that were changed in 2012 for the disabled and people over 65; and to create an organization that would work to establish a spaceport in Alabama.

Wednesday (a committee day): The House Ways and Means-Education Committee approved a bill that would remove the head of the Alabama Education Association from the control board of the Teachers’ Retirement System. The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee approved a bill to allow Alabama wine makers to sell their products in tasting rooms at locations other than the winery. The House State Government Committee approved bills to mandate the drug testing of welfare recipients with drug convictions and another bill that would prohibit welfare benefits from being spent on alcohol, cigarettes, tattoos, strip clubs and psychics. The House County and Municipal Government Committee did not debate a bill aimed at adjusting the membership of the Birmingham water board due to a lack of a quorum.

Thursday: The House approved bills making multiple changes to state law regarding guns and to authorize the state to partner with private investors to develop and operate a hotel and conference center at Gulf State Park. The gun bill returns to the Senate where they must decide to accept or reject House changes to the bill. The House and Senate also non-concurred on the General Fund budget and sent the measure to a conference committee. The Senate passed a number of local bills and a general bill to authorize the State Employees Insurance Board to offer a high-deductible health plan. For the second consecutive week, the Senate delayed plans to debate the Education Trust Fund budget. There is said to be sharp disagreement on the size of a teacher pay raise.

5/3/2013 Group Watch: Mercedes-Benz Groundbreaking

Governor Robert Bentley and other state and local officials attended a ceremonial groundbreaking for the latest expansion of the Mercedes-Benz auto plant in Vance. The 900,000-square-foot parts consolidation center will create about 600 jobs, although with plans still being finalized, it is unclear how many of those jobs will be at Mercedes or at its contractors and service providers. A combination of all three is expected to work from the facility, which will streamline logistics operations and support the receiving, handling and sequencing of parts. Construction is underway, and the facility is being built by Birmingham-based Harbert International.

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