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February 15, 2013 Group Watch

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday, Feb. 5, for the start of the 2013 regular session and quickly got down to business working on bills to streamline government and to make the state a better and safer place to live.

  • On Wednesday, Feb. 6: Senate Education Policy Committee conducted a public hearing but took no vote on a bill to permit local school boards greater flexibility on a broad range of education policy issues. Later in the day, the House Education Committee heard testimony on the same bill and after amendment, gave a favorable report to the bill. The bill, after amendment, allows schools to request relief from rules and regulations in exchange for greater accountability. The amended House bill will allow local school districts to apply to the State Department of Education for waivers from state laws. The powerful teachers’ lobby, the Alabama Education Association, opposed the bill.  The Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a bill to consolidate some state law enforcement and public safety agencies and create the cabinet position of Secretary of Public Safety.
  • On Thursday, Feb. 7: The House passed a bill to repay money borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund to bolster the ailing General Fund. The House-passed bill would repay the $450 million over 13 years.
    They also passed a bill to create the Fair Ballot Commission and require the Secretary of State to post certain information on its website to keep voters informed.  The Senate carried over several bills including ones to create the Alabama Technology Authority, create a cabinet level position of Secretary of Information Technology and to create the cabinet position of Secretary of Public Safety and consolidate several state law enforcement agencies under a new Department of Public Safety. They passed a bill to create distinctive license plates for breast cancer research and make them available for motorcycles.
  • On Tuesday, Feb. 12: The House voted 92-0 for the “Red Tape Reduction Act” that requires state agencies to prepare an economic impact statement prior to adopting new regulations. They also voted 93-1 to authorize a $50 million bond issue to buy vocational education equipment for schools. The House debated a gun bill but delayed voting on the measure. The proposed constitutional amendment would write into the state constitution the right to bear arms is “fundamental” and that any restrictions on gun ownership are subject to strict scrutiny and stringent judicial review. The Senate approved a revamp of state law enforcement and information technology operations. The Public Safety bill would merge more than a dozen state law enforcement and investigation groups into a new Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency. The Senate also passed two bills relating to information technology. One of the measures creates the Alabama Technology Authority to coordinate information technology for state agencies, and the other creates the position of Secretary of Information Technology and a legislative oversight committee for IT. IT functions within the state Finance Department would transfer to the new Alabama Technology Authority who could contract with private companies to provide the services.
  •  On Wednesday, Feb. 13 (committee day): The House Boards, Agency and Commission Committee approved a bill aimed at keeping non-profit spay/neuter clinics open in the state. The House County and Municipal Government Committee sent several bills to sub-committees for further study including a bill that would allow utility services to let private contractors sell service and repair contracts to customers. The Senate Education Committee approved a version of the school flexibility bill after adding amendments to protect the current tenure process and to specify that the legislation can’t be used to create charter schools. The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee and the House Health Committee passed identical bills to authorize the State Employees’ Insurance Board to offer high-deductible plans with health savings accounts. The Senate Confirmations Committee approved the selection of Wayne Smith and Michael DeMaioribus as Auburn University trustees and the reappointment of Randy Owen as a trustee of Jacksonville State University.
  • On Thursday, Feb. 14: the House voted 65-37 to approve a bill that would allow school systems to seek waivers from the state education policies and laws. According to the bill’s sponsor, schools could do things like get permission to shift financial resources or hire a professional musician to teach a music class. Waivers would have to be approved by both the local and state board of education and the state superintendent of education. The bill says an employee could not be forced to give up “privileges acquired by that employee as a result of attaining tenure or non-probationary status.” The House debated a proposed constitutional amendment relating to the right to bear arms, but did not vote on the measure. The Senate passed a House-passed bill to establish a plan to repay the Alabama Trust Fund $437 million taken over three years to help fund Medicaid, prisons and other agencies. Because the measure was amended by the Senate, the House must concur with change before it can go to the governor for his signature.

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