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February 22, 2013 Group Watch

The legislature returned to work on Tuesday for the 6th day of the 2013 regular session and bills up for consideration and debate spanned a wide range of topics, from agency consolidation, to gun rights to a long-overdue pardon.

Tuesday: After hours of debate, the House passed a bill to place new regulations on abortion clinics. They will require doctors at the clinics to have admitting privileges at hospitals in the same cities where they perform abortions. They also gave final approval to a bill setting up a plan to repay the Alabama Trust Fund the $437 million that was taken from the fund to bolster the state General Fund over three years. Lastly, the House passed a bill that would allow certain religiously affiliated employers to opt out the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that they cover contraception for their employees. Over in the Senate, after hours of debate, a bill to abolish about a half-dozen boards that control legislative agencies and consolidate their power under a new joint committee of senators and representatives was carried over. The Senate went on to pass a bill to establish a Fair Ballot Commission. This commission would approve statements that summarize statewide ballot measures in plain language for voters. The Senate also passed a bill that would permit municipalities and public utilities to allow contracts between the governing body and approved service providers to build, maintain and repair utility systems.

Wednesday (committee day): The House and Senate budget committees met jointly in budget hearings for the Alabama Medicaid Agency and the departments of Public Health, Mental Health and Human Resources. State Health Officer Don Williams told the panel the Medicaid Agency could manage its programs for fiscal 2014 with a $615 million appropriation from the General Fund, but would need more than $730 million in fiscal 2015 for the 900,00 Alabamians currently served by the agency. The House Education Policy Committee held a public hearing but did not vote on a bill to let some teachers carry guns in schools. The House State Government Committee approved a bill to allow Children’s Advocacy Centers to participate in the state employee’s insurance plan. This bill is at no cost to the taxpayers, but the nonprofit centers will achieve savings by participating in a larger group plan. The House Public Safety Committee approved a Senate-passed bill to consolidate several state law enforcement agencies. During the public hearing on the bill, members were assured that certain granting authority within the ADECA affecting local programs such as Children’s Advocacy Centers and Domestic Violence would remain in that agency. The Senate Education Committee approved the local school flexibility bill, which has already passed the House. The measure could come up for a vote in the Senate next week. Governor Bentley signed into law a bill that sets up a schedule to repay the Alabama Trust Fund the $437.4 million that will be transferred over three years to bolster the ailing General Fund.

Thursday: The House carried over a bill dealing with amending the state’s constitution to allow absolute rights to bear arms and requiring strict legal scrutiny of any measures that attempted to deny those rights. The House approved a bill to authorize a compact with other states to regulate healthcare. This measure would allow the state to partner with other states to bypass federal regulations and let states administer programs like Medicaid through block grants. The House also passed the Medicaid Fraud Reduction Act, which appropriates additional money for prosecutions, extends the statute of limitations and makes other changes designed to ease prosecutions. The Senate passed a bill to clarify the state’s authority to intervene with school systems that failing academically. The bill sets up criteria under which the state superintendent could undertake an educational intervention in a school system. They also approved an appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence and a bill to posthumously pardon the Scottsboro Boys and others wrongfully convicted of acts prior to 1932.

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