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March 1, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday, the 8th day of the 2013 regular session. The hot topic this week was education.

Tuesday: The House Committee on Transportation, Utilities and Infrastructure favorably reported out a bill that passed the Senate last Thursday. This measure would allow persons who impair utility service work to be charged with criminal tampering. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees approved bills to limit the timeframe for lawsuits against Airbus and its suppliers. The House passed a number of sunset bills to allow certain boards, commissions and agencies to operate. They also approved a “Caylee’s Law”-type bill to make it a Class C felony to fail to report a missing child and a bill that authorizes warrantless arrest for people trespassing on school property. The Senate approved a bill allowing the Mobile County Board of Education to have security personnel or resource officers employed by the county school system carry firearms. They also approved a local bill allowing Franklin County school employees to train as reserve law enforcement officers and possibly carry guns at school as part of a school defense force. They also approved a $25 million bond issue to help some counties obtain matching funds to draw federal money for road and bridge projects.

Wednesday (a committee day): A public hearing was held by the House and Senate committees on Education Policy. The committee heard testimony on a bill designed to wrest control over common core policy decisions from the State Board of Education. The concern over curriculum was described as opening the door for unnecessary federal intrusion into K-12 education under the Obama administration. State Superintendent of Education contradicted claims by supporters of the bills, saying the state voluntarily adopted the current standards and did not cede any control to the federal government by using them. He also stated that the state was involved in the development of the standards and is not sharing student or teacher personal information with the federal government. The committee did not vote on the proposals.  The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee voted 13-2 to approve legislation to let the state partner with a private developer to build a hotel and convention center on prime state-owned beachfront property in Gulf Shores. The Senate Finance and Taxation Committee approved a bill that would call for a $50 million bond issue for public school boards to purchase career and technical education equipment. The same bill has already passed the House. The Senate Health Committee considered, but took no action on, a House-passed bill that would require doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges in the cities where they perform abortions. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that amends current state law that prohibits local governments from imposing a ban on handguns. This measure would add rifles and shotguns.

Thursday: The highlight of the day was the passage of a school flexibility bill by the Senate in mid-afternoon. The hotly debated bill passed on a 26-7 vote. Due to variances between the House and Senate versions, the measure was sent to a conference committee to resolve the differences. Later in the evening, a conference committee reported what is described as a dramatically different bill that was ultimately adopted by both chambers.  The conference committee report included language that would allow parents  of children in failing schools to receive an income tax credit equal to 80 percent of the average annual state cost for attendance of a public K-12 student to offset the cost of private school or a transfer to another public school. A failing school is described as one in the bottom 10 percent of statewide reading and math scores, has earned three consecutive D’s or an F on upcoming school report cards or is  designated by the State Department of Education as failing. After a lengthy debate, the House also voted 67-26 to approve a revamping of public safety functions. The bill would consolidate more than 20 agencies with law enforcement or investigative missions down to nine, with most offices answering to a new secretary of law enforcement. That person will be appointed by the governor. The bill as passed is estimated to save $260 million over 10 years.

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