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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.

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