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March 17, 2014 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The education budget and several education-related bills, including one aimed at Common Core, came up in both chambers this week.

  • Tuesday (23rd legislative day): The House passed several local bills and general bills to provide a sales tax exemption for an original work of art sold in a municipality’s cultural district and to authorize the Alabama State Council on the Arts to develop criteria to establish such a district; to impose a minimum 20-year sentence if the victim of first-degree rape, sodomy or burglary is older than 65; and final passage to a Senate-passed bill to transfer the duties associated with collecting motor vehicle ad valorem taxes in Montgomery County to the probate judge. They also passed bills to exempt the Association of Retarded Citizens from sale, use and ad valorem taxes and to exempt businesses in Class 1-5 in municipalities’ cultural districts from taxation. The Senate passed general bills to further clarify when the State Board of Education can intervene in educational operations of local boards of education; to change the composition of the Birmingham Water Works Board, and to authorize the University of Alabama at Birmingham to conduct a study of the health effects of cannabidiol on chronically ill patients, and allow patients and caretakers to possess the drug without fear of criminal prosecution.
  • Wednesday (a committee day): The House Education Policy Committee approved a bill making changes to the Alabama Accountability Act. The proposed measure lifts the individual tax credit cap on contributions made to scholarship granting organizations and moves the date for dispersal of leftover funds to non-failing school students from September 15 to May 15. TheHouse Ways and Means Education Committee approved a committee substitute to the Senate-passed education budget. The committee version provides increased funding for healthcare benefits, but no funding for a pay raise for teachers. Governor Bentley has threatened to veto a bill that did not contain a pay raise for teachers. The Senate Education Committee approved a bill that would allow local school systems to “opt out” of the Common Core standards.  The measure is expected to be hotly contested on the Senate floor, and most observers give it little chance of passage. The House Health Committee defeated a Senate-passed bill to ban smoking in many businesses. Opponents of the measure say the bill contains too many exemptions and may in fact authorize electronic cigarettes. Little, if any, research is available about the health effects associated with electronic cigarette use.
  • Thursday (24th legislative day): The House passed several local bills including one for Etowah County permitting and regulating wind energy conversion systems with certification by a licensed engineer, and general bills to increase the statute of limitation for the prosecution of theft by deception and other securities violations; to place the Examiners of Public Accounts under the authority of the Office of the State Auditor; to further define the definition of draft or keg beer; to expand the ability of the state to award multiple contracts pursuant to a single invitation-to-bid; and to require contractors to pay subcontractors in a timely manner for completed work. They also gave final approval to Senate-passed bills to provide additional educational assistance to members of the National Guard; to clarify and strengthen provisions of the law regarding trafficking of synthetic drugs; and to remove exceptions for local school boards of education from the requirements of unfunded mandates. The Senate passed several local bills and a general bill to authorize the Attorney General to investigate and initiate enforcement actions on behalf of an alleged target of bad faith. They adjourned after a lengthy debate over the rights of persons to carry fully loaded firearms without permits.

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