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April 6, 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

This past week, the Alabama Legislature returned from a week-long spring break and got straight to work. They passed bills to revamp the state’s approach to providing economic incentives, to enhance the school Accountability Act and to make it easier for senior citizens and disabled people to vote.

  • Tuesday (9th Day of Regular Session): The House passed bills that further clarify the fines for illegal parking in handicap parking areas; to authorize elderly and disabled voters to go to the front of the line at polling places; to make electric utility transmission facilities subject to regulation by the Public Service Commission; and to increase the filing fees for matters in the small claims division of district court. The Senate passed bills to require the Transportation Department Fleet Management Program to purchase vehicles from dealerships located in the state; to provide for a fee increase for drivers’ licenses and non-driver identification cards; to designate the brown shrimp as the official state crustacean; to enhance the provisions of the school Accountability Act; and to require that those who attend 2-year public colleges and who transfer to 4-year public colleges and universities be granted an associate degree when they qualify.
  • Wednesday (Committee Day): A House and Senate Joint Committee on the General Fund revealed projections on how the budget would look without additional revenue, and the picture was not pretty. Overall, the General Fund agencies would average a cut of 11 percent, with some agencies being reduced as much as 23 percent. The tax proposal by the governor that seems to have gained the most traction is a tax on cigarettes, which would place the state far below the necessary revenue to adequately fund the essential functions of government. The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee approved a bill that would require payday loan companies to give customers at least six months to pay off loans and restrict the terms and rates for such loan activity.
  • Thursday (10th Day of Regular Session): The Senate passed a bill to help alleviate prison over-crowding in Alabama. Currently, our state’s prison’s are filled to twice their capacity. The bill, by Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), passed on a vote of 31-2 and would reduce penalties for some nonviolent property and drug crimes and tweak parole and probation programs while also putting emphasis on community corrections programs designed to keep some offenders from entering the prison system. The bill now moves to the House. The House passed a number of Sunset bills allowing the continuation of state boards and several bills with local application only. The Senate gave final approval to a House-passed bill providing economic development incentives for rural counties; to create within the Department of Public Safety an Emergency Missing Child Alert System; and to provide that general contractors can not be restricted by municipal bodies for exemptions related to residences and private dwellings. 

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