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December 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

As 2015 draws to a close, gambling legislation is out (for now) and a possible gas-tax hike is in (at least in the governor’s mind). Stay tuned to Group Watch to see what actually happens when the Alabama Legislature starts its work again in February. Until then, enjoy your holidays!

Senate Leader Pulls Plug on Lottery & Gambling
State Senate leader Del Marsh said he has decided not to introduce gambling legislation in the upcoming legislative session due to begin in early February. Marsh says the votes are not there at this time to pass such legislation, adding that he thinks the idea is worthy of consideration for generating revenue and jobs. Marsh, who is known for coalition building, says that lottery and gaming legislation would tie up the Senate and keep the body from taking up other important measures than can pass and are good for the members’ constituents. A study completed earlier this year by Auburn University of Montgomery found that the economic impact of a lottery and casino-style gambling would raise an estimated $400 million in annual revenue for the state and create as many as 11,000 jobs.
Governor Bentley to Support Gas Tax Increase
In a speech to the Alabama Asphalt Pavement Association, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said he would support an increase in the state gasoline tax to support road construction and maintenance. The governor did not give specifics on the amount of increase he would support, but the last tax increase in 1992 was 5 cents to raise the total state tax to 16 cents a gallon. The Alabama Association of County Commissions is on the record supporting an increase in gasoline taxes for highway maintenance and construction. Gas tax revenue is earmarked mostly for road construction and for cities and counties. One-third of the state’s bridges on county roads are more than 50 years old.
DHR Task Force Hears Options for Reform
Governor Robert Bentley signed an executive order earlier this year creating a nine-member task force to look at ways to possibly improve the way the Department of Human Resources delivers services. Some of the proposals looked at reducing the high turnover of social workers and finding a uniform standard for how parental rights termination hearings can be carried out. State Representative Chris England of Tuscaloosa differed with one of his colleagues who filed a bill in the 2015 regular session to create an ombudsman’s office. England took exception to adding another layer of bureaucracy at an annual price of $700,000. England suggested an investment be made in the existing system instead of throwing more government at it. He was supported by Fairhope attorney Rick Drummond, who suggested that it is not policy that is the problem, but how policies are enforced in individual counties.

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