March 20, 2023 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature’s special session came to a close last week. The work done resulted in a concensus on how and where to spend the state’s ARPA funds and the governor signing the plans into law. This week, the 2023 regular session resumes.

In other news, prison-building projects are moving forward, there’s talk of a new plan to stop taxing groceries, and multiple Alabama leaders assured residents that our state’s banks are stable and strong amid the fears threatening to rock the national banking system.

Read more on these topics and other #alpolitics happenings below.

The House and Senate return on Tuesday March 21 
at 1 PM and 3:30 PM respectively for 2nd day of the regular session.

March 20, 2023 Group Watch: Tweet of the Week

March 16
The Bloom Group, doing what we can to help prevent forest fires.

March 20, 2023 Group Watch: Day-by-Day, Play-by-Play

On Tuesday (4th day of the special session): 

  • The House overwhelming approved the bill allocating the remaining $1 billionof American Rescue Act Plan (ARPA) sent to Alabama by the federal government.
  • The Senate unanimously passed a bill to transfer approximately $60 million from the State’s General Fund budget to the Alabama Trust Fund. (This is the final installment to pay back a loan made to the General Fund during less prosperous times in the state.)

On Thursday (5th and final day the special session):

  • After the Senate amended and approved the House-passed bill Thursday morning on a 29 to 3 vote, and the House concurred with the Senate changes on a 96 to 0 vote, the legislature gave final approval to a plan to spend $1 billion in federal COVID relief funds on broadband, health care, and water and sewer projects. Both chambers then adjourned Sine Die. 
  • The bill was promptly forwarded to Governor Kay Ivey, who signed it into law. 

March 20, 2023 Group Watch: Senator Orr Proposes Gradual Elimination of Grocery Tax

State Senator Arthur Orr has drafted legislation that would gradually eliminate the sales tax on groceries. The proposed bill would take one cent off the tax every year on certain foods covered by the Women Infants and Children (WIC) federal program. Orr, who is chair of the Senate Education Budget committee, said the bill would eliminate the sales taxes over time on the healthy foods included in WIC. While this would cost the education budget revenue, Orr said his bill includes “stop-gap” measures that would kick in if the tax cut results in too much revenue loss. Orr describes his proposal as a good compromise between those who want to cut sales taxes on food and those who are worried about depleting the budget.

March 20, 2023 Group Watch: Tuberville & Britt: Alabama Banks Strong & Safe

In the wake of the collapse of two large California-based banks, U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville said Alabama residents should not worry about the state’s banks. Last week, the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature bank fueled concern throughout the nation and the state of Alabama. In his weekly teleconference, Senator Tuberville discussed the banks failures, noting that bank executives failed to adjust for rising interest rates and went for almost a year without a chief risk officer. Additionally, he pointed out executives sold stock and paid out large bonuses. According to Tuberville, banks in Alabama follow the advice of regulators. He said that after surveying banks and banking interest in Alabama, he believes that Alabama banks are on sound footing.

U.S. Senator Katie Britt echoed Tuberville as she sought to assure Alabamians that the banking system was safe. She called for hearings to investigate Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse. As a member of the Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, she says she wants to lean into the details that have surfaced since the bank collapses. Britt says that banks in Alabama are strong and attributes the California bank collapse to regulators refusing to do their jobs. She also added that the “Fed” failed to use the tools in its toolbox to prevent what we saw in California and says she looks forward to hearing testimony from the responsible parties.

March 20, 2023 Group Watch: Kim Davidson Appointed to State Parole Board 

Kim Davidson has been appointed to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles by Governor Kay Ivey. The veteran attorney’s new position was announced last Tuesday in a press release from the board. Davidson has a long career practicing law and graduated from the Birmingham School of Law before becoming a member of the Alabama State Bar in 1996. Since that time, she has led the law office bearing her name in Vestavia Hills. Davidson will be replacing Dwayne Spurlock who had served since 2018.

March 20, 2023 Group Watch: State Proceeding with Prison Project Despite Increased Costs

Several top lawmakers said they expect Alabama to proceed with its plan to build two men’s prisons after a state board raised the spending cap on the first prison to almost $1 billion. A resolution passed by the Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority allows the state to spend up to $972 million on the 4,000-bed prison in Elmore County. That was an increase of $352 million, or 56 percent, over the initial guaranteed maximum price of $623 million listed in a contract the state signed in April, 2022. The project is in the preliminary stages, and officials have said they expect it to be finished in 2026. The second prison, also with 4,000 beds, is slated for Escambia County. Lawmakers approved a total of $1.3 billion to build both prisons in October, 2021. The cost increases are attributed to anticipated design changes and inflation.

March 20, 2023 Group Watch: A Bill to Toughen Penalties for Fentanyl Trafficking Likely Coming This Session 

After months of headlines announcing accidental deaths due to fentanyl and the massive amounts of the drug pouring into the country, many Alabama lawmakers are ready to put some real teeth into punishments for fentanyl trafficking with a new law. A bill has been pre-filed on the matter and has 15 sponsors in the House. Read more here.

March 20, 2023 Group Watch: Innovate Alabama Launches HBCU Innovation Experience

Innovate Alabama is hosting a tech brunch to launch its HBCU Innovation Experience. The new program will encourage inclusive talent attraction and retention within the state, which is home to the most Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the country. HBCU academic leaders will be able to network with peers, founders and program leadership to learn about internships, jobs and investment opportunities related to tech skills and entrepreneurial product development. As the state looks to strengthen its innovation ecosystem, a focus on minorities and HBCU engagement is being pursued to achieve a more diverse and inclusive tech and entrepreneurial landscape.

March 20, 2023 Group Watch: Details of ARPA $ Allocations

Last Thursday, Governor Ivey signed into law the bill approved by the legislature that allocates Alabama’s ARPA funds. In her State of the State address, Ivey called a special session specifically for this work, and the legislature got it done. Read more about the water and sewer projects that got funded and that many law makers claim with “transform the state” as well as details on healthcare funding here.

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