4/13/2015 Group Watch: Getting the Budgets Done

House Speaker Mike Hubbard says the legislature will pass budgets before the regular session ends. He says it is important to show the people of Alabama the legislature is doing everything to shrink the size of government before considering any new revenue measures. Speaker Hubbard says that lawmakers see the shortfall as closer to $250 million as compared to the $541 million projected by the governor. He mentioned that a bill is coming to dissolve the Tourism Department and the Department of Economic and Community Affairs and move their responsibilities under the Department of Commerce.

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. 

4/6/15 Group Watch: New Dept. of Corrections Commissioner

Governor Bentley announced Senate confirmation and the swearing in ceremony of the new Department of Corrections Commissioner, retired Colonel Jefferson Dunn. Dunn recently retired from the United States Air Force after 28 years of service. His top priority is to address the challenges of the problem plagued system to avoid a federal takeover.

March 23, 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

This past week, the Legislature passed bills to reform the state’s prison system, enhance educational options for school-age children and to strengthen economic opportunity in local communities.

  • Tuesday (6th Day of Regular Session): A legislator introduced a bill to scale back a key part of Governor Bentley’s plan to raise taxes. Representative Steve Clouse introduced a bill that would raise the vehicle sales tax from 2 percent to 3 percent instead of the 4 percent proposed by the governor. After lengthy debate, he House passed a bill to raise the maximum age a judge can serve from 70 to 72. The bill as introduced would have raised the age to 75. They also passed a bill to make it a misdemeanor offense to fraudulently claim to have been decorated or received a medal from serving in the United States Armed Forces. The House defeated a proposed constitutional amendment to ban new occupational taxes in the state after 2017.  The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill to help reform the state’s prison system. The bill is designed to keep some nonviolent offenders out of prison and keep others from returning to prison. The 130-page bill reduces penalties for some crimes and calls for greater supervision of inmates on parole and for those who finish their sentences and leave prison. The Senate approved a bill to require cars to keep a distance of at least five feet when passing bicycles.
  • Wednesday (7th Day of Regular Session): The Senate Education Policy Committee approved a bill to make it a crime harass or threaten school employees through the internet. They also approved a bill to broaden the Alabama Accountability Act, which gives state financial support to families of children in failing schools to allow them to enroll in private schools and to refocus its eligibility requirements on students with the most needs. The House passed local bills to allow the sales of draft beer in Elmore County and for the sale of alcohol in Elmore County under certain circumstances. They also approved a Senate-passed bill with changes to allow charter schools. The Senate approved the charter school bill with the changes made by the House and sent the measure to the governor for his signature, which occurred on Thursday. They also passed bills to authorize a change in the board composition of the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority and to prohibit serial meeting under the Alabama Meetings Act.
  • Thursday (8th Day of Regular Session): The House passed bills to provide incentives for reinvestment in existing businesses and to waive state licensing requirements for athletic physicians traveling into the state for sporting events. The Senate gave final approval to local bills affecting the sale of draft beer and Sunday alcohol sales in Elmore County. They also passed a bill to create a new board to govern two-year colleges.

3/23/2015 Group Watch: Taking a Break

While students and teachers across the state take a spring break, the legislature is doing the same, and so is Group Watch. There will be no issue next week. Both chambers will reconvene on March 31, and the next Group Watch will follow!

3/23/2015 Group Watch: Spread the Word

Know of someone who ought to be getting all the great information contained in Group Watch delivered straight to their inbox? Forward them this issue and encourage them to sign up for the Group Watch list by emailing us at newsletter@blooomgroup.com.

March 16, 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

This past week, bills to protect religious freedoms, allow charter schools and to make changes to incentives given to businesses were on the agenda.

  • Tuesday (3rd Day of Regular Session): The House passed three bills to change the way Alabama gives incentives to businesses that create new jobs, hire veterans and develop projects in rural areas. The bills are part of the Made in Alabama incentives package Governor Robert Bentley addressed in his State of the State Speech last week. They are also a part of the Republican House Caucus agenda for this session. After a lengthy debate and dialogue, the Senate passed a bill to allow charter schools in Alabama. The Charter School bill provides for the creation of up to 10 programs per year for the next five years under the authority of local school boards. Under the bill, theses schools will be publicly funded, but will operate without the rules and regulations that govern traditional public schools in hiring, curriculum, instruction, scheduling and other areas. The Senate also passed a bill to establish a new missing child alert system. The bill provides that if a child is reported missing to a local law enforcement agency, and if those responsible for the child confirm the child is missing, an alert would be triggered.
  • Wednesday (4th Day of Regular Session): The House passed bills to authorize the Alabama Student Religious Liberties Act, which protects the religious expression rights of students in public schools; to provide for execution by electrocution under certain circumstances; to permit the sale of draft beer in Autauga and Elmore counties, with certain exceptions, and in the cities of Sylacauga and Oak Grove in Talladega County under certain circumstances. The Senate passed a bill to provide for the use of funds derived by counties and municipal governing bodies from solid waste programs. The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee took no action on HB48, which seeks to create the Office of Ombudsman for Child Welfare. The Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee approved SB89, a bill to restructure the Birmingham Water Board, on a 7 to 4 vote with 1 abstention.
  • Thursday (5th Day of Regular Session): After considerable debate, the House passed a bill to authorize the freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act; to authorize the municipal election option relating to the sales tax and licensure for alcoholic beverages and to provide for a petition and referendum in municipalities of 500 or less to determine the sale of alcohol. The Senate approved bills to establish rules for motor vehicles overtaking and passing bicycles; to authorize persons under the age of 18 to participate in the donation of blood and plasma; to clarify that the Senior Services Department is administered by the commissioner and the Board of Directors serves an advisory board; and to authorize a single-point filing system for county and municipal lodgings tax. The Senate carried over consideration, pending further negotiations, a bill to restructure the Birmingham Water Board.

3/16/15 Group Watch: Municipal Employees at Risk

Currently, municipal employees are at risk of being held personally liable in lawsuits, even when their actions were clearly in line with the scope and duties of their job. In one of the more egregious cases, a city electrical inspector in Montgomery was facing a heavy judgement in a wrongful death suit, and his case prompted many people to ask why municipal employees don’t receive the same protection in the form of tort caps that all state and education employees do. Read more about the case here, and read our Principal Perspective to the right to learn more about an important bill coming up in this legislature this session.

3/16/15 Group Watch: Principal Perspective – Equal Protection

by Allen Sanderson
Legislation that passed in 2014 limits the amount of money all state and education employees are liable for if they are sued personally for actions taken during the performance of their job. Why are municipal employees not granted the same protections? It’s an important question that highlights a critical problem, one that Representative Steve McMilan wants to solve with HB119, the Employee Liability Protection Act. The bill seeks to ensure that municipal employees are protected by the same tort caps as state and education employees. I’m asking everyone to contact their representatives and senators and to encourage them to support this bill.

3/9/2015 Group Watch: News & Views From the State House

Here we go! The 2015 regular session of the Alabama Legislature has begun, and it’s sure to be an interesting one.

  • State of the State: Governor Robert Bentley unveiled his plan for Alabama during the state of the state speech last Tuesday. The governor proposes adding 500 teaching units; level funding for most state agencies, with the possibility of eliminating some open positions; increasing the Medicaid budget by $110 million; increasing funding to the Departments of Corrections and Pardons and Parole by $28.1 million and $18.3 million respectively; increasing funding to the Pre-K program by $10 million; and increasing funding by $15 million to the Office of the Attorney General. Governor Bentley is also proposing to increase taxes by $541 million.  The proposed hikes would be in the form of automobile sales tax and cigarette tax; elimination of certain tax credits for banks and insurance companies; elimination of an income tax withholding plan; elimination of a tax exemption for municipal utilities; and the closing of a corporate tax loophole.
  • Bills to Watch: Several Republican lawmakers want to bring back the electric chair as a backup in capital cases in the event lethal injection is declared unconstitutional or the drugs not available. At the top of the Republican agenda is a bill to establish charter schools. A limit of 10 schools can be created in the first year. Two House Democrats are co-sponsoring a bill that would make it illegal to carry a gun in a church without permission, even if you have a permit. One of the first bills filed this session would prohibit Alabama school districts from discriminating against students and parents for their religious viewpoints. HB 41 would allow physically disabled or elderly voters over the age of 70 to move to the front of the line at their designated polling places.

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