Group Watch 3/2/2012: Immigration Law Addressed in HMMA Letter

One of the state’s largest foreign-owned manufacturing companies, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, has sent a letter to all Hyundai vehicle dealerships in the United States warning them there might be protests at dealerships concerning Alabama’s new immigration law. A letter from the company’s vice president of national sales said the company has learned that various groups plan demonstrations at Hyundai dealerships and at dealerships of other foreign-owned car companies. In the letter, the company defends its record on human and civil rights. Last year, the Alabama Legislature passed a law that has been called the toughest crackdown on illegal immigration in the country. The Hyundai official wrote in the letter that the power to change the law rests with the Alabama Legislature.

Group Watch 3/2/2012: It’s Back

Fifteen years ago, State Senator Vivian Figures of Mobile was elected to the Alabama Legislature to fill the seat previously held by her late husband. Since her election, she has pursued a goal to pass a bill to ban smoking in most public places in Alabama. On several occasions, she has come close, only to see a Senate-passed bill die late in a session in the House. This week she told members of the Senate Health Committee during a public hearing that, “I’m back,” and that this year’s bill is a compromise that exempts private clubs, cigar bars and tobacco shops from the ban. The committee is expected to vote next week on the measure.

Group Watch 3/2/2012: Immigration Law in Court

The law that put the Sate of Alabama in the middle of the national debate on immigration was before the federal appeals court in Atlanta on Thursday, pitting the state against the U.S. Justice Department and a coalition of civil rights groups. The three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of appeals heard 30 minutes of arguments from attorneys on both sides. Two of the judges were appointed by Democratic presidents and one by a Republican. The lawsuit brought by the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama and other groups was given 40 minutes for each side. A date for a ruling in these matters is uncertain at this time.

February 24, 2012 Group Watch: This Week in the Legislature

This past Tuesday marked the 6th meeting day of the 2012 session. Read this recap of the week’s activity in the Legislature.

Tuesday: In the lone committee action on this day, the Senate Constitution and Elections Committee gave a favorable report to a bill requiring lobbyists to report any item provided to a public official that is excluded from items listed as things of value. The House passed bills to ban the sending or reading of text type messages while driving and to establish the Housing Trust Fund Advisory Committee aimed at helping low and moderate-income families find housing opportunities. The Senate passed a local bill permitting the Montgomery County probate judge to establish and use a recording fee for improvement of the office record system. They also passed general bills to revise the procedures governing suspension and appeals for state employees, to stop convicted public officials and employees from receiving taxpayer-funded pensions, and to increase the size of containers that beer can be sold in at retail from 16 to 25 ounces. The Senate approved a resolution mourning the death of the mother of Senator Roger Bedford.

Wednesday: During this committee day, the House Transportation, Utilities and Infrastructure Committee gave a quick and favorable report to bill requiring those digging and excavating to participate in a “One Call Notification System.” The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee approved a Senate-passed bill to require motorists to move over and yield to utility service vehicles when their yellow lights are flashing and a bill to ban the use of social networking sites by prison inmates. The Senate Education Committee approved a bill to authorize the president of the University of South Alabama to employ police officers and did not consider a bill to decrease the mandatory school age from seven to six years old.

Thursday: On this 7th meeting day of the session, the House passed bills to expand a law to require motorists on roadways to move over to avoid emergency vehicles to include utility vehicles and to permit military identification cards to be used as proof of citizenship when purchasing auto tags and conducting other business with the state. Earlier this week, the Senate passed a bill relating to utility services vehicle. One version of the bill must pass both chambers in order to be signed by the governor into law. The House also gave final approval to a Senate-passed bill clarifying the duties of the departments of Human Resources and Public Safety regarding criminal history background checks. The Senate passed bills providing a supplemental appropriation from the Education Trust Fund for teachers certified by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards and to enhance the penalties for subsequent convictions for human trafficking.

2/24/12 Group Watch: Trimming Down

Most newly elected governors form task forces to look at streamlining state government. The reports are beautifully bound and distributed to the members of the task force and then begin to collect dust. In the recent budget submitted to the Legislature, Governor Bentley framed his budget proposal in the context of consolidation. In the executive branch, the Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention and the Office of Special Needs were merged into the Department of Human Resources. The Department of Labor is proposed to be under the much larger Department of Industrial Relations. Legislative leaders are reportedly looking at consolidating the dozens of licensure boards into a Department of Licensure and Regulatory Services. Many realize that any changes will result in long-term savings but no immediate windfall. Most staff reductions would be achieved over time through attrition and retirement. Procedures currently in place governing reductions in force could easily take 18 to 24 months to exhaust. The shortfall in state revenue is equally daunting and will not correct itself in the near term, and no one in town seems to expect any revenue bills to pass. So, like it or not, streamlining to some extent is likely.

2/24/12 Group Watch: Rallies Continue

On Wednesday, before budget hearings for the Department of Mental Health, more than 300 rallied outside of the Alabama State House appealing to lawmakers not to cut funding for mental health services. Many of the attendees wore distinctive red shirts and receive services for alcoholism, mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities from the Department of Mental Health. Speakers at the rally told stories of holding jobs and living normal lives despite their mental disabilities. The department is facing budget cuts that could be as much as 25 percent.

February 17, 2012 Group Watch

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday for the fourth meeting day of the 2012 session and embarked on a busy week. Here’s a day-by-day look at the news you need to know.

Tuesday: The House approved the “Heroes for Hire” legislation that provides tax incentives to companies that hire military veterans.  The Senate passed four bills: a bill that allows companies that invest $100 million or more to come to or expand in Alabama and hire at least 100 workers to hold onto an existing tax credit for up to four years; a bill to allow private companies to have prisoners perform limited labor in the state, so long as no private sector jobs are lost; a bill to create a statewide database of requests for bids or proposals for public contracts by all governing bodies, except counties; a bill to authorize the United Ways of Alabama and its members to participate in the state health insurance program.

Wednesday: During this committee meeting day, The House Health Committee discussed but did not vote on a bill to require youth athletes to be held out of practice and competition for seven days after suffering a head injury. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved bills to ban texting and driving, to stiffen the penalties for cockfighting, to require demonstrators to be no closer than 1,000 feet of a funeral and to require sex offenders to register e-mail addresses and social networking sites to which they belong.

Thursday: The House completed work and passed a bill that if passed by the Senate and ultimately the voters will let certain businesses use income tax withholdings from employees for expansion or new construction. The measure is opposed by the Alabama Education Association. The Senate passed bills to allow legal notices be posted both online and in local newspapers, permit local law enforcement from municipalities with fewer than 19,000 residents to enforce the speed limit on interstate highways, and to require Alabama drivers to move one lane to the left if a utility vehicle is stopped while making repairs or doing official business.

2/17/12 Group Watch: Governor Proposes Tax Holiday on Storm Gear

Governor Robert Bentley announced during a press conference that next week is Severe Weather Preparedness Week. During the press conference, he also announced a plan for a once-a-year sales tax holiday on weather radios, flashlights, generators and other supplies needed for weather disasters. A spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Emergency Management Agency said that emergency essentials such as bandages, disinfectant and other first-aid supplies might also being included in the list of approved items that would quality for a tax holiday. Alabama Education Association officials say they would look at the plan but do not favor any plan that will take money from education programs.

2/17/12 Group Watch: Rallies at the State House

Hundreds of citizens from across the state rallied in front of the State House calling attention to their causes. Nurses gathered for their annual Nurses at the Capitol event. Their goal was to bring attention to the challenges nurses face in their efforts to provide quality healthcare in Alabama. Members of the legislature and the governor addressed those assembled. Members of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice assembled to voice their concerns with the state’s immigration law. Organizers of the rally say they wanted to send a message of love and respect for immigrants. Legislators say a bill will be introduced in coming weeks to make subtle changes to the law.

2/17/12 Group Watch: Mental Health to Close Facilities

The Alabama Department of Mental Health has proposed a plan that would close all but two mental health facilities in the state. The commissioner announced on Wednesday a plan to close all but the Mary Starke Harper Geriatric Center and Bryce Hospital, both in Tuscaloosa. If implemented, the plan eliminates 948 jobs in the department and at least 473 hospital residents will be placed into community-based care. The Mental Health Commissioner blames looming budget cuts and the possibility of federal funds for the plan. Patient advocates say it is a tough choice but support the commissioner’s plan.

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