2/21/2014 Group Watch: Common Core

This week, State Senator Scott Beason, as promised, introduced legislation to repeal the Common Core curricula in the state, a popular cause with conservatives. Beason, who is a candidate for Congress, apparently ignored the message from Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh that any such legislation was dead on arrival. Most observers say the bill has little chance of passage this session while also acknowledging the publicity value for Beason as a congressional candidate. Most elected public officials say the decision is most appropriately left to the State Board of Education, who has already approved the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards, based in part on the common core standards developed by the National Governors’ Association and supported by the business community.

2/14/2014 Group Watch: Election News


February 14, 2104 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

It was a productive week in Montgomery: Changes to boating laws could stiffen penalties for operating a boat while drunk, and the Smoke-free Air Act has passed the Senate.

  • Tuesday (10th legislative day): The House passed several bills of local application only as well as general bills to: prohibit the licensing of healthcare professionals from being conditioned upon participation in health-insurance plans; authorize the Secretary of State to provide free computerized statewide voter registration lists to other state chief election officials upon request; authorize the Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors to require applicants to pass a board-approved exam and to further authorize the board to contract with independent testing agencies; regulate tanning facilities to include requiring parental consent for teenagers; and to increase the threshold amount for contracts on which bids are not generally required. The Senate passed several bills of local application only and sunset legislation to continue the State Regulation Control Agency, the Home Medical Equipment Service Providers Board, the Manufactured Housing Commission, the Sickle Cell Oversight and Regulatory Commission, the Athletic Commission, the Construction Recruitment Institute, and the Surface Mining Commission. They also passed general bills to prohibit the use of drones to harass persons while hunting and fishing, and to prohibit smoking in places of employment and public gatherings. This measure is also known as the Smoke-free Air Act.
  • Wednesday (a committee day and 13th legislative day): The House County and Municipal Government Committee considered, but took no action on a bill to further define the liability of local government employees acting in the line and scope of their official duties. The House Financial Services Committee considered a bill to further regulate payday lending and assigned it to a sub-committee for additional study. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved bills to strengthen the Open Meetings Act and to increase the penalties for a drunken boat driver who kills someone to equal those for a drunken car driver who kills someone.  The Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee delayed action on a bill to reduce the number of small businesses that have to pay estimated income taxes. The House approved several bills of local application only and general bills to create a $10 million scholarship program to help high school students take job training classes at two-year colleges and to create the workplace development council. The Senate approved several bills of local application only and general bills to raise the threshold where low-income Alabamians are required to file an income tax return if they don’t owe any taxes, to exempt barbers with at least 10 years’ experience from regulation by the state Board of Cosmetology and Barbering and to dissolve the Foundation for Local Schools and disburse the funds to local schools and trust accounts.
  • Thursday (14th legislative day): The Housepassed several bills of local application only and general bills to: require the State Department of Education to develop and each local board of education to implement a program for use of premeasured auto injectable epinephrine on each public school campus by the 2015-2016 school year; authorize the Medical Licensure Commission or Board of Medical Examiners to allow a physician to renew their license when they are paying an administrative fine in installments; increase the minimum of behind-the-wheel driving practice hours from 30 to 50 for new teen drivers; authorize the practice of optometry through telemedicine; make it a crime to repair a car using fraudulent air bags; require that a child who withdraws from a public school to attend an accredited online school not be counted as a dropout; and to further define “confidential information” in the Alabama Ethics Law. The Senate passed general bills to allow school districts to educate students about traditional winter celebrations and offer traditional greetings; to require that the licensure of medical professionals not be conditioned on participation in health-insurance plans, and to modify and update the list of schedule 1 analogue substances and weights included in trafficking in controlled substances.

Next Week
The House and Senate return next Tuesday at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. respectively for the start of the 15th legislative day.

February 7, 2014 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

News & Views from the State House
A number of local and non-controversial bills passed through the House and Senate this week, and one of last session’s hotly debated topics, the repeal of Common Core standards, probably won’t even be discussed this session.

  • Tuesday (10th legislative day): The House approved several bills of local application only and general bills to end the requirement to publish lists of registered voters in newspapers and instead publish the list on the county’s website; to prevent unfunded mandates from application to local school boards; to authorize warrantless arrests under certain conditions for trespassing on the property of an education institution; and to require animal shelter directors and owners to publish a monthly report of the number of animals that entered the shelter and list what happened to them. The Senate approved sunset bills to continue the Department of Insurance, the Public Service Commission and the Board of Podiatry. They also approved a bill after considerable debate to place additional restrictions for lobbying by former public officials and staff.
  • Wednesday (committee day): The House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee approved bills to allow members of government boards and commissions to participate in public meetings by electronic communication and to allow the state Ethics Commission to redact personal information from past statement of economic interest forms for public employees and officials that are available to the public online. The Senate Children Youth Affairs and Human Resources Committee approved a revised bill that would have required able-bodied public benefits recipients to perform community service. The revised measure says that the state will not seek any more waivers from the federally imposed work requirements in the food stamp program. State officials say federal guidelines will halt the practice in October of this year notwithstanding the outcome of this legislative initiative. The Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee approved bills to provide a one-time, non-recurring bonus for retirees of possibly up to $1,200 and a House-passed measure to provide tax credits to Alabama families that adopt children in Alabama. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill aimed at allowing a person with certain illnesses to possess the oil called cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil, a derivative of marijuana. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Paul Sanford of Huntsville, says evidence suggests the oil can be used to treat debilitating effects of seizure disorders. The committee carried over a bill dealing with the open meetings provisions of state law and delayed a vote on a bill to decriminalize midwifery.
  • Thursday (11th legislative day): The House passed several non-controversial bills and bills of local application only. They also passed bills to increase the maximum burial expense payment under workers’ compensation and to clarify elections procedures relating to the counting of write-in votes. The Senate passed sunset bills continuing the State Board of Registration for Foresters, the State Board of Prosthetists and Orthostists, and the Oil and Gas Board. They also passed bills authorizing the Division of Purchasing in the Finance Department to purchase certain personal property from vendors not on the state contract list under certain conditions and to make certain modifications relating to the State Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors.
Next Week
The House and Senate return next Tuesday at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. respectively for the start of the 12th legislative day.

Dead on Arrival
A new effort to repeal the Common Core State Standards from Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards will be “dead on arrival” during the upcoming Regular Session of the legislature. Although one member of the Alabama Senate wants to revisit a failed effort from the 2013 session, Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh threw cold water on the idea of a common Core Standards repeal, saying any such bill would be dead on arrival in the Senate.

2/7/14 Group Watch: Special Election Results

On Tuesday, February 4, 2014, there were two special primary elections and one special general election. Voters in Mobile overwhelmingly elected Republican Margie Wilcox to replace Jim Barton who resigned last year. Democratic voters in Birmingham elected Anthony Johnson to run against Republican W. A. Casey on March 25, 2014, to replace Demetrius Newton who died last summer. Republican voters in Coosa and Elmore counties elected Mike Holmes who will face any last minute challengers on March 25, 2014, to replace Barry Mask who resigned last year.

2/7/14 Group Watch: Political Announcements

This week Democratic Senator Tammy Irons of Florence confirmed rumors that she will not seek re-election to the Senate. Senator Irons who previously served two terms in the House announced she will not run in her newly expanded Senate district. The expanded district, which adds more likely Republican voters to her district, was cited as a factor in her decision not to seek re-election. Irons say she plans to devote more attention to her law practice and family. Rumors are rampant that Birmingham area Republican Senator Scott Beason and Clark County Democratic Senator Mark Keahey will also not seek re-election. On Thursday, Montgomery Democratic House member Joe Hubbard announced he would challenge incumbent Republican Luther Strange for Attorney General. The 32 year-old Montgomery attorney and Cumberland Law School graduate has served in the House since 2010.

January 31, 2014 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

Winter Storm 2014 slowed the pace of The Alabama Legislature this week, but it was back to business as usual by Thursday, and issues addressed included election laws and child safety.

  • Tuesday (7th legislative day): The weather prevented the House from achieving a quorum, but not the Senate. Twenty-two of the 35 senators were present, four more than needed for a quorum. The Senate passed approximately 20 noncontroversial bills, most with little or no debate. They gave final passage to a House-passed bill to change some deadlines related to elections, such as when parties certify candidates, and to conform with changes to federal law to make certain that citizens overseas in the military are able to vote. They also gave final passage to a bill to provide that foods prepared at home for bake sales are exempt from regulation by county health departments; a bill to require circuit and district courts to accept debit card and credit card payment for court costs, fines and fees; and a bill to exempt Alabama military from paying late fees for renewing car tags if they were deployed when their tag expired, and they renew within 30 days of returning to the state.
  • Wednesday (8th legislative day): Although all legislative business for Wednesday was postponed, it will count as the eighth day of the session because of  the rule requiring either chamber without a quorum to meet the following day, thus counting as a day for both chambers.
  • Thursday (9th legislative day): The Senate Commerce, Transportation, and Utilities Committee approved four bills, including a bill to transfer fines for violation of the child safety restraint law for vouchers for child passenger restraint systems for low-income families to the Department of Public Health and to change the amount allowed for administrative overhead. Voices for Alabama’s Children passed the original child passenger restraint law several years ago. Another bill clarifies that certain customer complaints related to retail telecommunication services do not fall under the purview of the Public Services Commission. The House passed bills to increase the amount a person is allowed to earn while receiving unemployment benefits without having their benefits reduced; to allow farmers to buy more than one vehicle tag at a reduced cost for vehicles that haul farm products, and to exempt private schools from sales and use taxes on tangible property and lunches provided to K-12 students that are not sold for profits. The Senate passed several non-controversial bills to include measures to make sexual contact with an animal, bestiality, a misdemeanor and to raise the fee to obtain a license for trapping furry animals. They delayed action on bills to prohibit smoking in work places and public places and to establish independent tribunals to hear tax disputes between taxpayers and the state. 

January 24, 2014 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday, for the fourth day of the 2014 regular session. Bills passed addressed issues ranging from religious rights to liquor sales.

  • Tuesday (4th legislative day): The House passed bills that provide misdemeanor punishment for discriminatory misconduct by the Alabama Department of Revenue against Alabama taxpayers, and which will allow healthcare providers to refuse to provide services, specifically procedures relating to abortions, human cloning, human embryonic stem cell research or sterilization, if they conflict with provider’s moral, religious or ethical principles. The Senate passed bills that would allow citizens of Lincoln to vote on whether to authorize Sunday liquor sales when races are being held in Talladega Superspeedway, and a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System to absorb the assets of the Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Pritchard.
  • Wednesday (committee day & 5th legislative day): The House Ways and Means Education Committee delayed a vote on a proposed $100 million bond issue to help schools replace textbooks with digital tablets. The House Health Committee approved a bill to regulate tanning beds and restrict the use by teens. The House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee approved bills that would redact the addresses of domestic violence victims on voter registration lists that are available to the public, change the manner in which write-in votes are counted, and allow public officials from other states access to voter registration lists. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees approved prosecutor-backed legislation to shorten the appeal time in death penalty cases. The bill is supported by the Alabama District Attorneys Association and Attorney General Luther Strange. The Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability Committee approved bills to provide drug testing for welfare applicants who have a misdemeanor or felony drug conviction in the past five years, requiring applicants to have applied for a minimum of three jobs, prohibit liquor stores, bars, tattoo parlors, psychic networks and strip clubs from taking the electronic cards that carry welfare benefits, and strengthen the penalties for lying to get welfare benefits. The House approved bills to give adoptive families a $1,000 tax credit and to clarify that teachers and state employees have statutory immunity when carrying out their duties. The Senate approved a bill to consolidate legislative operations under a newly configured Legislative Council.
  • Thursday (6th legislative day): The Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee approved bills to require lobbyists to report all allowed spending on public officials, eliminating the $250 threshold that triggers the current reporting requirement, to govern appointment of Alabama delegates in the event states call for a convention to amend the U. S. Constitution, and to set limits on what Alabama delegates could do in the event of such a convention. The House approved bills to create a Fair Ballot Commission to write summary statements to explain ballot initiatives for voters and to end the Alabama Health Insurance Program for high-risk people who have trouble getting health insurance because the new federal health law provides coverage. The Senate approved bills to allow criminal records to be expunged in certain cases when there was no conviction, to allow counties to issue vehicle registrations good for two years, to enable small businesses to raise capital from small investors through “crowd funding” of up to $1 million, and make it not a violation of the open container law to carry in a locked glove compartment wine bottles that have been opened and resealed.

January 17, 2014 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday, the 14th for the first day of the 2014 regular session. After the governor’s “state of the state” address on Tuesday evening (see below), they got down to business on Wednesday.

Wednesday (2nd legislative day): The Senate Education Committee with no opposition approved a bill to remove a requirement that students must graduate from an accredited high school to be admitted to a public two-year college. The Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee approved a bill aimed at discouraging lawmakers from quitting in the middle of their terms to take jobs as lobbyists. This bill would expand current law to prohibit members from lobbying either house for two years instead of just the chamber in which they served. The Senate Finance and Taxation Committee approved a bill with one dissenting vote to allow the state to sell bonds to help local school systems convert to digital textbooks. The bill’s sponsor Gerald Dial says the plan includes a provision to help poor systems by providing a 25-percent match to receive a grant from the bond money. The match can be waived for poor systems. A similar bill is pending in the House.
Thursday (3rd legislative day): The House passed business-friendly tax bills that were part of the “Commonsense Conservative” agenda of the Republican caucus. One of the measures gives the Department of Revenue the ability to suspend taxes that cost more to collect than they bring in; another creates a commission to hear taxpayers’ appeals instead of an administrative law judge who works under the Department of Revenue and to allow more small businesses to pay their sales taxes after collecting the money from the sale, instead of having to pay in advance. The Senate passed an identical bill today, along with a proposed constitutional amendment to xxxx unfunded mandates for local school systems and to amend the Open Meetings Act to allow members of public boards to participate in meetings remotely through telephone or video conference under certain circumstances. The Senate delayed action on a bill to tighten the law on former legislators lobbying in the State House.  They also approved a resolution to establish a prison reform task force. The intent of the measure is to get the Council of State Governments to study the state system and recommend changes.

1/17/14 Group Watch: 2014 State of the State Address

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, in his state of the state address, said that job creation remains his top priority. The governor called for new job-training and creation initiative, an expansion of education programs including a $10 million increase in funding for pre-k and a 2-percent pay raise for the state’s teachers. The governor also attacked the Affordable Care Act saying it did nothing but create a culture of dependence on government. The governor called for a 4-percent conditional raise for state employees. The raise would come only if funds are available. The Legislative Fiscal Office has projected a decline in receipts to the General Fund in the coming year. Legislative leaders voiced compassion for an employee pay raise, but say that the anemic General Fund and the demands of Medicaid make this quite a challenge. The governor praised legislators for the progress made replenishing the Rainy Day Fund, but added the responsibility is yet to be totally fulfilled. Prior to the governor’s speech, it was boring political theatre. Tea Party groups throughout the state rallied against Common Core curriculum in Alabama’s schools, and one state senator argued that his daughter’s fifth-grade reading assignment about the benefits was socialist indoctrination of the state’s youth. Senate leaders say they will not take up the issue, and the governor did not address the matter in his speech.

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