4/5/2013 Group Watch: Tweet of the Week

From Senator Cam Ward’s wife Julie Cain Ward:
“Last day to donate for Team Riley Ward in #Autism Society AL Walk tomorrow.@autismsocietyAL  http://t.co/g191G8fipD via @firstgiving RT!”
The Ward family will be walking in the Autism Society of Alabama’s Autism Walk tomorrow in Birmingham in honor and support of their 10-year-old daughter Riley and to help raise awareness and funds to provide greater access to needed autism services. April is Autism Awareness month across the country, so take a moment today to use the link in Julie’s tweet and check out Team Riley’s page to see how you can get involved.

4/5/2013 Group Watch: State Park Bill On the Table

Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores boasts a pristine stretch of undeveloped beachfront property. Last year, the legislature entertained a proposal that would allow a private developer to build a large convention center and hotel on the site, but opponents defeated the measure. The legislation is back this year as the state parks face significant financial challenges created in part by the redirecting of revenue once dedicated to the park system. Governor Bentley has placed the matter in the lap of the legislature and asserts that parks will have enough operating capital if the legislature approves a bill to allow the development at Gulf State Park. While lawmakers continue to search for ways to fund the essential functions of government, many wonder if this is a deal they can’t refuse.

March 22, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday for the 14th day of the session. This week began as last week ended, in turmoil. And there will be zero activity next week as everyone, including the legislature, takes a Spring Break.

Tuesday: The Senate adjourned for the day without conducting business after Democrats and a Senate official accused the Lt. Governor of improperly calling the Senate to order without enough senators present to conduct business. The Lt. Governor ruled that she visually counted 18 members in the chamber, but Democrats say the official roll call shoed only 17 members were present, short of a quorum, and one of those showing present was a vacate Senate seat. The House convened later in the day and despite dilatory tactics, was able to pass two measures before adjourning. They passed a bill to alter the fee structure disposal of certain hazardous waste materials and a bill to further define “special fuel” and the level of taxes paid on those products.

Wednesday: On a day that is usually a  committee day, the Senate canceled all committee meetings and reconvened for the 15th day of the session. The mood remained tense and after contentious debate the Senate approved Secretary of State Beth Chapman as a member of the University of Montevallo board of trustees. The Senate also passed a bill to strengthen anti-nepotism statues by including cousins and other relatives and a bill to create the possibility of parole for some juveniles convicted of capital murder. A subcommittee of the House Education Policy Committee gave a negative recommendation to a bill to repeal the Common Core curriculum standards. The House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee approved a proposed constitutional amendment to allow the display of the Ten Commandments and other historic documents in public buildings. The House County and Municipal Government Committee discussed but did not vote on a bill related to property tax exemptions for the elderly and disabled. The House approved a bill to make it a crime to use a dangerous instrument to threaten utility workers when they come onto a person’s property to shut off a utility, read a meter or perform other official duties. They also approved a bill to allow the Alabama Highway Finance Corporation to issue up to $25 million in bonds to help some counties come up with the matching funds to get federal money for road and bridge projects.

3/22/2013 Group Watch: New Branding to Lure New Business

Governor Robert Bentley shared some bright economic news from the capitol steps. He announced that the state created more than 38,000 new jobs in 2012, representing $9.4 million in investments by companies in the state, a 32 percent increase over the previous year. The governor also unveiled to lawmakers and economic development partners the state’s new website, www.MadeInAlabama.com, the cornerstone of branding for an even greater push for economic development. Made in Alabama is the state’s new calling card for recruiting prospective businesses. The governor said, “Job creation is our number one priority.”

3/22/2013 Group Watch: Proposed Medicaid Overhaul

Representatives from community groups and managed-care companies are lauding the legislature’s efforts to reorganize Alabama’s Medicaid program. This week, speakers told House and Senate members that the proposal is a major first step, but also voiced concerns for the bill before it goes to committees for public hearings and revisions. The bill would change Medicaid from a fee-for-service program to one where private-sector contractors develop care networks in up to eight regions of the state. Executives with four patient care networks in the state asked the legislature to consider expanding their community healthcare efforts during any reorganization. Advocacy groups voiced hope that consumers are involved at each step of the legislative process.

March 15, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday for the 12th day of the session. Both chambers were subjected to slowdown tactics due to the Democrats’ disapproval of the Alabama Accountability Act.

Tuesday: The House voted 98-0 to give final passage to a bill to provide tax credits for irrigation equipment and voted 98-0 to approve a bill related to the exemption of certain aviation fuel purchases from excise and sales taxes. The Senate passed a bill to allocate up to $50 million one time from a pending tobacco settlement to the state General Fund. They also passed the Children First appropriation for FY 14 as recommended by the governor and a $1.75 billion General Fund budget for non-education agencies of state government. The 22-9 vote on the budget was along partisan lines. The budget provides for $615 million for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the same as the current year, a $22 million increase for the Department of Corrections, a $1 million increase for the judicial system and an $8 million increase to the Department of Human Resources. Two bills passed earlier in the session by the Senate and amended by the House won final approval by the Senate when they concurred with the changes. One of those measures consolidates law enforcement and public safety into one mega agency, and the other creates a new position in the governor’s cabinet to oversee information technology for state agencies. Both measures are heralded as streamlining and reducing the cost of government going forward.

Wednesday (a committee day): The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would add language about operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the law on criminal negligent homicide in cases of fatal accidents. The Senate Education Committee delayed indefinitely consideration of a bill to repeal the state’s common core curriculum standards. The bill’s sponsor moved to kill his own bill rather than accept amendments that he thought would weaken his intent. The same committee approved a bill to remove the head of the Alabama Education Association from the board of control for the Teacher’s Retirement System of Alabama. The bill’s sponsor proposes to add a higher education representative. The committee vote was along party lines. The Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee approved a bill to allow private companies to run the lodging facilities and golf courses at Alabama state parks. The House Health Committee approved a bill to require the Department of Public Health to develop information for breast cancer patients about treatment options, reconstructive options and insurance coverage.

Thursday: Conducting business in both chambers was a slow process. The House approved a bill that allows the new Airbus plant in Mobile to be held liable for manufacturing defects only if they arise during the first 12 years a plane is in service. The Senate-passed bill returns to the Senate for concurrence on changes made in the House. The Senate passed two sunset bills that continue the existence of state boards and agencies and a bill to make a supplemental appropriation from the Education Trust Fund: $10.8 million for workplace development in the Industrial Development Training Institute program and $5.3 million to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for the Student Financial Aid Program.

3/15/12013 Group Watch: Alabama Accountability Act Goes to the Governor

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled the Alabama Accountability can be transmitted to the governor for his action(s). The all-Republican Supreme Court issued a decision vacating a temporary restraining order that had blocked the bill from being sent to the governor. In a three-page ruling, the court said the restraining order was premature and should not have been filed until the governor signed the bill into law. Plaintiff’s lawyers say they will file a lawsuit as soon as the governor signs the bill. The original lawsuit alleged lawmakers violated the Open Meetings Act and their own rules when they added the tax credit program to a bill on a different subject. Recent polls suggest the majority of Alabamians support the concept of tax credits, but likewise don’t support the manner in which the bill was passed. On Thursday, the governor signed the bill into law.

3/15/2013 Group Watch: Governor Backs Changes to Medicaid

Governor Robert Bentley announced his support for his Medicaid commission’s recommendations to overhaul the way the state delivers services in the healthcare program for the poor. Bentley said the proposal will end the state’s fee-for-service model in favor of a network of locally run managed-care networks. State Health Officer Don Williamson called the plan “potentially the most important health transformation” the state has seen. According to Williamson, the plan is built on the notion of paying for outcome and quality instead of visits and volume. The plan is estimated to save the state $50 million to $75 million each year over what Medicaid would otherwise cost. The Alabama Medicaid Agency will establish up to eight regions that will group Medicaid patients and hospitals and providers. The networks would help manage a patient’s care and provide wrap-around services to help get people to the doctor. There are approximately 940,000 people in Alabama on Medicaid – roughly 20 percent of the state’s population. Medicaid covers 53 percent of births, 43 percent of children and almost 67 percent of people in nursing homes. Many in the legislature favor a hybrid plan that would include local managed-care networks and commercial managed-care networks.


March 8, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday for the 10th legislative day of the session with each chamber meeting for several hours without passing any bills thanks to most of the attention at the State House being focused on Montgomery courtroom where Circuit Judge Charles Price heard arguments in a lawsuit regarding legislation passed last Thursday.

Tuesday: The House spent the day hearing Democrats denounce the passage of the tax credits bill that’s now tied up in a lawsuit. They objected to its substance and the process. The Senate adopted a list of bills to consider, but adjourned while still debating the first one. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a compromise version of a gun bill by Senator Scott Beason of Gardendale. The bill would require sheriffs to grant people concealed weapon permits unless the sheriff can establish documented, specific reasons for denying the permit.

Wednesday (a committee day):The Senate Health Committee approved a House-passed bill to add new regulations for abortions clinics. The Senate Education Committee narrowly approved a bill to allow home-schooled children across the state to participate in public school athletics. That same committee postponed for a week voting on a bill to overturn the state school board’s adoption of Common Core curriculum standards and require legislative approval for future statewide standards and limit the sharing of student and teacher data with entities outside the state. They also took no action on a bill to prohibit schools from considering seniority when they decide whom to layoff during workforce reductions. The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee approved the General Fund budget bill, the Children First Appropriations Bill and a bill to transfer certain tobacco revenue to the General Fund in the 2014 fiscal year.

Thursday: The House passed a Senate-passed bill to create the cabinet level position of Secretary of Information Technology and a legislative oversight committee with certain powers and duties. They also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current year for the Department of Commerce and to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. This measure also has passed the Senate. The House refused to override the governor’s veto of Franklin County bill that would let some teachers carry guns. Administration sources say they appreciate what the bill’s sponsor was trying to do, but the administration believes that only trained, certified law enforcement officers should be carrying weapons in schools. The Senate passed a bill establishing policy and causes of actions relating to Right to Work. Work in both chambers was deliberate and slow and not much was achieved.

3/8/2013 Group Watch: AL Accountability Act Challenged in Court

On Tuesday, a Montgomery judge heard testimony before granting a temporary restraining order to prevent Governor Robert Bentley from signing into law a controversial bill giving tax credits to families zoned for “failing schools” to help pay for private school. The order comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the Alabama Education Association over the matter. On Wednesday, Montgomery Circuit Charles Price heard more testimony and extended his order until a hearing on March 15. The lawsuit alleges lawmakers violated the Open Meetings Act and their own legislative rules when they added what some call essentially a school voucher program to a bill on a different subject. Judge Price said that evidence presented during hearings indicated that lawmakers might have violated their own rules and the state constitution. The Republican leadership in the legislature says they will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

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