March 9, 2012 Group Watch: This Week in the Legislature

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday, the 10th meeting day of the 2012 session and once again, had a full plate of bills to consider.

Tuesday: The House passed a bill to provide tax credits to businesses that invest in or locate in low-income areas. The measure provides an 8.3 percent tax credit per year for investing in impoverished areas for up to six years. The House also passed bills to authorize the president of the University of South Alabama to employ police officers for the campus; to require notification of affected persons when someone seeks youthful offender status if intentional serious injury or death has occurred; and to define basic telephone service consistent with federal regulation and statues. The Senate passed Sunset Legislation continuing the Public Service Commission before stalling tactics surfaced over a bill to provide stipends to classroom teachers for supplies. The Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee approved a proposed constitutional amendment to authorize the Ten Commandments to be displayed on state property and at public schools and a bill to define the kind of gift public officials, including teachers can receive as not worth more than $25.

Wednesday (a committee day):  Senator Vivian Figures got the Senate Health Committee to unanimously approve her bill to ban smoking in public places such as restaurants, hotels and motels, retail stores and schools and sports arenas. The bill would not apply to cigar factories, retail tobacco shops, cigar bars or private clubs. The Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee approved a House-passed bill that extends tax incentives to new jobs created in the aircraft industry. The House Education Policy Committee approved a bill requiring that school superintendents be appointed by local boards of education rather by election. The committee considered but did not act on a bill to reduce the mandatory age at which children are required to start school.

Thursday:  The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee approved a House-passed bill requiring motorists to move over when utility service vehicles are working and have their yellow lights flashing as well as a bill to require governmental and quasi-governmental entities to pay no more than the appraised price when acquiring property. There were three amendments to the bill in committee. The House passed bills to provide for a “One-Call Notification System” covering utility and underground facilities; to provide regulation in extraterritorial jurisdiction matters relating to county and municipal governments; and to require local boards of education to develop policy regarding concussion, youth athletes with concussions or head injury. The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill to provide every classroom teacher with $300 to buy supplies such as paper, pencils, chalk and hand soap. The Senate also voted to continue the Respiratory Therapy Board and the Board of Examiners of Assisted Living Administrators.


Group Watch 3/9/2012: Proposed Pension Changes

This week Governor Robert Bentley announced plans to overhaul the state’s pension system for state employees and teachers. The plan calls for setting a retirement age of 62 for most employees and 56 for law enforcement officers. Current employees can retire after 25 years no matter their age. The governor said the changes would go into effect in 2013 and would not affect current employees and that the move will save over $5 billion over 30 years.

Group Watch 3/9/2012: Court Blocks Sections of Immigration Law

On Thursday, the 11th circuit Court of Appeals issued an order temporarily blocking a section of the state’s immigration law that says courts can’t enforce contracts involving illegal immigrants and another section that makes it a felony for an illegal immigrant to do business with the state. The court issued a temporary stay until the U. S. Supreme Court hears a similar challenge involving the Arizona law. Alabama’s law was patterned after the Arizona statute. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange reacted to the order saying that he strongly disagreed with the court’s decision and is prepared to vigorously defend the state’s immigration law in the courts.

March 2, 2012 Group Watch: This Week in the Legislature

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday the 8th meeting day of the 2012 regular session and had a productive week.

The House passed bills to increase the incentives offered to companies to film movies and television shows in Alabama and to insure that nationally certified teachers receive a $5,000 bonus. They also passed bills to tax leaves that are used to wrap cigars, to allow a veterinarian to work in a charity clinic to spay and neuter dogs and cats if a veterinarian does not own the clinic, and to allow overtime pay to be considered when calculating a state employee’s pension. The Senate considered, but took no action on bills to exempt Health Care Sharing Ministries from being classified as insurance providers and to have write-in votes in elections be treated like provisional ballots and counted at a later date. They passed bills to criminalize the theft of law enforcement or corrections officer’s weapon and to switch injury and death compensation for the Alabama National Guard and State Defense Force members from the State Military Department to the State Employee Injury Compensation Program.

On Wednesday, a committee day, the House Ways and Means-Education Committee approved a bill to exempt items used to treat diabetes from state, county and municipal sales taxes. The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill making the continuous sexual abuse of a person beginning when the victim is under the age of 16 a crime. The House Education Policy Committee approved a bill to allow public high schools to provide a course in religion as an elective. The House State Government committee approved bills to permit the United Ways of Alabama to participate in the State Employee Insurance program. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill to enhance penalties for criminals who use a computer to commit their crimes. The Senate Health Committee approved a bill to assure Medicaid patients have access to medicines for premature infants. They also held hearings on bills to ban indoor smoking in most places and to allow midwives to deliver babies. The senate Finance and taxation-Education Committee approved a bill to treat National Guard members as Alabama residents for the purposes of paying in-state tuition at state public colleges.

On Thursday, the 9th meeting day of the session, the Alabama Legislature gave final approval to a bill that offers tax incentives for creating new jobs in the coal industry. The House and Senate approved a conference committee version that now goes to the governor for his signature. This is the first of seven job incentive bills to achieve final passage. The House approved several bills of local application including a bill for Montgomery County that allows the probate judge to use recording fees for improvements to the record system. They also approved a general bill to regulate further the sale of metals such as copper and brass to recyclers. The measure passed after lengthy debate. The bill prohibits recyclers from buying from persons younger than 18 and provides criminal penalties for persons who damage certain metal items to include electric power equipment. The Senate passed several bills of local application before stalling on another local bill and adjourning. They passed no general bills on this day.

Group Watch 3/2/2012: Public Insurance Adjusters’ Licensing Bill Positive for Alabama Consumers

Alabama regulators and public adjuster groups are lobbying state lawmakers to pass a bill that would, for the first time, allow the state to license and monitor the actions of public adjusters. Insurer groups, however, are objecting to the proposal that they say will increase costs.

Unlike most states, Alabama law is silent on whether homeowners with a damage claim can enlist the service of a public adjuster to handle their claim as opposed to waiting for their insurance company’s adjuster. As a result, no one knows how many public adjusters are operating in the state or whether their actions are proper.

Ragan Ingram, Alabama Department of Insurance chief of staff, said the department occasionally gets complaints about public adjusters, but without a method to track their activities, regulators can take no action. For that reason, he said, the law is necessary. “If you are in the insurance business, we want to know about you so that if you are not doing something proper we can do something about it,” said Ingram.

Part of the impetus for the bill is the widespread damage caused in the state by a series of tornado outbreaks last year, which stressed the ability of private insurers’ adjusters to handle all the claims.

In January, state regulators said those tornados triggered more than 117,000 claims, resulting in $2.2 billion in damages. Public adjusters point to these figures as a reason that they should be allowed to operate in the state.

The National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters is backing the bill. “We very much support the bill, which will protect consumers,” Brian Goodman, general counsel for the public adjusters’ group, said. “It will protect us as an industry by making sure the insurance department can ensure the adjusters are acting in a proper and ethical way.”

The proposal to license public adjusters is not without its critics. Insurance groups say it would only drive up the price of insurance in the state.

Licensing public adjusters would do more harm than good when it comes to settling claims and holding down claims costs, according to Monique Kabitzke, state director representing the industry’s Property Casualty Insurers Association of American.

A PCI white paper on the issue said that although Alabama has a higher median home value than its neighboring state Mississippi, which has a public adjuster law, Alabama’s overall claims cost is 16 percent lower.

A 2008 National Association of Insurance Commissioners study found that the average homeowners premium in Mississippi equaled $980, compared to the $871 paid by Alabama homeowners, a 12.5 percent difference.

– article by Michael Adams, republished courtesy of the Insurance Journal 

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.

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