8/14/15 Group Watch: Governor Defunds Planned Parenthood

Governor Robert Bentley announced he was terminating an agreement between the Alabama Medicaid Agency and Planned Parenthood. Records from the Alabama Medicaid Agency show it has paid Planned Parenthood’s two clinics in Alabama $4,351 over the last two years. Bentley said that as a doctor, the issue of human life, from conception to birth and beyond, is extremely important. This comes on the heels of the organization allegedly selling fetal tissue, which they deny.

July 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Special Session has begun, and legislators are working to solve the state’s budget woes, but that’s not the only thing happening in Alabama.

  • Special Session Called. With very little notice and in an unexpected move, Governor Robert Bentley called the Alabama Legislature into a special session starting this past Monday. A special session was inevitable, but most thought it would be called in mid-August. The legislators met for a few minutes on Monday afternoon and then recessed for three weeks; they are now expected to reconvene on August 3. The governor asked the legislature to pass a General Fund budget, pass revenue measures needed to adequately fund the General Fund budget, budget reform measures and an economic development bond issue for improvement at Gulf State Park. (See the governor’s proclamation below.) One item notably absent from his proclamation was any discussion of gambling. Bentley is still at odds with Republicans in the House and Senate over just how to fill the approximately $200 million hole in the General Fund. Bentley’s plan calls for raised taxes, while Republicans like Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh say more taxes would slow the state’s still-recovering economy. During the regular session, Marsh proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow the people of Alabama to vote on an omnibus gambling bill and may introduce a similar proposal again. (Read here to find out how and why he can.) Committees from both chambers will be meeting before they reconvene to look over Bentley’s proposals and work on their own. They have 30 days from July 13 to solve the budget issues or another special session will be called.
  • BP To Settle Deepwater Horizon Claims. Petroleum giant British Petroleum (BP) has reached a settlement in principal arising from the Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill in 2010. The agreement with the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas also includes settlement of claims made by more than 400 local government entities. The principal payments include a $5.5 billion civil penalty under the Clean Water Act and $7.1 billion to the federal government and the five Gulf Coast states for natural resource damages, both payable over 15 years. These amounts are in addition to the $1 billion already committed for early restoration. A total of $4.9 billion will be paid over 18 years to settle economic and other claims made by the five Gulf Coast states. Up to $1 billion will be paid to resolve claims made by more than 400 local governments. The agreements in principal are subject to execution of definitive agreements and will comprise the ultimate Consent Decree with the federal government and the five Gulf Coast states. The Consent Decree will be subject to public comment and final court approval.
  • $1.2M Grant to Expand Re-employment Program. The State of Alabama recently announced the use of a $1.2 million federal grant to expand a program aimed at getting unemployed people back to work. Officials say money from the U.S. Department of Labor will expand a program that provides one-on-one services to people receiving unemployment. The program provides intensive counseling to help people re-join the work force. About 6,800 people have participated over the last year, and that number will increase to 10,000 with the federal assistance. State workers will be identifying people most likely to run out of unemployment compensation and those who are receiving benefits as military veterans. The services are available at unemployment offices around the state.

Governor Bentley’s Special Session Proclamation:


7/15/2015 Group Watch: Tuscaloosa Mayor Bans Tobacco

In six months, the citizens and visitors of Tuscaloosa will no longer be allowed to use any tobacco products on property owned by the city. Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox recently issued an executive order banning the use of tobacco, including smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes, at all City of Tuscaloosa facilities January 1, 2016. The policy will affect all facilities, grounds, vehicles and parking areas owned, rented or leased by the City of Tuscaloosa. The only areas not affected will be pre-existing designated smoking areas at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater and the city’s parks. No new areas will be designated. The city cited the danger of second-hand smoke, reduction of litter and promotion of better health as the reasons for the change. The city will provide resources and an information campaign to those employees who wish to break their addiction to tobacco products.


7/15/2015 Group Watch: State Income & Sales Tax Receipts Rise

Alabamians have paid more state income tax and sales tax this fiscal year than last, which points to a growing economy. Through June, net income tax receipts for the Education Trust Fund rose 7 percent over last year. Individuals have paid $3.05 billion in income taxes, an increase of 5 percent. Gross corporate income tax collections were up 21 percent. Overall, net receipts to the Education Trust Fund, about $4.5 billion are up 3.8 percent over last year. Net receipts to the General Fund, about $1.3 billion, are up 3.2 percent. Auburn University economist Keivan Deravi said the 3 percent sale tax is average and is not robust, thus indicating a continuation of economic recovery from the recession of 2009.

June 12, 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

Last week, the Alabama Legislature passed bills to further empower local governments to address matters unique to each, to empower our military service personnel, and to protect our citizens from unwanted and unneeded products entering the marketplace.

  • Tuesday (27th Day of Regular Session): The House passed Senate-passed bills to allow local school systems more flexibility in setting their school calendar; to mend the National Guard Educational Assistance Act; to prohibit the possession purchase, sell or use of powdered alcohol; to prohibit nepotism in school hiring; and to amend the Mining Regulation Act. The Senate passed several House-passed local bills before becoming mired in dilatory tactics and adjourning.
  • Wednesday (28th Day of Regular Session): The House passed a Senate-passed bill to create within the Department of Finance a Division of Facilities, Leasing, Construction and Energy Management and to transfer certain duties of the state Building Commission to that Division. The House amended the measure, which now returns to Senate for concurrence or conference committee. They also passed Senate-passed bills requiring agencies to make certain reports the Executive Budget office and to the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee; to allow state agencies to increase fees based upon the Consumer Price Index; and to allow local governments to approve a one-time lump-sum payment to retirees if they choose. The Senate adopted the conference committee to provide for more distinctive license plates and for the distribution of the proceeds to the Veterans’ Assistance Fund. They also passed a one call notification requirement for excavation projects on public streets and roadways; to establish penalties for employers who protect employees from child support enforcement; and to clarify that military deployment shall not be the sole factor in child custody orders.
  • Thursday (29th and Final Day of Regular Session): The House passed bills to authorize local governments to finance for energy efficiency projects, otherwise known as the Property Insurance and Energy Reduction Act of Alabama; to restrict exemptions for residence and private dwellings by regulatory bodies; and to establish a new process for nominating trustees to the board of Alabama State University. The Senate passed bills to define the restrictions under which certain employees may not receive unemployment benefits; to provide for appropriations from the Children First Trust Fund; to provide for appropriations for the ordinary expenses of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, also known as the General Fund Budget; to extend the privilege assessment for nursing home facilities; to authorize municipalities to adopt regulations of minor subdivisions without notice and a public hearing under certain conditions; to provide civil immunity to contractors responding to hazardous materials that are discharged into the environment; and to transfer certain programs of the Department of Economic and Community Affairs and the Department of Post-Secondary Education to the Department of Commerce.

6/12/2015 Group Watch: Another Session Ends

Last week, the Senate adjourned sine die, and the House met for the final allowed day of the regular session this week, bringing the 2015 regular session of the Alabama Legislature to a close. Notable bills that died this session included ones to permit limited operation of golf carts public streets and to require a burden of proof for grandparents to visit with grandchildren. We’ll have to wait and see if they pop up again next session. A special session is expected to begin in August and will focus on the General Fund budget and solutions to cover its shortfalls. Look for detailed coverage of the special session in future issues of Group Watch.

6/12/2105 Group Watch: Education Budget Becomes Law

Governor Robert Bentley signed into law a nearly $6 billion Education Trust Fund Budget. The budget provides $13 million more for textbooks; $3 million more for classroom materials; $5.2 million more for Dual Enrollment Programs; $4.5 million more for transportation operations; and $10 million more First-Class Pre-Kindergarten. The Legislature is expected to return in August to address revenue shortfalls in the General Fund.

June 1, 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

This past week, as the regular session winds down, the Alabama Legislature passed bills to further streamline government, moved the House-passed general fund budget out of Senate committee and more.

  • Tuesday (25th Day of Regular Session): The House passed bills that would not provide unemployment compensation to certain individuals; to remove the provision of the law allowing free copies of voter lists for members of the Legislature; to create the crime of unlawfully installing a tracking device and requiring a warrant for installation by certain judges; to provide greater protection to victims of domestic abuse; to create the Human Trafficking Safe Harbor Act relating to the exploitation of children; to not renew of licenses of abortion clinics located near schools; and to provide penalties for violations of restrictions on stage II driver’s licenses. The Senate passed bills to allow the owner of residential and commercial property, statewide to claim discounts for structures retrofitted to resist storms; to move Bishop State Community College, Southern Union State Community College and Bevill State Community College who are part of the Alabama Career Center System to the Department of Labor; to permit the transporting of school children to and from extracurricular activities by means other than by bus, and to eliminate certain exemptions of the privilege or license tax on a contractor’s gross receipts.
  • Wednesday (Committee Day): The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee made minor changes to the House-passed general fund budget and favorably reported the bill out of committee. They also approved bills that would transfer monies from state use tax to the general fund and allow the citizens to vote to end all earmarks and combine general fund and education trust fund receipts.
  • Thursday (26th Day of Regular Session): The House passed bills to require ethics training members of public colleges and universities boards of trustees; to require the Retirement Systems of Alabama to submit a biannual audit of investments to the Legislature; to amend the requirements for the retirement system in Tuscaloosa County for police officers and firefighters and a Senate passed bill requiring that local boards of education use a qualified depository for textbooks. The Senate passed bills to prohibit racial profiling by law enforcement and to establish a process for filing complaints with the Attorney General; to allow state agencies to increase fees based upon the consumer price index by administrative rule; and to establish a process by which Medicaid funded long-term care services to the elderly and disabled be provided on a managed-care basis.

6/1/2015 Group Watch: Dire Predictions & Possible Solutions

The House-passed general fund budget includes cuts to Alabama’s Medicaid Agency that, according to Dr. Don Williamson, Chair of the Medicaid Transition Task force, could prove disastrous. Click on the link below to read more of his predictions. But while the regular session of the legislature is drawing to a close, House Speaker Mike Hubbard suggested last week that a special session will take place and probably in mid-August. The special session is needed to find solutions to the shortfalls in the General Fund budget, and by the time it convenes, Hubbard said he believes there will be new information and recommendations from his task force, which was created to study the impacts of earmarking and combining the state’s two budgets. Read more here.

Medicaid Budget cut

6/1/2015 Group Watch: Charter School Commission

On Tuesday, the Alabama State Board of Education confirmed a list of appointed nominees to the state’s new charter school commission. A few weeks ago the board declined to confirm nominees, prompting the introduction of legislation to remove that authority from them. Upon hearing of Tuesday’s confirmation by the state board, Representative Terri Collins withdrew her bill from the House calendar. State Superintendent Tommy Bice said the board will serve the commission as administrative support.

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