5/23/13 Group Watch: So, What Died?

The end of each session brings joy and disappointment for all of the interested parties. This year the “dearly departed” included bills to require drug testing for welfare applicants who had a drug conviction in the last five years; to reorganize the legislative branch of government; to create the Alabama Space Authority; to issue up to $50 million in bonds to secure building entrances in public schools; to allow employers to not provide insurance coverage for their employees for contraception (aka The Religious Liberty Act); to change the deadline for voters to register from 10 days to 17 days before an election; and to authorize a $100 million bond issue to help school systems provide digital tablets for K-12 students. Once again, non-profit spay/neuter clinics failed to get a bill passed that would allow veterinarians to work for them, therefore protecting these clinics from state efforts to shut them down.

5/23/13 Group Watch: AL Accountability Act Could be Limited

State education officials are looking at how to implement the Alabama Accountability Act. A member of the state board says the board may be able to narrow the scope of the law through non-legislative policy making. The board could use its policy making authority to limit how many students are affected by the law if problems surface related to broadness of its application. State school superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice said that his legal department will be working with the Department of Revenue to review the multiple areas of the law that were not clarified in the amendatory language. Bice said that once the review process is complete, they will follow the statutory process for administrative code revision and adoption associated with implementation. Included will be the determination of what constitutes a “failing school” under the law. The law defines failing schools as the bottom 6 percent of schools in reading and math if they have been in the bottom 6 percent for three of the last six years.

May 10, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday for the 28th day of the session.

Tuesday: The Senate Education Committee approved a House-passed bill to clarify that schools would not be forced to take transfers from failing schools under the Alabama Accountability Act. The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee approved a House bill to authorize a $30 million bond issue to help Murphy High School and other schools damaged by tornadoes. The Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a House bill to remove a requirement that the state must prove to a jury the guilt of a defendant who pleads guilty in a capital case. The requirement would remain in death penalty cases. They also approved a House-passed bill proposing a constitutional amendment to require that any state gun control law be subject to “strict scrutiny” when reviewed by courts. The Senate Business and Insurance Committee approved a bill to permit Child Advocacy Centers to participate in the State Employee Insurance plan with all costs to be responsibility of the local entity. No state funds are involved. The House passed bills to overhaul the state’s Medicaid system and to allow certified registered nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives to prescribe some controlled substances. The Senate approved a House passed Education Trust Fund budget with some modifications. The Senate version includes a 2 percent pay increase for K-12 education employees and $9.4 million for expansion of the state’s voluntary pre-K program. They also approved a House-passed bill to make it legal to brew beer at home in limited quantities.

Wednesday (a committee day): The House Commerce and Small Business Committee held a public hearing on a bill to allow VictoryLand to operate machines that are programmed the same as those operated at Indian casinos. The committee took no vote on the measure, effectively killing the bill for this session.  The same committee approved a bill to create the Alabama Space authority, which would work to establish a spaceport in Alabama. The Senate Constitution and Elections Committee approved a bill to move the deadline to register to vote from 10 days before an election to 17 days prior to the election.

Thursday: Governor Robert Bentley signed into law a bill allowing private citizens to brew beer and wine at home in limited quantities. The House approved an overhaul of campaign finance law that included ending the state’s limit on corporate contributions to candidates, and the Senate approved a conference committee report on gun legislation. The House and Senate jointly gave final approval to the nearly $5.8 billion education budget; to the $1.75 billion General Fund budget; to remove the head of the Alabama Education Association from the board that controls teachers’ retirement; and to revisions to the Alabama Accountability Act, which gives income tax credits to help families transfer out of “failing” schools.

5/10/2013 Group Watch: State Finance Director Resigns

State Finance Director Dr. Marquita Davis is resigning to accept a position as executive director of the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity, according to the office of Governor Robert Bentley. Dr. Davis will resign at the end of the legislative session and will assume her new position in June. Governor Bentley praised her for doing an outstanding job leading the Finance Department during one of the most challenging times in our state’s history. Bentley appointed Davis as Finance Director in 2011. She was the first female and the second African American to hold the position. She previously served as Bentley commissioner of the Department of Children Affairs and as the director of the Office of School Readiness. She was a carry-over from the Riley administration since her appointment by former Governor Bob Riley to head the Office of School Readiness. A replacement for Davis has not been named at this time.

5/10/2013 Group Watch: The End is Near

The House and Senate are off next week and return on Monday, May 20 for the 30th and final day of the 2013 regular session. They both will convene at 9:00 am. Look for a 2013 Session Wrap-Up edition of Group Watch on May 22.

May 3, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

On Tuesday, House and Senate members returned to work for the 26th day of the 2013 regular session.

Tuesday: The House passed bills to change the deadline to register to vote from 10 days to 17 days before an election and to require that any restriction on the right to bear arms would be subject to “strict scrutiny” by the courts. The latter is a proposed constitutional amendment.The Senate passed bills to declare federal gun control laws to be null and void in Alabama if they were in violation of the Second Amendment; to ensure that the murder of a person under a protective order is a Class A felony; to allow local school systems to use education funds with the approval of the local board of education to hire armed school resource officers with certified state training; to make changes to state campaign laws including lowering the fundraising and spending threshold that triggers reporting requirements; to restore many of the property tax exemptions that were changed in 2012 for the disabled and people over 65; and to create an organization that would work to establish a spaceport in Alabama.

Wednesday (a committee day): The House Ways and Means-Education Committee approved a bill that would remove the head of the Alabama Education Association from the control board of the Teachers’ Retirement System. The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee approved a bill to allow Alabama wine makers to sell their products in tasting rooms at locations other than the winery. The House State Government Committee approved bills to mandate the drug testing of welfare recipients with drug convictions and another bill that would prohibit welfare benefits from being spent on alcohol, cigarettes, tattoos, strip clubs and psychics. The House County and Municipal Government Committee did not debate a bill aimed at adjusting the membership of the Birmingham water board due to a lack of a quorum.

Thursday: The House approved bills making multiple changes to state law regarding guns and to authorize the state to partner with private investors to develop and operate a hotel and conference center at Gulf State Park. The gun bill returns to the Senate where they must decide to accept or reject House changes to the bill. The House and Senate also non-concurred on the General Fund budget and sent the measure to a conference committee. The Senate passed a number of local bills and a general bill to authorize the State Employees Insurance Board to offer a high-deductible health plan. For the second consecutive week, the Senate delayed plans to debate the Education Trust Fund budget. There is said to be sharp disagreement on the size of a teacher pay raise.

5/3/2013 Group Watch: Mercedes-Benz Groundbreaking

Governor Robert Bentley and other state and local officials attended a ceremonial groundbreaking for the latest expansion of the Mercedes-Benz auto plant in Vance. The 900,000-square-foot parts consolidation center will create about 600 jobs, although with plans still being finalized, it is unclear how many of those jobs will be at Mercedes or at its contractors and service providers. A combination of all three is expected to work from the facility, which will streamline logistics operations and support the receiving, handling and sequencing of parts. Construction is underway, and the facility is being built by Birmingham-based Harbert International.

5/3//2013 Group Watch: Next Week?

The House and Senate return on Tuesday at 1:00 pm and noon respectively. With three legislative days remaining, the Senate is likely to debate the education budget. They will likely try to pass a version with which the House can concur.

April 26, 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday for the 23rd day of the session, and as it nears its end, there’s still some important work to be done.

Tuesday: The House Commerce and Small Business Committee held a public hearing, but did not vote on, a Senate-passed gun bill. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved a bill to lower the fees charged by payday lenders to limit the number of loans a consumer could receive and to set up a database to keep track of loans. Both chambers worked until midnight with the House approving a bill to overhaul the State’s Medicaid program, changing it from a fee-for-service model to a network of regional managed care organizations. After hours of debate, they also passed bills to transfer one-time tobacco receipts to the ailing General Fund budget and passed a lean General Fund budget for FY2014. The Senate approved bills to allow the state to partner with a private developer to build a hotel and conference center at Gulf State Park and to prohibit state welfare recipients from using their benefits on booze, casinos and tobacco. They defeated a bill to exempt current legislators from an upcoming ban on legislators holding two government jobs, and debated, but did not pass, the “Tim Tebow Act” that would allow home-schooled children to play public school sports and participate in extracurricular activities.
Wednesday (a committee day): The House Health Committee approved a Senate-passed bill to allow certified registered nurse practitioners and midwives to prescribe some controlled substances. The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee approved an education budget that reduced the size of a proposed teacher pay raise from 2 percent to 1 percent while providing a 1 percent non-recurring bonus for teachers. The Senate Education Policy Committee voted 6-3 to approve a bill to allow existing private school students to benefit from tax credits designed to help families move out of “failing” schools. The House gave final passage to a Senate bill to streamline the process of terminating parental rights for children who have spent extensive time in foster care. The Senate passed a bill that requires drug testing for welfare recipients with a history of drug use and a series of sunset bills that authorize continuation of state boards, commissions and agencies.
Thursday: The House Commerce and Small Business Committee approved a substitute version of a Senate-passed bill that would change state law on carrying firearms. The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee approved a bill to allow the state to partner with a private developer on a conference center at Gulf State Park. The House passed bills to authorize a $50 million bond issue for school security equipment such as door-locking systems, metal detectors and surveillance cameras; to require barbers to be licensed and regulated; and to eliminate the requirement for the state to prove to a jury the guilt of a defendant who pleads guilty to a capital offense. The requirement will remain for cases in which the death sentence imposed. The Senate passed bills to revamp the Alabama Medicaid Agency so that it would provide services through a network of managed care organizations and to lower fees paid by burying hazardous waste at the Emelle landfill, which proponents say will create jobs.

4/26/2013 Group Watch: Hubbard Says Republican Agenda Will Pass

Four of the 10 bills in the “We Dare Defend Our Rights” agenda for the Republican caucus in the Alabama House of Representative have passed the legislature so far. With a handful of days remaining, House Speaker Mike Hubbard of Auburn said he expects all of the bills to pass except a proposed constitutional amendment on gun rights. That bill would require courts to use strict judicial scrutiny in evaluating state laws that infringe on the rights to keep and bear arms. In its place the caucus will work to pass a broader gun regulations bill that has already passed the Senate. So far, the legislature has given final passage to bills to add new regulations for abortion clinics; to allow local school boards to have more control over programs, hiring and spending by entering into flexibility contracts with the state; to establish a schedule to repay by 2026 the Alabama Trust Fund the $437 million that was borrowed to bolster the General Fund, and to require state agencies to prepare a business economic impact statement before adopting any rule if a business claims the proposed rule negatively affects them.

 

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