Group Watch 4/20/2012: Investigative Team Gets a Leader

Retired state school superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson will lead the investigation into the Birmingham City Schools. Last week the state board, at the recommendation of current superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice, voted to launch an investigation into the board’s decision-making power and process. Richardson, now 73, was once described as prickly on his best days but has shown some signs of mellowing. The Birmingham school system will soon find out if this is true.

April 13, 2012 Group Watch: This Week in the Legislature

Tuesday (the 18th day of the 2012 regular session): The House Ways and Means Committee approved a bill just introduced last Thursday that authorizes charter schools in Alabama. This is the second bill on this matter approved by the committee in two weeks. After hours of debate, the House approved a $1.39 billion General Fund budget, which is $400 million less than the current fiscal year. They also approved spending measures for recipients in The Children First Trust Fund and the Coalition for Domestic Violence.  The Senate confirmed five new trustees for Auburn University: Birmingham attorney James Pratt, Auburn banker Robert Dumas, Montgomery businessman Clark Sahlie, Mobile real estate mogul Ben Thomas Roberts and Birmingham attorney Elizabeth Huntley, who resides in Clanton. They also approved bills to establish a new pension plan for public employees hired on and after January 1, 2013; to provide $2.3 million to the state Department of Education to ensure all of Alabama’s 1,848 teachers and principals with certification from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards get the $5,000 salary supplement they were promised; to provide training and continuing education for members of city and county school boards; and to streamline the process for businesses filing tax returns with cities and counties.

Wednesday (a committee day): The Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee approved a bill to let Athens State University have its own board rather than be regulated by the State Board of Education. The Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee passed a bill to make sure businesses destroyed by the April 2011 tornadoes keep their state abatements if they have to move to a new location to reopen. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on a bill to repeal the state’s immigration law but did not vote on the measure. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees approved bills to create the crime of looting after a natural disaster and to make changes to the Alabama Athlete Agent law. The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee held a public hearing on a bill to make changes to the state’s immigration law but did not vote on the measure. The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill to revise Alabama’s system of sentencing.

Thursday: The House passed a bill to allow schools to be flexible with schedules to start later in the summer and extend summer vacations for some families. The vote was 62-20. The Senate voted 23-3 to give final approval to a bill aimed at restoring a settlement over the state’s financially troubled prepaid college tuition plan. The House also passed bills to allow the United Ways of Alabama to participate in the state employee insurance program; to make it a crime to fail to report a missing child, the death of a child and falsely reporting to law enforcement about such children; to extend the termination date for the distribution for coal excise and privilege taxes, and to prohibit the issuance by ADEM for solid waste landfill permits until after May 31, 2014.

4/13/2012 Group Watch: Senators Delay Work on Education Budget

The Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee was scheduled to take up the education budget this week, but the committee chairman postponed it for one week to get additional input from his colleagues. The Senate is handling the initial work on the education budget, and the House did the same with the General Fund budget for non-education agencies. The House narrowly passed a General Fund budget Tuesday night after lengthy debate.

4/13/2012 Group Watch: Senate Committee Approves Covenant Marriage Bill

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-1 to approve a bill that would allow Alabama couples to choose to enter into “covenant marriages,” which would require premarital counseling and make it harder for couples to divorce. Under provisions of the bill, couples marrying in Alabama would not be required to enter into covenant marriages, but if they chose the option, they would not be allowed to file for no-fault divorces for incompatibility or breakdown of the marriage. Instead, they would be required to prove infidelity, criminal behavior, abuse or abandonment, or have to live apart for two years before they could be granted a divorce.

4/13/2012 Group Watch: State to Investigate Birmingham City Schools

The State Board of Education voted unanimously to initiate an investigation of the Birmingham City Board of Education. The State School Superintendent said he drafted the resolution approved by the board after he attended a meeting earlier in the week and became troubled by allegations that surfaced during the meeting. The Superintendent said he is putting together a team to review how governance is occurring in the Birmingham system. He voiced hope the investigation will help the board and the district’s 25,000 students.


April 6, 2012 Group Watch: This Week in the Legislature

This week started with the 16th meeting day of the 2012 regular session. Charter school legislation was a major issue voted upon, among many others.

Tuesday: The House Ways and Means-Education Committee approved a settlement aimed at saving Alabama’s financial college tuition plan and debated but did not vote on a bill to authorize charter schools in Alabama. The House passed bills to establish a statewide E-911 board, to allow prison inmates to be used by private industry on projects with part of the inmate earnings going to pay restitution and incarceration costs, and to make it a felony to file false lien against law enforcement officers and public officials. The Senate joined the House in passing a resolution supporting development of a space port in Alabama. They also approved an appropriations bill that includes $45.3 million for prisons.

Wednesday (a committee day): The House Education Policy Committee voted to approve a bill that changes the mandatory age when children must attend school in Alabama. The House Ways and Means-General Fund Committee approved a $1.39 billion budget that is $430 million less than the spending plan for the current fiscal year. State employee representatives say the plan will result in substantial employee layoffs. The committee also approved a bill to allow excess money collected in class action lawsuits to go into a fund to help children who have been abused or neglected. The House Ways and Means-Education Committee debated but did not vote on a bill to authorize charter schools in Alabama. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill creating the Good Samaritan Law that would give licensed social workers, counselors and psychologists civil immunity for rendering aid in an emergency. The Senate Confirmations Committee approved five new trustees for the Auburn University board: Birmingham attorney James Pratt, Auburn banker Robert Dumas, Mobile businessman Ben Thomas Roberts, M. Clark Sahlie of Montgomery and Elizabeth Huntley from Clanton.

Thursday: The House Ways and Means-Education Committee met and debated for the third consecutive day a measure to authorize charter schools in Alabama. The committee voted 9-6 to approve the bill. The vote was along party lines with one Republican member joining five Democrats opposing the bill. The House approved bills to change the system of compensation for legislators, to restore a settlement aimed at saving Alabama’s financially troubled prepaid college tuition plan and to designate Baldwin County as the site of a future military museum. They also passed a resolution congratulating the Scouts on their 100th anniversary. The Senate passed bills to provide a tax break to aircraft maintenance companies, to have a one-week wait for unemployment benefits after losing a job, and to provide tax breaks to data processing centers locating in Alabama.

Group Watch 4/6/2012: Legislature Looking at Staff Furloughs

The Alabama Legislature is looking at furloughing its employees to cope with cuts in the state General Fund budget. The Senate leadership voted this week to authorize Senate Secretary Pat Harris to implement furloughs of up to two days per month if necessary. The House leadership has previously given House Clerk Greg Pappas the same authority. Legislative leaders say they have already cut purchases and security costs and will make additional cuts that are necessary.

Group Watch 4/6/2012: Tougher Drug Penalties

Alabamians carrying more than eight grams of an illegal drug would be faced with tougher penalties under a bill passed by the House this week. The bill would make it a Class B felony to carry more than eight grams of an illegal substance, such as cocaine or heroin. The crime would be punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The bill’s sponsor says the proposal is aimed at making it easier to target street-level drug dealers who sell in small amounts. Less than 28 grams under current law is a Class C felony and is considered for personal use.

 

March 28, 2012 Group Watch: Last Week in the Legislature

Tuesday, the 14th meeting day of the 2012 regular session: The House passed two bills that would alter the organizational structure of the Department of Transportation to allow the director to appoint three deputy directors and a chief engineer. They also approved bills to make looting a crime, to reimburse Mobile County for extra expenses caused by a presidential primary in 2008 that was on the same day as Mardi Gras Day and to make it a crime to impersonate a local official or law enforcement officer. They debated at length a bill to establish minimum qualifications for sheriffs in Alabama but did not vote on it and approved a resolution mourning the death of Ricky Wyatt, who was the plaintiff in a long running lawsuit against the Department of Mental Health.

The Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee voted to approve a supplemental appropriation of $45 million to the Department of Correction to protect it against budget cuts. That Department is said to be dangerously close to federal intervention. The full Senate gave final approval to bills that give tax credits to businesses that hire unemployed veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and to change the name of the state’s industry recruiting office from the Alabama Development Office to the Department of Commerce. Both bills now go to the governor, who is expected to sign them into law.

Wednesday, a committee day: The House Ways and Means-Education Committee conducted a public hearing on a bill that would allow the creation of charter schools in Alabama but did not vote on the measure. The House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee voted favorably on a bill to change the manner in which legislative members are compensated. The Senate Constitution and Elections Committee also voted favorably on a bill to change the way legislators are compensated and a bill that would allow the recall of public officials.

The Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee approved a bill to reduce the amount future retirees will receive and increase the number required before they can retire. The measure would affect public workers hired on and after January 1, 2013. The Senate Confirmations Committee also approved the appointment of three incumbent members of the Auburn University Board of Trustees.

Thursday, the 15th day of the session: The House passed a number of Senate-passed bills to continue the existence of state agencies, boards and commissions. They also passed bills to exempt items used to treat diabetes, such as syringes and insulin, from state, county and municipal sales and use taxes and make the continuous sexual abuse of a young person a crime. The Senate gave final approval to a House-passed bill to allow aircraft companies to take advantage of incentives offered to companies that create jobs. They also passed bills to expand the ways state deposits may be invested, setting certain minimum standards for sheriffs, to set limits on how much of a state employee’s unused sick leave can be accumulated and paid at retirement, to stop police officers from racial profiling when stopping a motorist for possible traffic violations, to set sentencing guidelines for Alabama judges and to establish the crime of looting in times that a state of emergency has been declared.

Group Watch 3/28/2012: Hollywood Comes to Town

Montgomery native and Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer was greeted by hundreds as she arrived at the Alabama Statehouse to a hero’s welcome. She arrived in a pink limousine for joint session of the Legislature in her honor. She was serenaded by the band from her alma mater, Jefferson Davis High School. Earlier this year, she won a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in the movie “The Help.” Spencer told the crowd that she would do whatever she could to see that more movies are made in Alabama. This week, a Senate committee approved a House-passed bill to raise the limit of tax credits to filmmakers making movies in Alabama from $10 million to $15 million.

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