April 26, 2021 Group Watch: Gambling & Medical Marijuana Votes Likely Weeks Away

Recently, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said bills authorizing medical marijuana and establishing a lottery and gambling won’t come up for a vote in the chamber for a few weeks. The medical marijuana bill may not go to the floor until the last week of the session, expected in mid-May. Neither bill appeared on House committee agendas for last week. The gambling bill was transmitted to the House late last week after passing the Senate, along with companion bills on the regulation of casinos and distribution of proceeds. The combined package would establish a state lottery and six gambling establishments in the state. The medical marijuana bill, which passed the Senate in two previous years, passed the upper chamber in February with little debate or pushback. However, the bill has always experienced a rocky path in the House, and this year is no different. The bill was assigned to two committees instead of the usual one. The bill would authorize the use of medical marijuana for more than a dozen conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, sickle-cell anemia, and depression. Special dispensaries would distribute cannabis as tablets, capsules, gelatins and vaporized oils. The bill bans smoking or vaping cannabis or putting it in baked goods. Patients are required to have recommendation from a physician to obtain medical marijuana and would have to register as cannabis patients.

April 26, 2021 Group Watch: Sports Betting Component of Gambling Legislation

The package of bills related to expanding gambling in the state includes provisions for legalized sports betting. If the legislation makes it on the 2022 ballot and Alabamians vote it in, sports betting could be operating as early as 2023. The prospect of sports betting in Alabama has gotten the attention of outlets like “Gaming Today,” a national source for sports betting news. Check out its article here, which outlines this aspect of the broader gambling debate.

April 26, 2021 Group Watch: AL Prison Project Loses Two Financiers

Two financiers have withdrawn from underwriting bonds for two prisons planned by Tennessee-based CoreCivic. One, London-based Barclays, stepped out amid criticism that the bank was breaking a promise to stop supporting for-profit prison companies. The bank reported that its objective was to enable the state to improve its facilities, but realized the complexity and importance of the overall issue. Ohio-base KeyBanc Capital Markets also pulled out of the deal without comment. Alabama would lease the buildings and property from CoreCivic and Alabama Prison Transformation Partners, a group that plans to build the Bibb County facility. The state would provide the staffing. Officials hoped to start construction of the prisons this year, with inmates transferred starting in 2025. The financing issue could delay the selling of the bonds to fund the project.

April 26, 2021 Group Watch: Alabama’s First Class Pre-K Ranks No. 1

Governor Kay Ivey announced that the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) ranks Alabama First Class Pre-K as the nation’s highest quality state pre-kindergarten program for the 15th consecutive year. Each year since 2017, Alabama First Class Pre-K has received increased support from the Education Trust Fund as recommended by the governor and approved by the  legislature. Access to pre-k grew to more than 34 percent of four-year-olds in the state, while continuing to meet all 10 NIEER quality standard benchmarks in the 2019-2020 school year. Alabama leads the nation in ensuring quality while also expanding program access, even expanding during the pandemic. The state’s strong investment in teachers and continuous improvement will produce a lifetime of benefits for the state’s children and its taxpayers.

April 26, 2021 Group Watch: Federal Funds Set for Childcare Facilities in AL

Childcare providers across Alabama are among the many hit hard by the pandemic and as such, are set to receive much needed assistance from the American Rescue Plan. More than $730 million in federal funding will help childcare providers open safely, keep workers on the payroll and lower childcare costs for hardworking families. The American Rescue Plan is also expanding the child and dependent care tax credit. A median-income family in Alabama with two kids under age 13 will receive up to $8,000 towards their childcare expenses when they file taxes for 2021, compared with a previous maximum of $1,200. For the first time, the CDCTC will be fully refundable, making the credit fairer by allowing low-income working families to receive the full value of the credit towards, regardless of how much they owe on their 2021 taxes.

April 26, 2021 Group Watch: Curbside Voting Ban Faces Scrutiny in Senate

Alabama Democrats stalled a bill on the Senate floor that would ban curbside voting in the state. Curbside voting allows someone to vote without going inside a polling location. Renewed efforts for the bill came after the coronavirus pandemic sparked an increased interest in curbside voting in Alabama. Democrats believe the effort to ban curbside voting is a barrier for people with disabilities to vote. Senator Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, expressed concern that lawmakers were rushing to change the voting laws when he believes the state’s voting system works in its current form. Although the bill was carried over, it can be brought up for consideration on another date.

April 26, 2021 Group Watch: AL Senate Approved Permanent Daylight-Savings Time Bill

The Alabama Senate approved a bill from Senator Steve Livingston that would put Alabama on permanent daylight-saving time, if Congress allows states to do so. The bill passed 29-0 with no debate and now heads to the House for further consideration. Daylight-saving time is mandated by federal law, and only a change in federal law would allow states to move to year-round DST. According to the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL), 15 states, including Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, have passed laws or resolutions authorizing their states to observe year-round daylight-saving if authorized by D.C. A bill called the Sunshine Protection Act of 2021 has been filed in Congress and has bipartisan sponsors.

April 19, 2021 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

Last week was the ninth of the 2021 regular session, and both chambers of the Alabama Legislature were busy.

The legal use of medical marijuana in Alabama keeps moving along, gaining approval from a second House committee last Wednesday.

The prospect of legal gambling in Alabama is making forward progress too. Senator McClendon’s bill, which started with a lottery only, was amended to include casinos before passing the Senate at the end of last week.

Find additional information on these topics and more below.

  • Tuesday, April 13 (22nd legislative day): The House Commerce and Small Business Committee approved a Senate-passed bill to provide certain considerations for contracts for services by design professionals. The House passed a number of bills of local application only and general bills to: revise the membership of the Employees’ Retirement System Board of Control and further provide for terms of service; authorize the Chief Executive Officer of the State Employees Insurance Board to approve group insurance offerings; expand the expungement of criminal records to include convictions of certain misdemeanor and felony offenses (Senate passed); and enhance criminal penalties under certain conditions for violations of the Alabama State of Emergency Protection Act. The Senate passed a few bills of local application only and general bills to postpone the third-grade retention requirement test until the 2024-2025 school year and to further provide for limitations of liability for Regional Mental Health Programs and Facilities. It also passed a series of four bills designed to allow the people of Alabama to vote on the establishment of a state lottery corporation and gaming commission and on how the proceeds will be disbursed.
  • Wednesday, April 14 (a committee day): The House State Government Committee approved Senate-passed bills to further provide for the local land bank authorities to deal with tax delinquent properties and to authorize the Senate Pro Tempore to appoint a designee to serve on the Sunset Committee. The House Health Committee approved a Senate-passed bill to establish a program to allow use of medical cannabis under certain conditions. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill to further provide for guardianships and conservatorships in probate court. The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee approved House-passed bills to increase the member contribution rate for tier II Teachers Retirement System 30-year service members and to authorize a tax credit for the cost of acquisition and construction of a qualified storm shelter. The Senate Education Policy Committee approved House-passed bills to permit the broadcast of public K-12 school sporting events and provide for the Alabama Credential Quality and Transparency Act and the Workforce Council Committee on Credential Quality and Transparency. The Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee approved a House-passed bill to require healthcare facilities to allow one caregiver or visitor to patients or residents, subject to reasonable restrictions.
  • Thursday, April 15 (23rd legislative day): The House passed several bills of local application only and general bills to: establish within the Psychology Examiners board intervention services to impaired licensed professionals; provide comprehensive transition and postsecondary programs for children of disabled veterans with intellectual disabilities; and authorize sales and use tax exemption to airport authorities (Senate passed). The Senate passed several bills of local application only and general bills to revise the authority of the Department of Public Health to administer a program of lead reduction; require a parenting plan in all child custody cases; and a House-passed bill allowing competition by one biological gender against another to be prohibited unless the event specifically includes both genders.

The House and Senate return on April 20 at 1 and 2 pm respectively.
Watch live video of both chambers here.

April 19, 2021 Group Watch: Tweet of the Week

 @thebloomgroup
April 16
We are sad to hear about the death of our friend Lamar Higgins. Our prayers go out to his family and many friends.

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April 19, 2021 Group Watch: House Divided on Bill to Ban Treatments for Transgender Minors

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon said lawmakers are divided over a bill that would ban certain treatments for transgender minors. The bill passed the Senate earlier in the session and now faces debate in the House. But leaders in the House says there is some division over the bill. Some members are are concerned by reports they have received about treatments given to some children. There is concern about the age of the children and the drugs being given to them, and then there is the issue of parental rights. Speaker McCutcheon said that given the differences over the bill, there would likely be strong debate and with less than 10 days left, the focus should be on the budgets.

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