Legislative Report 011714

Volume 14 Number 1 – January 17, 2014

1st, 2nd, and 3rd legislative days

2014 Legislative Session Convenes

The 2014 legislative session kicked off on Tuesday with Governor Bentley’s State of the State address.

During his speech, which is his last before reelection, the Governor defended his decision not to expand the state’s Medicaid program, saying it would be irresponsible to add 300,000 people into a “system that is broken and buckling.”

The Governor also called for a two percent pay raise for teachers and a four percent conditional raise for state employees. The state employee raise would only be possible if the money is available in the General Fund. The Legislative Fiscal Office has projected that receipts to the General Fund will decline in the coming year, so the state employee pay raise is highly unlikely.

Bentley called for new workforce development programs and praised the state’s industry recruitment efforts. He also called for an increased appropriation to the state’s Pre-K programs.

On Wednesday, legislators and the public were able to learn more about the specifics of the Governor’s budget proposal during a press conference with acting state Finance Director, Bill Newton.

His proposal includes $73 million for a two percent teacher pay raise, a $70 million increase for Medicaid, a $10 million increase for Pre-K, a $5 million increase for the Unified Judicial System, an $11.4 million increase for four-year colleges, and a $10.9 million increase for two-year college system.

Overall, the Governor is proposing a $5.98 billion Education Trust Fund budget and a $1.8 billion General Fund Budget.

Republicans Begin Moving Agenda Items

The 2014 House Republican agenda has been entitled the Commonsense Conservative agenda, and each item on the agenda is a priority for Republicans.

In order to ensure passage, the Republicans began moving many of the bills during this first week.

The agenda includes the following bills:

  • HB 151, the Small Business Tax Relief Act by Rep. Barry Moore (R – Enterprise): Currently, when Alabama small business owners make sales tax payments, they are required to front the money based on an educated guess of the amount. The Small Business Tax Relief Act will raise the threshold for making these estimated payments from $1,000 to $2,500 per month. The bill was passed by the full House on Thursday by a vote of 96 – 2.
  • HB 108, the Business Tax Streamlining Act by Rep. Greg Wren (R – Montgomery): The bill will create a new online tax filing system that provides a one-stop-shop for filing business personal property taxes and will also allow businesses claiming $10,000 or less in business personal property tax to file a short form that does not require them to itemize their property. The bill passed the House 99 – 0.
  • HB 97, the Tax Elimination Act by Rep. Jim Patterson (R – Meridianville): The Tax Elimination Act will give authority to the Alabama Department of Revenue to suspend taxes and fees when the cost of collecting the tax exceeds the amount of revenue the tax brings in. The bill passed the House 95 – 0.
  • HB 105, the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights by Rep. Paul DeMarco (R – Homewood): Under current law, the Alabama Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights governs the administrative procedures of the Department of Revenue and local governments relating to taxpayers’ rights and responsibilities including refunds, penalties, assessments, and appeals. This means that the Department of Revenue is judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to the tax assessment appeals process. The Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights will ensure that all taxpayers are treated fairly through an independent process for hearing tax appeals and more taxpayer-friendly procedures. The bill passed the House 97 – 2 on Thursday.
  • HB 42, the Alabama Taxpayer Audit Protection Act by Rep. Wayne Johnson (R – Ryland): The bill would prohibit discriminatory misconduct by the Department of Revenue against Alabama taxpayers and provide for potential disciplinary action and misdemeanor punishment for violations. The bill was carried over in the House, and it should be the first bill taken up on Tuesday.
  • HB 31, the Healthcare Rights of Conscience Act by Rep. Becky Nordgren (R – Gadsden): The Healthcare Rights of Conscience Act states that Alabama health care workers cannot be forced to provide a service that violates his or her conscience, specifically services relating to abortion, human cloning, human embryonic stem cell research, and sterilization. The bill passed out of House Health Committee and should be taken up on the floor next week.
  • HB 48, the Adoption Tax Credit by Rep. Paul Lee (R – Dothan): This legislation will give Alabama residents who adopt an Alabama child either through private adoption or through the state foster care system a one-time $1,000 income tax credit, which would apply in the tax year in which the adoption was finalized. The bill passed out of the Ways and Means Education Committee on Wednesday.
  • SB 36, the Revolving Door Act by Sen. Del Marsh (R – Anniston): Senate President Pro-Tem Del Marsh has proposed legislation that bans former legislators from lobbying either house of the legislature for two years after leaving office. Rep. Ken Johnson (R – Moulton) will handle the bill in the House. The Senate bill passed out of the Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics, and Elections Committee and was carried over on the Senate floor.
  • HB 64, the Statutory Immunity for Teachers and State Employees Act by Rep. Mike Jones (R – Andalusia): This bill would specify in statute that an education employee in his or her official capacity is immune from liability in any suit pursuant to the Constitution. The bill was passed out of House Judiciary Committee.
Upcoming Legislative Schedule

Due to the June primary elections, legislators are attempting to wrap up the legislative session early. Their tentative schedule has adjournment slated for April 7. This could change depending on the tone and pace of the session. By law, the session must adjourn by April 28.

The House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. respectively. The legislature is expected to meet three days next week.