Legislative Report 021717

Volume 18 Number 2 – February 17, 2017

3rd & 4th legislative days

House Works Late on Two Agenda Items

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives debated for three hours before finally approving a resolution encouraging Congress to “support President Donald Trump’s ambitious government reform agenda.”

The resolution is part of the House Republican’s “Alabama Proud” legislative agenda.

During the debate, Democrats criticized President’s Trump’s policies and asserted that the resolution was useless and unneeded. The resolution ultimately passed by a vote of 72 – 31.

After a brief dinner break, the House came back into session to debate a bill to block funding of “sanctuary” universities.

Rep. Phil Williams (R – Huntsville), the sponsor of the bill, said he did not know of any state colleges or universities who planned to challenge state or federal immigration laws, but that there is a growing sentiment among college students to defy the law.

The bill would be an addition to the controversial immigration law the legislature passed in 2011, much of which has been struck down by the federal government, including a provision to require public schools to check the immigration status of students. Under the bill, funding could be blocked to a college if the attorney general certified it was intentionally not following state or federal immigration laws.

Democrats denounced the bill as meaningless and a solution in search of a problem. They accused the Republicans of wasting all day on pointless legislation.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 72 – 28.

Committee Approves Changes to Accountability Act

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance and Taxation – Education Committee approved a bill to expand the size of individual and corporate income tax credits for donations to organizations giving scholarships for qualifying public school students to attend private school. The bill also allows utilities to claim credits off a tax they pay when they contribute.

The bill, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R – Anniston), increases the tax credit an individual may claim from Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) donations from $50,000 to $75,000 and increases the maximum deduction off a tax liability for a corporate entity from 50 percent to 75 percent.

The Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), passed in 2013, allows parents of students in schools at the bottom six percent of test scores in the state to claim income tax credits for use toward private school tuition and also set up SGOs that allow individuals and corporations to make tax-deductible contributions to help pay for scholarships to private schools.

The AAA was extremely controversial when it passed and still elicits strong responses, as was evident during the committee meeting. Opponents say the AAA diverts money from public education, but proponents of the legislation assert that it gives children and parents more choices when choosing the right school.

The committee approved the bill by a vote of 9 – 4.

Senate Delays Vote on Confederate Monuments Bill

A bill known as the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act would prohibit the removal, alteration, renaming, or other disturbance of monuments located on public property which have been in place for 50 or more years. It would also restrict the renaming of streets, parks, buildings, etc. on public property.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen (R – Tuscaloosa), was carried over by the Senate on Thursday after several Senators said they needed more time to review the legislation.

Proponents of the bill say it is needed in order to preserve history. Opponents say confederate monuments are offensive and should be removed.

House Vote on Bentley Impeachment Could Come Before End of Session

Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R – Monrovia) said he is optimistic that the House will vote on an impeachment resolution on Governor Robert Bentley before the end of the legislative session.

Last year, the House Judiciary Committee began investigating the Governor but suspended the investigation after then-Attorney General Luther Strange indicated his office was leading its own investigation.

Last week, the Governor appointed Strange to Jeff Sessions’ vacated U.S. Senate seat and appointed Marshall County District Attorney Steve Marshall as Alabama Attorney General. Marshall announced this week that he has recused himself from the investigation and has appointed former Montgomery County District Attorney Ellen Brooks to lead the investigation.

“As soon as we can get a report from the Judiciary Committee, we’re going to have a vote on it,” McCutcheon told reporters. “I’m optimistic that we can get a vote before the session’s over, we’ll just have to wait and see. I’d like to see us deal with it as soon as we can.”

Bill to Require Civics Test Approved by Committee

SB 32 by Sen. Arthur Orr (R – Decatur) would require Alabama high school students to pass a civics exam before graduation.

Sen. Orr said Alabama citizens do not know enough about their government. He cited a survey that found a third of people could not name the three branches of government.

The exam would be identical to the naturalization test given by the federal government. Students could take the exam until they pass.

The bill now moves to the full Senate.

Upcoming Legislative Schedule

The House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. respectively.