Legislative Report 031618

Volume 19 Number 10 – March 16, 2018

19th & 20th legislative days

Rural Broadband Bill Clears House Committee

On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means – Education Committee approved SB 149 by Sen. Clay Scofield (R – Guntersville), which aims to promote investment in broadband in rural Alabama where many citizens do not have access to high speed Internet. The bill, which was unanimously approved by the Senate as a tax credit bill, was substituted in House committee as a grant program administered by ADECA. The program prioritizes un-served areas of the state.

The Senate-passed bill would have exempted broadband telecommunications network facilities from taxation for 10 years, exempted equipment and materials used by those facilities from the state’s sales and use tax, and would have offered an income tax credit equal to 10 percent of the investment in those facilities. Total tax credits would have been capped at $20 million per company.

The House committee substitute offers grants at two tiers to pay for up to 20 percent of a broadband project’s total cost – 1) a cap of $1.4 million per project that offers speeds of 25 megabits per second download and three megabits per second upload or, 2) a cap of $750,000 per project for 10/1 speeds.

Companies would apply for grants, providing detailed information about what areas and residents would be served. Cooperatives would be eligible for the grants, but government entities could not receive the money, preventing the spread of municipal broadband projects through this program.

Currently, there is no revenue stream dedicated to the program, but legislators expect $10 million annually beginning in fiscal year 2019 or 2020.

The bill is a compromise on all interested parties’ parts.

On Tuesday, the House is supposed to consider four Special Order calendars. The first three are fairly controversial, but SB 149 is first on the fourth calendar.

Senate Unanimously Approves Education Trust Fund Budget

On Thursday, the Senate approved the 2019 Education Trust Fund Budget by a 29 – 0 vote. The $6.6 billion budget, which is the largest approved by the Legislature since 2008, would provide $216 million in additional funding compared to last year’s budget. It also would include a 2.5 percent cost of living raise for teachers and education employees, which accounts for nearly $102 million, as well as increases for the state’s universities.

The passage of the budget was relatively unopposed, with the exception of Sen. Bobby Singleton’s (D – Greensboro) filibuster to include more funding for Alabama State University. He claimed that due to an unfair investigation against the school during the Bentley administration, which found no wrongdoing, the reputation and attendance of the school suffered. To rectify this injustice, Sen. Singleton proposed an amendment providing an additional $3.5 million in funding to the University, which was met with opposition. Eventually, Sen. Singleton settled for a $1.2 million increase, which he said was a “good compromise that would provide much needed improvements.”

The budget would also provide an $18 million increase for pre-kindergarten programs and increases in funding for transportation and the Alabama Reading Initiative. The budget will now go back to the House for concurrence on the Senate changes.

House Approves Juvenile Justice Reform Legislation

After more than three hours of contentious debate, the House approved legislation to overhaul the state’s juvenile justice system.

The bill would limit the number of offenses that put juveniles into Department of Youth Services (DYS) custody and reduce the punishment for probation violations to briefer detention stays. It would also require a formal risk and needs assessment that allows judges and juvenile probation officers to divert children from detention and limit which cases automatically get moved to adult court to capital offenses, murder, rape with a deadly weapon, and robbery with a deadly weapon.

The bill would re-invest $35 million in community-based programs on top of $1 million for juvenile justice reform approved in next year’s general fund budget.

The bill now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Upcoming Legislative Schedule

The House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, March 20, 2018, at 2:00 p.m.

The most recent word from the legislative leadership is that the legislature will adjourn sine die on March 29.