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Volume 20 Number 1 – March 22, 2019

2nd, 3rd & 4th legislative days

Regular Session Restarts

The legislature reconvened the regular session on Tuesday after approving the Rebuild Alabama infrastructure funding program and adjourning the special session last week.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R – Anniston) started the session off with a bang by moving his bill to allow for Alabamians to donate a portion of their state income tax returns to “We Build the Wall, Inc.” The bill was approved by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday and by the full Senate on Thursday by a vote of 23 – 6.

Following passage of the bill to allow for contributions to “We Build the Wall, Inc.,” Sen. Marsh moved on to his bill to repeal Common Core. He introduced the bill on Tuesday, moved it out of committee on Wednesday, and the full Senate approved it on Thursday by a vote of 23 – 7.

Prior to passage, Sen. Garland Gudger (R – Cullman) added an amendment that assuaged some of the business and education communities’ concerns over the bill. It clarified that the state could participate in national standards programs such as Advanced Placement coursework, National Board Certification for teachers, and career tech credentials. It also delayed the effective date to 2021, giving the State Board of Education time to adopt new standards.

The bill may face more challenges in the House.

The House had a quieter week with the exception of an outburst by Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D – Birmingham) on the House floor on Thursday. Several House democrats raised concerns about the lack of minorities and women being appointed to state boards and commission. Rep. Givan referred to her “cowardly Republican colleagues,” and Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R – Huntsville) banged the gavel to indicated that Rep. Givan had broken decorum rules. Rep. Givan immediately raised her voice and continued yelling after the microphone was turned off. House security was called, but Rep. Givan left the building on her own.

Following a two-hour recess, the House came back to finish Sunset bills, which are required to renew various state boards and agencies every few years.

Scofield Introduces Bill to Modify Broadband Grant Program

On Tuesday, Sen. Clay Scofield (R – Guntersville) introduced SB 90, which modifies the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act that was signed into law last year.
Changes to the program include the following:

• Changes the definition of “minimum service threshold” from 10:1 to 25:3.
• Expands the definition of “unserved area.”
• Increases the percentage of the project costs covered by the grant from 20 percent to 50 percent.
• Changes the timeframe ADECA shall accept grant applications to 90 days.
• Broadens the permitted use of other federal and state support, including loans and grants, in projects receiving grants under the Act.
• Reduces the amount of reports ADECA must produce for the Legislative Oversight Committee.

The bill is scheduled for a committee hearing in the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday, April 3, at 3:00 p.m.

Governor Releases 2020 Budgets

Governor Kay Ivey released her fiscal year 2020 General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets this week.

Her proposed General Fund budget calls for spending $2.15 billion, $91 million more than this year, a four percent increase.

For years, the Legislature has resorted to borrowing and one-time funding sources to prop up the General Fund, but that is not necessary this year. Growth in the General Fund is partly the result of the economy and partly the result of relatively new tax sources for the General Fund, including the Simplified Sellers Use Tax, which applies to internet sales.

Increases in the General Fund include

• $40 million for the Alabama Department of Corrections
• $6 million for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency
• $4 million for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management
• $12 million for a two percent pay raise for state employees
• $8 million for the Alabama Department of Mental Health
• $105 million carry-over to cover the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

Ivey’s proposed education budget calls for spending $7.1 billion from the Education Trust Fund in fiscal year 2020, an increase of almost $500 million from this year.

She proposed a four percent pay raise for teachers, pre-K through the two-year college system. She also included a $28 million increase for the Department of Early Childhood Education, which would support the expansion of the state’s pre-K program, and an approximately 5.5 to six percent increase for higher education.

House Committee Approves Hands-Free Driving Bill

HB 6 by Rep. Allen Farley (R – McCalla) would make it illegal to hold a phone while driving, with some exceptions.

Currently, it is illegal to use a cell phone to text while driving in Alabama, but supporters of the bill to expand the law say the texting ban is weak and hard to enforce.

The House Public Safety and Homeland Security approved the bill unanimously on Wednesday.

The bill includes exceptions for law enforcement and emergency responders, and for using a cellphone as a navigational device.

Drivers would pay a $50 fine for a first violation, $100 for a second, and $150 for a third.

The bill now goes to the full House.

Upcoming Legislative Schedule

The legislature is off next week for Spring Break.

The House and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, April 2, 2019, at 1:00 and 2:00 p.m., respectively.