Legislative Report 040717

Volume 18 Number 7 – April 7, 2017

14th & 15th legislative days

Senate Approves Education Trust Fund Budget

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 29 – 2 to approve the $6.4 billion Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget for fiscal year 2018. The approval came after an extended filibuster from Sen. Paul Bussman (R – Cullman) who tried to move funding from higher education to K-12.

The budget provides a $15 million increase to the state’s pre-kindergarten programs, a major goal of business groups and Republican legislators. It also funds the state’s Public Education Employee Health Insurance Program (PEEHIP) at the level officials sought. The budget would also provide for the hiring of 140 to 150 teachers in grades 4 through six and some minor funding increases for school supplies, technology and professional development.

Senate leaders hoped to pass the budget on March 16 before leaving for a two-week spring break, but several Senators claimed they had not had enough time to review the budget.

The budget now goes to the House where it is likely to face more changes.

Mandatory Unitary Combined Reporting Bill Fails in Committee

The Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee voted 12 – 2 against Sen. Linda Coleman’s Mandatory Unitary Combined Reporting bill (MUCR) bill on Wednesday. The bill would require the operations of all related entities involved in a unitary business to file one corporate income tax return on a combined basis, known as combined reporting.

The entire business community has been opposed to MUCR for years, and several business leaders expressed opposition during the public hearing on Wednesday.

Jim Searcy, Executive Director of the Economic Development Association of Alabama, said the bill would be “extremely detrimental” to Alabama’s economic development efforts because it would make Alabama an island in the Southeast regarding economic development and would chill efforts to work with existing Alabama companies to create additional jobs and investment.

It is unlikely the bill will come up again this session.

Ethics Commission Finds Probable Cause Against Governor Bentley

The Alabama Ethics Commission has found probable cause that Gov. Robert Bentley violated the state ethics law and the campaign finance law.

The commission, in four separate votes, determined there was probable cause that Bentley violated one count of the ethics law and three counts of the campaign finance law.

The decision forwards the investigation to the Montgomery County district attorney.

Bentley has denied wrongdoing.

The commission found probable cause that:

  • Bentley violated the state ethics law by using public resources, including subordinate personnel, equipment and time under his control, for personal interests. The vote was 3-1 with one abstention (Commissioner Frank C. “Butch” Ellis, whose wife is related to Bentley, recused on all four votes).
  • Bentley violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act by improperly receiving a campaign contribution outside the 120-day window allowed by law. The vote was 4-0 with Ellis abstaining.
  • Bentley violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act by using funds from his campaign to pay legal fees for former political adviser Rebekah Mason. The vote was 4-0 with Ellis abstaining.
  • Bentley violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act by improperly making a loan to his campaign account outside the 120-day window allowed by law when not a candidate. The vote was 3-1 with Ellis abstaining.

The violations would all be Class B felonies, punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.

Judicial Override Bill Goes to Governor

Alabama is the only remaining state that allows judges to override a juries’ decision of life in prison with the death sentence. On Thursday, the House voted 78 – 19 to end the practice.

The legislation would only affect future death sentences, not the 183 inmates currently on Alabama’s death row. Since 1976, Alabama judges have overridden jury recommendations 112 times, according to the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative. In 101 of those cases, the judges gave a death sentence.

The Senate has already approved the measure, so it now goes to the Governor.

Upcoming Legislative Schedule

Next week will be interesting in the Alabama State House. The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin impeachment hearings on Monday at 10:00 a.m. The hearings will continue for as long as necessary.

The House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, April 11, 2017 at 4:30 and 2:00 p.m. respectively.