Legislative Report 041417

Volume 18 Number 8 – April 14, 2017

16th & 17th legislative days

Kay Ivey Sworn in as 54th Governor

On Monday, Lt. Governor Kay Ivey was sworn in as Alabama’s 54th Governor following Governor Robert Bentley’s resignation.

Ivey becomes Alabama’s second female governor. The first, Lurleen Wallace, was elected in 1966 and died of cancer in 1968.

Ivey is now in position to complete Bentley’s term, which ends in January 2019.

Gas Tax Legislation Dead

Plans to raise the state tax on gasoline and diesel fuel to pay for infrastructure improvements are “dead,” House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R – Monrovia) said Thursday after the bill was pulled from the House floor.

After several hours of debate, Rep. Bill Poole (R – Tuscaloosa), the sponsor of the legislation, carried the bill over shortly before the House abruptly adjourned. Many legislators said the bill did not have sufficient votes to pass.

Poole’s proposal would have raised the tax on gas and diesel four cents a gallon on September 1, with another hike of two cents a gallon on September 1, 2019. Under the bill, the legislature would have had the option of raising the tax an additional three cents a gallon on September 1, 2024 through a joint House and Senate resolution.

The revenue would have been used to support a $2.45 billion bond issue to pay for infrastructure upgrades to bridges and roads.

House Democrats complained that the bill was rushed through during a tumultuous week that included the resignation of former Governor Robert Bentley.

Many Republicans refused to vote for it because they are against all tax increases.

Speaker McCutcheon said the bill would not come back this session or next year.

Committee Approves Autism Mandate Legislation

On Wednesday, the House Insurance Committee, approved a bill to mandate insurance coverage of applied behavioral therapy, an intensive therapy used on children with autism.

Many in the business community and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama oppose the legislation because of the increased costs to employers.

The bill would also apply to the State Employee Benefit Plan (SEIB), the Public Employees’ Education Health Insurance Plan (PEEHIP), and the Alabama Local Government Health Insurance, which covers 541 counties, cities, boards and authorities throughout Alabama.

Rep. Anthony Daniels (D – Huntsville) added an amendment in committee to also mandate coverage under Medicaid.

In 2012, the Alabama legislature passed the “Riley Ward Act,” which gives employers the option to provide these benefits when renewing each year. The Autism Society of Alabama supported the act and made Alabama the only state in the nation to require that all insurers offer autism spectrum disorder treatment to its large group customers. The legislation also resulted in the definition of covered benefits for autistic children, recognized Autism Spectrum Disorder as a disease, and resulted in greatly expanded therapy coverage for autistic children.

The bill now goes to the House floor for a vote.

Alabama Memorial Preservation Act Closer to Becoming Law

On Wednesday, the House State Government Committee approved the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act by Sen. Gerald Allen (R – Tuscaloosa).

The bill would require cities, towns, counties, and state agencies to seek approval from a court or a state committee to move or rename historical monuments and buildings.

A monument more than 20 years old could not be moved or renamed without court permission.

A monument less than 20 years old could not be moved or renamed without a waiver from the Committee on Alabama Monument Protection, which would be created by the new law.

The 12-member committee would include four lawmakers, two mayors or city council members appointed by the governor, a county commissioner appointed by the governor, and members appointed by the heads of the Department of Archives and History; the Alabama Historical Commission; the Alabama Historical Association; the Alabama Trust for Historical Preservation; and the Black Heritage Council.

A memorial street named after a person, event or group for at least 15 years could not be renamed without approval of the committee.

The bill, which has already been approved by the Senate, now goes to the House floor for a vote.

Committee Holds Public Hearing on Opelika Broadband Bill

The House Commerce and Small Business Committee heard from proponents and opponents of a bill that would allow the city of Opelika to expand its government-owned broadband Internet and cable television service into Lee County.

The Senate companion bill failed in Senate committee last week.

Those speaking in opposition to the bill included Michelle Roth, Executive Director of the Alabama Cable Telecommunications Association, Mark Wilkerson, attorney for the Telecommunications Association of the Southeast, Joan McClendon, General Counsel of Cable TV of East Alabama, Dr. George Ford, an economist with the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies, and Fred McCallum, President of AT&T Alabama.

Proponents included Rep. Joe Lovvorn (R – Auburn), the sponsor of the bill, Michael Speakman, an Auburn resident who does not have broadband coverage, Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller, Charlie Whatley, a Beauregard resident without broadband coverage and Sen. Tom Whatley’s (R – Auburn) father, and Sen. Whatley.

Opponents of the bill maintain that it would set a dangerous precedent of allowing government entities to compete with private business.

The committee did not vote on the measure, but Rep. Lovvorn has said he plans to ask for a vote next week.

Upcoming Legislative Schedule

The House and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, April 18 at 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. respectively.