Legislative Report 050517

Volume 18 Number 11 – May 5, 2017

22nd, 23rd, & 24th legislative days

Senate Passes Redistricting Plan

After long debate and the reading of much of the bill, the Senate passed a redistricting plan to change the boundaries of several Senate districts.

In January, a federal court ordered the Legislature to redraw three Senate districts and nine House of Representatives districts before next year’s elections. The three-judge court found that the Legislature illegally used race as the main factor when it drew those district lines in 2012, a task required after every 10-year census.

Although the court ordered the Legislature to fix 12 districts, the Senate-passed plans affect 25 of 25 Senate districts.

The Senate voted 25 – 7 to approve the plan. The House plans to take up their redistricting plan on Tuesday.

Senate Approves General Fund Budget

Despite flaring tempers and long debate, the Senate voted 23 – 4 on Thursday to approve the state General Fund budget.

Sen. Paul Sanford (R – Huntsville) proposed an amendment in committee that would have moved $63.5 million in road funds from the General Fund to the state Department of Transportation.

Sanford’s amendment would have spread that reduction across all agencies that depend on the General Fund, cutting them by 3.4 percent. The Senate rejected the amendment by a vote of 25 – 7.

The Senate continued debate after rejecting Sanford’s amendment and voted down two other amendments, including one that briefly sparked an angry exchange on the floor.

Sen. Phil Williams (R – Rainbow City) proposed moving a total of $600,000 from two earmarks under the Tourism Department to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Those were $300,000 for Barber Motorsports Park and $300,000 for the World Games, which Birmingham is scheduled to host in 2021.

Williams’ proposal drew a strong objection from Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D – Birmingham) who questioned why Williams targeted two expenditures from the Birmingham area.

Smitherman grew visibly angry, shouting at Williams during a contentious exchange.

The Senate rejected the Williams amendment by a vote of 19 – 10.

The Legislature also voted down an amendment by Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R – Madison) to delete the allocation of revenue that would be generated from a five percent increase in the markup on liquor under consideration by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

Holtzclaw said he objected to an unelected board having the authority to approve such an increase, saying that should be the responsibility of the Legislature.

Holtzclaw’s amendment lost by a vote of 19 – 9.

The budget must go back to the House for concurrence on the changes that were made in the Senate.

House Passes Education Trust Fund Budget

The House unanimously approved the Education Trust Fund budget this week by a vote of 100 – 0.

The budget calls for spending $6.4 billion from the Education Trust Fund during the year that begins October 1. That’s $90 million more than this year’s budget.

The budget includes increases for the state’s pre-kindergarten program and allows for the hiring for an additional 152 more teachers in grades 4 – 6. It also level-funds the state’s four-year colleges and universities and Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Plan (PEEHIP) and fully funds the teachers’ retirement system.

The budget must go back to the Senate for approval.

Senate Committee Holds Public Hearing on Autism Therapy Mandate

On Thursday, the Senate Finance and Taxation – General Fund Committee held a public hearing on a bill that would mandate insurance coverage of Applied Behavioral Therapy (ABA), a therapy used on children with autism.

Business groups and insurers object to the mandate.

“Our main disagreement with this piece of legislation is it removes a businessman or businesswoman’s ability to make that decision,” said Robin Stone, a lobbyist with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, the state’s largest insurer. “Blue Cross has always opposed mandated benefits, and probably always will. We think that’s an employer’s decision, not the decision of the Legislature.”

The committee did not vote on the bill, but are expected to next week.

Historic Tax Credit Bill Moves Forward

The Senate Finance and Taxation – Education committee approved the historic tax credit legislation with several changes.

The changes include

  • Changing the qualification requirements: The substitute for HB 345 requires a certified historic structure must be at least 60 years of age to qualify for the credit. 50 years is the national standard.
  • Reserving credits for rural counties: The substitute requires 40 percent of credits to be reserved for rural counties of the state.
  • Allowing for refundable credits: The substitute states that historic tax credits cannot be sold for less than 85 percent of their value, and that they can be refundable.

A previous historic tax credit program that was in place from 2013 to 2016 has been widely credited as a catalyst for downtown Birmingham’s building boom, but lawmakers allowed the credit program to expire last year. That decision stalled a number of projects in Birmingham and around the state.

The full Senate must now approve the bill.

Upcoming Legislative Schedule

The House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. respectively.

Tuesday will mark the 25th legislative day leaving just five legislative days left in the 2017 session.