Legislative Report 052213

Volume 13 Number 14 – May 22, 2013

30th legislative day

Legislature Adjourns Sine Die

The legislature adjourned sine die on May 20, 2013.

The view of success of this session seems to depend on political party. Sen. Del Marsh (R – Anniston) said it was the most productive of this quadrennial. Speaker Mike Hubbard (R – Auburn) went further by declaring it the most productive session since he has been in the legislature (15 years). Governor Bentley declared it the best session the state has ever seen.

Democrats, on the other hand, consider it one of the worst sessions in history. Sen. Roger Bedford (D – Russellville) said he had never seen “a worse session or failure of leadership” than this year.

Next year, the legislative session will convene in January 2014, which is earlier than usual because it is an election year. A new group of legislators will come to Montgomery beginning in 2015.

Campaign Finance Reform Bill Receives Final Passage

SB 445 by Sen. Bryan Taylor (R – Prattville), which revises state law governing campaigns and elections, PACs, and political finances, received final passage late on the final day of the legislative session.

The bill that passed was a compromise version developed in a conference committee that consisted of three Senators and three Representatives.

The bulk of the bill deals with rules for filling campaign finance reports and penalties for violating campaign finance rules.

Other provisions of the bill include:

  • Eliminating the $500 cap on corporate political contributions.
  • Removing the prohibition on corporate contributions by corporations that are regulated by the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC).
  • Changing the legislative fundraising blackout to only include legislative and statewide candidates.
  • Removing the private foundation restriction from the PAC-to-PAC transfer ban, which allows charitable foundations to donate to each other.
  • Closing a loophole that allowed certain PAC-to-PAC transfers.
  • Increasing administrative fines, ensuring enforceability and clarifying the person responsible for compliance.

The bill was sent to Governor Bentley for his signature.

House Gives Final Passage to Omnibus Gun Bill

The House of Representatives gave final approval to SB 286 by Sen. Scott Beason (R – Gardendale) early on Monday.

The bill makes extensive changes to the state’s gun law, including prohibiting a company from making policies that forbid employees from storing firearms in their cars while on company property.

In order to bring a firearm onto a worksite, employees must have either a valid concealed carry permit or a hunting license. Also, the employee cannot have a record of violence or have been involuntarily committed into a psychiatric facility.

The bill also provides strong immunity language to prevent businesses from being sued in the event of an incident involving an employee’s firearm.

Other provisions include:

  • Providing that individuals without a concealed carry permit would be allowed to carry a pistol in their car if it is unloaded, locked away, and out of reach of the driver or passenger.
  • Stating that individuals convicted of a “crime of violence” cannot own a firearm in Alabama. The definition of “crimes of violence” is expanded to include all Class A felonies and Class B felonies that involve serious physical injury, distribution and manufacture of a controlled substance and crimes of a sexual nature involving children under 12.
  • Clarifying that the mere carrying of a visible, holstered or secured pistol in public is not a crime of disorderly conduct.
  • Limiting sheriffs’ discretion in denying applications for a concealed carry permit and establish an appeals process for denials.

The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) opposed the compromise bill, but the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the law enforcement community supported it.

The bill has been sent to the Governor, and his office said he would review it carefully.

Lawmakers Vote to Override Governor’s Amendment to Delay School Tax Credits

HB 658 by Rep. Jim Carns (R – Mountain Brook), which makes revisions to the controversial Alabama Accountability Act, was sent back to the legislature with an executive amendment from Governor Bentley. The amendment would have delayed the implementation of tax credits offered to families of children who transfer from failing schools to non-failing or private schools by two years.

The House voted 59 – 6, and the Senate voted 19 – 15 to reject the Governor’s amendment.

The Governor argued that delaying the tax credits was fiscally responsible and would give failing schools the opportunity to improve by utilizing the flexibility provisions of the bill.

Opponents of the amendment argued that children in failing schools should not have to wait two more years for an improved education.

Governor Signs Education Trust Fund, General Fund Budgets

With little fanfare, Governor Bentley signed the Education Trust Fund and General Fund budgets into law on Monday.

The $5.765 billion Education budget includes a two percent pay raise for teachers, $5 million for liability insurance for educators, $40 million to cover tax credits for families of children who transfer from failing schools to non-failing or private schools, and several conditional repayments to the Rainy Day Account, which must receive $423 million by 2015.

The $1.7 billion General Fund budget includes a $10 million increase to the State Employees’ Insurance Board, a $16.7 million increase to the Department of Corrections, and a $5.5 million increase to the courts system. Most other state agencies received level funding.

Governor Signs Gulf State Park Bill into Law

Last week, on the site of the old Gulf Shores State Park Resort, Governor Bentley signed SB 231 by Sen. Trip Pittman (R – Montrose) into law. The bill sets up a framework for the state to develop a lodge and conference center on Gulf State Park.

The bill gives the state increased flexibility to build a convention center and lodge on 29 acres of the park. Under the legislation, the state could build the facility, partner with a private developer, or lease the land to a private developer to build the project.

The project will be partially funded with Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) money, which was paid to the state as a result of the 2010 BP oil spill. The remainder would come from private investors who would partner with the state.

The project is still in the planning stages and will be built on the site of the old resort, which was destroyed during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

Several members of the Joint Legislative Committee on State Parks and tourism community were in attendance for the bill signing. Lt. Governor Kay Ivey, who was also in attendance said of the project, “It’s going to be a crown jewel for the Gulf Coast without costing the taxpayers a dime.”

Governor Signs Utility Workers Safety Bill

Last week, Governor Bentley signed a bill that will expand the protection of utility workers, including those from the cable telecommunications industry, from threats while performing their official duties.

SB 66 by Sen. Greg Reed (R – Jasper) strengthens existing law, amending it to include threatening a utility worker with a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument with the intent to obstruct the operation of a utility. Prior to this law being enacted, it was a crime only if a person intentionally caused substantial interruption or impairment of a service rendered to the public by a utility.

The new law goes into effect July 1, 2013.

Alabama Technology Authority Bill Dies

SB 116 by Sen. Phil Williams (R – Rainbow City), which would have set up the Alabama Technology Authority to coordinate with the Secretary of Information Technology, died in the basket on the final night of the session.

The bill was a companion bill to an earlier passed bill that created the Secretary of Information Technology position.

Governor Bentley appointed Brunson White as Secretary of Information Technology in April.

Governor Bentley wanted to wait to move SB 116 until after he appointed the Secretary of IT, but the legislature ran out of time before they could give the bill final approval.

Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights Bill Dies

Despite a push by the Alabama Retail Association (ARA) and Business Council of Alabama (BCA), HB 264 by Rep. Paul DeMarco (R – Homewood), known as the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, died without action on the final day of the session.

The bill, which passed the full legislature last year, but was pocket vetoed by the Governor because of technical issues, makes several changes to the state’s tax laws.

The most significant and controversial provision of the bill would have abolished the Administrative Law Division of the Department of Revenue and provided for the creation and operation of a new, independent state agency, known as the Alabama Tax Appeals Commission, to hear appeals of tax and other matters administered by the Department of Revenue and appeals related to certain local taxes levied by or on behalf of self-administered counties or municipalities.

At least one key Republican Senator had problems with the bill and was unwilling to allow its passage; therefore, the bill died because it was never brought up on the final day of the session.

Over Half of Republican Agenda Bills Receive Final Passage

At the beginning of the session, the House Republican Caucus announced their 2013 legislative agenda. The agenda included ten items, and seven of those items received final passage.

The bills that passed include:

  • HB 57 by Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin (R – Indian Springs) – The Women’s Health and Safety Act: This legislation requires direct physician involvement and sets mandatory standards for nursing care and post-operative follow-up visits at abortion clinics as well as establishes severe penalties for non-compliance.
  • HB 8 by Rep. Mike Jones (R – Andalusia) – Alabama Firearms Protection Act: This constitutional amendment would require future courts to use strict judicial scrutiny in evaluating state laws that infringe on the right to keep and bear arms.
  • HB 84 by Rep. Chad Fincher (R – Semmes) – The Alabama Accountability Act: This bill provides local school systems the ability to request more flexibility from certain state statutes, policies and regulations in order to make decisions that improve education within their districts. It also allows for tax credits for families of children who transfer from failing schools to non-failing or private schools.
  • HB 94 by Rep. Jay Love (R – Montgomery) – The People’s Trust Act: This bill mandates that the $437 million borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund to shore up the General Fund is paid back.
  • HB 102 by Rep. Mac Buttram (R – Cullman) – The 21st Century Workforce Act: This bill allows for the issuance of bonds for the purpose of providing funds for career and technical education equipment for local boards of education.
  • HB 101 by Rep. April Weaver (R – Brierfield) – The Red Tape Reduction Act: This bill requires each state agency to prepare an economic impact analysis prior to the adoption of any proposed regulation that could have an adverse impact on small businesses.
  • HB 109 by Rep. Mike Ball (R – Madison) – The Medicaid Block Grant Compact: This bill establishes the Health Care Compact and secures the consent of the United States Congress to return the authority to regulate health care to the member states to the compact.

The agenda items that did not pass include:

  • HB 110 by Rep. Jim McClendon (R – Springville) – The Medicaid Fraud Reduction Act: This bill would grant access to the Controlled Substances Prescription Database to authorize representatives of the Medicaid Agency investigating claims of potential fraud, abuse, or misuse of controlled substances by Medicaid recipients or providers.
  • HB 108 by Rep. Lynn Greer (R – Rogersville) – The Religious Liberty Act: This bill would allow certain employers to opt out of mandates requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives and abortion-inducing agents.
  • HB 95 by Rep. Steve McMillan (R – Bay Minette) – The Informed Voter Act: This bill stated that every time a statewide ballot initiative was proposed, a panel of five citizens, five attorneys, and five lawmakers would draft a ballot statement that plainly outlines the consequences of approving or disapproving a ballot question.  The ballot statement would also have been made available on the Legislature’s website at least thirty days prior to the vote.