VOLUME 24 NUMBER 6 – APRIL 21, 2023

The Alabama Legislature reconvened its regular session on Tuesday, April 18, 2023 with a continued priority on the four-bill economic incentives package, widely known as the Game Plan. 

This week started with a couple of education-related bills landing on the House floor with lots of discussion. On Tuesday, the House approved a bill that would make Alabama’s kindergarten enrollment and first grade readiness tests mandatory. As of right now, students may begin their public education as early as first grade; kindergarten is not a requirement. Rep. Pebblin Warren (D-Tuskegee), who has introduced similar legislation in past sessions, sponsored HB 43 and received a successful vote of 91-5. House members also approved HB 164, which was sponsored by Rep. Andy Whitt (R-Harvest). The bill would require students to take a financial literacy course before they can graduate. The course would cover a variety of subjects, such as calculating interest rates and explaining different kinds of bank accounts and loans. 

After significant discussion, the House also approved a bill to forbid transgender women from competing on collegiate female sports teams. HB 261, sponsored by Rep. Susan DuBose (R-Hoover), states that sports teams “designated for females, women, or girls shall not be open to a biological male.” The bill now heads to the Senate starting in the Education Policy committee.

On Wednesday, legislation mandating additional outdoor signage with warnings regarding fish consumption advisories near fishing spots received a favorable report out of the House Ports, Waterways and Intermodal Transit committee. HB 297, by Rep. Craig Lipscomb (R-Gadsden), was amended in committee to require less information on the signage and direct them to a website through a QR code instead. As originally written, the bill also required industries to post signage “within a reasonable distance from each discharge point identifying the pollution outfall into the receiving state waters.” The amendment also removed that requirement. Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham) will carry a senate version of the bill, SB 105, which has already been referred to the Health Care committee. 

With both the Education Trust Fund and General Fund in surplus, there has been a lot of speculation on how much state legislators will deviate from the Governor’s original budget proposals. On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means General Fund committee advanced a record high budget for Alabama. The approved budget is $15 million more than the Governor’s proposal with many agency line items staying the same or being slightly increased. You can see a full budget breakdown here, and the bill will be on the House floor agenda on Tuesday. 

Also on Wednesday, the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee approved HB 241 by Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville). The bill is part of the Governor’s “Game Plan” and renews and updates the Jobs Act, the state’s primary economic incentive program. Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), who serves as the committee chairman, offered up an amendment to the bill that would have increased the baseline private investment needed to qualify for new tourism incentives in Alabama, along with several other changes. The previously set minimum of $35 million in entertainment and historical districts would have  increased to $50 million and the “mega project” minimum would have gone from $75 million to $95 million. The amendment would have also added appointments to the Tourism Advisory Board and increased the local match requirement from 20% to 50%.

Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) said his worry was that “$50 million obviously in the private investment world is a lot.” Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper) expressed that  tourism is one of the largest industries in the state and he thought it was a good idea to offer incentives to promote that industry. Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) said the amendment would “kill any potential tourism investment” in his district. 

Christie Strategy Group worked closely with Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) to encourage committee members to oppose the amendment on behalf of GUMBO. The amendment ultimately failed with a 6-9 vote, and the bill received a favorable report without amendments. Voting in favor of Sen. Orr’s amendment were Sen. Vivian Figures (D-Mobile), Sen. Tom Butler (R-Madison), Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence), Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia), Sen. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva), and Sen. Orr. Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Range) abstained. Voting in opposition were Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman), Sen. Jay Hovey (R-Auburn), Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook), Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro), Sen. Kirk Hatcher (D-Montgomery), and Sen. David Sessions (R-Grand Bay). 

On Thursday, all four of the economic incentive bills, including HB 241, were on the Senate floor and easily passed. Sen. Orr and Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) spoke in opposition of the tourism incentives and voted against the bill, along with Sen. Vivian Figures, Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville), Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook), and Sen. Tim Melson. Only hours after lawmakers gave the bills final approval, Governor Kay Ivey held a ceremony to sign them into law. 

When asked about the inclusion and passage of the tourism incentives in HB 241, Sen. Chris Elliott said, “This process was a great example of GUMBO’s successful influence in Montgomery throughout the entirety of this bill’s life span. I am proud of the efforts shown by all parties involved and look forward to seeing what results these new incentives will garner for our state and the tourism industry.”

The Legislature will reconvene next Tuesday, April 25th with the House gaveling in at 1:00pm and the Senate at 2:30pm.