Legislative Report 021618

Volume 19 Number 6 – February 16, 2018

11th & 12th legislative days

General Fund Budget Approved by Committee

The General Fund passed out of committee on Wednesday, sending forward a $2 billion budget that would be the largest in a decade. This year, growth in Internet sales taxes, estimated at approximately $40 million, and roughly $92 million in carry-forward money from last year’s budget gave legislators some breathing room.

The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee approved the bill sponsored by Chairman of the committee Sen. Trip Pittman (R – Montrose) after going line-by-line through the changes in the substituted version of the budget. Sen. Pittman said the version approved by the committee was similar to the Governor’s budget, which called for a substantial increase in certain state departments.

The Department of Corrections received a $50 million boost in funding under the budget passed by the committee. Improving the prison system was a key part of Gov. Kay Ivey’s vision for the state presented in her State of the State address in January.

In addition to Corrections, the Department of Mental Health would see an increase of $8.9 million in the proposed budget, an 8.2 percent increase. The Department of Human Resources, which administers most anti-poverty programs in the state, would get an additional $3.1 million, a 5 percent increase. The state’s trial courts would get an additional $2.8 million, a 2.7 percent increase.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn, speaking to reporters after the committee meeting, said the increase in his budget will help him address prisoner health care and mental health services provided by the department. Dunn also said the money could begin to address staffing problems. U.S. Federal Judge Myron Thompson ruled last year that the prison system would need to improve quickly or face a federal takeover.

A bill to increase state employees’ pay by 3 percent was also approved by the committee. During the committee meeting, Sen. Pittman voiced concerns of the long-term effects of the measure. He said he was concerned about the recurring expense of a permanent raise in an uncertain economic future. Despite the concern, Sen. Pittman said he believed the budget as passed by the committee was a good budget.

The General Fund budget now goes to the Senate floor for consideration, possibly as soon as next week.

House Approves “Stand Your Ground” Law for Churches

After a long day and almost three hours of debate on the bill alone, the House approved HB 34 by Rep. Lynn Greer (R – Rogersville), which would give legal protection for somebody who uses force to defend himself or others in a church.

Rep. Greer said the bill is a commonsense measure to allow church members to protect each other. Democrats, who opposed the bill, said a person who uses justifiable force in a church is already covered under the state’s “stand your ground” law, so the bill is unnecessary.

The bill was approved 40 – 16 and now goes to the Senate.

Largest Education Trust Fund Budget Since Recession Approved by House

The Legislative Fiscal Office projects the budget, the largest in a decade, to grow by about $216 million next year, due to increased income and sales tax revenues from a stronger economy. Most of the increase — $102.4 million — will go to the proposed pay raise for teachers.

Teachers received a four percent raise in 2016, but increases in benefit costs cancelled it out. Rep. Bill Poole (R – Tuscaloosa), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Committee, said he does not expect an increase in benefits costs this year.

The budget also includes a $20 million increase for the state’s pre-kindergarten program, a $5 million increase for the Alabama Reading Initiative, an additional $5.4 million for student materials, and increases for new technology, transportation, fleet maintenance, and technology coordinators. Overall funding for four-year colleges and universities would increase by $37 million, and community colleges would see a $16.2 million increase.

The budget now goes to the Senate.

Upcoming Legislative Schedule

The House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, February 20, 2018, at 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. respectively.