Legislative Report – April 16, 2021

Volume 22 Number 9 – April 16, 2021

22nd & 23rd legislative days

Senate approves comprehensive gaming legislation 

Senators voted 23 – 9 on Tuesday night to approve a comprehensive gaming bill that would allow for a lottery and up to nine casinos throughout the state. The bill is similar to a proposal that failed by two votes earlier this session but includes new provisions such as putting the casino licenses up for bid.

Casino and sports betting sites would be located in Jefferson County, Mobile County, Macon County, Greene County, Houston County and either Jackson or DeKalb counties as well at the three sites owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

The casino licenses would be put out for bid, but the existing dog tracks and electronic bingo operations, such as Greenetrack and VictoryLand dog tracks, would have the opportunity to place the final bid to win the license in their respective county. The Poarch Creeks will have the right for the final bid for the north Alabama site in either Jackson or DeKalb counties.

Senators also approved several pieces of enabling legislation that would dictate how the Gaming Commission and Lottery Corporation would operate. They also passed a bill to prohibit campaign contributions from gaming operators.

Lottery proceeds would be used for education purposes, including a college scholarship program. The state would place a 20% tax on net casino and sports betting revenue. The first $750 million of gaming revenue would be put toward broadband infrastructure in the state.

The bill has been assigned to the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee. It is unknown at this time whether the House will approve, or even take up, the legislation.

Broadband expansion bill one step closer to final passage

Legislation to create a new state agency to oversee the expansion and availability of high-speed broadband internet services throughout the state is close to final passage in the State House. The House Urban and Rural Development committee held a public hearing on the bill on Thursday, but did not vote on the legislation.

Rep. Danny Garret (R – Trussville) is carrying the bill in the House and told committee members that the state’s current grant program is not sufficient to provide the $4-6 billion that some have estimated it will cost to get access throughout Alabama. The bill also creates the Alabama Digital Expansion Finance Corporation that could issue bonds of up to $250 million to finance eligible projects.

The bill creates a nine-member Alabama Digital Expansion Authority to oversee the expansion and availability. A larger Connect Alabama Advisory Board will make recommendations to the authority. The authority within a year of the law’s passage must develop and begin executing a Statewide Connectivity Plan. A timeline for implementation must be included.

Michelle Roth, Executive Director of the Alabama Cable Broadband Association, spoke during the committee public hearing. She voiced concerns that the bill as written would only benefit companies using fiber connectivity. Many companies also use coax cable when deploying broadband; a provision in the bill that requires symmetrical upload/download speeds would prohibit coax providers from participating in the program due to the asymmetrical nature of their upload/download speeds.

The committee will likely vote on the bill next week.

Extraterritorial legislation headed to Governor

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed SB 107 by Sen. Chris Elliott (R – Fairhope) that significantly alters the legal landscape and relationship among municipal and county governments and the citizens they serve.

Under current law, municipal governments have the authority to extend their “police jurisdiction” and “planning jurisdiction” outside their current corporate limits.

Under current law, a municipality that has a population of 6,000 or more may extend its police jurisdiction for three miles outside the corporate limits and a municipality having less than 6,000 persons may extend for a mile and a half from the corporate limits.

Also, under current law, the planning jurisdiction of a municipality may extend for five miles from the corporate limits.

As passed by the House of Representatives, the bill would freeze the current police jurisdictions of each municipality as of 1 January 2021 and such jurisdictions will be prevented from expanding/extending with future annexations. The idea is that expanded police jurisdictions will go away over time as city governments expand.

The bill also limits enforcement in the police jurisdiction to state misdemeanors adopted as municipal ordinance violations. This will eliminate the enforcement of purely local municipal ordinances relative to noise, leash laws, signs, etc.

SB 107 also allows for building code enforcement for those that are doing so as of 1 January 2021, until the county provides enforcement. At that point, municipal enforcement of building codes would phase out over a 24-month period unless an agreement is reached between the two governments to continue it.

The impact on planning jurisdictions is equally significant. The bill immediately reduces the planning jurisdiction of municipalities to 1.5 or 3 miles respectively based on size. The legislature retained the authority to extend planning jurisdictions up to 3 miles through local act.

Importantly, the legislation does not freeze planning jurisdictions. They will continue to grow along with municipal corporate limits.

The bill also allows for continued subdivision regulation authority in the planning jurisdiction.  This would be phased out over 24 months if the county also provides such regulation. An opportunity also exists for the county and city governments to reach an agreement to share this authority.

This comprehensive legislation contains many other important provisions and is still controversial among local governments, particularly municipalities. It is clear that one impact of this seismic shift in the relationships between counties and municipalities is that they will have to begin serious conversations about which services will be provided to constituents and who will have to pay for them.

Call center legislation receives final approval

The Alabama legislature passed a bill in 2019 that would require any company that relocates or eliminates a call center in Alabama to report said action to the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) within a specific time frame and with significant penalties for failing to do so.

The original bill would impact any company with a call center, irrespective of whether the state or other governmental subdivision has provided any economic incentives.

SB 249 by Sen. Clay Scofield (R – Guntersville) received final passage this week and is on its way to the Governor for signature.  As drafted, the legislation changes the reporting requirement from ADECA to the Alabama Department of Commerce (our state’s economic development agency) and, most importantly, limits the legislation only to those companies that have received grants, loans or tax credits from the state or political subdivision of the state.

This important correction was drafted by and pursued through the legislative process by the Business Council of Alabama.

Upcoming legislative schedule

The House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at 1:00 and 2:00 p.m., respectively.