VOLUME 24 NUMBER 6 – APRIL 28, 2023

The Alabama Legislature reconvened its regular session on Tuesday, April 25, 2023 with a two-day legislative week. 

On Tuesday, the House unanimously passed their General Fund budget, HB 124, for fiscal year 2024 with approximately $15 million more in funding than Governor Ivey’s original proposal. The budget passed by a vote of 105-0 after a short discussion led by the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville). In addition to the General Fund budget bill, the House passed a bill to allocate supplemental funding of $202 million. Some of the notable increases in the House version included additional funds for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, Medicaid, and the Department of Corrections. There was also an additional $2 million to the Alabama Department of Mental Health (ADMH) specifically earmarked for a much-needed community provider rate increase that is important to Christie Strategy Group client, the Alabama Service Providers Association (ASPA).

The House also unanimously passed a bill on Tuesday, sponsored by Rep. Russell Bedsole (R-Alabaster), that would increase the amount of grant money available to all 67 sheriff’s agencies in the state. In 2022, lawmakers eliminated the requirement for concealed carry permits. The money that was generated by those permits funded local sheriffs’ offices, and without that funding, many sheriffs’ departments have struggled to replace that revenue.The funding from HB 320 is  to be used for additional training for county law enforcement. ADECA will be responsible for distributing the grants to each county based on the previous revenue generated from the pistol permits. 

The House Ways and Means Education Committee unanimously approved a bill Wednesday morning that would exempt overtime pay from state income tax. HB 217, sponsored by Rep. Anthony Daniels (R-Huntsville), says earnings received by a full-time hourly employee for work performed in excess of 40 hours in a week does not count as gross income for purposes of the state income tax, which carries a 5% rate.. This has been a major priority for Minority Leader Daniels this year, and he received a standing ovation upon receiving a favorable report.

On Wednesday, there was a lot of discussion surrounding a new bill, HB 298, that would mandate that all smartphones and tablets sold in Alabama have an adult content filter activated when purchased. Violators would be subject to a civil fine of up to $50,000. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Chris Sells (R-Greenville), would apply to all internet-enabled smartphones and tablets sold in the state. The Commerce and Small Business committee held a public hearing for the bill that produced a large audience including multiple business-focused coalitions, representatives from different telecommunications companies, an individual from the entertainment industry, and a large group from a far-right coalition in Alabama, Eagle Forum. Major concerns with this bill include imposing additional requirements on manufacturers that could potentially increase prices for the consumer, an argument over legislating parental decisions, and the First Amendment. Despite opposition from the business community, the bill received a favorable report with an 8-4 vote, with all Republicans voting in favor of the bill and all Democrats voting against it.

The Alabama Modified School Calendar Grant Program received a favorable report in the House Education Policy Committee on Wednesday as well. HB 333, sponsored by Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) and co-sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), would provide local school boards the option to include an additional 30 days of school in addition to the current 180 days each year. Many business groups are concerned over the impact of the legislation to their workforce due to the lack of childcare during “off weeks.”

On Thursday, Senator Andrew Jones (R-Centre) led a longstanding charge by filing a bill that would reduce the state’s grocery tax by 0.5% originally and continue reducing the rate until it hits 2%. This is an effort that has been championed by Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth both in the media and at many of his speaking events. SB 257 was co-sponsored by every member of the Alabama Senate with a huge show of bipartisan support. Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) will serve as the bill’s sponsor in the House. 

A bill to add a surcharge to all landline, wireless, and other voice communication services in the state to fund the 988 crisis system of care has been filed in the Alabama House of Representatives. HB 389, sponsored by Rep. Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville), would create the Alabama 988 Crisis Care Fund to collect surcharges from wireless providers to fund the service. The 988 program will be funded by a monthly fee of 98 cents per line, the highest proposed fee in the country. The money would be collected by wireless providers and remitted to the Alabama Department of Revenue. The telecommunications industry has raised concerns with the sponsor and ADMH regarding the large fee and the fact that the industry was not consulted in the drafting of the legislation. The bill is expected in committee in two weeks, but it is unclear if legislators are willing to vote on a tax increase this year.

The Legislature will reconvene next Tuesday, May 2, 2023 for the 16th legislative day.