Legislative Report – March 11, 2022

Volume 23 Number 9 – March 11, 2022

Permitless carry bill signed into law

On Thursday, Governor Ivey signed HB 272 by Rep. Shane Stringer (R – Citronelle), which would allow people in Alabama to carry concealed weapons without a permit or a background check.

Ivey signed the bill hours after the House of Representatives approved a conference committee version of the legislation on a 70 to 29 vote. The Senate followed later in the afternoon, on a 24 to 6 vote.

The legislation would abolish legal requirements for carrying concealed weapons in most places. Concealed carry permits would be required to carry weapons onto certain locations, and would be available for interstate travel. Current laws allowing private property owners to ban concealed weapons in their buildings would remain.

Th bill led to battles between gun rights groups and state law enforcement, particularly the Alabama Sheriffs Association. Rep. Stringer and other advocates insisted the permit system did not work and constituted an unconstitutional infringement on the rights to own weapons.

Law enforcement said the permits were a useful tool for detaining individuals without a permit who may have committed crimes and for denying firearms to individuals who should not have them. The Sheriffs Association said they had denied 6,000 permits last year.

A new state database is under development to help officers flag people who are prohibited from possessing a handgun. Rep. Stringer, a former captain in the Mobile County sheriff’s department, said he believes that will be a better system to catch people who should not have handguns. The president of the Alabama Sheriffs’ Association has said he does not think the database will effectively replace the safety checks provided by the permits because of inevitable gaps in data collection.

Lawmakers made several changes to the bill to try to alleviate some of law enforcement’s concerns.

During a traffic stop or other investigation, an officer who has a reasonable suspicion that a person was about to engage in criminal conduct, could temporarily take a handgun and run it through databases to see if the gun was stolen. The officer could also check the person’s criminal history.

An officer could also temporarily take a weapon if a reasonable person would believe it is necessary for the safety of the officer or others, but it must be returned unless there is an arrest, or the person is posing a safety threat. The legislation would also steer up to $5 million in state funds to sheriffs’ offices to compensate for the funding loss from permit fees.

The bill goes into effect on January 1, 2023.

Gaming bills approved in Senate committee

The Senate Tourism committee approved lottery and casino legislation on Wednesday following a public hearing dominated by opposition. The legislation would authorize a state lottery, sports betting, eight full casinos with slots and table games and two smaller gambling sites that could have up to 300 slot machines each.

Sen. Greg Albritton (R – Range), the sponsor of the proposals, told the committee it was time for the state to address the issue of gambling. He argued his bill would give Alabamians a much-wanted state lottery and “grab control” of gambling by allowing a limited number of casino sites.

Opponents argued that the bill would essentially hand the licenses to a few select operators. The casinos would be located at existing state dog tracks and sites owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

Casinos would be located at the site of four existing dog tracks in Greene, Jefferson, Macon, and Mobile counties. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians would have a casino at each of the three tribal sites as well as a new location located in either DeKalb County or Jackson County.

The licenses at the track locations would be competitively bid although the track owners would have the opportunity to come in and make a final bid for the license. It would authorize two smaller satellite operations in Houston and Lowndes counties with up to 300 slot machines each.

The constitutional amendment must be approved by three-fifths of lawmakers and then a majority of state voters to take effect. The companion bill, which creates a state gaming commission and lays out operating rules, was also approved in committee and must receive final approval from the legislature.

Both bills now go to the full Senate. It remains unclear if the Senate will take up the legislation this session. Approval in the House appears much more difficult as House leadership does not seem interested in pursuing the issue during an election year.

House approves $8.1 billion Education Budget

On Tuesday, the House approved the $8.125 billion Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget by a vote of 100 – 1. Rep. Andrew Sorrell (R – Muscle Shoals) was the only no vote.

House Ways and Means Education Committee chair Danny Garrett (R – Trussville) said the budget would focus on improving low-performing schools.

The proposed ETF would include a 4% pay raise for teachers and education employees. A teacher with a bachelor’s degree and less than three years’ experience would see their yearly pay increase by $1,668, from $41,690 a year to $43,358. A teacher with a masters degree and 15 to 18 years’ experience would see their pay increase by $2,336 a year, from $58,412 to $60,748.

The budget would also include funding for a one-time education retirees’ bonus, equal to $2 per month of service.

The ETF also increases funding for classroom supplies from $700 to $900. It also increases funding for the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI) to $94.2 million from the current $80.2 million, a $14 million increase (17.5%). The Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative (AMSTI) would go up $15 million to $48.2 million, an increase of 45%.

The House budget would also reduce a proposed increase in a special salary allocation aimed at attracting math and science teachers to the state. Governor Ivey proposed moving it from $50 million to $100 million; the House budget puts it at $80 million.

Funding for the state’s pre-K program would go up by $24 million, to $174 million. Rep. Garrett said the funding would pay for 125 classroom and increase the percentage of eligible four-year-olds enrolled in the program from 42% to 45%.

Funding for the state’s colleges and universities would remain mostly unchanged, going to $1.4 billion, an increase of $116 million (8.6%). Christie Strategy Group client, Athens State University, received a $300,000 increase over the Governor’s proposal, resulting in a 17.6% increase over last year’s budget.

The budget now goes to the Senate where more changes are expected.

Upcoming legislative schedule

The House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, March 15, at 1:00 and 2:00 p.m., respectively.