Legislative Report – March 18, 2022

Volume 23 Number 10 – March 18, 2022

House committee approves lottery legislation

House Bills 501 and 502, both sponsored by Rep. Chip Brown (R – Mobile), would allow paper-based lottery games, including Powerball and Mega Millions, but not electronic ones. Both bills were approved by the House Economic Development and Tourism committee on Thursday.

Lottery proceeds would go toward post-secondary scholarships, dual enrollment for high school students in community colleges, a repayment program for student loans, bonuses for education retirees, and agricultural programs for high school students.

The Legislative Services Agency estimates that a lottery in Alabama would bring in a maximum of $285 million a year.

Brown’s bills would only authorize a lottery, not full-scale casino gambling. It remains unclear whether a lottery-only proposal would gain sufficient support in the Senate where Sen. Greg Albritton (R – Atmore) has already filed comprehensive gaming legislation. His constitutional amendment authorizes 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.

The bills now go to the full House for consideration. HB 501, a constitutional amendment, requires three-fifths approval by the legislature and then approval on the ballot in November. HB 502, the implementation legislation, only requires majority approval by the legislature.

When the legislature returns from Spring Break on March 29, they will have only seven legislative days to finalize the proposals.

House unanimously approves General Fund budget

On Tuesday, the $2.7 billion General Fund budget was approved in the House by a vote of 100 – 0. It marks the largest General Fund budget in state history.

The budget includes a 4% pay raise for state employees, to go into effect on October 1. It also includes bonuses for retirees equal to $2 for every month served. The House added an additional $10 million to a projected increase for the Department of Mental Health, boosting the department’s budget by $26.6 million to $193.1 million (a 16% increase). About $5 million of the increase will go to a pilot program that would fund mobile crisis centers for children and adolescents.

Representatives also gave the state’s district attorneys an additional $5 million, increasing their funding from $35.9 million to $40.9 million (14%). The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) would also get a $5 million increase, bringing its budget to $80.2 million (a 7% increase).

Under the House bill, the Alabama Medicaid Agency would get a $23.7 million increase to $793 million (a 3% increase). The House allocated an additional $4 million for a program to cover postpartum care for new mothers using the program for up to a year.

The Senate voted to non-concur and go to conference, so more changes are expected prior to final passage.

Senate approves charter school funding legislation 

On Thursday, the Senate approved a bill allowing county level tax revenue to go to charter schools.

Charter schools are public schools that are granted more autonomy to operate outside the traditional rules of public schools. There are currently eight start-up charter schools in the state and while they get federal and state funding, they currently don’t receive local money.

Currently, county level tax revenue dedicated to education is distributed among the county school system and any city systems in that county. SB 302 would allow charter schools in a county to get a portion of that funding based on their annual enrollment.

A floor amendment, added by Sen. Bobby Singleton (D – Greensboro), specifies that charter schools will not get more per-student state funding than traditional public schools in a county. The amendment also says that counties with less than 40,000 residents will not have to dedicate local funds to charter schools. 

The Alabama Education Association and other traditional education groups have signed off on the bill as amended. It now goes to the House.

House approves “divisive concepts” legislation 

After nearly three hours of debate on Thursday, the House approved HB 312, which prohibits educators and trainers from “compelling” students and state workers to agree with certain topics related to race, gender and religion. The bill is part of a conservative effort to limit how race and gender are taught in classrooms and worker training session.

The bill passed 65 – 32 with two Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against it.

The bill would prohibit a list of “divisive concepts” from being taught in schools and in diversity training for state entities. The banned concepts would include that the United States is “inherently racist or sexist” and that anyone should be asked to accept “a sense of guilt” or a need to work harder because of their race or gender.

The bill bans the concepts from being discussed in K-12 schools and says they can be discussed in college classes in a larger course of academic instruction as long as students aren’t forced “to assent.”

Lawmakers added a floor amendment offered by Rep. Barbara Boyd (D – Anniston) saying it would not prohibit the teaching of topics or historical events in a historically accurate context.

Black Representatives sharply criticized the bill. They said it would limit the honest teaching of history and restrict the conversations that give a deeper understanding of race and history just because those conversations might make white people uncomfortable. Steve Murray, Director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, also expressed concern, saying he fears teachers will avoid certain topics for fear of running afoul of the new law.

The bill now goes to the Senate Governmental Affairs committee.

Upcoming legislative schedule

The legislature will take next week off for legislative Spring Break. The House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, March 29, at 1:00 and 3:00 p.m., respectively.