BCA Commends Legislative Leadership on Session’s First Half

“Not afraid to build foundations for change with the bricks that the status quo crowd has thrown at them.”  -William J. Canary

The first half of the 2013 regular legislative session included accusations of shenanigans that caused fireworks in the Senate, the introduction of a controversial firearms bill, the beginning of a new Medicaid program, and other issues relevant to Alabama’s business community.

The legislature took a mid-term break this week. During the first 15 legislative days of the session that began Feb. 5, the House and Senate passed only 14 bills out of the 858 that have been introduced – 494 in the House and 364 in the Senate.

The legislature advanced government cost-cutting and red-tape reduction measures, a $50-million, career-tech equipment bond issue, a legal liability bill for a European passenger jet maker that is locating in Mobile, and business tax streamlining bills.

“At the halfway point of the session, it is clear the governor and legislative leadership have made job creation and retention their priority,” said BCA President and CEO William J. Canary. “Their commitment to repaying the Alabama Trust Fund, streamlining state government and making needed reforms to education are all priorities of the Business Council of Alabama.  Just like us they are not afraid to build foundations for change with the bricks that the status quo crowd has thrown at them.”

When the House and Senate reconvene Tuesday for the remainder of the session that cannot last beyond May 20, the General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets, legislation to change Medicaid from a fee-for-service plan, and other pro-business bills remain to be considered.

House and Senate Health Committee chairmen are scheduled to speak to the BCA’s Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday morning. The chairmen, Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, and Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, have introduced bills to change Medicaid.

Reed’s Senate Health Committee is scheduled to conduct a public hearing on his SB 340 at noon Tuesday. McClendon introduced the House version, HB 454.

Governor Robert Bentley’s Medicaid Advisory Commission recommended dividing Alabama into up to eight service regions and allowing community-led networks to coordinate Medicaid patient health care. The commission encouraged Medicaid to shift from a fee-for-service reimbursement system to a health-outcome based system that offers provider incentives for better and less-costly patient care.

Bills restricting the right of businesses to prohibit firearms on their property are of major interest to the BCA.

The omnibus gun bill, SB 286 by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, is pending while negotiations continue. The BCA opposes any bill that restricts the private property right of businesses to control their own property. Should SB 286 advance in its current form, the BCA seeks immunity from lawsuits and an opt-in, opt-out provision.

Bentley has signed eight bills, including:

HB 84, the controversial Accountability Act of 2013 by Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes. It gives tax credits for parents who move their qualifying children from failing schools to public or private schools and authorizes flexibility in state school rules and regulations for public schools. A conference committee version of the bill was passed hurriedly by Republicans, prompting Democrats to cry foul, and the Alabama Education Association to file a lawsuit. The BCA supports efforts to improve public education for students;

SB 238, the Airbus bill by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, passed without a dissenting vote in the Senate and the House. Because of a technical House amendment, SB 238 must return to the Senate for consideration. SB 238 would lower the statute of limitations and statute of repose for liability of Alabama-made aircraft. The European company Airbus is building a $600-million, big-jet assembly plant in Mobile that will employ 1,000 people at full capacity;

HB 94 by Rep. Jay Love, R-Montgomery, is The People’s Trust Act. It requires repayment by 2026 of the $437.4 million transferred from the oil and gas royalty Alabama Trust Fund to the State General Fund following voter approval on Sept. 18. The BCA supported the constitutional amendment with the proviso that the money be repaid;

SB 108 by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and SB 117 by Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, both are state government consolidation and streamlining measures that Bentley has said will save taxpayers money.

SB 108 abolishes the Department of Homeland Security and merges it and 22 state police functions into a newly created Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency headed by a yet-to-be appointed Secretary of Public Safety. The new agency will consist of the Department of Public Safety and the State Bureau of Investigations. The new agency will become operational on Jan. 1, 2015;

SB 117 creates an Office of Secretary of Information Technology and a new, appointed cabinet position of Secretary of Information Technology. The agency will plan, coordinate, and administer the state’s information technology needs. An eight-member Permanent Legislative Oversight Committee for Information Technology will review the IT secretary’s performance;

SB 204 by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, extends allowable irrigation tax credits for five years from the year irrigation equipment is installed. Supporters say irrigating crops at the right time during a drought can increase yield and enable farmers to sell their crops at a higher profit, resulting in higher income tax collections. The BCA supported the bill.

The BCA also supports SB 223 by Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, and HB 264 by Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood. The bills would update and conform to federal law provisions of the Alabama Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, create the Alabama Tax Appeals Commission, and transfer the Administrative Law Division of the Department of Revenue to the commission effective Oct. 1. Both bills are on their respective calendars.

The BCA supports HB 102 by Rep. Mac Buttram, R-Cullman, the 21st Century Workforce Act. It is on the Senate calendar. HB 102 would authorize the Alabama Public School and College Authority to issue up to $50 million in additional bonds to local school boards for career and technical education equipment, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.

HB 101, the Red Tape Reduction Act by Rep. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, is on the Senate calendar. It would require a state agency to prepare a business economic impact statement prior to adopting any new rule if a business claims the proposed rule would hurt it.

HB 227 by DeMarco and SB 134 by Ward would establish allowable maximum contingency fees that the governor, attorney general or director of a state entity may agree to with an outside attorney. The fees range from 25 percent of the first $10 million to 1 percent of any portion higher than $50 million. For example, the Legislative Fiscal Office estimates that a private attorney could charge $6.1 million as its contingency fee on an award of more than $60 million instead of the current $19.8 million with a current rate of 33 percent. HB 227 is on the House calendar while SB 134 is in a Senate committee.

-Dana Beyerle