House Rules Chair Addresses BCA Governmental Affairs Committee

House Rules Committee Chairman Mac McCutcheon updated the Business Council of Alabama’s Governmental Affairs Committee today on separate workplace gun and school standards legislation pending in the 2013 legislative session.

McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, is in his second legislative term but his first regular session as chairman of the powerful, agenda-setting Rules Committee. He was appointed by House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, late last year after then-Rules Chairman Blaine Galliher, R-Rainbow City, resigned to become Gov. Robert Bentley’s legislative director.

McCutcheon said that during his freshman term beginning in 2006 Republicans were in the minority and played defense “trying to stop legislation.” In 2010, Republican took over the House and Senate and there was “a mindset change.”

“I honestly can stand before you and say I feel like the legislature now is looking at promoting business and the executive branch is looking at promoting jobs,” he said. “I think you have a friendly legislature and state government … we realize the importance of business and jobs.”

McCutcheon said the House has passed nine of the 10 bills on its 2013 agenda but is holding off on a proposed constitutional amendment restating gun rights until the Senate dispenses with an omnibus gun bill by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, that is of concern to the BCA.

Beason’s bill, SB 129, currently contains a section that would mandate that businesses and property owners could not have policies preventing firearms, stored in vehicles, on their private property.

The BCA opposes the workplace control provisions of Beason’s bill as a private property right and an employee safety obligation. “We’re sensitive to that issue,” McCutcheon said.

Beason’s bill has been assigned to the Senate Business and Labor Committee. The BCA, along with other representatives from business and industry, law enforcement and others, has been part of a working group trying to find areas of compromise regarding the gun legislation.

McCutcheon said he supports the Second Amendment right to possess firearms. “I don’t think there’s anybody in our state that doesn’t really believe in Second Amendment rights, but the problem is how do we get there with common sense to protect a business owner and property, it’s so important,” he said.

“I look at it as a business owner (of property), do I just want to open up the doors to my home and let them walk in there with a gun because they’ve got Second Amendment rights?” he said. “A business owner, they’ve invested money, they have an interest in the state, and they have the liability of their employees at stake.”

McCutcheon also addressed HB 84, the school flexibility bill by Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes, that was to be taken up by the full Senate today (Feb. 26). The bill and the related Common Core Standards bill are of major interest to the BCA. HB 84 would allow public school systems to seek  flex waivers from various state laws and rules and operate schools differently to meet local needs.

“We’re expecting the Senate to step up to the plate and do what they’re supposed to do,” McCutcheon said.

He said the flex bill fits in with state School Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice’s proposed Plan 2020 to improve student growth and achievement, close the achievement gap, increase high school graduation rates, and increase the number of students who are college and, most importantly, career ready.

“We’re finally not looking at the way we used to do, we’re looking at the workforce we need in the future, looking at our children in the public education system and saying, ‘Hey, we need to prepare these children for tomorrow’,” McCutcheon said.

The flex bill is supported by major education organizations in the state except the state teacher’s union. “This is not about protecting jobs, not trying to promote a certain group, it’s about a workforce to fill those jobs,” McCutcheon said.

“Nothing is more important out there for the business community,” William J. Canary, president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, told the Governmental Affairs Committee.

A significant back story to flexibility and work-ready legislation is bills to affect Common Core standards. The state Board of Education in 2010 adopted international-benchmarked Common Core State Standards and modified them with a few Alabama standards.

The Common Core bills, HB 254 by Rep. Jim Barton, R-Mobile, and SB 190 by Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Pike Road, would prohibit the state school board from adopting and the Department of Education from implementing Common Core State Standards developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative, prohibit compiling and sharing student data and prohibit the state school board from ceding school control to outside entities, according to the bills’ synopses.

SB 190 is scheduled for a public hearing Wednesday at 3 p.m. in the Senate Education Committee.

McCutcheon said Alabama needs common education standards so parents who face moving to the state, particularly to north Alabama due to federal Base Realignment and Closure, will be assured  their children will receive a good education.

“There’s no way we can look at standards and just throw Common Core out the window,” McCutcheon said. “We need to be focused on fewer, cleaner, higher course standards for our students.”

McCutcheon said he began getting emails about Common Core over the weekend.

“There are a lot of falsehoods out there,” he said. “I would like to see us address this thing with the facts, let’s get the facts out there. We need standards. We have businesses … looking to come to Alabama from all over the world. We want to make sure we’re not some country-bumpkin Alabama state, (let’s) make sure we have some standards of education.”

“From my perspective, chambers of commerce, the business community … let’s start a campaign, here’s the facts, here’s what we need, here are the facts,” he said.

– Dana Beyerle