Senator Outlines 2015 Session’s Final Days

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Cam Ward on Tuesday said that the 2015 regular legislative session which may end this week has been productive for the Alabama business community.

Speaking at the final BCA Governmental Affairs Committee meeting of this session, Ward outlined a possible script for the final day that could occur on Thursday, the 29th legislative day. A session can last 30 legislative days but Ward said if a General Fund budget agreement cannot be reached there’s little reason to meet beyond Thursday.

“The General Fund, I see very little chance of passing it,” said Ward, R-Alabaster. “We’ll come back (I special session) probably in August.”

Ward said the plan for the remainder of the session will be better understood after the House and Senate Republican Party majority caucus met later today.

Despite not having a General Fund budget, the session that began in early March produced success for the business community with passage and signing into law of Ward’s legislation to protect manufacturers against lawsuits over products they did not make and signing into law of Ward’s prison reform legislation.

Governor Bentley signed the innovator liability law on May 8 and on May 18 signed Ward’s prison reform legislation that is designed to reduce the prison population and prevent a federal court takeover that could have financial implications for business.

Still unpassed is the Alabama Consumer Lawsuit Lending Act filed as HB 160 by Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile. Ward sponsored the companion Senate bill and is handling Pringle’s bill that has been carried over at the call of the Senate chair.

Innovator liability and lawsuit lending legislation have been business community priorities this session. “The BCA has really led the charge, (along with) the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” Ward said.

HB 160 would authorize the state Banking Department to regulate lawsuit loans that Ward said can carry interest rates of as much as 240 percent, an exorbitant amount that pressures plaintiffs and discourages settlement. “If we pass this bill we’ll be leading the country,” Ward said.

The House and Senate, which passed an Education Trust Fund budget for 2015-16 that has been signed by the governor, must pass a General Fund budget by Sept. 30, the last day of the current fiscal year.

By conservative estimates, next year’s General Fund budget may need more than $200 million in new money just to level fund agencies and operations. “If you go down the path and don’t fund prisons  and Mental Health, you’re going to invite federal intervention,” Ward said.

-Dana Beyerle

Sen. Ward also sat down with Dana Beyerle and Leah Garner to speak about innovator liability and lawsuit lending for the Business Council of Alabama’s Two-Minute Tuesdays.