House Ways and Means General Fund Chairman Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, at Tuesday’s briefing, said next year’s General Fund looks to be in fairly good shape now that Congress has extended CHIP funding for children for six years. Glen Wilkins, director of public affairs and government relations for BCA member Walmart Inc., which sponsored the briefing, introduced Rep. Clouse.
House and Senate members took up education and tax bills as well as legislation dealing with uniform transportation services, a broadband initiative, and enhanced penalties for already illegal client shopping by lawyers. And the important Toyota-Mazda tax incentive Senate bill is on the House calendar ready for final passage on Tuesday.
In addition, House Minority Leader Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, released the House Democrats’ 2018 legislative agenda.
At the end of the session’s third week, House members had filed 318 bills and senators, 236.
The House and Senate are scheduled to return to Montgomery on Tuesday for the session’s seventh legislative day.
The BCA is monitoring and acting on the business community’s legislative agenda that includes infrastructure investment preparation for 2019, education, health care, legal reform, tax and fiscal policy issues.
State School Board Governance Update Bill Advances
The House Education Policy Committee this week favorably reported an amended HB 70 by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur. Her bill would add four non-voting members to the state school board, subject them to provisions of the School Board Governance Improvement Act of 2012 and require the state superintendent of education to establish a model code of conduct for members of local school boards by Jan. 1, 2019.
The bill also would require the development of continuing education and training programs for state board members, conducting of investigations and providing for notice and hearing of board members, and developing and issuing regulations to implement provisions of the bill. The State Board of Education also would have to adopt a code of conduct by April 1, 2019.
State Early Department of Education Secretary Qualifications Specified
The House voting 89-0 passed HB 71 by Rep. Collins. It would update the Department of Early Childhood Education law by requiring certain qualifications for the secretary of Early Childhood Education, a gubernatorial appointee.
Under Rep. Collins’ bill, to be eligible for appointment as secretary, a candidate will have to provide proof of a master’s degree, or completion of at least 36 hours of post baccalaureate course work in early childhood education or childhood development, extensive experience in educational supervision and management in the areas of early childhood education from birth to eight years of age, school readiness, early care education, school improvement, and school administration or education administration.
Alabama Workforce Council Law Could Be Updated
The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee this week favorably reported HB 170 by Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton. It would limit the number of future members of the Alabama Workforce Council to no more than 35 and add to the board the executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, the secretary of the Department of Labor or his or her designee, and the chair of the Alabama Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Board as ex officio members with no voting rights.
The council shall be business-driven and -led and appointing authorities shall coordinate their appointments to assure that at least 75 percent of the voting council members are employed by business and industry, and that at least two individuals from each of the region of the regional workforce development councils are voting members, according to the legislation.
The regional workforce development councils develop regional strategic plans and workforce development systems to support local economic and job development activities.
Medicaid Benefits Recovery Bill Passes Senate
The Senate on Thursday voting 25-0 passed a substituted SB 93 by Sen. Orr. The bill would authorize the Alabama Medicaid Agency to foreclose or enforce liens on real property in circuit court in order to recover medical benefits paid a recipient prior to his or her death.
Currently under federal law, the state Medicaid Agency operates a narrowly tailored estate recovery program but there are no provisions under state law governing an estate recovery program. This bill would establish procedures by which the state Medicaid Agency could recover from estates and would grant authority in state law for the liens the state Medicaid Agency currently files under federal law.
JUDICIAL AND LEGAL REFORM
“Case Running” Penalties Could Be Enhanced
The House Judiciary Committee favorably reported HB 119, the “case running” bill by Rep. Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo.
It’s already illegal for attorneys or their representatives to pay someone to encourage a lawsuit, but the fine and potential jail sentence for a violation is minimal. But maybe not for long, if the bill becomes law.
The current penalty for violation of the misdemeanor law is $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to six months. Rep. Fridy’s bill would increase the maximum fine to $10,000 and increase the maximum jail sentence to one year.
“Case running” involves law firms using private investigators or other third-parties to directly solicit potential plaintiffs and clients. Existing rules of professional conduct for attorneys currently prohibit case running and there are existing criminal penalties for attorneys or their agents who improperly solicit clients or cases for the lawyer’s gain.
Bill Asks Voters to Expand Gubernatorial Appointment Authority
SB 15 by Sen. Rusty Glover, R-Semmes, is a proposed constitutional amendment that was favorably reported by the Senate Committee on Constitution, Ethics and Elections on Wednesday.
As introduced, SB 15 asks voters to give the governor the authority to appoint a qualified individual to any vacant House or Senate seat if there are fewer than two years remaining in the unexpired term. Currently, the governor can appoint appellate and trial court judges, district attorneys, state constitutional officers, and U.S. senators, among other offices, when vacancies occur.
Legislative Term Limit Bill Advances
The Senate Constitution, Ethics and Elections Committee voting 5-0 favorably reported SB 127 by Sen. Bill Hightower, R-Mobile, on Wednesday. SB 127, a proposed constitutional amendment, if ratified, would limit the number of terms a member of the Alabama Senate or Alabama House of Representatives could serve to three consecutive terms.
The bill goes to the full Senate for consideration.
LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT
Business Code to Get Partial Rewrite
The House voting 93-0 on Thursday passed HB 72 by Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, and sent it to the Senate where it was assigned to the Judiciary Committee. The 266-page bill would “revise the Alabama Partnership Act and would specify that the procedures for formation, powers, governance, and dissolution are applicable to limited liability limited partnerships, limited liability partnerships, foreign limited liability limited partnerships, and foreign limited liability partnerships that function in the state. This bill would make conforming changes elsewhere in the business entities law[,]” and would become effective Jan. 1, 2019.
Important Update to Unemployment Compensation Law Progresses
The Senate voting 21-8 on Thursday sent SB 92, the unemployment law update bill, to the House. The bill by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would reduce the maximum number of weeks that unemployment compensation benefits could be paid in a benefit year beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2019, from the lesser of 26 weeks or one-third of the wages paid for insured work during the base period, to the lesser of 14 weeks up to a maximum of 20 weeks depending upon the average state unemployment rate, or one-fourth of the wages paid for insured work during the base period.
The bill will reduce costs to the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund for benefit payments funded by employer contributions by approximately $56.2 million. The bill if it becomes law will authorize an additional five weeks of benefits if an individual is enrolled in a job training or certification program approved by the Alabama Department of Labor. It also will increase the weekly benefit amount from $265 to $275 beginning Jan. 1, 2019.
Senate Passes Transportation Network Bill; House Committee Reports its Version
The Senate voting 28-0 on Thursday passed a substituted SB 143 by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro. The bill would require transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft to obtain permits from the Alabama Public Service Commission and would require them and their drivers to adhere to uniform regulations. Companies operating before July 1, 2018, would be able to continue until the PSC establishes administrative rules and a deadline for compliance.
This bill also would establish a local assessment fee of 1 percent of the gross passenger fair paid to the TNC. Local governments would not be allowed to levy a tax or business license fee but at least 50 percent of the state assessment fee would be allocated to counties and municipalities on a proportional formula.
Currently there is a hodgepodge of regulations, or none at all, at the local level.
HB 190 by Rep. David Faulkner, R-Birmingham, is the House version. The House Commerce and Small Business Committee on Wednesday favorably reported a substituted and amended version. The bill is on the House calendar.
“Ban the Box” Legislation Would Affect State Job Applicants, Agencies
The Senate Judiciary Committee this week voting 8-1 favorably reported this year’s version of a “Ban the Box” bill. SB 198 by Sen. Singleton, would prohibit the state of Alabama or any of its political subdivisions from inquiring into a job applicant’s conviction history from being a factor in the employment application process until after a conditional job offer has been made. Consideration of an applicant’s prior convictions would be allowed if the conviction is directly related to the position sought.
Varying versions of the bill had been introduced previously, but the current bill would only apply to government hiring decisions.
TAX AND FISCAL POLICY
Heroes for Hire Tax Credit Act Update Nears Final Passage
HB 83 by Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, is on the Senate calendar one step from final consideration. The bill already cleared the House and was favorably reported Wednesday by the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
The bill would change the name of the “Heroes for Hire Tax Credit Act” to the “Veterans Employment Act” and expand the current tax credit provided to Alabama employers with fewer than 50 employees effective Jan. 1, 2018, and cover all eligible unemployed veterans hired, as opposed to only recently deployed unemployed veterans, provided the veteran is hired to a full-time position paying at least $14 per hour.
The credit would be available only in the tax year in which the veteran completed twelve consecutive months of employment. Additionally, the tax credits in this bill will sunset after Dec. 31, 2023, unless extended.
Single-Petitioner Tax Refund Bill Gets Committee Nod
The Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee voting 11-0 favorably reported SB 63 by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro. The bill would eliminate the current requirement that petitions for tax refunds be jointly filed by a taxpayer and the consumer/purchaser and replace it with a single-petitioner refund request authorization by the person who paid the tax directly to the licensed seller.
Tax Cut Bill Advances in Senate
The Senate voted 28-0 on Thursday to pass SB 76, the income tax bill by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston. SB 76 would cut taxes by $4 million beginning in 2020 by increasing the optional standard deduction adjusted gross income floor for taxpayers that are married filing joint, head of family, and single, from $20,000 to $23,000, and married filing separate from $10,000 to $10,500.
Toyota-Mazda Benefits Package Bill Nears Final Green Light
The important Toyota-Mazda tax incentive bill, SB 98 by Sen. Orr, is on the House calendar and in position to pass on Tuesday. This bill is on a fast track to help support the $1.6 billion Toyota-Mazda super project in eastern Limestone County.
SB 98 would authorize counties to abate all or a portion of the ad valorem taxes for certain properties that will be used for a qualifying project pursuant to the Alabama Jobs Act which create a specified number of new jobs and which has at least $100 million of anticipated capital expenditures.
Rep. Danny Crawford, R-Athens, has the House version.
Broadband Bill Would Spur Rural Internet Development
The Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee voting 10-0 favorably reported SB 149, the Alabama Broadband Act by Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville. The bill would authorize income tax credits to entities that purchase, construct, or install qualified broadband telecommunications network facilities in Alabama’s rural areas retroactive from Dec. 31, 2017, through Dec. 31, 2023. The income tax credit would be 10 percent of new investment in qualified broadband telecommunications network facilities, but there would be an annual, per-taxpayer limit of the lesser of income tax due or $750,000/$1.4 million, depending on the broadband speed of the project. Total income tax credits could not be more than a collective $20 million.
The legislation, designed to spur Internet connectivity in rural areas, also would exempt state ad valorem, sales, and use taxes for 10 years and provide a mechanism for requesting local ad valorem, sales, and use tax exemptions for qualified facilities and materials and equipment. The provisions for tax credits and exemptions would be repealed on Dec. 31, 2023.
The legislation also would create a seven-member Alabama Rural Broadband Oversight Committee.
OTHER BILLS OF INTEREST
Public Transportation Bill Gets Partial Green Light
The Senate voting 26-0 on Thursday passed SB 85, the Alabama Public Transportation Trust Fund bill by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham. It went to the House where it was assigned to House Committee on Governmental Affairs.
As introduced, SB 85 would create the Alabama Public Transportation Trust Fund for the distribution of designated funds appropriated by the Legislature or collected from grants or other sources to encourage public transportation in Alabama.
Alabama House Democrats Release 2018 Agenda
Alabama House Democrats have released their 2018 legislative agenda. The pillars of the agenda are ensuring open government, prioritizing prison reform and reducing recidivism, supporting mental health, fighting the addiction epidemic, ensuring access to affordable health care, rebuilding the workforce, investing in educators, transparent government, and ending corruption.
The agenda includes laudable goals that will enable all Alabamians to prosper: “Quality early childhood education is the key to putting Alabama children on the right track in school, work, and life. Strong, well-round Pre-K programs offer our young people an increasingly essential start in their academic careers. From early literacy initiatives, to STEM activities, to exposure to foreign languages, to art and music to strong Pre-K programs, are the building blocks for life-long learning.
“In addition, expanding Cradle-to Pre-K programs for children and families in need will close the achievement gap in low income communities. If we are to compete and succeed in the global economy, our young people must have early access to opportunities and skills that ensure future achievement.”