Steve Pelham, chief of staff to Governor Kay Ivey, spoke at this week’s Tuesday Briefing that was sponsored by the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, one of The Partners with the BCA and the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama.
Pelham discussed Alabama’s low unemployment rate and record employment, and the significant announced investment in Alabama since Governor Ivey took office 10 months ago.
Pelham also discussed Ivey Administration efforts to solve the chronic prison problem with an innovative alternative approach to engage private construction of new infrastructure and retention of a project manager to develop a Request for Proposal.
The House and Senate began Tuesday with consideration of local and non-controversial bills and began passing state employee and public education employee pay raises and one-time bonuses for retirees.
Legislators also considered data breach and legal representation issues.
Tuesday briefings are held each week during regular legislative sessions. The March 6 Tuesday Briefing scheduled speakers are House and Senate Judiciary Committee chairs, Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, and Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, respectively.
Through the 16th legislative day, the House has introduced 480 bills and the Senate, 362. The Legislature will reconvene on Tuesday for the 17th legislative day.
EDUCATION AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
Cyber School Bill Introduced, Passed by Senate
Alabama could get a cyber technology and engineering school in Huntsville under SB 212 sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur. The Senate voting 30-0 passed the bill Tuesday and sent it to the House.
SB 212 would create the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering as an independent, residential school for academically motivated and gifted students. The bill also would create a 15-member board of trustees to govern the school and authorize the school to accept grants, donations, and funds from other sources. SB 212 would conditionally appropriate $1.5 million in start-up money from the Education Trust Fund, but Governor Ivey has recommended an absolute appropriation of $1.5 million to the State Department of Education for the school.
The school is slated to open in fall 2020.
ENVIRONMENT AND ENERGY
Forever Wild Tax Bill Fails to Get Procedural Vote
HB 362, the Forever Wild update constitutional amendment bill, didn’t get enough procedural votes on Tuesday to be considered by the House for debate. HB 362 by Rep. Mark Tuggle, R-Alexander City, is a proposed constitutional amendment asking voters to require the Forever Wild Land Trust to pay in lieu of taxes on property acquired by the Land Trust.
Forever Wild, established in 1992 and renewed in 2012 by voters, buys qualifying land to keep it “forever wild” in perpetual trust for future generations.
Rep. Tuggle said rural counties especially are struggling as their ad valorem tax bases are undercut by the existing 200,000 acres under Forever Wild protection and by future land purchases that remove the property from ad valorem taxes for education.
The House voted 38-26 to consider the bill but since it is a constitutional amendment, the vote did not meet the threshold for the bill’s further consideration. The bill remains on the regular calendar.
JUDICIAL AND LEGAL REFORM
“Case Running” Penalties Nearing Enhancement
It’s already illegal for attorneys or their representatives to pay someone to encourage lawsuits, but the fine and potential jail sentence for a violation is minimal. Maybe not for long, if HB 119 by Rep. Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo, becomes law.
The House on Tuesday voting 99-0 passed Rep. Fridy’s bill and sent it to the Senate where it was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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.
Senate Sends a Data Breach Bill to House
The Senate on Thursday voting 24-0 passed a floor substitute for the data breach notification bill, SB 318 by Sen. Orr. He said Alabama is one of two states without a law requiring timely notification of a data breach.
Consumer protection data breach legislation is the result of ongoing discussions between interest groups that include the business community and the Alabama Attorney General’s office. The legislation would require businesses and other entities to provide notice to affected individuals upon a breach of security that results in the unauthorized acquisition of sensitive, personally identifying information.
The House Data Breach Notification Act, HB 410 by Rep. Phil Williams, R-Monrovia, is on the House calendar.
Ethics Reforms Panel Will Study Issues for Next Year
The Alabama Legislature plans to appoint a panel to study possible changes to the state ethics law with a goal of preparing a bill for next year under a resolution sponsored by Sen. Orr. He joined Attorney General Steve Marshall, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton, and Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, chairman of the House Rules Committee, in announcing the panel.
Sen. Marsh introduced SB 343 that would make numerous changes to the Ethics Law, but the bill won’t be pushed this year, al.com reported. Instead, it will provide a framework for a newly created Ethics Clarification and Reform Commission.
Marshall said people and businesses affected by the ethics law have asked that certain parts of the law be made clearer. “We’ve identified, along with the Ethics Commission, certain areas that may be loopholes or holes in the law that we need to be able to close,” Marshall said.
As written now, the bill would revise the definitions of some key terms in the law, such as “thing of value,” “principal” and “conflict of interest.” It would require public officials to disclose more information about their sources of income on annual statements they file with the Ethics Commission.
The Ethics director will be co-chairman of the commission, along with the attorney general or the chief deputy attorney general. The commission also will include three House members and three senators, as well as more than a dozen other members.
LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT
Veterans Hire Tax Credit Bill Nears Finish Line
The House passed HB 83 by Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, by a vote of 98-0 and the Senate passed an amended version 27-0, sending the bill to a House-Senate conference committee, which will consider a substitute.
Under existing law, certain small businesses may qualify for an income tax or financial institution excise tax credit for hiring recently deployed unemployed veterans who have been discharged from active service within two years from the date of hire.
HB 83 would rename the Heroes for Hire Tax Credit Act of 2012 as the Veterans Employment Act and would allow certain small businesses to qualify for a tax credit for hiring an unemployed veteran regardless of when the veteran was discharged from active service for each unemployed veteran hired for a full-time position paying at least $14 per hour, the majority of the duties of which are at a business location within Alabama.
TAX AND FISCAL POLICY
House Passes Its Revenue Department Gross Income Bill
The Senate on Thursday approved a supplemental appropriation to this year’s Department of Corrections budget in order to address health and mental health deficiencies.
The Senate voted 27-0 to approve SB 175 by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. “This money will help provide the better care,” Sen. Pittman said. The bill goes to the House. The committee substitute to SB 175 would appropriate $30 million from the General Fund to the Department of Corrections, $2.5 million from the General Fund to the Departmental Emergency Fund, and $500,000 from the DNA Fund to the Department of Forensic Sciences in this fiscal year.
Lawmakers Move on Public Employee Pay Raise, Retiree Bonus Bills
The House and Senate are taking up state education, state employee, and retiree paycheck legislation. The Senate voted 28-1 to pass SB 185 by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, that would grant every state employee a 3 percent cost-of-living raise beginning Oct. 1, their first since 2008, although there has been merit raises. It will not include judges.
“It’s been 10 years since we had a cost-of living adjustment for state employees,” Sen. Chambliss said. “That being said, we’ve had some difficult waters economically between then and now.”
The bill goes to the House for consideration.
Also Tuesday, the Senate voted 27-1 to pass SB 21, a one-time bonus for state education employees who retired prior to Oct. 1, 2017. The bill by Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, would approve a bonus or $1 for every month of service attained by the retiree.
To remain consistent in this election year, the Senate voting 28-1 approved SB 215, another Sen. Dial-sponsored bill. It would grant retired state employees a one-time lump sum bonus of $1 a month for every month attained prior to retiring Oct. 1, 2017.
In addition to state employees, lawmakers this session are also expected to approve a 2.5 percent cost-of-living raise for teachers and public education employees. The House passed that bill, HB 174 by Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, and sent it to the Senate. It would take effect Oct. 1.
Governor Ceremoniously Signs Ride-Sharing Company Regulations
Governor Ivey on Thursday ceremoniously signed HB 190, which creates statewide regulations for transportation network companies, also known as ridesharing companies. She was joined for the ceremony in the Old House Chamber by Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, and Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, along with transportation network company representatives.
HB 190 authorizes the Public Service Commission to create uniform, statewide regulations governing TNCs, such as Uber and Lyft, and for those companies to secure permits from the PSC, maintain agents for service of process, maintain certain records, implement a non-discrimination policy, and require drivers and vehicles to meet certain safety and consumer protection requirements.
Alabama is the 45th state in the nation to welcome comprehensive ridesharing, allowing companies such as Lyft and Uber to operate statewide, Governor Ivey said. The law takes effect July 1, 2018.
Tax Amnesty Bill Goes to Governor’s Office
Rep. Ken Johnson’s bill, HB 137, was sent to Governor Ivey’s office on Tuesday for her consideration. If the bill by the Moulton Republican becomes law, it will renew a tax amnesty program for Alabama taxpayers.
HB 137 creates the “Alabama Tax Delinquency Amnesty Act of 2018” and authorize a tax amnesty for three months between July 1, 2018, and Sept. 30, 2018. The legislation is expected to increase tax receipts to state and local governments depending on the number of taxpayers that participate in the program and the amount of the delinquent taxes owed, including all taxes (except motor fuels, motor vehicle, and property taxes) administered by the Department of Revenue either due prior to Jan. 1, 2017, or for taxable periods that began before Jan. 1, 2017.
Senate Committee Approves Bill to Ease Business License Requirement
The Senate County and Municipal Government Committee this week favorably reported HB 107 by Rep. Paul Lee, R-Dothan, sending the bill to the Senate calendar. The bill would amend current state law regarding municipal business license requirements by removing the business license requirement for a person travelling through a municipality on business if the person is not operating a branch office or doing business in the municipality.