2017 Legislative Update: Week 4
Week four of the 2017 Alabama Regular Legislative Session was a quiet one, but it may simply have been the proverbial calm before the storm. The Legislature met in session on Tuesday and Thursday, the seventh and eighth legislative days of the 30 that the state's Constitution permits. The Senate spent its time passing sunset legislation that is required to keep the state's various agencies and boards in existence. The House got bogged down on Tuesday on a bill that would allow hunting over baited fields, but worked smoothly through the rest of their calendar on Thursday.
The current plan is for the next two weeks to be three legislative day weeks, which would take the Legislature to 14 of the 30 available meeting days, or almost to the halfway point of the session. The two weeks following that are a planned break. The coming two weeks will be busy ones. The expectation is that both the General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets will be heard in committee and will come to the floor to be voted on before the planned break. This year the General Fund budget will start in the House. The Education Trust Fund Budget will begin the process in the Senate.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a marathon meeting on Wednesday, lasting nearly four full hours. The primary topic for the hearing was the prison construction legislation, SB59, sponsored by the committee's chairman, Senator Cam Ward (R–Alabaster). The bill was not voted on by the committee, but will be up again this coming week. Most expect the legislation to be favorably reported by the committee, but also that it will continue to be the subject of discussion and negotiation before it is considered by the full Senate.
Historic Tax Credits
Bills to re-institute the Alabama Historic Tax Credit were introduced in both the House and Senate this week. The House version, HB345 by Representative Victor Gaston (R–Mobile), has 87 of the 103 current House members listed as co-sponsors (there are two vacant seats in the 105-member House). The Senate version, SB262 by Senator Jabo Waggoner (R–Vestavia Hills), lists 29 of the 35 Senate members as co-sponsors. The tax credit program was allowed to expire last year. The new program would have some modifications. For example, the credits will be made refundable and isolated to the Education Trust Fund (and not the General Fund). The legislation also puts in place a new evaluation process that will review the relative merits of particular projects. Previously, credits were reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. The total amount of the credits available each year will remain at the level previously set under the law: $20 million.
Medicaid and Regional Care Organizations
The plan to transform Medicaid from a traditional fee-for-service program to a managed care program run by provider-dominated Regional Care Organizations ("RCOs") suffered a blow early in the week when the Centene Corporation, a managed care company that had formed RCOs in each of the five Alabama regions, decided not to proceed with their efforts. With Centene pulling out, three regions are left without any RCOs at all. Only one region, Region A in North Alabama, has two operating RCOs, as required under the legislation.
A bill to establish a process to re-allocate existing judgeships in the state based on caseloads and population received final passage in the House on Tuesday, and was sent to the Governor for his signature. SB90, by Senator Arthur Orr (R–Decatur), creates a commission that will examine the allocation of judgeships and judicial resources throughout the state. The commission will then make recommendations to the Legislature based on its findings. The commission will not make any recommendations for the first three years, though, as it determines the methodology that will be used.
Alabama remains the only state in the country that allows a judge in a capital case to override a sentence recommendation by a jury and impose the death penalty. There are two bills this year that would change that, requiring the judge to accept the jury’s recommendation. Both bills appear to have some momentum. SB16, by Senator Dick Brewbaker (R–Montgomery) has already passed the Senate and has been sent to the House Judiciary Committee. HB32, sponsored by Representative Chris England (D–Tuscaloosa), has been reported from the House Judiciary Committee and is awaiting a vote by the full House. The bill was selected for the calendar this past week, but was not reached. It has been selected again for the Special Order Calendar for Tuesday’s session, but is the last bill on that calendar and may not be reached.
Concealed Carry Permits
SB24, sponsored by Senator Gerald Allen (R–Tuscaloosa) would remove the requirement in Alabama that a person obtain a permit in order to carry a concealed firearm. The bill would also, therefore, allow anyone to carry a pistol in their car. The bill was given a favorable report from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and can now be addressed by the full Senate. An amendment to the bill was made in Committee that restored the rights of property owners to deny access to their property to a person with a gun. A the law currently stands, in order to enter onto the property of another—including a business—a gun carrier must either have a concealed carry permit or the consent of the owner. Senator Allen’s bill, which received a 6-3 vote, is opposed by many in law enforcement.
Full Privatization of Retail Alcohol Sales
Senator Orr has introduced a bill again this year that would eliminate the retail alcohol sales operations of the state government. Alabama currently allows and licenses private entities to sell alcohol, and there are more than 600 private license holders in the state. Those entities compete against the 170 state-owned retail stores, although the private operators must purchase their inventory from the State. Senator Orr’s legislation, SB260, would phase out the government operated stores over a five year period.
The Legislature will meet again on Tuesday in Montgomery. The Senate will convene at 2:00 p.m. and House will come in at 1:00 p.m. Next week is expected to be a three legislative-day week. As noted above, it is expected that both budgets will begin making their way through the process this coming week with public hearings in their respective committees.
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