2023 Legislative Update: Regular Session Week Nine
Road Builder Liability
A bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield, that offers greater liability protections in civil lawsuits to road and bridge builders was passed in the Alabama Senate on Thursday. Under current law, road and bridge builders can be held liable for the state of the infrastructure, even after it has been completed and turned over to a given governmental entity, even if the work was completed according to the specifications of the construction.
Simply put, this bill shifts liability away from the road and bridge builders in certain instances. This is a rebuttable presumption, but a plaintiff’s complaint must contain an actual detailed description of the alleged wrongdoing by the builders.
Environment, Social and Governance (ESG)
On Wednesday, a comprehensive ESG bill sponsored by Senator Dan Roberts received a favorable report from the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee. Upon its filing, this bill gained the attention of the business and economic development communities.
The bill was amended prior to the committee meeting to maintain the spirit of the bill while addressing some provisions of the bill that were of concern to the previously mentioned communities.
Chinese Real Estate Purchase Ban
This week the Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader Scott Stadthagen, that would prohibit Chinese citizens, businesses and corporations, and the Chinese government from buying land in the state of Alabama.
There was some debate on the floor regarding this bill, and some changes were made via floor amendment. One amendment would allow Chinese entities who already own property in the state to purchase more property so long as the newly purchased property is contiguous to their existing tract of land. The other amendment created a carveout for the Taiwanese government, citizens, and entities. There are expected to be some changes to the bill, and Leader Stadthagen stated that the Department of Commerce wanted to provide some input before the Senate acts on the bill.
Film and Music Incentive Act of 2023
Senator Garland Gudger introduced a bill to amend the Entertainment Industry Incentive Act, passed in 2009. Senator Gudger aims to offer similar benefits to those of neighboring Georgia to entice more filmmakers and production companies to choose Alabama as their filming location. Georgia has reaped the benefits of the filmmaking industry in recent years. This bill is yet another pro-business bill that will attract a multi-billion-dollar industry to the state.
Senator Gudger’s bill would raise the existing 20-million-dollar cap on expenditures eligible for the 25% rebates. The first increase would occur immediately upon the bill’s passage, raising the limit to $65 million. The subsequent increase would happen in late 2024, when the limit will be raised to $110 million. Finally, in late 2025, the limit will be raised again to $150 million.
The Senate Ways and Means Education Committee gave a favorable report to the PICE Act on Wednesday after a public hearing. As mentioned in previous legislative updates, this bill aims to establish a universal education savings account program to allow parents more control over their children's educational options.
There was, however, some discussion on the cap the state would put on the program between Chairman Arthur Orr and the bill’s sponsor Senator Randy Price. Senator Orr indicated that the program’s cap would be below $50 million.
This Thursday, the House passed a bill, sponsored by Representative Susan Dubose, that provides a way for individuals who hold a college degree to complete an alternative teacher preparation program to eventually become certified teachers. In other words, this bill creates a means of becoming a certified teacher for qualified individuals other than the traditional routes. This legislation is aimed at increasing the quality of education in the state by increasing the teacher workforce.
Under this legislation, there are some requirements that must be met in order to be eligible for a teaching license. These requirements include holding a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, passing a criminal background check, and completing an approved alternative teacher preparation program.
A bill sponsored by Representative Terri Collins passed by the Alabama House Thursday. This bill alters governance and oversight of the state’s charter schools. While Alabama currently only has five charter schools, there is continued debate in the legislature about how the state will move forward to achieve its K-12 educational goals, and charter schools are part of that conversation.
Students with Unique Needs (SUN) Education Scholarship Account Act
This Thursday, the House passed the Students with Unique Needs (SUN) Education Scholarship Account Act, sponsored by Representative Danny Garrett. This legislation proposes establishing an educational savings account for parents with children enrolled in public schools who meet specific criteria.
Some of the criteria include having an individual education plan or recognized disability, being a child of active, former, or fallen armed service members, and being a foster or adopted child. The savings account can be used for various educational costs, including tuition and fees at participating private schools and private tutoring. It is important to note that an amendment added by Representative Terri Collins will require some standardized testing for the participating students to monitor their progress of the participants.
Status of the Legislature
The Legislature used two legislative working days this week and has now used twenty of its allotted thirty legislative working days. As of May 12th, there have been 469 bills filed in the House and 321 bills filed in the Senate during the regular session. The House will reconvene on Tuesday, May 16th, at 1:00 p.m., and the Senate will reconvene on the same day at 3:00 p.m. Next week the legislature is expected to use three legislative working days.
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