Legislators wrapped up this year’s regular session at midnight Wednesday.
Here’s a look at the fate of major bills and bills related to BirminghamWatch focus areas, including education and government ethics. This week’s actions are indicated in bold type. More information can be found about these and other bills on the Legislature’s website.
Education Trust Fund
Sponsor: Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa
Description: The $6.3 billion budget for the Education Trust Fund is an increase of more than $300 million from last year. In addition to pay raises for education workers, the budget provides:
- Funding to hire 475 new teachers for seventh through 12th grades. State schools lost about 3,000 teachers between 2008 and 2015.
- $16 million more for the state’s pre-kindergarten program, bringing the program’s funding from the ETF to $62 million. The increase would mean about 2,800 4-year-olds could be added to the program, bringing the total to 14,500. That is about 25 percent of the children who qualify. Gov. Robert Bentley had proposed a $20 million increase. For more detail on funding in the bill, see Trisha Powell Crain’s analysis of the bill.
Status: The budget has been enacted into law.
Education Pay Raises
HB121, HB4, HB206, SB257, SB223
Sponsors: Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa; Rep. Chris Sells, R-Greenville; Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden; Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham
Description: HB121 has become law. It gives 4 percent raises to public education employees who make less than $75,000 a year and to all principals and assistant principals, regardless of their salaries. It gives 2 percent raises to other education employees who make more than $75,000. It also gives employees of the two-year college system 4 percent raises. The parallel bill, SB223, would have granted conditional bonuses of up to $300 for retirees, but those bonuses had not been funded in the ETF budget. The other bills would give have given pay raises of 3 percent, 4 percent or 5 percent.
Status: HB121 has been enacted into law. The other bills died for lack of action.
School Technology/Alabama Ahead Act
HB41, SB17, HB227, HB123, SB5
Sponsors: Rep. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva; Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville; Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville; Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa
Description: Two bills out of a package aimed at boosting technology and Wi-Fi networking in public schools became law. HB41 amended the Alabama Ahead Act to lift a requirement that schools invest in pen-enabled mobile devices. It says available funds should be used in the 2016-2017 fiscal year to ensure a high-quality Wi-Fi system is available in school classrooms and lunchrooms, with remaining funds used to buy mobile digital devices. It also sets up the Alabama Ahead Oversight Committee. SB17 was the parallel bill in the Senate. HB123, as amended, transfers $15.5 million from the Education Trust Fund Advancement and Technology Fund to the K-12 Foundation Program in the current fiscal year to fund “classroom instructional support.” It also includes $5.9 million for the Community College System to spend on equipment and maintenance.
The other bills died for lack of action. HB227 would have transferred $12 million from the Education Trust Fund Advancement and Technology Fund to be used to expand Wi-Fi and invest in technology in schools. SB5 would have appropriated up to $75 million from the Education Trust Fund Budget Stabilization Fund and/or the Education Trust Fund Capital Fund for Wi-Fi upgrades in the current budget year. SB351 would set Wi-Fi as a priority but would not appropriate funds for the program.
Status: HB41 and HB123 have become law. HB227 and SB351 died this week for lack of action. SB17 and SB5 died for lack of action.
Sponsor: Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper; Rep. Will Ainsworth, R-Guntersville
Details: This bill, which has become law, expands the prohibition against former state employees’ lobbying their previous colleagues for two years after leaving state employ. The prohibition also applies to people who worked under a consulting agreement, agency transfer, loan or similar agreement. The law allows a retired agency director or division chief to be hired under contract for up to three months to help in the transition period following their departure.
Status: The bill has become law.
Universities and Closed-Door Meetings
Sponsors: Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, and Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne; Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville
Description: The bill allows more universities to conduct closed serial meetings when they are searching for candidates to fill high-ranking roles in the schools. The bill exempts boards of trustees of universities created by state statute from the prohibition of serial meetings when they are considering candidates for offices such as president, department head or coach. Universities created by the constitution already are exempt from the rules.
Status: The bill was given final passage Wednesday and sent to the governor.
Sponsors: Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, et al
Description: The bill banned local governments from setting minimum wage amounts.
Status: The bill has been passed and signed by the governor. It blocked an ordinance signed by Birmingham’s mayor that would have set a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour for jobs in the city.
Medicaid Regional Care Organization
Sponsor: Rep. April Weaver, R-Alabaster; Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper
Description: The bills extend the deadline for regional care organizations to gain certification to provide care under contract with the Medicaid Agency. The RCOs now have a deadline of Oct.1; the bills allow the agency the discretion to extend those deadlines.
You can learn about the managed care reform plan here: http://birminghamwatch.org/medicaid-reform-plan/
Status: Legislators gave final approval to the House bill and sent it to the governor.
Sponsor: Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison
Description: The bill expands legal protection for people possessing medically prescribed cannabidiol (CBD), a marijuana derivative usually used in oil form. The bill was named for 4-year-old Leni Young, who was born with severe disabilities and suffered multiple seizures per day. The Youngs moved to Oregon last year to get legal access to the drug.
The state previously allowed possession of CBD for patients enrolled in a study through UAB’s Department of Neurology. This bill expands the legal protections to others who have been diagnosed with debilitating medical conditions and have been prescribed the treatment by their physicians.
At one point the bill had been substituted to lower the allowed level of the active ingredient THC from 3 percent to 1 percent and allow it only for use in patients with seizure disorders. That version would not have covered the little girl for whom the law is named. But the bill was changed back to its original form.
Status: The governor signed the legislation and it has become law.
Water Works Appointments
Sponsor: Rep. Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham
Description: The law as amended allows Birmingham’s mayor to appoint two members of the Birmingham Water Works Board and the Birmingham City Council to appoint four members. At one point, the mayor’s appointments would have been subject to council approval, and the council’s appointments would have been subject to the mayor’s approval. But that provision was stricken in an amendment. Previously, the council appointed five members to the board, and that number would have expanded to six when the board’s membership grows next year. The remaining members will be appointed by the Jefferson County Mayors Association, Shelby County and Blount County. The law affects any municipal water system that serves customers outside of its home county. As originally drafted, the bill would have allowed the mayor and council each to appoint three members.
Status: The governor signed the bill into law.
Birmingham Mayor-Council Act
Sponsor: Rep. Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham
Description: The law gives Birmingham’s mayor more power over city finances and dilutes the City Council’s influence on city departments. Among other changes, the law: requires the council to seek written approval from the mayor before creating or making changes to the duties of certain offices, departments or agencies; requires the council to have written approval from the mayor to make changes to the city’s general fund budget after conducting a public hearing; gives the mayor the authority to hire an outside attorney provided enough money was in the budget to pay the contract; and bars council members from serving on other city boards or commissions. Originally the bill also would have given the mayor authority to appoint members to more city boards and commissions, but that provision was struck in a substitute version.
Status: The governor signed the bill into law.
General Fund Budget
Sponsor: Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne
Description: The General Fund budget allocates $1.85 billion to state agencies, an increase of $91 million, 5 percent, from this year. The Alabama Medicaid Agency receives $700 million in the budget. That’s almost $100 million shy of what the agency had sought, and it does not fund a plan to change Medicaid to a system of regional, managed care organizations. The budget does include a conditional provision to give the Medicaid Agency up to $85 million more, but only if extra money were available in the General Fund.
The governor had proposed a $1.9 billion General Fund budget that included the increase for Medicaid and a proposal to shift $181 million in tax revenues from the ETF to the General Fund.
Key items in the budget include:
- Increasing funding to the Department of Corrections for a total of $412 million. That is about $9 million less than the governor had requested in his budget.
- Cutting funding for the Ethics Commission by more than 25 percent, from this year’s allocation of almost $2.7 million to $1.9 million for next year.
- Increasing funding for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management from this year’s $280,000 to $400,000. The governor had proposed giving ADEM no money from the General Fund, which would leave the department to operate on money it makes from fees and grants. The department’s funding was reduced drastically this year, dropping from $2 million in fiscal year 2014-2015.
Status: Gov. Robert Bentley vetoed the budget, but the Legislature overrode his veto to give final approval to the budget.
State Parks Funding
Sponsors: Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville
Description: This proposed constitutional amendment would ban transferring money made at the state parks out of parks funds to be used for other government purposes. An amendment to the proposal would authorize a $110 million bond issue to pay for construction and maintenance at state parks; and it would make an exception to the rule that only the state may operate the parks, allowing outside operators at parks that have a hotel or golf course. Another amendment that was approved potentially would limit revenues the parks can receive from state cigarette taxes. It states that, if the parks make more than $50 million from guest revenues in a year, the following year its revenue from state cigarette taxes would be reduced by the amount of the overage, and that money would be given, instead, to the General Fund.
Several parks were threatened with closure this year after money was transferred to fund other departments.
Status: The Legislature passed the proposal and it will go to the voters in November.
The PREP Act (formerly called the RAISE Act)
Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston
Description: The Preparing and Rewarding Educational Professionals bill would have rewritten Alabama’s tenure and job evaluation law for teachers and school administrators. Among other provisions, it would have tied part of a teacher’s evaluation to student growth. The bill’s sponsor shelved the bill because of opposition.
Tenure and Evaluation
Sponsor: Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman
Description: The bill would have required the state Board of Education to develop models for evaluating teacher performance and administrator performance and for granting and denying tenure. Those models would have had to be submitted to the Legislature in the first five days of the session next year.
End Tenure, Change Control in Community Colleges
Sponsors: Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Bay Minette, and Sen. Lee “Trip” Pittman, R-Daphne
Description: The bills would have given the Alabama Community College System board of trustees more autonomous control over two-year colleges in the state, so it could run the community colleges much as university boards of trustees do. It would have changed the system, created last year out of the state’s former Postsecondary Education Department, from a government department to a “body corporate” and given the system’s board more power over disposition of property. Originally, the bill would have ended the job protection of tenure for two-year-college instructors who had not earned it by the end of this year and given the board more control over hiring, firing and promotion decisions, but that language was removed in a substitute version of the bill. The bills died this week for lack of action.
Sponsor: Sen. Rusty Glover, R-Semmes; Rep. Bob Fincher, R-Woodland
Description: These bills would have abolished the state’s College and Career Ready Standards, based on Common Core guidelines developed by the National Governors’ Association, and replaced them with the standards used by the state before Common Core was implemented.
Sponsor: Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur
Details: This bill would have required students beginning in the 2017-2018 school year to pass a civics test before graduating from high school or obtaining a high school equivalency diploma.
Education Savings Accounts
Sponsors: Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton; Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery
Description: The bills would have allowed the parents of disabled children to withdraw their children from public schools and take 90 percent of the state education allocation for their children in an education savings account. That money could then have been used on education alternatives, including tuition and fees at other schools or home-schooling expenses.
Sponsor: Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville
Description: This bill would have authorized local boards of education to include released time religious instruction as an elective course for high school students. Students, with their parents’ consent, could have gone off-campus for religious instruction and earned up to one credit for such courses. Public funds would not have been spent on the program and public school personnel could not have been involved in providing religious training.
Jefferson County School Taxes
Sponsor: Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills
Description: This proposed constitutional amendment would have given the Jefferson County Commission the authority to call referendums on whether to impose additional property taxes for schools. The commission could have set referendums on behalf of any school district in the county, and taxes could have been raised by up to 75 cents on each $100 of assessed property value.
No Zero-Tolerance Policies in Schools
Sponsor: Rep. Ed Henry, R-Decatur
Description: This bill would have barred local school officials from setting zero-tolerance policies for student offenses such as bringing drugs, alcohol or weapons to school and harming or threatening to harm another person. Rather, school officials would have been required to determine punishment case by case based on the facts of the situation. The bill would not have changed the requirement that students who bring firearms onto a school campus or bus be expelled for a year.
Public/Private School Sports Teams
Sponsor: Rep. Ritchie Whorton, R-Scottsboro, et al
Description: This bill would have barred public school sports teams from competing with non-public school sports teams in post-season play-off games and for state championships.
High School Courses in Colleges
Sponsor: Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur
Description: This bill would have allowed public school students to earn all of the credits needed for their junior and/or senior years by taking courses at a college instead of their high school. The state Board of Education still would have approved the courses, and schools would have paid colleges either the cost of tuition and fees or the amount of state money high schools would have received for that student, whichever is less.
State Board of Education Membership
Sponsor: Rep. Ed Henry, R-Decatur
Description: This bill would have allowed people who have been teachers or employed by the Alabama Board of Education to run for election and serve on the board. State law bars people who have worked for the board or been teachers from running for a seat on the board for five years after leaving their education jobs.
Sponsor: Rep. Terri Collins, R-Morgan County, et al
Description: The sponsor had said she was withdrawing her proposed constitutional amendment, which would have given the governor the authority to appoint the state superintendent of education, making that position part of his cabinet. Now, the superintendent is appointed by the Board of Education.
Elected School Superintendent
HB563, HB564, HB566
Sponsor: Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-Birmingham, et al; Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Cullman, et al
Description: HB566 and HB563 were proposed constitutional amendments that would have made the state superintendent of education’s job an elected position and set the superintendent’s salary at the same amount paid other cabinet members.
Shelby County Boards of Education
Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana, et al
Description: The two proposed constitutional amendments dealt with boards of education in Shelby County. HB383 would have limited voting on the Shelby County Board of Education and superintendent to residents who live in the county but outside of any city that has its own separate school system, as most counties already do. HB384 would have banned any city that is completely in Shelby County from creating its own board of education without a vote of the people. Both bills died in committee.
Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act
Sponsor: Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark
Description: The bill would have authorized the Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority to issue up to $800 million in bonds to pay for building four new prisons and renovating or demolishing existing prisons. The bonds would have been repaid using prison system revenues from renting its properties or selling the Kilby Correctional Facility property, with any money needed before that coming from a property tax that now goes to the Department of Human Resources and the state Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The Legislature would have been responsible for reimbursing those departments for their losses. State officials had said reduced operating costs at the new prisons should cover the bond debt. Lawmakers questioned a provision in the plan that would have given the state a one-time exemption to the bid law to allow it to contract with one firm for the design and construction of all the prisons. They also questioned the scope and cost of the plan. The plan died Wednesday when legislators could not reach agreement.
Extra Medicaid Funding
Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark
Description: The bill to allocate funds from the BP oil spill settlement had been amended to free up $70 million for Medicaid and reduce the portion of the settlement that would have gone to road projects. But the bill died this week when legislators could not reach an agreement.
Sponsors: Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, et al; Rep. Rod Scott, D-Fairfield
SB91, HB297, HB342, HB326, SB330, HB526
Description: Of a package of bills that would have cut interest rates and lengthened the time a borrower has to repay payday and title loans, only one remained alive when the Legislature began its last week, and it died Wednesday. That bill as originally written would have capped finance charges at a rate equivalent to 133 percent a year and given borrowers six months to pay. But it had been amended to set a maximum interest rate equal to 180 percent per year and to give borrowers 28 to 45 days to pay. Senate concurrence in the changes was needed to pass that bill, but the Senate did not vote on it Wednesday.
Alabama Ethics Law
Sponsor: Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville
Description: The bill’s sponsor backed off on the bill weeks ago, saying it needed more discussion and public hearings. It would have rewritten several sections of the state’s Ethics Law. Among those, it would have barred the attorney general or any district attorney from prosecuting someone for alleged violations of the ethics law unless the Ethics Commission had first declared that a violation had occurred. It also would have given immunity to any official who had received an informal opinion from the Ethics Commission director or lawyer that their actions had not violated the law. The bill also would have limited the effect of the state’s laws against a former public official lobbying other government officials on behalf of a client, and it would have lifted annual caps on the value of meals lobbyists could buy for officials.
Ban on Lobbyists for Executive Branch
Sponsors: Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, et al
Description: This bill would have prohibit an executive branch agency from contracting with a lobbyist. It died Wednesday for lack of action in the Senate.
Legislators Working for the State
Sponsor: Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana; Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville
Description: This bill would have allowed sitting legislators who receive pensions from either the Alabama State Employee Retirement System or the Teacher Retirement System to work for an employer who is part of the ERS or TRS without it being considered illegal double-dipping.
Sponsors: Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, et al
Description: This bill would have automatically suspended a member of the Legislature from any leadership position they held if they were indicted on a felony charge.
Appointed Auditor, Agriculture Commissioner
Sponsor: Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville
Description: The proposed constitutional amendment would have made the state’s auditor and commissioner of agriculture and industries appointed positions rather than elected ones. The governor would have appointed people to those positions and the Legislature would have set their salaries.
Recall of Elected Officials
Sponsor: Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Montgomery; Rep. Will Ainsworth, R-Guntersville, et al
Description: The proposed constitutional amendments would have allowed Alabama voters to petition for the recall of elected officials. Grounds for requesting a recall vote would have included alleged malfeasance or nonfeasance, lack of physical or mental fitness, incompetence or violation of an oath of office. The House version also included alleged moral turpitude. Chambliss told The Anniston Star that it was a coincidence his bill was filed the same day allegations were made that Bentley had had an affair with his senior political adviser.
Campaign Finance Reporting
Sponsor: Rep. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur
Description: The proposed constitutional amendment would have required disclosure of more information about campaign financing, including requiring companies and nonprofits that spend money to influence elections and referenda to disclose the source of their funds. Orr told The Decatur Daily that the amendment would help track the spending of “dark money” to influence Alabama elections.
Caps for Cabinet Pay
Sponsors: Rep. Mark Tuggle, R-Alexander City
Description: The bill would have frozen the pay of appointed department heads and appointed assistant department heads serving in Bentley’s cabinet. Beginning in January 2019, those positions would have received pay raises just as other state employees who are part of the merit system. Earlier this year, legislators protested after learning Bentley had given $340,000 a year raises to members of his cabinet and staff.
Minimum Wage Amendment
Sponsors: Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, and Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro
Description: The proposed constitutional amendment would have increased the minimum wage in Alabama to $10 an hour in three steps by Jan. 1, 2018, and provided for cost-of-living increases after that.
Historic Preservation Tax Credits
Sponsor: Rep. Victor Gaston, R-Mobile, and Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook
Description: The bill would have extended for seven years the tax credit for restoring historic structures. Owners could claim the tax credit through 2022. The bill made it through the House, but Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, blocked action in the Senate, citing concerns about its potential effect on the state’s budget. The tax credit is set to expire this month. BirminghamWatch took an in-depth look at this tax credit program in stories in October. You can read those reports here:
Suspending Tax Credits
Sponsor: Rep. Phil Williams, R-Huntsville
Description: Under the bill, tax credits would have been suspended for any year in which the governor declared proration in the General Fund or the Education Trust Fund, or any year in which either of the budgets is level-funded.
Birmingham City Council Salaries
Sponsor: Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills
Description: The proposed constitutional amendment would have set Birmingham City Council salaries at the median household income for the county. A similar ordinance was introduced by a council member after a backlash from raises the council members approved to take effect after the election next year, but that proposal was defeated. The raises approved by the council would increase pay for council members to $50,000 a year. Council members now make $15,000 a year for the part-time positions. Under the amendment, council members would have made about $30,000 a year.
Birmingham City Council Salary increases
Sponsors: Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook; Sen. Shay Shellnutt, R-Trussville
Description: The bills would have required that raises in salary or expenses for city and town council members be advertised and introduced at least 30 days before they are adopted. If passed, the bill would have rolled back a raise in pay approved for Birmingham City Council members beginning after the elections next year.
Sponsors: Rep. Mark Tuggle, R-Alexander City, et al
Description: This bill died in committee this week. It would have changed the position of taxpayer advocate so it is appointed by the governor. Any taxpayer assistance orders issued by the advocate would have gone to the revenue commissioner, also a political appointee, for approval. Now, the revenue commissioner appoints the taxpayer advocate from among Department of Revenue employees, and the taxpayer assistance orders go through either the assistant commissioner, who is a merit system employee, or the commissioner. The tax advocate is charged with interceding on the behalf of taxpayers if there is a dispute over money owed to the state and there is ambiguity in the law or the state’s normal procedures break down. The advocate also is charged with identifying reasons for the problems taxpayers have dealing with the state and to suggest structural remedies to fix those issues in the future.
Sponsor: Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham
Details: This bill would have required each county to provide at least one early voting center to be open for four to six days during the week before election day. Any registered voter could vote early in the election. The Senate bill would have require the polls to be open for at least five days in the two weeks before an election.
Closed Primary Elections
Sponsor: Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn
Description: Under this bill, only voters who were registered members of a party could have voted in their primaries. Now the state has open primaries, and voters may change the party for which they vote from one election to the next. A substitute offered in the Senate would have changed the bill to say that only those who voted in a party’s primary could vote in the subsequent runoff.
Sponsor: Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne
Description: This proposed constitutional amendment would have prohibited spending any Forever Wild Land Trust money on advertising, promoting or marketing the Forever Wild land conservation program.
Sponsor: Rep. Phil Poole, R-Tuscaloosa
Description: Under the proposed constitutional amendment, the Legislature would have adopted budgets every two years, rather than every year.
Sponsor: Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton
Description: This bill would have expanded Medicaid to cover anyone for whom federal matching money is available under the Affordable Care Act. Some studies have indicated that up to 300,000 more Alabamians could have been covered by such an expansion. The federal government would have paid all costs initially, with costs being gradually shifted to the state.
Medicaid Funding Amendment
Sponsor: Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile
Description: This proposed constitutional amendment would have increased the state property tax by five mills, with the proceeds going to the General Fund to be used for Medicaid.
2016 Legislative Update is reported by Virginia Martin, longtime state news and politics editor of The Birmingham News and recently contributor of the Alabama report for Center for Public Integrity’s 2015 State Integrity Investigation.