Legislators checked off everything on their must-do list and adjourned for the year Friday, passing redistricting plans mandated by the court on their final day and finishing off the last of the budgets earlier in the week.
But not everything on the priority list made it through the gauntlet, and Gov. Kay Ivey said she might have to call legislators back into session later this year to address conditions in the state’s prisons. A bill to finance construction of new prisons was debated in the regular session but died for lack of consensus.
Other bills did squeeze through in the waning days of the session, including one to renew a tax credit program to encourage renovation of historic buildings. Jefferson County legislators, Democrats and Republicans alike, had listed that bill as their top priority for the session.
Here is a sampling of legislative action of interest in the Birmingham area and statewide:
Updated May 7, 2017 – Briarwood Presbyterian Church may soon join the ranks of the Vatican and Washington National Cathedral as a religious institution with its own police department.
Critics of the bill to allow Briarwood to establish its own police department say the move is unconstitutional. But Briarwood representatives cite the increasing rate of mass shootings at churches, schools and commercial venues as reasons for bringing police officers on staff.
The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee approved the legislation April 19, and it is pending before the Alabama House of Representatives. The Senate passed it April 11 on a vote of 24-2, so it’s now up to the House, and possibly the governor, to decide whether to allow the Vestavia Hills church to establish its own police department. Read more.
Fifteen members of the House Judiciary Committee are set to begin hearing testimony Monday morning to determine whether to impeach Gov. Robert Bentley.
If the committee votes for impeachment, the issue would go before the full House. If members there voted for impeachment, Bentley would be suspended from his job as governor and face trial by the state Senate. If two-third of senators voted to convict Bentley, he would be removed from office.
It all starts with the Judiciary Committee. Read more.
Updated May 7, 2017 – How old must buildings be before they are considered historic? Should tax credits for their preservation be split evenly across the state or allowed to cluster in the cities?
Both are questions still in play as the Alabama Legislature considers restoring a program that supported renewal efforts, most notably in Birmingham and Mobile.
A version of the historic preservation tax credit, which has helped fund restoration of 51 buildings across the state so far, has been passed by the House, and a version was passed by the Senate on Tuesday. Because the Senate-passed bill was revised to address several issues that had been raised, it now must go back to the House to be voted up or down or be changed again.
Rep. Victor Gaston, R-Mobile, sponsor of the bill in the House of Representatives, said the important thing is to get the money flowing to the program again. Gaston said that not only do the tax credits help pay to restore often dilapidated buildings, but those projects create jobs for the construction workers and craftsmen employed to do the work. Read more.
The newly renovated Pizitz Building sits on 19th Street North in downtown Birmingham, its pristine, wedding cake white façade belying its 94 years.
It’s the latest among dozens of historic downtown Birmingham buildings that have been renovated in recent years. But many more of them haven’t been. They stand nearby, vacant or sparsely populated, with fading signs and sagging woodwork.
Three such buildings in Birmingham – a total of seven from around the state – are on a list at the Alabama Historic Commission, waiting to see whether the Legislature will renew tax credits for historic renovation.
The tax credit expired last year because of concerns about the cost of the program to the state. But bills to overhaul and reinstate the tax credit program have pulled much more support this year – at least in theory.
The tax credit this year has 87 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and 29 co-sponsors in the Senate. “It’s huge for Birmingham,’’ said Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, who introduced the bill in the Senate this year. Read more.
While Alabama’s House and Senate make headlines with debates over pistol permits, death sentences and sanctuary campuses, staff members and legislators are working largely unnoticed on a project that could affect the racial and political makeup of the Legislature.
A federal court in January ruled that some of Alabama’s legislative districts amounted to racial gerrymandering, putting too many predominantly black communities with little in common in the same district and diluting their influence. Since then, the Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment has started to look at maps and redraw the boundaries of House and Senate districts. Perhaps 30 of the Alabama Legislature’s 140 districts might be affected.
The chairman of the committee said in a meeting recently that he was hoping for a quick and amicable process. But rarely in Alabama are conversations about race either quick or completely amicable, and this one is beginning against an already politically charged background. Read more.
Alabama legislators kick-started their session last week, with committees approving bills on abortion, sanctuary campuses and death penalty sentences, among other topics. Those bills could go to the floor of the House or Senate this week.
The governor’s recommendations for the General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets also were introduced last week but have yet to come up for a vote. Read more.
Alabama legislators convened their regular session Tuesday facing some of the same problems that consumed them last year.
“The main thing for all of us is going to be the budget,” said Allen Treadaway, R-Morris.
The governor is recommending a $1.9 billion General Fund budget that is almost flat funding from this year, though he has said he was considering proposing a pay raise for state employees. His $6.3 billion proposed Education Trust Fund budget does not include a raise for education employees, who did get a bump in pay this year.
But the two biggest elephants in the budget conference room will once again be Medicaid and prisons. Read more.