By Mimi Penhale, Legislative Director
This year’s Regular Session started on February 4, 2020. Last session started off in a unique way, with a Special Session called by the Governor, which forced the Legislature to address Gas Tax legislation. This year has started off more normal, but that does not mean there won’t be some controversial legislation to address.
The General Fund Budget and the Education Budget will, as always, be a focus of the Legislature. This year’s budget debates will focus on money that the state received in taxes from the past year. Most of the surplus funds are in the Education Budget. During times of surplus, the legislature will either choose to increase funds to certain areas, choose to fund new projects, or place those funds in a rainy-day account. By placing some funds during a surplus year in a rainy-day account, the legislature can utilize those funds, within their respective budget allocations, for future years, when revenue is less favorable. Out of the possibilities of increasing funding to current projects, funding new educational opportunities, or putting funds aside for future uses, there is a good chance that the Legislature will do a combination of the three.
This year, like the past few years, we will also see some controversy over the proposed state lottery. There are a large number of Alabama citizens who wish to have a statewide vote on the lottery, but there are many different opinions on how those funds should be utilized. Like other states, some people would like the lottery revenue to go towards education. In Alabama, around 80% of the revenue we bring in is already earmarked for education. While education in Alabama could greatly benefit from more funds, the General Fund Budget has been burdened significantly in recent years with prisons, mental health, and Medicaid. Some legislators favor a portion of a proposed lottery to go towards the General Fund, to help address these growing needs, especially because the revenue that goes towards the general fund is not growth-related revenue.
Revenue that isn’t tied to growth simply means that regardless of whether we are in an economic boom, or if we are in an economic recession, these funds stay about the same. The down side is, as programs have grown over time, like Medicaid and Mental Health, we have been behind the ball on funding their needs. The issue with Prisons is that the Federal Government has told Alabama that we have been inadequately staffing, updating, and addressing Mental Health issues in our prisons. In order to keep up with their guidelines, we need to make some major changes in a short period of time, or they will take over prisons and make us pay for what they see as flaws in our system. If the Federal Government does take over, there is also a very good chance that they will mass release prisoners, without giving Alabama a say in the process.
While these topics will be big issues for the entire Legislature, our Delegation members each have a unique background that allows them to address other issues facing our state. For a breakdown of what kind of bills the Shelby Delegation has filled for this session and what committees they will be serving on, see below:
Rep. Jim Carns has no bills filled for this session, at this time. Rep. Carns is serving as the Chair of both the Commerce and Small Business Committee and the Jefferson County Delegation, as well as, serving on the Children and Senior Advocacy, the Shelby County Delegation, and Ways and Means General Fund Committees.
Rep. Dickie Drake has filed one bill for this Legislative Session. It is no surprise that his legislation matches his background and is related to veterans. Rep. Drake is again serving as the Chair of the Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. He is also serving on the Judiciary, Public Safety and Homeland Security, Jefferson County Legislation, and the Shelby County Legislation Committees.
Rep. Ellis has filed two bills this session. HB224 has been proposed to help address a process for filling vacancies for County Boards of Equalization. The legislation would allow the Revenue Commissioner to make appointments, under certain conditions. His second piece of legislation, HB228 is specific to Shelby County, and would create a mutual aid agreement between utility companies, to work together in emergency situations, to help restore utilities quickly. He will be serving as Vice Chair of the Insurance committee and as a member on the Shelby County Delegation, Fiscal Responsibility, and Ways and Means Education Committees.
Rep. Allen Farley does not have any bills filed, at the time. Rep. Farley is again serving as the Vice Chair of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, as well as serving as a member of the Ethics and Campaign Finance, Judiciary, Shelby County Delegation, and Jefferson County Delegation Committees.
Rep. Matt Fridy has two bills filed for this session. HB246 would change an existing law that prohibits the Secretary of State from providing digital copies of all bills, resolutions, and memorials electronically to the Legislature, by eliminating the current binding requirements. Another bill he has filed is related to traditional marriage ceremonies and churches, HB245. He will be serving as the Chair of Constitution Campaigns and Elections again, and will be serving as a member of the Health, Judiciary, and Shelby County Delegation Committees.
Rep. Arnold Mooney has two bills pre-filed for this session. The first, HB136, is related to pretrial diversion programs for driving under the influence. The bill would delete a current provision in the law that would repeal the ignition interlock device requirement, which is set to be repealed in July of 2023, if not removed from the current law. His second bill, HB181, is one that he brought last session. The Alabama Private Investigation Regulatory Act, which would clarify qualification and licensing for Private Investigators. Rep. Mooney will serve on Constitution Campaigns and Elections, Ways and Means General Fund, Health, as well as, the Shelby County Delegation Committees.
Rep. April Weaver has been busy, so far, this session and has filed seven bills. Four of the seven bills relate directly to her background in healthcare. HB101 would establish standards for student nursing apprenticeships, HB102 would give access for the Board of Nursing to the Controlled substance database for monitoring licensees, HB103 relates to reviews of the state immunization registry, and HB104 would apply smoking restrictions to vaping to the Alabama Clean Indoor Air Act. Her other three bills are related to local legislation for Bibb County, Daylight Savings time adoptions based on if Federal laws change, and general election revisions. Rep. Weaver will continue to serve as the Chair of the House Shelby County Delegation Committee. She will also serve as a member of the Health, Internal Affairs, Rules and State Government Committees.
Sen. Jim McClendon, who serves as Chair of the Senate Health Committee, has filed six bills, so far, this session. This year, he has again introduced legislation that would increase access to Physical therapy by eliminating the requirement of having to have a physician refer an individual, SB104. SB114, of his, would collaborate agreements between physicians, nurse practitioners, and midwives. He also has legislation that relates to drug paraphernalia, the Senior Service Department members, and some St. Clair County local Legislation. He has also introduced SB122, which would prohibit campaign contributions to state and legislative candidates and officials from the Gaming Industry. Sen. McClendon will be serving on the Rules, F&T General Fund, F&T Education, Education Policy, and Shelby County Legislation Committees.
Sen. Dan Roberts, has filled four bills for this session. Two of his bills, SB249 and SB250 are related to income tax rates for corporations, which are meant to make the Alabama Business Tax Competitiveness Act more appealing to recruited businesses. His other two bills are related to the Community College system and their discipline for staff and faculty, as well as, period revisions for runoff elections. Sen. Roberts will be serving as the Vice Chair of Transportation and Energy, as well as serving as a member of the Governmental Affairs, Banking and Insurance, Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development, Healthcare, Children and Youth Services, and the Jefferson and Shelby County Legislation Committees.
Sen. Jabo Waggoner has filled four bills this session. His SB93 has to do with creating a Joint Committee of the State Board of Medical Examiners and the State Board of Athletic Training, SB94 would create a licensure for private investigator apprentices, SB194 relates to General election schedule revisions, and SB218 would modify payment options for Employees’ Retirement System members. Sen. Waggoner will again serve as the Rules Chair, as well as, the Chair for Jefferson County Legislation. He will also be serving as Vice Chair for Confirmations, and as a member of F&T General Fund, F&T Education, Banking and Insurance, and the Shelby County Legislation Committees.
Sen. Cam Ward, has again filled the most bills of any of our Delegation members. So far this session he has filed 19 bills. Again, his focus is largely associated to prisons, with bills related to Pardons and Paroles, Corrections, Criminal Procedure, Pretrial Diversion, supervision of violent offenders who are released on bail, a Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights bill, and a bill denying bail in certain situations. He also has bills on consumer protection from pyramid schemes, weed abatement, elections, the Open Records Act, and the University of Montevallo Board of trustees’ member composition. Sen. Ward is again serving as the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, while also serving as Chair of our Senate Shelby County Legislation Committee. He is serving as a member for F&T General Fund, Confirmations, Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development, and Healthcare Committees.