Thursday, March 7, 2013
2013 ALABAMA LEGISLATIVE UPDATE - WEEK FIVE
As Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) said this week, "At the end of the day, if we don't pass as many bills, that's OK. We're the party of smaller government." The Speaker was commenting on the concerted efforts this week by Democrats in the House and Senate to slow things down and delay action on any proposed legislation after what they view was an unfair process used by the majority last week in passing the Alabama Accountability Act. Opponents argue that bill was transformed into a school voucher proposal at the last second, and then rushed through the Legislature last Thursday evening. As a result of the stalling, very little of substance occurred this week in the Legislature.
The status of the Accountability Act itself remained in limbo more than a week after it was approved by both houses as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Alabama Education Association. On Tuesday morning, Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Charles Price issued an Order prohibiting the clerk of the House of Representatives from finalizing the bill and sending it to the Governor for his signature. That Order remains in place, although on Wednesday lawyers representing the state officials named as defendants, including members of the legislative leadership, filed an appeal with the Alabama Supreme Court asking that the injunction be lifted. Governor Bentley, who has called the Act "the greatest thing for schools that has happened in many, many years," has said that he will sign the legislation once he receives it.
On Thursday, the Senate did manage to pass a Constitutional Amendment sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) that would declare Alabama to be a right to work state. Alabama is currently a right to work state by statute, but, if approved by the voters, Senator Dial's bill would add this provision to the Constitution.
The Senate General Fund Budget Committee approved a $1.74 billion proposed budget on Wednesday and sent the bill to the full Senate. The proposal would level fund most State General Fund agencies, and does not provide for raises to State employees. Pursuant to the constitutional amendment approved last September in a special election, the General Fund budget includes a $146 million transfer from the Alabama Trust Fund. It also includes an anticipated $48 million settlement from tobacco companies. It is expected that the Senate will take up the General Fund Budget next week.
A Senate Committee postponed action on a bill to repeal Common Core education standards in Alabama. Those standards were previously adopted by the State School Board and are part of the Department of Education's Plan 2020, which seeks to have all high school graduates in Alabama ready for college or a career. Business leaders and groups from across the State, including the Business Council of Alabama, the Birmingham Business Alliance and the Chambers of Commerce of Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile have come out in opposition to the repeal proposal, arguing that the effort could "seriously damage the state's business friendly status."
The Senate Health Committee approved Representative Mary Sue McClurkin's (R-Indian Springs Village) bill to impose strict standards on abortion providers. That bill, part of the House Republican Caucus' "We Dare Defend Our Rights" agenda is now in position for final passage.
Finally, in a rare Tuesday Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, a bill that would significantly expand the right to carry weapons in Alabama - both concealed and visible - was approved over the objections of law enforcement, county commissions and the business community. The bill, by Senator Scott Beason (R-Gardendale) would severely limit the ability of a sheriff to deny a person a pistol permit, and would prevent businesses from instituting policies that would prevent employees from having weapons in their vehicle on company property. It would also require businesses seeking to prevent individuals from entering their buildings with weapons to post prominent notices at their public entrances that guns were prohibited. The bill next will come before the full Senate, although a timetable for that debate has not been set.
The Legislature now has met 11 of the 30 permissible days for this Session, leaving 19 days remaining. The House reconvenes at 1:00 pm on Tuesday. The Senate will reconvene at 2:00 pm on the same day. It is expected that the Legislature will follow its general schedule and meet Tuesday and Thursday next week, with Committee meetings scheduled for Wednesday.