Thursday, February 28, 2013
2013 ALABAMA LEGISLATIVE UPDATE - WEEK FOUR
When the history of the 2013 Alabama Legislative Session is written, it is quite possible that the defining moment came on Thursday night, the ninth Legislative Day. After sending the Education Flexibility Act, which had passed both houses in slightly different forms, to a conference committee, the Legislature then approved a radically new bill that supporters are calling the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013. The bill has been heralded by Republican lawmakers as one of the most historic education reforms in Alabama. "This is historic education reform that will benefit students and families across the state," Governor Bentley said, "local school systems will have the flexibility to make more decisions on behalf of their students. Families will have new options if their children are stuck in failing schools. All children, regardless of their family's income or where they live, will have the opportunity to receive a quality education. As promised this bill gives school districts flexibility without infringing on the rights and responsibilities of our classroom teachers," Governor Bentley added.
The fireworks started after lawmakers voted to send the School Flexibility Bill to a conference committee consisting of four Republicans and two Democrats. What resulted from the committee was dramatically different from the bill that entered, and what ensued in the Senate can only be described as chaos. After the bill passed out of conference committee (4-2), and then was passed by the House (51-26), with little drama, it was then on to the Senate, where one Senator tweeted, "It is safe to say the Senate is in complete chaos and on the verge of a riot." A video posted by Montgomery Advertiser provides a look into the scene on the Senate floor.
After restoring order just long enough for a vote, the newly constituted bill passed the Senate 22-11. One of the Bill's opponents, Alabama Education Association Executive Secretary Henry Mabry remarked , the move was "totally unacceptable," and "I was lied to. I was lied to by the Senate Pro Tem. I was lied to by lawmakers." Most believe that the fallout from this bill - and all that occurred Thursday night – will impact the rest of the session.
According to the Alabama House Republican Caucus, the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 accomplishes three things.
- Allows for flexibility contracts between the State Board of Education and local school districts
- Creates tax credits for families with students in a (chronically) failing school to attend a nonpublic school or non-failing public school
- Creates tax credits for taxpayers (individuals and businesses) who donate to nonprofit "scholarship granting organization" that provides scholarships for students to attend a nonpublic school or non-failing public school
Without the fanfare of the Alabama Accountability Act, another piece of notable legislation passed the Senate prior to the chaos. The Alabama Commercial Aviation Business Improvement Act of 2013 sponsored by Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) and Vivian Figures (D-Mobile) the bill would limit lawsuits against commercial aircraft manufactures and companies that supply them with parts. The bill is narrowly tailored to only protect those manufactures of commercial aircraft with 100 seats or more. “This bill will have a significant economic impact on Alabama,” Governor Bentley said. “We already expect Airbus to provide 1,000 jobs for Alabamians, and Airbus suppliers will bring thousands more. We want those jobs in Alabama, not in a neighboring state.” "Without this legislation, Airbus suppliers could very easily decide to locate in nearby Florida or Mississippi – states that have already implemented bills similar to the one being introduced in Alabama,” Governor Bentley said. “We have worked hard to create a positive business climate here in Alabama, and this legislation is needed to help us build on our progress and attract even more jobs.”
Additionally, look for the third and latest version of a guns to work bill sponsored by Senator Scott Beason, (R-Gardendale) that was introduced late Thursday to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee soon. Similar to last year, Beason's bill is the most encompassing gun bill before the legislature this year.
The Legislature returns to Montgomery on Tuesday, when both the House and the Senate will convene at 1:00pm. The Legislature has met nine days, leaving 21 meeting days permitted between now and May 21 when, pursuant to the State's Constitution, they must adjourn. It is expected that next week that the Legislature will meet on Tuesday and Thursday and conduct its regular Committee meetings on Wednesday.