Wednesday, April 3, 2013
2013 ALABAMA LEGISLATIVE UPDATE - WEEK SIX
This Tuesday and Thursday - the 12th and 13th legislative days - the House continued to work through the calendar it adopted back on March 7th. While calendars for the day's business are usually adopted for one day only, due to the concerted efforts of Democrats to slow things down, the House majority took the somewhat unusual step of adopting what is called a continuing calendar. This provides the minority with fewer opportunities to debate - and thus somewhat lessens the ability to delay action in the House. It also, however, has the effect of preventing new bills from being introduced (because they cannot receive their First Reading), and prevents the House from receiving Committee Reports (and bills from receiving their Second Reading).
One of the bills passed by the House despite the delays was Senate Bill 238, by Senators Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) and Vivian Figures (D-Mobile). That bill seeks to address civil liability issues raised by Airbus, which is in the process of building its first US manufacturing facility in South Alabama. Unfortunately, clerical errors in the bill resulted in the need for minor amendments in the House, so the legislation must make what is expected to be a brief return to the Senate before it can be sent to the Governor.
The Democratic slow-down is in response to what they perceive as unfair tactics used in appraising the Alabama Accountability Act two weeks ago. That bill gives school system the right to ask that they be released from certain State requirements, and as such was originally titled the School Flexibility Act. However, in conference committee, the bill was altered to also provide tax credits to parents whose children attend failing schools in order to allow those parents to send their children elsewhere - either another public school, or a private of religiously-affiliated school.
The Accountability Bill was the subject of continued litigation this week when the Alabama Supreme Court stepped in and vacated Montgomery Circuit Judge Charles Price's injunction, thereby allowing the Legislature to transmit the legislation to Governor Bentley for his signature. Governor Bentley signed the bill on Thursday stating that "Our goal is to make every school in this state a non-failing school.” The Senate Pro Tem, Del Marsh (R-Anniston) heralded Thursday as “a great day for the parents and children of the state of Alabama who are living in failed systems.” The House sponsor of the legislation, Representative Chad Fincher (R-Semmes) concurred, stating "Today we made history in Alabama. We made history for the many parents and children that are stuck in failing schools." Also on Thursday, the first bill to amend the new law was introduced in the Senate. Senate Bill 360, introduced by Senator Marsh would make it clear that no school system would be required under the Accountability Act to accept a student that attempts to transfer.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, as in the House, the minority continued to take every opportunity to delay action. This meant that newly introduced bills were either read at length - or their titles were read. And bills that were being voted on for final passage were read in their entirety. This includes that General Fund budget, which was read by the Senate computer for more than four (4) hours before being adopted by the full Senate and sent to the House. On Thursday, the Senate made its way slowly through a handful of routine agency and department reauthorization bills, known as Sunset bills. There are 32 of these bills in all, so it is expected that much of next week will be spent on this ministerial - though necessary - task.
As noted last week, a Senate Committee carried over a bill seeking to repeal the State Board of Education's College and Career Ready Standards. This week, that same Committee effectively killed the bill by adopting a substitute that was unacceptable to the bill's sponsor, Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery). Once the substitute was adopted, Senator Brewbaker asked that the bill be carried over indefinitely. As also noted last week, business leaders from around the State had urged the Legislature not to repeal the Department of Education's standards, fearing that such a move would endanger the State's appeal to existing and potential industry here.
Two bills that are pieces of the Republican's efficiency in government agenda were also sent to Governor Bentley this week. Senate Bill 108, sponsored by Senator Marsh, consolidates much of Alabama's law enforcement operations into a single department. Senate Bill 117, introduced by Senator Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) would create a cabinet level Secretary of Information Technology.
Perhaps the most significant development of the week - long term - was the introduction of Senate Bill 340, by Senator Greg Reed (R-Jasper). The bill, unassuming on its face at just 14 pages, would fundamentally restructure Alabama's Medicaid program. Medicaid currently eats up more than one third of the State's $1.7 billion General Fund budget, and continues to grow at a rate of approximately $100 million per year. SB340, which adopts the recommendations made by Governor Bentley's Medicaid Advisory Commission, would divide the State into not more than eight (8) regions. Patient care in each region would be provided by regional care organizations on a capitated (per Medicaid patient) basis. Each region would be free to develop a system for delivery of coordinated care, which could include the use of commercial managed care companies. The legislation introduced by Senator Reed, which was referred to the Senate Health Committee that he chairs, is based in part on the system previously adopted by Oregon in an effort to control Medicaid's growth.
The House will reconvene at 1:00pm on Tuesday for the 14th Legislative Day of the 2013 Regular Session. The Senate will meet at 2:00pm the same day. It is expected that committees will meet on Wednesday, and that Thursday, March 21 will be the 15th Legislative Day, marking the halfway point of the Session. The following week, March 25-29, the Legislature is not expected to meet.