Thursday, February 21, 2013
2013 ALABAMA LEGISLATIVE UPDATE WEEK THREE
As one senator tweeted on Thursday - it was Ground Hog Day all week in the Alabama Legislature for this, the third week of the 2013 Session. Thus, the Alabama House continued to make its way through the Republican Caucus "We Dare Defend Our Rights" agenda, and the Senate - with some exceptions - was tied up on Senator Jimmy Holley's proposal to consolidate numerous administrative offices within the Legislative branch.
Perhaps the most notable legislative event of the week was the final passage and signing into law by Governor Bentley of the People's Trust Act, HB94. sponsored by Representative Jay Love (R-Montgomery). As noted in previous updates, this legislation establishes a re-payment schedule for money taken from the Alabama Trust Fund last year to shore up the State's General Fund. In signing the legislation on Wednesday, Governor Bentley said “We made a commitment to the voters that the Alabama Trust Fund would be repaid, and we are fulfilling that commitment.” Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) noted that the House and Senate leadership was true to their word in making this bill their number one priority. As Speaker Hubbard sated, “We prioritized our work to ensure that this was the first bill put before Governor Bentley, and we accomplished that goal.”
Other House Republican agenda bills making progress this week were HB57, by Representative Mary Sure McClurkin (R-Indian Springs), HB108 by Representative Lynn Greer (R-Rogersville), HB109 by Representative Mike Ball (R-Madison), and HB110 by Representative Jim McClendon (R-Springville).
Representative McClurkin's bill, HB57, places strict requirements on facilities that provide abortion services in order, according to proponents, to protect the health and safety of the women who are treated there. Representative Greer's bill would allow certain employers to choose not to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptives based on religious objections. The Greer bill, it should be noted, would only have effect if the current federal court lawsuit filed by Hobby Lobby challenging the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) proves successful. Representative Ball's legislation would provide - should the Federal Government go along - for block grants to the State of Federal health care dollars; and Reprehensive McClendon's bill seeks to crack down on Medicaid fraud in Alabama. At this stage of the Session, nine of the ten Dare Defend Our Rights bills have made it out of the House. The lone remaining agenda bill to be acted on by the House is a proposed Constitutional Amendment by Representative Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) that would require courts in Alabama to apply strict scrutiny to any restriction by a government on the right to bear arms.
With limited exceptions, the Senate spent the week debating and revising the proposal by Senator Holley (R-Elba) to consolidate various offices in the Legislative branch of government. That bill remains unpassed, but will almost certainly be brought back to the floor in the coming days. One important exception to the log jam in the Senate was the passage of the House Caucus bill that would set up a commission to draft ballot language for Constitutional Amendments. The purpose of this legislation, which has been sent to the Governor for his signature, is to ensure that language placed on the ballot describing proposed Amendments to the Constitution is as clear and as informative as possible.
On Wednesday, a House Committee approved SB117, by Senator Phil Williams (R-Gadsden), which would establish a cabinet level Secretary over the State's information technology on Wednesday. However, the bill's companion, SB116, also by Senator Williams which would establish an Authority to oversee the State's IT system, remains in Committee.
Also on Wednesday, the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, HB264, sponsored by Representative Paul Demarco (R-Homewood), was approved by the House Judiciary Committee. That bill, designed to streamline the tax appellate process, as well as make the process more independent, is now ready to be voted on by the full House. Senator Bryan Taylor (R-Prattville) is the sponsor of the Senate companion bill.
While these and other committees were meeting on Wednesday, much of the attention at the Statehouse was focused on the budget testimony of Dr. Don Williamson, the State's Health Officer, and the man currently charged with running Medicaid. Dr. Williamson told the Legislators, “with your help, God’s grace and the renewal of the provider taxes and nothing else going wrong, we will make 2014 work.” After that, however, nothing could be guaranteed. “We are broke and we roll into ‘15 with a potential crisis facing us.” Williamson said. There is widespread agreement in the Legislature that something must be done to curb Medicaid's drain on the State budget; there is not, at this time, however, a consensus on what is to be done.
Tangentially related to the State's Medicaid budget issues, Medicaid, Senator Arthur Orr (R-), Chair of the Senate General Fund Budget Committee, has introduced a bill that would create an Alabama False Claims Act (SB183). Modeled after similar legislation in others states and at the federal level, this proposed legislation would permit private parties to file lawsuits on behalf of the State. Damages against a business or person found to have defrauded the State would be trebled, and the private party could receive as much as 30% of the total recovery.
Finally, a comprehensive bill to address concerns over Alabama's civil liability system raised by Airbus America was introduced on Thursday of this week. As most know, last summer Airbus announced that it would build its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Mobile, Alabama. The plant is expected to cost as much as $600 million to build and is projected to employ up to 2,500 people. SB238, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Cam Ward (R- ) includes provisions specifically related to lawsuits involving commercial aircraft manufacturers and is designed to alleviate concerns raised by Airbus regarding potential civil liability.
The Legislature returns to Montgomery on Tuesday, when both the House and the Senate will convene at 1:00 pm. The Legislature has met seven days, leaving 23 meeting days permitted between now at May 21 when, pursuant to the State's Constitution, they must adjourn. It is expected that next week the Legislature will meet on Tuesday and Thursday, and conduct its regular Committee meetings on Wednesday.