Thursday, February 13, 2014
2014 - LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: WEEK FIVE
The Alabama Legislature continued its accelerated pace this week, meeting for the 12th, 13th and 14th legislative days. Only five weeks into the session, just under half of the permitted meeting days have been used, when sessions can sometimes stretch as long as 15 weeks.
One of the items addressed by the House of Representatives this week was the recently introduced dual-enrollment scholarship bill. Introduced last week, the bill cleared the House of Representatives on Wednesday by the vote of 100-0. The Legislation would create up to $10 million in scholarships funded partially by donations that would be eligible for a 50 percent tax credit. The bill is now pending in the Senate.
Also this week, both the House and Senate passed bills that would prohibit licensing boards from requiring medical professionals to accept any particular sort of insurance, including government programs, in order to be licensed. That legislation has been passed in other states, and is essentially designed to prohibit the State from making medical licensure contingent on acceptance of Medicaid. Perhaps predictably, the debate in both houses on these bills became a discussion, heated at times, on whether or not Alabama should expand Medicaid as permitted - but not required - under the Federal Affordable Care Act, also referred to as Obamacare.
A change to Alabama's Open Meeting Act was favorably reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Senate Bill 191, by Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) was substituted in committee to include language sought by the Alabama Press Association. The bill would prohibit government boards and bodies from meeting serially in order to avoid a quorum which triggers the Act. It also would confer standing to challenge a violation of the Act on private citizens. Senator Ward has indicated that he hopes the bill will be taken up on the floor of the Senate next week.
Also on Wednesday, the Alabama House gave final passage to a bill that creates an Alabama Workforce Council made up of business and industry leaders. The Council would advise the states two-year college chancellor and the state school superintendent on issues affecting workforce development. The creation of the Council was one of the recommendations of Governor Robert Bentley's College and Career Ready Task Force. The legislation, handled by Representative Terri Collins (R-Decatur) and by Senator Paul Bussman (R-Cullman) in the Senate, now goes to the Governor for his signature.
The House of Representatives delayed action on legislation that would restrict payday loans and title loans. The payday lending was sent to a subcommittee, the bill relating to title loans was carried over a future meeting.
Finally, on Tuesday, the Senate passed SB168, a bill sponsored for several years now by Senator Vivian Figures (D-Mobile). The legislation would prohibit people from smoking in public places, including the workplace. Amendments were added in the Senate to exempt private clubs.
Both the House and Senate convene at 1pm on Tuesday, February 18th for the 15th legislative day - marking the midway point of the 2014 session. On Tuesday, the House will first take up a Special Order Calendar consisting of Sunset legislation. Next week is anticipated to be a three meeting day week which would leave just 13 remaining meeting days following the conclusion of next Thursday's session.