Sunday, February 9, 2014
2014 - LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: WEEK FOUR
Alabama legislative leadership used this past week to announce a significant workforce development measure. On Tuesday, House Bill 384, sponsored by Representative Mac Buttram (R-Cullman), was introduced. The bill, dubbed The Alabama Future Workforce Initiative, would authorize limited personal and corporate tax credits to fund a scholarship program for dual enrollment of high school students taking courses at Alabama’s two-year colleges. If passed, the program has the potential to increase participation in the dual-enrollment program by as much as 450 percent - from 2,100 students in 2013 to as many as 9,500. On Thursday, HB384 was reported favorably by the House Ways and Means Education Committee. It is now ready to be considered by the full House.
Because Tuesday, Feb. 4, was the 10th legislative day of the session, the Senate was required to begin taking up Sunset Legislation. Most agencies and boards in Alabama are authorized only to exist for a period of one to three years. As each authorized period comes to an end, the Examiners of Public Accounts and the Sunset Committee of the Legislature reviews each entity and issues report. The Legislature uses these reports to make adjustments to agencies, or in an extreme case, to determine that the agency should no longer exist. In most cases, however, sunset legislation is a necessary, but somewhat tedious part of the process of State government. That said, agencies with significant impact on business and the economy, including the Department of Insurance and the Public Service Commission, are up for evaluation and reauthorization this year.
Tuesday also saw a flare-up in the Senate of the partisan fights that have been a hallmark of the past three years of this quadrennium. The bill that prompted the dispute was Senate Bill 36, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston). This bill attempts to expand the application of Alabama’s Revolving Door statute to retiring legislators who retire and then seek to lobby the Legislative branch in which they did not serve (the House for retiring Senators and the Senate for retiring House members). Democratic Sen. Hank Sanders (D – Selma) introduced a comprehensive amendment to the bill that would have expanded the Ethics law significantly and addressed numerous other issues, including some related to campaign finance. A series of procedural fights ensued, but in the end, Senator Sanders’ amendment was adopted by a vote of 33 to zero. The legislation was then passed as amended by the Senate and sent to the House. Senator Marsh, fearing a possible court challenge of the bill as a result of Senator Sanders’ amendment, has said that he would ask the House to strip the amendment.
Despite the flare-up on Tuesday, the Senate worked peacefully on Thursday, continuing to address non-controversial matters and agency legislation. The House has similarly been working well, and progressed rapidly through its first special order calendar of the year on Thursday.
Remarkably, the Legislature has used 11 of the 30 available meeting days for this 2014 session already. With the coming week scheduled to be a three meeting-day week, by the end of this week, the Session will be almost halfway completed. Attention likely will shift to the budgets in the coming weeks to the most important – and most difficult – task before the Legislature.