Sunday, March 30, 2014
2014 - LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: WEEK TEN
A preview of the last days of the 2014 Session
Just three legislative meeting days remain in the 2014 Alabama Regular Session. When the Session began in early January, legislative leadership indicated that they wanted to move quickly through their schedule and adjourn early. At this point, it appears they achieved their goal.
The legislature is off the week of March 24 for spring break and reconvenes on Tuesday, April 1, for its 28th legislative day. It appears that, barring unforeseen circumstances, the Legislature will meet again on Thursday, April 3, and then convene for the 30th and final day on Tuesday, April 8 – the precise date set by leadership as its target for adjournment.
Until Friday, March 21, it appeared that the plan for quick adjournment might hit a speed bump as a result of differences between the Governor and Legislature regarding the Education Trust Fund budget. The two sticking points had been the level of funding for the Public Education Employees' Health Insurance Plan (PEEHIP) and a potential raise for education employees. The $5.9 billion budget passed by the Legislature level-funded PEEHIP and did not include a raise or bonus for education employees. The Governor has favored both higher funding for PEEHIP and a raise for employees. On Friday, though, lawmakers and the Governor announced that they had reached a compromise. The compromise reportedly increases PEEHIP funding by $64 per eligible, per month, only slightly less than the figure sought by the governor. The compromise does not appear to include either a raise or a bonus for education employees, though. If the agreement holds, the April 7 date for adjournment seems likely.
Debate regarding the State's General Fund budget has been less contentious, likely because all are in agreement over how dire the situation is. On Thursday, March 20, the Senate approved a $1.8 billion GF budget that made some changes from the version passed earlier in the House of Representatives. This includes a slight increase in funding for the Department of Corrections, including $3.5 million more for the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women which remains under U.S. Department of Justice scrutiny. Despite efforts by Democrats in the Senate, the Senate-passed GF budget does not include a raise for state employees, but it does include a one-time $400 bonus for state employees. It is anticipated that the House will concur in the Senate's version of the budget, which can then be sent to the Governor for his signature.
With only three days remaining, as a practical matter any bill that has not passed at least one body is dead because it takes a minimum of three days to pass a single house. It remains technically possible for such a bill to pass because it could pass the first body on Tuesday, April 1 and receive its first reading in the second on the same day - but the measure would have to have nearly unanimous support (and in the Senate it would actually have to be unanimous as Senate bills can no longer be sent to the House without unanimous consent).
On Thursday, March 21, the House gave final passage to House Bill 151 by Representative Barry Moore (R-Enterprise). The bill was part of the House Republican Caucus' Commonsense Conservative Agenda this session, and will change the way that small businesses handle sales tax payments. Under HB151, the threshold for sending estimated sales tax payments in advance to the State will increase from $1,000 to $2,500. Those with estimated remissions below $2,500 will file and remit sales tax in arrears, resulting in a one-time savings for as many as 4,000 small businesses.
On Tuesday, March 19, the Senate concurred in House amendments to Senate Bill 121 by Senator Arthur Orr (R-Dectaur). The bill would prohibit bad-faith assertion of patent claims in Alabama, also known as "patent-trolling" and would allow both a civil suit and an enforcement action by the Attorney General. In recent years, bad faith assertion of patent violations has resulted in an increasing drain on businesses in the U.S., in particular on the banking industry, which was the primary proponent of the Alabama legislation.
A Few Bills In a Position to Pass In the Final Days
HJR 379, Rep. Sessions, Cornbread Designated Official State Bread.
On March 20, the House approved HJR 379 which would designate corn bread as the official bread of Alabama. Alabama currently has about 30 officially designated state "things". Resolutions do not have to go through the three-step process in each body, so this measure could be passed by the Senate at any time in the last days of the session.
Senate Bill 79, Sen. Brewbaker, Bid Law Preference.
Senate Bill 79, sponsored by Senator Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery) would put in place a mandatory bid preference for in-state companies that are within 5% of the lowest bid on a contract. The bill had been amended in Committee to apply only to contracts of $100,000 or less. The bill is ready to be voted on by the House and sent to the Governor at any time in the last three Legislative days.
House Bill 108, Rep. Wren, Business Personal Property Tax – Online Filing.
This bill would require the establishment of an online filing system for allow businesses to file their personal property tax returns. It also establishes a short form for taxpayers whose total original acquisition cost of all tangible business personal property is less than $10,000. The bill has passed the House, and has been reported favorably by the Senate Committee on Job Creation and Economic Development. It can be taken up for final passage by the full Senate at any time in the last three days of the Session.
House Bill 145 , Rep. Todd, Payday Lending.
Reform advocates introduced comprehensive legislation this session addressing what they viewed as problems in the payday lending and title loan industry. At this point it appears that these efforts have been pared down to a compromise measure that would establish a statewide database of payday loans. It is anticipated that advocates will come back in the 2015 session with broader legislation, though.
Senate Bill 44, Sen. Orr, Crowd Funding.
A bill that is designed to assist small start ups in Alabama raise investment capital within Alabama is on the House Special Order Calendar for Tuesday, April 1 and is expected to pass. The bill has the endorsement of the Alabama Securities Commission.
House Bill 450, Rep. Hill, Bad e-Checks/Debits.
A bill to extend Alabama's bad check law to electronic drafts by Representative Mike Hill (R-Columbiana) is in position for final passage in the Senate. The bill would make it a crime for a person to make an electronic draft knowing or intending that it will not be honored.
Senate Bill 459, Sen. Reed, Medicaid - RCO Restructuring.
A bill to restructure the Regional Care Organizations (RCO's) authorized by legislation passed in 2013 restructuring Alabama's $6 billion Medicaid Program will be voted on in the House Health Committee on April 1 putting it in a position to pass in the last days of the session. The bill makes some significant changes to the governance requirements of the RCO's, designed to make the groups better able to function.
House Bill 558, Rep. Fincher, Education Funding - Alabama Accountability Act.
House Bill 558, by retiring Representative Chad Fincher (R-Semmes) makes some changes to last year's Alabama Accountability Act. That Act, which was controversial when passed in 2013, establishes a tax credit for individuals and businesses that contribute to a scholarship granting organization (SGO). The amount of the tax credit was limited to $7,500 for individuals, and certain pass-through business entities were not eligible to make contributions at all. HB558 lifts the cap on the tax credit that individuals may receive and expands the types of entities that can make contributions. The bill does not at this time raise the $25 million aggregate tax credit cap but is expected to allow the total amount raised to be raised from a smaller set of donors. The bill will be voted on in the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability Committee on Tuesday and can be passed on either of the final two days of the session.
The House reconvenes at 1 p.m. on April 1 for the 28th Legislative Day. The Senate will meet the same day beginning at 2 p.m. It is expected that the bodies will meet again on Thursday, April 3 and then again - for the final day of the session - on Monday, April 7.