Friday, May 1, 2015
2015 Legislative Update: Week 8
The Legislature met for two days this week, leaving only twelve days remaining in the session with much work still to be done. While talk of the budget and possible tax increases continues to dominate the halls of the State House, measures relating to either have yet to be taken up by either the House or the Senate. This past week was slow. The Senate lost most of a day on Tuesday to a filibuster of sunset legislation. The House lost a day Thursday over changes to the Birmingham Water Works Board.
Talk of gambling dominated much of the week in the State House. Thus far, however, it truly is just talk—not any action or legislation—that is moving through the Legislature. On Monday, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) released a study conducted by Auburn University at Montgomery that estimated the revenue that might be generated for the State by creating a lottery and permitting four casinos to operate in existing gaming locations to be $400 million. About 75% of that figure would come from the lottery. Senator Marsh circulated a draft Constitutional Amendment on gaming on Thursday. It is expected that he will introduce this legislation next week. Opponents of Senator Marsh’s plan have focused on the fact that, as a Constitutional Amendment, the proposal would have to be voted on in a public referendum this fall. This requirement would delay any implementation—and so delay the revenue generated by any such plan. Furthermore, there can be no guarantee that the people will vote to expand gaming.
In the meantime, the Poarch Creek Indians (PCI) released some details of their proposal to the State for a compact that would allow Class III casino gaming on tribal lands. The proposal would include a $250 million up-front payment, with annual payments based on a percentage of revenue in future years. Without question, gaming and gaming legislation will play a major role in the final dozen days of the 2015 Regular Session.
The Budget and Taxes
There still has been no movement on any of the Governor’s $541 million tax package bills. However, public hearings on the rental car tax increase proposal and a tobacco tax increase have been scheduled for Tuesday, May 5. Apart from the Governor’s proposals, there are an increasing number of other revenue generating bills being introduced. For example, Representative Ken Johnson (R-Moulton) has introduced a measure, House Bill 553, that would eliminate incentives for timely remittance by businesses of taxes they collect such as sales tax and tobacco taxes. A public hearing was held on the bill on Wednesday. On Thursday, Representative Elaine Beech (D-Chatom) introduced a bill that would increase the maximum business privilege tax that could be due to the State from $15,000 to $22,000. Like gaming, taxes and budgets will be topics of continued discussion, and will likely begin to drown out all other issues in the coming weeks.
The Birmingham Water Works
As was the case last year, a bill to alter the structure of the Birmingham Water Works had a spillover effect on other legislative matters. On Tuesday, the House Commerce and Small Business Committee, chaired by Representative Jack Williams (R-Vestavia) held a long hearing on the legislation, sponsored by Senator Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia). The bill—or, rather, a bill—was reported out of Committee that evening. Due to an apparent clerical error, however, the Committee adopted a different version of the legislation than it had intended to. Unfortunately, before the error was discovered on Thursday, the House shut down in a dispute over the bill. The only measure addressed by the House on Thursday, therefore, was legislation naming the brown shrimp the official state crustacean.
Prison Reform Legislation
The legislation that was recommended by the Prison Reform Task Force moved one step closer to final passage this week. On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee reported out a substitute bill that is expected to be taken up by the full House on Thursday, May 7. Because some provisions have changed while the bill has been before the House, the bill will have to return to the Senate for concurrence, or it will have to go to a conference committee. The nearly 150-page bill is intended to begin the process of alleviating overcrowding in Alabama’s prison system, which is currently at approximately 190% of design capacity.
The Legislature is expected to meet two days next week, on Tuesday and Thursday. The House reconvenes on Tuesday at 2:00 PM. The Senate reconvenes at 1:00 PM on the same day. There are 12 legislative days remaining in the 2015 Regular Session.