This Week in the Alabama Legislature…April 22, 2011
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Seventeen of 30 possible legislative days are done, and lawmakers are planning an aggressive schedule of back-to-back three-day weeks coming up, followed by two weeks off before they return for the end of the session.
This week two Association bills won passage in the House, and a third was signed into law by the governor.
The House voted 94-0 for the Streamlined Sales Tax Commission bill (HB 355 by Rep. Hill), which would create a commission charged with developing the programs and procedures necessary to bring Alabama into compliance with the Streamlined Sales & Use Tax Agreement in the event federal legislation adopting the agreement becomes law. The vote was just as overwhelming for HB 162 by Rep. McMillan, which would clarify whether city or county subdivision regulations apply in a municipal planning jurisdiction. Work on these two proposals now moves to the Senate, and the Association will update you on committee assignments as soon as that information is available.
SB 139 by Sen. Pittman is now officially Act No. 2011-147 after the governor signed it Tuesday. The Association staff will now be monitoring implementation of the Election Expense Reimbursement Commission.
Tax at the Rack
HB 399 by Rep. McCutcheon, the Association bill that would change the point at which gasoline and diesel fuel taxes are levied, is expected to get a floor vote in the House next week. Other states that have adopted similar bills have realized an increase in gasoline and diesel fuel revenue. Urge your House members to support this legislation.
Next week the House could give final passage to SB 90 by Sen. Taylor, which would provide clearly that the actions of jailers are actions of the sheriff and as such, jailers are entitled to the same liability protections granted to the sheriff under Alabama law. Encourage your House members to support this legislation.
The Senate passed its version (SB 256 by Sen. Beason) of sweeping immigration reform late Thursday. The sponsor accepted many county-friendly changes to the bill. However, as it left the Senate, the bill still says that illegal aliens are ineligible for bail, which is a major problem that has to be fixed in the House.
Meanwhile, the House version (HB56 by Rep. Hammon) is in the Senate Job Creation and Economic Development Committee Tuesday afternoon.
Association staff will continue to carefully monitor both the House and Senate versions of this legislation. County officials should continue to ask all members of their legislative delegations not to support final passage of either bill unless counties and local law enforcement are adequately protected.
Senate Job Creation & Economic Development: Sanford, c hairperson ;Blackwell, v ice chairperson ;Beason, Coleman, Fielding, Irons, Reed, Scofield, Williams.
The Association is continuing to talk to the Alabama Forestry Association about its bill, which would exempt loggers from county permits and bonding requirements, allowing timber operations to begin simply after the timber buyer has provided “notice” to the county commission.
But at this point it appears less and less likely that the two sides will reach an accord. This proposal (HB 487 by Rep. Tuggle and SB 376 by Sen. Whatley) presents a very serious liability challenge for county governments while also making it extremely difficult to address those loggers who are not willing to conduct their operations in a safe and responsible manner.
The Senate version is scheduled for a public hearing at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry Committee. Urge committee members to oppose this legislation, and it would be great if some engineers could be here for the public hearing.
House Agriculture & Forestry Committee: Chad Fincher , chair; Steve Hurst , vice chair; Richard Lindsey , ranking minority member; Donnie Chesteen , Randy Davis , Joe Faust , Dexter Grimsley , Paul Lee , A.J. McCampbell
Senate Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry Committee: Whatley , chairperson; Glover , vice chairperson; Beasley , Bussman , Keahey , McGill , Sanford , Scofield , Singleton , Williams
The ongoing legislative interplay between the local 9-1-1 districts and AT&T took two or three new twists this week. First, a substitute version of the comprehensive legislation establishing a statewide levelized 9-1-1 fee (HB 312 by Rep. Millican) was considered, but delayed, by a House committee. Then late Thursday Sen. Marsh introduced an identical version of the comprehensive bill (SB 438) that also includes the establishment of a permanent oversight commission on the operation of 9-1-1.
This commission has been the focus of much “hall talk” this session and would both review past expenditures of the districts as well as suggest legislation for changes to the organizational structure of 9-1-1 at the local level. Because the creation of this commission has been added to a bill that the 9-1-1 districts helped draft (HB 312), it presents a special challenge in the days ahead.
SB 438 has been assigned to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. County officials are encouraged to contact the committee members to help ensure that county governments and the 911 districts have input into the oversight commission.
Senate Governmental Affairs: Holley, c hairperson; Bedford, vice chairperson; Beason, Brewbaker, Coleman, Dunn, Figures, Orr, Pittman, Sanford, Taylor.
A Senate committee approved this week HB 414 by Rep. Love to increase the employee contributions to the retirement systems for judges, teachers and state employees. The increases will be phased in in three steps between May 2011 and October 2012. State employees have been contributing 5 percent of their salary, and that will go to 6 percent, then 7 percent and finally 7.5 percent. These increases will save money for counties and other employers. However, the increases in employee contributions will also apply to county employees who are under the retirement system. The Association is pursuing a floor amendment that would allow counties to opt into the increases. Encourage your senators to support the county amendment.
Most of the sentencing reform package came out of committee this week. The bills were heavily revised in committee, and the Association staff will be analyzing the substitute versions of these bills and will make a full report at County Day.
As a proposed constitutional amendment, this legislation (HB 124 by Rep. Merrill and SB 111 by Sen. Orr) would make it almost impossible for a county to levy an occupational tax without passing a local constitutional amendment approved by a vote of the people. Although few counties have the ability to levy such a tax, the Association opposes the establishment of such major roadblocks to a revenue stream that could be utilized sometime in the future. The House version of this proposal will likely be on the chamber’s working agenda for Thursday. Urge your House members to oppose this legislation.
Currently homes which are under construction are treated as business property unless they are being constructed by the property owner. This legislation (HB 179 by Rep. J. Williams) would treat such homes – which are built by construction or homebuilding corporations – as though they are an individual’s residence. This change would reduce county revenue and establish a dangerous precedent for future similar exemptions for all construction property. This bill is scheduled for a House floor vote on Tuesday. Encourage your House members to oppose this legislation.
Alabama Trust Fund
A House bill pending in committee would take $26.5 million away from the counties’ share of interest from the Alabama Trust Fund. The proposal, HB 246 by Rep. Ford, would divert hundreds of millions of dollars from the fund for unspecified economic development projects in each Congressional district. The bill is scheduled for a vote in the House Economic Development & Tourism Committee on Wednesday, so it is important to contact committee members in advance, to communicate how damaging this proposal would be to counties.
House Economic Development & Tourism: Barry Mask, c hair; Micky Hammon, v ice chair; Yvonne Kennedy, r anking minority member; Alan Baker, Mike Ball, K. L. Brown, Terri Collins, Berry Forte, Alan Harper, Joe Hubbard, Ron Johnson, John Merrill, James Patterson, Bill Roberts, Rod Scott.
Work continues on SB 200 by Sen. Holtzclaw, which would restore a tax exemption on materials for contractors doing public projects. We are hopeful it may be in committee next week.
(Note: At this point, there does not appear to be a great deal of committee action next week, so you may not receive the regular “Committee Meeting Update” on Monday.)
The real-time status of all ACCA, Danger and local bills can be found by going to www.acca-online.org and following the steps under Legislative News. Please make copies of this report for all county officials and employees. And remember, ACCA staff frequently update the Association’s web site — www.acca-online.org — with the latest information on the activities in Montgomery.