May 8, 2015
Legislative Days 19-20
The Alabama Legislature met this week for the 19th and 20th legislative days. Both the House and Senate introduced legislation aimed at fixing the looming budget shortfall. However, with only 10 legislative days left, there is no clear solution as to what will be able to make it through the legislative process and to the governor’s desk in time. Governor Robert Bentley has consistently said that if a budget plan that passes does not have $541 million in revenue by the end of the fiscal year, he will veto the legislation and call special sessions throughout the summer.
The House is scheduled to reconvene Tuesday, May 12 at 1:00pm and the Senate is set to reconvene that same day at 2:00pm.
House Offers Proposal To Fix Budget Shortfall, Water Works Bill Receives Final Passage
The House GOP Caucus this week unveiled its own plan to fix the expected budget shortfall. In contrast to Governor Robert Bentley’s proposed $541 million tax increase proposal, the GOP Caucus plan would raise around $150 million. Included in the plan are bills to raise taxes on cigarettes and car rentals, cap paid state employee holidays, and transfer money from the Education Trust Fund. The plan would also call on Governor Bentley to enter into an exclusive compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians to expand gambling in the state.
On Tuesday, the House debated SB89 by Senator Jabo Waggoner which would alter the makeup of the Birmingham Water Works Board. After nearly 5 hours of debate, the Republicans filed a cloture motion to end debate and the bill was passed 70-29 and has been sent to the governor for his signature. After the bill passed, House Democrats continued to filibuster and kept the House in session until midnight on Tuesday.
Another bill that was considered in House committee this week was SB1 by Senator Gerald Dial, known as the Alabama Ahead Act. The bill called for a $110 million bond issue to implement infrastructure of wireless technology in Alabama schools and also provide for the purchase of tablets for students. The bill was altered in committee to require specific wireless capacity requirements in classrooms and common areas.
Prison Reform Bill Receives Final Passage, Marsh Proposes Gambling Legislation
The Senate this week concurred with the House to give final approval to SB67 by Senator Cam Ward to overhaul Alabama’s overcrowded prisons and parole process. The bill would reduce penalties for some nonviolent property and drug crimes, create a new Class D felony for some nonviolent offenses, and call for additional parole officers and increase prison capacity by nearly 2,000 beds. Governor Bentley said he plans to sign the bill after a full legal review of the legislation.
In his own attempt to fix the budget shortfall, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh introduced SB453 which he says could generate $400 million a year for the State of Alabama. Under his proposal, casinos would be located at the four dog tracks in Birmingham, Macon County, Mobile, and Eutaw. The bill also calls for a lottery and urges the governor to enter into a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Marsh’s bill is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Tourism & Marketing Committee next week. Senator Marsh has said that he believes that Alabamians should have the right to vote on a lottery and gambling as an option to fix the state budget problems.