May 14, 2015
Legislative Days 21-22
The Alabama Legislature met this week for the 21st and 22nd legislative days. With now only 8 legislative days left, the House and Senate must pass both the Education Trust Fund budget and the General Fund budget before the session ends or the governor will have to call a special session to pass the budgets before the beginning of the 2016 fiscal year which begins on October 1.
House Committee Passes General Fund Budget, Holds Public Hearing On Education Budget
The House this week avoided debating a slate of tax bills proposed by the GOP Caucus to address the budget shortfall for fiscal year 2016. While they had planned to debate the tax package, the body adopted a calendar on Tuesday that did not include any of the bills originally scheduled for debate. On the calendar that was debated was HB531 by Representative Danny Garrett that would further regulate pay day lenders in the State of Alabama. The bill aimed to extend the minimum payment period and alter the interest rates that lenders were able to charge. The bill, however, was carried over on a voice vote. HB573 by Representative Oliver Robinson, which would provide educational funding, opportunities in Jefferson County, did manage to receive approval although only members of the Jefferson County Delegation voted on the bill.
On Wednesday the House Judiciary Civil Subcommittee heard a bill by Representative Chris England that would expand the list of protected classes in Alabama to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While the subcommittee did not vote on HB615, the subcommittee did agree that the bill should be heard by the whole Judiciary Committee.
With the end of session in sight, and without either budget having passed the entire legislature, the House took action on both budgets. The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee approved an austerity budget that relies on cuts to state government services and agencies, not tax increases, to balance the budget. The General Fund Budget Chairman Steve Clouse released a statement that he was told the budget would not receive approval in the Senate. The budget includes a 5% cut to Medicaid, DHR, and Corrections. Governor Robert Bentley announced that he would veto the budget that passed out of committee.
The Ways and Means Education Committee held a public hearing on the Education Trust Fund, which is in considerably better shape than the General Fund. Chairman Bill Poole announced that there would likely be a vote on the budget next Tuesday in committee.
The House is expected to debate the General Fund Budget next Tuesday, followed by a non-controversial 10-minute calendar. The Education Budget could potentially be debated by the full House the following Tuesday.
Senate Committee Approves Lottery/Gambling Bill, Adjourns Thursday After Filibuster On Deer Bating Bill
The Alabama State Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee this week gave approval to a bill by Senator Del Marsh that would allow the citizens of Alabama to vote on a statewide lottery and would urge the governor to enter into a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians as well as authorize four other gambling casinos in the state. Governor Bentley has been adamant that a lottery and gambling is not the best way to fix the state’s budget problems and questioned what impact, if any, the bill would have on the fiscal year 2016 budget.
On Wednesday the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would allow judges and other persons in Alabama authorized to perform marriage ceremonies to deny performing the ceremony based on their religious beliefs.
The Alabama State Board of Education met Wednesday to approve a slate of appointments to the Alabama Public Charter School Commission. However, members refused to approve the appointments stating there was not enough time to fully research the candidates. The board must approve the members to the commission by June 1.
When the Senate convened on Thursday they adopted a long calendar with nearly 25 bills. After several attempts by members to slow down the process and filibusters, the Senate adjourned at 2:30.