2015 Regular: Legislative Days 3-5

March 13, 2015
Legislative Days 3-5

The Alabama Legislature began its second week of deliberations from March 10-12 where it met for three legislative days. As expected, many of the bills included on the Republican agendas were passed in each chamber and will be transmitted to the other chamber for committee assignments and consideration. Both the House and the Senate saw days of long debate on controversial bills throughout the week.

Next week, the legislature is expected to meet for another three day week. The following week is Legislative Spring Break and the legislature will not meet.

House Passes Slate Of Economic Development And Other Agenda Bills

On Tuesday the House of Representatives passed three of the economic development bills backed by Governor Robert Bentley. HB57, HB58, and HB59 were the first three bills passed on Tuesday and fundamentally changed the way Alabama will recruit businesses and offer existing businesses incentives for creating new jobs in the state.

Wednesday was not only a full committee day at the State House, but both chambers also went into session that afternoon. Among the bills passed was HB39 or the “Truth in Salary Act”, a bill from the House GOP Caucus agenda, which would require that state employees receive information each year about their salary and benefits showing the total cost to the state. Both the Student Religious Liberties Act (HB1), a bill re-establishing the freedom of student-led prayer and religious expression in schools, and the Capital Punishment Preservation Act (HB18), a bill to allow the Department of Corrections to once again utilize the electric chair, passed the full body of the House.

The House was locked down in a filibuster on Thursday. HB56, the Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act, was debated for over four hours before the Republican majority voted to end debate and passed the legislation 69-25. One of the most contentious bills on the Republican House agenda, this bill would protect judges, ministers, and others from being forced to participate in wedding ceremonies that violate their religious conscious.

Also on Thursday, the House Education Policy committee passed through committee a version of the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, which will authorize charter schools in Alabama. After adopting a sub in committee, the bill will go to the full House membership for debate and a vote. The Senate will then have a choice to either concur with the changes made in the House, or non-concur and it will be sent to conference committee.

Senate Passes Charter School Bill, Addresses Alabama Accountability Act Changes

The Alabama State Senate began the week with a long debate over the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act. Again, this bill would authorize charter schools in the state of Alabama. The Senate debated SB45 for nearly six hours where the sponsor, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, fielded questions from Republicans and Democrats on the effects and implementation of the legislation. In the end the Senate, without having to file a cloture motion to end debate, voted to pass the bill 22-12.

On Wednesday, after a full day of committee meetings, Senator Rodger Smitherman spent time slowing down debate due to the introduction of a bill that would alter the makeup of the Birmingham Water Works Board (SB89 – Senator Jabo Waggoner). This bill has been opposed by the Birmingham Water Works Board in the past, and was the first bill on the calendar when session began on Thursday. SB89 was eventually carried over to the call-of-the-chair to give opposition and the sponsor a chance to discuss their concerns.

The Alabama Accountability Act may see changes if a bill by Senator Marsh, SB71, pass through the legislature. On Wednesday, the Senate Finance & Taxation Education Committee held a public hearing on the bill that would increase the cap on the scholarship program from $25 million to $35 million. Proponents argue that the program is working to place students in failing schools in schools that meet their needs, and opponents argue that it would simply be diverting more money from public education. Although the committee did not vote on the bill, it is expected to come back up in the committee.