February 11, 2016
The Alabama Legislature met this week for the third and fourth legislative days in Montgomery. Next week is expected to be a three-day week for both chambers of the legislature. The House will reconvene on Tuesday February 16th at 1:00pm and the Senate will reconvene the same day at 2:00pm.
Legislative Work Begins, Governor Announces Medicaid RCO Waiver
The Alabama Legislature met this week for the third and fourth legislative days in Montgomery. While budget discussions are ongoing, there is a consistent message from leadership that budgets will be made a priority this session. Some leaders even are hopeful that the budget will be passed by the time the legislature adjourns for spring break the week of March 28. Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh spoke to members of the business community on Tuesday morning and noted that although the Governor proposed moving the rest of the use taxes from the Education Trust Fund to the General Fund, he did not believe the appetite was there among the members. The General Fund, which is seen slow and stagnant growth for several years, will have to be cut since the members of the legislature are reluctant to pass any revenue measures after two specials sessions in 2015.
Within the budget discussions, the Alabama Medicaid Agency frequently makes its appearance, given that in FY2016 Medicaid accounted for 37.69% of the General Fund appropriations, and number that has seen rapid growth over the past decade. Governor Robert Bentley this week announced the approval of the Alabama Medicaid Agency’s regional care organization (RCO) plan that relied on a 1115 Waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS agreed to provide up to $328 million in federal money over three years to help RCOs start up and pay for projects that could boost access to medical care, improve its quality and reduce its cost. In addition, Alabama could qualify for up to an additional $420 million in federal money over a five year period to further support Alabama’s Medicaid transformation process. In total, Alabama could receive up to $748 million in federal money over five years to help start and improve its RCO program.
House Passes Agenda Items, Senate Committee Kills Common Core Repeal
This week the Alabama House of Representatives found itself locked down in a filibuster more than once. Alabama House Democrats didn’t waste any time letting the Republican Majority know that they were not in favor of their “Right for Alabama” legislative agenda. In fact, the first bill to come up for debate was HB38 by Representative Mark Tuggle, which would alter the process by which the Taxpayer Advocate in Alabama was appointed. After several hours of debate and filibuster, the bill passed the House. The other agenda item that passed the House this week was the Small Business Act by Representative Kyle South. A constitutional amendment proposed by Representative Arnold Mooney, HB37, failed to receive enough votes to pass. While the bill did receive 60 affirmative votes, 63 were needed to pass the right to work legislation as a constitutional amendment. House Speaker Mike Hubbard said that the bill was not dead, and would be heard again by the body.
The Alabama Ahead Act, which has been introduced each session for the previous three sessions, is making headway through the legislative process this year. Representative Donnie Chesteen, who is the sponsor of HB41 this year, was able to get the bill through the committee process this week. Originally starting out a few years ago as a $100 million bond issue, much work has been done to improve the legislation and bring stakeholders together to ensure that Alabama will be the first state in the nation to provide schools with the necessary broadband infrastructure and wireless technology by utilizing the federal E-Rate program. This bill has yet to be heard by the full House, but will be one to watch very closely as funding must be in place by March to utilize the federal funds. Additionally, Representative Oliver Robinson who chairs the Alabama Digital Learning Study Commission, sponsored HJR30, which should it pass the Senate, will declare that February 17th be named Digital Learning Day in Alabama.
The Senate Committee on Education and Youth Affairs this was supposed to hold a vote on Senator Rusty Glover’s SB60, which would repeal the use of Common Core Standards in Alabama schools. However, when the bill was slated to be in committee, it was carried over without a vote. Many saw this as a calculated procedural move given that the business and economic development communities are supporters of the Common Core Standards.