February 19, 2016
The Alabama Legislature met for three legislative days in Montgomery this week. Next week both chambers will return to a two legislative day week schedule. The House will reconvene on Tuesday February 23rd at 1:30pm and the Senate will reconvene the same day at 2:00pm.
House Passes Controversial Bills, Education Bills On The Move
This week the House of Representatives spent a significant amount of time trying to pass two controversial bills. Representative David Faulkner sponsored HB174, the Alabama Uniform Minimum Wage and Right to Work Act. The bill would prevent local governmental entities from setting their own minimum wage rates. Republicans viewed the bill as an incentive for companies looking to locate to Alabama, while other members saw this as an attempt to block the City of Birmingham’s plan to increase their minimum wage on March 1st. Also this week, the House fell into a filibuster over Representative April Weaver’s HB45, the Unborn Infants Dignity of Life Act, a bill which would ban the sale of fetal parts, which is already banned under federal law. The bill passed the House 77 to 24, mostly on a party line vote.
Outside of the chamber in committee, the Alabama Ahead Act, HB41, and its accompanying supplemental appropriation bill, HB227, made their way onto the special order calendar set to be debated by the full House next Tuesday when the House reconvenes. The Alabama Ahead Act has been a work in progress since 2012 and legislators and interested parties seem to have come to an agreement on how best to fund and implement broadband and wireless connectivity in all of Alabama’s schools. If this is accomplished, Alabama will be one of the first states in the nation to do so.
Senate Handles Sunset Bills, Committees Pass Payday Lending and Earmarking Bills
The Alabama Senate spent most of the week passing sunset bills, which are bills that reauthorize boards, agencies, and commissions that require reauthorization after a set number of years of operation. More interestingly, Senate committees this week passed a bill that would further regulate the payday lending industry and another that would unearmark $370 million in state funds. SB91 by Senator Orr is a payday lending reform bill modeled on a Colorado law, and would extend the terms of repayment to six months and limit the interest rates on the loans to 180 percent. Orr proposed similar legislation last year which won committee approval. That bill did not advance to the Senate floor. SB15 by Senator Ward would unearmark $370 million in state funds, a move that would allow the state legislature more flexibility when appropriating funds for the underfunded General Fund. Opponents of the bill note that removing funds from agencies like the Department of Human Resources would hurt programs that benefit some of the state’s most vulnerable people, including low-income and children.
Consensus seems to continue that both bodies of the legislature want to handle both the General Fund and Education Trust Fund before the legislature takes off for Spring Break which begins the week of March 28. It is believed that the Education Trust Fund, which is starting in the Senate this year, could move through the Senate as early as next week.