Legislative Update February 14, 2014Rickey Stokes
Posted by: RStokes
Date: Feb 15 2014 7:20 AM
MONTGOMERY: The Alabama Association of County Commissioners has a very good week in review of the Alabama Legislature.
Prompt Payment of Contracts
HB 24 by Rep. Bill Roberts
It is anticipated that the “prompt pay” legislation will be debated on the House floor Thursday. As we have reported, the supporters of this legislation have refused to accept any amendments that would remove counties’ objections to this bill. And without changes, passage of this bill will severely limit the counties’ ability to approve projects to be paid with grant monies or to allow for proper review of construction work performed by contractors before payment is required. A detailed overview outlining the problems with this legislation is attached. It is extremely important that every member of the House be contacted about the serious problems this legislation creates for all state and local governmental entities in Alabama.
County government has been fighting against this legislation for three years with very little help from other governmental entities which would also be affected if this legislation became law. County officials are strongly encouraged to contact other local entities such as municipalities, school boards, and rural water authorities to make sure they understand the ramifications of passage of the bill – and to urge them to join the fight and contact their House members to oppose this legislation when it comes to the floor.
Valuation of Subsidized Housing Property
HB 13/HB 455/HB 458 by Rep. Oliver Robinson
There are now three bills introduced in the House that would dramatically alter the process used for establishing the taxable value of federally-subsidized low-income housing, though supporters indicate that HB 458, linked above, is the version that should be reviewed. As reported early in the session, passage of this legislation would almost eliminate property taxes on such developments and therefore significantly reduce revenue to the counties, cities, schools, hospitals and other recipients of ad valorem taxes. ACCA staff members are negotiating on this proposal to determine if there is any room for compromise. However, until an agreement can be reached, it is imperative that members of the House Commerce and Small Business Committee be contacted and urged to oppose any of these bills should they come to the committee for consideration.
Local tax officials have joined county commissions in the battle on this bill and some have provided legislators with examples of how passage would affect their individual districts. Their assistance in this effort has been a tremendous help in keeping this bill from moving thus far. County officials should contact their local tax officials and ask for help in educating legislators on the negative impact this bill would have on local revenues. Additionally, all entities receiving revenues from the county’s ad valorem tax (school boards, volunteer fire departments, etc.) should be asked to join in opposing this legislation.
Vacation of Roads
HB 148 by Rep. Ron Johnson/Sen. Gerald Dial
ACCA and county leaders met with legislative leaders this week to discuss county concerns with the bill that would subject every county road vacation to judicial review of the decision not to vacate a county-maintained road. ACCA staff is working on revisions that could remove county objections to this bill, but at this time there is no agreement on all problematic portions of the bill. We will keep counties posted on any progress, but it is important that all members of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee be contacted to oppose this legislation unless county-requested changes are made. The bill could come up in committee as early as Tuesday. (This committee will also consider an important ACCA Bill about county administrative powers, discussed below.)
Examiners to State Auditor
HB 350 by Rep. Ed Henry
The bill to move the functions of the Examiners of Public Accounts to the state auditor was carried over again this week in the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee. However, progress was made in making changes to the legislation to ensure that the essential functions and operation of the office will not altered if the State Auditor takes over administration of the office through passage of this bill. It is anticipated that the committee will vote on the bill next week. Please contact members of the committee to ask that they only vote for this bill if amended to address county concerns.
Committee members: Chair Steve Clouse, Vice Chair Greg Wren, Ranking Minority Member Richard Laird, Jim Carns, Merika Coleman-Evans, Chad Fincher, Victor Gaston, Lynn Greer, Laura Hall, Ken Johnson, John Knight, Richard Laird, Paul Lee, Wes Long, Mike Millican
Open Meetings Law
SB 191 by Sen. Cam Ward as substituted in committee
A revised version of the bill to make substantive changes to the open meetings law received a favorable report from the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. The most positive change in the legislation altered the definition of “serial meeting” to ensure that it only covers planned meetings of less than a quorum conducted with the purpose of circumventing the law. Unfortunately, the new version also includes language that would require the county commission to pay attorney’s fees in the event the court determines the county violated the law. ACCA staff will continue to work with the Alabama Press Association and others to remove this dangerous provision. Counties should ask their senators not to vote for passage of this bill unless this objectionable provision is removed from the bill.
County Administrative Powers
SB 367 by Sen. Del Marsh
The proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the county commission to adopt certain administrative powers without requiring legislative approval was introduced in the Senate this week by Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh. This proposal was one of the recommendations from the Constitutional Revision Commission aimed at allowing county officials to make decisions regarding administration of county government without requiring legislative approval on all matters. The powers authorized would not include the power to tax or regulate land use, but would include the management and operation of the county and adoption of certain programs beneficial to the citizens they represent. An outline of the bill is attached. Please contact members of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and ask them to support this measure. (This committee will also consider the Danger Bill on vacating county roads, discussed above.)
Statewide vs. Local Votes on Local Constitutional Amendments
SB 274 by Sen. Linda Coleman with committee amendment | Fact Sheet
Another of the Constitutional Reform Commission recommendations, the ACCA-supported bill to increase the number of votes needed to force a local constitutional amendment on a statewide ballot, was narrowly approved by the Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics, and Elections Committee this week. While the bill is now in position for consideration by the full Senate, there is still some opposition to this proposal and ACCA staff is working to resolve issues with senators who have raised concerns. It is important that county officials talk with all senators about the importance of this bill – a measure which would ensure that only local citizens would vote on purely local issues.
Changes in Local Law Process
SB 258 by Sen. Cam Ward
The third bill in the package of Alabama Constitutional Revision Commission recommendations affecting county government will be the subject of a public hearing in the Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics, and Elections Committee next week. This bill proposes a number of changes to current legislative process, including changes to current constitutionally required steps for passing local legislation. The proposal provides for a shorter advertising period and allows for local legislation to be amended during the legislative process, thus allowing counties and legislators a meaningful opportunity to debate and negotiate local bills during the legislative process. Since the language supported by counties is included in a bill addressing other comprehensive changes to the legislative process, there may be opposition to the legislation that is not related to the passage of local bills. Therefore, counties should contact all committee members and ask them to support this legislation because of the important provisions aimed at significantly improving the procedure for passing local bills.
Local Government Health Insurance Board
HB 136 by Rep. Mac McCutcheon & Rep. Mike Hill | Fact Sheet
The bill to create a separate health insurance board to make decisions affecting the health insurance policies in place for county employees was not considered by the House as expected this week, but is now scheduled for consideration Tuesday. County officials should contact their House members this weekend to ask for their support of this important bill which will ensure that local government officials and employees will govern the local government health insurance program while maintaining current management and administration of the system. Please also ask members not vote to adjourn for the day until this bill and HB 222, discussed below, have been passed.
EMA Donation of Property
HB 222 by Rep. Randall Shedd | Fact Sheet
The bill that would allow the Alabama Emergency Management Agency to transfer equipment and other property to county emergency management agencies for their use is also scheduled for final passage in the House on Tuesday. This bill, the first for former county commissioner Randall Shedd, could also be the first ACCA bill to reach the governor’s desk for this session. Please contact all House members and ask them to support this bill when it comes to the floor on Tuesday – and ask them to not vote to adjourn for the day until this bill and HB 136, discussed above, have been passed.
Election Publication Costs
HB 71 by Rep. Howard Sanderford with committee amendment | Fact Sheet
SB 72 by Sen. Paul Sanford (with committee amendment)| Fact Sheet
The House version of the bill to reduce the publication costs in Alabama narrowly passed out of a Senate committee this week, meaning that both the House and Senate versions of the bill are now in position for floor action in the Senate. However, the bill continues to have strong opposition from members of both parties in the Senate and is not likely to be considered by the full Senate unless some of the opposition can be removed. Counties should be talking with every member of the Senate and asking for their support of this bill that will save state and county coffers approximately $1 million statewide. The key objection is concern about broad access to the voters list if it is not published in the local newspaper. Therefore, it is important to help Senators understand the careful steps included in the bill to provide better access to the list through use of the county website and the ability to obtain the list from the probate judge.
Also of interest…
Call Before You Dig
SB 148 by Sen. Gerald Allen (with substitute)
A number of county engineers have worked with the ACCA staff on legislation revising the “call before you dig” statute. Conversations with the bill’s proponents have been productive, and this week a Senate committee approved a substitute version containing the agreed upon language for the definitions of excavations and routine roadway maintenance. ACCA has removed its objections to the legislation in its current form.