Week In Review Of Alabama Legislature March 8, 2013Rickey Stokes
Posted by: RStokes
Date: Mar 08 2013 4:14 PM
Movement – and the introduction of new bills – slowed considerably this week after Republicans forced the passage of a school reform bill after a much-criticized conference committee meeting. In the wake of growing controversy, House leaders adopted a “continuing” order of business that almost ensures final passage of the important RAMP bond-issue legislation sometime next week.
House and Senate members will return to Montgomery on Tuesday for a scheduled two-day work week, moving this year’s session near the midway point. Several ACCA bills were the subject of committee work this week and, it appears, the dispute over a mandated increase in supernumerary benefits ended with an ACCA-crafted amendment protecting commission authority to approve any raises.
Below is an overview of the week’s activities, with particular emphasis on the important election expense reform legislation that needs immediate and decisive action by county officials. At this point, the bill has been the subject of daily attacks from circuit clerks, probate judges and newspapers — all of whom oppose the reform effort.
Looking ahead, mark your calendars now for the next ACCA Legislative Briefing webinar, set for 2 p.m. Friday, March 15. Registration information will be emailed next week. Questions? Email Sallie Gowan.
Counties are facing an uphill battle to reduce or eliminate certain wasteful election expenses that are mandated by state law while still preserving fair elections. Many of you received this Action Alert from Mary Pons on Thursday. The alert goes into great detail explaining the issues, especially the negative campaigns mounted by probate judges, circuit clerks and newspapers. Your help is urgently needed to make sure EVERY MEMBER OF THE LEGISLATURE hears from their county about why these cost savings are needed.
Need help making your case? Try these steps:
1) Read Mary’s Action Alert;
2) Consult the county-by-county election expense chart for information on what your county spent for the March 2012 primary in these specific categories;
3) Review this list of counties where state records indicate the probate judge is receiving payment for preparing multiple lists;
The Senate version, SB 125 by Sen. Paul Sanford, could come up on the Senate floor next week.
Bills to fund the RAMP portion of ATRIP (HB 213 by Rep. Mac McCutcheon, SB 192 by Sen. Paul Bussman) both advanced through committees this week. Many thanks to everyone who contacted committee members! And the Senate version is on deck for the House to vote final passage and send it to Governor Bentley sometime next week. House members supported the proposal 94-0 the last time it was before them.
Credit cards for counties
A bill (SB 280 by Sen. Jimmy Holley) to expand a county’s authority to use a credit card within certain limits (see Fact Sheet) zipped through Senate committee this week. Thanks to everyone who contacted members of the committee! This bill could come up on the Senate floor at any time, so please ask your senator to SUPPORT SB 280. Because of delaying tactics in the House, that chamber did not consider the House version on Tuesday as expected. ACCA will alert you when the House version is expected to take the next step.
Gas tax for vegetation management
This week Sen. Roger Bedford introduced SB 293, which would allow the “four-cent” gas tax money to be spent on vegetation management on the county right of way. The bill could be on a committee agenda next week, so please urge committee members to SUPPORT SB 293 and give counties this needed flexibility. Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee: Orr, Chairperson; Beasley, Bedford, Brewbaker, Dunn, Holtzclaw, Pittman, Sanford, Singleton, Ward, Waggoner, Williams.
Reinstatement of damage protection
The Association is working with the League of Municipalities on legislation (SB 194 by Sen. Jerry Fielding) to reverse two Alabama Supreme Court rulings that have provided plaintiffs with an avenue to skirt the county’s damage cap simply by suing county employees personally. This legislation will be the subject of meetings next week in an effort to develop a path for passage of this important legislation.
Income tax refund setoff
The state pays income tax refunds to Alabamians, many of whom may owe money to their counties for various taxes and fees. An ACCA bill, HB 46 by Rep. Steve Clouse, would allow the state to divert an income tax refund to cover money owed the county. This could be a huge boon for counties, especially since this method could help with collection of solid waste fees. The bill is scheduled for a committee vote Wednesday afternoon. This is the first time the committee has taken up this issue, so please ask members to SUPPORT HB 46. Senate Judiciary Committee: Ward, Chairperson; Fielding, Vice Chairperson; Coleman, Figures, Keahey, Orr, Smitherman, Taylor, Whatley, Williams
Redemption of property
ACCA’s bill (HB 47 by Rep. Steve Clouse) to correct technical problems in the statute addressing tax sales and redemption of property is set for a Senate committee vote on Wednesday afternoon. The bill would make it clear who is entitled to the excess and create a process so that the excess can be used toward redemption costs. The bill passed the Legislature last year only to be vetoed by the governor. Those objections have been resolved, and the governor is expected to sign it into law this year. Encourage committee members to SUPPORT HB 47. Senate Judiciary Committee: Ward, Chairperson; Fielding, Vice Chairperson; Coleman, Figures, Keahey, Orr, Smitherman, Taylor, Whatley, Williams
Thursday ACCA staff met with several sheriffs looking to draft an acceptable set of amendments to the comprehensive gun legislation introduced by Sen. Scott Beason (SB 286). The bill is expected on the Senate floor as early as Thursday and presents tremendous liability exposure for county governments because of its authority for citizens to carry guns almost anywhere in Alabama.
As employers, counties would be required to allow employees to store guns in their vehicles and would be forced to provide locked boxes for employees to store their handguns just inside the courthouse doors. Sheriffs would lose the authority to arrest those openly carrying pistols.
Raise for supernumerary tax officials
After many rounds of negotiations between ACCA and tax officials, a compromise has been reached that removes county objections. A substitute was adopted in House committee late yesterday that addresses ACCA concerns.
The most important thing, from our perspective, is that the county commission retains full decision-making authority. Key provisions of the bill are:
1) The county commission has the stated option of raising the cap more than once.
2) The cap can be raised or lifted before the tax official leaves office.
3) Once the county commission has voted to raise or lift the cap for a particular person, it cannot rescind its decision.
Many, many thanks to everyone who contacted their legislators about this bill. Your work made a difference!