The 2019 Alabama Legislative Session Recap
That’s a Wrap, Folks
Whew… what an intense year it has been for Alabama’s Legislative Session. It has been a long and challenging journey filled with tough policy decisions that have heavily impacted our local communities.
Looking back, we can’t think of a better season to have launched our Peritus Legislative Session Guide.
We appreciate many of you following along as our team aimed to help break down session issues and takeaways. It brings our policy brains great joy to hear the feedback and encouragement you have shared with us:
“I felt empowered for the first time to actually contribute to political conversations”
“Friday afternoon media scanning won’t be the same without your #FridayFive updates”
“I was able to identify helpful resources to monitor issues impacting our industry”
Through our own small contribution, we are proud to have an ability to share insights that help our peers better digest issues, and even (gasp...) gain a new-found enthusiasm for the importance of staying engaged in policy discussions.
Just because session is has concluded, doesn’t mean the learning stops here (you don’t get off that easy). Here are a few highlights and forecasts for next year.
For those already feeling a bit in the dark and need a quick Legislative Session 101 refresher, we got you.
The Alabama legislature convened on March 5 with an aggressive first session of the 2018-2022 quadrennium — we had a special gas tax session, international media attention, and even an intense regular agenda of legislative items.
Lawmakers are saying this has been the most productive session they’ve been a part of, but many others argue it’s also been one of the toughest. While there were some controversies along the way, the legislature got to work and passed 387 bills out of the 1,070 introduced.
We can almost guarantee a couple of these policies were heavily debated at your dinner table, but some legislation was kept a little quieter but is still just as important. In this blog post, we’ll cover what passed, what didn’t and what’s next.
Here’s what everyone was talking about during the session…
Infrastructure - PASSED
To kick things off, Gov. Ivey called a special session to address infrastructure, and the legislature passed the Rebuild Alabama Act.
This bill will increase gas tax from 18 cents to 28 cents per gallon over the next three years.
This is Alabama’s first gas tax increase since 1992.
IMPACT: By 2021, the tax is projected to generate more than $300 million that will go straight into state (66 percent), county (25 percent) and city (8 percent) infrastructure maintenance and new projects. And good news for the Gulf Coast folks—the rest will go toward widening and deepening the Mobile Bay shipping channel.
Budget – PASSED
When the legislature convenes each year, the only thing they are constitutionally required to pass are the two budgets: Education Trust Fund and the General Fund.
Education Trust Fund: $7.1 billion: This the largest ETF in state history and includes a four percent pay increase for teachers and increased funding for Pre-K, K-12, community colleges and state colleges and universities. Signed into law by the governor, it is the largest ever single-year expansion of the pre-K program. Good news kiddos – the expansion will increase access of 21,636 children throughout the state into 1,202 classrooms.
Where do ETF dollars come from? ETF revenue comes from ten tax sources, the largest of which are the individual and corporate income tax, sales tax, utility tax and use tax.
General Fund: $2.1 billion: In addition to increased state agency funding, the General Fund budget includes a two percent pay increase for state employees and $40 million increase for the state’s prison system (stay tuned for more on Alabama’s prison system in later blog posts).
Where do GF dollars come from? The general fund is comprised of more than 40 sources… (if you want the specifics, you know where to find us).
WHAT’S NEXT: Enjoy it for now. While the budget process was a relatively smooth one this year, lawmakers are already concerned that the same might not be the case for next year.
Broadband – PASSED
Broadband access has been a hot topic in the state recently, especially on how best to connect rural areas. This year, Gov. Ivey signed two pieces of legislation aimed at connecting rural communities.
Broadband Using Electric Easements Accessibility Act: This will allow electric utility providers to add high-speed cable lines to their existing utility networks.
Rural Broadband Access Initiative: This expands the state’s existing grant program (the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund) by $20 million for broadband projects in rural areas.
IMPACT: Broadband is increasingly important, especially as the state looks to attract businesses and talent. These bills increase economic development, education and quality of life opportunities throughout the state.
Abortion – PASSED
Alabama made international headlines for passing the country’s strictest abortion law. HB 314 makes abortion a felony, sending doctors who perform them to prison for up to 99 years.
The bill’s authors expected the lawsuit and expressed intent for it to reach the Supreme Court in attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Gov. Ivey signed the bill into law, but it does not go into effect until November.
IMPACT: The ACLU of Alabama filed a lawsuit against the state, challenging the constitutionality of the bill. Planned Parenthood has expressed intent to take legal action as well.
Education – PASSED
Two key pieces of legislation addressing education reform passed – one changes the governance of the state’s board of education and the other aims to improve student literacy.
State Board of Education reform: Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh sponsored this legislation that would replace the state’s elected board of education with a commission appointed by Governor Ivey. The Office of the Governor introduced the "Take the Lead, Alabama" initiative to urge voters to abolish the elected state school board and replace it with an appointed commission.
Alabama Literacy Act: The legislature passed this bill that would require schools to hold back third graders who do not reach reading level standards.
WHAT’S NEXT: Appointed or Elected? Alabama voters will make the decision on a statewide ballot in March 2020.
Lottery – FAILED
Going into this session, many were feeling #lucky and believed that this could be the year for a passing lottery bill.
The proposed constitutional amendment would have legalized lottery ticket sales (think PowerBall and Mega Millions).
The legislation passed the Senate with just enough votes but died in House.
WHAT’S NEXT: Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh expressed his disappointment in the failed lottery legislation and wishes Alabamians would have the opportunity to vote on the lottery as a referendum. As one of five states without a lottery system, stay tuned to see if this makes any waves next year.
Economic Development – PASSED
Aiming to spur economic growth in rural Alabama and attract more tech-based companies, the legislature passed the Alabama Incentives Modernization Act sponsored by Rep. Bill Poole. Governor Ivey signed the bill into law.
The AIM Act expands the scope of the Alabama Jobs Act and uses tax incentives to attract tech companies into rural areas and take advantage of opportunity zones.
Under the Act, incentives in the form of investment and tax credits will be awarded to companies that bring at least 10 new jobs to a county, whether it’s rural or urban, that has had sluggish job growth and a declining population.
IMPACT: The recent wave of tech companies rolling into Alabama can now reach more rural counties, creating high-tech jobs and positioning the state as a competitive bidder when companies search for a new place to grow roots.
Equal Pay – PASSED
The Alabama legislature unanimously passed the Clarke-Figures Equal Pay Act prohibiting wage discrimination based on race or sex.
Sponsored by Rep. Adline Clarke, the legislation prohibits businesses from paying workers less than employees of another race or sex for the same work unless there are reasons such as seniority, a merit system or productivity to account for the difference.
Employees in Alabama have two years to file a lawsuit with proof of wage discrimination.
IMPACT: Alabama will no longer be one of two states without a pay equity law.
Prisons – PENDING
The legislature took steps on prison reform, increasing funding by $40 million and passing HB380 to reform the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
HB380 bill authorizes the governor to fill vacant seats on the board, set parameters for the board’s procedures and appoint and set responsibilities for a board director. Gov. Ivey signed the bill into law.
The Alabama Department of Corrections received the largest bump in the General Fund to give additional raises and hire correctional officers.
WHAT’S NEXT: Although the General Fund gave corrections more funding, there’s still much to be discussed to address the ongoing challenges facing the state’s prison system. It’s likely that the governor will call a special session focused on prison reform later this year to explore solutions.
While the legislature has adjourned sine die (Latin for without day), hang tight, because the governor has the power to call back the legislature at any time. Gov. Ivey is expected to call a special session this fall to address prison reform, especially following the Department of Justice’s report on Alabama’s “unconstitutional” prisons.
Legislators will not get together for the next regular session until 2020. Next year’s session will be on the first Tuesday in February – February 4, 2020.
Our PUBLISHED by Peritus takeaway is this:
While policy debates and conversations involving the legislature can seem like a foreign language to some, the decisions made in Montgomery impact our everyday lives. Through our blog posts and the “Friday Five” on Instagram, we hope we’ve empowered you to engage (or at least keep up) in conversations related to state policy and politics. We encourage you to continue to stay informed on what’s going on with government to help create a brighter Alabama.