As the Legislative clock ticked down to its final seven days last week, several priority bills moved forward including the final passage and signing by the governor of interest fee forgiveness on late personal tax payments, and the advancement of the broadband expansion bill, unemployment compensation review, the delay of the Literacy Act, and of course, the session headliner – gambling. We can expect things to intensify between now and the end of session on May 17th.
No Interest on Late Tax Payments Approved
The Legislature gave its final approval and Gov. Kay Ivey signed Senate Bill 352, from Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), which waives interest on late payments on individual 2020 income taxes. In March, the U.S. Treasury Department and IRS extended the filing and payment date for individual 2020 income taxes from the traditional April 15th to May 17th. Alabama automatically extends its state income tax filing deadline when there is an extension on the federal level. However, the Alabama Department of Revenue said that while it can waive late penalties for payments made by May 17th, it could not waive interest accruing after April 15th. The bill fixes that issue.
The Latest on Gambling; Senate Approves Larger Package
The Senate passed a gambling package Tuesday that would allow Alabama voters to decide on instituting a lottery and nine casinos and allowing sports betting. Although the legislation is like the proposal that narrowly failed five weeks ago, the bill passed Tuesday night includes a provision that would provide for bidding the casino licenses in prescribed counties. Sites would include Jefferson, Mobile, Macon, Greene, Houston, and either Jackson or DeKalb Counties, as well as the three locations owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Existing dog track and electronic bingo operators would have the opportunity to make a final bid to win the license in their respective counties, and the Poarch Creeks would have the final bid opportunity for the Jackson/DeKalb County site. Lottery revenue would be used for education, including a college scholarship program, and casino/sports betting revenue would be taxed at 20%. The bill now moves to the House for consideration. If passed by the House, voters could vote on a constitutional amendment in November 2022.
Broadband Bill Ready to Move; Committee Vote Expected Next Week
The House Urban and Rural Development Committee held a public hearing Thursday on Senator Marsh’s broadband authority bill. Del Marsh’s SB 215 would create a Digital Expansion Authority to oversee expansion and availability of high-speed internet throughout the state and a Digital Expansion Finance Corporation to issue bonds of up to $250 million to finance eligible projects. A larger Connect Alabama Advisory Board would make recommendations to the authority, which must within a year of the law's passage develop and begin executing a Statewide Connectivity Plan. A timeline for implementation must be included. The gambling package passed by the Senate Tuesday would direct the first $750 million in revenue toward broadband expansion. A Committee vote on SB 215 is expected next week.
Unemployment Compensation Review Bill; Approved by Senate
The Senate approved Sen. Arthur Orr’s (R-Decatur) bill requiring the Alabama Department of Labor to recover overpayments in unemployment compensation. Senate Bill 373, the Unemployment Insurance Program Integrity Act of 2021, requires weekly checks of unemployment insurance recipients against the Alabama Department of Corrections list of incarcerated individuals to verify eligibility and the adoption of policies to recover overpayments to the “fullest extent possible by state and federal law.” The bill now goes to the House where it has been assigned to the Fiscal Responsibility Committee.
Literacy Act Delay Passes
The Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would delay the Alabama Literacy Act’s requirement that third-grade students demonstrate sufficient reading skills before being promoted to fourth grade. SB 94 would postpone the holdback requirement by two years over concerns about potential learning disruptions caused by the pandemic. The bill now moves to the House for consideration.
Medical Cannabis Bill Moves Closer to Vote
The House Health Committee approved Senator Melson’s medical cannabis legislation Thursday, moving the bill closer to a vote in the full House. Cleared by the House Judiciary Committee last week and passed by the Senate in February, SB 46 would allow medical cannabis to be prescribed in certain forms to treat more than a dozen conditions after other pain remedies have been exhausted. The bill would also create an Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to establish a registry for patients, caregivers, and facilities.
Student-Athlete Compensation Passes Senate Unanimously
The Senate unanimously passed HB 404 Tuesday, which would allow compensation of college student-athletes when their name, image, or likeness (NIL) is used in promotional material. Universities could not compensate their own student-athletes for NIL, but the bill would allow student-athletes to hire an agent or attorney to represent them for receiving such compensation. The legislation would also create an Alabama Collegiate Athletics Commission to establish rules and monitor compliance. The bill was previously passed by the House but must return to that chamber because of Senate amendment.
Senate Passes Bill Prohibiting Enforcement of Federal Gun Laws
The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would prohibit local police officers from enforcing any new federal gun restrictions. SB 358, the Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act, would make it a misdemeanor for an officer to enforce a new federal law or executive order that “regulates the ownership, use, or possession of firearms, ammunition, or firearm accessories.” The bill now moves to the House for consideration.
State Parks Proposed $80 Million Dollar Improvements
The Alabama House approved a proposed constitutional amendment allowing the state to borrow $80 million to improve state parks across the state. Action on the proposals now moves to the Senate. If approved there, the constitutional amendment will go before Alabama voters on the next general election ballot next November.
Seven legislative days remain in the 2021 Regular Session and Legislature is schedule to Sine Die, May 17th, the 30th legislative day.