The Legislature met last week for the 24th and 25th legislative days. This leaves five meeting days in the 30-day session. The plan is to meet for two days this week, two more days next week, break for a week, and then come back for the final day on May 17th. Here is what happened last week:
House Urban and Rural Development
The House Urban and Rural Development Committee voted unanimously to approve Senate Bill 215, which seeks to expand high-speed broadband internet service throughout the state. The bill passed on a voice vote and is now poised for consideration from the full House. The committee bill includes reserving 70% of the first three years of funding for the program to build last-mile infrastructure in unserved rural areas.
House Ways and Means Education
The House Ways and Means Education Committee gave a favorable report to the State’s education budget, which is the largest in Alabama’s history. It includes a 2% pay raise for public education employees, a $41 million increase in funding for the Alabama Community College System and a $30 million increase for Early Childhood Development, which includes the state’s voluntary pre-K program. The full House will consider the budget today.
House Education Policy
House Education Policy voted favorably for HB 559, that would increase the allowable tax credit for individuals and corporations that donate to private school scholarships through the Alabama Accountability Act. Another bill recently filed, House Bill 633 would create the Education Savings Account program which would allow parents to use the funds in the account which would have been allocated to their child at their resident school district for private school tuition and related costs. It is currently pending approval from the Education Policy Committee.
House Fiscal Responsibility
The House Fiscal Responsibility Committee passed the Unemployment Insurance Program Integrity Act of 2021, an important piece of legislation that would require the Alabama Department of Labor to adopt policies to recover improper overpayments of unemployment benefits, as well as actively detect and investigate cases of unemployment fraud.
Senate Finance and Taxation Education
The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee gave a favorable report to SB 225 which would establish the Alabama Teacher Initiative, a teacher preparation program that would provide scholarships to two-year and four-year college students who agree to teach for five years after certification in rural areas of the state with the greatest need for STEM and special education teachers.
Wine and Alcohol Sales
The House passed HB 560 which would allow any retailer licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption to use a drive-through or walk-up window for the purchase of beer and wine.
Alabama Rural, Agribusiness and Opportunity Zones Jobs Act
The House overwhelmingly passed the Alabama Rural, Agribusiness and Opportunity Zones Jobs Act which would establish a growth fund that would invest in certain “growth businesses” which include agribusiness entities and minority-owned businesses located in certain parts of the state.
HB 408 was signed into law by Governor Ivey. This new law will require employers and state agencies to use the same specified guidelines to determine whether a worker is to be classified as an employee or independent contractor. This will require state government agencies to use a uniformed set of criteria that will mirror the federal government criteria which will provide businesses with clear and consistent guidelines when classifying employees.
Remote Notary Services
The House gave final passage to SB 275 which would authorize the use of remote notarization.
State Lottery and Gaming
SB 319 that establishes a State Lottery and Gaming is pending approval from the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee. This bill proposes a constitutional amendment, and if approved by the voting public, would establish the Alabama Lottery and the Alabama Lottery Commission, and The Alabama Lottery Corporation. The bill will also allow casino-style games and sports wagering at several existing locations including Jefferson County, Macon County, Mobile County, Greene County, Houston County, and Jackson or DeKalb County. Along with these existing locations, three locations will be authorized on lands held in trust by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. A license to operate a gaming facility is based on a bidding process with existing establishments getting final bid options. A 20% tax will be imposed on net gaming revenue, with the first $750 million going towards broadband infrastructure. Lottery revenues will go towards education needs and a college scholarship program.