After a long and contentious week, the Alabama Legislature completed the penultimate day of the 2021 Regular Session last Thursday. Gambling and medical marijuana dominated debate in the House, causing the body to debate until midnight on both Tuesday and Thursday. The Senate experienced some tense moments as well as they churned through a number of significant House bills.
As we mentioned last week, the Legislature is off this week and will return on May 17th to complete the Regular Session. This 10-day break is done to ensure that the Legislature can reconvene to fix any legislation the Governor’s office might take issue with or to vote to override any potential vetoes, since the constitution gives her ten days to sign or veto legislation brought to her desk.
The House calendar for the final day will depend whether Leadership can get the necessary votes to pass the gambling bill. If Leadership decides to put it on the calendar, assume that it will be one of the only bills considered on the final day. If the House is not able to pass many Senate bills on the final day, the Senate could also delay action on House bills. The fate of a dozen could depend on the outcome of the gambling negotiations.
Here's what happened last week:
Broadband Bill Goes to the Governor’s Desk
The House and Senate gave final approval to legislation creating a new state authority and plan to oversee the expansion of high-speed broadband internet services throughout the state. The corporation could issue bonds of up to $250 million to finance eligible broadband projects. With the apparent demise of the gambling package, it is unclear what the broadband revenue stream will be. Broadband expansion may be seen as a possible landing spot for some of the funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which became law on March 11. The bill now goes to Governor Ivey for consideration.
Alabama Innovation Receives Final Passage
Two bills to promote entrepreneurship and innovation in the state received final passage and were sent to the Governor’s desk for signature last week. The Alabama Innovation Corporation will help increase Alabama’s competitiveness in the areas of technology and innovation as it relates to economic development strategies. The other piece of legislation provides matching grants to eligible entities. The corporation has a $4-million-line item in next year's education budget. The other bill would allow the Alabama Innovation Corporation to make matching grants of up to $250,000 to entities that received federal Small Business Innovation Research grants or Technology Transfer Research grants. It also sets guidelines for awarding the matching grants. There is $5 million in the 2022 education budget for those grants. The Alabama Innovation Commission proposed the creation of the corporation as part of its recommendations on strategies that will help the sate spur innovation.
Rural Jobs Act
The Senate passed a bill that establishes a pool of capital in the amount of $50 million that must be used to help small businesses in rural and economically impoverished communities in the state. To ensure the capital is distributed in a geographically equitable way, at least 50% must be invested in businesses in rural counties (50,000 residents or fewer) and at least 25% must be invested in businesses in Opportunity Zones and other low-income communities. Separately, at least 25% of the total must be invested in minority-owned businesses and at least 25% of the total must be invested in agribusiness. The program is funded using $25 million from the State Small Business Credit Initiative, which is part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act, and $25 million from private capital.
Historic Preservation Tax Credit
Legislation was passed that would extend the historic preservation tax credit for five years. The program, which was set to expire by the end of this year, would run through the end of 2026. Amendments include extending the amount of time smaller counties have to participate in the program from six to nine months, requiring that the Alabama Historic Commission stop accepting applications when the $200 million overall cap is reached, and removing residential properties from eligibility. The bill now goes to Governor Ivey for consideration.
Medical Marijuana Bill Goes to the Governor’s Desk
A bill to allow the limited use of medical marijuana in the state was sent to Gov. Kay Ivey for signature last week. The House of Representatives debated the bill for two days after a prolonged filibuster, but eventually passed the bill 68-34 on Thursday afternoon. The bill would allow people with a qualifying medical condition to purchase, with the recommendation of a doctor and a medical cannabis card, medical marijuana products at licensed dispensaries at up to 12 locations around the state. Qualifying medical conditions include but are not limited to cancer, a terminal illness, depression, epilepsy, panic disorder and chronic pain. Acceptable forms of delivery include pills, skin patches, and creams, but not smoking or vaping. It will now be up to Governor Ivey to sign or veto the bill.
Gambling: Down to the Wire
The wide-ranging gambling plan that has been the talk of the session is on its last legs after efforts to get it through the House of Representatives failed on Thursday. The proposal, which has been amended and substituted multiple times, would establish a lottery, regulate and tax casino gambling and allow sports betting in the state. Last week, a substitute bill negotiated by House members and the Governor's office sought to strengthen regulatory provisions and reorganize revenue distribution. The House failed to advance gambling legislation Thursday, leaving only one more day in the 2021 Regular Session. Disagreements over gambling generally, casino locations, and Medicaid expansion combined to form enough opposition to stall the bill. Speaker McCutcheon has indicated that passing the bill when the Legislature returns May 17 is unlikely.
Brewery and Distillery Daily Limits Altered; Pending Governor’s Signature
The Legislature approved a bill to increase the daily limit of how much beer and liquor may be sold by brewpubs and certain breweries and distilleries to customers for off-premises consumption. The bill also allows licensees to donate up to 31 gallons of their beer to a licensed charitable special event operated by or on behalf of a nonprofit organization.
Literacy Act Delay Pending Action on Final Legislative Day
A bill to delay until 2024 the third-grade holdback requirement in the state’s 2019 Literacy Act cleared the House Education Policy Committee last week. It must pass the House of Representatives on the final legislative day to become law. COVID-19 pandemic has greatly altered education delivery in the state to the disadvantage of students and the holdback requirement should be delayed two years. Otherwise, too many students would have to repeat their current grade.
Daylight Saving Time
A bill making daylight saving time permanent passed the Legislature last week. The bill would eliminate “springing forward” and “falling back” if Congress authorizes the change. The bill now goes to Governor Ivey for consideration.
The Legislature sent the Governor a bill that bans the sale of e-cigarettes and vaping products to anyone under the age of 21. The bill also puts limits on products, especially ones geared toward young audiences and requires vaping manufacturers to submit to a directory.
Judicial Pay Restructuring Receives Final Passage
A bill to change the pay structure for judges and district attorneys around the state is now awaiting the Governor’s signature. Under the current law, circuit judges' salaries are set by statute and district judges, appellate judges and supreme court justices' salaries are based on circuit judges’ pay. The legislature passed a bill that sets separate initial salaries for the various levels of judges and provides for a 7.5% raise each term. The bill also changes the compensation for new district attorneys, starting them at $140,000 per year and allowing for a 7.5% raise each term. Circuit judges' salaries would start at $140,000, district judges would start at $139,000 and Appellate court judges' initial salaries would be set at $174,000. The chief justice of the state would earn $176,000 and associate justices would get $175,000. The bill also sets the state attorney general’s salary to match that of the chief justice of Alabama, $176,000.
Double Voting Law Goes to the Governor for Signature
The Legislature sent Gov. Kay Ivey a bill to prohibit “double voting.” The bill would make it a Class A misdemeanor for an individual to vote more than once in any election in Alabama or to vote in both Alabama and another state in the same election. A second violation would be a Class C felony.