Sunday, January 28, 2018

Taylor’s Top Six: Alabama Legislative review for Week 3

  We’re back with another recap!

  In this week’s Taylor’s Top Six, we’ve got a few updates on things we discussed in the last installment, as well as some new bills that were introduced last week. Let us know what you think of what’s going on in Montgomery!

1. My two favorite words in the English language: tax break.

  There must be something in the water. First a tax break from Washington and now one in Alabama? Under a bill by Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston), the standard deduction brackets for lower-income taxpayers would change. Certain taxpayers, depending on how they file their taxes, could see an income tax decrease if they accept the standard deduction and do not itemize. Some folks are saying any tax decrease is good for the taxpayer. Others are concerned with tax dollars leaving the state budget. The bill unanimously passed the senate.

2. When we all work together, cool stuff like civil asset forfeiture reform is possible.

  Last week, a bi-partisan coalition of state and national groups—including the Alabama Policy Institute, along with the support of The Heritage Foundation, Heartland Institute, and American Conservative Union—publicly announced support for civil asset forfeiture reform in Alabama. Under current law, the government is allowed to confiscate property from people – without securing a conviction – if the government suspects that the property is tied to illegal activity. This bill also creates a system of transparency and accountability with criminal asset forfeiture, which, unlike civil asset forfeiture, does require a conviction. With the establishment of a publicly available online database that provides details of assets and how they are used by the government, Alabamians will know how the government utilizes seized property and funds.

  Asset forfeiture reform is not about inhibiting or restraining legitimate law enforcement activities, such as drug interdictions and efforts to disrupt cartels, etc., nor is it about letting criminals walk away with their illicit proceeds or property. Rather, this is about ensuring that innocent people cannot have their property seized and forfeited without due process.

  Last week, Sen. Arthur Orr and Rep. Arnold Mooney filed legislation to reform civil asset forfeiture in Alabama. Alabama Policy Institute’s op-ed on the issue was published by Yellowhammer News last week.

3. I’m not sure if “Uber excited” even describes how I feel anymore! It’s really happening, y’all. 

  An update on an item from the previous week: Alabama is one step closer to having ride-sharing services all over the state! Last week, the bill passed the senate by a vote of 28-0. Allowing statewide regulations for services like Uber and Lyft would open up job opportunities for individuals all over the state. On the bill, Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) said, “If you have a car, if you have insurance and a good driving record, you basically have a job that you are your own boss.”

4. Another week, another agenda. 

  Last week, the House democratic caucus released their agenda, “A Clean, Competent and Competitive Alabama.” On the agenda, we find a focus on the following priorities: “Supporting our Public Schools and Prioritizing Early Childhood Education, Investing in our Educators, Rebuilding our Workforce, Ensuring open, Transparent Government and Ending Corruption, Ensuring Access to Healthcare for all Alabamians, Supporting Mental Health, Prioritizing Prison Reform and Reducing Recidivism, Fighting the Epidemic of Addiction.”

5. Reactionary bills seem to be a trend this session. 

  Nobody will soon forget the U.S. Senate Special Election of 2017. It’s really all we heard about for the majority of 2017. A bill filed by Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) would eliminate special elections for the U.S. Senate. Clouse cites the amount of money from the General Fund spent on the election as the reason for this bill. A tweet from the Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman pointed out that most states do it the way Clouse is proposing, per the National Conference of State Legislatures. The bill passed the House 67-31.

  Also, if you’ll remember the saga that was the state school board’s treatment and driving-out Superintendent Michael Sentance, SB24 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would replace the Alabama Superintendent of Education with a Director of Education. If voted favorably upon by the general electorate (and approved by the legislature) this amendment would eliminate the election of the Board of Education, now the Board of Counsel. Instead, the governor would appoint the Director of Education, who would then appoint the members of the Board of Counsel. Previously, the Superintendent was subject to the Board of Education. If it passes, the Director of Education will serve at the pleasure of the Governor alone. The bill is in committee.

6. A compromise has been reached on the day care bill that pleases both proponents of licensing and religious organization leaders. 

  A joint effort between religious liberty advocates and individuals supporting state licensing of child care facilities has resulted in a compromise on the “day care bill,” a proposal that’s come up two years in a row that would require all childcare facilities in the state to be licensed. Under current law, facilities that are part of a church or religious nonprofit are not required to have a license. The new compromise bill requires all child care facilities that receive federal funds to be licensed. It also removes the provision in the original bill that mandated yearly Department of Human Resoures inspection, but requires religious child care facilities to provide insurance coverage  and health reports.

  Other things that you might want to know about:

—While the standard length of time to receive unemployment benefits used to be 26 weeks, that has changed in several southeastern states, and Alabama may not be too far behind because of a bill from Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) that has passed the Senate. Under this bill, as reported by Mike Cason of, “[the] amount of time people can receive unemployment benefits [would be reduced] from 26 weeks to a range of 14 to 20 weeks depending on the unemployment rate.”

—Sen. Greg Albritton’s (R-Range) bill to eliminate state marriage licenses passed the senate and has been moved to the House Judiciary Committee. It is expected to go to the House this week.

—Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) brought a resolution to the Senate to call for an Article V constitutional convention to tackle the issue of term limits. The senate passed the resolution by a 19-8 vote.

—Senator Pittman is also taking action on state budget earmarks with a bill that would remove $79 million in earmarked funds. We should really have a bill that removes all state budget earmarks, as recommended by API's Guide to the Issues. There was no vote to take the bill out of committee last week.

  About the author: Taylor Dawson is Director of Communications for the Alabama Policy Institute.

  This article was published by the Alabama Policy Institute.

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