Category: Alabama Senate

2011 Freedom in the 50 States: Alabama is #19

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University has updated their Freedom in the 50 States ranking.  First debuting in 2009, the study “ranks the American states on their public policies that affect individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal spheres.”

There were a few surprises with New Hampshire ranking #1 and some that were expected with New York ranking #50.  Alabama made the top 20 coming in at #19.  Here’s what they had to say about us:

Alabama does much better on economic than personal freedom, as one might expect from a highly socially conservative state. Nevertheless, Alabama does well on some personal freedoms, such as smoking bans, cigarette taxes, and gun control. Alabama has a strangely restrictive alcohol regime, with the second-highest beer taxes and highest spirits taxes in the country. In addition, Alabama’s marijuana laws are unusually punitive: A three-year mandatory minimum sentence exists for all marijuana cultivation or sale convictions, by far the highest in the country, and the maximum sentence for a single cultivation or sale conviction is life in prison. Furthermore, Alabama’s court system is one of the worst in the country according to the Chamber of Commerce survey.

    Reforming Alabama: Recapping the 2011 Legislative Session

    Focus Of 2011 Session Was Serious Reforms

    Last Thursday marked the end of the first Republican-controlled legislative session in 136 years.  It was an extremely productive session with Republicans passing several badly needed reforms.  The first of these was Representative Greg Canfield’s Rolling Reserve Budget Act which also had the distinction of being the first bill Governor Bentley signed into law.  It will have a significant impact on the future budgets and prevent proration for years to come.  Also noteworthy were Senator Trip Pittman’s reform of the teacher tenure system, the elimination of the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), and Representative Jay Love’s legislation to increase retirement contributions by state employees.

    Alabama made national news with the passage of Senator Scott Beason and Representative Micky Hammon’s immigration reform legislation.  According to Kris Kobach, one of the nation’s top immigration lawyers and current Kansas Secretary of State, Alabama now has the strongest law deterring illegal immigration in the country.

    The legislature passed pro-life legislation including a ban on abortion after 20 weeks when the unborn child can feel pain (HB18).  Unfortunately, several pro-life bills got caught up in the filibuster process and failed to pass.  These include Personhood legislation that would define persons as all humans from the point of fertilization and the Health Care Rights of Conscience Act which gives health care providers, institutions and payers the right to decline to perform services that violate their consciences.  Also on the health care front, the legislature passed Representative Blaine Galliher’s HB60 which prohibits mandatory participation in any health care system, essentially opting us out of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

    The legislature also passed legislation that will improve campaign finance records and improve transparency.  Two great examples are Senator Arthur Orr’s SB136 which requires electronic filing of campaign contributions starting a year before the election monthly, and then requires weekly filings beginning a month before the election, and Representative Paul DeMarco’s Fiscal Transparency Act which requires the State Finance Department to produce monthly financial reports for the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund, and to publish them in a prominent place on the department’s website.  They also took measures to improve election security by passing Representative Kerry Rich’s amendment to the Alabama Constitution to require voters to provide a valid photo ID in order to vote.

    Businesses both big and small will benefit from Representative April Weaver’s legislation to allow businesses to deduct 100% of the amount they pay in health insurance premiums on their state income tax and Representative Blaine Galliher’s bill to authorize an income tax credit for employers creating jobs.  The legislature also took steps to protect the right to a secret ballot in employee representation by passing Representative Kurt Wallace’s HB64.

    Another good budget measure passed was Representative Jack Williams’ HB13 which will allow for the use of life cycle budgeting in competitive bids and public works projects.

    There were a few pieces of controversial legislation that sparked heated debate this session.  One such bill would have reauthorized the Forever Wild Land Trust program.  Eventually a compromise was reached, and the legislature passed Senator Dick Brewbaker’s constitutional amendment to reauthorize the Forever Wild program allowing the people of Alabama to vote on the issue in 2012.

    Representative Jack Williams’ bill to grant the Jefferson County Commission limited home rule to levy additional taxes prompted fierce debate on both sides.  After passing the House Jefferson County Delegation by a vote of 9 – 8, the bill died in the Alabama Senate after a contest filed by Senator Scott Beason.

    Another controversial bill would have enforced a sales and/or “use” tax on goods ordered on the internet from out of state.  Eagle Forum fought hard against this legislation and we are very pleased to say it did not pass.  To learn more about this bill, go to  Eagle Forum also worked against Representative John Merrill’s HB6 which would have lowered the mandatory school age from 7 to 6 years of age.  This bill was stopped in the Alabama Senate.

    There were a few pieces of good legislation that didn’t pass.  We would have liked to have seen passed Representative Paul DeMarco’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (HB427) and Senator Cam Ward’s Foreign Law Prohibition Bill (SB61), along with Senator Dick Brewbaker’s resolution encouraging the State Board of Education to retain complete control over Alabama’s academic standards (SJR153), but time ran out.  While Senator Paul Bussman’s shared parenting legislation (SB196) did not pass, a constructive dialogue began and we hope he will come back next year with a stronger bill.

    Overall, we think the members of the Alabama Legislature, Speaker Hubbard and Pro Tem Marsh deserve a solid A for this successful session, and we hope they will continue to be committed to passing the kind of serious reforms they addressed this year.

    Alabama Legislature Passes Immigration Overhaul In the Wake Of U.S. Supreme Court Decision On Arizona Immigration Law

    The U.S Supreme Court recently upheld an Arizona law which penalizes employers who hire illegal immigrants by a vote of 5-3.  Under the Arizona Law, employers are required to use the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s e-Verify system to verify the work authorization status of an employee.  Employers that intentionally violate the law by knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant can lose their business license.

    This ruling gives a boost to the comprehensive immigration reform legislation passed by the Alabama legislature last week.  Alabama’s answer to immigration reform, also known as HB56, is now one of the strongest in the country.  It aims to restore, among other things, depressed wages and lost jobs. With the backing from the Supreme Court in the Arizona case, supporters for immigration reform in Alabama are optimistic HB56 will survive a legal challenge.

    Top Immigration Lawyer Lauds Alabama’s Passage of Immigration Reform Legislation

    Regarding tonight’s passage of immigration reform legislation, Eagle Forum of Alabama spoke with Kris Kobach, one of the nation’s top immigration lawyers and current Kansas Secretary of State, who congratulated the Alabama Legislature on today’s passage of HB56 which he considers to be one of the toughest immigration laws in the country.

    “With the enactment of this bill, Alabama now has the strongest law deterring illegal immigration in the country, surpassing even Arizona.  I have worked closely with Senate and House leadership to ensure that the Alabama law is drafted carefully.  It will pass judicial muster if the ACLU and the open borders crowd decide to take Alabama to court,” said Kobach.

    Among other things, HB56 will require a person to present proof of citizenship or residency before voting and prohibit an alien not lawfully present in the U.S. from receiving any state or local public benefits.  It will also require employers to verify the legal status of their employees using the Department of Homeland Security’s e-Verify program.  Eagle Forum of Alabama has been advocating immigration reform for many years now because of the detrimental effect it has had on our state.

    Urgent! Ask Your Senator To Keep HB365 Off The Calendar

    HB 365 is the first step to enforcement of a 1939 law regarding a use tax on goods ordered from outside the state.  It imposes a huge burden on consumers who will have to keep track of every purchase they make over the internet and be responsible for figuring and remitting their sales or use tax obligations to the Department of Revenue.  It also imposes a new burden on out-of-state retailers who will be responsible for notifying you of your obligation to pay the sales or use tax with a pop-up box that requires you to click to acknowledge that you’ve been notified.  Retailers will have to keep records of your acknowledgment for an indefinite period of time.  Retailers will also be required to send you a list of items you’ve purchased at the end of every year with your sales or use tax obligation noted.  HB365 also raises some serious privacy concerns.  It allows the Alabama Department of Revenue to impose penalties for non-compliance.  Enforcement would require the state to monitor what its citizens are buying off the internet and there are serious concerns over how this will be done.

    The United States Constitution grants Congress certain enumerated powers, one of which is the power to regulate interstate commerce.  Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 states in part, “The Congress shall have power to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States,  and with the Indian tribes.”  While we sympathize with local retailers who are forced to charge state sales tax, the Constitution makes it clear that this is a problem for the federal government to address.  Colorado recently passed a law very similar to HB365 and a federal judge has issued an injunction preventing enforcment on those grounds.

    Other states that have passed the law, such as North Carolina, are already looking to repeal it because they have witnessed first hand the negative reprecussions of the internet sales tax.  The law has failed to collect any additional revenue for the state or level the playing field with in-state businesses, instead costing many North Carolina advertisers their jobs.

    The issue of sales tax and the internet may be one that needs to be addressed, but HB365 is not the answer.

    Eagle Forum Congratulates Legislators on Passage of Students First Act



    Contact:  Brooklyn Roberts

    Eagle Forum Congratulates Legislators On Passage Of Students First Act

    (Birmingham)  This week, despite AEA union bosses’ efforts to stop meaningful reform, SB310 also known as the Students First Act passed the Alabama House.

    “The real winners tonight were Alabama’s students and parents who will benefit from schools’ ability to fire teachers that are underperforming,” said Eunie Smith, President of Eagle Forum of Alabama.

    Under the Students First Act, teachers will continue to receive tenure after completing three years of full time employment.  However, SB310 provides for the dismissal of tenured teachers who clearly fail to provide adequate education and care for their students.  Teachers will still have recourse to appeal the termination.

    Despite the amount of misinformation surrounding SB310, supporters stood strong and passed this badly needed reform.  “Eagle Forum has long been an advocate of sound education reform in Alabama, and we are extremely proud of our conservative legislators who stayed true to their principles to improve Alabama’s education system, even in the face of strong opposition, said Smith.  “They were extremely courageous and should be commended for their efforts.  It was a victory for all Alabama’s children.”

    For more information contact Executive Director, Brooklyn Roberts at 205-441-9879


    A Summary of the Legislative Session So Far: What Has Passed and What To Look For

    The Alabama Legislature has had an extremely productive legislative session so far.  Without gambling stopping things up, they have been able to pass much-needed reforms.  Below we’ve put together an overview of what they have passed so far and what is ahead.  The legislature has taken a two week break to do redistricting, and will be back in regular session on Tuesday, May 24.

    What They’ve Already Passed

    HB57– Rep. Greg Canfield’s Education Trust Fund Rolling Reserve Act: changes the budgeting process for the Education Trust Fund to cap spending at a 15-year rolling average.  This legislation will be key to helping to avoid proration in the future. (For more information on this bill and why it’s necessary, click here) Eagle Forum recommends: Y

    SB72– Sen. Del Marsh’s legislation to eliminate the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan, commonly called DROP.  The ALGOP has a great fact sheet on DROP and why it needed to be eliminated here, and the Alabama Policy Institute has a comprehensive study of the program here. Eagle Forum recommends: Y

    HB61– Rep. April Weaver’s legislation to allow businesses to deduct 100% of the amount they pay in health insurance premiums on their state income tax.  Eagle Forum recommends: Y

    SB133– General Fund Budget for the next fiscal year.  Because the House and Senate did not pass identical versions of the budget, it has now gone to conference committee.

    *Note:  This list is not comprehensive of everything they have passed during this session.

    What To Look For In The Last Week of the 2011 Session

    Likely to Pass:

    SB310– Sen. Trip Pittman’s Teacher Tenure Law and Fair Dismissal Act (For more info on the issue of tenure reform and why it is needed, click here)  Eagle Forum recommends: Y

    HB123– Education Trust Fund Budget for the next fiscal year

    HB64– Rep. Kurt Wallace’s  amendment to the Alabama Constitution protecting the right to a secret ballot in employee representation  Eagle Forum recommends:  Y

    HB427– Rep. Paul DeMarco’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (Click here for more info) Eagle Forum recommends:  Y

    HB58– Rep. Mike Ball’s legislation to require  public officials/candidates and spouses of public officials/candidates to disclose if they are employed by the state or federal government or have a contract with the state or federal government.  Eagle Forum recommends:  Y

    HB60– Rep. Blaine Galliher’s legislation to opt out of Obamacare  Eagle Forum recommends:  Y

    HB19– Rep. Kerry Rich’s legislation to amend the Alabama Constitution to require voters to provide a valid photo ID in order to vote  Eagle Forum recommends:  Y

    HB56/SB256– Sen. Scott Beason and Rep. Micky Hammon’s legislation to address the problem of illegal immigration.  Eagle Forum recommends:  Y

    HB25– Rep. Paul DeMarco’s Fiscal Transparency Legislation requiring the State Finance Department to produce monthly financial reports for the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund, and to publish them in a prominent place on the department’s website.  Eagle Forum recommends:  Y

    In addition to the above, there are several pieces of pro-life legislation that are expected to move in the remaining days of the session including:

    HB8– Rep. Wes Long’s legislation to  amends the definition of “child” to include the unborn.  It also creates a rebuttable presumption of exposing a child in utero to a controlled substance if both the mother and the child test positive for the same controlled substance not prescribed by a physician.  Eagle Forum recommends:  Y

    SB46– Sen. Cam Ward’s Health Care Rights of Conscience Act to give health care providers, institutions and payers the right to decline to perform services that violate their conscience.  Eagle Forum recommends:  Y

    SB201– Sen. Greg Reed’s legislation to prohibit Alabama health insurance coverage of elective abortions except through a premium paid by an optional rider.  Eagle Forum recommends:  Y

    SB202– Sen. Greg Reed’s bill to opt Alabama out of federal abortion insurance coverage per the terms of the Obamacare legislation.  Eagle Forum recommends:  Y

    HB18– Rep. Kerry Rich’s legislation to ban abortions after 20 weeks, the threshold when the unborn child can feel pain.  Eagle Forum recommends:  Y

    Watch Out For

    HB365– Rep. Jamie Ison’s legislation to require retailers to notify consumers of their duty to pay a sales/use tax on items purchased over the internet, and keep records of consumer purchases.  Eagle Forum recommends:  N

    What Is Unlikely To Pass This Year:

    SB196– Sen. Paul Bussman’s Shared Parenting Legislation which would have changed the custodial presumption in child custody cases from 80%/20% to 50%/50%.  Eagle Forum recommends:  Y

    HB6– Rep. John Merrill’s legislation to lower the mandatory school age from 7 to 6 years of age.  Eagle Forum recommends:  N

    **Don’t Forget, you can find your legislator and see how he/she has voted here.**

    Alabama Legislature Takes Steps To Enforce Internet Sales Tax Law

    According to a recent Rasmussen poll, 63% of Americans are opposed to an internet sales tax.  Alabama legislators should take note of that poll, and reconsider their support for Rep. Jamie Ison’s HB365.

    Rep. Ison has introduced legislation (HB365) to increase enforcement of the 1939 sales and use tax law specifically targeting internet sales.  The vast majority of Alabamians are unaware of the law which requires them to remit a “use” tax on items purchased through catalogs or over the internet.  The law has never really been enforced, and Alabama retailers are trying to change that.

    Local retailers argue they are put at a disadvantage because consumers must pay sales tax when buying at their stores, but do not have to pay sales tax when ordering online. While this is true, there are local retail stores that continue to flourish.  The advantages of having the desired goods immediately and without paying shipping and handling often outweigh the benefit of not paying sales tax.  Even if that were not the case, legislators cannot use public policy to subsidize business models that don’t work in the current marketplace.  The internet is not a fad.  Like it or not, business owners must begin to account for it when making their business plans.

    Rep. Ison’s proposed legislation puts a huge burden on online retailers and an even bigger burden on individual consumers.  As it stands, HB365 will:

    • require an obnoxious pop-up window to appear on your computer screen prior to completing a purchase.  The warning would inform shoppers that they owe a tax and inform them of penalties for non-compliance.  Consumers will be required to indicate they have read and understand the notice before they can proceed with their purchase.
    • require retailers to maintain a record of your purchases and  send you a statement at the end of every year listing all the items you have bought within the year.
    • require retailers to keep your purchase records as well as your acknowledgement of obligation to pay the tax for an indefinite period of time to be set by the Revenue Department.

    The bill would very likely be declared unconstitutional.  Similar laws in other states have failed on constitutional grounds.   This bill discriminates against out of state retailers, actually compels certain retailers to collect a tax, and relieves certain taxpayers from the tax.  Alabama is trying to skirt relevant court decisions, but this clearly places a burden on out of state businesses to assist in tax collection, if not collect it directly, in likely violation of the Commerce Clause.

    The Bottom Line:  This bill has constitutional problems, privacy problems, and tax problems.

    Alabama Legislature Strengthening Protections For Taxpayers

    On April 21, the Alabama House of Representatives voted 88-0 to pass HB427 , Rep. Paul DeMarco’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights.  HB 427 / SB 347 has been endorsed by the Alabama State Bar, the Business Associations’ Tax Coalition, the Business Council of Alabama, the Alabama Retail Association, the Alabama Society of CPAs, the Birmingham Business Alliance, the Council On State Taxation (“COST”) and the Tax Executives Institute (“TEI”).  Below is a good summary of what the bill will do:

    • If it Ain’t Broke…. The Appearance of Fairness – by creating the Alabama Tax Appeals Commission (“ATAC”), this bill eliminates the cloak of unfairness that exists when a taxpayer’s case is decided by an employee of the Department of Revenue, or the local city or county government or its bounty hunter firm, which was the same entity that issued the assessment.  And to illustrate that, the current ALJ nearly lost his job and was audited by the Commissioner of Revenue when the judge ruled against the Department for the taxpayer. He was even threatened at knifepoint and had to hire an attorney to resolve the matter.
    • Critical for Economic Development/State’s Reputation – Alabama is now in the distinct minority of states that lack an independent tax appeals tribunal and we continually receive a “D” on the annual State Tax Due Process Scorecard issued by COST, primarily for this reason. (Send them the COST endorsement letter if you think this would help.)  The creation of an independent tax appeals process and extending the appeal deadlines from 30 to 60 days will greatly improve Alabama’s rank among neighboring states competing for the same scarce jobs. Heck, even MS and LA have enacted independent tax commissions in the last year! [Note–Cam Ward and Phil Williams are both involved in econ. development]
    • “It will cost the State money.” The Legislative Fiscal Office has scored the bill as revenue neutral.  We are merely carving out the ALD and creating a separate agency to house the same people. No increase in pay. We may need a second judge in 2 years or so when taxpayers can start appealing final assessments from self-administered localities, but that will be a Godsend to taxpayers.
    • Helps not Harms Small Businesses – No filings fees are imposed by ATAC. No attorney is needed—just as under current practice. Ask Judge Thompson.  Plus, taxpayers may appeal final assessments of sales, use, rental and lodgings taxes from self-administered cities and countries (and their private auditing firms) to the ATAC, unless the governing body of the city or county opts-out.  Instead of being faced with filing separate appeals in numerous cities and counties at one time, or facing a hearing officer hired/paid by RDS/AlaTax, taxpayers may appeal to ONE independent agency with specialized tax expertise—without paying the tax or posting an expensive surety bond up front.  The ability to appeal all state and local tax disputes to one agency is a huge step towards simplifying compliance Alabama’s “unique” system that allows all local governments to collect their own taxes or contract out that function.  No other state is like this.
    • “The bill is too long” – Yes, it is a long bill but part of that is due to the requirement that we include the entire statute in the bill even when we are amending only one sentence; and about half of it relates to creating ATAC.  It addresses a long list of problems with the current tax procedures and updates several procedures to conform to federal law.
    • Implements Important Updates to Certain Procedures, including ELIMINATING the $50 failure to file penalty when an individual taxpayer is due an income tax refund and expands the innocent spouse relief available to Alabama residents consistent with recent federal changes.
    • Overrules Rheem and levels the playing field by clarifying that the ATAC may consider any arguments that may be raised by the taxpayer regarding their refund claim, just as the Department of Revenue may conduct a second audit of a taxpayer in response to their refund claims.  AEA totally misrepresented the result of that case and even the facts.
    • The AEA is opposed to it – so that should tell the Senators something.  The ADOR is opposed only to the ATAC provisions because they don’t want lose control over the appointment process (even though the Governor will effectively control it under the bill and the Commissioner IS ON THE NOMINATING COMMITTEE, too).
    • Endorsements – BATC, BCA, ARA, ASCPA, the Council On State Taxation (COST), and the American Bar Association have endorsed the entire bill, while ALEC, NCSL, and even the National Taxpayers Union have endorsed the ATAC provisions.