|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 alabamaeagle.org. 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.