The last week of the legislative session before a lengthy spring break was filled with an extra dose of tension, as a pair of controversial bills hit the Senate floor and fears over a global health pandemic seized the state capital.
On Tuesday, Senators debated legislation sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) that, among other things, relates to penalties that can be levied against entities that alter, remove, or relocate buildings or memorials or monuments on public property. The original legislation, which was passed in 2017, was somewhat ambiguous about the number of times an entity could be fined for violating the law. This legislation, Senate Bill 127, imposes fines of $5,000 for each day the violation occurs. The controversy surrounding this legislation was enough to have it carried over on the Senate floor.
Two days later, Senators worked for several hours on legislation legalizing medical marijuana. In the end, the legislation, Senate Bill 165, passed the Senate on a 22-10 vote. Bill sponsor Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence) deftly handled 14 attempts to amend the legislation on the Senate floor. The legislation allows for medical marijuana prescriptions to be written under a very defined set of circumstances and does not authorize smoke-able forms of medical marijuana. The bill will now be transmitted to the House of Representatives and likely assigned to the House Health Committee.
This week also saw a meteoric rise in publicity around the Coronavirus, or COVID-19. Legislators are planning to appropriate $5 million from the State General Fund to beef up the State Health Department’s ability to combat the virus and improve testing capabilities. And other measures, such as access to public spaces, including schools, are being heavily discussed behind closed doors. As for now, the Legislature plans to continue with the 2020 session, but it’s notable that other states have already suspended their sessions until further notice.
Even amidst all of this, the association’s top legislative priority, the Financial Exploitation Prevention Act, was favorably reported by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee on Wednesday. Rep. Chris Blackshear (R-Phenix City), chair of the House Financial Services Committee and sponsor of the House measure, House Bill 207, was in attendance – on his birthday, no less – and the bill was passed unanimously. Special thanks to committee chairman Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville), who incidentally is the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 166, and who plans to handle the bill on the Senate floor.
Having been approved by the committee, the bill is now in a position to be voted on by the full Senate. We expect that to occur once legislators return from spring break.
As always, Capitol Notes provides readers with a brief summary of legislation that might impact Alabama’s banking industry. Those summaries are as follows:
House Bill 21 by Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) expands the Alabama Residential Mortgage Satisfaction Act to include commercial agricultural property, meaning secured creditors would be required to record the satisfaction of a mortgage for commercial agricultural property upon a written request of a mortgagor or a creditor of the mortgagor. The bill was favorably reported by the House Financial Services Committee on February 19 and is now able to be voted on by the full House.
House Bill 159 by Rep. Craig Lipscomb (R-Rainbow City) clarifies how a Credit Union calculates its taxable income for state income tax purposes. Current law allows a Credit Union to deduct “reasonable additions to reserves for losses, bad debts, or extraordinary expenses” from its calculation of taxable income. With the 2019 passage of the Financial Institution Excise Tax Reform Act (“FIETRA”), the Alabama Department of Revenue became more focused on the breadth and scope of this deduction. So, working with the Credit Union industry, legislation was developed to ensure that this deduction was only used for its intended purpose. This legislation does not in any way impact how a bank calculates its tax liability. The bill was favorably reported by the House Financial Services Committee on February 19 and approved by the full House on March 3. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee favorably reported the legislation last Wednesday. It is now in position to be voted on by the full Senate.
House Bill 207 by Rep. Chris Blackshear (R-Phenix City) and Senate Bill 166 by Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville), the Financial Exploitation Prevention Act, gives financial service providers the authority to refuse or delay a financial transaction if there exists a reasonable belief that an elderly or vulnerable adult customer is or could be the target of financial exploitation. The bills also give financial service providers more discretion to contact persons, including non-accountholders, during an investigation into potential financial exploitation. The Alabama Bankers Association is the primary advocate for this legislation, though numerous other groups also support the bills. Both bills have passed through their respective House and Senate committees. The House bill was favorably reported by the House Financial Services Committee on February 19 and approved by the full House on March 3. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee favorably reported the House legislation last Wednesday. It is now in position to be voted on by the full Senate.
Senate Bill 103 by Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham) increases the fee paid to probate judges to record mortgages and earmarks the additional revenue to the Housing Trust Fund. Under current law, the recording tax equates to $75 for every $50,000 of indebtedness, with the revenue distributed to probate judges, counties, and the state. Under this proposal, the recording tax would equate to $100 for every $50,000 of indebtedness. The revenue would still be distributed to probate judges, counties, and the state, but one-tenth of the revenue would also be distributed to the Housing Trust Fund. This fund was created several years ago but has never been funded by the Legislature. Funds would be allocated by an Advisory Board to non-profit entities around the state that work to provide low-income housing. The bill was originally referred to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee but was re-referred to the Senate Finance and Taxation – General Fund Committee. It was originally placed on that committee’s agenda on February 19 but was carried over at the request of the sponsor. Several trade associations oppose the legislation and it is unlikely to reappear this session.
As of the end of the 12th legislative day, legislators have introduced 758 bills – 436 in the House and 322 in the Senate – and 176 resolutions. Of those 934 measures, 35 have been enacted into law as of this writing. The 2020 Regular Session can last for no more than 30 legislative days and must end on or before May 18.
The Legislature will now observe a spring break period. The Senate plans to return on March 31. The House plans to return on March 26.