February 8, 2017 – The 2017 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature officially began Wednesday at noon. The first legislative day ended early in both chambers, with representatives and senators able to only introduce legislation and resolutions; no substantive votes were taken.
New Faces in the Legislature
Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) begins his first regular session as speaker of the House leading a body that has two vacancies and two newly elected members. The vacancies were caused by the resignation of Rep. Darrio Melton, who was recently elected mayor of Selma, and the resignation of Rep. Oliver Robinson, who retired from the Legislature after serving in the House for 19 years. Democrats will fill both seats in the coming weeks. The two new members of the House, both Republicans, are Rep. Joe Lovvorn of Auburn, who won a special election after former Speaker Mike Hubbard was convicted of violating the state’s ethics laws, and Rep. Corley Ellis of Columbiana, who won a special election after former Rep. Mike Hill was appointed by the governor as the state’s superintendent of banks. When the House is at its full complement of 105 members, it is expected that the body will consist of 72 Republicans and 33 Democrats.
Speaking of vacancies, former Reps. Hill and Robinson’s departure from the legislature left two open seats on the House Financial Services Committee, where bills impacting the banking industry are routinely assigned. Speaker McCutcheon and committee chair Rep. Ken Johnson (R-Moulton) announced that Rep. Ellis and Rep. Barbara Drummond (D-Mobile) would be filling those vacancies. The association looks forward to working with both of these elected officials.
On the Senate side, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, who gaveled in her next-to-last regular legislative session, presides over a chamber that is at its full complement of 35 senators, 25 of whom are Republicans.
Leading up to the session, legislative caucuses released their 2017 legislative agendas. Though these items will likely be given priority by Republican and Democrat leaders, being included on a caucus agenda does not guarantee that these items will ultimately become law. Still, caucus agendas, especially Republican caucus agendas, offer a glimpse into the types of bills that will likely receive favorable consideration on the House and Senate floors.
Earlier this week, the Senate Republican Caucus released its “Strengthen Alabama” legislative agenda, which includes bills that reform government, protect 2nd Amendment rights, provide tax cuts to Alabamians, uphold the sanctity of life, and protect religious freedom. View the agenda now.
Last week, the House Republican Caucus released its “Alabama Proud” legislative agenda, which includes bills that seek to “highlight, improve, and protect the aspects that make our state a special place to live, work, and raise our children.” View the agenda now.
Democrats in the Alabama Senate also released a legislative agenda, the “Empowering Alabama Families” agenda that provides incentives for “everyday hardworking Alabamians.” Among other items, the agenda includes a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow both the lottery and casinos to enter the state, a bill that increases the statewide hourly minimum wage to $10, and a bill to require companies to use a “combined reporting” system when filing state income taxes. Read this article from AL.com for more information.
Hours before the beginning of the first legislative day, legislators heard about the state’s fiscal health from the Alabama Legislative Fiscal Office as well as the Finance Department. In a nutshell, when compared to the current fiscal year, legislators will have an additional $90 million to appropriate from the Education Trust Fund in FY 2018. On the State General Fund side, Gov. Bentley’s proposed budget will include level funding for state agencies, a 4 percent pay increase for state employees, full funding for the state employee health insurance programs and Medicaid, and about $20 million in reserves headed into FY 2019. The Finance Director’s presentation is accessible here. The Legislative Fiscal Office’s presentation is available here.
State of the State Address
The first day of every regular session ends with the annual “State of the State” message from the governor. Gov. Bentley made clear that his premier legislative proposal for 2017 was the passage of his Prison Transformation Act, which calls for $800 million in bonds to be issued and the proceeds from the bonds to be used to build four new prisons, including a new women’s prison. Surprisingly, the governor also called for the creation of a task force to study the ramifications of ending the sales tax on food. Historically, this idea has been difficult to pass the Legislature because the only way to fill the revenue gap is to end the federal income tax deduction on state income taxes. The governor also encouraged the Legislature to provide additional funds for the state’s nationally renowned pre-K program. The full text of the governor’s speech is available here.
The second legislative day of the session will be this Thursday, as legislators will spend Wednesday in committee meetings. The next issue of Capitol Notes will include more information on legislation that has already been, or will be, introduced.
The Legislature has met for one legislative day and can meet for up to 29 more. These legislative days must occur on or before May 22.
Questions or comments? Email Jason Isbell at email@example.com.