weakest link

Legislative Session: Week Ten at the State House

Week Ten has come and gone! Let us know what you think of what’s going on in Montgomery.

In this week’s Top 7,  we’ve got updates on school choice, civil asset forfeiture, and more.

1. While other states pass monumental school choice programs, Alabama House rejects the easiest school choice bill ever.

On Wednesday, the Arkansas legislature joined the national education movement of 2021 in creating a new and monumental school choice program for its students. Back here in Alabama, however, our representatives have trouble passing even the easiest of school choice bills. Thursday afternoon, Rep. Terri Collins’ (R-Decatur) bill that would make sure all public school students are funded fairly within their own district failed a procedural measure by a vote of 36-60. Specifically, the bill made sure that students who choose to go to a public charter school receive the same funding as the other students in their district. Even this was too much for some 60 Alabama legislators. FYI, there are 76 Republican members of the Alabama House. This vote shows conservatives are, unfortunately, in the minority in the Alabama House.

2. Senate passes civil asset forfeiture reform.

The Alabama Senate Tuesday approved a measure that would reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture system by which law enforcement actually charges property with being involved in a crime. The changes, which are a result of a compromise with district attorneys and other law enforcement, include disallowing the seizure of any money less than $250 or vehicles worth less than $5,000.  It also helps innocent owners get their property back if unduly seized. The bill now heads to the House.

3. Bill allowing legislative oversight of large expenditures passes Senate committee.

A bill that would give the legislature veto ability for large expenditures of bureaucratic agencies was approved in the Senate General Fund committee on Wednesday. The bill, which is largely in response to Governor Ivey’s plan to lease prisons from private companies who would be responsible for building the prisons, has already passed the House. It now goes to the full Senate.

4. House Health committee slow-rolling bill requiring legislative approval of long-term emergencies.

SB97, which has been approved by the State Senate, was brought up in the House Health committee this week only to be carried over until next week. This bill is incredibly important and would allow the legislature to have a say in long-term states of emergency. With only a few days left in this year’s session, the committee’s actions have made final passage more difficult. API has requested an opportunity to speak before the committee on the bill next week. 

5. Republicans vote against bill to let donors give more to the Alabama Accountability Act.

School choice is becoming a harder sell in the Alabama legislature. In a committee with only four Democrats out of fifteen members, a bill that would let people donate more to underprivileged student scholarships through the AAA barely was approved in the House Education Policy Committee by a vote of 7-6. Republicans who claim to be conservative, including Rep. Will Dismukes who vocally opposed the measure even though President Trump and national Republicans are strongly in favor of school choice, voted against the change. The fact that this bill, which comes at no extra cost to the state, barely passed committee is a sad sign for those who want school choice but have less financial means than the legislators who represent them.

6. Governor Ivey gets bill to allow hospital visitation.

After passing the Senate on Tuesday, a bill that will require hospitals and nursing home facilities to allow at least one visitor during emergencies to be with loved ones is headed to the governor’s desk. The bill passed in the House by a vote of 82-5 and the Senate by a vote of 28-0.

7. Broadband bill passes House.

Thursday afternoon, the Alabama House approved SB215, a bill by Senator Del Marsh (R-Anniston) that is poised to greatly expand internet access in the state. The bill will enable the state to use federal American Rescue Plan Act funds set aside for broadband by Congress in a way that is planned and streamlined. In addition to the federal money, some legislators are hoping to use funding from expanded gaming to increase broadband. Regardless of where the funding comes from, supporters say the bill exists simply so that money for broadband is spent with a plan in mind. SB215 was amended in the House and will need to be approved again by the Senate before it goes to the governor.

Til next time!