2014 Legislative Update - Week Eleven
The legislature concluded its 2014 regular session last night and we were able to say goodbye on a positive note! Governor Bentley signed HB 235, the General Fund budget, on Thursday. The General Fund budget provides funding for a $400 bonus for active state employees to be paid December 1st. The budget also contains language granting state employees a conditional COLA of up to 4%. Additionally, the budget contains a conditional/appropriation increase of $2 million to the Unified Judicial System (the Courts) to lift the freeze on merit raises. The General Fund also provides for the funding of state employee retirement and the level funding of state employee insurance.
At the very end of the last day of the 2014 legislative session, HB 367 and SB 267 passed back to back. As described above, in the General Fund budget as sponsored by Representative Steve Clouse, HB 367 grants state employees a $400 bonus and a conditional COLA of up to 4%. SB 267, sponsored by Senator Del Marsh, grants retired state employees a $2 per month of service one time bonus. Both bills are pending the Governor’s signature. While ASEA wanted a funded COLA for active and retired state employees, the one time bonus will put money in the pockets of active and retired state employees. This is a positive step in the right direction in addressing the state employee pay crisis.
SB 120, sponsored by Senator Arthur Orr, allows retired state employees and education employees to work part time as an independent contractor for the state. The bill codifies into law current RSA policy. This bill is pending the Governor’s signature.
HB 64, sponsored by Representative Mike Jones, and SB 55, sponsored by Senator Jimmy Holley, codifies into law state employee immunity currently existing in case law and was signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley on March 5th.
SB 66, sponsored by Senator Clay Scofield, and HB 84, sponsored by Representative David Standridge, requires the Ethics Commission on it’s electronic data base to redact (eliminate from viewing on it’s website) certain personal information as filed by a public employee on their Statement of Economic Interest was signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley on February 25th.
SB 451, sponsored by Rusty Glover, removes the cap of 480 hours that a state employee may donate for catastrophic sick leave or maternity leave. This legislation was debated in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday. Senator Roger Bedford offered an amendment lifting the cap on donated sick leave to 600 hours. The bill then passed out of committee unanimously. This legislation died.
HB 266, sponsored by Representative Greg Wren, would require the State of Alabama observe daylight savings time year round. The legislation passed the House State Government Committee. This legislation died on the House calendar.
HB 418, sponsored by Representative Jamie Ison, and SB 321, sponsored by Senator Quinton Ross, would transfer 82 employees of the Department of Post Secondary Education/Alabama Career Center System to the Alabama Department of Labor under the merit system with the implementation contingent upon the availability of federal funding. HB 418 died on the Senate calendar.
HB 344, sponsored by Representative Bill Roberts, would require state agencies and departments to provide state employees a listing and cost of all benefits received on an annual basis. This legislation died on the Senate calendar.
HB 351, sponsored by Representative Ed Henry, would call for the election of two state employees to the State Employee’s Health Insurance Plan Board by a majority vote of the full time employees covered under the plan. Under current law these positions are elected by a vote of the ASEA membership. Over the past few years these state employee positions have been critically important in ASEA’s efforts to make sure the voices of active and retired state employees were heard in keeping health insurance costs down. This legislation as substituted would allow the current State Employee’s Insurance Board members to complete the terms they were elected to. Its companion bill SB 269, sponsored by Senator Clay Scofield, passed the Senate Finance & Taxation General Fund Committee. Both SB 269 and died on the Senate calendar.
SB 464, sponsored by Senator Arthur Orr, would require the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) to phase out operations concerning the retail sale of alcoholic beverages. In summary, this legislation would privatize the ABC stores costing over 600 state employee jobs. This legislation is dead for this session; however, Senator Arthur Orr is said to be making this a priority for next year. ASEA continues to strongly oppose such legislation and is committed to protecting these state employee jobs.
SB 411 and SB 412 both died on the Senate calendar; however, we will most likely see them in the future. SB 411, sponsored by Senator Arthur Orr, would merge the State Forestry Commission into the Department of Agriculture and Industries. SB 412, sponsored by Senator Arthur Orr, would merge the Department of Pardons and Parole into the Department of Corrections. The Pardons and Parole Board would remain independent. ASEA was able to get both bills amended to protect the employees affected by SB 411 and with SB 412, jobs, merit system status and compensation. Senator Arthur Orr offered the amendments.
HB 287 and HB 330, both sponsored by Representative Greg Wren, calls for a 5% COLA for retired state employees and HB 330 calls for a 5% COLA for active state employees. Senator Dick Brewbaker introduced similar legislation, sponsoring SB 251, which would grant state retirees a 5% COLA and SB 252 would grant state employees a 5% COLA. Additionally, Representative Joe Hubbard filed HB 127 which would grant state employees a 5% COLA on October 1, 2014 (FY 2015), a 2.5% COLA on October 1, 2015 (FY 2016) and a 2.5% COLA on October 1, 2016 (FY 2017). Senator Marc Keahy introduced SB 394 and SB 396. SB 394 would grant a 5% COLA for state employees while SB 396 would grant state employees an annual COLA tied to the Consumer Price Index. Regrettably these bills are all dead.
HB 305, sponsored by Representative Craig Ford, and SB 373, sponsored by Senator Quinton Ross, would reestablish the DROP program. Both bills are dead for this session.
HB 39, sponsored by Representative Patricia Todd, would increase the tax on cigarettes by 75¢. This legislation is estimated to generate $159 million for the General Fund. HB 120, sponsored by Representative Joe Hubbard, would increase the tax on cigarettes by $1.00. This legislation is estimated to generate $213 million for the General Fund. Both bills are dead for this session.
HB 73, sponsored by Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, and SB 52, sponsored by Senator Roger Bedford, would allow the Secretary/Treasurer of RSA [Dr. David Bronner] to make investments without prior approval of the investment committee. Both bills are dead for this session.
HB 130, sponsored by Representative John Knight, would remove the sales tax on groceries in Alabama. Senator Gerald Dial introduced SB 287, which would phase out the state’s tax on food. Both bills are dead for this session.
HB 159, sponsored by Representative Wes Long, would prohibit the transfer of state parks revenues and monies currently designated for state parks from being transferred or used for any other purpose. This legislation died in committee.
SB 119, sponsored by Senator Arthur Orr, would authorize the privatization of state parks that have lodges, restaurants or golf courses. This legislation died in committee.
A more extensive discussion and analysis of these bills and the 2014 legislative session will be in the next edition of the Insider.