Legislative Update - Week Eight
The 22nd legislative day is over. The General Fund budget and the conditional 4% COLA are pending action in the Senate Finance & Taxation General Fund Committee. The General Fund budget, HB 235, and the state employee conditional 4% COLA, HB 367, both by Representative Steve Clouse, should be up for debate week after next. The substituted budget closely follows the Governor’s budget as submitted with Medicaid being the only significant increase over the current FY 2014 budget. Most other departments, boards and agencies were level funded.
SB 267, sponsored by Senator Del Marsh, which would grant retired state employees a one-time lump sum benefit or bonus saw action this week. This legislation had passed out of the Senate Finance & Taxation General Fund Committee. While in committee, Senator Roger Bedford successfully offered an amendment to increase the one time lump sum benefit from $2 to $4 per month of service. SB 267 was then debated on the Senate floor on Tuesday. An amendment was successfully offered to lower the one time lump sum back to $2 per month of service. Senator Bedford then attempted to amend SB 267 to $3 per month of service. That amendment failed. The legislation then passed the Senate at $2 per month of service and is pending action in the House Ways & Means General Fund Committee.
ASEA continues to closely watch SB 411 and SB 412. 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. On Wednesday both bills were debated in the Senate Finance & Taxation General Fund Committee. 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. Both bills passed the committee and are pending on the Senate calendar. The entire Senate as early as next week could debate each bill.
On Thursday Senator Rusty Glover introduced SB 451. This legislation removes the cap of 480 hours that a state employee may donate for catastrophic sick leave or maternity leave. This legislation will be heard in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday.
Other bills effecting state employees include:
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. Both bills were assigned to the House Ways & Means General Fund Committee and are pending action. Senator Dick Brewbaker has 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). Hubbard’s proposed legislation is pending in House Ways & Means General Fund Committee.
Senator Marc Keahy has 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. ASEA’s priority this session is to see this COLA funded in whole or in part. It is critical that we get some money in the pockets of active and retired state employees.
HB 266, sponsored by Representative Greg Wren, would require the State of Alabama observe daylight savings time year round. The legislation is pending action in the House State Government Committee.
HB 305, sponsored by Representative Craig Ford, would reestablish the DROP program. This legislation is pending action in the House Ways & Means Education Committee. The companion bill, SB 373, sponsored by Senator Quinton Ross, was assigned to the Senate Finance & Taxation General Fund Committee.
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. Any weakening of these voices could be problematic. HB 351 was substituted in the House State Government Committee on Wednesday, February 19th. The substitute would allow ASEA to submit a nomination to fill any vacancy on the State Employee’s Insurance Board. 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. ASEA anticipates this legislation being amended/substituted in a manner consistent with HB 351 when it is debated on the Senate floor.
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. This legislation is pending in House Ways & Means General Fund Committee.
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 and is pending in House Ways & Means General Fund Committee.
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. HB 64, as substituted by Representative Jones and amended, passed the House on Wednesday, January 23rd. HB 64 passed the Senate on Wednesday, February 26th and was signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley on March 5th.
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. HB 73 was debated in the House State Government Committee and was defeated on a 5-2 vote. SB 52 is pending action in the Senate Finance & Taxation General Fund Committee.
SB 66, sponsored by Senator Clay Scofield, and HB 84, sponsored by Representative David Standridge, would require 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. This expands legislation passed last year making this legislation retroactive. SB 66 passed out of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, February 18th and was signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley on February 25th.
HB 130, sponsored by Representative John Knight, would remove the sales tax on groceries in Alabama. This legislation is a Constitutional Amendment pending action in the House Ways & Means Education Committee. Senator Gerald Dial introduced SB 287 which would phase out the state’s tax on food. On Wednesday, February 19th, a public hearing was conducted on SB 287 in the Senate Committee on Finance & Taxation Education. SB 287 was passed out of committee on Wednesday, February 26th and is pending action on the House calendar.
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 is a Constitutional Amendment pending action in the House Ways & Means General Fund Committee.
SB 119, sponsored by Senator Arthur Orr, would authorize the privatization of state parks that have lodges, restaurants or golf courses. A public hearing was requested by ASEA and it was granted. On Wednesday, January 15th, the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry held a public hearing on SB 119 and voted 5-4 to kill this legislation.
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 would largely codify into law current RSA policy. This bill passed the Senate on Thursday and is pending first reading in the House.