By Danny Garrett, commentary
The Alabama State Legislature ended the 2021 session on May 17, meeting under unusual logistics and protocols due to COVID-19. During the 30-working-day session, 1,053 bills were introduced (648 by the House and 405 by the Senate), of which 358 bills were passed by both chambers and sent to the Governor (208 House bills and 150 Senate bills).
The Alabama Constitution of 1901 really only requires the Legislature to accomplish two things during a session: (1) pass a budget for the Education Trust Fund; and (2) pass a General Fund budget. I am pleased to report that these budgets are conservative and balanced with no deficit spending.
Since 2010, the Legislature has implemented a series of fiscally conservative budget measures. Heading into the pandemic, Moody’s national credit rating agency issued a report stating that Alabama ranked in the top ten among all states in terms of financial strength and soundness. Recently, Moody’s issued another report stating that Alabama ranks fifth among all the states in terms of financial strength and recovery following the pandemic. This is terrific news for current and future generations and the result of years of hard work and planning.
Highlights of bills passed and signed by the Governor in the 2021 session include the following:
- The largest education budget in state history, a record $7.6 billion
- Increased education investment by $452 million, or 6%, for K-12 public schools, community colleges, and four-year public universities
- A 2% pay increase for all K-12 public school teachers and community college employees
- Increase by 20%, or $24 million, for Alabama’s award-winning “First Class” pre-kindergarten program
- Increase of 10% for the Alabama Community College System for workforce and vocational training programs
- Increase of 6% for Alabama’s four-year universities
- Increase by $11 million for career tech programs, which allow high school students to receive workforce job training while still in school
- Increase of $280 million for the Advancement and Technology fund, which can be used for technology upgrades, school security improvements, and debt reduction
- A new stipend of up to $10,000-$15,000 in additional salary for middle school and high school math and science teachers if they meet certification metrics and commit to specific employment requirements additional incentives are available for teachers who accept assignments in hard-to-staff schools
- A record $2.47 billion General Fund Budget
- A 2% pay increase for all of our hardworking state employees
- Increase of $26.3 million to the Department of Corrections to improve healthcare and mental health services for inmates and help the state avoid federal intervention
- Increase of $10 million to the Alabama Department of Mental Health to provide additional crisis intervention in the Birmingham/Tuscaloosa metro areas which will join new centers being opened in Huntsville, Mobile, and Montgomery
- Following several years of increases in order to meet Federal Medicaid funding requirements to the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the new budget meets the required Federal funding with $51 million less spending
- A bill exempting all Federal CARES Act payments, American Rescue Plan payments, and other COVID relief and stimulus payments from individual and corporate state income tax liability
- A bill to protect businesses, including small businesses, and other organizations from frivolous lawsuits related to COVID-19
- Legislation to spur broadband and high-speed internet expansion across Alabama and to develop a statewide internet connectivity plan by July 1, 2022
- Sweeping election reform legislation, including the following measures:
- A bill to allow a one-time, post-election audit following the 2022 statewide balloting in order to determine the accuracy of the state’s voting system;
- Legislation to prevent legislative election law changes from being implemented within six months of an election;
- A ban on curbside voting and prohibition from voting machines being set up outside a polling place;
- Imposition of criminal penalties on individuals who cast multiple ballots in Alabama and in another state;
- Legislation to change the deadline for mailing absentee voter applications from five days to seven days before an election; and
- Legislation allowing poll workers registered to vote in one precinct to staff polling places in another precinct.
- A bill prohibiting the government from requiring vaccine passports in order to access services or enter public spaces
- Legislation requiring physicians to work to save the lives of babies who are born alive after an attempted abortion
- A bill requiring hospitals and nursing homes to allow at least one family member or caregiver to visit patients or residents during public health emergencies
- “Aniah’s Law,” which allows prosecutors and judges broader discretion in requesting and denying bail to those accused of committing violent crimes
- A bill requiring athletes in K-12 public schools to participate in athletic events in Alabama based upon the biological gender on their birth certificate
- Legislation legalizing medical marijuana for a number of medical conditions. The bill establishes a system (similar in concept to the state Alcohol and Beverage Control Board) regulating an intrastate system for businesses to grow, process, test, transport and sell cannabis pills, creams or patches through a network of dispensaries located across the state for approved medical ailments. (Note: Although I am not opposed to the regulated use of medical marijuana as prescribed by a doctor for limited medical conditions, I had serious concerns with several aspects of the bill. Following discussions with several physicians and others in the medical field whom I know and trust, I voted against the bill.)
- Bills allowing shipments of wine from producers and delivery of alcoholic beverages by licensed delivery services to homes
- A bill providing access to financial capital for small, rural, agricultural, and underserved businesses using federal and private dollars
- A Constitutional Amendment allowing voters to determine whether to authorize $80 million in bonds for campground and recreational improvements at Alabama’s 21 state parks
- A bill providing for lifetime conceal carry permits
- Legislation renewing and improving job creation incentives in the Alabama Jobs Act and Growing Alabama Act, which have been two very successful economic development programs
- A bill creating public-private partnerships to promote entrepreneurship and other business development across the state for growing small businesses
- A package of Military Stabilization bills designed to retain, protect, and improve the federal military presence and investment across Alabama.
I introduced 18 bills during the 2021 session. The following 11 bills which I sponsored and/or carried passed both Chambers and were signed Governor Kay Ivey:
HB170: The bill exempting all CARES ACT, American Rescue Plan, other COVID relief payments and other stimulus payments from Alabama individual or corporate income tax. The bill will also provide millions of dollars in tax savings for business located in Alabama that have sales in other states and will provide significant tax savings for many owners of small businesses.
HB171: Overhauls the State of Alabama’s Procurement Code, which has not been updated in 25 years. The bill was a collaboration with the Alabama Law Institute and various business organizations. The bill streamlines the procurement process for almost $1 billion of state purchases, allows for electronic signatures, provides flexibility for minimum bid requirements based upon the cost and scope of projects, and will generate significant savings for taxpayers.
SB215: Establishes the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority (ADEA) to oversee the development of a statewide broadband/internet connectivity plan. The plan will be implemented by a new broadband division of ADECA. The bill also establishes the Alabama Digital Expansion Financial Corporation to oversee funding and spending. Currently, 53% of Alabamians have no access to internet services and 73% of the state lacks access to affordable internet. At present, the state has no comprehensive plan to develop high-speed internet throughout Alabama. The bill requires a plan to be submitted by ADEA by July 1, 2022.
HB473: Establishes a program for providing access to financial capital for small businesses, rural businesses, agricultural businesses, and minority-owned businesses. The bill will utilize $25 million from the American Rescue Plan which will be matched dollar for dollar by a qualified private fund, allowing for $50 million of loans for targeted businesses.
HB169: Makes technical changes to the unemployment law changes that were implemented in a bill I sponsored in 2019 that tied the weeks of eligibility for unemployment to the actual unemployment rate. The bill also requires that during a state of emergency, the Alabama Department of Labor will use best efforts to work with the U.S. Department of Labor and citizens to provide unemployment benefits.
HB515: Allows the city of Trussville to hold an election for citizens to determine whether to continue current ad valorem tax funding for Trussville City Schools.
HB174/SB89: Provides for a temporary exemption from state, county, municipal sales and use tax, license and ad valorem taxes for The World Games, to be held in Birmingham in 2022,
HB243/SB231: Establishes a state tax deduction for up to $5,000 per year for contributions to an Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) savings account for expenses of individuals with special needs or disabilities without jeopardizing any other federal or state assistance received by the individual or their families.
HB475/SB279: Provides a process for determining the replacement interest rate for loans tied to the London Interbank Borrowing Rate (LIBOR) when the LIBOR rate is no longer published at the end of 2021.
HB588: Provides that the members of Pass-Through-Entities (LLC, partnership, Subchapter S Corporations) may deduct their share of Federal taxes paid at the entity level on their individual Alabama tax returns.
SB298: Revamps the Alabama Innovation Act program, established in 2019, to ensure that private entities who participate in internship programs receive grants for Research and Development expenses incurred to improve exiting products or processes. Previously, most of the funding was being used by colleges and universities for R&D and significant money was used to cover overhead expenses.
It is a privilege, an honor and pleasure to serve as the representative for House District 44. During the session, I enjoyed discussions with a number of constituents to discuss their concerns and views on various issues. Please contact me at email@example.com or call me at 205-410-4637 if you have any questions about the 2021 session or need assistance with other issues.