The BCA Governmental Affairs Committee will meet Tuesday, March 4, at 8:30 a.m. in the first floor auditorium of the Business Center of Alabama, 2 N. Jackson St., Montgomery. Guest speaker will be Senate Majority Leader Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills.
Legislative Leadership Committee Meetings
LEGISLATURE TAKES STAND FOR STUDENTS IN FAILING SCHOOLS
Business Council of Alabama Chairman Carl Jamison released a statement after the legislature's Thursday passage of the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 that Governor Robert Bentley said he would sign next week.
"BCA fully supports flexibility, and although the conference committee added additional measures, any options for students in failing schools that create opportunities for them to succeed is better than the status quo," Jamison said Thursday. "We hope all come together to move forward in a positive manner for children in Alabama. We applaud the governor and legislature for this courageous move tonight."
Chairman Jamison is a shareholder at JamisonMoneyFarmer, P.C., in Tuscaloosa.
The Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 was the result of a House and Senate conference committee that met to work out differences in HB 84, originally known as the Local Control School Flexibility Act, sponsored by Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes.
The House and Senate approved the conference committee report that had morphed from a school regulation waiver bill into a bill that provides a tax credit for parents with children in "failing" public K-12 schools. Tax credits would be available for certain individuals and businesses that contribute scholarships capped at a cumulative annual total of $25 million. The House passed the conference report by a vote of 51-26, and the Senate, in an especially chaotic session that included charges of subterfuge and deceit, ultimately passed the conference report by a vote of 22-11.
State school Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice is studying the bill and had no immediate comment, said spokesman Michael Sibley.
Bentley said he would sign the bill in order to "help ensure that more students have access to a high-quality education" and will benefit students and families.
"Local school systems will have the flexibility to make more decisions on behalf of their students. Families will have new options if their children are stuck in failing schools," Bentley said in a statement. "All children, regardless of their family's income or where they live, will have the opportunity to receive a quality education."
Bentley said the law will still give school districts flexibility and won't infringe on the rights and responsibilities of classroom teachers. "This bill shows that we have confidence in our local educators to know what's best for their students," he said.
Opponents of the original eight-page school flexibility bill, including the state's largest teacher's union, cried foul over the 27-page bill that came out of the conference committee.
School districts will still have to submit plans for waivers from state regulations, plans that will need to be vetted from local public hearings all the way up the education hierarchy ladder to the State Board of Education. Schools granted the flexibility to waive rules will have to show student achievement improvement.
Tax credits will be available for families with children in persistently low-performing schools who transfer their children to non-failing public and private schools. "Failing" schools will be identified, and non-failing schools will have to be accredited and will have to have been established for at least three years.
The bill defines a failing school as: "A public K-12 school that is labeled as persistently low-performing by the State Department of Education, in the then most recent United States Department of Education School Improvement Grant application; that is listed in the lowest 10 percent of public K-12 schools on the state standardized assessment in reading and math; that has earned a grade of "F" or three consecutive grades of "D" pursuant to (the school grading system outlined in Section 16-6C-2 in state law); or that is designated a failing school by the State Superintendent of Education."
Qualifying parents who transfer children from "failing" schools to a non-failing public or private school would be eligible for a state income tax credit of up to 80 percent of the average annual state cost of attending a public K-12 school in any one tax year. Qualifying parents who don't owe state income taxes would also be eligible for the refundable tax credit. The initial qualifying income ceiling for families receiving scholarships would be 150 percent of the median household income.
PUBLIC HEARING HELD ON REPEALING COLLEGE AND CAREER READY STANDARDS
A two and a half hour joint House and Senate Education Policy Committee meeting was held on Wednesday to conduct a public hearing on two identical House and Senate bills to repeal Alabama's College and Career Ready Standards (ACCRS). Known more frequently as "Common Core," the standards provide a clear and consistent expectation of what students should be able to learn in mathematics and English Language Arts in preparation for college or a career out of high school.
BCA opposes both of these bills.
Because of the passion on both sides of the issue when it comes to the Common Core, hundreds of proponents and opponents turned out at the State House to hear what the other side had to say. Because of the expected crowd, the hearing was held in the House chamber, which quickly filled to capacity, along with the House gallery. Others who could not get in were forced to listen to the hearing on speakers in adjacent committee rooms. The bills, HB 254 and SB 190, are sponsored in the House by Rep. Jim Barton, R-Mobile, and in the Senate by Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Pike Road, respectively.
In November 2010, the State Board of Education affirmed new, tougher reading and math standards for Alabama students. The new standards required more critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork instead of simple fill-in-the-blank memorization. Individual states were free to adopt the Common Core State Standards as their own, to adopt a modified version that incorporated the best of the Common Core while still allowing for individual state standards, or to reject the Common Core altogether. Following the moderate line, Alabama chose the middle option, and Alabama educators made key adjustments. An attempt to overturn the standards was made by some on the State Board of Education after Governor Robert Bentley took office, but that effort was unsuccessful.
Wednesday's Public Hearing
After Chairman Brewbaker explained to everyone that the legislation was likely to undergo revisions should it eventually be passed, he turned it over to Rep. Barton who opened the hearing by explaining that we should repeal the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards so that the federal government and Washington, D.C., could not control the curriculum taught in Alabama schools. Quickly thereafter, State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Tommy Bice, took to the microphone to counter every claim that has been made by those opposed to Alabama's standards.
A news release put out by Bice's office following the hearing outlined exactly what he told the committee in the House chamber:
"...He explained that Alabama voluntarily chose to participate in the Common Core Standards, without coercion from the federal government, any other state or private interest. To address the concerns some expressed about the preparedness of adopting ACCRS, Bice explained that the Alabama State Board of Education did not accept the standards sight unseen, but rather months of work by Alabama educators and administrators went into examining the standards and creating Alabama's own, unique, state-developed standards. In addition, there were public hearings held around the state, which Bice personally attended to explain the standards..."
Bice also dispelled the false notion that ACCRS is too expensive to implement when he produced clear evidence that ACCRS is actually less expensive to implement than previous standards.
Another issue that opponents of the standards point to is the false claim that individual data on students and teachers is shared with bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. Countering that claim, Bice said, "Alabama is not a Race to the Top federal grant recipient and does not give individual student data to the U.S. Department of Education."
Chairman Emeritus of the Business and Education Alliance and retired State Superintendent Dr. Joe Morton spoke on behalf of the Business Council of Alabama. "The standards make good business sense," he told the committee. "In essence, this whole topic comes down to two E's: Economic Development and Education. If one of these bills becomes law, both economic development and education will suffer and job growth will be hurt." Anita L. Archie, BCA's Senior Vice President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Advocacy, also spoke on the necessity to keep the standards.
Several defenders of the status quo in education also spoke at the hearing, including State School Board member Betty Peters of Dothan. Peters originally voted against the standards in 2010, along with State School Board member Stephanie Bell of Montgomery. Speaking to the committee, Peters said, "We didn't need to change anything...we should go back to what we had before these standards. Only when you are in a factory or an assembly line does standardization lead to excellence."
A total of 80 individuals signed up to speak at the hearing. While not everyone had time to speak, the committee heard from a broad group of supporters consisting of the business community, principals, superintendents, teachers, school board members and parents. Opponents of the bill consisted mainly of tea party-affiliated groups. Their arguments were largely based on assumptions that this would lead to a federal takeover of education and that our students would be indoctrinated with liberal ideology. "They would be taught to think like a Muslim or a terrorist," said Sharon Sewell of Alabamians United for Excellence in Education.
"The Alabama College and Career Ready Standards are vital in preparing students to compete in the 21st Century global workforce which requires highly skilled workers," said BCA President and CEO William J. Canary. "Adoption of SB 190 and HB 254 would be a giant step backward, based on a false premise that Alabama and local school systems would lose control over their curriculum. While some will continue a campaign of fear on this issue, we will continue to stand united in the business, education and military communities in offering our children the hope of a bright future."
On Friday, Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, and Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, two original co-sponsors of the bill, announced they were withdrawing their support for the legislation after attending the hearing and listening to Dr. Bice fully explain the standards.
HOUSE RULES CHAIR ADDRESSES BCA GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
House Rules Committee Chairman Mac McCutcheon updated the Business Council of Alabama's Governmental Affairs Committee Tuesday on separate workplace gun and school standards legislation pending in the 2013 legislative session.
McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, is in his second legislative term but his first regular session as chairman of the powerful, agenda-setting Rules Committee. He was appointed by House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, late last year after then-Rules Chairman Blaine Galliher, R-Rainbow City, resigned to become Govenor Robert Bentley's legislative director.
McCutcheon said that during his freshman term beginning in 2006, Republicans were in the minority and played defense "trying to stop legislation." In 2010 Republicans took over the House and Senate and there was "a mindset change."
"I honestly can stand before you and say I feel like the legislature now is looking at promoting business and the executive branch is looking at promoting jobs," he said. "I think you have a friendly legislature and state government ... we realize the importance of business and jobs."
McCutcheon said the House has passed nine of the 10 bills on its 2013 agenda but is holding off on a proposed constitutional amendment restating gun rights until the Senate dispenses with an omnibus gun bill by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, that is of concern to the BCA.
Beason's bill, SB 129, currently contains a section that would mandate that businesses and property owners could not have policies preventing firearms, stored in vehicles, on their private property.
The BCA opposes the workplace control provisions of Beason's bill as a private property right and an employee safety obligation. "We're sensitive to that issue," McCutcheon said.
Beason's bill has been assigned to the Senate Business and Labor Committee. The BCA, along with representatives from business and industry, law enforcement and others, has been part of a working group trying to find areas of compromise regarding the gun legislation.
McCutcheon said he supports the Second Amendment right to possess firearms. "I don't think there's anybody in our state that doesn't really believe in Second Amendment rights, but the problem is how do we get there with common sense to protect a business owner and property, it's so important," he said.
"I look at it as a business owner (of property), do I just want to open up the doors to my home and let them walk in there with a gun because they've got Second Amendment rights?" he said. "A business owner, they've invested money, they have an interest in the state, and they have the liability of their employees at stake."
McCutcheon also addressed the Common Core bills, HB 254 by Rep. Jim Barton, R-Mobile, and SB 190 by Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Pike Road, which would prohibit the state school board from adopting and the Department of Education from implementing Common Core State Standards developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative, prohibit compiling and sharing student data and prohibit the state school board from ceding school control to outside entities, according to the bills' synopses.
McCutcheon said Alabama needs common education standards so parents who face moving to the state, particularly to north Alabama due to federal Base Realignment and Closure, will be assured their children will receive a good education.
"There's no way we can look at standards and just throw Common Core out the window," McCutcheon said. "We need to be focused on fewer, cleaner, higher course standards for our students."
BILL TO LIMIT AIRCRAFT LAWSUITS RECEIVES QUICK PASSAGE IN THE SENATE
On Thursday, the Alabama Senate passed SB 238 sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, and Senate Minority Leader Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, that limits lawsuits involving large commercial planes made in Alabama. This bill coined the "Airbus" bill was part of the incentive package negotiated by Governor Robert Bentley to locate Airbus and its suppliers.
The bill limits lawsuits against plane manufacturers and suppliers to causes of action arising within 12 years after the plane's delivery. At the public hearing on Tuesday, BCA President and CEO William J. Canary recognized the importance of this legislation: "It's all about J-O-B-S." he told the Associated Press this week.
COMMITTEE HOLDS PUBLIC HEARING ON SENATE COMPANION BILL FOR INDEPENDENT TAX APPEALS
The Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability committee heard testimony from supporters and opponents of SB 223, by Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, but delayed voting on the measure until the next meeting. The bill provides for an independent Alabama tax appeals commission, separate from the Alabama Department of Revenue, and it updates and conforms to federal law several provisions of Alabama Taxpayers' Bill of Rights to promote tax fairness and compliance.
The Alabama Education Association spoke in opposition of the bill, questioning the need for the legislation and describing the bill as an effort to expand state government. Another opponent spoke against the 60-day period to file an appeal following an assessment, preferring instead, a 45-day period following the assessment being mailed. Supporters emphasized that creating an independent tax appeals commission improves the current situation by promoting "the appearance of impartiality," that the legislation follows the model used in more than half of the states, and that the tax judge selection process is the same as is used for circuit judges.
Committee chair, Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, announced that this public hearing will also serve as the public hearing for the companion bill, HB 264, by Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, in the event that it passes the House and is assigned to his committee.
The BCA and several other business and trade associations under the Business Associations Tax Commission (BATC) support this legislation.
REGULATORY RELIEF BILL REPORTED FROM SENATE COMMITTEE
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee gave a favorable report to HB 101, by Rep. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, on a vote of 7-0. The bill entitled the Red Tape Reduction Act provides:
- That a business economic impact statement must be prepared by state agencies, other than agencies primarily engaged in licensure, when the agency proposes a rule change and receives a complaint that the change may adversely impact small business.
- For a five-year review of all existing rules to determine whether they should be changed or rescinded.
- That proposed and existing regulation reviews be posted on agency websites to allow for public review.
The BCA supports this legislation, which now moves on to be considered by the full Senate.
$50 MILLION BOND ISSUE FOR CAREER- TECHNICAL EDUCATION EQUIPMENT REPORTED TO FULL SENATE
The Senate Finance & Taxation-Education Committee favorably reported HB 102, by Rep. Mac Buttram, R-Cullman, entitled the Twenty-First Century Workforce Act, which authorizes the state to issue up to $50 million in bonds for career and technical education (CTE) equipment for local boards of education.
The equipment will be utilized to upgrade local career and technical education programs to meet industry standards. The proceeds from the bonds will be distributed: 1) $10 million allocated pro rata on the basis of the number of CTE teacher units earned in the current school year; 2) $20 million allocated pro rata on the basis of the number of students in CTE programs in the current school year; and 3) $20 million provided to a five-member grant committee to be awarded to reimburse CTE programs for equipment purchases necessary to meet industry standards, as determined by needs assessments.
BCA supports this legislation.
BILL TO INCREASE RURAL ACCESS TO MEDICAL CARE PASSES SENATE HEALTH COMMITTEE
SB 229 by Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, authorizes certified registered nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives to prescribe medications from certain schedules of controlled substances. This bill is an agreed-upon bill among business, nurses, midwives, the Alabama Medical Association and the Board of Medical Examiners that is intended to expand access to medical care in rural communities.
Former state Sen. Larry Dixon, executive director of the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, testified at the public hearing that Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, reached out to him before he left the legislature asking that he work on a bill to increase access to medical care especially in rural areas. Dixon complimented the work of the Board of Nursing in coming with this agreed-upon bill, which is now in position to be considered by the full Senate.
BILLS TO CREATE A "NEW" MEDICAID INTRODUCED IN HOUSE
State Rep. Greg Wren, R-Montgomery, this week introduced three bills that he said will help create a "new" Medicaid program in Alabama and enable legislative oversight of the combined state-federal medical program's management.
Wren, chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Medicaid Policy, introduced HB 370, HB 371, and HB 372 on Thursday. The bills were assigned to the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee that is chaired by Rep. Jim Barton, R-Mobile, a co-sponsor of the three bills.
HB 370 would cap General Fund appropriations for Medicaid contingent on passage of legislation establishing proposed Patient Care Case Management Networks across the state. The cap would be effective for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2017, or the first year following full implementation of PCCM Networks. The initial 10-year cap would be a negative 1 percent growth in the Medicaid appropriation for 2016 and 0.05 percent on the amount appropriated each following year.
HB 371 would require the Alabama Medicaid Agency to seek a waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to increase Medicaid recipient co-payments for health care services. The waiver would be for co-payments taking effect no later than Jan. 1, 2014, or if and when CMS approves the waiver.
HB 372 would abolish the legislature's Medicaid Joint Interim Committee and the Permanent Joint Legislative Committees on Medicaid Policy and would create the Permanent Joint Medicaid Committee. It also would create a Medicaid Advisory Commission.
The permanent Medicaid committee would be required to continually study the Alabama Medicaid program and recommend appropriate and needed changes to effectively operate the program. The committee also would oversee the expansion of existing programs and implementation of new programs, according to the legislation.
The legislature created Wren's Joint Legislative Committee on Medicaid Policy to create "a pro-patient, pro-taxpayer solution to transform Alabama's old Medicaid" into a new program that is patient-centered and outcome-based.
"We're favoring a new Medicaid that lends itself to expansion," Wren said at a recent meeting of the legislative Medicaid committee. "I'm willing to work where the governor will expand it."
Governor Robert Bentley in October created the Alabama Medicaid Advisory Commission whose goal is reforming Medicaid by improving financial stability and patient care. Bentley has said he won't expand Medicaid in its current form. He has been under fire to expand Medicaid and accept the resulting federal dollars estimated to be as much as $1 billion a year beginning in three years.
Medicaid is the combined state-federal program that helps pay for medical care for the needy, aged, blind and disabled, and for low-income parents. In Alabama, the combined federal, state and local Medicaid appropriation will be $6.1 billion this fiscal year. The state's General Fund appropriation of $615.1 million this fiscal year is the largest single GF appropriation.
Officials say Medicaid is growing at an unsustainable state rate of more than $100 million a year. About 900,000 Alabamians are covered by Medicaid but another 332,000 are eligible.
The Business Council of Alabama supports Medicaid reform to control costs and ensure long-term sustainability by improving efficiency, addressing fraud and abuse, and ensuring access to quality health care for Alabamians.
OPTOMETRIC AND DENTAL PLAN BENEFICIARY BILL REASSIGNED TO BANKING AND INSURANCE
SB 253, by Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, includes strict language that mandates to health insurers which providers they will pay, how they will be paid and how much they will be paid for dental and optometric services and certified registered nurse anesthetists.
Health plans rely on networks of participating providers to deliver high quality, affordable care to their customers. These providers agree to accept a determined amount of reimbursement for their services.
BCA believes the bill as currently written would bring higher healthcare costs and less availability of coverage for Alabamians and hopes that a compromise is reached.
LEGISLATIVE REORGANIZATION BILL PASSES SENATE, GOES TO HOUSE
After five legislative days of wrangling over details, the Senate on Thursday passed the legislative agency reorganization bill, SB 122 by Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba. The bill would abolish various legislative councils and review agencies and create a 16-member Joint Committee on Legislative Operations, a House Committee on House Administration, and a Senate Committee on Senate Administration.
The bill would create a Chief of Legislative Operations and authorize a staff that would do the functions of current legislative operations.
According to the bill synopsis, the Joint Committee on Legislative Operations would succeed the Legislative Council, the Joint Committee on Administrative Regulation Review, the Legislative Committee on Public Accounts, the Joint Fiscal Committee, the Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment, and the Legislative Building Authority. The House Committee on House Administration would succeed the House Legislative Council, and the Senate Committee on Senate Administration would succeed the Senate Legislative Council.
The bill was substituted several times and passed largely along party lines. It was sent to the House and assigned to the State Government Committee.
This week, the drought bill, SB 208 by Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, was amended and favorably reported from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee. This legislation codifies the Alabama Drought Assessment and Planning Team process that has been in place under executive order for more than a decade. The bill also will require the development of drought plans for water utilities and the state of Alabama. The amendment, offered by Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, added the Director of Soil and Water Conservation Committee and the State Conservationist from the Natural Resource Conservation Service to the drought team.
Also, the Walter Energy Bill, HB 374 by Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, was introduced. This legislation would require expanded public notice of air permitting activities in Class 1 municipalities. More public notification would also be required in communities in which a Superfund site is located. The legislation proposes that the costs for this enhanced notification be paid by the industry applying for the permit. This legislation raises concerns for the business community because the ADEM permitting process already allows for ample public involvement.
On Tuesday of this week, the Alabama Water Resources Commission met. The commission was briefed on ongoing Office of Water Resources' activities, such as drought management, Corps of Engineers Water Control Manuals, and water assessments. Also, the Commission formed a nominating committee to propose the next chair and vice-chair of the Commission. The nominating committee is chaired by Willard Bowers with members consisting of Malcolm Steeves, Ashley Cousins, Barbara Gibson and Billy Houston.
Lastly, the Senate on Tuesday voted 31-0 to approve SB 204, the farm irrigation tax credit bill by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur. His bill that goes to the House for consideration would grant a tax credit carry-forward of five years for allowed irrigation system installation and reservoir and water well costs. The maximum would be $10,000 a year.
YOUR BCA ADVOCACY TEAM
Anita L. Archie
Senior Vice President
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William J. Canary
President and CEO
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Vice President for
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For more information on the Business Council of Alabama
contact Elaine Fincannon at firstname.lastname@example.org