The BCA Governmental Affairs Committee will NOT meet for the next two Tuesdays.
Legislative Leadership Committee Meetings
(NO MEETING MARCH 19 OR MARCH 26)
Our Tuesday Morning Meetings will resume on April 2nd.
BCA LAUNCHES PHASE ONE OF LEGISLATIVE APP
This week the Business Council of Alabama officially launched BCA Connect, a new app designed for iPhones and iPads to easily connect BCA members with members of the Alabama legislature and available free of charge on the iTunes store.
This app gives the user an easy platform to contact members of the 2013 Alabama Legislature. If the need arises to immediately communicate with a legislator, the user can simply tap on his or her face or name to open their profile, and then tap on the email or phone button to contact them. In addition, this call to action will also have a direct link to their websites, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages.
"We live in a technology-driven world where information is expected immediately and at the touch of a button," said BCA President and CEO William J. Canary. "When business owners receive a legislative alert to get in touch with their elected officials, they now have a tool that provides all the information they need at their fingertips."
BCA Connect includes complete listings of the House and Senate members, and catalogs all committees and their membership.
This is phase one of BCA Connect. The Business Council of Alabama will continue to explore ways to expand and utilize this platform's use in advocacy by incorporating new features and resources.
EFFORT TO REPEAL COMMON CORE STANDARDS DIES IN COMMITTEE
For now, the effort to repeal the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards is dead, as the Senate Education Committee voted on Wednesday to carry over indefinitely SB 190, by Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Pike Road.
With standing room only, a diverse group of people attended the committee meeting to see what would happen after Brewbaker announced last week that some kind of action would be taken this week. Most of the proponents of the legislation were members of the Tea Party, while the opponents consisted of State School Board members Tracy Roberts and Mary Scott Hunter, State Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice, along with representatives from the School Superintendents Association, School Board Association and the A+ Education Partnership. The BCA and other business interests, including representatives from Boeing and the Alabama Technology Network, also attended in opposition to the bill.
Brewbaker, the committee chairman, offered an amendment at the beginning of the meeting that would remove the legislative oversight portion of the bill saying, "I'm not anxious to get into the oversight portion and I haven't spoken to many other senators who are either."
After the committee adopted the amendment, Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, offered a substitute that essentially said the State Board of Education could not cede control of Alabama's curriculum to any entity outside of Alabama and that the data-sharing portion of the bill would be protected but could only be used for legitimate education purposes. When it comes to adopting new standards in the future, which is common practice, Holtzclaw's bill would have required a public hearing on new standards to be held in each State School Board district.
Brewbaker then made a motion to table the Holtzclaw substitute, which subsequently failed. Committee members voting for the substitute were: Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison; Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose; Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery; Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile; and Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma. Committee members who voted to table the substitute were Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Pike Road; Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston; Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale; and Sen. Shadrack McGill, R-Woodville.
Brewbaker, realizing the substitute that was adopted did not accomplish the original intent of repealing the common core, asked that the bill be carried over indefinitely, essentially killing the legislation.
"I think this issue will be back," said Holtzclaw after the committee agreed to carry over the bill. "I definitely think it will be back," responded Brewbaker. "If you want to introduce a bill that does what your sub did, we'll be happy to take it back up in this committee."
There was a clear disappointment in the room from Brewbaker and the Tea Party contingent, who have so far been the only group to rally to his side on this issue.
"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 last week. "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."
The BCA will continue to monitor any potential legislation that would lower Alabama's high academic standards, and we will continue to work with the Legislature and State School Board when it comes to the data sharing concerns that have been raised during this debate.
GOVERNOR SIGNS THE FLEXIBLE SCHOOL-TAX CREDIT ACCOUNTABILITY ACT AFTER HIGH COURT CLEARANCE
Governor Robert Bentley on Thursday signed the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 that will allow schools to obtain flexibility waivers from certain state regulations and give parents and scholarship donors tax credits for students who transfer from failing public schools to other public or private schools. The Business Council of Alabama supports innovative changes to improve education.
HB 84 by Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes, was challenged by the state's largest teacher's union as improperly passed, but the Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a lower court's temporary restraining order, sending the bill to Bentley for consideration. "For the first time ever, we're giving all public schools the flexibility they need to better serve their students," Bentley said. "The Department of Revenue and the State Department of Education are reviewing this bill and can develop responsible rules and regulations to address various concerns."
SENATOR SAYS OMNIBUS GUN BILL WON'T PASS IN ITS CURRENT FORM
The chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary committees addressed the Business Council of Alabama's Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday and one of them predicted that the omnibus gun bill in the Senate won't pass in its current form.
Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, and Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, chairmen of the respective Judiciary Committees, discussed several bills in the current 2013 legislative session that are of interest to the BCA.
The omnibus gun bill, SB 286 by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, incorporates numerous provisions.
As written the bill would prohibit business owners from telling employees they cannot bring firearms to work even in their private vehicles in the company parking lot. Because of that provision, the BCA opposes the bill in its current form.
The BCA opposes SB 286 in part because it infringes on the constitutional private property rights of business owners to determine what can be brought onto private property. "We do not have a Second Amendment problem, this is a solution seeking a problem," said BCA President and CEO William J. Canary.
Ward said the bill has too many operating parts that probably dooms it from successfully navigating the legislative process and becoming law.
"Three things I know to be true, the sun will rise in the morning, the sun will set in the afternoon, and that bill will never make it in its current form out of the Legislature," Ward said.
"There is the question with regards to liability for companies that has to be addressed in that bill."
The bill is on the Senate calendar. "Unless they can get it revised before it comes up for a vote in the Senate, I don't see it passing," Ward said.
The BCA supports civil liability immunity, an opt-in, opt-out provision for businesses and across-the-board application. House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, on last Thursday introduced the same bill in the House. It was assigned as HB 430.
Ward also addressed SB 238, the so-called Airbus bill, that would limit the legal liability of large aircraft manufacturers locating in Alabama to 12 years after acceptance of a new airplane and impose a two-year statute of limitations for lawsuits. It passed the House on Thursday by a vote of 102-0. Because the House added a technical amendment, the bill goes back to the Senate for consideration. SB 238 is sponsored by Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, and Sen. Ward.
Airbus is a subsidiary of EADS, a European aerospace company. Airbus last year announced plans to build a $600-million, multiple-model aircraft assembly plant in Mobile that will employ 1,000 workers at full capacity.
Ward said under current Alabama law, an airplane made in the state could crash in 30 years and the Alabama-based manufacturer would still be legally liable for the product. The legislation would offer Airbus the same legal climate as Boeing has in Washington State, Ward said, and the bill "makes sure our legal climate is the same as those we're competing against" such as Florida and Mississippi.
"We're not giving them any unfair advantage," Ward said. "We're going to be as competitive on the legal stage as the economic incentive stage."
The BCA supports the legislation.
DeMarco said it's important for current and new businesses to enjoy predictability in the state's judicial system, "a predictability that you will be treated fairly if you come to the state."
"It incentivizes existing businesses to stay put and it might invite other businesses to come to our state because they know they will get a fair shake," DeMarco said. "So it's not just about the economic incentives we put out there but it's about making sure when folks look at our judicial system that it's a fair and balanced system."
DeMarco said Alabama is ahead of the curve in addressing legal liability for industrial prospects. "The reason we have been able to address this issue is we have had leadership in the business community and the public leadership of elected officials who said we're going to make sure Alabama is in a higher tier when it comes to making sure that we are open for business," he said.
TWO-YEAR COLLEGE CHANCELLOR TOUTS WORKFORCE OPPORTUNITIES Alabama's two-year college system is a willing partner with business and industry for training and educating current and next-generation employees, Alabama Community College System Chancellor Dr. Mark Heinrich told the Business Council of Alabama's board of directors.
Heinrich, speaking Tuesday at the BCA board meeting, said "business and education are a natural fit."
"Working with the BCA is extraordinarily beneficial and gratifying to me," Heinrich said.
Heinrich said workforce development is growing in importance for the two-year system partly because by 2018, with the retirement of large numbers of "baby boomers," there could be a shortage of 5 million middle-skill employees nationally and 250,000 in Alabama. "There's an entire tsunami about to wash over us and I'm not sure if we're ready for that," he said.
Heinrich said the ACCS works with 1,200 businesses and industries. "We're excited about that and we're building more every day," he said.
Heinrich cited the successful Mercedes-Benz Industrial Mechatronics program at Shelton State Community College that helps train qualified students to work at the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International automotive assembly plants in Vance. Heinrich was the president of Shelton State when the State Board of Education named him chancellor of the 26-school system on Sept. 21, 2012.
Mechatronics combines classroom and hands-on study and training in mechanical, electrical, computer, and control engineering. The Mechatronics program is a partnership between Shelton State and the University of Alabama. "We'll be glad to work with anyone on this kind of program," Heinrich said.
Heinrich said the ACCS, the Alabama Industrial Development Training Institute, and the Alabama Technology Network coordinate programs to assist business and industry. "We want to partner with any industry in Alabama to train and we will work with you to develop what's best for you and your employees," he said.
The two-year college system includes the Office of Workforce Development whose mission is to respond to current and future needs of business, he said.
Heinrich said the two-year college system's mission is threefold - academic preparation, workforce development, and adult education.
The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee on Wednesday approved three related bills that are part of a state effort to make the Alabama Medicaid program more patient, physician, and taxpayer friendly.
|Governor Robert Bentley, members of his Medicaid Advisory Commission, and members of the Joint Legislative Committee on Medicaid attended a Tuesday news conference at Jackson Hospital in Montgomery. Bentley said he supports proposed legislation that will transform Medicaid into an efficient and responsible program for patients and providers.|
HOUSE COMMITTEE APPROVES MINOR MEDICAID BILLS; MEDICAID OVERHAUL LEGISLATION IS INTRODUCED
On voice votes, the committee approved HBs 370, 371, and 372 by Rep. Greg Wren, R-Montgomery. HBs 370 and 372 were substituted and amended. All three go to the full House for consideration.
The Business Council of Alabama supports Medicaid reform to control costs and ensure long-term sustainability. The BCA supports improving efficiency, addressing fraud and abuse, and ensuring access to quality health care.
The committee action occurred the day after Governor Robert Bentley said he supported legislation that will change Medicaid "into a more efficient and more affordable program for the taxpayers of Alabama."
Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, introduced the Patient Care Case Management bill on Thursday, SB 340. The legislation would create no more than eight Medicaid regions. Regional care organizations will have to be in place by Oct. 1, 2016, or earlier.
Bentley said the legislation incorporates recommendations of his Alabama Medicaid Advisory Commission. The commission recommended creating Patient Care Case Management networks.
BCA President and CEO William J. Canary last week sent a letter to Gov. Robert Bentley endorsing the recommendations outlined in the commission's final report.
Bentley, a retired physician, wants to change Medicaid from an increasingly expensive numbers-driven system to a patient-doctor health system that will produce positive health results.
Medicaid, the single most expensive component of the $1.7 billion state General Fund budget, this fiscal year was appropriated $615 million, and in its current form it's growing by an estimated $100 million a year.
About 930,000 Alabamians are enrolled in Medicaid, the joint state-federal health care system for the needy, blind, disabled, and elderly, and for low-income families with children.
Wren is a member of the National Conference of State Legislatures executive committee. He said he plans to attend health care and Medicaid reform briefings in Washington, D.C., beginning Thursday. He is chairman of Alabama's Joint Legislative Medicaid Committee that was organized separately from Bentley's Medicaid Advisory Commission.
Wren said he planed to meet Thursday with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to discuss "key Medicaid concerns" and with U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Wren said a Friday briefing on Alabama's Medicaid program was scheduled with Cindy Mann, director of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Wren's HB 371 would require CMS waiver approval to allow Alabama to change patient co-pays that haven't been altered since 1985.
HB 370 would cap state Medicaid spending contingent on passage of Bentley's proposed legislation creating PCCM networks. HB 372 would abolish the Medicaid Joint Interim Committee and the dormant Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Medicaid Policy and create a 12-member Permanent Joint Medicaid Council.
BILL FOR AN INDEPENDENT TAX COMMISSION REPORTED TO FULL SENATE
The Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability committee gave a favorable report to SB 223, by Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, on a vote of 4-0. Two weeks ago, a public hearing was held on the bill, and Wednesday's meeting was the first opportunity for the committee to take a vote. 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 (TBOR II) to promote tax fairness and compliance.
The companion bill, HB 264, by Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, remains on the House regular calendar, in position to be listed on a special order calendar and taken up by the full House.
The BCA and several other business and trade associations under the Business Associations Tax Coalition (BATC) support this legislation.
LEGISLATURE APPROVES PUBLIC SAFETY CONSOLIDATION, CREATES I.T. CABINET POSITION
Governor Robert Bentley on Thursday received SB 108 that would consolidate various state law enforcement functions into a newly created Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency, effective Jan. 1, 2015. The new agency would consist of a Department of Public Safety and a State Bureau of Investigations. SB 108 by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, would consolidate the functions of 22 state agencies with law enforcement responsibilities. The bill creates a secretary of the Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency, abolishes the Department of Homeland Security, and transfers its functions to the new agency.
Governor Bentley on Thursday also was sent SB 117 by Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, that would create a new cabinet position of Secretary of Information Technology and a related Office of the Secretary of Information Technology. The new cabinet position will oversee strategic planning, coordination, and administration of information technology goods and services, according to the bill's synopsis. The bill also would create an eight-member Permanent Legislative Oversight Committee for Information Technology to review the Secretary of Information Technology's performance. Colleges and universities governed by separate boards of trustees and the Alabama State Port Authority are exempt from the bill's provisions.
This week, the Irrigation Tax Credit Bill, SB 204 by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, was passed by the Alabama House and is awaiting signature by the governor. This legislation makes three revisions to the original bill that was passed last year. First, the amendment reduces, from 10,000 to 8,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), the size of a water body that qualifies for a tax credit without building an off-stream reservoir. This revision will open farm land in portions of the Upper Tombigbee, Warrior and Coosa Rivers. Second, it allows a farmer to spread the tax credit over five years. Lastly, at the request of the Department of Revenue, the amendment would add language to describe how the tax credit is distributed amongst members of a partnership that own a farm. The end result of this bill would be to encourage more withdrawals from major rivers for the purposes of irrigation.
Also this week, the Senate passed the General Fund Budget, SB143 by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur. This budget included two amendments that were consistent with positions taken by BCA. First, BCA supports a properly funded Alabama Department of Environmental Management, and this amended budget increased the appropriation to the Department by $1 million. If additional funds for the Department are not included in the budget, Director LeFleur has stated he will seek a permit fee increase to fill any gaps. Also, the Senate-passed budget expanded the language regarding the water assessments to include both surface and ground water assessments as well as to coordinate this effort with the Office of Water Resources.
Lastly, the updated Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin Master Water Control Manual, appendices and a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) were made available for public review by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The DEIS presents the results of the USACE's analysis of the environmental effects of the Proposed Action Alternative for the ACT River Basin Master Water Control Manual. The DEIS was published on March 1st with a 60-day comment period. Public meetings will take place the last week of March in Alabama and Georgia during the comment period. The final EIS (FEIS) is scheduled to be completed and filed with EPA in the summer of 2013. The Record of Decision (ROD), if appropriate, will be signed following the FEIS and the ACT Water Control Master Manual is scheduled to be approved in October 2013.
YOUR BCA ADVOCACY TEAM
Anita L. Archie
Senior Vice President
and Legal Advisor,
Manager of Communications
William J. Canary
President and CEO
Chief of Staff and
Executive Director, ProgressPAC
Nancy Wall Hewston
Vice President for
Communications, Strategic Information and
Political Affairs and
Vice President for
Manager of Visual
Manager of Intergovernmental Affairs, and Advocacy
For more information on the Business Council of Alabama
contact Elaine Fincannon at firstname.lastname@example.org