The Business Center of Alabama
2 N. Jackson St. Montgomery, AL 36104

Bill Poole
Chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Committee


Innovator Liability Bills and Economic
Development Legislation Advance


The Business Council of Alabama-supported Alabama School Choice and Opportunity Act cleared both chambers Wednesday night and was signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley on Thursday afternoon.

BCA President and CEO William J. Canary lauded this significant achievement. "Charter school legislation has been a legislative priority of Alabama's business community for several years," Canary said. "Its swift passage is a tribute to House and Senate members who supported it, members of the business community who rallied behind it, and the parents, teachers, and administrators who testified that public charter schools work.

"A hearty thank you is owed to all who worked so hard, especially Senate bill sponsor President Pro Tem Del Marsh, House sponsor, Rep. Terri Collins, and Emily Schultz with the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools," Canary said.

The House and Senate this week, the third of the 2015 legislative session, also passed innovator liability bills that would overturn state Supreme Court interpretations of existing Alabama law that could damage business. The full House and Senate could consider the bills in two weeks.

And the Senate began passing important economic development legislation that originated in the House.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, Chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee, and Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, Chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee, spoke to the BCA's Governmental Affairs Committee for this week's Tuesday Morning Briefing.


Both said that all potential revenue and cost-cutting options are on the table this session in an attempt to craft a General Fund budget that will stay within the constitutional prohibition against deficit spending.

Orr said spending cuts are possible. Clouse said he has considered introducing legislation to remove the state income tax deduction for FICA and self-employment taxes and earmark the tax increase to the General Fund.

The BCA-supported prison reform bill also advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

The House and Senate will take a week off for spring break and will reconvene March 31 for the ninth legislative day of the 2015 regular legislative session that cannot last beyond 30 legislative days.


Public Charter Schools Bill Becomes Law


In a victory for the education-conscious business community, school-choice advocates, parents, and students, the Alabama School Choice and Opportunity Act was signed into law on Thursday.

The Senate passed a public charter school bill, SB 45 sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, last week. The House followed suit this week by passing the Senate version, sending it to Governor Robert Bentley.

The important public charter school bill was strongly supported by the Business Council of Alabama and allies including, among others, the Business Education Alliance of Alabama, Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools, Black Alliance for Educational Options, Students First and A+ Education Foundation, as another tool in the business education toolbox that will give parents needed choice in their children's educations.

BCA President and CEO William J. Canary had testified at a Senate public hearing and urged passage of public charter school legislation for the sake of parents, their children, and the business community that needs well-prepared graduates.

"We at the BCA are dedicated to doing our part to improve public education because that is where we will get the next generation of our employees and leaders," Canary said. "Very simply, we think parents should have a choice."

On Wednesday, Business Education Alliance of Alabama Chairman and President Joe Morton, Ph.D., opined on the importance of having public charter schools as part of Alabama's public school offering. Morton, who testified in support of charter schools at both the House and Senate public hearings, was state superintendent of education when the first charter school bill was introduced in 2010 and helped draft the legislation.

Marsh's Senate bill was handled in the House by the House bill sponsor, Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur. "Every child in Alabama deserves a high-quality education, and the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act empowers parents with another choice for their child's education," Collins said.

Collins and Marsh are to be commended for expertly explaining the bill. The House passed the bill 58-41 on Wednesday and the Senate concurred with the amended bill 24-11 the same day.


Other Bills of Interest


The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee voting 10-4 favorably reported the revision to the Accountability Act of 2013, SB 71 by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh. The bill was brought up on the Senate floor on Thursday and the Budget Isolation Resolution passed 24-0-2, placing the bill in position to be debated. Marsh then had it carried over at the call of the chair to work on some amendments with stakeholders.

SB 191 by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, would separate the two-year college system from under the State Board of Education and establish a new board to govern it, was favorably reported 8-4 by the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee. The Senate passed it 27-5 on Thursday after a lengthy debate.

Under Pittman's legislation, the governor would appoint all eight members to a new two-year college system oversight board. They would have to be confirmed by the Senate. One person would be appointed from each of the seven congressional districts and one member would be appointed at-large.


At the request of Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, senators approved an amendment to ban the governor from choosing two-year college board members from among people who donated to his campaign. Singleton said the amendment would "keep politics out of the process."

Alabama is one of eight states with one board that oversees both K-12 and a two-year college system.


Bill to Protect Alabamians from Federal Overreach Advances


On Wednesday, the House County and Municipal Government Committee favorably reported HB 120 by Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne, the companion bill to SB 52, by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, which passed the Senate late Thursday.

These bills, each known as the Energy Security Act, are necessary due to a new regulation by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which essentially shifts the jurisdiction of planning, design and development of new transmission projects from the state to the federal government.

If left unchecked, this federal power grab would put Alabama consumers at risk of project abandonment or delay, subpar construction, slow response and recovery during emergency responses, and increased costs. If passed, this act would prevent these risks from being placed on consumers and ensure that Alabama electricity providers maintain the right to construct new transmission lines for Alabama consumers.

The BCA supports this legislation.


Bills to Protect Alabama Manufacturers Advance


The House and Senate passed companion bills that is designed to restore Alabama's long-standing product-liability law and put us in line with the majority of states that have rejected the innovator-liability theory. That theory holds that a manufacturer can be held liable for a product even though it neither made nor sold it.

"We applaud the Alabama House and Senate for quick consideration and passage of this needed legislation," BCA President and CEO William J. Canary said.

The bills have been important to Alabama manufacturers and economic development ever since 2013 and 2014 when Alabama Supreme Court rulings potentially opened up product tort actions against businesses that did not make a product.

The House voting 88-7 passed HB 110 sponsored by Rep. Jack "J.D." Williams, R-Vestavia Hills, and the Senate voting 32-0 passed SB 80 sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster. Each bill now goes to the other chamber for consideration.

The BCA supports these bills that are part of its 2015 State Legislative Agenda.

See this BCA fact sheet for more information.

Prison Reform Advances


A substitute SB 67, the prison reform bill sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, received a 9-0 favorable report in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. The BCA supports this bill that is in position to be considered by the full Senate when lawmakers return from spring break on March 31.

Ward said his bill would reduce the state prison system's capacity from about 190 percent to the 160 percent range in five years. The bill would fund an additional 1,700 prison beds statewide and the hiring of about 100 additional parole officers to monitor released inmates.

If it becomes law, penalties for some minor crimes would be reduced and greater supervision of inmates would occur. It also would create a Class D felony, a new category, for some nonviolent property and drug offenses. The committee vote follows more than 9 months of work by the Alabama Prison Reform Task Force, which is a diverse group of elected leaders, policy experts and stakeholder organizations.

Prison reform is of vital interest to Alabama as the real threat of a federal takeover of prisons would result in more than $400 million of new taxes to build additional prison capacity.


The BCA produced two podcasts on prison reform in Alabama. Please listen to learn more.


A discussion with Sen. Cam Ward and Andrew Barbee from the Council of State Governments Justice Center about the current state of Alabama's prison system. This episode is the first in a continuing series on this topic.

Billy Canary, president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, follows up with Andrew Barbee from the Council of State Governments Justice Center and State Senator Cam Ward of Alabaster about Justice reform in Alabama and specifically "Project Justice Reinvestment."

Other Bills of Interest


HB 232, by Rep. Jack "J.D." Williams, R-Vestavia Hills, would increase the eligible amount-in-controversy in small claims court from $3,000 to $6,000. It was given a favorable report by the House Commerce and Small Business Committee.

HB 54, by Rep. Bill Poole, R-Northport, would allow LLCs formed under another state's law but operating in Alabama to govern their internal affairs by the laws of the state of formation; it would also clarify liability issues for wrongful distributions by LLC members. This bill, supported by the Alabama Law Institute, was amended and given a favorable report by the House Commerce and Small Business Committee. It will be the first bill on the House special order calendar on March 31.

SB 55, by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, would prohibit changes to rules promulgated by state agencies for a period of 10 years. This bill was carried over by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

SB 56, also by Pittman, would prohibit any unilateral changes, including new rules or requirements implemented after signing, by the state to the terms of a contract between a state agency and a party providing services to the state during the contract period. SB 56 was amended and given a favorable report by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.


Bill Would Create New Cause of Action Against Employers


SB 195 by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, was discussed in the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday. This bill would create a new cause of action against employers by attempting to define "harassment, intimidation, or bullying" and making it an unfair labor practice which includes exposing employers to punitive damages and other penalties. The bill also mandates employers to adopt new employment policies and conduct employee training to prevent "harassment, intimidation or bullying."

The committee carried the bill over after adopting an amendment that would extend the time from one year to four years in which a lawsuit could be filed after the last act constituting "bullying" has occurred. BCA has historically and consistently opposed creating new causes of action against businesses. Existing law provides ample protections and legal remedies for employees who are subjected to physical harm and hostile work environments.


Capital Investment bill sent to Governor


One of three job-creation bills has passed the House and Senate. HB 59 by Rep. Paul Lee, R-Dothan, which previously passed the House, passed the Senate 29-0 on Thursday. The Alabama Reinvestment and Abatements Act would provide incentives that promote capital investment and job growth by existing industry. Existing Alabama companies that qualify under the Alabama Jobs Act and have facilities refurbished, upgraded or returned to service with at least $2 million of capital investment, would be eligible for abatements of non-education, construction-related transaction taxes on materials, non-educational property taxes on the incremental increase in assessed value of the property from the improvements, and an exemption from increased utility taxes for up to 10 years. The bill awaits Governor Bentley's consideration.

A second job-creation bill, HB 57 sponsored by Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatom, received a favorable report in the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday. HB 57 is the Alabama Veterans and Rural Jobs Act. It would provide rural Alabama counties facing economic development challenges with the opportunity to offer enhanced incentives and access to capital. A proposed amendment would change the designation of rural counties to "low-income communities." HB 57 was in position in the Senate to be debated but decided to carry the bill over in order to further discuss the definition of a "rural county" or a "low-income community."

The third bill, HB 58 sponsored by Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, passed the House on March 20.  The Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee gave it a favorable report. The BCA supports this legislation.

Tax Withholding Changes Pass House Committee


HB 240, sponsored by Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton, was given a favorable report by the House Ways and Means Education Committee on Wednesday. This bill would repeal an exemption that was intended to free low-income employees from having income taxes withheld from their paychecks under certain conditions. Under current law, an employer is not required to withhold income taxes from an employee's wages if that employee can prove that he or she did not incur any tax liability in the prior year and anticipates not having any income tax liability for the current year.

According to the Legislative Fiscal Office, this bill would increase income tax collections by $12 million annually to the Education Trust Fund.

The Alabama Department of Revenue reports that some employees are abusing their exemption by not filing a tax return after they are approved for the exemption. Specifically, at least 17,000 exempted taxpayers failed to file a return, even though each earned at least $5,000 for the year.

The BCA is monitoring this bill.


Dana Beyerle
Director of Communications
William J. Canary
President and Chief Executive Officer
Mark Colson
Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and
Chief of Staff
Anna Dobbins
Meetings/Events and Communications Coordinator
Leah Garner
Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy
Drew Harrell
Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Strategic Operations
Nancy Wall Hewston
Vice President of Communications, Strategic Information and Federal Affairs
Nathan Lindsay
Vice President for Political Affairs, Regional Operations and Executive Director of ProgressPAC
Trevor Parrish
Legislative Policy Coordinator
Joshua Vaughn
Director of Visual Communications and Strategic Information
Victor Vernon
Vice President for Public Policy
Pam Ware
Manager, Government Affairs and Advocacy

For more information on the Business Council of Alabama contact