The Alabama Legislature adjourned Sine Die late in the night on Thursday, April 7, marking the end of the 2022 regular session. Technically the session ended on the 29th legislative day – one day earlier than the maximum allowed 30 days – but the session did go past midnight by a few minutes. It is also notable that legislative leaders did not take an extended break between the next-to-last and last day of session. The extended break between the last two days is a standard legislative practice so that the Governor is not in a position to pocket veto those late-arriving bills, so the decision not to take a break between the last two days indicates the legislature was not concerned about a veto on any key items. Details of this week’s notable legislative action and other political news, as well as details of future sessions, are provided below.
What Passed in the Final Week
Two noteworthy bills passed the final week of the session related to puberty blockers and multi person bathroom bills.
• SB184 by Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Gardendale) makes it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to prescribe puberty blockers or hormones to transgender people under age 19 to help in their gender transition. The bill also prohibits school administrators and educators from withholding – or encouraging or coercing a minor themselves to withhold – any information about a student’s gender identity issues from their parent. Alabama is the second state to try to impose a ban on gender-affirming care for minors and the first to impose criminal penalties. Gov. Ivey signed the legislation a day after it was approved. Several advocacy groups have vowed to challenge the law in court.
• HB322 by Rep. Scott Stadthagen (R-Hartselle) prescribed that in public K-12 schools, students can only use multi-person bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with the gender on their original birth certificate. On the final day of the session, HB322 was unexpectedly amended to include what critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” provision – much like the language recently enacted in Florida – that would prohibit classroom instruction or discussion on sexual orientation or gender identity for students in kindergarten through the fifth grade. The Governor signed the legislation Friday, and numerous interest groups immediately announced their intent to file lawsuits challenging the legislation in court.
Delay in Literacy Act Provision. On Wednesday, lawmakers approved SB200 by Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) to delay the much-debated requirement to hold back third graders who don’t meet reading benchmarks under the 2019 Alabama Literacy Act. The requirement was set to begin this spring and the bill’s original language imposed a three-year delay, but lawmakers reached a compromise to delay it for two years until the 2023-2024 school year. Many lawmakers expressed concern about putting the requirement on students after the pandemic interrupted classroom instruction for two school years.
What Didn’t Pass in the Final Week
Anti-Critical Race Theory Bill. HB312 by Rep. Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville), was a bill to ban a list of “divisive concepts” from being taught in K-12 classrooms and state worker training. The legislation was approved in the House of Representatives but did not get a Senate vote.
Gaming. Several gaming bills, including legislation to create a state lottery and also more comprehensive gaming bills to authorize casinos, sports betting and a lottery, all failed this session. As in past sessions, longstanding disputes among gaming interests over who should get casino licenses helped doom the bills, as did the approaching Primary Election which no doubt cooled interest from members who didn’t want to risk attack from social conservatives.
School Choice. An ambitious school choice bill, SB302 by Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston), would have provided parents with $5,500 per year to pay for private school or other school options. SB302 passed the Senate but failed to advance in the House due to opposition from education organizations.
Major Items from the 2022 Session
Education Trust Fund Budget – Lawmakers approved an $8.2 billion education budget, which is the largest in state history. Most notable in the ETF budget is the largest teacher pay raise in a generation, aimed at addressing the continuing teacher shortage. The raises would range from 5% to nearly 21%, depending on years of experience. Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), the chairman of the Senate Finance & Taxation Education Committee, said the goal is to encourage experienced teachers to stay in the classroom and to attract more students to the field of teaching. Specifically, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 20 years of experience would see their salary rise from $51,810 to $57,214. A teacher with a master’s degree and 25 years’ experience would see their pay rise from $61,987 to $69,151. Teachers with less than nine years of experience would see a 4% raise. Sen. Orr and education advocates stated that although Alabama has competitive salaries for new teachers compared to surrounding states, the state is lagging in salaries for mid-career educators. As many of the state’s school systems are struggling with teacher shortages, Alabama – as well as other states – has looked to pay increases and other measures to try to recruit and retain educators.
General Fund Budget – The legislature approved the largest General Fund Budget in the state’s history, totaling $2.7 billion. Some noteworthy aspects of the FY2023 spending plan include a 4% pay raise for state employees and a one-time bonus for retired state employees. The budget will also provide extra funds for the Alabama Department of Mental Health and the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles.
The money allocated to the Department of Mental Health will allow for construction of community mental health centers and the implementation of crisis intervention training programs.
Permitless Carry Bill – With the enactment of the “Permitless Carry” bill – HB272 by Rep. Shane Stringer (R-Citronelle), Alabama will become the 22nd state to allow people to carry concealed handguns without first undergoing a background check and getting a state permit. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed the legislation into law soon after it was approved by lawmakers. The bill has been hailed by gun rights advocates who call it “constitutional carry” and argued that people should not have to get a permit, which requires a background check and a fee, to carry a concealed handgun. Opponents include Democrats and law enforcement, with many sheriffs and police chiefs arguing that the current permit system is an important safety mechanism for law enforcement. The bill goes into effect on January 1, 2023.
Bill of Interest to the Concrete Industry
Senate Joint Resolution 83 by Senator Albritton will create a study commission to address indemnification clauses in construction contracts. Governor Ivey signed the resolution last week. The ACIA would like to thank Senator Albritton for his efforts. The association believes the current clauses in construction contracts place unfair liability and potential cost on concrete companies even in cases where they have no negligence.
Primary Election in Six Weeks
With the session now complete, political focus will quickly turn to Alabama’s upcoming primary elections on Tuesday, May 24th. All of the state’s constitutional offices and all 140 legislative seats are on the ballot in 2022, in addition to several key federal races. From a statewide perspective, there are few contested primaries at the top of the ticket. At the top of the ticket, Governor Kay Ivey remains a popular incumbent but does face several well-financed Republican challengers – including businessman Tim James and former U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia, Lindy Blanchard. Recent polling suggests that the Governor is well-positioned to avoid a runoff, and while her campaign is messaging some national issues in advertising, Ivey’s results-driven and on-the-job credentials continue to be a key selling point for her candidacy.
The marquee race for this campaign cycle is undoubtedly the U.S. Senate race to succeed 36-year incumbent Senator Richard Shelby (R). The top contenders include: former Business Council of Alabama president and Shelby chief of staff Katie Britt; Huntsville businessman and decorated war hero Mike Durant; and Congressman Mo Brooks (R-AL5), whose district includes Huntsville and the northernmost tier of Alabama. Both Britt and Durant are first-time candidates and appear to be jockeying for a first place finish, although neither is expected to earn enough votes to avoid a June 21 runoff. The dynamics of the race shifted significantly in recent weeks after former President Donald Trump rescinded his earlier endorsement of Congressman Brooks, whose weak fundraising and sagging poll numbers had been a concern for some time. President Trump intends to hold a rally in the state in mid-June, which suggests that he may hold off on re-issuing an endorsement prior to May 24th and assess the race further at that point.
As for the Alabama legislature, there is expected to be a modest amount of turnover as compared to the 2018 cycle. One key departure is the current Speaker of the House, Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia). Two main candidates in the majority caucus – Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) and General Fund Budget Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) – have emerged as the leading candidates to replace McCutcheon. Several members of the House are also running for open Senate seats. Most notably, House Rules Chairman Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) is the favorite in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Jimmy Holley (R-Elba). Overall, leadership in the Senate is poised to remain stable as both President Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper) and Majority Leader Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) are both unopposed. Two new Democratic senators will be elected this cycle, one from populous Jefferson County and one representing a majority of the state’s rural Black Belt region. In a display of the state’s pronounced one party rule, only one member in the upper chamber, Sen. Tom Butler (R-Madison), faces both a primary and general election contest.
When Will the Legislature Return?
The next regular session of the legislature will be the first of the newly-comprised legislature after the 2022 elections. As set out in the Alabama constitution, the new legislature will hold an organizational session in January 2023 to formally decide on House and Senate leadership. The actual 2023 regular session will begin two months later on March 7, 2023. In addition, a special session is expected later this year – likely in August or September – to allocate the second tranche of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) fiscal recovery funds, expected to be $1 billion. Although the legislature previously allocated the first tranche of fiscal recovery funds (also $1 billion), the Governor and legislative leaders agreed to wait until the second installment from the feds had been provided to the state before allocated those dollars.
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