Goat Hill Report- Week Ending April 21, 2023

This week, the Alabama legislature held another three-day week as they continue to “catch up” from the lost work days from the Special Session in March. The legislature has now completed 13 days out of a possible 30 legislative days, and the session is expected to wrap up in early-to-mid-June. Details of this week’s action are provided below.

Economic Incentives Bills Signed into Law

On Thursday, the Alabama Senate approved the four-bill economic development package to renew and expand the tax breaks and other incentive programs the state uses to lure industries. Governor Kay Ivey signed the bills, which she has dubbed the “the Game Plan”, in a formal bill signing later on Thursday afternoon. There was some suspense on HB241 (Alabama Jobs Act renewal) by Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) when Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) expressed concern with the tourism incentives component of the bill. Specifically, Orr wanted more local investment, a higher dollar amount threshold for eligible projects, and removal of retroactivity to existing projects, but his amendment to do just that (in the committee that Orr himself chairs) was voted down. On the Senate floor, Orr was one of six ‘no’ votes on the Jobs Act and was vocal about his reservations. Despite that one item of dissension, the Game Plan sailed through the legislature over the past two weeks with much focus and fanfare.

As detailed previously, the Game Plan legislation signed into law were:

•             Enhancing Alabama’s Economic Progress Act – HB241 by Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) and Senate companion by Sen. Greg Reed (R-Jasper). This bill would renew the Alabama Jobs Act and the Growing Alabama program and extend their sunset dates to 2028. Passed in 2015, the Jobs Act is set to sunset this year unless renewed by lawmakers. It gives companies tax rebates for eligible payroll taxes paid the previous year. The bill is expected to raise the annual incentive cap from $350 million to $375 million. Also set to sunset this year, the Growing Alabama program offers tax credits to companies as an incentive for the development of certain infrastructure and capital improvement projects.

•             Site Evaluation and Economic Development Strategy Act (SEEDS) – HB257 by Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) and Senate companion by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur). The SEEDS Act will allow the State Industrial Development Authority to issue grants to help fund site development. Sites would have to have at least 200 contiguous acres. Local financial participation in the development would be required, but on a sliding scale so that smaller, rural communities would contribute less than larger ones.

•             Innovation and Small Business Act – HB247 by Rep. Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) and Senate companion by Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro). This Act aims to enhance growth in Alabama’s innovation economy and support underrepresented businesses and enterprises in rural areas, with a goal of transforming the state into a hub for technology and innovation. Reportedly the act would create a $25 million Innovating Alabama Tax Credit to encourage the development of small tech-related and innovative industries.

•             Enhancing Transparency Act – HB240 by Rep. Cynthia Almond (R-Tuscaloosa) and Senate companion by Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman). Amends the Jobs Act to require the Alabama Department of Commerce to publish eligible incentivized project information online to “serve a valid public service and increase confidence in the process.”

Professional Licensing Boards Bill Leads to Turf Battle

A bipartisan bill to reform occupational licensing in Alabama has been filed in the Alabama Senate to create the Occupational Licensing Division under the Secretary of State’s Office. In Alabama, occupational licensing boards are in charge of granting or withholding occupational licenses for certain businesses, including licenses which are attained through testing, education, inspection and other standards – as well as regular fees and possible fines. These boards typically operate autonomously, often retaining third party management companies to staff their organizations. SB 156 by Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) would create an executive director of boards appointed to manage the boards in the state in the new division within the Secretary of State’s office. If passed, SB156 would require that the executive director and his staff serve as the administrative staff for the board. Sen. Elliott has stated that the way the state handles licensing has cost people entry into the labor force. He contends this new process would streamline licensing and decrease costs to the boards, making it cheaper for professionals to become licensed. SB156 exempts a number of occupational boards ranging from the Board of Medical Examiners to the Board of Bar Examiners from governance by the new division. The bill is facing opposition from several boards and professions potentially impacted by the legislation, and Secretary of State Wes Allen also opposes the measure. Secretary Allen’s office issued the following statement: “Although I understand the purpose of the bill, I do not feel that the Secretary of State’s office is the right vehicle for its implementation.”

Employer Childcare Tax Credit Bill Introduced

Investing in childcare was among the recent findings of the Work Force and Wage Gap Task Force, which was created last legislative session and met throughout the fall. A bi-partisan group of state officials and legislators have also embraced the issue and the idea that childcare is not just a “women’s issue” but also a “workforce” issue. Speaking on Thursday to the Capitol Heel’s Advocacy Day of the Alabama Women’s Foundation, Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R) commented, “One of the things that I want to let you all know is I’m going to support and try to continue to do as part of workforce development is making sure that we have a tax credit for childcare.” Later on Thursday, House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) introduced HB368 establishing an employer tax credit and childcare provider tax credit. Daniels told the Women’s Foundation audience the bill is aimed at giving companies options to alleviate the expenses of childcare for their employees, and at keeping childcare centers high-quality.

Dadeville Shooting Prompts Gun Safety Discussion

Last weekend, residents of east Alabama were stunned by a mass shooting at a “Sweet 16” birthday party in the small town of Dadeville. The tragic event, which is still under active investigation, resulted in the deaths of 4 persons – mostly teenagers – and the hospitalization of many other attendees. The case has already received national press coverage, and the immediate reaction from elected leaders was wide-ranging in tone and tenor. Newly-elected state Senator Jay Hovey (R-Auburn), whose district includes Dadeville, delivered floor remarks on Tuesday which focused on the importance of community safety. He also cautioned that “we’re never going to be able to legislate morality.” One day prior, Democratic leaders from the House and Senate called a joint press conference to emphasize the need for additional gun safety regulations – to include SB126, a red-flag law championed by Sen. Merika Coleman (D-Pleasant Grove). An increase in violent crime, particularly in several of Alabama’s larger cities, has already been a topic of much discussion in the current legislative session. Dozens of crime and gun-related bills – from members on both parties – have been filed thus far. In the short term, it remains to be seen how the unfolding investigation in Dadeville will impact the success or failure of particular legislation; nevertheless, the mass shooting will undoubtedly continue to be on the minds of all members as they evaluate various proposals.

The Alabama Legislature will reconvene on Tuesday, April 25, 2023.

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