Goat Hill Report- Week Ending April 26, 2024

The end of session is in sight! This week, the Alabama legislature completed Days 24 and 25 of the 2024 session this week, leaving just five days remaining out of the maximum 30 legislative days. The session is expected to wrap up by mid-May, but no later than May 21. Details of this week’s action are provided below.

Union Battle with Automotive Industry Prompts Legislation

On Tuesday, the House approved SB231 by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) which is aimed at deterring employers from voluntarily recognizing a unionization of their workforce. The bill would make employers ineligible for state economic incentives if they voluntarily recognize a union without a vote of workers.  Orr’s legislation was introduced amidst the United Auto Workers’ push to organize automakers in the South – a union effort which won a big victory on Sunday at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga and has now turned its sights on the Mercedes plant in Tuscaloosa. Mercedes is scheduled to hold a UAW union election in mid-May. Governor Ivey and other state leaders, as well as the state’s business community, have been very vocal in their opposition to union efforts in the state.

SB231’s supporters argue that employers should utilize secret ballot elections moderated by the National Labor Relations Board, rather than voluntarily recognizing the union. Proponents also argue that incentivizing employers to opt for an election would help combat intimidation tactics from labor organizers. After extensive debate and opposition primarily from the Democratic minority, the House ultimately approved SB231 by a vote of 72-30, with only three Republicans from United Mine Worker strongholds in northwest Alabama joining the Democrats as ‘no’ votes. The bill was amended on the House floor with several minor, largely inconsequential amendments, and now goes back to the Senate for concurrence on those minor changes made by the House.

Workforce Package Advances

Continuing our update each week on the comprehensive legislative package introduced by the Governor’s Office and Legislative Leadership to address the workforce participation shortfall, below is the latest on the seven bill package’s progress:

•             HB372 by Rep. Randall Shedd (R-Baileytown) /SB252 by Sen. Greg Reed (R-Jasper) would create the Alabama Growth Alliance, a public corporation aimed at supporting economic development. The AGA’s focus includes increasing private investment within the state and creating opportunities for minority-owned businesses. SB252 will be the vehicle for enactment, as it has passed both houses, but the bill was sent to a conference committee on Tuesday, April 23rd to iron out minor differences in the versions passed by the two houses before seeking enactment with the Governor’s signature.

•             HB344 by Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville)/ SB247 by Sen. Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro) renames the Secretary of Labor and the Department of Labor to the Secretary of Workforce and the Department of Workforce and alter the Department’s duties. SB247 was signed by the Governor and enacted on April 25, and assigned Act Number 2024-115.

•             HB373 by Rep. Kelvin Lawrence (R-Hayneville)/ SB253 by Sen. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva) would provide different pathways towards earning a high school diploma based on the further workforce or continuing education plans of the student. SB253 passed both houses and is awaiting signature by the Governor.

•             HB358 by Rep. Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville)/SB280 by Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman), creating the childcare tax credits. HB358passed the House on April 18 and was referred to the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee on the same date. There is some reluctance on the part of that committee’s chair, Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) to act on the bill as passed by the House without better assurance that the estimates on loss to the Education Trust Fund (ETF) are more reliable. Lawmakers involved in formulating that budget have become more cautious and even skeptical of projections and estimates due to recent miscalculations on a tax exemption for overtime pay enacted last year and effective this year. Childcare is recognized by legislative leaders including Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth as of paramount importance in the advancement of Alabama’s economy, and negotiations are ongoing to lower costs to the ETF. HB358 is expected to receive Senate committee consideration this Wednesday, May 1. 

•             HB346 by Rep. Cynthia Almond (R-Tuscaloosa)/SB250 by Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine), establishing the workforce housing credits. HB346 passed the House on April 18 and was referred to the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee on the same date. As with the childcare tax credit, this bill awaits action in the Senate committee, and the cost to the ETF is the point of concern. HB346 is also expected to receive Senate committee consideration on May 1.

•             HB349 by Rep. James Lomax (R-Huntsville)/SB242 by Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro), allowing counties and municipalities to authorize the incorporation of an innovation district as a public corporation, both received a favorable report from their respective committees and are on the regular calendars for passage in their houses of origin. SB242 was delayed due to questions concerning the vast powers these public corporations would enjoy. After the Senate put the bill into position for passage through a procedural vote, the Senate voted to carry the bill over to allow members to work further on the bill.

•             HB368 by Rep. Neil Rafferty (D-Birmingham)/SB243 by Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook) are constitutional amendments which, if ratified, would allow the Legislature to authorize the incorporation of innovation districts as public corporations. SB243 was delayed due to questions concerning the vast powers these public corporations would enjoy. The Senate put the bill into position for passage through a procedural vote, and carried the bill over. That remains the status of the Senate version. HB368 has received a second reading and is ready for House passage.

Legislation Prioritizes Spending First $30 Million of $200 Million Opioid Settlement

With the benefit of recent recommendations from the state commission that studied how to spend Alabama’s more than $200 million in opioid lawsuit settlement funds, the legislature’s two General Fund budget chairmen – Rep. Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville) and Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) – filed legislation on Tuesday to distribute $30 million in funds this year. Both bills, HB479 by Reynolds and SB337 by Albritton, received favorable reports in their respective committee hearings on Wednesday, and now await action by the full House and Senate.

During four public hearings late last year and earlier this year, the Oversight Commission on Alabama Opioid Settlement Funds, chaired by Reynolds and Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman), heard from 44 agencies and groups providing services related to the prevention, treatment and recovery of opioid addiction in Alabama. Those hearings informed the recommendations released early this week, and were the basis for Reynolds and Albritton’s legislation. The allocation of the first $30 million includes:

•             $20.5 million for the Department of Mental Health including: $8 million for prevention, treatment and recovery grants; $3 million to the 988 Crisis Line; $1 million for mental health/specialty courts; and $3 million to a veteran’s pilot program through a RFP process;

•             $5.5 million for the Board of Pardons and Paroles including: $2.3 million to the recovery and facility services, including housing and transitional spaces for those suffering from substance abuse disorders, and $1.5 million to substance abuse disorder (SUD) treatment and services for women;

•             $1 million for the Department of Corrections to support the implementation or expansion of medication for opioid use disorders;

•             $1 million for Auburn University to expand the School of Pharmacy, K-12 Education Program and Pharmacy Training related to substance abuse;

•             $1 million for the University of Alabama at Birmingham for residencies in psychiatry related to the study and treatment of substance abuse.

What’s Left to be Done?

With just five days remaining, there are several major items still awaiting action. The Legislature’s primary focus next week will be on final passage of the state’s two budget packages – the Education Trust Fund (ETF) bills are on the docket in the Senate and the General Fund (GF) bills are scheduled for consideration in the House. The budget chairmen (two in each chamber, respectively) have signaled that the final bills will reflect consensus between the chambers, which would seem to bode well for all budget bills to reach Governor Kay Ivey’s desk by Thursday evening. Once all the bills have been transmitted, a detailed summary of the budget highlights will be provided – likely as part of the next weekly report.

The primary question remaining is whether a resolution will be reached on gaming in Alabama. The differences in the House’s proposal – to include casinos, sports betting, and lottery – and the Senate’s stripped-down version have been well documented, and the margin for error is particularly narrow in the upper chamber. Depending on the day and who you ask, some progress towards a compromise has been reached during recent negotiations. A formal report from the 6-member (3 House, 3 Senate) conference committee is anticipated soon, and the corresponding vote(s) is viewed by some as the most anticipated legislative action in Montgomery in decades. Should legislation ultimately pass, there will still be vote of the people to amend the state constitution allowing any expansion of gaming – and the date of that vote is yet to be determined by the conference committee.

Another high-profile issue remaining in the session is HB227, the overhaul of the state’s ethics law being spearheaded by Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne). Simpson’s bill received swift passage in the House on April 3rd despite public opposition from Attorney General Steve Marshall as well as Alabama Ethics Commission Director, Tom Albritton. While the opponents have questioned the bill on separate grounds, their shared opposition is notable as the two offices have been considered political enemies for years – which has added an element of suspense to this process (mostly for Capitol insiders). On Thursday afternoon, Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) re-iterated his support for HB227– but didn’t commit as to whether he thought the Senate would act on the bill. HB227 is still awaiting committee action in the Senate.

Bills of Interest to the Concrete Industry

HB 110 by Russell Bledsole cleared the Senate this week and is on the way to the Governor’s desk. The bill was the main legislative effort for the association in 2024. The bill increases the air mile range from 75 miles to 150 miles for drivers who operate under the intrastate hours of service. The legislation will be valuable for companies who are hauling their own cement or sand or if you are moving your trucks around to service jobs that are outside of 75 miles.

SB 226 by Senator Steve Livingston cleared the House this week and is on the way to the Governor’s desk. The legislation applies the same 10% scale tolerance at fixed scales as is applicable to portable scales used by ALEA. The legislation addressed different interpretations of the current law and whether the tolerance was applicable at fixed scale locations.

If you have any questions about this report please contact our office. The Alabama Legislature reconvenes on Tuesday, April 30, 2024.

Comments are closed