Goat Hill Report- Week Ending Feb. 11, 2022
The 2022 legislative session continued this this week with legislators completing days 7, 8 and 9 out of a possible 30 meeting days. This election year session continues to proceed with a lighter-than-usual workload, but that is expected to increase in the coming weeks. Details of this week’s notable legislative action, as well as key political news, is provided below.
Broadband Bills Pass Senate
On Friday, the Alabama Senate passed three bills by Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) to promote the expansion of high-speed broadband internet service across the state. The bills come on the heels of a wave of federal dollars designated for broadband, a legislative priority for the past four years which has been amplified by the pandemic and the new normal of remote work, learning and healthcare. The three bills were approved without a single ‘no’ vote, and now move to the House for consideration. SB123 and SB124 seek to update and align elements of the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority (ADEA) which was created by the legislature last session and will implement the broadband plan created by ADEA, and the existing Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund created in 2018 which funds specific grants to connect unserved areas. Key changes include setting the definition of unserved households as those with access to download/upload speeds of at least 100/20, and also increasing the matching percentage of project grants. Currently, state grants for broadband projects can account for 35% of the total cost, but that number would be increased to 80%. In addition, SB125 is a constitutional amendment that would allow cities and counties to provide grants to private companies for broadband expansion. The amendment is needed because the state constitution currently prohibits local governments from providing a thing of value to a private company. Alabama cities and counties received a total of about $1.7 billion from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), with funds designated for broadband expansion among other priorities. If approved by the House, SB125 and its constitutional amendment will bypass the Governor’s desk and go on the November ballot for final approval by Alabama voters.
U.S. Supreme Court Weighs In on Congressional Maps
As reported previously, when a three judge federal panel recently delayed the January 28 candidate qualifying deadline for Alabama’s Congressional candidates in order give the state time to redraw its district maps, Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) appealed the federal panel’s injunction to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Monday, the nation’s high court put on hold the lower court ruling that Alabama must redraw its maps before the 2022 elections. Decided on a 5-4 vote, the ruling means this year’s Congressional elections will be conducted under the map drawn by Alabama’s GOP-controlled legislature last fall. Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito, part of the conservative majority, wrote that the lower court’s order for a new map came too close to the 2022 election cycle (Alabama’s party primaries are in May). However, the majority opinion emphasized this was not a final judgment on Alabama’s Congressional maps, pointing out that at a later date the court will decide whether the map produced by the legislature violates the federal Voting Rights Act. That decision by the U.S. Supreme Court presumably will govern elections in 2024 through the end of the decade in Alabama, and could establish a framework that will affect minority political representation elsewhere in the country.
The legislature will reconvene on February 15, 2022.