Goat Hill Report- Week Ending Feb. 23, 2024

This week the Alabama legislature completed its third week of the 2024 session. The legislature held its third consecutive three-day week in anticipation of taking off two weeks in March (the weeks of March 11 and March 25). After this week, the legislature is one-third of the way through the session having completed 9 days out of a possible 30 legislative days. The session is expected to wrap up in mid-May. Details of this week’s action are provided below.

Legislature Responds to Controversial IVF Court Ruling

In response to an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law, two state legislators announced legislation on Thursday they hope will protect the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process in Alabama. The court ruling prompted several IVF providers in the state to pause their fertility treatments in order to avoid legal consequences. In its ruling, the court cited a 2018 constitutional amendment passed by the Alabama legislature and approved by voters that protected the rights of the unborn. State Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence), a medical doctor, said it was never lawmakers’ intention that the declaration would impact IVF procedures. Although not yet introduced, a two-page draft of Melson’s bill was shared with media sources and provides that “any human egg that is fertilized in vitro shall be considered a potential life but shall not be considered for any purposes a human life, a human being, a person, or an unborn life unless and until the fertilized egg is implanted into a woman’s uterus and a viable pregnancy can be medically detected.” Melson voiced concerns that, if unaddressed by the legislature, Alabamians will have to go out of state for fertility treatments. He plans to get the bill introduced in the Senate as soon as possible and heard in the Senate Health Committee – which he chairs. Also on Thursday, House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville), filed a similar bill that says a fertilized human egg or embryo that exists outside of a human uterus would not be considered an unborn child or human being “for any purpose under state law.” Daniels’ bill, HB225, is pending in the House Judiciary Committee and would become effective immediately upon its passage.

Anti-DEI/Divisive Concepts Bill Approved by Senate

On Thursday, the Alabama Senate approved SB129 by Sen. Will Barfoot (R-Pike Road), which would prohibit government institutions, including state agencies, public schools and colleges, from funding a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) office and from sponsoring DEI programs or any program that “advocates for a divisive concept.” The bill was met with strong resistance from Senate Democrats, but after a six-hour debate the full Senate approved the legislation on a 26-7 vote along party lines. The original version of the legislation listed nine so-called “divisive concepts,” with most covering topics related to race, ethnicity, sex, religion and national origin. SB129 also includes a “bathroom bill” element that would prohibit higher education institutions from allowing individuals to use a restroom that is different from their biological sex. Sen. Barfoot acknowledged concerns that the legislation, in its original form, could have “unintended consequences,” and encouraged members to accept a number of proposed amendments. As amended, the bill no longer prohibits college staff from discussing whether slavery and racism are aligned with the founding principles of the United States, and also adds specific protections for women’s sports, the state Office of Minority of Affairs, funding for student and staff organizations, and adds “sex” to the list of protected classes in places where it was omitted. SB129 now goes to the House for consideration.

House Committee Approves School Choice/ESA Legislation

After a public hearing was held last week in the upper chamber on the Senate version (SB61) of Education Savings Account (ESA) legislation, this week the House version of the ESA bill received a favorable report in the House Ways & Means Education Committee. Like its Senate companion bill, HB129 by Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) creates a state ESA fund that would be funded every year with at least $100 million. The fund would allow up to $7,000 in taxpayer money follow students to private schools, while home school families would be capped at $2,000 per child or $4,000 total. The tax credit program would start in the 2025-2026 school year, and for the first two years participants’ income is capped at 300% of the federal poverty level. After some education groups voiced concerns in the Senate hearing last week, a substitute bill was adopted in House committee this week in an effort to address some of those objections. Most notably, the House substitute caps the total balance in the ESA fund at no more than $500 million, and it included additional accountability language that requires participating schools to share student test scores directly with parents on an annual basis and requires participating schools to report school-level assessment data to the state. HB129, as substituted, was approved by the House education budget committee on a voice vote, with only a few members voting against it. After its committee approval, HB129 could get a vote on the House floor as early as next week.

Gaming Legislation Slows Down in Senate

On the heels of last week’s House approval of comprehensive gambling legislation, the high profile two-bill package slowed down in the Senate this week as lawmakers worked to amend the legislation in order to pick up Republican votes. The two-bill package – HB151 (constitutional amendment) and HB152 (enabling legislation) – would allow voters to approve a statewide lottery, sports wagering and up to 10 casino locations around the state. The bills came out of the House with strong momentum but remain very much in question in the Senate. Rumors circulated this week that proponents of the gaming package only needed three votes for Senate passage, and were eagerly working deals that would secure those votes and possibly a few extra. Much of the conversation reportedly has centered around healthcare expansion language and also the November general election date for voter approval of the constitutional amendment. Regarding the healthcare expansion issue, it was reported that some Republican senators are concerned about language devoting revenue to an expansion of healthcare services within the state. The expansion is not traditional Medicaid expansion, but instead follows the Arkansas model of a public-private partnership between the state and Blue Cross/Blue Shield that would devote tax dollars to providing private insurance plans to some low-income Alabamians. Medicaid expansion has long been opposed by the Republican supermajority in the Alabama legislature. As for the November election date, although a Presidential election year typically attracts high voter turnout which would be favorable for a statewide gambling vote, it is anticipated that an open Congressional seat will be a general election toss up and could be determined by voter turnout between the two parties. The newly drawn 2nd Congressional District, which was the result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision directing Alabama to create an additional “minority-majority” district, is viewed by Democrats and Republicans as a key district in deciding which party will hold the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. As a result, Republican legislators – particularly those hoping for a favorable outcome on a statewide gaming vote – are weighing the pros and cons of holding the vote in November. Both HB151 and HB152 have been assigned to the Senate Tourism Committee, but as of Friday morning a committee meeting had not been announced for next week.

Bills of Interest to the Concrete Industry

HB 110 by Representative Bedsole is on the agenda of the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday, February 28th, 2024. The legislation will increase the air mile range from 75 to 150 for drivers operating under the intrastate variance.

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