Goat Hill Report- Week ending Feb. 4, 2022

The 2022 legislative session resumed this week after last week’s conclusion of the special session to allocate federal COVID relief funds. Before the legislative week started, the political scene was buzzing with the results of last Friday’s candidate qualifying deadline for the 2022 elections, which includes the entire legislature and statewide executive offices. Details of this week’s notable legislative action, as well as a summary of last Friday’s candidate qualifying, are provided below.  

Education Bills Could Spark Controversy in Session  

Two education bills filed this week drew considerable attention and could bring fireworks in the coming weeks of the session. SB140 by Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) is a school choice bill that would create Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for private schools and homeschools. The bill was introduced on Tuesday and was approved on a voice vote in the Senate Education Policy Committee on Wednesday morning. Supporters say the state should be funding students, not public education “bureaucracy.” Opponents say the bill will hurt public schools by taking away their funding. A fiscal note on the bill, prepared by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, said that when fully implemented in the 2024-2025 school year, the bill could send as much as $537 million from the Education Trust Fund to the ESAs that parents could use to send their children to alternate schools. At least initially, the per student state allocation would be about $5,561, per the fiscal note. It would change as state funding changes. The bill is on a fast track in the Senate, but appears it will slow considerably if not stall in the House. Marsh has referred to the bill as “The mother of all school choice bills” but stated late in the week he would likely bring a substitute version to make the bill more palatable in the House. However, Marsh insisted any new version would not “gut” his school choice legislation.  

Although not as controversial, HB220 by Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) revisits last session’s battle of a delay in certain provisions of the Alabama Literacy Act. Collins sponsored the 2019 law aimed at improving young students’ reading abilities. It includes requirements for enhanced teacher training, student screenings and additional help for struggling readers, including summer programs. But the accountability portion of the law requires students to read proficiently before being promoted to fourth grade, and third graders who aren’t reading on grade level would be held back (or “retained”). Under HB220, there would be a one-year delay in the retention portion of the bill so that impacted third graders won’t be held back at the end of this year because of recent disruptions in educational programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The delay is supported by Gov. Kay Ivey and several state education committees. Collins said she believes the delay is needed because when the act was originally passed, it was assumed there would be three years of testing data on which to make decisions about proficiency markers. In 2020, because of the pandemic, that testing didn’t happen and another year of testing is needed. In the Senate, Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, has a bill to delay holdback until the 2025-2026 school year. Smitherman passed a similar bill last session, but Gov. Ivey vetoed Smitherman’s bill. In November, Ivey, who is by her position the president of the state school board, recommended a one-year delay. Collins’ and Smitherman’s competing proposals could set up a contentious election year battle over how long to delay the retention portion of the Literacy Act.  

Candidate Qualifying for 2022 Elections  

Friday, January 28, at 5 p.m. was the deadline for qualifying with the state’s two major parties for the 2022 state elections. Attached is a spreadsheet detailing candidates for the Alabama House of Reps, Alabama Senate, all Executive offices, Judicial offices and all Congressional seats (please note spreadsheet tabs).  

Several noteworthy items from Friday’s candidate qualifying:  

-In the State House of Reps, there are 20 open seats which means that 19% of the lower chamber will be freshmen. 48 House members are unopposed (35 GOP/13 Dem), which means that 48% of the House won their seat “without a shot fired.”              

-The State Senate has 5 open seats (14% of the upper chamber) and 16 senators are unopposed (13R/3D) for re-election, which amounts to 48% of the Senate.                   

-The Governor’s race is a crowded field for both parties, with 9 Republicans and 6 Democrats running. Gov. Kay Ivey remains a favorite for re-election, but her 8 GOP challengers was a surprise to many. Most notable among Ivey’s competition are: businessman Tim James, who has run for Governor twice before and is the son of former Gov. Fob James; and Lindy Blanchard, former U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia in the Trump Administration who was a U.S. Senate candidate until her late switch to the Governor’s race.

-State Senator Malika Sanders-Fortier (D-Selma) surprised many observers with her last-minute qualifying for the Democratic Primary for Governor, which means her Senate seat is open. Her father and predecessor in that seat, long-time State Senator Hank Sanders, added to the surprise when he qualified to run for his old seat. Hank Sanders will have both primary and general election opposition in his quest to succeed his daughter.

-The most watched judicial race of 2022 will be the election for Place 5 on the Alabama Supreme Court. With retirement of Justice Mike Bolin, Republicans Greg Cook and Debra Jones will contest their primary nomination while Democrat Anita Kelly awaits the GOP winner. The Republican will be the heavy favorite in November. Cook, an attorney with the prominent Birmingham law firm Balch Bingham, has emerged as the preference of the business community while Debra Jones, a Calhoun County Circuit Judge, seems to be the choice of trial lawyers.

-As for federal races, the field of candidates for the U.S. Senate race to succeed retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R) was finalized with 6 Republicans and 4 Democrats. In deep red Alabama, this race is widely viewed as a Republican lock, and among the 6 GOP primary opponents a 3-way race is emerging between Congressman Mo Brooks (R-AL 5), former Business Council of Alabama CEO and former Shelby Chief of Staff Katie Boyd Britt, and Huntsville businessman and “Black Hawk Down” pilot Mike Durant. Alabama’s Congressional races qualifying for Congressional candidates has been delayed due to a federal court preliminary injunction in the case challenging Alabama’s Congressional district maps drawn last fall. The federal court delayed candidate qualifying for Congressional candidates to February 11 to give the state time to redraw its maps, but legislative leaders and Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) announced they are appealing the injunction to the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping to allow Alabama to utilize the current maps in the near term and hopefully invalidate the entire federal challenge.  

Races of Interest to the Concrete Industry  

Mike Kirkland, a former board member of the ACIA, and current sales manager for Vulcan Materials in North Alabama is running for House District 23.   The 2022 election calendar includes a May 24 primary, June 21 primary run-off and a November 8 general election.  

The Alabama Legislature will reconvene on Tuesday, February 8, 2022.  

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