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Legislative briefs for April 18

House approves first-grade readiness bill

A bill that would require children in Alabama to either attend kindergarten or pass a first grade readiness assessment test saw approval from the State House on Tuesday.

Under existing law, children are not required to attend kindergarten, and may start their public education beginning in first grade. House Bill 43, sponsored by Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, would instead require children to either go to kindergarten or pass a first grade readiness test.

“What we’re trying to do is to make sure that when a student reaches the first grade, they have the minimum competence that they can get in kindergarten before entering the first grade,” Warren said on the House floor. “This has really become an important issue in the state of Alabama.”

Warren has carried identical bills in the House every year since 2019, though they had failed to see approval in previous sessions. This session, however, and with the vocal support of Gov. Kay Ivey, the bill easily passed the House floor with a vote of 91-5, with four abstaining.

Financial literacy course requirement bill passes House

House members on Tuesday approved a bill that would require public high school students to take a financial literacy course to graduate.

Sponsored by Rep. Andy Whitt, R-Harvest, House Bill 164 would make graduation from public high schools contingent on taking a financial literacy course, though the bill does not require students to pass it. The class would be incorporated, Whitt said, into existing curriculums for career prep or math classes.

“For the past 30 years I’ve spent my life in the financial industry, and year after year I’ve continuously witnessed the decline of consumers’ ability to understand just basic personal financial skills,” Whitt said on the House floor.

“Waiting until students get into the adult world is often too little, too late. This bill will require public school students complete a course of personal financial literacy and money management before graduation.”

Topics that would be covered in the class include principles of money management, computing interest rates, types of bank accounts, and types of loans, among others. Were the bill to become law this session, students would be required to take the course starting in the 2024-25 school year.

Bill mandating public work projects use American-made iron approved by House

A bill that would mandate public works projects in Alabama use only American-made iron was approved Tuesday by the House.

Sponsored by Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, House Bill 157 would require any public works project funded by the “state of Alabama or any political subdivision thereof” to only use American-made iron. Existing law already mandates that public works projects use American-made steel, with Faulkner’s bill merely adding iron to the statute.

Were a contractor to violate the proposed law, their payout for the contract would be reduced by the amount equal to whatever cost savings they gained from buying iron made outside of the United States.

The bill passed unanimously in the House, with House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, telling Alabama Daily News that he liked the bill, and that “there’s a good chance we could see it expanded.”

Parole violation hold extension bill sees House approval

The House on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow for parole violators to be held an additional 20 days in custody under “exigent circumstances,” where a probation officer’s written report cannot be completed within 20 days.

Under existing law, a probation officer is required to provide a written report on a parole violator within 20 business days, after which, if the report is not provided, that violator is released on parole supervision. House Bill 72, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Starnes, R-Prattville, would allow for that parole violator to be held an additional 20 days were the report not complete within the initial 20-day period.

While the bill itself was hardly contested, House members critical of Alabama’s criminal justice system used the opportunity to share their concerns with the state of Alabama’s high incarceration rate.

England, who has routinely advocated for criminal justice reform, argued that Starnes’ bill ignored the growing incarceration rate in Alabama.

“Before 2019, everybody in here said we were releasing too many people, so what we did was we killed an ant with a sledgehammer and went from releasing almost 40% to 50% of the applicants that go before the board to now releasing less than 10%, and guess what,” England said on the House floor. 

“If you listen to any politician in the state of Alabama right now, what are they telling you? We’ve got a crime wave going on here. Do you think there’s any correlation between not releasing people on parole and our communities becoming less safe? Interestingly enough, there is; every other state in the union that utilizes a successful parole system also experiences a lower crime rate.”

Senate approves licensing fee reduction in massage board ‘sunset bill’

The Alabama Senate on Tuesday approved a “sunset” bill that undoes significant 2022 licensing fee increases on massage therapists in the state and makes other changes to their regulatory board. The substitute bill is part of a larger focus among some senators on dozens of licensing boards in the state.

Citing the need for more oversight of the quasi-government agencies that can license, regulate and fine thousands of Alabama workers, several senators told Alabama Daily News there’s a concerted effort for more regulation of the agencies whose board members are appointed by Gov. Kay Ivey but can be run with outsourced management.

The boards are funded largely by fees they collect from licensees on authority given by the state.

Several of the sunset bills were amended in a Senate committee last week to reduce the years the agencies are extended, and in the case of the Alabama Massage Therapy Board, cancel fee increases on licensees that lawmakers approved last year when told they were necessary to combat human trafficking.

Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, said people consider these boards as state government and it’s up to lawmakers to “to make sure that they are the best possible ambassadors for that occupation that they can be.” 

Gudger successfully substituted the massage board bill to make some changes to how the board operates, but also drop licensing fees to what they were before a significant increase was approved by lawmakers in 2022.

That bill now goes back to the House for its agreement.

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