By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
The Alabama Legislature adjourned “sine die” Thursday, wrapping up legislative business for the year and this four-year term.
What had been a relatively harmonious, drama-free session turned a little testy toward the end, as leaders in the House and Senate bickered over passing each other’s bills. Senators felt like the House was taking too long to act on Senate legislation. House Members thought their pace was just fine, thank you very much, and took umbrage with Senators publicly criticizing them on the Senate floor.
That’s when the legislative gamesmanship began. Like two chess players clocking out after each move, the House and Senate spent much of the last 24 hours of the session taking turns recessing for short intervals to wait for the other body to catch up on its work.
In the end, cooler heads prevailed and the Legislature completed its work with four days to spare.
All the so-called “must-pass” bills managed to make it through by the end. “Must pass” generally refers to legislation that, if not acted upon, would cause a significant problem for state government and likely require a special session to fix. Bills fitting that description this year were both the General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets; two Medicaid provider taxes for nursing homes and hospitals, without which the state’s Medicaid system would face a debilitating shortfall; and legislation reauthorizing the State Pilotage Commission, which the State Port Authority depends on to operate.
There were other high-profile bills that passed toward the very end as well.
One of the most-watched bills of the session was HB317, the Alabama Jobs Enhancement Act, which seeks to prevent a potential pitfall facing state economic developers. The bill allows certain economic development professionals – site selectors for the likes of Hyundai and Toyota-Mazda, as well as local chamber of commerce officials – to avoid registering as lobbyists to approach the Department of Commerce about a potential project. State officials say requiring site selectors to register with the government and disclose their confidential clients will spook away industrial projects. Critics said the bill creates an unnecessary loophole in the state ethics code. In the end, lawmakers passed a bill that was significantly revised with input from public corruption prosecutors to address concerns about maintaining strict accountability.
Lawmakers also passed a revised framework for sales and use taxes between local governments and online retailers. Back in 2015, Alabama created the Simplified Sellers Use Tax program to allow out-of-state retailers like Amazon to voluntarily pay state and local sales taxes, which helps state and local governments avoid missing out on critical revenue. However, the law did not consider the legal implications of an out-of-state retailer acquiring businesses in state. Amazon recently bought Whole Foods, which has multiple locations in Alabama. Republican Sen. Trip Pittman and Democratic Rep. Rod Scott worked with the Alabama Department of Revenue, the retail industry and county and city officials to enact a fix that treats businesses and local governments fairly.
Interestingly, the last bill passed in the session was the first one introduced. SB1, sponsored by Sen. Jim McClendon, closes a loophole in the state’s drunken driving laws. It requires all those convicted of DUI to use an ignition interlock device. Alabama has required that since 2015, but offenders could avoid enforcement by going through a pre-trial diversion program. McClendon’s bill ends that.
After being away from Montgomery for five years in Washington, D.C., it was great to get back into the swing of things at the State House this year. Observing the process from the “other side” as a writer was especially interesting and gave me even more respect for the print and television reporters who work hard to ensure the public knows what their government is up to.
With the session ended, the state’s political attention will turn toward the upcoming elections. All legislative offices are on the ballot this year, as are the statewide constitutional offices from Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General on down. I’ll be hitting the campaign trail, too, following the candidates and updating readers on how things are shaping up. Stay up to speed by subscribing to my Daily News email updates at www.ALDailyNews.com.
Todd Stacy is the publisher of the Alabama Daily News. His 15-year career in Alabama politics spanned from the State House in Montgomery to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Subscribe for free to his Daily News digest for political news and analysis at www.ALDailyNews.