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State of play on the Legislature’s (maybe) last day

Not so fast, my friends.

That was Senate Minority Leader Rodger Smitherman’s message to his colleagues Tuesday night as many in the Legislature were eager to vote on the remaining bills and adjourn for the year.

By slowing down bills the majority wants (Education Trust Fund budget, Economic developer bill), Smitherman is using his leverage in the Senate to get a vote on his racial profiling bill in the House.

We don’t have one day left – we have six days left, and we can use them as long as we have work to do,” Smitherman said after the Senate adjourned.

Translation: if y’all want to finish up early as planned, the House better to take up my racial profiling bill.

That may be easier said than done, though. House members said there still isn’t enough support to pass the measure, even after an apparent compromise reached on the bill.

Why it matters

Lawmakers can’t much adjourn and go home without passing the Education Trust Fund Budget. The last step in that process is a simple vote in the Senate to approve of a Conference Committee report, which sends it to the governor.

Senator Rodger Smitherman knows this and is using procedural tactics to delay that vote and keep the legislature in session longer than most wanted to be – all to press for a vote on his bill to track police stops by race.

He’s also delaying a vote on a key economic development bill that is a major priority for the Governor’s Office and top Senate leadership.

Smitherman’s racial profiling bill might start picking up some unlikely supporters from those pushing for the economic development bill and those who just want to be done with the session already.

Those “must-pass” bills

Two “must pass” bills are closer to actual passage: House Bills 321 & 322, which are Medicaid provider taxes for nursing homes and hospitals, respectively, are now out of Senate Committee and ready for a final vote on the Senate floor. If they don’t pass, Alabama’s Medicaid system will face a major shortfall and miss out on federal match money. That would probably mean a special session is necessary, thus the “must-pass” moniker.

Another “must-pass” bill – legislation reauthorizing the State Pilotage Commission (tug boat operators at the port) is closer to passage as well. Sen. Trip Pittman has been pressing for changes to the Commission’s makeup as part of the reauthorization process, and it looks like they’ve reached an agreement to add one non-voting member selected by the governor, and not the commission.

What else

Also awaiting final passage is legislation to settle on a framework for sales and use taxes between local governments and out-of-state retailers who have acquired stores in Alabama (Amazon recently bought Whole Foods).

Back in 2015, Alabama created the Simplified Sellers Use Tax program to allow out-of-state retailers like Amazon to begin voluntarily paying state and local sales tax, which is good for state/local revenue and a good legal bet for retailers. Should the state not act to revise the law, there’s a chance Amazon might decide to stop voluntarily paying into the tax system.

What’s interesting here is that all interested parties seem to be aligned – cities, counties, the Alabama Department of Revenue, retailers and online businesses. That’s pretty rare on this issue.

Smitherman’s slowdown may significantly affect this outcome as well.

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