2019 Legislative Preview
From 2019 Public Policy Chair, Morgan Ashurst
March 5, 2019
The Public Policy Committee is looking forward to another busy legislative session. As you will read below, there will be a lot going on in Montgomery this year and much of the debate will be centered around revenue. The Public Policy Committee is comprised of members such as yourself, who work hard each week to review all bills that are filed and provide updates to the Association throughout the year.
2019 Legislative Session Begins Tuesday
The Alabama Legislature returns to Montgomery this week for the 2019 Legislative Session. This year’s regular session convenes today on Tuesday, March 5, 2019, and will adjourn no later than Monday, June 17, 2019, at midnight. The first year of a new four-year quadrennial session is always a busy time with new ideas and new opportunities to address challenges facing our state. With nearly a third of the 140 legislators being new to the legislature, we may have as many as 1,500 bills filed this year.
Preparations are underway to have a successful four-year quadrennial session. Our Public Policy Committee will track a number of bills each year, monitoring all developments for any legislative initiatives that would harm our members or their businesses. As an industry, this is one of the most important roles we play.
The legislature is expected to consider an increase to the gasoline tax to fund infrastructure expansion, an increase in Medicaid funding to expand services and fund rural hospitals, increase funding for prison construction, and ethics reform and clarification. Several of these major initiatives will require additional revenue to succeed.
During discussions of additional revenue, we must remain vigilant for threats to real estate and efforts to balance these requests on the backs of real estate professionals and/or property owners through increases in taxes/fees or removal of real estate-friendly tax deductions or incentives in the tax code. Here are some of the major issues that are expected to come up this year
Infrastructure funding will drive the debate this year. Many in state and legislative leadership believe the time is now to give the state the best chance to build the infrastructure to support existing industry and recruit new projects to the state which will bring new jobs, new rooftops, and new opportunities for Alabama. Despite recent successes, we have lagged behind our southern neighbors in population growth and as a result may lose a Congressional seat in redistricting.
Governor Kay Ivey has led the way for infrastructure funding by announcing support for a 10 cent tax increase, graduated over three years and permanently tie the tax to a national index on highway construction costs that would allow year-to-year increases. The Legislature will debate whether and by how much to increase taxes on fuel. Many agree that increased infrastructure funding is necessary, but will disagree over the amount of an increase, how to allocate the increased funding between state and local governments, and whether the increase should be offset by decreasing a different tax such as the tax on groceries. A special session may be called within the regular legislative session to allow legislators to focus on this important issue.
Prison and Mental Health Funding
The state is known for overpopulated prisons that are crumbling, underfunded, and understaffed. Many prisoners are housed in squalid and unsafe conditions. Guards are often put in dangerous situations. Prisoners with mental and physical disabilities are given very few opportunities for adequate treatment. A federal judge has ordered the state to address these issues; failure to do so will likely result in a federal takeover of the state’s prison system. Governor Ivey has put forward an ambitious plan to build up to three new prisons and provide adequate funding for prisoners with mental and physical disabilities. It will now be up to the Legislature to provide the funding necessary to support the plan.
Medicaid Expansion and Rural Health
The medical community is advocating for the expansion of Medicaid funding in Alabama to support increased services to those in need in rural parts of the state. Rural hospitals are struggling to maintain funding to continue to provide services in underpopulated areas of the state. Proponents of Medicaid expansion argue that increased funding would open the door to a wave of federal funding from Washington and have a positive economic impact on the state which would offset any additional costs of expansion. Thirty-six states have expanded Medicaid in recent years. An economic impact study by UAB’s School of Public Health found that expansion would cover as many as 346,000 more Alabamians and spur as much as $2.9 billion in additional economic activity in Alabama’s economy.
Budgets and Other Bills
The two most important bills for consideration are the Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget and the General Fund budget. Much like last year, the ETF will be strong while the General Fund continues to be strained. As it has for several years, a state lottery, compacts with gaming interests, and the expansion of online sports betting will likely be part of budget discussions.
Additional issues expected to be discussed this year include a revision to the state’s Civil Asset Forfeiture laws, amendments to the state ethics laws, and oversight and reform of licensing boards and regulatory agencies to name a few.
Your Alabama REALTORS® Public Policy team is looking forward to providing weekly updates from the State House. Stay up-to-date on the 2019 Alabama Legislative Session at Capital News & Notes under the public policy tab on our website, www.alabamarealtors.com, and be on the lookout for Calls for Action this session.