Capitol News and Notes: Week 1

Capitol News and Notes: Week 1

What a first week of the 2019 Legislative Session! All in one week, the Legislature gaveled into the regular session on Tuesday, March 5th, the Governor gave her State of the State speech that same night, the Legislature adjourned the regular session to hold a special session, the Legislature spent one week in special session during which it passed infrastructure legislation and adjourned the special session today, March 12th.

The Regular Session

The regular session has 29 legislative days remaining after one legislative day was held on March 5th. 135 bills were filed in the House and 81 bills in the Senate. Committee meetings scheduled for Wednesday, March 6th, were canceled due to the start of the special session.  

The State of the State – Governor Kay Ivey

On the evening of March 5th, Governor Kay Ivey delivered the State of the State address – the first in her first full term as governor. After acknowledging those impacted by the storms on March 3rd, Governor Ivey touted the economic numbers for Alabama over the last several years – 3.7% unemployment, $8.8 billion in new capital investments, and new and expanding industries from automotive to technology to aerospace. From an education standpoint, she emphasized the need to improve Alabama’s education system and to remedy the underrepresentation of women and minorities in STEM professions.

Most significantly, Governor Ivey discussed her infrastructure plan “Rebuild Alabama” and her willingness to call a special session to pass infrastructure legislation, which is discussed in detail below.

Other initiatives addressed by Governor Ivey include Alabama’s outdated state prisons; a 4% pay raise for teachers and a 2% pay raise for state employees; expanding Alabama’s pre-k program; and increasing funding for Mental Health for additional programming, for the Alabama Law Enforcement for additional State Troopers, and for Alabama’s institutions of higher education.

The 2019 Special Legislative Session

The Legislature adjourned the 2019 regular session until March 19th, and Governor Kay Ivey called a special session for March 6th to address infrastructure issues. See the Special Session Proclamation here. While a special session can last 30 days and contain up to 12 legislative days, this special legislative session ended today, lasting a total of 7 calendar days.

Infrastructure Bills

The special session primarily focused on three infrastructure bills – no other legislation passed both houses during the special session.

HB 2 - As reported in the Legislative Preview, the “gas tax” bill, or HB 2, would raise the gasoline and diesel tax by ten cents, graduated over three years. Sponsored by Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), the increase would be the first gas and diesel tax increase since 1992. To prevent construction costs from outpacing tax receipts, the bill also ties the gas and diesel taxes to a national index of highway construction costs but limits any increases to one cent every two years.

The increase is expected to bring in $320 to $350 million a year when fully implemented. The first $11.7 million of the increase would go to the Port Authority (see below) and the remainder would be divided 66% to the state, 25% to the counties, and 8% to the municipalities. The bill also places an annual fee on electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids – funds which will help Alabama expand electric vehicle infrastructure throughout the state. HB 2 passed the House on March 8th by a vote of 84-20 and passed the Senate on March 12th by a vote of 28-6. See the votes here and here respectively.

HB 1 - From an oversight standpoint, HB 1, sponsored by Rep. Poole, would provide increased scrutiny on the manner Alabama’s transportation projects are decided. Currently, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) develops Alabama’s long-range infrastructure plan. In a nutshell, HB 1 would require ALDOT to report the long-range plan, as well as changes to the plan, to the Legislature’s Permanent Joint Transportation Committee for approval and would expand the number and responsibilities of the Committee. HB 1 passed the Senate on March 8th and passed the House of Representatives today, March 12th.

HB 3 – Championed by U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, Alabama plans to expand and improve the shipping channel in the Port of Mobile. Sen. Shelby has ensured matching federal dollars are available for the project, but state funds have not been available. To take advantage of this matching opportunity, the gas tax bill allocates $11.7 million to the State Port Authority, and HB 3, sponsored by Rep. Poole, allows the Alabama Highway Finance Authority to issue bonds up to $150 million against the $11.7 million annual allocation to improve the Mobile Ship Channel.

The Governor is expected to hold a bill signing ceremony in the next week to celebrate the passing of these bills. See article here.

Special Session Adjourned Sine Die

The Senate and House of Representatives adjourned the special session sine die today, March 12th. Both houses will meet back in Montgomery on Tuesday, March 19th, for the second legislative day of the 2019 regular session.