Capitol News & Notes 2020: Week Two
February 18, 2020
The second week of the 2020 Legislative Session is already behind us. The Alabama Legislature met twice last week and has completed four of a possible 30 legislative days so far this year. A total of 443 bills have been filed, 251 in the House and 192 in the Senate.
On Tuesday afternoon after a briefing on our legislative agenda for the session, REALTORS® made their way to the Alabama State House. The visit started with a meeting with lawmakers stopping by to speak about issues affecting the state and the real estate industry. REALTORS® heard from Senate Majority Leader, Senator Greg Reed (R-Jasper), Senate Minority Leader, Senator Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro), Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), and Rep. David Faulkner (R-Birmingham). Following this meeting, REALTORS® were able to walk the halls and stop by the offices of lawmakers from their districts as well as view the discussion happening on the House floor. After the State House visit, Alabama REALTORS® hosted a legislative reception where members met and spoke with many legislators and other elected officials in attendance about issues affecting the real estate industry. Thank you to everyone who participated in REALTOR® Day 2020!
Municipal Occupational Tax
As reported last week, HB 147, sponsored by Rep. Chris Sells (R-Greenville), would require legislation to implement a municipal occupational tax before allowing local governments to enact any new occupational taxes. On Tuesday, this bill was taken up by the Alabama House of Representatives and passed in a 73-27 vote. Many of our REALTORS® witnessed the discussion on this bill from the House Gallery. The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration.
REALTOR®-Supported HB 218 Filed
Rep. David Faulkner and 18 cosponsors filed REALTOR®-supported HB 218 on Tuesday. HB 218 will give county tax assessing officials the option of receiving claims for homestead exemptions electronically. With the passage of last year’s REALTOR®-supported homestead exemption bill, homestead exemptions currently can be claimed by a form affidavit filed at the tax assessor’s office. This year’s bill goes a step further and will allow the tax official to accept the form affidavit electronically, speeding up the process and making homeownership that much easier. Thank you, Rep. Faulkner, for your continued leadership and hard work on this important issue!
Bill Restricting Charges by Third-Party Auditors Passes First Hurdle
HB 158, sponsored by Rep. Paul Lee (R-Dothan), passed its first hurdle, gaining a favorable report from the House State Government Committee. HB 158 affects an issue with which many REALTORS® are confronted – third-party auditors or collectors of a county or municipality’s taxes or license fees. Municipalities and county governments sometimes hire third-party companies to audit and collect taxes and license fees owed by taxpayers. Generally, these companies work under the power of the government, keeping a portion of any funds collected as payment. Recently, Alabama’s courts ruled that these private companies could charge additional fees to the taxpayers. HB 158 prohibits these charges, including professional service fees like accountant service charges, travel costs, salary expenses of the firm, and auditing costs. The bill is now up for consideration by the House of Representatives.
Hate Crimes Against Law Enforcement Officers
HB 59, sponsored by Rep. Rex Reynolds (R-Hazel Green), would make law enforcement officers a protected class under the state hate crime statute. Under Alabama law, race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity and disability are current examples of protected classes. On Thursday after lengthy debate, this bill passed the House with a bipartisan vote of 92-0 and will now move to the Senate.
On Tuesday, the medical marijuana bill, SB 165, sponsored by Senator Tim Melson (R-Florence), was filed. The bill would allow medical marijuana to treat certain professionally diagnosed medical conditions, such as anxiety, autism, cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and seizures. The bill had its first reading on Thursday and is expected to be a big issue next week as it faces a public hearing and vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. A similar bill was filed last year and passed the Senate but didn’t make it through the House.
Federal Property Related Legislation
On Tuesday, Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Alabama) and Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) introduced companion bills for the Decentralized Wastewater Grant Act of 2020 to help families connect their homes to wastewater infrastructure or repair and replace aging wastewater systems. On Wednesday, Senator Doug Jones also introduced the Hazard Eligibility and Local Projects (HELP) Act. This bipartisan legislation would expedite the start of disaster recovery after natural disasters while grant applications await federal assistance through FEMA’s hazard mitigation program. While these are federal bills, they would affect property in Alabama.
A Look Ahead
The next legislative day is coming up on Tuesday, February 18, with the House convening at 1pm and the Senate starting at 3pm. There are already several committee meetings scheduled for Wednesday, which will likely be followed by another legislative day on Thursday.