2021 Legislative Preview – The Knowns and Unknowns
February 2, 2021
The 2021 Regular Legislative Session is upon us. It seems like both yesterday and years ago that members and legislators met at the 2020 REALTOR® Day and Legislative Reception, before COVID-19 upended the session a month later. This year, the pandemic continues to cause uncertainty with strict parameters on access to the State House as the Legislature opens the session today. Even the Governor’s State of the State address tonight will be virtual. This would normally be given to a joint session of the Legislature with an overflow gallery of public officials and dignitaries in the old House Chamber. (Click here for information on how to watch the State of the State.) While plenty of unknowns remain, here is what we know.
After today, the Legislature will have 29 legislative days remaining to meet before the regular session ends on May 19. Reports indicate that the Legislature will meet this week and next, followed by a break to consider adjustments in protocols and the future meeting schedule. The meeting schedule beyond the first two weeks is uncertain. Public access to the State House will be restricted to limit contact. Public access will be by appointment only and limited to assigned meeting rooms on the first three floors of the State House.
New Leadership and New Members of Legislature
In the Senate, Senator Greg Reed (R-Jasper) is expected to be elected president pro tem, the legislative leader of the Senate. The leadership transition follows the decision by Senator Del Marsh (R-Anniston) to not seek reelection to his senate seat and to step down as pro tem. Senator Clay Scofield (R- Guntersville) is expected to be elected Majority Leader. Several Senate Committees are expected to have new leadership. Senator Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) is expected to become Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) is expected to become Chair of the Confirmations Committee, and Senator Larry Stutts (R-Florence) is expected to become Chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. Senate Districts 14 and 26 are vacant and will be filled by special election in 2021.
In the House of Representatives, Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) and Majority Leader Nathan Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) return to their leadership roles. Newly elected House of Representative members Russell Bedsole (R-Alabaster) and Ben Robbins (R-Sylacauga) will join the body after recent special legislative elections. House District 73 is vacant and will be filled by special election in 2021.
During the first two weeks, the Legislature is expected to take up a number of high priority issues and begin work early on the 2022 budgets.
COVID Liability- The Legislature will consider a bill to limit liability from frivolous lawsuits arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Widespread concerns remain that the economic recovery from the pandemic will be crippled by a bonanza of frivolous lawsuits from trial lawyers. The bill will provide protection for individuals and businesses who follow public health protocols and exercise reasonable care; the bill does not offer a blanket protection for irresponsible and reckless conduct. The bill is supported by a broad coalition of business groups.
Economic Development Incentives and Tax Credits- The Legislature will consider a bill to extend several important economic incentives and tax credits, the Growing Alabama Act and the Alabama Jobs Act, which expired last year due to the abrupt end to the 2020 legislative session. These incentives are critical to keep Alabama competitive with other states in attracting new companies and businesses to Alabama.
CARES Act Tax Relief- The Legislature will also consider a bill to ensure that individuals and businesses who received CARES Act aid or stimulus payments from the federal government will not be taxed by the state on that assistance.
Budgets- Both budgets are expected to move earlier this session due to the uncertainty around the legislative meeting schedule. Based on reports from the Legislative Fiscal Office to lawmakers, both the education and general fund budgets are stronger than expected following the economic impacts from the pandemic. Budgets are expected to include cost of living increases and raises for educators and state employees.
On the Periphery
Prison Construction, DOJ Investigation- One or more bills are expected to be filed to address the condition of Alabama’s prison facilities and treatment of prisoners. Alabama’s prison system has been under investigation for several years by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), recently culminating in a lawsuit against Alabama for the inadequate condition of prisons in Alabama and the inhumane treatment of its prisoners. Governor Ivey has presented a comprehensive plan to partially address the issues, by building three new state-of-the-art prison facilities. The prisons will be built by private prison contractors and leased back to the state. The plan has met with political opposition that may spill into the Legislative Session.
Medical Marijuana- One or more medical marijuana bills are expected to be filed to define and regulate the cultivation, distribution, and use of medical marijuana in Alabama.
Gaming- One or more bills related to gaming will be filed this year following the release of a comprehensive report from the Governor’s Study Group on Gambling Policy in December 2020 (see report here). Based on information and reports, competing gaming interests are very close to reaching an agreement which will present a unified front for proponents of gaming. Opponents remain as well, as unresolved questions about where potential gaming revenue will be allocated.
Census and Reapportionment- One item the Legislature will not consider during the Regular Session is the re-apportionment of legislative districts which occurs following the U.S. Census once every 10 years. Due to delays from the pandemic, the 2020 Census is not expected to be released until this summer which will require the legislature to return to consider redistricting during a special legislative session later this year.
Your Alabama REALTORS® public policy team is looking forward to providing weekly updates from the State House. Stay up-to-date on the 2021 Alabama Legislative Session with Capitol News & Notes in our weekly newsletter and under the public policy tab on our website, www.alabamarealtors.com.