Capitol News & Notes: Week One
February 9, 2021
As expected, the first week of session was anything but ordinary. The Alabama Legislature gaveled into the 2021 Regular Session on Tuesday, February 2. By law, the regular session is limited to 30 days within a period of 105 calendar days. Typically, the Legislature uses two legislative days per week and reserves one day for committee meetings. However, due to the COVID-19 protocol, both the House and Senate utilized three legislative days last week in addition to numerous committee meetings in order to expedite the passage of many priority bills. Both chambers are certainly on a fast-track already burning through 10% of the legislative days.
Before session officially kicked off on Tuesday, lawmakers heard from Kirk Fulford, Deputy Director at Legislative Service Agency’s fiscal division, and Kelly Butler, Alabama Department of Finance’s Director, about the year ahead. The 2022 revenue estimates are expected to be up slightly over 2021 for both the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund. Several legislators acknowledged that we are not out of the woods yet, and COVID-19 could still cause concern for revenue estimates. However, lawmakers were credited for their careful spending in the last year to allow for a generally positive budget picture in 2022.
State of the State
Instead of delivering the State of the State address to lawmakers at the Capitol, Governor Kay Ivey addressed legislators via remote feed on Tuesday. Gov. Ivey addressed the ups and downs that the last year brought Alabama. She laid out three top priority bills for 2021, including the COVID immunity bill, the state tax exemptions for CARES Act payments bill, and the economic incentives bill, which are discussed in more detail below. Other items that she touched on include a proposed 2% pay raise for education and state employees, new infrastructure projects, and combating the prison challenges.
Bills of Interest
Below are some of the notable bills of interest to our REALTOR® members. As mentioned above, things are moving quickly with the Senate already passing 20 bills and the House passing 4 bills as of Thursday.
COVID Immunity Bill - SB30, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), would provide liability protections to businesses, health care providers, and other entities against civil lawsuits related to COVID-19, if said entities have abided by public health guidelines. Notably, this bill would not protect “bad actors” by permitting civil actions for wanton, reckless, willful, or intentional misconduct. SB30 passed the Senate in a 28-1 vote and received its first reading in the House on Thursday. It will move to the House Judiciary committee for consideration on Wednesday.
Rental Relief Assistance - HB231, sponsored by Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), provides a supplemental appropriation of $263 million for rental relief funds and establishes the Alabama Emergency Rental Assistance Program. Alabama REALTORS® is a strong advocate for this bill as much-needed rental assistance will be provided for both renters and landlords in Alabama. House leadership, including Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville), Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville), and Rules Chairman Mike Jones (R-Andalusia), helped make this a priority issue to help distribute this rental assistance as soon as possible. House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) and Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Pelham) spoke on behalf of the bill before it passed the House with a 97-0 vote. The bill also received its first reading in the Senate on Thursday, and it will move to the Senate committee on Finance and Taxation General Fund.
State Tax Exemptions for CARES Act Payments - HB170, sponsored by Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville), would exempt funds received from federal coronavirus aid from state income taxes, including any other aid the government approves in 2021. This would mean all coronavirus stimulus payments and forgiven PPP loan amounts would be exempt from state taxes. On Thursday, the bill quickly moved through the House with a 94-0 vote and received its first reading in the Senate. Earlier today, Tuesday, February 9, the Senate Finance & Taxation Education Fund committee gave the bill a favorable report with no opposition, and it will likely be considered by the Senate later this week.
Economic Incentives Bill - HB192, sponsored by Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), would renew two frequently used economic development incentives until 2023. The bill would extend and expand tax credits within the Growing Alabama Act and the Alabama Jobs Act. Both incentives are considered essential in recruiting and keeping business in Alabama. While there was a lengthy debate on which businesses would be eligible, the House ultimately approved the bill 94-1. After receiving its first reading in the Senate on Thursday, the Senate Finance & Taxation Education Fund committee passed the bill with a favorable report earlier today, Tuesday, February 9, and it will also likely be considered on the Senate floor later this week.
Funds for Strengthen Alabama Homes - HB188, sponsored by Rep. Chip Brown (R-Mobile), would direct certain excess funds at the end of the year from the Insurance Department Fund to the Strengthen Alabama Homes Fund rather than to the State General Fund. On Wednesday, the bill passed out of the House Ways & Means General Fund with a favorable report, and it will now move to the House floor for consideration.
Medical Marijuana Bill - SB46, sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence), would allow doctors to prescribe medical cannabis for qualifying medical conditions. This bill passed the Senate last year, but it was stalled in the House. On Wednesday, it quickly moved through the Senate Judiciary Committee with an 8-3 vote for a favorable report. It will likely move to the Senate floor for a vote this week.
Alcohol Home Delivery - An ever-popular issue, especially amid the COVID crisis, is allowing home delivery of distilled spirits. SB126, sponsored by Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia), would allow home delivery of spirits, including beer, wine, and liquor, in original containers from package stores and from restaurants and bars with a meal purchase. It would still require safety protocols, such as age verification and prohibitions on serving intoxicated persons. This bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with a favorable report in a 10-1 vote on Wednesday.
A Look Ahead
The Senate reconvened today, Tuesday, February 9, at 2 p.m., and the House reconvened at 1 p.m. Both chambers will likely use another three legislative days this week before taking at least a one-week break as a COVID-19 precaution.