2024 Legislative Session Recap

2024 Legislative Session Recap

The 2024 Legislative Session concluded last Thursday after legislators adjourned sine die. The big topics in discussion this year included issues like school choice, ballot harvesting, ethics reform, gambling, library boards, and IVF liability,  as well as workforce development, annual property tax increases, and squatters. A busy session across the board, the session saw a number of important successes for private property rights and REALTORS®, as well as successful REALTOR® Day and the second annual breakfast to show support for our legislators, state officers, and staff. Continue reading for a summary of important bills from the 2024 session.

 

General Highlights

This year, legislators filed a total of 843 bills (compared to 876 in 2023) -  349 Senate bills and 494 House bills. Of these, the legislature passed 16 local constitutional amendments and 1 statewide constitutional amendment, and Governor Ivey signed 115 House bills and 111 Senate bills, while roughly 95 await the governor’s signature at the time of drafting. (NOTE: The governor does not sign constitutional amendments.)

Big Ticket Items - Leadership focused on several items this year, including the workforce development package of 7 bills, a two-bill gambling package, a school choice bill, and increased funding for the new prison being built. The gambling bills failed by one vote in the Senate, while the workforce development bill was whittled down to 6 bills discussed below. Lawmakers passed and put $100 million toward a school choice program to provide up to $7,000 in tax credits to allow school children to attend a school of choice.

Other Bills of Note - Other new laws of note include a bill banning being paid to complete another’s absentee ballot application, an anti-DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) law prohibiting public schools and agencies from teaching “divisive concepts”, a first-grade readiness law requiring kindergarten or an assessment before entering first grade, and a bill limiting liability for IVF providers. Lawmakers also funded a summer meal program for school children and increased funding for mental health, including new mental health crisis centers.

 

Alabama REALTORSĀ® Efforts

The Alabama REALTORS® public policy team tracked 282 bills in some capacity during the 2023 legislative session (approximately 33% of the total bills filed), as well as numerous amendments. AAR defeated 18 bills harmful to our members; and requested REALTOR® amendments to 10 bills to lessen the negative impact on our members. 19 REALTOR® supported bills were successfully passed including, three high priority bills. Two REALTOR® supported bills did not make it across the finish line this year.

 

REALTORĀ® Bills

Squatter Removal Law

A REALTOR®-priority bill creating a non-judicial method to remove squatters was signed by the Governor. HB 182, sponsored by Rep. Craig Lipscomb (R-Gadsden) and Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) passed both chambers unanimously.  The bill allows a homeowner to file an affidavit with law enforcement to remove a squatter in a home, without going through a costly and lengthy ejectment action. Nation-wide, squatting has become an increasing problem and in certain jurisdictions, law enforcement may be unwilling to act if the squatter falsely claims some right to occupancy. The affidavit created under HB 182 will ensure a homeowner has a much quicker option for removal. The bill also increases the penalties for damaging property while squatting and for lying about a lease or ownership in property. 

An amendment was added in the Senate to ensure utility companies can rely on a writ of possession in order to turn utilities to a property on or off.

Cap on Annual Property Tax Increase Law

In a huge win for homeowners and property owners, the legislature passed a cap on annual increases for property taxes. HB 73, was sponsored by Rep. Phillip Pettus (R- Killen), Sen. David Sessions (R-Grand Bay) and championed by Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth. The bill received considerable opposition from local governments and other groups that benefit from local government funding. Compromises along the way resulted in a final bill that caps the annual increase of property tax assessments at 7% and sunsets the cap after four years. The new law is a first step in preventing the wild uptick in tax appraisals for property that has not been sold, renovated or expanded. Alabama REALTORS® joined a coalition of business, trade and industry groups to support and fight for the new law.

Thank you to all of our members who participated in the AAR call for action to contact your legislator about this legislation.  Thank you to the following coalition property tax partners: Alabama Forestry Association; Alabama Grocers Association; Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association; Alabama Manufactured Housing Association; Alabama Propane Gas Association; Alabama Tire Dealers Association; Alabama Trucking Association; Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC); Associated General Contractors (AGC); Automotive Aftermarket Association of the Southeast; Homebuilders Association of Alabama; Manufacture Alabama; NFIB; Petroleum and Convenience Marketeers of Alabama; Alabama Farmers Federation;  and Business Council of Alabama.

Workforce Housing Tax Credit Law

Supported by Alabama REALTORS® and sponsored by Rep. Cynthia Almond (R-Tuscaloosa) and Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine), a new law encourages work force housing development through a tax credit program for developers who build affordable, multi-family housing for low-to-mid income workers.

Administered by the Alabama Housing Finance Authority in collaboration with the Alabama Department of Commerce, the tax credit program would assist individuals earning up to 60% of the adjusted median income by offering non-refundable tax credits to incentivize the development of more affordable housing units. Developers receiving the tax credits agree to cap rent at a certain percentage of the local median income.

Workers in construction, retail, hospitality, entry-level healthcare, and other sectors earning between approximately $11 and $30 per hour are among those expected to benefit.

The Workforce Housing Tax Credit was part of a broader package of legislation called “Working for Alabama.” The bill package signaled a “21st Century Approach to Economic and Workforce Development” designed to help get more Alabamians back into the workforce and increase Alabama’s workforce participation rate.  The effort was led by Governor Ivey, Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth, legislative leadership from both chambers, the Business Council of Alabama, and a broad coalition of business groups. The bill package included tax credits to make childcare and affordable housing available to the working population, targeted job training programs, and a new high school diploma path for students who wish to pursue career tech instead of college prep.

The package also sought to incentivize more potential workers to leave the sidelines and join the labor force because while our state enjoys record low unemployment and record high economic growth, it is estimated that more than 50,000 Alabamians are not participating in the job market even though roughly 140,000 employment opportunities currently exist.

Recent statistics show Alabama has the seventh lowest unemployment rate in the nation, but the state’s labor force participation of 57.2 percent ranks 46th in the U.S. among eligible workers ages 16 and older who are employed or actively seeking employment.

Thank you to the broad coalition of business groups who supported the Housing Tax Credit Bill and Broader Working for Alabama package: The Business Council of Alabama; Manufacture Alabama; Alabama Power; Powersouth; Alabama Trucking Association; Alabama Home Builders; Alabama Bankers Association; the Alabama Coalition for Workforce Housing and many others.

Online Auction of State-held Tax Delinquent Property

HB 196, supported by Alabama REALTORS® and sponsored by Rep. Reed Ingram (R-Mathews), was passed and signed by the Governor. The bill establishes an online auction for property held by the state for unpaid property taxes. These properties languish off the tax rolls for years, and the bill is a first step in putting these properties back in the hands of tax paying Alabamians.

The Alabama REALTORS® have worked for many years to help get these properties off of the state tax rolls and back into current use in an effort to help combat blight in affected areas.

Equity Theft from Tax Liens on and Tax Sales of Real Property 

A bill addressing equity theft in the auction or sale of liens for taxes on tax delinquent became law. As a refresher, counties collect property taxes, and if property taxes are not paid, the county either sells the interest in the property to the highest bidder, called a tax sale, or sells a lien on the property for the amount of the taxes, called a tax lien. Excess funds are the moneys the county obtains from a purchaser above and beyond the taxes and other fees owed by the property owner.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2023 Tyler decision found unconstitutional a state law allowing Minnesota to keep all excess funds from a tax sale. By implication, this impacts both processes under Alabama’s current laws. The new law provides a method for a property owner to obtain excess funds if any are available, whether a tax sale occurred or a tax lien was sold.

However, concerns remain over whether the bill goes far enough to resolve all of the issues raised by the US Supreme Court and we may see additional litigation or legislative action in future years until those issues are fully resolved.

Corporate Annual Filing Requirement Removed

Supported by Alabama REALTORS® for streamlining business regulations, a bill aimed at eliminating a redundant reporting obligation for corporations became law. Sponsored by Rep. Margie Wilcox (R-Mobile) and Sen. David Sessions (R-Grand Bay), the bill removes a mandate for corporations to file an annual report with the Secretary of State’s office.

Asbestos Filing Requirements 

AAR-supported legislation would help better protect property owners and related parties from baseless lawsuits. A bill requiring plaintiffs to furnish comprehensive specific details when  asbestos exposure lawsuits are filed passed the legislature. Sponsored by Sen. Josh Carnley (R - Enterprise), the bill mandates that plaintiffs must provide information that includes all places of previous employment, individuals cognizant of the exposure, and other related details.

The law will sift through baseless claims and mitigate the considerable expenses associated with litigation discovery.

Storm Shelter Tax Credit Renewal Passed

A tax credit program for building storm shelters was renewed. Sponsored by Rep. Joe Lovvorn (R-Auburn) the bill extends until 2028 a state tax credit of up to $3,000 for the construction of storm shelters. The initial program was set to expire in 2025.

Open Records’ Requests Process 

Under Alabama law, most government records are open to the public. Open records requests are requests made by the public to see such records. One bill passed that sets a process for the governmental entity who receives the request, including response times and what procedures the governmental entity can set for requests. REALTORS® supported the new law as a way to ensure government is transparent and responsive to the public.

Commercial Development Projects Expanded to Single Commercial Enterprises

A new law sponsored by Sen. April Weaver (R-Alabaster) will allow single commercial enterprises to be considered for economic development opportunities. Supported by Alabama REALTORS®, the bill adds “single commercial enterprises” to the definition of a project under the state’s economic development laws. This will allow smaller projects, especially in areas of the state where large projects are not feasible, to benefit from grants and other means available for economic development.

Lake Martin and Weiss Lake – Limitations on Boating

HB 209, adding Lake Martin and Weiss Lake to the list of water bodies in Alabama with additional limitations on wake boats and wake boarding, passed. Sponsored by Rep. Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville), the bill limits wake surfing and wakeboarding within 200 feet of a shoreline, dock or other structure in Lake Martin and Weiss Lake. In addition, the bill limits all boats in those water bodies from operating above idle speed within 100 feet of any shoreline, dock, or other structure.

Alabama REALTORS® supports the bill’s reasonable limitations on these activities that can cause significant damage to structures, erosion to the shoreline, and pose safety issues to swimmers.

Lawsuit Fairness Act 

Alabama REALTORS® joined a broad coalition of business and industry groups to support a bill to combat lawsuit abuse, called the Lawsuit Fairness Act. The purpose of the bill was to expose certain practices in litigation that are an abuse of the justice system, lack transparency and dramatically increase costs for Alabama’s businesses and consumers. Among other things, the bill sought to set disclosure requirements for companies that finance lawsuits and medical providers that have referral relationships with attorneys, allow venue transfers in certain circumstances, add independent contractor protection, limit medical payment evidence to what is paid or is reasonably expected to be paid, and set qualification standards for experts to testify.

While the bill did not and was not expected to pass this year, the coalition brought well-needed attention to the issues and are committed to pushing for the bill next year.

 

Other Bills of Interest

Tourism Tax Collection Bill Passes with REALTOR® Amendment

A new law will require short-term rental operators, like VRBO, to collect and remit lodgings taxes. Alabama REALTORS® successfully advocated for an amendment to exempt property managers who manage and rent primary residences for a month or more. Under the new law, property managers that manage short-term rentals will have to collect and remit taxes to the state, or have an agreement with the owner requiring the owner to remit the taxes.

Mortgage and Deed Recording Fee Increase Fails

Proposed for several years, a bill that would raise the cost of homeownership by doubling the tax on recording mortgages, deeds, and similar instruments failed on the Senate floor. The Alabama REALTORS® opposed the bill, as it would increase the cost of home and property ownership on prospective buyers at a time when affordability is at record highs.  

Protections against Eminent Domain – REALTOR® Amendments Added

Our laws create various quasi-governmental entities such as housing authorities, airport authorities, or special improvement districts. Many of these quasi-governmental agencies have eminent domain powers. So, when the laws related to these entities are changed, we review these carefully. In that vein, we successfully requested amendments on four bills to ensure eminent domain powers were not expanded, whether requiring landowners to approve being included or clarifying that eminent domain powers did not transfer to any public-private partnerships created by the quasi-governmental entity.

House Party Bill Fails 

One example of a well-intentioned but constitutionally problematic bill sought to address the issue of house parties, whether at short-term rentals or owner-occupied homes. These parties attract large crowds, have resulted in shootings, and can certainly be a nuisance to neighbors. However, the bill would have allowed police to enter a home just on suspicion of a minor having access to drugs or alcohol. REALTORS® worked with the bill sponsor to put a hold on the bill so more appropriate solutions could be found.  

Cash Ban Bill Defeated

Another REALTOR®-opposed bill would have required small businesses and retail establishments to accept cash as a form of payment. This would have posed problems for business owners, property managers and owners who accept rent and do not want to carry cash or have had issues receiving counterfeit money.

Background Check and Key Log Bill for Apartments Defeated

One bill would have added requirements for apartment owners and managers. First, it would have required background checks for employees of apartments as well as contractors and employees doing work in apartment units. Second, it would have required apartment managers and owners to keep a key log for every key to an apartment unit and replace the locks every time a unit changed tenants. REALTORS® opposed the bill as a massive cost increase on apartments, which would have driven rent costs up further. The bill did not pass.

AREC Continued – Sunset Process 

The Alabama Real Estate Commission was renewed in what is called the sunset process, where occupational boards are set to expire and can be renewed by the legislature. This year, the legislature renewed AREC for a four-year period, ending October 1, 2028.

Uniform Commercial Receivership Bill Passes

A uniform or statewide law on commercial receiverships was signed by the governor. Commercial receiverships are sometimes used during lawsuits involving a business and are intended to maintain or continue the operations of the business or preserve assets, including real property, owned by the business. The existing law was outdated and vague in many ways, allowing too much disparity between courts in how and when receiverships are set up or used. The new law will provide a robust, uniform process for courts across the state when a commercial receivership is necessary.

Notary Public Conflict of Interest Clarification Bill 

The legislature passed a bill clarifying conflicts of interest by notaries public. The 2023 law set additional requirements on becoming and staying a notary public. Part of the 2023 law prohibited notaries public from acknowledging or notarizing documents in which the notary public had a financial interest in the transaction. This year, a new law clarifies that professionals or employees of professionals may notarize or acknowledge documents despite a financial interest if required as part of the professional service.

Statewide Residential Building Code

One bill awaiting the governor’s signature sets a uniform statewide residential building code for Alabama. While municipalities usually adopt and enforce building codes, the unincorporated areas of a county often lack a standard building code. The new law requires licensed builders, even in unincorporated areas, to abide by minimum standards administered by the Home Builders Licensure Board.

Liquid Carbon Underground Storage Bill 

Alabama joined a handful of states to have a process for property owners to lease “pore space” for geological storage of liquid carbon. HB 327, sponsored by Rep. Alan Baker (R-Brewton), allows property owners to lease “pore space”, or areas underground that are sufficiently porous, to entities that seek to capture carbon by pumping liquid carbon into these spaces, which are extremely deep at over 8,000 feet underground. The areas in Alabama where this is even geologically possible is limited to counties in southwest Alabama. The program will be managed by the State Oil and Gas Board and follows many of the procedures for oil and gas. 

Living Shorelines Dredging Permit for Riparian Owners 

A new law, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Fidler (R–Fairhope), establishes a permit initiative allowing shoreline proprietors along the coast to conduct dredging and create living shorelines. Oversight of the program would be managed by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Comments in the Senate committee were positive, with several Senators questioning whether the bill could be expanded to other parts of the state.

General Contractor License Minimum Amount Increased 

A bill to increase the minimum project amount requiring a general contractor’s license passed. Sponsored by Rep. Mike Kirkland (R-Scottsboro) and Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine), the bill changes the minimum dollar from $50,000 to $100,000. The bill also exempts labor brokers or temporary labor providers from needing a general contractors license if they only provide temporary workers to a licensed contractor.

 

Conclusion

The Alabama REALTORS® advocated strenuously on behalf of real estate professionals and private property rights during the 2024 Regular Legislative Session. These efforts are guided by our Public Policy Committee. Your Alabama REALTORS® public policy team is honored to work on your behalf and advocate for you, your businesses, and private property rights in Alabama. 

Thank you to all of our members who participated this legislative session, whether at REALTOR® Day, reading Capitol News and Notes, participating in members surveys, participating in the Call for Action or otherwise. We could not do this without you.