Critical issues remain

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, April 26, 2016

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Lawmakers return to Montgomery on Tuesday to begin the final five days of the legislative session.

Legislators will decide the fates of dozens of high-profile bills. Here’s a look at some of the top issues before lawmakers.


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House members could vote Tuesday on whether to create an investigatory committee that would probe the merits of impeaching Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley. The committee would be the latest legal entanglement for Bentley who admitted to “inappropriate” behavior with a former top aide, although he denied accusations of a sexual affair. However, Rep. Ed Henry, who filed the impeachment articles against Bentley, said time is running out for legislators to take action. Legislators have offered varied reactions to the scandal with some suggesting impeachment and others saying that was premature.


The proposal would raise the state’s gasoline tax to pay for road and bridge construction. The bill has not yet gotten a floor vote in the Alabama House. The gasoline tax would rise 6 cents per gallon to bring Alabama in line with neighboring states. The tax would then be adjusted every four years to equal the average tax in Alabama’s four border states.


The proposed restriction on the payday loan industry would give borrowers at least six months to pay back the loan instead of just a few days or weeks. The bill would also require that people be allowed to make installment payments. The House Financial Services Committee is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday. If voted out of committee, it would just have two to three days to win final approval on the House floor.


Bentley’s top legislative item this year is a proposed $800 million bond issue to build four large prisons — three mega-prisons for men and one for women — and close most existing state prisons. The bill has cleared the Senate but faces questions as it heads to a floor vote in the Alabama House of Representatives. The state prison system believes it can pay for the bond issue out of savings from consolidation and closing aging facilities. The House budget committee approved a separate bill to raise auto title fees as an additional funding source.


Lottery legislation, a hot topic at the start of the session, now faces astronomical odds of passage.

A Senate committee approved a bill that would put the issue before voters this fall. However, Senate rules make it difficult to pass controversial bills in the waning days of the session. A House bill has not gotten a floor vote. Proponents said they will try again next year. The bills stalled under a mix of opposition to gambling, disagreements on how state lottery revenue should be used and a push to include casino gambling.






A state tax break that some say sparked a renaissance in downtown Birmingham, and elsewhere, will end unless Alabama senators agree to extend the program. The three-year program, first approved in 2013, provided $20 million in tax credits for the renovation of historic buildings and expires next month. A bill to extend the tax credits for seven years has stalled amid opposition from the Senate pro tempore and budget chairmen who say they are concerned about the program’s cost.






A bill that would do away with state marriage licenses— in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage — is awaiting a possible floor vote in the Alabama House. The bill, which has passed the Senate, is a bid to free probate judges from signing licenses for gay couples. Couples would instead file a form with the probate office to record their marriages. Proponents said it would end controversy over the licenses. A few Alabama probate judges have stopping issuing licenses altogether. Opponents said it is an unnecessary change to the marriage process.






The bill would create a state office to compile student data from early education until job entry has cleared the House of Representatives but stalled last week in the Alabama Senate. Legislators might try again this week. Proponents said Alabama is one of few states without a data system and the data collection would provide valuable information about what works, and doesn’t work, in education. Opponents raised concerns about student privacy.=X