Local lawmakers turn attention to regular session

Published 10:00 pm Monday, March 18, 2019

The Legislature is back in session today after quickly approving a gas tax in special session over the last two weeks.

Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Pike, said the immediate pressing issue at hand will be moving forward on the budgets for the general fund and education trust fund.

“The two budget committees will start focusing now on the recommendation of Gov. Kay Ivey to fund the general and education budgets,” Holley said. “Generally, this process starts around this time of the regular session and I believe that’s what we will be taking up.”

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Holley said Senatorial leadership will be meeting Tuesday morning to begin planning more thoroughly for the regular session and that more will be known then about what bills are coming up for the Senate to consider.

In addition to the major issues such as prisons and Medicaid, Holley said he has heard some discussion again about establishing a state lottery.

“The discussion has been about whether we would want a lottery like Florida’s got for the general education fund or have the lottery go toward paying for scholarships for Alabama students,” Holley said. “We believe the general public is looking for a scholarship program help with tuition and other costs of education.”

In the House of Representatives, the Republican and Democrat caucuses have traditionally released legislative agendas detailing some of the bills that each party wanted to focus on during the session; however, neither caucus has released an agenda this year.

Rep. Wes Allen, R-Pike, said he is focusing on two bills that he has pre-filed for the session.

“I’m really focused on the two that I have, the red tape bill … and a bill that would let small, rural hospitals go out and collect debt,” Allen said.

The first bill, House Bill 66, would require certain regulation changes of major economic impact to come before the Legislature for approval.

“The biggest thing that it does is that any one rule with a total economic impact that exceeds $1 million in compliance or implementation costs cannot pass without legislature approval,” Allen said. “We want to make sure we take control of that and look at them to be sure we are not passing a burden on to small business … We’re excited about that bill; it’s one of the things we campaigned on.”

The other bill would ensure that healthcare authorities can  intercept state income tax refunds to pay off bad debts.

“Basically, it is a technical amendment to a current statute  that will help smaller rural hospitals that are going out and contracting with bigger management companies,” Allen said. “In 2018, Medical Center Barbour contracted with a larger Healthcare entity and was determined to be no longer eligible for participation in the program, causing the hospital to potentially lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in recovered bad debts, which are crucial to the operations budget of the hospital. Because rural hospitals have had to seek these management agreements with larger Healthcare entities, many rural hospitals are at risk of becoming ineligible for this program. In today’s climate, it’s really a win for them to be able to go out and collect those debts.”

The regular session resumes today on Capitol Hill.