Much to do when Alabama Legislature returns

Alabama State Capital, Montgomery, Alabama (MGN Online)
Alabama State Capital, Montgomery, Alabama (MGN Online)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – When Alabama legislators return from spring break on April 1, they will have plenty to do and only three days left to do it.

The pending legislation ranges from serious matters like state budgets and abortion restrictions to light-hearted matters, including declaring cornbread the official state bread.

Each year, the Legislature has 30 meeting days to pass the state budgets and consider other legislation. Lawmakers wrapped up their 27th meeting day Thursday and left Montgomery until April 1.

Here’s a look at what’s left for the last three meeting days:

EDUCATION BUDGET: The House and Senate have passed differing versions of the $5.9 billion spending plan for the 2014-2015 school year. The Senate version included a one-time bonus of 1 percent for education employees. The House version didn’t, but it included more money to fund health insurance benefits. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said House and Senate budget writers have agreed with the governor to drop the bonus and provide more funding for health insurance to keep employees from having to pay higher premiums. They expect that to have broad support.

GENERAL FUND BUDGET: The Senate has passed a $1.8 billion budget that is based on state employees getting a one-time pay bonus of $400. Senate budget committee Chairman Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he’s optimistic the House will agree. Hubbard said he anticipates that happening.

ABORTION: The House has approved a bill to extend the waiting time for an abortion from 24 hours to 48 hours after an abortion clinic provides information about adoption and the risks of abortion. The bill has cleared a Senate committee and is awaiting a final vote in the Senate. The sponsor, Republican Rep. Ed Henry of Decatur, said he’s optimistic about passage in the Senate. The House also passed a bill to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can happen at six or seven weeks into a pregnancy. That bill is still pending in the Senate Health Committee.

CORNBREAD: The House has voted to designate cornbread as the official state bread of Alabama. If the Senate agrees to elevate the Southern staple to “official” status, cornbread will join the ranks of the blackberry, which is the official state fruit, and pecan, the official state nut.

PAYDAY LOANS: The House has passed a bill for the state Banking Department to set up a database of payday loans. That will allow the department to enforce a state prohibition against having more than $500 in payday loans at one time. That bill is in position for a final vote in the Senate. “That database is very much needed,” said Marsh, who predicted the Senate will approve it.

GUNS: The Senate has approved a bill that would allow people to carry loaded handguns in their cars without buying pistol permits from their local sheriffs. The bill is opposed by the Alabama Sheriffs Association, which says it will lead to less revenue to support law enforcement and other functions of county government. The bill is pending in the House Public Safety Committee, and the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale, said he’s unsure whether it will pass in the House. The House speaker said, “I don’t think there is really a lot of support for that. Law enforcement is pretty solidly against it.”

TEACHER LAYOFFS: Neither the House nor the Senate has passed bills that would prohibit city and county school boards from using seniority as the main factor in deciding which teachers are laid off and which are kept when there are funding cuts or declines in enrollment. The state teachers’ organization, the Alabama Education Association, has fought to keep the bills from coming to a vote.

GOVERNMENT CONSOLIDATION: A bill to combine the state Forestry Commission and the state Department of Agriculture and Industries has stalled this session. But a bill to fold the state Examiners of Public Accounts into the state auditor’s office has passed the Senate and is awaiting a vote in the House.

EXECUTION SECRECY: The House has passed a bill to keep secret the supplier and manufacturer of the drugs used to carry out the death penalty in Alabama. The bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate.

DEATH PENALTY APPEALS: State Attorney General Luther Strange got bills introduced in the House and Senate to speed up inmates’ court appeals in capital punishment cases, but neither bill comes to a vote yet. If a bill doesn’t pass in one chamber on April 1, the issue is finished for this legislative session. “It will be difficult to get out,” House Rules Commission Chairman Mac McCutcheon, R-Capshaw, said. The House speaker said the bills ran into trouble when some circuit judges expressed concern.

CROWD FUNDING: The Senate has passed a bill that would allow people trying to start small businesses in Alabama to use “crowd funding” to raise money from fellow Alabamians. The bill, backed by the Alabama Securities Commission, will be on the House’s work agenda April 1, McCutcheon said.

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