2014 legislative update: Alabama Legislature passes ETF budget, goes home without approving bills on payday lending, execution drug secrecy

Alabama lawmakers passed a $5.9 billion Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget without a pay raise for K-12 teachers just before the 2014 regular session ended Thursday night. The House voted 54-45 to agree to the compromise budget that the Senate approved Tuesday. That leaves Gov. Robert Bentley, who urged the Legislature to approve a 2 percent raise for teachers next year, to decide whether to sign the ETF budget or veto it and order lawmakers to return for a special session. Check out AL.com’s report to learn more.

Many other proposals cleared one chamber but did not win final legislative approval before the regular session ended Thursday. Among the subjects of bills that lawmakers did not send to Bentley were:

  • Payday lending. HB 145 would have created a statewide database of payday loans. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, would have made it easier to enforce a current state law that prohibits borrowers from taking out more than $500 in payday loans at any one time.
  • Death penalty drug secrecy. HB 379 would have kept the identities of people involved in carrying out state-sanctioned executions confidential. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, also would have shielded the identities of companies that manufacture or supply death penalty drugs. Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, sought to amend the bill to allow disclosure of such information under certain circumstances.
  • HIV drug redistribution. HB 138 would have allowed pharmacists at or affiliated with HIV clinics to redistribute unused HIV medications originally prescribed for other patients. The bill, sponsored by Todd, would have set controls on handling and oversight of the drugs.
  • Accountability Act changes. HB 558 would have made it easier for wealthy Alabamians to contribute more money to groups that grant scholarships to help parents of children in “failing” schools pay for private school tuition under the Alabama Accountability Act. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes, would have removed the act’s $7,500 annual cap on the tax credit that individuals or married couples can claim for contributions to such organizations. The bill would not have changed current law allowing Alabama to provide a total of no more than $25 million of scholarship credits annually.
  • Lifetime SNAP and TANF bans. SB 303 would have ended Alabama’s policy of forever barring people convicted of a felony drug offense from regaining eligibility for food assistance or cash welfare benefits. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham, would have allowed otherwise eligible people with a past felony drug conviction to receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program if they have completed their sentence or are complying with their probation terms.

Much discussion, no Senate passage of payday loan database, execution drug secrecy bills

The payday loan database bill reached the Senate floor twice Thursday afternoon. Senators initially delayed action on HB 145 after Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, expressed concern about the security of borrowers’ information in the database. About an hour later, the Senate returned to the measure and added three amendments to it.

One amendment, offered by Sen. Shadrack McGill, R-Woodville, would have doubled the bill’s payday loan cap from $500 to $1,000. Two other amendments came from Sens. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, and Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville. Immediately after adopting the amendments, senators agreed to postpone action on HB 145, and the chamber did not take it up again before adjournment.

Senators debated the death penalty drug secrecy bill three separate times Thursday afternoon but ultimately did not vote on it. Ward tried to amend HB 379 to allow people injured while handling such drugs to sue, but the Senate did not accept that proposal. “No one in the state of Alabama should ever be granted absolute immunity for negligence or gross negligence they commit against somebody else,” Ward said while arguing for his amendment.

The failure to pass HB 379 could bring lethal injections to a halt in Alabama by making it impossible for the state to buy the drugs used in the process, Ward said. “By opposing this bill and killing this bill, what we’re doing is ensuring is this state will go back to the system of the electric chair,” he said. Alabama began using lethal injection in executions after the state retired “Yellow Mama,” the electric chair used from 1927 to 2002.

The three other bills listed above did not reach the House or Senate floor Thursday. The HIV drug redistribution bill, HB 138, passed 99-0 in the House last month and was on the Senate’s final special-order calendar Thursday, but senators adjourned with several measures still lined up ahead of it. Arise and other consumer advocates last year urged Bentley to support this policy change as his Medicaid Pharmacy Study Commission met to consider ways to reduce costs in the state’s Medicaid drug assistance programs.

By Chris Sanders, communications director. Posted April 3, 2014.

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