Senate Republicans Successfully Move “Strengthen Alabama” Agenda

By Del Marsh & Greg Reed

In February, Alabama State Senate Republicans began the 2017 regular session of the Alabama Legislature committed to an agenda that would strengthen Alabama’s economy, schools, and families. The “Strengthen Alabama” agenda included six specific legislative items, ranging from tax cuts to religious liberty protections.

During the legislative session that ended on May 19, Senate Republicans passed all six of their “Strengthen Alabama” priorities, along with balanced budgets for state agencies and Alabama’s schools and universities.

  • Education Budget – the Legislature passed the largest Education budget ($6.4 billion) since 2008, and it includes a $13 million increase for First Class, our nationally-recognized, voluntary Pre-K program, a $3.4 million uptick for transportation, and an additional $24 million to the K-12 Foundation program to fund the hiring of 150 new teachers. And for the seventh consecutive year, teachers and administrators won’t have to worry about proration, because of conservative budget reforms we made in 2011.
  • General Fund Budget – the Legislature approved a balanced budget for state agencies ($1.85 billion), with no new tax increases. Public safety is a primary responsibility of state government, which is why the budget includes a targeted $3.3 million increase for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to put 30 additional state troopers on the road. Most state agencies – including Public Health, state prisons, and Mental Health –­ ­are level-funded.

The successful “Strengthen Alabama” agenda was comprised of the following six commitments:

  • To reform state government and save taxpayers money, the Senate upgraded Medicaid fraud to a Class C felony.
  • The Senate modernized the system of allocating district and circuit judges. The Judicial Resources Allocation Commission will review the need for judgeships in each district, using population size and caseload. As vacancies occur, the Commission will match the judgeship with the county that has the most urgent need.
  • The Senate passed permitless pistol carry (aka constitutional carry) to make it easier for Alabamians to protect their property and families. Unfortunately, the bill died in a House of Representatives sub-committee.
  • Recognizing that a so-called “right to die” can drift easily into a “duty to die,” the Senate upheld a culture of life in Alabama by banning assisted suicide, reflecting the belief that the lives of the vulnerable are as equally valued as the lives of the young and healthy.
  • The Legislature approved the Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act to protect faith-based adoption agencies from state discrimination. It is wrong for state bureaucrats to penalize child-placing agencies because the agency declines to provide a child placement which conflicts with the religious beliefs of the provider.
  • Reducing the tax burden on Alabama families is a priority for Senate Republicans. We raised the standard income deduction floor and ceiling for families and individuals. Over 180,000 Alabamians would have seen a net decrease in state income taxes, but time ran out in the session before the proposal received passage in the House of Representatives.

Further, the Senate took concrete steps to boost Alabama’s economic competitiveness and spur job growth:

  • An update to the Alabama Jobs Act gives the Department of Commerce and cities in Alabama more flexibility when competing with other states to attract new companies and better jobs. The original 2015 Act capped pay-as-you-go incentives at $850 million for ten years, but cities and Commerce were already bumping up against the cap. The revised Act sets an annual cap of $300 million and requires 80% of incentivized jobs to be full-time.
  • The Senate approved the renewal of a tax credit for the restoration of historic buildings. Twenty million dollars per year in tax credits are available for the rehabilitation of buildings sixty years or older that meet standards established by the Alabama Historical Commission. Forty percent of the tax credits are set aside for rural areas. Since its original passage in 2013, fifty-two different preservation projects across Alabama –including work on the Pizitz Building in Birmingham – have used the tax credit.
  • The Senate also moved to increase incentives for agricultural investment in irrigation equipment to jumpstart economic growth in rural counties: SB257 expands an existing tax credit to 10% of accrued costs for installing irrigation equipment or converting existing systems from fuel to electric (credit not to exceed $50,000 per year).

The Alabama Constitution allows a maximum of thirty legislative days for each session. Senate Republicans worked hard each day to implement conservative reforms to strengthen Alabama. In addition to the above, the Legislature approved:

  • Coverage of autism therapy under private insurance plans of companies with fifty or more employees (smaller companies are regulated by federal insurance guidelines).
  • A protection of healthcare workers’ rights of conscience.
  • A Constitutional Amendment to declare Alabama a pro-life state, in the event Roe V. Wade is overturned.
  • A proposal to protect the integrity of primary run-off elections. Voters who participate in a Republican or Democrat primary will be prohibited from switching to vote in the other party’s primary run-off election.
  • Ending judicial override of jury verdicts in capital murder cases. Judges shouldn’t have the authority to reverse decisions reached by juries, the group our Founding Fathers called the smallest form of government closest to the people.
  • The creation of an advisory council to examine outcome-based funding for Alabama’s community colleges. Thirty-two states use some form of performance-based budgeting for higher education.  Over one billion dollars of taxpayer money is appropriated annually to Alabama’s colleges and universities, and we should reward those institutions that are providing great value to students.
  • Direct Primary Care (DPC) agreements to allow patients and companies to contract directly with doctors and dentists for basic care, without going through insurance companies. Primary care doesn’t have to be expensive; consumers and companies should have the freedom to directly purchase basic care from medical and dental groups. DPC agreements dramatically reduce overhead for medical providers, which leads to cost savings for patients, and make it easier for doctors and dentists to open practices in rural Alabama, since medical and dental practices normally need a high number of patients to off-set costs from insurance documentation requirements.

Led by President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper), the Alabama Senate Republican Caucus is comprised of 26 of Alabama’s 35 state senators. Its members include doctors, teachers, attorneys, and businessmen. They are committed to serving the public in a way that makes Alabama the best place in America to own a business, raise a family, make a living, and spend retirement.