Alabama lawmakers close out 2023 legislative session

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Empty seats in a senate chamber.

The empty senate chamber at the Alabama State House on March 7, 2023.

Mary Scott Hodgin, WBHM

Alabama lawmakers finished the 2023 legislative session Tuesday, ending a session marked by flush budgets and tax cuts. Legislators passed one measure on the final day which would exempt overtime pay from state income tax.

“Anybody that works more than 40 hours a week would see a huge tax break on that,” said Todd Stacy, host of Capitol Journal on Alabama Public Television.

Stacy discussed that and other action from the last day of the session.

Extra overtime

Lawmakers passed a version of the overtime exemption plan earlier in the session, excluding overtime income from the state’s 5% income tax. Initially, they planned for the exemption to end after three years and capped the tax cut at $25 million dollars a year to lessen the financial impact on revenues for the Education Trust Fund. 

“[The cap] was kind of confusing,” Stacy said.

Gov. Kay Ivey sent the bill back with an executive amendment asking lawmakers to do away with the cap and to put an earlier sunset date on the exemption. Legislators agreed to the changes. The tax exemption would now expire in July 2025. 

“What that does is allow the state to see, ‘How much money does this cost the education budget and how do we need to plan in the future?’” Stacy said. “So it’s kind of like a pilot tax cut.”

Falling short

Several proposals did not make it out on the final day, including one that would have strengthened Alabama’s open records law, arguably the weakest law of its kind in the nation. Currently, public agencies are not required to respond to information requests. The bill would have set a timeline for state and local government agencies to respond. 

“Apparently what really slowed this bill down and killed it in the end was higher education. Some of our colleges and universities had some problems responding to public records requests,” Stacy said. “When you get to the end of the session it’s really easy to run the clock out and I think that’s what happened on this bill.”

A controversial bill that would criminalize helping non-family members fill out an absentee ballot also died. It’s a proposal that’s been pushed by Republicans around the country. The bill made it through the House, but encountered speed bumps in the Senate.

“When it comes to the Senate, the rules allow them to filibuster and really slow things down if they want to,” Stacy said.

Most of the time, Democrats work with the Republican majority to improve legislation, according to Stacy. But in this case they were at an impasse.

“I talked with Sen. Bobby Singleton. He’s the minority leader. He told me this was not able to be made more palatable. This was not a bill that they could make better,” Stacy said. “It just needed to die, I think, in order to sort of preserve the peace. On the final day, they just didn’t put it on the agenda.”

Lawmakers revived the traditional Shroud Award which the House gives to the “deadest” bill of the session. This year’s award went to Rep. Chris Pringle of Mobile for his bill changing primary election dates. Stacy said the award is a light-hearted moment that speaks to the comradery among legislators.

“Ninety percent of the time they are working together and that’s something I think people should remember,” Stacy said.


A look at what passed and failed in the session

From the Associated Press

What passed:

REDUCED SALES TAX ON FOOD

Alabama lawmakers approved a reduction of the 4% state sales tax in food. The tax will drop by 1% in September. It will drop another 1% the following year, provided the Education Trust Fund grows by 3.5% to offset the loss to education funding.

TAX REBATES

The legislation gives one-time tax rebates of $150 to single people and $300 to married couples.

TRANSGENDER ATHLETE BAN

Alabama lawmakers extended an existing ban on transgender athletes on K-12 sports teams to include college sports teams.

ORGANIZED CRIME LEGISLATION

The legislation will give sentence enhancements and mandatory minimums for crimes committed as part of a criminal enterprise.

NEW STATEHOUSE

The legislation authorizes the Legislative Council, a 20-member panel that consists of legislative leaders and appointed legislator, to contract with the Retirement Systems of Alabama or another entity to build a new statehouse.

SCHOLARSHIP EXPANSION

Alabama lawmakers approved an expansion of a scholarship program aimed at helping low- and moderate-income students attend private schools.

PANHANDLING

The new law would prohibit someone from loitering beside a state highway. A first offense would be a violation, and second offense would be a misdemeanor. The legislation was approved after a federal judge struck down the state’s existing law against panhandling.

ECONOMIC INCENTIVES

Lawmakers approved a package of economic incentive legislation, including a renewal of the Alabama Jobs Act, the state’s primary economic recruitment tool that gives tax credits for capital investments and payroll rebates for job creation.

OVERTIME TAX EXEMPTION

A worker’s overtime pay would be exempt from the 5% state income tax beginning in tax year 2024. The exemption will end in the middle of 2025 unless extended by lawmakers.

FENTANYL PENALTIES

The legislation sets harsher penalties for trafficking fentanyl — with punishments of up to life imprisonment — as lawmakers try to respond to the deadly overdose crisis.

PANDEMIC RELIEF FUNDS

Lawmakers in special session approved a plan to use $1 billion in federal coronavirus funds largely on a mix of water and sewer infrastructure, broadband internet expansion and reimbursements to health care providers.

The legislation extends the existing ban on texting and driving to prohibit someone from holding a cellphone or other mobile devices while driving under certain circumstances. The legislation includes exemptions for emergencies and other reasons.

What failed:

SCHOOL VOUCHERS

Proposals to give parents $6,900 in public money through education savings accounts to pay for private school and home school expenses stalled amid opposition.

ABORTION BAN EXCEPTIONS

Democratic-sponsored legislation that would add exceptions for rape and incest to Alabama’s existing abortion ban did not get a vote.

DIVISIVE CONCEPTS

The ban on teaching of so-called “divisive concepts” about race and gender in public classrooms and state worker diversity training did not reach final passage.

STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS/ SEX ABUSE LAWSUITS

Legislation to give victims of childhood sex abuse more time to sue their abusers stalled in a committee.

OTHER ANTI-LGBTQ BILLS

Bills that would ban drag shows where children are present or limit who is considered a man or a woman did not get a floor vote.

FIRST-GRADE READINESS

Legislation backed by the governor that would require students to attend kindergarten or demonstrate they are ready for first grade stalled in the Alabama Senate.

CRIMIALIZING ABSENTEE BALLOT HELP

Legislation that would make it a felony to help a non-family member fill out an absentee ballot did not get a vote in the Senate.

 

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