Coastal lawmakers have a handful of pet projects they’d like to advance as the Alabama Legislature convenes for regular session Jan. 14.
Sen. Rusty Glover and Rep. Victor Gaston are working on a bill to change the at-large trustee structure on the University of South Alabama Board of Trustees. Gaston said the bill is based on a request of the trustees to change the “geographical makeup” of the statewide board. He cited a situation where a region with perhaps 5,700 graduates is not represented on the board, while a region with 1,400 graduates is.
“The present Board of Trustees is not as statewide in nature as much as we’d like it to be,” he said “Our intent will be to make USA truly more of state school.”
Gaston said he was also hoping to revisit the historic tax credit bill to broaden its application and make more “amiable” for investors.
Gaston was an original author of the bill but he said there was some “give and take” to get it past the Senate and he intends to strike a sunset provision that was inserted and make it more “portable.”
“When it was passed the realtors were all happy, the construction people were happy and the historic people were happy,” he said. “The idea was, if there was a dilapidated building that is essentially unusable, provide some incentive to restore it and give someone a job and get it back on the tax roll. But I’d like to modify the (three-year) sunset provision and make sure that tax credits can be transferred. You want to attract long-term investors.”
Sen. Glover said he’ll spend most of the session working with House members on their own bills, but he is also sponsoring legislation aimed at easing the restrictions on food handlers at events and festivals.
On the other side of the bay, one of the bills Sen. Trip Pittman said he’d like to focus on would require drug testing for a number of welfare recipients. Testing would be required of any of those who received a criminal drug conviction in the past five years and would result in a warning for the first offense, a one-year suspension of benefits for a second offense and revocation of benefits for a third.
Pittman said the penalties would only affect the person being monitored and not their family members or dependents.
He’s also sponsoring a term-limit bill that would restrict legislators from serving more than three, four-year terms in any either the House or the Senate.
“The problem would be phasing it in but I think it’s necessary to create some opportunity for new blood and it will take away some of the power from incumbencies,” Pittman said.
Rep. David Sessions said the general fund budget was his top priority and he was looking forward to seeing the first “hard numbers” Monday, but locally he said he wasn’t working on anything “earth-shattering.” Meanwhile, he did want to mention that he was continuing to discuss coastal insurance reform strategy with State Sen. Bill Hightower.
“We got Clarity Bill through last year so insurers are reporting to the Insurance Commissioner for the first time,” Sessions said. “So we’re going to get some numbers there and see if we’ve been overcharged. We just want to be treated fairly and don’t want to pay more than we have to.”
In an effort to lower premiums, Sessions said this year he would target programs incentivizing homeowners and homebuilders to retrofit homes with better wind resistance.
“There is a lot of value and a lot of discounts available that people aren’t aware of and we can get the word out about it, maybe we can get the premiums down,” he said.
Sessions was also interested in writing legislation that would make it easier for shipbuilders to place a lien on foreign vessels when their owners are not making timely payments.
Late last year, the Alabama House Republican Caucus announced its “commonsense, conservative” agenda for the 2014 session primarily centered on nine bills involving tax breaks for job creation, civil liberties and government accountability. But of the lawmakers Lagniappe spoke to, the state’s general fund budget was the greatest concern.
“My understanding it’s going to be very difficult year particularly with the general fund,” Gaston said. “Any new revenue has been unable to cover increased state healthcare and Medicare costs and right now a huge slice of the money is allocated to healthcare,” he said. “It’s not sustainable and although we cut $1 billion out of the budget over the last few years it can’t keep up. “