Alabama Statehouse week in review: May 12-14

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Thursday was Day 22 of the Alabama Legislative Session, which means lawmakers have just eight days left to pass budgets for public education and the general fund.

Gov. Robert Bentley told The Huntsville Times this week that “the only constitutional duty that the Legislature has is to pass budgets … All this other stuff is just extra. If they fail at that job, then they’ve had a failed session – even though we’ve passed a lot of good bills.”

House Republicans did pass a general fund budget out of the Ways and Means Committee on Thursday. The budget includes cuts to Medicaid, prisons and mental health. The proposal includes no tax increases, since House GOP members successfully pulled those from consideration Tuesday. Ways and Means General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse said in a prepared statement that that the budget package is simply a vehicle to send to the Senate so lawmakers there can send back their own budget proposal.

On the heels of Clouse’s statement, Bentley issued his own strong language to the Legislature via reporters: “This budget is unworkable, it’s irresponsible, it really hurts people. The people who depend on the general fund for services – and that really includes everybody in the state of Alabama – will be hurt by this budget.” The governor also said that a Special Session is “certainly more likely.”

Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Tourism and Marketing cleared Sen. Del Marsh’s gambling proposal by a 5-3 vote.

Several items not related to budget moved out of the Alabama statehouse this week. Here are a few that we’ve been watching:

Funding for the Children First Trust Fund (House Bill 129) was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee by a unanimous voice vote. As money from the landmark tobacco settlement comes to Alabama, legislators appropriate a portion to the Children First Trust Fund to cover juvenile services, mental health and substance abuse programs, and child abuse and neglect.

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Lawmakers gave a favorable report to House Bill 563 this week, though bill sponsor Rep. Patricia Todd told AL.com that the bill may not get much farther. She and Rep. Howard Sanderford sponsored the legislation to ensure that only licensed veterinarians can make medical or surgical decisions on the treatment of animals. The bill also says spay and neuter clinics would be regulated as veterinary facilities.

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A bill to give judges, ministers and other officiants the right to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies is inching closer to becoming law, after a favorable report by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. House Bill 56 passed the House in mid-March after four hours of emotional debate, AL.com reported. Bill sponsor Rep. Jim Hill said he brought the legislation after hearing from judges and ministers concerned about being forced to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples.

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The Senate Judiciary Committee also gave a favorable report to House Bill 237, a bill that would give grandparents the right to petition for visitation with their grandchildren.

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Lawmakers voted down a bill that would impose term limits on the State Board of Education. The Montgomery Advertiser reported that committee members were concerned about the potential loss of institutional knowledge.

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The Senate Committee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development voted in favor of Senate Bill 452, legislation brought forth by Sen. Bill Holtzclaw to allow brewpubs to sell beer for off-premise (as well as on-premise) consumption.

Keep checking ALToday.com for updates.

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