Alabama lawmakers on Tuesday begin the home stretch of the legislative session with their biggest challenge still unsolved: a shortfall in the general fund budget.
There are four legislative meeting days remaining and so far no consensus on how to handle a projected $200 million shortfall in next year’s general fund budget. Legislators have been unable to agree on tax increases or on a proposal to shift some money from the education budget to avoid cuts to key state agencies.
“I think most are resigned to a special session,” Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Chairman Arthur Orr, a Republican of Decatur, said.
The stalemate comes after months of negotiations by legislators on ways to fill the budget hole and warnings by Gov. Robert Bentley about the severe cuts to state services that will occur if they don’t.
Lawmakers have rejected Bentley’s call for $541 million in new taxes. House GOP members temporarily backed a smaller $151 million tax increase but withdrew it after Senate leaders said GOP senators would oppose it.
The session is expected to conclude next week, but by law must end by June 15.
Here is a look at the status of other issues before lawmakers this session:
An effort to limit what payday lenders can charge on the short-term loans appears to be stalling again this legislative session.
A House committee approved a bill that would give borrowers more time to repay a loan, taking the window from 14 days to six months. However, the bill has not gotten a vote on the House floor.
Alabama Accountability Act
Alabama lawmakers are close to making changes to a controversial school choice program that helps families pay for private school. A conference committee is considering the bill to expand the yearly cap on the tax credits that fuel the scholarships from $25 million to $30 million. It would also tighten income requirements on the scholarships and increase reporting requirements on the organizations that grant the scholarships.
The bill that would ban abortion clinics within 2,000 feet of public K-12 schools has been approved by the House of Representatives but has not gotten a Senate vote. The bill would force a Huntsville abortion clinic, one of the state’s five abortion clinics, to move or close. Another House bill would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, but has not gotten a floor vote.
Marriage licenses/Gay marriage
A bill, brought in response to the possibility of the U.S Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage, would get Alabama out of the marriage license business altogether. The bill would do away with current state marriage licenses issued by probate judges. Instead, couples would take a contract witnessed by a couple’s minister or attorney. The state Senate approved the bill but it has not gotten a House vote.
A bill aimed at allowing a lottery and casinos in the state is dead for the session. The proposal did not get a floor vote in the Alabama Senate. In the final four days of the session, senators, under legislative rules, must unanimously agree to send approved Senate bills down to the House for consideration. The procedural hurdle dooms senators’ controversial bills in the final days of the session.
Like the gambling legislation, a Senate bill to allow the use of medicinal marijuana for certain illnesses and conditions, is also dead for the session because it did not get a Senate floor vote. The bill did get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee this year.
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.