Rep. Bill Roberts (R-Jasper) sponsored a bill that gives coal companies several tax incentives the state typically offers to manufacturers. Roberts said he is proud that the legislation was the first job incentive bill to pass so far.
Both Roberts and Sen. Greg Reed (R-Jasper), who carried the bill in the Senate, have been clear that the new tax incentives were meant to entice a possible project from Walter Energy. Officials with the company plan to place a mine near northern Tuscaloosa County. The lawmakers say the operation could create 500 new jobs and inject $1 billion into the area economy.
Another bill sponsored by Roberts concerning the coal industry will come up for a vote in the House of Representatives on Tuesday. This measure concerns the coal severance tax, which generates around $2.7 million a year. Roberts’ legislation will make the distribution of the tax revenue linked to each county’s level of coal production.
Both Roberts and Reed said there is no real system for distributing revenue from the tax. For example, Reed said Winston County receives no funds from the tax despite being the fifth largest coal-producing county in Alabama.
Rep. Richard Baughn (R-Lynn) said he hopes to see approval of two bills that would allow some companies in Alabama to keep much of the money they withhold from employees for state income tax. Proponents say it will create jobs by helping companies that either have built or plan to build in Alabama. Opponents, however, say it will allow lawmakers to raid the Education Trust Fund to help large corporations.
Reed also introduced a bill that would give K-12 teachers a $300 annual stipend for classroom supplies. Though it was initially challenged by a handful of Democrats who wanted to increase the amount, the measure has received significant support and recently made it out of the Senate. Reed said it is moving through the House of Representatives, and he expects it to pass.
Reed said he also expects the Senate to see a bill regarding the abuse of the drug psuedophedrine, the active ingredient found in Sudafed, which is used to make crystal meth. Reed said he expects the bill next week to enter the Senate Health Committee, which he chairs.
Though Reed sponsored a bill making psuedophedrine a prescription drug, he said he will likely support new legislation that requires the medication only be sold at licensed pharmacies.
Reed said he also expects the Legislature to pass a bill he is sponsoring that calls for a tax holiday for items related to storm preparation.
Baughn said he hopes the Senate take action on several bills that have passed the House. They include the following:
• A bill making looting a Class C felony.
• A bill that restricts protests near funerals. The legislation is a direct response to the Westboro Baptist Church, which has gained national attention for protesting the funerals of American troops. The congregation claims American casualties are linked to the country’s tolerance of homosexuals.
• The “Heroes for Hire” bill, which offers tax incentives for businesses that offer jobs to recently deployed or discharged troops who are unemployed.
Walker County’s local legislators said some of the major issues coming up in this year’s legislative session include the following:
• Budgets: The state’s general fund is expected to have a shortfall between $300 million and $400 million. That, coupled with recent news of Alabama Medicaid officials making a $81 million accounting error, makes significant cuts to departments and services practically unavoidable, Reed said.
Despite the general budget woes, Reed said the state saw an increase in tax revenue earmarked for Alabama’s Education Trust Fund, which could mean level funding for state schools during the next fiscal year.
• Roberts said the Alabama Legislature will likely look to repeal the 60 percent pay raise lawmakers gave themselves in 2007. Baughn said lawmakers also hope to put an end to an automatic cost of living increase for legislators.
“We should only get a pay raise when all state workers do,” he said.
• Legislators will likely consider bills regarding charter schools for lower performing school districts. However, Roberts said the bill would not concern either school district in Walker County.
• Lawmakers will look at revisions to the state’s immigration law, which has been challenged in court by several civil liberties groups.
• Reed said he expects to see a law concerning low-cost, non-profit spay and neuter clinics like Alabama Spay/Neuter in Irondale. Members of the state Board of Veterinary Examiners have challenged such clinics saying they violate Alabama law because they are not owned by a licensed veterinarian. Several lawmakers have introduced bills to protect the non-profit clinics. Reed said he expects proposed legislation from both sides of the issue.
• Reed said legislation covering the licensing of midwives in Alabama could be considered during this year’ legislative session. He said he has set up a subcommittee to meet with representatives from both sides of the debate.