Alabama Scene

Lawyers, GOP are big legislative winners; public workers, Democrats are big losers

 

 

This week I will summarize some of the major pieces of legislation that passed the recently ended session of the Alabama Legislature and discuss the winners and losers.

IMMIGRATION – The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, and Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, makes it a crime to be in Alabama without possessing proper documentation and illegal for undocumented aliens to work, enter into contracts, or attend postsecondary schools in Alabama.

The winners: Lawyers (two groups have already threatened lawsuits). The losers: Business owners who use undocumented workers for low pay; property owners and others who use those businesses; and taxpayers who will have to compensate lawyers defending the state’s action.

STATE RETIREMENT – Sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, the legislation repeals the DROP Bill (Deferred Retired Option Program), a law which allowed state employees over the age of 55 who had 25 years experience to draw retirement pay while continuing to work. The pay went into a special interest-earning account while the employee continued working. Also passed were bills that increase nearly all state employee contributions to the retirement program by 2.5 percent — except state troopers — and increases health insurance premiums for workers who retire before age 65 with less than 25 years service.

The winners: Most taxpayers. The losers: Public workers and people who regularly use state services.

SMALL BUSINESS – The Legislature adopted a measure sponsored by Rep. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, allowing businesses with 25 employees or less to deduct up to 200 percent of the cost of employee health insurance on their state taxes. It has been estimated the provision will reduce tax collections by up to $10 million annually in the state.

The winners: Small businesses and their employees. The loser: State budgets.

EDUCATION WORKERS – The new tenure law replaces federal arbitrators with retired state judges. The legislation permits tenured teachers to be fired over a “justifiable decrease in the number of positions” and a host of other reasons, including incompetence, insubordination, immorality or “other good and just cause.” Judges who hear appeals must give “deference” to the decision of a superintendent or school board.

The winners: Lawyers again, and proponents say the students because it will be easier to fire incompetent teachers. But I suspect, as did the opponents, that it will create additional lawsuits. The losers: Education workers.

FOREVER WILD – The Legislature gave approval in late May to a proposal that would allow voters in November 2012 to decide whether to renew the state’s Forever Wild program for another two decades. The program, which uses 10 percent of the earnings from a state trust fund funded by oil and gas revenues, to acquire land for public use. Since 1992, the program has purchased about 220,000 acres.

The winners: All Alabamians. No losers.

ABORTION – A House bill that would ban abortion after the 20th week, “based on medical assertions and legislative findings that an unborn child is capable of feeling pain” was passed and signed by the governor. Rep. Kerry Rich of Albertville was the sponsor.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says less than 2 percent of abortions take place after the 20th week, and medical journals have questioned whether fetuses can feel pain at that stage.

The winners: Lawyers, because this will spawn many lawsuits and the taxpayers will have to pay more lawyers to defend those suits. Losers: Women who require abortions to save their own life or to abort a fetus deemed not capable of surviving.

REDISTRICTING – The Legislature approved new congressional and state board of education maps that split Montgomery County into three congressional districts and caused complaints about other district lines. The new map drew criticism from several members of the Legislature, and barely made it through the Senate. Democrats were sharply critical of a map drawn up by Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, which was submitted and voted on with very little debate.

“They passed it in three minutes,” said Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville. “No one had a copy of the Beason bill.”

The winners: Lawyers, because lawsuits are already in the works, and Republican legislators who used their overwhelming majority in numbers to ram the bill through. The losers: Democrats.

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. Email him at: bob@montgomeryindependent.com.