A number of bills were passed during the Regular Session, which have now been signed into law by Gov. Bentley, and some of them are referred to by the media as “major” bills. Despite failing to come up with a solution to the state’s General Fund budget crisis, the Legislature did manage to pass a number of good bills during the session. A key issue for lawmakers this year was passing prison reform legislation that will reduce overcrowding in Alabama prisons. Unfortunately, the new law wasn’t funded, which is hard to understand. The following is list of some other bills that won approval from the Legislature:
• Open Meetings Act — Tightened the law that requires boards and commissions to conduct their business in public by banning “serial meetings” by members of a board to circumvent the law.
• Increased economic incentives for industry – The Alabama Jobs Act gives eligible companies that create at least 50 new jobs a 3 percent jobs credit for up to 10 years. Additional incentives include those given to industry that hires large numbers of veterans or locates in a more rural or low income part of the state.
• Medicaid reform – The new plan will deliver long-term services such as nursing home care through integrated care networks, which is expected to help control costs and could give people more options, such as in-home care.
• Charter Schools – Legislation allowing the formation of charter schools in Alabama, another priority for Republican lawmakers, received approval. Charter schools are publicly funded, but can be granted autonomy on hiring, curriculum, scheduling and in other areas. The legislation allows local school systems to convert traditional public schools to charters. I have serious doubts about charter schools and have difficulty understanding how this concept can be good for all of the students in our public schools.
• Revisions to Alabama Accountability Act – This legislation expands the program that helps families put their children in private school with scholarships funded by tax credits. I am totally opposed to this concept, which leaves students behind whose schools are already severely underfunded.
• Formation of two-year college board – The legislation removes the power of overseeing the two-year state colleges from the state Board of Education and creates the Alabama Community College Board of Trustees. The members will be appointed by the governor and subject to confirmation by the state Senate.
• Virtual schools – Under the passed legislation, Alabama school systems are required to establish a policy to offer some level of virtual school for high school students by the 2016-2017 academic year.
• Motorcycle license endorsement – Alabama was the only state that didn’t require motorcycle operators to have a Class M endorsement on their driver’s license. The bill requires new motorcyclists to take rider safety course or written test for the endorsement.
• Creation of Hiawayi Robinson Statewide Emergency Missing and Exploited Children Alert System – The bill creates the new missing child alert system named after 8-year-old Hiawayi, of Prichard, who went missing and was later found dead. It allows law enforcement to issue an alert for missing children who don’t fit the criteria for an Amber Alert.
• Gabe Griffin Right To Try Act – The bill — named after a 10-year-old from Shelby County with the rare genetic disorder — gives patients with terminal illnesses access to experimental treatments.
• Strengthening domestic violence laws – Backed by First Lady Dianne Bentley, the legislation increases marriage license fee to pay for capital improvements at women’s shelters statewide. It requires courts to enter restraining orders into a digital database among other measures.
• Erin’s Law — The legislation — named after sexual abuse survivor Erin Merryn – requires child sexual abuse education curriculum be taught in kindergarten through 12th grade. It creates a governor’s task force, which will make recommendations for age-appropriate curriculum.
• Theft of valor – This bill makes it illegal to fraudulently claim to have received military honors in order to receive financial gain. This is already against federal law. Violators could face misdemeanor or felony charges.
• Powdered alcohol ban — The Legislature banned powdered alcohol — condensed spirits in a pouch — before the product even reached the market. Lawmakers say the ban will save countless lives.
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