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Legislative Update - Week 7

Bills relating to 529 savings accounts, combining the education trust fund and general fund budgets, and school safety were the issues that captured much of our attention and energy this week.

HB251 (Rep. K. Johnson) and SB189 (Sen. Brewbaker)

529 Savings Investment Plans

When the federal tax reform was passed in December 2017 language was included to allow 529 savings accounts to be used for K-12 private and religious education. Public K-12 education lost the fight to stop this language from being added at the federal level.

 

In Alabama, the State Treasurer, Young Boozer, is supporting legislation that changes Alabama’s Code to conform to the new federal 529 savings account. After studying the bill more closely, these bills are much more complex with big ramifications that allow the expansion of state tax exemptions on 529 accounts and can be used to pay for K-12 religious and private school education. According to the fiscal note on the bills, the tax credit received by 529 account holders would divert money away from the ETF by an undetermined amount. Studying the financial impact closer, other states with similar population to Alabama, report an impact between $10 million and $20 million to their budgets while paying expenses for private and religious K-12 schools.

 

CLAS will not remain silent; we oppose both bills. CLAS will oppose issues that divert money from the Education Trust Fund.

 

On Wednesday, both the House and Senate bills were in committee. HB251 was quickly given a favorable report from the Senate Ed Policy committee. Committee Chairman, Sen. Brewbaker, stated he will not allow the bill to move to the Senate floor until all education parties work out their differences on the bill. Later a public hearing was held on SB189. Speaking against the bill was Alabama Arise, CLAS, and AASB. Speaking for the bill was State Treasurer, Young Boozer. No vote was taken, but we expect the bill to be voted on next week.

SB292 (Sen. Hightower) – Combine ETF and General Fund Budget

A public hearing was called for Thursday. CLAS was signed up to speak against the bill. Our stance is the Education Trust Fund should not be used to prop up the General Fund Budget. The bill was carried over in committee. No one was able to speak on the bill.

HB366 (Rep. Knight) – Cyberbullying

This bill would expand current law to include student- against student harassment, intimidation, violence, and threats of violence off school property. It specifically included cyberbullying in the definition of harassment. If the bill is passed names the statute Jamari Terrell Williams Act. The bill was given a favorable report as amended. 

HB236 (Rep. Pettus) School Resource Officers

Under existing law, a local board of education may contract with a local chief of police or sheriff to employ school resource officers. This bill would authorize a local board of education to also employ as a school resource officer a person who retired in good standing from a federal or state agency with at least 25 total years of law enforcement experience. The committee gave the bill a favorable report.

HB166 (Rep. Davis) Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)

CLAS has monitored this bill since an amendment was added on the House floor to include language that would allow Marriage and Family Therapist to practice on school property. After the conclusion of the public hearing Tuesday, a substitute was offered that limited the MFTs to treat mental and emotional disorders within their scope of training, and that nothing written in the bill should be construed to authorize MFTs to practice medicine. The bill was given a favorable report as substituted.

HB228 (Rep. Standridge)

Permits but does not mandate the use of national motto “In God We Trust” in and on public buildings and vehicles. Committee gave this bill a favorable report.

SB26 (Sen. Chambliss) and HB413 (Rep. Beckman)

Juvenile Sex Offenders

Notification provided to school of low-risk sex offender expanded to included local superintendent of education and board of education, school is required to report to local law enforcement, state board of education required to develop and local board of education to adopt a model policy for monitoring juvenile sex offenders in school. Both bills were carried over in the committee meetings Wednesday.

SB101 (Sen. Orr)

Grants for gifted or talented children for education programs provided by the State Department of Education, requires local match. The bill received a favorable report.

HB356 (Rep. Boyd)

Bill would allow the administration of autoinjectable epinephrine on K-12 school campuses by students. If the bill were passed it would be named the Kyle Graddy Act. A favorable report was given to the bill.

SB159 (Sen. Shelnutt) 

Grants all professional educators’ associations same level of access to employees of public schools.The house education policy committee gave the bill a favorable report.

Bills Passed the Senate:

SB163 (Sen. Orr)

This bill makes a supplemental appropriation from the Education Trust Fund to the Department of Veterans' Affairs in the amount of $4,294,859 for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2018; and makes a supplemental appropriation from the Education Trust Fund to the State Department of Education for the Alabama School of Cyber and Engineering in the amount of $500,000 for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2018. The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

SB212 (Sen. Orr)

The bill creates Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering in Huntsville. It provides for the membership, powers, compensation, and terms of the board of trustees; provides for programs and the operation of the school; provides for extracurricular activities; prescribes eligibility requirements; and a conditional appropriation of $1,500,000 from the ETF to the school. A floor amendment was added allowing the school to assist teachers, administrators, and superintendents across the state in replicating cyber and engineering studies in their own schools. Assistance shall include, but not be limited to, classroom observations, workshops, and fostering communities of practice in the areas of cyber and engineering. The bill now moves to the House. 

Bills Passed the House:

HB31 (Rep. Crawford) County Superintendents

Original intent of the bill was to remove the prohibition against county superintendents of education having additional employment and remove the limit of $600 on annual travel expenses for certain county superintendents of education. An amendment was added on the floor to state that county superintendents shall devote his or her entire time to public school business, unless authorized to engage in outside employment by the county board of education. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Bills Introduced:

In the aftermath of the Florida High School shooting last Wednesday, Alabama legislators have introduced several bills that address school safety. We had a few introduced this week and expect more.

 

As more school safety bills are introduced CLAS will research each bill very closely. It is our hope that law enforcement and education can work together to get changes in place in an effort to make our campuses safe and secure. If you have any concerns, questions, or thoughts on any safety bill please reach out to CLAS and more importantly to your legislator.

HB435 (Rep. Ainsworth) Arming Teachers

The bill authorizes a local superintendent, principal, or vice principal or teacher of public K-12 schools, with certain qualifications, to carry a pistol while on school property, and provides for communication with local law enforcement and civil immunity. The administrator or teacher would have to receive 40 hours of training and mental health evaluation, and students would not know which teachers were armed.  

 

This was the first bill relating to school safety introduced this session. The bill has much opposition from several different organizations at the State House, not just education.  CLAS called a public hearing on the bill. If ever able to speak CLAS will oppose the bill as we think it is a misguided attempt to address a huge problem. There needs to be a comprehensive approach to school safety, and a solution needs to involve the local school/system and local law enforcement making the decisions together.

HB442 (Rep. Farley)

Would allow law enforcement to obtain an arrest warrant for an individual who is in possession of a firearm on school property without having to meet the current threshold of the officer first proving intent to do bodily harm.

HB447 (Rep. Collins)

Creates the Alabama Taskforce on School Safety and Security, requires the task force to annually study the education and safety laws, rules, and policies of the state, and make legislative recommendations to the Legislature when necessary.

HB449 (Rep. Farley)

The bill authorizes the formation of trained volunteer school emergency security forces at public schools in the state consisting of current and retired school employees and local citizens; to provide for the role of the sheriff and the chief of police in the training and supervision of emergency security forces; to provide for indemnification; and to provide for implementation of the act by the State Board of Education and local boards of education.

 

The bill is modeled after a 2013 Local Bill, HB404, which allowed the Franklin County School Districts to coordinate with the Franklin County Sheriff and Police Chiefs to coordinate with the Franklin County Superintendents in creating trained school emergency response teams. The response teams were selected and trained by the Sherriff or Police Chief, the list of team applicants was created by the school superintendents and sent to the sheriff or police chief for their selection and training.

HB452 (Rep. Farley and Rep. Collins)

Under existing law, a juvenile court is required to notify the superintendent of the school district of a child when the child is found delinquent and may notify the superintendent when a child is found delinquent for committing any other crime. This bill allows a juvenile probation officer to share any information or records relating to a child, excluding mental health and medical records, with school personnel for limited purposes of promoting public safety and safety of a child; provides that all shared information must remain confidential; provides limited immunity; revises crime of possessing deadly weapon on school property.  

SB323 – (Sen. Pittman)

This bill would amend the Education Trust Fund Rolling Reserve Act to allow funds in the Education Trust Fund Budget Stabilization Fund to be used for school security, in addition to those already identified in the law. CLAS supports this bill because it allows local school systems to use any unappropriated revenue in this fund as a block grant for school security and all other expenditures already identified in the law.

 

SB343 (Sen. Marsh) Ethics Reform

Substantially amends the Alabama Ethics Act.  The bill revises existing definitions and adds new definitions; to specify when gifts or other income are not a thing of value; to exempt certain public education and police and first responder employees from specified provisions of the code of ethics; to allow caucuses to solicit and receive meals from a lobbyist or principal in limited circumstances; to authorize the creation of legal defense funds; to prohibit use of the mantle of office, as defined, for personal gain; to create the crime of extortion of a public official or public employee; to revise the filing requirements for statements of economic interests for public officials and public employees; to provide for redacting of statements of economic interests; to prohibit a person convicted of a violation of the code of ethics from being registered as a lobbyist.

NEXT WEEK

CLAS will host its second Legislative Hill Day. We expect to have ten members join us in Montgomery, February 27, for a day of advocacy.

HB194 (Rep. Weaver) and HB202 (Rep. Weaver) relating to the Pallative end of life individual health plans, and palliative end of life individual health plan to be used in a school setting will be the first two bills on the House Special Order Calendar Tuesday, February 27.

Committee Meetings:

SB148 (Sen. Ward)

Juvenile Justice, provisions relating to the juvenile justice system substantially revised, adoption of policies for absenteeism and school misconduct required, Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Fund created. A public hearing is called for Tuesday, February 27, at 10:00 in the House Chamber.

Convene Report - The House will convene Tuesday, February 27, at 1:00 p.m. and the Senate at 2:00 p.m. the same day.