Alabama’s 2014 legislative session begins next week. Most insiders are predicting a fairly noncontroversial session. Legislators are anxious to avoid contentious issues in an election year and would like to get back to their districts as soon as possible.
House Republicans last year plowed through their aptly named “We Dare Defend Our Rights” agenda, which included several hot button issues like the Alabama Accountability Act (school choice), the Women’s Health and Safety Act (pro-life), The Religious Liberty Act (anti-ObamaCare), and the Alabama Firearms Protection Amendment (pro-2nd Amendment).
The tone is decidedly less confrontational this year.
House Speaker Mike Hubbard and his GOP caucus in early December rolled out their “Commonsense Conservative” agenda for the 2014 session. House Majority Leader Micky Hammon declared 2014 the “year of taxpayer relief” in Alabama. Six of the nine bills on the agenda deal with reducing the tax burden for Alabamians in one way or another.
“We had three different days of roundtable discussions with legislators from around the state,” Davis said. “We’ve made a significant effort to transform state government since we took over the majority in 2010. We passed unprecedented school choice legislation. We’ve kept the state out of proration and made the government live within its means through the Rolling Reserve Act. There are a lot of bills I could point to. But when we started looking ahead to 2014, we wanted to keep the focus on addressing the needs of the state in commonsense, conservative ways. Naming it the ‘Commonsense Conservative Agenda’ was a perfect fit.”
While a lot of the focus in recent months has been on recruiting major industries to the state — efforts that Davis said have been extremely fruitful — Republicans in the House decided they wanted to specifically dial in on small, hometown businesses during the 2014 session.
“We started brainstorming on what we could do to help mom and pop shops, family owned businesses, small businesses that are in our communities,” Davis recalled. “Every legislator has these folks in their community. We felt it was important to roll back government red tape and simplify reporting to revenue systems, give them tax breaks, and ultimately free up these small business to grow and have a greater impact on our local communities than they already do.”
With that in mind, House Republicans added the Small Business Tax Relief Act and Business Tax Streamlining Act to their agenda.
The Small Business Tax Relief Act is being sponsored by Rep. Barry Moore of Enterprise.
“Currently, businesses are required to pay in advance if their average monthly estimated sales tax payment is more than $1,000,” Moore explained when Republicans rolled out the agenda. “The Small Business Tax Relief Act will raise the threshold for making these payments from $1,000 to $2,500 per month. This could provide approximately 6,000 Alabama small business owners with an immediate, one-time tax cut of up to $2,500 and will inject approximately $4.6 million into the Alabama economy. With ObamaCare raising everyone’s healthcare costs and the federal government trying to regulate us to death, our small businesses need all the relief we can give them.”
The Business Tax Streamlining Act is being sponsored by Greg Wren of Montgomery. It seeks to simplify the process for filing business personal property taxes by creating a new online tax filing system that Republicans say will be a “one-stop-shop” for filing these taxes. It will also “allow businesses claiming $10,000 or less in business personal property tax to file a short form that does not require them to itemize their property.”
In addition to the freshmen who are carrying bills, first-term representatives Ed Henry, Paul Lee and April Weaver joined Davis and House Rules Chairman Mac McCutcheon on the platform committee tasked with executing the process of putting together the agenda.
Davis said they discussed ideas with the House committee chairmen, then the whole caucus spent a half-day going through it all. The nine bill package went on to be unanimously approved by the House caucus.
One issue missing from the agenda that will likely make an otherwise placid session a bit more contentious is Common Core. Grassroots conservative groups have made the national education standards their top issue over the last year. Tea party groups have consistently called on the legislature to overrule the state school board and repeal them.
Davis said there are Republicans inside their caucus on both sides of the issue, which would make it difficult to find a consensus on including it in the agenda.
“It’s been back and forth,” Davis said. “We’ve worked closely with the state superintendent on a lot of education issues, but the bottom line is, there’s already an elected board in place that makes those policy decisions, that provides leadership there. It’s a tough issue and I know people on both sides are really passionate about it.”
“We’re proud of our agenda and we really looked to craft bills that could have an impact on communities all across the state,” Davis concluded. “We’ve got some legislation that’s going to really help the taxpayers. This is a year to focus on taxpayer relief and on small businesses to make their life easier.”
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