Due to the setup of Alabama’s state constitution, many policy adjustments that local officials desire (or desire to send to the people) must pass through the state legislature.
That means the Wiregrass delegation of legislators have been busy submitting local legislation that affects anything from sales taxes to Sunday alcohol sales and stadium bathrooms. Most pieces of legislation have already been enacted or enrolled (ready for Gov. Kay Ivey’s signature), but a few still remain up for discussion.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the key local bills and where they stand as of the last legislative session Thursday:
>> In the latest movement, House Bill 546 – which gives Coffee County Sheriff Dave Sutton a $12,000 per year expense account – passed the Senate Thursday by a 28-0 vote. The bill now awaits Ivey’s signature.
>> House Bills 431 and 435, which expands the number of law enforcement agents/agencies that can transport residents for mental evaluations following incidents in Dale and Houston counties, have passed the House. They both await consideration in a Senate committee.
>> House Bill 159, sponsored by Rep. Paul Lee (R-Dothan) seeks to reduce the number of bathrooms school systems are required to build when they construct new stadiums or remodel older ones. Many local school officials have argued the standards are too high, leaving some constructed bathrooms unused and school systems with unnecessarily burdensome construction costs. The bill has passed the House and a Senate committee, meaning it will soon be up for consideration by the entire Senate.
>> Another bill with a statewide impact and local angle is House Bill 479 , which Rep. Dexter Grimsley (D-Newville) sponsored. The legislation would reduce the age requirement for a commercial driver’s license in Alabama from 21 to 18, though, 18- to 20-year-olds will have certain restrictions on their licenses. The bill overwhelmingly passes the House and Senate and has been enrolled.
>> Bills allowing for Enterprise residents to consider a Sunday alcohol sales referendum, requiring the Houston County probate judge to be a licensed attorney , permanently establishing Houston County’s 1-cent sales tax , establishing a $5 probate fee in Houston County and establishing a 4 percent lodging tax in Coffee County have all been enacted.
Cleaning costs spike: The Houston County Commission will consider approval of a janitorial services contract for county-maintained buildings at its meeting Tuesday. The low bid from a company called ABM, the current contractor, is $429,442.56 for a year.
The figure represents about a $137,000 increase, said Sean Curtis, Houston County’s building maintenance manager. Curtis said ABM underestimated the amount of manpower needed for the contract’s specifications at the last bidding, so county officials anticipated a sharp increase in the bid.
One other submittal came from Performance Property and was valued at $480,000.
Curtis said county officials considered the prospect of hiring its own janitors but estimated that would cost the county about $524,000 per year – not including upfront equipment costs of about $40,000.
More accountability: Houston County resident Gary Knight addressed the county commission Thursday and asked the county to budget money for accountability software that would allow residents to quickly and more affordably track the county’s revenue and expenditures.
“I’ve talked to all commissioners, and they all seem to think it’s a good idea,” he said, noting he was informed budgetary concerns prevented the software purchase last year. “Your IT people could locate vendors and get an idea of costs. I would ask you to set aside money for the program in this year’s budget.”
The City of Enterprise uses similar software, and those interested can view Enterprise’s finances under the Transparency tab at www.enterpriseal.gov. Knight mentioned the City of Tuscaloosa also uses the software.
Houston County resident George Trotter also echoed Knight’s sentiments when he addressed the commission.