MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WHNT) - School vouchers and gun owner rights were the main headlines in a jam-packed final day of the Alabama Legislature.
As is always the case on the last day, lawmakers scrambled to push through as many bills as possible before the midnight deadline hit.
Governor Robert Bentley got a major rebuke from his Republican colleagues on Monday, as both houses of the Legislature overwhelmingly rejected Bentley's call for a two-year delay on the Alabama Accountability Act. Governor Bentley said his amendment would have allowed the state to pay back a huge loan from the Education Rainy Day Account more quickly.
Alabama lawmakers decided to scrap Governor Bentley's amendment while passing a revamped version of the school voucher bill, which will be in place before the start of the upcoming school year. Lawmakers told WHNT News 19 they had enough votes to override any potential veto, but were not worried about it due to the fact that the original bill was already signed into law earlier this spring.
Parents who have children in schools that are classified as failing will get $3,500 tax credits that will allow them to transfer to a better public school or a private school. That starts this fall, but one of the key revisions approved on Monday includes a measure that allows non-failing schools to deny admission if they so choose.
Governor Bentley says the choice to override his delay is irresponsible and a huge mistake.
"My first responsibility is to the people of this state, and I believe the majority of the people support this executive amendment," said Governor Bentley. "This executive amendment was fiscally responsible."
The other big story from Montgomery is the passage of a bill that will allow employees to bring their guns with them to work. It cleared the House and Senate and is now on Governor Bentley's desk.
The bill has some caveats:
- Employees can bring their guns onto their workplace property, as long as those firearms stay locked and out of sight in vehicles.
- Companies who try to punish employees who transport weapons are subject to fines.
- The bill also has a provision which states that the carrying of a visible pistol in public is not a crime, as long as that gun owner has a legal permit to carry.
Other proposals that were still in limbo as of late Monday evening were a pair of welfare reform bills that would crack down on fraudulent use and implement mandatory drug testing for some recipients. Also in the balance was a bill to eliminate Madison County's tax assessor and tax collector positions, merging the two offices into one.
A few other noteworthy bills passed on Monday. SB 383 gives Alabama school systems the ability to hire their own armed guards, in addition to school resource officers they may already have from local police and sheriffs departments.
A bill that eliminates mini-trials for people who have already plead guilty to capital murder also beat the midnight deadline. Prosecutors said the unnecessary procedure costs taxpayers millions of dollars, and pointed to the recent trials of Amy Bishop and Jacob Shaffer as examples.
Gov. Bentley signed the general fund and education budgets earlier in the day.