New Laws Impacting Counties

  • Published: June 22, 2015
  • 2015 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature

    Final Legislative Report 2015 | ACCA Bills 
    | New Laws Impacting Counties | Bills that Did NOT Become Law | Local Bills

    The Association staff monitors hundreds of bills each legislative session. By working directly with bill sponsors and committee chairs, the staff is often able to resolve concerns about proposed legislation that could have an impact on counties. Many of the Acts listed below were amended at some point during the legislative process to address ACCA concerns, and numerous other bills that would have negatively affected counties were opposed by the ACCA and did not become law.

    Amendments to Gun Laws
    Act No. 2015-341 (HB 47 by Rep. Chris England)

    This act makes changes to the comprehensive gun legislation passed in 2012. Specifically, it allows a minor to be in possession of a handgun if he or she has permission from a parent or guardian and is attending a hunter education course, practicing at a firing range, participating in a shooting competition, hunting or fishing, a member of the military, on the property under the control of his or her parent, or traveling by automobile to any of the above listed activities. Further, the act allows handguns to be in vehicles in employee parking lots (at secure buildings where firearms are otherwise permitted)as long as they are unloaded and locked away, and would also allow handguns on the premises of a mental health facility, but not in the building.

    While the act does expand gun rights, its original intent was to provide a process for previously-convicted persons to regain the ability to own certain firearms. A provision in the act aligns Alabama law with federal guidelines on the restoration of rights for persons who are not currently allowed to possess a handgun.

    The Association worked in concert with Alabama Sheriffs on this legislation to ensure changes that protect both counties and law enforcement. Special appreciation is expressed to Rep. England for his strong support of the issues raised by counties and sheriffs.

    This act goes into effect on September 1, 2015.


    Open Meetings Act
    Act No. 2015-340 (SB 21 by Sen. Cam Ward)

    This act amends the Open Meetings Act to define and prohibit so-called serial meetings between members of a board or committee who gather prior to a public meeting in order to determine how the body will act on a specific matter.  The Association worked directly with the Alabama Press Association on the provisions of the new act which directly impact county commissions. The Association is confident that county commissions can comply with the new requirements and will discuss the changes in detail at the ACCA Convention in August—prior to the act becoming effective.

    This act goes into effect on September 1, 2015.


    Local Lodging Taxes Remitted Through ONE SPOT
    Act No. 2015-52 (SB 130 by Sen. Paul Sanford)

    Taxpayers have been able to file and remit all local sales, use, and rental taxes through the Department of Revenue’s ONE SPOT Program since September 2013. This act adds local lodgings taxes to the list of available local taxes that may be filed and remitted through ONE SPOT.  Additionally, this act clarifies that localities shall pay no fees for use of ONE SPOT and establishes a uniform due date for all taxes paid through the system.
    This act goes into effect on October 1, 2016.


    Police Jurisdictions Annexations
    Act No. 2015-361 (HB 377 by Rep. Ron Johnson)

    This act addresses some of the confusion associated with municipal annexations by narrowing a municipality’s use of municipal powers outside its own city limits and establishing effective dates for implementation of municipal taxes or regulation.  The act only allows alteration of police jurisdiction and planning commission lines to take effect on January 1 of each year—with the adjustment accounting for any annexations (or deannexations) taking place by or before the preceding October 1. It also imposes a 30-day notice requirement before a municipality can enforce ordinances, or assess taxes or fees in a police jurisdiction.  Under this act, municipalities have the option of whether or not to exercise jurisdiction or authority over noncontiguous property annexed into its police jurisdiction—including the assessment of any tax.

    Additionally, the act requires each municipality to prepare an annual report accounting for all license revenues collected in the expanded police jurisdiction and a list of the municipal services and service providers within the police jurisdiction. The report must be completed within 90 days of the close of the fiscal year.

    This act goes into effect on September 1, 2015.




    Prison Reform
    Act No. 2015-185 (SB 67 by Sen. Cam Ward)

    The comprehensive prison reform legislation dominated much of the Association’s legislative activities during the first half the session.  The act makes substantial changes to the punishment for burglary, to the services provided by community corrections programs, to the treatment and services provided to persons on parole and probation, to the relationship between law enforcement and victims, and it also establishes several new task forces to work on additional reforms.

    Specifically, the act downgrades certain non-violent offenses from a Class C to a newly-established Class D felony offense with time to be served only at the county-level in programs such as community corrections and drug court. In addition, the act uses the county jail as a tool to provide intermediate sanctions to persons who are on probation and parole, but commit actions that are not considered significant enough to warrant the repeal of probation or parole.

    The Association, sheriffs and county officials initially offered strong opposition to the legislation because of fears that the program would simply shift costs from the state down to the counties.  Many changes were secured that will provide sheriffs with tools to remove or reject parole and probation violators that might otherwise be stagnant in the county jails.  A Senate-approved amendment by the ACCA would have required the state to also reimburse the counties for the cost of medical care for the parole and probation violators stranded in county jails, but the House Judiciary Committee (and ultimately both the House and Senate) gave final approval to the act WITHOUT the Association’s medical care language. Those supporting the legislation have pledged to revisit the issue should the new law add to county costs in this area.

    This act goes into effect on January 30, 2016 if the Director of Finance certifies that specific funding is available to implement the provisions in this act. Currently, the prison reform legislation does not have a dedicated funding source.


    Alabama Corrections Institute Finance Authority
    Act No. 2015-295 (HB 420 by Rep. Mike Jones)

    This act allows the Alabama Corrections Institute Finance Authority to sell and issue up to $60 million in bonds to construct a new prison facility in Alabama.  The act amends existing law that provided for this bond issue to purchase the private prison that was constructed several years ago in Perry County. The change is part of the prison reform effort.

    This act goes into effect on September 1, 2015.




    Alabama Veterans and Targeted Counties Act
    Act No. 2015-41 (HB 57 by Rep. Elaine Beech)

    The “Alabama Veterans and Targeted Counties Act” provides greater incentives under the provisions of the “Alabama Jobs Act” (see Act No. 2015-27 below) to companies located in targeted rural counties and to companies that employ veterans. Among those incentives, a qualifying project in a rural county would only have to employ a minimum of 25 new employees, rather than the minimum number of 50 new employees in other counties. Additionally, the job credit for a qualifying project in a rural county would be 4% of wages paid to eligible employees, as opposed to a 3% credit for projects in other counties.

    For purposes of this act, a ‘targeted county’ is defined as any Alabama county with a population of 25,000 or less, as determined on January 1 of each year using the most current data from the U.S. Departments of Labor or Commerce, the U.S. Census Bureau, or any other federal or state agency.

    Additionally, the act provides a process for State Industrial Development Authority to make loans to certain local entities under circumstances provided for in the act.

    This act became effective on August 6, 2015, the same day as Act No. 2015-27, discussed below.


    Alabama Jobs Act
    Act No. 2015-27 (HB 58 by Rep. Alan Baker)

    The “Alabama Jobs Act” creates two distinct tax credits which are available to qualifying projects on a discretionary basis, as set out in the act. The first is a jobs credit of up to 3 percent of the previous year’s annual wages of eligible employees. The second is a capital investment credit of up to 1.5 percent of qualified annual capital investment. Each credit is available for up to the first 10 years of a project. Qualifying projects can claim one or both of the credits upon the recommendation of the Department of Commerce and acceptance by the Governor.

    This act goes into effect on August 6, 2015.

    Alabama Reinvestment and Abatements Act

    Act No. 2015-24 (HB 59 by Rep. Paul Lee)

    The “Alabama Reinvestment and Abatements Act” creates reinvestment incentives for Alabama-based facilities that are refurbished, upgraded, or placed back in service. Qualifying projects are eligible to receive abatements of construction-related transaction taxes, non-educational property tax incremental increases, and a rebate of incremental increases in utility taxes for up to 10 years.

    The act also amends the state’s 1992 abatement law to allow abatements of construction related transaction taxes and non-educational property taxes to be granted for up to 20 years, which is an additional 10 years over the current abatement period allowed by law. For ad valorem abatements longer than 10 years, county and municipal non-educational taxes may be abated only with the consent of the county or municipality, and state taxes may only be abated with the consent of the Governor. Abatements will end if the facility or property is not used for 6 months for its approved purpose.

    This act goes into effect on June 24, 2015.

    Municipal Option Elections
    Act No. 2015-1 and Act 2015-2 (HB 72 and HB 73 by Rep. James Martin)

    These two acts were enacted to address problems with a 2009 act (Act 2009-546) authorizing certain smaller municipalities to conduct wet/dry elections.  After several eligible municipalities passed referendums and businesses began selling alcohol as provided in the law, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that the elections held were invalid.  Act 2015-1 ratifies and confirms the previously held elections as well as any taxes or licenses levied and collected and any administration or regulatory actions taken pursuant to 2009-546.  And Act 2015-2 re-enacts the law struck down by the appellate court, providing that any municipality with a population of 1,000 or more could hold a municipal option election under the procedures set out in the new law.

    Both of these acts took effect on March 12, 2015.



    Administrative Procedures Act

    Act No. 2015-291 (HB 210 by Rep. Mike Ball)

    This act amends the Administrative Procedures Act to increase the effective date of a certified rule from 35 days to 45 days after filing with the Legislative Reference Service. It also provides that an agency can appeal the disapproval of a rule to the Lieutenant Governor. If the Lieutenant Governor approves the rule, the Legislature may adopt a joint resolution overruling the Lieutenant Governor’s approval.


    Jurisdiction of Circuit Courts
    Act No. 2015-224 (HB 232 by Rep. Jack (JD) Williams)

    This act extends circuit court’s jurisdiction to all civil actions in which the controversy exceeds $6,000.00. The district court will exercise exclusive jurisdiction over all civil actions where the matter in controversy does not exceed $6,000.00.


    LFO to Distribute Tax Expenditure Report
    Act No. 2015-237 (SB 119 by Sen. Bill Hightower)

    This act requires the Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO) to prepare and distribute a tax expenditure report for the Legislature at the same time the Governor is required to submit his or her budget to the Legislature. The report shall include each tax exemption and its constitutional and/or statutory source and an estimate of the revenue loss caused by each tax expenditures for the most recently completed fiscal year. The LFO will start submitting the report in the 2017 Regular Legislative Session.

    Secretary of State to Maintain Database of Homeowners’ Associations

    Act No. 2015-292 (HB 241 by Rep. McCutcheon)

    This act requires homeowner’s associations to file certain association documents with the Secretary of State, and requires the Secretary of State to implement and maintain a public searchable database of association filings. It also gives certain associations the option to organize under the Alabama Nonprofit Corporation Act. This act was conceived after numerous complaints from new homeowners, who had no knowledge that their homeownership bound them to all the covenants and fees imposed by the homeowner’s association.

    This act goes into effect on January 1, 2016.


    State Agencies Authorized to Increase Fee
    Act No. 2015-441 (SB 216 by Sen. Gerald Dial)

    This act allows state agencies to request periodic increases in authorized fees based on a percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index—either since the last fee adjustment or over the preceding ten-year period, whichever is shorter.  The increase must be approved through the Administrative Procedures Act process.  The adjustment may not exceed an increase of 2% per year, and the agency may repeat this process every five years.

    This act went into immediate effect after it was signed by Governor Bentley on June 9, 2015.


    Transfer Programs to the Department of Commerce
    Act No. 2015-450 (HB 554 by Rep. Alan Baker)

    This act transfers the Workforce Development Division and the Workforce Investment Division of the Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) to the Department of Commerce.  It also reorganizes the Department of Commerce into two divisions: the Business Development Division and the Workforce Development Division.  Additionally, the act creates a 22 member Alabama Small Business Commission and at least a nine member Alabama Small Business Advisory Committee—which will have county representation.

    Many counties work closely with ADECA on a variety of community projects including workforce development. The Association encourages county officials to speak with contacts at ADECA to see if this act might impact any projects that are currently underway.

    This act went into immediate effect upon signage by Governor Robert Bentley on June 6, 2015. The transfers set out in the act will be fully operable no later than October 1, 2016.


    Distribution of Petroleum Products
    Act No. 2015-54 (SB 133 by Sen. Tom Whatley)

    This act transfers the administrative obligations and collection of inspection fees duties on gasoline, dyed diesel fuel, dyed kerosene, and lubricating oil from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Revenue.  The act does not alter the current distribution of the inspection fee proceeds, therefore the bill should not provide for a significant increase in gasoline tax revenues at the county level. However, it does alter the expenditure restrictions on this revenue by providing that the funds will now be deposited in each county’s RRR Fund and expended as those funds can be expended under the law.

    While certain technical portions of this act will go into effect on or prior to October 1, 2015; most provisions of this act will not go into effect until October 1, 2016.



    Alabama Presidential Primary Date
    Act No. 2015-239 (SB 240 by Sen. Quinton Ross)

    This act moves the date of primary elections during Presidential election years to the first Tuesday in March, beginning in the 2016 election.  This legislation will affect all county officials on the ballot in 2016 because it will move the deadline for qualifying back to 116 days prior to the date of the primary election on March 1, 2016.


    Purging Voter Lists
    Act No. 2015-367 (HB 323 by Rep. Randy Davis)

    This act aims to ensure that the computerized statewide voter registration list is regularly maintained and updated by creating a procedure for county boards of registrars to investigate the death or non-residency of a registered voter and a process for family members or certain government officials to provide the board of registrars with a written report outlining why he or she believes a person is deceased or a nonresident. The county board of registrars will then investigate those claims under procedures set out in the new law.

    This bill goes into effect on October 3, 2015.


    Elderly and Disabled Voters
    Act No. 2015-288 (HB 41 by Rep. David Standridge)

    This act requires election officials to allow mobility-disabled voters and voters over the age of 70 to move to the front of the line at polling locations, if requested. It also requires election officials to post public notices at each polling location alerting voters of this allowance.

    This act goes into effect on August 1, 2015.



    Axle Spacing Requirements
    Act No. 2015-325 (SB 458 by Sen. Trip Pittman)

    This act grants an exemption allowing asphalt delivery trucks within 50 miles of their home base to exceed the maximum axle weight.  Concrete trucks enjoy this exemption today.  The ACCA staff expressed concern about the bill and secured an amendment allowing the axle exemption to apply only if the truck does not exceed the gross weight.

    This act goes into effect on September 1, 2015.


    Farm Tags
    Act No. 2015-499 (HB 217 by Rep. Alan Boothe)

    In its final form, this new law allows farmers to purchase up to four reduced-price tags for truck tractors. Current law allows only one such lower-priced tag per farmer.  As amended by the Senate, the bill establishes a definition of ‘farmer’ and specifically excludes the reduced rate tags on trucks and trailers used ‘for hire’.  While the Association did not remove its objections to the passage of the bill in its final form, the staff did not actively oppose the measure after the Senate amendments were attached.

    The measure has only a nominal financial impact on the state and counties. However, the passage of this kind of legislation, during a year when the State is seeking to avoid a budget collapse, is another example of why Alabama desperately needs a comprehensive policy on tax exemptions.

    This act went into immediate effect when it was signed by Governor Bentley on June 12, 2015.


    Tax Exemptions for Medicaid RCOs
    Act No. 2015-349 (HB 630 by Rep. Weaver)

    This new law grants an exemption from all state, county, and municipal license taxes and fees to the newly-created regional care organizations providing Medicaid services throughout the state on a regional basis.  The exemptions do not apply to individual health care providers who are members of a regional care organization.  This exemption was pursued because the operation funds of these non-profit programs is Medicaid revenue, and the paymentof business license taxes and fees was an additional charge against the financially-struggling program.  The original bill exempted payment of all taxes, but ACCA was able to negotiate for limiting the exemption to business licenses, since it appeared that the greatest added cost for the regional care organizations came from municipal business license fees being assessed against some of these organizations.

    This act went into immediate effect after it was signed by Governor Bentley on June 5, 2015.



    One Call Notification Excavations

    Act No. 2015-363 (HB 62 by Rep. Lynn Greer)

    This act further clarifies the definition of ‘excavation’ projects as it relates to the one-call notification system, which is used to deliver statewide notifications of any planned excavations or demolition activities. The act includes agreed-to language providing that ‘excavation’ does not include routine roadway maintenance activities carried out by those responsible for publicly-maintained roadways — a provision that ensures counties can perform these functions as necessary without delay.

    Many thanks is extended to the 811 community for working with counties and the Alabama Department of Transportation on language that would protect routine maintenance activities from being subject to the law’s notification requirements.

    This act goes into effect on September 1, 2015.


    Funding Agreements with the Highway Authority
    Act No. 2015-212 (SB 320 by Sen. Bobby Singleton)

    This act authorizes the Alabama Highway Authority to enter into contracts with private, public, or governmental entities, including counties, to receive funds pledged for specific road and bridge projects that will be used as security for issuing bonds for those projects. The act also removes language that ties the Authority’s ability to issue bonds with limitations based on the proceeds of the gasoline excise tax and changes the maximum maturity date on any bonds issued by the Authority from 20 to 30 years.


    Alabama Transportation Infrastructure Bank
    Act No. 2015-50 (SB 111 by Sen. Arthur Orr)

    This act creates the Alabama Transportation Infrastructure Bank for the purpose of assisting certain government entities, including counties, in the financing of transportation projects—whether through loans or other financial assistance. The act specifies the membership, powers, duties, terms, and sources for capitalization and liability of the bank. In order to qualify for the program, the total cost of the project must exceed $5 million, and the project must be selected by the bank to receive a loan or other financial assistance.

    The bank is capitalized under the act with an amount equal to one-cent of the state’s gasoline tax (estimated at $25 million per year) along with the state’s portion of the license taxes and registration fees on trucks and truck tractors (estimated at $21 million per year).

    This act goes into effect on July 1, 2015.




    Lump-Sum Bonus to Retirees
    Act No. 2015-444 (SB 298 by Sen. Del Marsh)

    This act extends the provisions of Act 2014-429, which granted counties the authority to provide a one-time lump-sum bonus to their Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) retirees.  Counties that did not provide the bonus during the period provided in the 2014 act now have until September 30, 2015 to grant the bonus. The formula for calculating the lump-sum payment is either two dollars ($2) per month for each year of service attained by the retiree or $300.00—whichever is greater.

    This act went into immediate effect after it was signed by Governor Bentley on June 9, 2015.


    Increase RSA Part-Time Pay
    Act No. 2015-410 (HB 562 by Rep. Ron Johnson)

    This act increases the maximum compensation that a TRS or ERS retiree may earn through working part-time or as an independent contractor with any employer participating in the systems to $30,000 per year. This act also provides that the maximum amount earnable by retirees will continue to be adjusted each year to reflect increases in the Consumer Price Index.

    This act may also impact county commissioners who are retirees from the TRS or ERS in those counties that have constitutional amendments providing for the commissioners to participate in the ERS.

    This act goes into effect on September 1, 2015.


    Reduction of Unemployment Benefits Due to Pension
    Act No. 2015-472 (HB 506 by Rep. Napoleon Bracy)

    This act clarifies that a person’s unemployment compensation benefits can only be reduced based on his or her pension or similar retirement payment if: 1) the payment is made under a plan that is maintained or contributed to by a base period employer, 2) the payment is 100 percent employer-financed, and 3) the worker does not contribute to the payment.

    This act goes into effect on September 1, 2015.


    Deferred Compensation
    Act No. 2015-83 (SB 136 by Sen. Phil Williams)

    This act allows county employees to participate in the State Personnel Board’s deferred compensation program. The act also requires that any employee electing to participate in the State’s deferred compensation program must first get approval from the county commission.

    The Association initially opposed this legislation because Alabama counties have a long-standing relationship with the National Association of Counties’ Deferred Compensation program, which is experienced in servicing the needs of county employees and is a nationally-backed program. The Association removed its objections since the bill included a provision requiring the county commission to first approve employee participation in the program.

    The Association staff continues to have serious concerns about county participation in this program, which is administered by the State Personnel Board. Counties or county entities which are considering taking action necessary to allow their employees to participate may wish to speak with a member of the ACCA staff.

    This act went into immediate effect when it was signed by Governor Bentley on April 24, 2015.


    Unemployment Benefits
    Act No. 2015-157 (HB 19 by Rep. Jack Williams)

    This act alters the formula for calculating the individual weekly benefit payment for unemployment compensation. Any person eligible for unemployment compensation, whether unemployed or partially unemployed, will receive his or her weekly benefit amount minus any wages paid to that individuals for the week that are in excess of one-third of the weekly benefit amount.

    This act will go into effect on August 1, 2015.


    RSA Service for Workers’ Comp Leave
    Act No. 2015-256 (HB 29 by Rep. Randy Wood)

    This act allows members of the Employees’ Retirement System of Alabama (RSA) who are away from work due to a job-related injury and are also receiving workers’ compensation benefits to purchase up to two years of service credit for the time they were receiving workers’ compensation benefits. This act is conditioned on the RSA member returning to work with the covered employer within one year of the cessation of the workers’ compensation benefits. The act also requires the employee to pay the full cost of this service, including the portion that would have been paid by the employer.

    This act will go into effect on August 1, 2015.


    Death Benefits to Firefights and Peace Officers
    Act No. 2015-257 (HB 30 by Rep. Allen Treadaway)

    This act amends the existing program that provides the families of firefighters or law enforcement officers who die from an occupational disease a pathway to receive the same death benefits provided for those who die in the line of duty. Many safeguards exist in the law today that were written by the ACCA in a previous legislative session.

    This new act simply authorizes those who previously served and were denied a six-month reconsideration period for such benefits.

    This act went into immediate effect when it was signed by Governor Bentley on May 27, 2015.


    Employer Liable for Child Support Debt
    Act No. 2015-365 (HB 222 by Rep. Nordgren)

    This act provides that an employer who protects the wages of an employee against a child support order for garnishment or withholding can be held personally liable for the child support that could have been garnished or withheld. The act is only applicable if one can prove—by clear and convincing evidence—that the employer’s intent was to protect the wages of the employee.

    This act goes into effect on September 1, 2015.


    Eminent Domain
    Act No. 2015-39 (SB 83 by Sen. Jimmy Holley)

    This act prohibits governmental entities in Alabama from using eminent domain to acquire mortgages or deeds of trust. It does not appear that governmental entities in Alabama currently has the authority to acquire mortgages or deeds of trust through eminent domain.  However, supporters of the legislation pushed for passage as a precautionary measure in response to issues that have arisen in other states.

    This act goes into effect on July 1, 2015.


    Voluntary Contribution to Alabama Rescue Squads
    Act No. 2015-208 (SB 177 by Sen. Rusty Glover)

    This act establishes a $3 minimum voluntary contribution to the Alabama Association of Rescue Squads through a check-off box on the annual ad valorem tax statement.

    This act goes into effect on October 1, 2015.