“It’s kind of late.”
That was the message from Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainseville) when asked about the prospects of the Parents Choice Act being debated by the House of Representatives during the 2022 regular session.
Think about it. The legislature doesn’t have time to consider potentially the most impactful bill of the session?
Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) filed the bill on February 1, the fourth day of the regular session. As introduced, the bill would have created Education Savings Accounts and given students and parents the power to determine what school best suits their needs, regardless of where they live or what their household income is.
The outcry from the usual critics, namely the Alabama Education Association, came almost immediately, claiming the funding reduction to the state’s Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget would be too great and schools would suffer.
The Legislative Services Agency estimated that ETF funding could be reduced by up to $537 million annually. But that was assuming full participation in the program. And don’t forget, the state had an almost $1.5 billion revenue surplus, so claims that the Parents Choice Act would take money away from schools are dubious at best.
It now appears that the bill will be virtually gutted to appease critics, taking an incremental approach and making school choice available to a new class of students each year over a 13 year period.
I could go on about why fully implementing school choice now is what is best for Alabama students, but back to Ledbetter’s comments about not having time to debate this legislation. When he made his statement there were 25 of 30 working days remaining in the session.
Ledbetter went on to say “I think that bill has got to be vetted a lot.” Marsh has introduced some form of a school choice bill in three of the past four legislative sessions. School choice isn’t a new concept. It certainly seems like the House, with around 80% of the session in front of it, could find time to thoroughly debate it if they had a desire to do so.
Other important legislation has also failed to receive consideration this session. House Bill 174, which would eliminate the State's 4% sales tax on groceries, has not received a committee hearing thus far. The bill would reduce Alabamian’s tax burdens by more than half a billion dollars each year.
Andrew Sorrell’s (R-Muscle Shoals) House Bill 130, which would eliminate the state’s certificate of need program for health care services and facilities, has also not received a committee hearing. According to Sorrell, the bill would allow health care providers to determine whether they want to expand operations in Alabama, without government interference. He also feels that it could alleviate future hospital bed shortages, an ongoing concern during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legislature has not considered any legislation to reduce personal or corporate income rates this session, something that 13 other states did in 2021. Again, that’s despite the extra $1.5 billion that government took from citizens last year.
With so many important issues not yet debated, the legislature must be focused on really important things, right?
The only bill enacted so far in the regular session repealed a 2021 law which regulated name, image, and likeness compensation received by student-athletes at Alabama colleges and universities. The repeal makes it less restrictive for athletes to receive compensation moving forward, potentially making it easier to attract student-athletes to the state.
Last week the Senate found time to pass Senate Bill 77 which would prohibit state agencies and institutions from purchasing American or state flags manufactured outside of the United States.
The Senate Education Policy Committee debated Senate Bill 127, which requires that the Star-Spangled Banner be played at all public school athletic events and at least once per week during school hours. The proclamation expenses of the proposed constitutional amendment, something most schools already do anyway, would cost the state $100,000.
That’s not to say that state government shouldn’t “buy American” when possible or that schools shouldn’t play the national anthem. But if legislators are so short on time, are these really the most important issues to Alabama citizens?
If time is truly of the essence, the legislature should be focused on issues that will directly benefit Alabamians, like school choice, taking less taxes from citizens, and improving access to health care, not bills aimed solely at winning political points with voters.
Justin Bogie serves as Senior Director of Fiscal Policy at the Alabama Policy Institute. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to: Commentary@1819News.com.