MONTGOMERY — Legislation by State Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) allowing cities to authorize "research and development corridors" for economic development passed the Senate by a 27-4 margin on Thursday.

The bill would authorize municipalities to authorize the incorporation of a research and development corridor with the ability to collect fees within its corporate limits as a public corporation. 

The bill would exempt corridors from fees and charges imposed by a probate judge and from specific taxation. The bill would also exempt corridors and their projects from competitive bid laws. 

"This is I think is a very significant, important bill for our state. It's something new. It creates a research and development corridor in our state for the municipalities to use for economic development and growth, and basically, that's simply what it does," Waggoner said. "It's not a complicated bill, but I think it's very significant. In Birmingham, there's a 28-acre area right around UAB and Southern Research, and it is going to be used for technology and research development. The people of Birmingham and Jefferson County and Central Alabama are very excited about it. It's hand and glove between Southern Research and UAB. This could be used all over the state. This is not just about Birmingham. This is a statewide bill that could have a tremendous impact on attracting biotechnology firms."

Under Waggoner's bill, the corridor would be created by a resolution adopted by a municipality's governing body to authorize the incorporation of a research and development corridor with powers to operate within the city's limits. The corridor would be governed by an unelected board of directors.

"We are starting to launch a lot of quasi-governmental entities out there that have a lot of authority. We are outsourcing government to the local level to individuals that are not placed there through the electoral process through elections," State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), who voted against the bill, said on Thursday.

The majority of the directors must be residents of the city authorizing the corridor, and a minority may be non-residents. However, any non-resident director must also be approved by the city council or commission.

The bill allows the corridor to acquire property within its limits by gift, purchase, transfer, and foreclosure. 

Each corridor will annually submit a report detailing all activities within the corridor and audited financial statements to the governor, the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House of Representatives, the president of the Senate and the authorizing municipality.

Senators sponsoring a similar two-bill package creating "innovation districts" instead of "research and development corridors" recently pulled down the bills from the Senate floor without a vote over concerns about the legislation giving innovation districts eminent domain power and the ability to buy land around the state. 

Waggoner's bill was filed last week and passed out of committee on Tuesday. It now goes to the House for consideration.

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