MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — Alabama’s 2023 legislative session officially ended Tuesday as several bills await Gov. Kay Ivey’s signature.
Overshadowing much of the session was a nearly $3 billion budget surplus, giving way to what lawmakers called “historic” tax relief.
Legislators passed a grocery tax reduction, bringing down the state’s 4% food tax to 2% over time. The first percent decrease will happen this September. The second percent decrease is slated for September 2024, contingent upon 3.5% growth in the Education Trust Fund Budget.
“This is an issue that was really driven at the grassroots level,” Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) said. “This is what our constituents wanted and what the citizens of Alabama wanted.”
Lawmakers also exempted overtime hours from state income taxes, letting hourly workers keep 5% more of their pay.
“This proposal rewards hard work,” House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Madison) said.
That’s not the only financial relief that passed. Alabama 2021 individual tax filers will see a $150 rebate this November, with married couples receiving $300.
Lawmakers also tackled fentanyl, creating mandatory minimum sentences based on the amount of drug possessed.
“The legislature was behind the times with the drug use that was going on,” Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) said. “Now, we just caught up to date with the dealers and what they’re using.”
While that bill received unanimous support, a bill changing the state’s correctional incentive time rules passed along party lines.
The new law, The Deputy Brad Johnson Act, makes it take longer for inmates accused of misconduct to earn “good time” to shorten their sentences. Republicans pushed it as a public safety measure.
“It’s time that Alabama’s good time laws are strengthened, and that bad people stay behind bars,” Sen. April Weaver (R-Brierfield) said.
But Democrats warn the law will worsen prison overcrowding.
“Can you imagine a facility, overcrowded, no resources, no rehabilitation, everything you’ve done is ignored by the parole board and you have no hope?” Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) said.
Many of the more controversial bills though, failed. That includes the “What is a Woman Act” — putting definitions of male and female in state law, as well as a ban on drag shows in public places where minors are present.
Lawmakers also killed a school choice measure dubbed the PRICE Act that would have created education savings accounts for parents.
But many of the bills that died this year might not be gone for good.
“I think they will very much be topics that we’ll be once again standing here talking about in the coming months and in the next session,” Sen. Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper) said.
Another bill that did not pass would have required students attend kindergarten or demonstrate first grade readiness. It was one of Ivey’s requests in her State of the State address.