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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Capping property tax increases,  election integrity and education legislation

By Rep. Mike Woods

The Alabama House of Representatives was busy again last week working on a wide range of bills. The pace has picked up since Spring Break and a sense of urgency has developed with lawmakers as we are down to just 9 legislative days left in the 2024 session. Many legislators have bills that will now have to compete with the two budgets and a package of prominent workforce development bills that will garner most of the attention as time winds down. 

I would like to highlight a few bills of interest from last week. The first is HB73 that caps annual property tax increases. Initially, the bill would have limited annual residential property tax increases to 3% and commercial property to 5%. A floor amendment changed the cap to 7% for both types of property. Another amendment sunsets the legislation in three years, meaning the legislature will have to re-approve the bill after those three years. The cap would not apply to properties that have undergone “significant improvements,” including new construction, or to properties that have changed ownership. The goal for this bill is to protect landowners who have seen exorbitant increases in the assessed values of their property. I was glad to support this bill and hopefully provide some relief to people who are struggling to pay their property taxes.

On Tuesday, I presented HB330 on the House floor which requires institutions of higher education in our state to provide reports to the legislature if they receive funding from foreign countries of concern. Billions of dollars flow into colleges across the U.S. every year from foreign countries such as China, Russia, and others identified by the U.S. State Department as a country of concern. If a country that is not an ally wants to provide funding to our colleges,then the legislature needs to know the details. This bill will require a detailed report be sent annually to the Governor’s office and the Chairs of the Education Policy Committee in the House and Senate. While most foreign funds end up being used for tuition and housing expenses for students, the threat of intellectual property theft and anti-American propaganda has manifested in universities across ourcountry. I am proud to report that this transparency bill was supported 101-0 by my House colleagues. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Election integrity is a topic that has received a lot of attention this session. Last week, the House added another measure to ensure the accuracy of our elections. HB259 would require the probate judge of each county to conduct a post-election audit of each county and statewide general election to determine the accuracy of the originally reported results. The post-election manual audit would consist of a manual tally of all ballots in at least one randomly selected precinct for one countywide or statewide race, chosen randomly by the canvassing board. Any audit would occur after the 30 days allowed for an election contest has passed. In Alabama, we want our votes to count,and we want accuracy in our election totals. This bill will help ensure both.

This session is also focusing on workforce participation. Helping Alabamians remove barriers to work and creating educational pathways that lead to in-demand jobs is very important for our state to grow. Several proposals have been made this year including childcare tax credits which would help parents afford to actually go to work. I am supportive of this idea as long as the credits make their way to people who need them most. 

We also saw the introduction of the Alabama Workforce Pathways Act., HB373. The goal of this bill is to provide different pathways for earning a high school diploma, based on future career paths. It would require the State Board of Education and the State Department of Education to develop a curriculum for earning a Workforce Pathways diploma. The bill also provides, subject to funding, for the refurbishing and construction of new career and technical education centers for K-12 students. This act would also provideadditional scholarships for training through the Alabama Community College System. This new diploma pathway will give students who may not want to seek a four-year college degree an opportunity to get a head start on their chosen career. I am very excited to see where this proactive approach to workforce training will lead.

Thank you for allowing me to serve the good people of Walker County. I will be back soon with more to report from the Alabama House of Representatives.

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