GOP's dual enrollment bill passes House
by Tim Lockette
Feb 12, 2014 | 3978 views |  0 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY -- The Alabama House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to set aside $5 million in tax credits for people or businesses that donate to dual high school-college enrollment programs.

House members voted 100-0 in favor of the bill, which would grant a tax credit of up to $500,000 to anyone who donates to a scholarship program for students who take college courses while still in high school.

Lawmakers in both parties have said they like to see more students in those dual-enrollment programs. Proponents of dual enrollment say the classes potentially allow high school students to graduate from high school with an associate degree or other certification in a job-related skill, making them more marketable on the job market. Still, the cost of tuition keeps some students out of the programs.

The bill, by Rep. Mac Buttram, R-Cullman, would set up a scholarship program funded by donations. Donors would get a tax credit equal to half the money donated, up to the $500,000 limit. With $5 million in tax credits set aside, supporters said, the bill could generate as much as $10 million in donations.

Democrats in the House questioned the use of tax credits to support the program. The state's income tax revenues go to education, and some Democrats warned that the move would set a precedent for future tax credits that could draw money away from schools.

"Might there be another way you could have funded it without tax credits?" Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, asked the bill's sponsor.

"The only other way would have been a line item out of the budget," Buttram said.

Earlier this year, Democrats proposed their own version of a dual enrollment bill -- one that would raise $5 million for scholarships by shutting down a liability insurance program for teachers set up by the Legislature last year. Many Democrats had opposed the program, saying it was designed to draw members away from the Alabama Education Association, which represents its members in legal cases.

Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, proposed an amendment Wednesday that would, in effect, turn Buttram's bill into the Democratic version, replacing tax credits with money from the liability program. Black noted that lawmakers are already working on a bill that would provide teachers with some legal immunity, and he said that bill would make a liability program unnecessary.

After Black's amendment failed in a 64-29 vote, Democrats dropped much of their opposition to the bill.

Buttram's bill moves on to the Senate for consideration.

Also in the Legislature:

• A Senate committee voted Wednesday to approve a bill that, supporters say, will strengthen the Alabama Open Meetings Act. The bill would ban some "serial meetings" in which members of a governing body meet in small groups to decide an issue without holding an open meeting; and it would require the Legislature to establish rules that would ensure their meetings are open to the public.

• Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, on Tuesday filed a bill that would allow Weaver to annex a parcel of land on Alabama 21, across the road from Heroes American Grille. Heroes was annexed last year, shortly after the Legislature approved Sunday alcohol sales in the city. Mayor Wayne Willis said the annexation would encourage development of the parcel across from the restaurant.

Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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