What You Should Know About Alabama’s Legislative Process

The 2024 Alabama Legislative Session starts on Tuesday, February 6th, 2024. Education policy is going to be a huge priority, as always. Here is what you need to know about the Legislature’s process for passing the education budget and other education legislation in Alabama this session:

What To Know About the 2024 Alabama House of Representatives 

The Alabama House of Representatives has a total of 105 members. There are 24 committees in the House that are designated to address legislation in different topic areas – such as education policy and the education budget. Here are the important people and committees to know:

  • Nathaniel Ledbetter serves as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The Speaker of the House has several responsibilities, including serving as a leader in the House and keeping order. Speaker Ledbetter was previously the Majority Leader. 
  • House Ways and Means Education, the 15-person committee responsible for the Education Trust Fund Budget, is led by Chairman Danny Garrett. 
  • House Education Policy, the 15-person committee responsible for all education legislation that does not involve funding, is led by Chairwoman Terri Collins. 
  • The Chairman of the Rules Committee, which is responsible for deciding which bills come to the floor to be voted on by the full House of Representatives, is Joe Lovvorn. 
  • The Republican Party is led by Majority Leader Scott Stadthagen and the Democratic Party is led by Minority Leader Anthony Daniels.

What To Know About the 2024 Alabama Senate

The Senate has a total of 35 members. Just like in the House, there are specific committees for specific topics. Here are the important people and committees to know:

  • The Lieutenant Governor, Will Ainsworth, is the president and presiding officer of the Senate by virtue of his office. The Senate President Pro Tempore, Sen. Greg Reed, is elected by his fellow Senators to lead the body. 
  • The Senate Committee responsible for the Education Trust Fund budget, Finance and Taxation Education, is led by Chairman Arthur Orr. 
  • The Senate Committee responsible for education policy not involving funding, Senate Education Policy, is led by Sen. Donnie Chesteen, who was previously vice chair of the committee. 
  • Sen. Jabo Waggoner is Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which decides what bills come to the floor to be deliberated on by the full Senate. 
  • The Republican Party will be led by new Majority Leader Steve Livingston and the Democratic Party is led by Minority Leader Bobby Singleton.

How Does Legislation Pass? Overview of the Legislative Process

Once the Regular Legislative Session begins on February 6th, each body can only meet 30 legislative days within 105 calendar days, not including committee days. A Regular Session means that legislators can introduce and pass bills on any topic they choose. While the Legislature will consider and pass numerous bills during the session, there are only two things the Legislature is constitutionally required to do: pass the Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget and pass the General Fund Budget.

A Very Short Review of the Legislative Process: 

  1. A legislator in either the House or the Senate files a bill, which is assigned a number (e.g. House Bill 10). Let’s assume the bill begins in the House of Representatives. 
  2. A bill receives a “first reading” in the House and is assigned to a House committee.
  3. The chairperson of the House committee decides which bills to put on the committee meeting agenda for review. A public hearing on the bill can also be requested by legislators or members of the public. If the committee votes to give the bill a “favorable report,” it goes to the full House for its Second Reading (which means it is ready to be voted on by the full House). 
  4. The bill gets its third reading if the full House deliberates and votes in favor of the bill. 
  5. If the bill passes the House, it goes to the Senate to repeat the process. 
  6. If the bill passes the Senate without any changes, it goes to the Governor.  However, if the Senate amended the bill, it has to go back to the House for them to concur with the changes. If the House doesn’t agree, then it goes to a conference committee, made up of members from both chambers, for them to work out the differences. Both the House and the Senate have to accept the compromise for it to go to the Governor.
  7. Once there is a final version of the bill adopted by both the House and Senate, it goes to the Governor to be signed. If the governor signs the bill, it becomes law. However, if she vetoes it, it goes back to the Legislature, where it only takes a simple majority vote of both houses to override her veto. The Governor also has the opportunity to propose an executive amendment to make changes to the legislation, which the Legislature can either adopt or reject.

How is Legislation Prevented From Passing?

If that doesn’t seem complicated enough, there are a number of ways that a bill can be prevented from making it through the process (for example, approximately 900 bills were filed during last year’s regular session, but only around 400 became law). For example: 

  • A committee chair has full discretion over what bills make it to the committee agenda. If they choose not to place a bill on the agenda, it can never be voted on by the committee. 
  • The Rules committee is in charge of what bills make it to the House or Senate floor to be voted on by the full chamber. If they choose not to place a bill on the agenda, known as the Special Order Calendar, then it doesn’t get voted on either.

What is the Education Trust Fund?

The bill referred to as the Education Trust Fund includes funding for public higher education and public PreK-12 education. This covers the funding that goes to local school districts directly, funding for the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) and other state agencies, and various educational programs offered by nongovernmental organizations. 

A significant part of the ETF is called the Foundation Program. This pot of money is allocated on a formula basis to school systems every year for the core functions of running K-12 schools: teacher salaries, instructional materials, transportation, and other necessary resources for educating Alabama’s students. Foundation Program funding is allocated to districts based on the number of resources they need, which is estimated from the number of students they have. Out of an $8.8 billion ETF budget, $4.5 billion (51%) is allocated through the foundation program.In addition, local school systems also receive funding through the ALSDE for specific uses, such as mental health service coordinators, special education, reading coaches to support the Alabama Literacy Act, and much more (you can see the ETF spreadsheet for FY2024, which lays out all the line items in the ETF and their amounts, here).

The Education Trust Fund Process

One of the only constitutionally mandated actions the legislature must take while in session is to pass two budgets: the Education Trust Fund and the State General Fund. The Education Trust Fund budget, or ETF, is the largest of the two. It funds all public schools in the state, including K-12 school systems, two-year colleges, and public four-year colleges and universities. Last year, the Legislature appropriated almost $8.8 billion for the current fiscal year. Comparatively, the General Fund was only $3 billion.

The ETF budget alternates which chamber it starts in each session, and this year, it will start in the House, in the Ways and Means Education Committee. This year, the Legislature will appropriate funds for Fiscal Year 2024-2025, which starts in October of 2024. However, the process of creating the budget has been well underway for months. Here is the process: 

  • STEP 1: State departments, such as the Alabama State Department of Education or the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education submit their requests to the State Finance Director’s office in the fall. 
  • STEP 2: Usually around the time that the Legislature convenes in the spring, the Governor’s office proposes a recommended budget for the upcoming fiscal year. 
  • STEP 3: Then, the legislative committees responsible for the budget (Finance and Taxation Education in the Senate, or Ways and Means Education in the House of Representatives) take that budget and align it with their priorities.
  • STEP 4: The budget then follows the regular legislative process of becoming law, and goes into effect after the Governor signs it. 
  • STEP 5: Funds are distributed to their respective entities, including colleges, universities, local school systems, state departments, and other organizations.

What Else is Funded?

The ETF is normally brought as part of a package of several bills that fund public education. Last year, these bills were:

SB88, which is the main ETF bill
SB85, which provided a salary increase to public education employees
SB87, which was a supplemental appropriations bill that distributed leftover money from FY2021 funds
SB262, which funds Tuskegee University
SB93, which funds Lyman Ward Military Academy
SB111, which funds Talladega College
SB101, which created the Educational Opportunities Reserve Fund, the new savings account for the state to use as growth in the Education Trust Fund slows down or goes negative
SB86, a tax rebate of $150 for individuals or $300 for couples
SB269, which established the K-12 Capital Grant Program in the Office of the Lieutenant Governor

What’s Next?

In the last few years, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the tax base for the ETF has grown significantly, leading to record-breaking budgets being passed. The FY2024 ETF budget totaled $8.8 billion, compared to $7.1 billion back in FY2020. However, surpluses in tax revenue that goes into the ETF are declining. Last year, the ETF had a surplus of $2.7 billion that legislators had to allocate. This year, it is only expected to be around $600 million. Check out last year’s Budget Watch to read about what priorities legislators have had in the past, and check back soon for a new Budget Watch covering Alabama education spending for FY2025.

A+ will be keeping you up to date throughout the Session with everything you need to know regarding bills and budgets moving through the Legislature, so check back here or follow us on Twitter.