The 2023 regular session of the Alabama State Legislature ended yesterday. Among the legislation that passed was a bill to begin to reduce
State sales tax on groceries.
The Legislature failed to pass HB 209 which would have severely restricted absentee voting in Alabama.; and SB 324 which provided for a referendum on a Constitutional Amendment to codify electronic historic horse racing machines in Greene County, while passed by the Alabama Senate died in the House Tourism Committee.
On June 1, the Senate passed a bill, on a vote of 31-0, that would reduce the current tax rate on food in Alabama over the next couple of years.
HB479, sponsored by Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, will cut the state tax on specific food items from four percent to three percent beginning on Sept. 1, 2023. On Sept. 1, 2024, the rate will fall to two percent only if the Education Trust Fund (ETF) obtains a three-and-one-half percent rate in growth than the previous fiscal year.
Only foods that qualify under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are eligible for the tax reduction.
The legislation comes after years and decades of attempts to revoke the grocery tax. Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, who carried the Senate version of the bill said converging issues have made this the best time to pass the legislation. Those issues include families trying to overcome rising costs due to inflation and a surplus in the budget.
Garrett added that the bill would align Alabama with most states’ policies regarding taxing food. Alabama is one of 13 states that still tax groceries in the country and one of three that offers no form of relief on that tax.
There is a provision in the legislation that will immediately cap local taxes on food at their current rate when the bill is signed into law. This means that any local governing body would not be able to raise the tax on food higher but could still lower it.
Alabama Arise supported repealing grocery tax for years
Alabama Arise has consistently supported repealing the grocery tax for years. Robyn Hyden, executive director for Alabama Arise made a statement about how thrilled her organization was that the bill passed and how it will help all Alabamians.
“Reducing the state sales tax on groceries will provide meaningful help for Alabamians who struggle to make ends meet. Alabama Arise is thrilled that legislators listened to the people by voting unanimously for this essential policy change. And we urge Gov. Kay Ivey to sign HB479 into law quickly. Arise members from every corner of our state have advocated relentlessly for decades for Alabama to untax groceries. We cannot thank our members enough for their persistent efforts to make this bill’s passage a reality.
“This grocery tax reduction will benefit every Alabamian. And it is an important step toward righting the wrongs of our state’s upside-down tax system, which forces Alabamians with low and moderate incomes to pay a higher share of their incomes in state and local taxes than the wealthiest households.
“We appreciate Rep. Danny Garrett, Sen. Andrew Jones and Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth for guiding HB 479 through the Legislature. We’re thankful for Rep. Penni McClammy and Sen. Merika Coleman for championing legislation on this issue this year. And we’re grateful for former Rep. John Knight, former Sen. Hank Sanders, Reps. Laura Hall and Mary Moore, and so many other legislators whose determined work over so many years laid the groundwork for this moment.
“It will be important to ensure grocery tax elimination doesn’t harm our children’s education in the long term. The state grocery tax brings in more than $600 million a year for the Education Trust Fund. That’s about 7% of this year’s total ETF budget, making it a significant funding source for public schools.
“Revenues are strong enough for now to reduce the grocery tax without causing severe harm to education funding. But history tells us that good economic times won’t last forever. In the coming months, lawmakers should identify and agree to a sustainable solution to end the rest of the state grocery tax.”
HB209 dies in Alabama Senate
HB209 a bill that passed the Alabama House of Representatives, which would have restricted the people, who could help voters to apply for and cast absentee ballots, to closely related family members, died in the Alabama Senate on the last day of the session.
HB209 was presented by Republican sponsors as a way to end what they call “absentee ballot harvesting” in Alabama. It would have limited people, other than close relatives, from helping the sick and homebound, college students and people who work out of town, from applying for and casting an absentee ballot.
Black voting organizations like Alabama New South Coalition, Black Voters Matter and others felt that HB209 was another step in Alabama’s unrelenting campaign to suppress and curtail the voting strength of Black and progressive forces.
Rev. Robert Turner of Bullock County and Chair of the ANSC Board of Directors said, “I am glad that HR209 did not pass in this session. We must remain vigilant. Those who want to stop Black people from voting will continue to bring up these bills, which are designed to suppress our votes and make it harder for the homebound and those in nursing homes to vote.”
SB324 for Greene County gaming, dies in Alabama House
SB324, a bill sponsored by Senator Bobby Singleton, proposing a Constitutional Amendment to codify the operation of electronic historic horse racing machines in Greene County, which passed the Alabama Senate, died in the House Tourism Committee.
The Constitutional Amendment, which details the days on which machines are allowed to operate, taxes to be charged and distribution of funds, was subject to a referendum by Greene County voters. Greenetrack is currently hosting electronic historical horse racing machines, under license with the Greene County Racing Commission, based on prior para-mutuel betting legislation that permitted dog racing and simulcasting of dog and horse racing, in Greene County.
Representative Curtis Travis said, “We tried to pass SB324 in the Alabama House, but I was advised by the leadership that no gambling legislation would be allowed to pass in this legislative session. There were too many other priorities and too many new legislators was the reasoning that I was given. We will try again in the next legislative session.”