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Alabama lawmakers end session marked by tax cuts

This story was originally published by Associated Press.

Alabama lawmakers on Tuesday concluded the 2023 legislative session that was marked by tax cut measures and ended with the shelving of some controversial measures, including a bill that would make it a crime to help a non-family member fill out an absentee ballot.

Republican and Democratic leaders cited the tax cut measures, which included removing half of the 4% state sales tax on groceries, as well as a temporary tax cut on overtime pay.

“Those tax cuts were focused on working Alabamians,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed, R-Jasper.

House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter said the session resulted in the “largest tax cut in Alabama history” with the partial removal of the state sales tax on food.

“It’s been a historic session in my opinion and it’s the work of the body that has made that possible,” he said.

Some lawmakers, mostly Democrats, had attempted for more than a decade to remove the sales tax on food, but the effort failed amid concerns about the cost to education funding. The effort drew broad bipartisan support this year in the face of soaring grocery prices and larger than usual tax collections.

Sen. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, who had pushed for the full removal, said she was “excited that the people of Alabama will get some sort of relief on their grocery taxes.”

Lawmakers on Tuesday shelved a number of controversial measures rather than get bogged down in contentious floor debates on the final night of the legislative session.

The absentee ballot proposal, which cleared the House on a party-line vote, had emerged as one of the most contentious issues of the session. It did not get a vote in the Alabama Senate. Republicans had said the measure was needed to prevent voter fraud, including so-called ballot harvesting, but opponents called it an attempt at voter suppression by threatening people with jail time for helping someone vote.

Kathy Jones, president of the League of Women Voters of Alabama, said she was relieved the bill did not pass. She said it would have authorized the state to “intimidate, arrest and prosecute patriotic, law-abiding citizens for merely helping their friends and neighbors be able to vote absentee.”

Other measures that died on the final meeting day of the session included an effort to strengthen the state public records law and a long-running effort to require students to complete kindergarten, or demonstrate first-grade readiness, before starting first grade.

Ledbetter said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s office had concerns about the public records bill.

“We are very disappointed that we didn’t get the bill passed this year. The governor’s legal team did not agree with the finite timeline to produce a public record,” Felicia Mason, executive director of the Alabama Press Association, wrote in an email.

The Republican governor had expressed her support for the first-grade readiness bill in her State of the State address. The House had approved the measure, but it did not get a vote in the Alabama Senate where a Democratic senator had raised concerns. Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she will bring the bill back next year.

“We’re going to keep on trying for our babies, and I’m going to keep on fighting,” Warren said.