Dial grocery tax bill, landlord-tenant changes advance in Alabama Legislature

Many low-income Alabamians could pay more in sales taxes under a bill that cleared a state Senate committee Wednesday. The Senate’s education budget committee voted 6-2 to approve SB 287, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville. The measure awaits consideration by the full Senate.

Dial’s bill gradually would end the state’s 4 percent sales tax on groceries and increase the sales tax on other items by 1 percentage point to replace the lost education revenue. By September 2017, the state sales tax on most consumer items would be 5 percent under the bill. That would drive the total state and local sales tax rate in Birmingham and Montgomery to 11 percent.

ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister testified against SB 287 last week, saying it would negate the grocery tax savings for many low-income Alabamians by increasing the cost of everything else they buy. “We’re basically replacing one regressive tax with another regressive tax,” Forrister told lawmakers.

Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, echoed Forrister’s concerns Wednesday. “Everybody knows sales taxes are regressive, and you’re putting it on the backs of people who can least afford it,” Figures said.

Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said he worried that Dial’s bill would increase taxes on low-income Alabamians who receive food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP recipients do not owe sales taxes on food bought using SNAP benefits, Sanders said, so they would not realize any tax savings on that portion of their grocery bill. But SB 287 would raise the sales taxes they pay on other purchases like clothes and school supplies, he said.

“These people who are at the very bottom and the worst off are going to end up paying sales tax on these other items,” Sanders said.

Landlord-tenant law changes OK’d in House committee

Some deadlines in Alabama’s landlord-tenant law would become more favorable to property owners under a bill that won House committee approval Wednesday. HB 523, sponsored by Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville, awaits consideration by the full House.

Beckman’s bill is identical to a Senate proposal – SB 291, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston – that cleared a Senate committee last week. The measures would nearly double, from 35 days to 60 days, the time in which landlords must refund a departing tenant’s security deposit or give notice of why they are keeping all or part of the deposit.

The bills also would require landlords to give tenants a seven-day written notice if they plan to terminate the lease over a violation that does not involve failure to pay rent. Current law requires a 14-day written notice in such a circumstance.

The House and Senate likely will meet into Wednesday night and then return Thursday for the 19th of 30 allowable meeting days during the 2014 regular session, which is expected to last until early April.

By Chris Sanders, communications director. Policy analyst Stephen Stetson contributed to this report. Posted Feb. 26, 2014.