Tax appeals bill stalls in Senate
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Feb 18, 2014 | 3002 views |  0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — A bill that would create an independent commission to hear taxpayers' appeals stalled in the Alabama Senate Tuesday, even though most senators seemed to want an independent tax court.

"I'm a little surprised that we're at this point on the bill," said President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston.

Senators met Tuesday to take up HB 105, a bill that would establish an independent tax commission, outside the Alabama Department of Revenue, to hear appeals by taxpayers who dispute their tax bills. At present those appeals go to an administrative law judge who is part of the Department of Revenue, but who operates in a facility that is separate from the department's headquarters.

The bill, which has already passed the House, would make that appeals court a separate entity. It also would change some aspects of the appeals procedure, including "innocent spouse" protection when one spouse files a questionable return, and a 60-day window for the taxpayers to appeal tax decisions. The window is now 30 days.

Supporters of the bill said that while there was no sign the current tax appeals process is unfair, pulling the appeals process out of the Department of Revenue would give taxpayers more trust in the independence of the process.

"We want taxpayers to have a fair and independent tribunal," said Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville.

The Senate has approved the proposal before. A similar bill passed both houses last year, but failed to get Gov. Robert Bentley's signature because of a technical error in the drafting of the bill, supporters say.

Still, senators in both parties balked at the bill Tuesday, in part because of its 98-page length. Some lawmakers said they weren't convinced every member of the Senate had read the bill in detail.

Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, offered a substitute to the bill, which he said would focus on the issue of an independent judge while leaving behind most of the other changes. He said the other changes could be addressed in other bills.

"Let's just split it," he said. "Let this judge be independent."

Sanford's amendment failed in a 16-13 vote. Senators spent the better part of two hours debating the bill before agreeing to put the bill aside for reconsideration at a later meeting. The Senate reconvenes Thursday morning.

Marsh said he would meet with senators Wednesday to try and work out their differences on the bill.

The appeals commission bill took up the bulk of the Senate's time Tuesday, though some local bills did make it to a vote — including a bill that would extend the city limits of Weaver.

That bill, which passed 21-0, would add to the city a parcel of land along Alabama 21 across from the restaurant Heroes American Grille. The Weaver City Council requested the annexation, saying it hoped the parcel would be developed in the future.

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

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