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Senator maintains legality of hospital tax bill

The state senator who introduced the bill in the Alabama Legislature to raise funds for the construction of a hospital in Chilton County maintains the tax is not “illegal,” as claimed in a recent lawsuit.

Roy Burnett filed the suit June 9 in the Circuit Court of Chilton County.

In a cover letter, Burnett writes that a 1-cent sales and use tax being collected to fund the construction of a new hospital “were levied and are being collected as the result of an invalid act of the legislature…due to the fact the legislation originated in the Senate rather than the House of Representatives.

“I am due a refund of these taxes from the county. All other persons and entities that paid the illegal and void taxes are also due a refund.”

The suit is intended to serve as a class action complaint.

But state Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) said local bills (those pertaining to a specific county as opposed to a state-wide revenue matter) do not have to originate in the House.

“It has always been that way,” Ward said. “The court will uphold it because it’s a local bill.”

The tax to fund the hospital went into effect Aug. 1, 2014, after receiving support from the Chilton County Commission, passage of an act of the Alabama Legislature and an overwhelming vote in a referendum of county residents.

Senate Bill 462, which authorized the referendum, was introduced by Ward during the 2014 Regular Session of the Legislature.

French A. McMillan of Sewell Sewell McMillan LLC, which is representing Burnett, said his understanding of the law is that the local revenue bill should have originated in the House.

“We believe they enacted an illegal tax,” McMillan said.

The suit requests the court to: certify the action as a class action, enjoin the defendants from collecting or expending the funds, declare the act unconstitutional and refund money to the plaintiff and the class.

The suit also requests that the court award the plaintiff’s counsel reasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses, award the plaintiff a reasonable amount for his service as class representative, require defendants to pay all costs of the action and award plaintiff “such further and additional relief as may be just and equitable or otherwise authorized by law.”