(a) There is hereby created the Alabama Local Tax Institute of Standards and Training. All costs of operating the institute shall be paid from public funds appropriated, contributions received, or fees and license revenues collected for this purpose.
(b) The institute shall operate under the direction and supervision of a board of directors. The board shall organize, administer, control, oversee, and advise the institute so that the institute may carry out the purposes of this section. The board shall promulgate reasonable rules and regulations to effectuate this intent.
(c) The board shall consist of six members as follows:
(1) Three representatives appointed by the Alabama League of Municipalities, who shall either be municipal officers, employees, or attorneys, at least one of whom shall be a municipal revenue officer or finance officer.
(2) Three representatives appointed by the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, who shall either be county officers, employees, or attorneys, at least one of whom shall be a county revenue officer or finance officer.
(d) The board may accept appropriations, grants, gifts, donations, or contributions from: The federal government; the state government; a county, municipal, or local government; a board, bureau, commission, agency, or establishment of any such government; any other organization, firm, or corporation, public or private; and an individual or groups of individuals in furtherance of the services, purposes, duties, responsibilities, or functions vested in the board and institute.
(e) The board shall, as its first order of business, develop a proposed examiner certification program for the examiners of private auditing or collecting firms. The program shall require minimum qualifications for certification, which shall include a bachelor's degree in accounting from an accredited university or college and satisfactory completion of the certification program adopted by the board. Beginning October 1, 2016, the program shall include a course on customer relations and professional courtesy. The program shall also impose continuing education rules which shall be substantially similar to the continuing professional education requirements imposed by the State Board of Public Accountancy with respect to public accountants. Once the board has developed a proposed program, copies thereof shall be distributed for comment to all counties and municipalities, the Business Council of Alabama, the Alabama Retail Association, the Alabama Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, and the department. Copies may be sold to other interested parties at cost. Written comments may be submitted to the board within 45 days of initial distribution of the proposed program. Following expiration of the comment period, the board shall adopt a final examiner certification program to be administered by the institute. Notwithstanding any provision of this subsection to the contrary, any certified public accountant or public accountant who is licensed by the State Board of Public Accountancy shall be exempt from any certification requirement or any separate continuing professional education requirement. When any certified public accounting or public accounting firm is employed for the first time by a self-administered county or municipality for local tax examinations, the firm shall notify the board in writing of such employment.
(f) The institute may, however, contract out the examiner certification program to any one of the following:
(1) The Alabama League of Municipalities or the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, or any successor or assignee to, or designee of, either of those organizations.
(2) Any two-year or four-year college or university in the state.
(3) Any organization which the board believes can and will conduct the program in a manner which is consistent with this section.
Any examiner certification program contracted out pursuant to this subsection shall be conducted pursuant to the rules and regulations promulgated by the board pursuant to subsection (b). The institute or the organization with which it contracts shall be authorized to charge a registration fee to all participants in the certification and continuing education programs.
(g) The board shall also develop for the benefit of all municipal, county, or private examiners conducting examinations of taxpayers' books and records on behalf of self-administered counties and municipalities, a minimum standard examination program, not in conflict with the Alabama Taxpayers' Bill of Rights and Uniform Revenue Procedures Act, to be followed by municipal, county, or private examiners when examining a taxpayer's books and records for compliance with applicable sales, use, rental, or lodgings tax laws of self-administered counties and municipalities. Once the board has developed a proposed program, copies thereof shall be distributed for comment to all counties and municipalities, the Business Council of Alabama, the Alabama Retail Association, the Alabama Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, and the department. Copies may be sold to other interested parties at cost. Written comments may be submitted to the board within 45 days of initial distribution of the proposed program. Following expiration of the comment period, the board shall adopt a minimum standard examination program.
(h) The institute shall have in place no later than January 1, 2017, a toll free number identified as a hotline for taxpayers to submit complaints related to the auditing or collection activities of a private auditing or collecting firm. A notice advising taxpayers of the hotline, including the toll free number, shall at all times be posted in conspicuous places in appropriate offices of any self-administered county or municipality utilizing the services of a private auditing or collecting firm and on the website of the county or municipality, if available. Additionally, a notice advising taxpayers of the hotline, including the toll free number, shall be posted on the website of the Alabama Department of Revenue. The institute shall be responsible for transcribing any complaints received through the hotline, and shall on a quarterly basis beginning April 1, 2017, prepare a report of each complaint filed against an auditing or collecting firm and forward the report, including transcripts, to the auditing or collecting firm receiving the complaints. The institute shall maintain reports for a period of three years, and the reports shall be made available to a self-administered county or municipality utilizing the services of a private auditing or collecting firm which has had complaints filed through the hotline. The records shall otherwise be confidential and not subject to Section 36-12-40.