Prisons, budget top legislative agenda

Published 3:00 am Saturday, February 4, 2017

With the Alabama Legislature holding regular session in just four days, the House and Senate representatives of Pike County shared a preview of what to expect during the session.

Rep. Alan Boothe and Sen. Jimmy Holley recently update the Pike County republican Women on what to expect during the session and that has mostly remained unchanged, with the major issues being Medicaid and the prison systems.

The prison systems, however, may not be addressed until a special session, Boothe said.

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“Governor has indicated that he intends to call us into a special session to deal with it,” Boothe said. “The Legislature has encouraged him to let us deal with that within the regular session.”

Alabama Department of Corrections commissioner Jeff Dunn came up with an $800 million plan to consolidate the state’s prisons into four larger facilities that would require less officers and house more inmates.

The department couldn’t get the bill passed through in the last session and Boothe said it’s unclear if it will be settled in the upcoming session either, but said something has to be done to address the potential of the federal government stepping in.

The Legislature will also have to find a way to fully fund Medicaid, which Boothe explained is asking for $100 million more this year. Boothe said it will be hard to find the extra funding with the state strapped for resources.

Holley said that one of the proposed solutions from the last session could be part of the answer.

“Using some of the BP money is in relatively good shape this year,” Holley said.

Holley said that legislators are watching what unfolds in Washington, D.C. to see what will happen with federal funding.

“I think the thing that jumps out at me about budgets right now is what’s happening in Washington and whether we should anticipate a change in funding,” Holley said.

“They’ve talked a lot about block grants and lifting strings to give more freedom to the states to operate the programs.”

The Alabama House Republican Caucus also outlined some legislative efforts in their legislative agenda released on Thursday.

Holley and Boothe gave some further details on the proposed efforts and measures provided in the GOP agenda.

One bill listed on the agenda would clearly state opposition to “sanctuary cities” that harbor illegal aliens.

President Donald Trump passed an executive order in his first weeks in office to strip federal funding from sanctuary cities. The Birmingham City Council also approved a resolution at their last meeting declaring the city a sanctuary city, although it did not change any policy. Gov. Robert Bentley responded with a statement that said Alabama will not support sanctuary cities.

“We want people to understand what the law is and to obey the law including Birmingham and any other city in the state,” Holley said. We need to clearly define what we’re allowing to take place.”

Another effort listed in the agenda is to prioritize funding of the state’s “First Class” pre-kindergarten program, which helped two Pike County schools receive a total of $200,000 in funds for their programs.

Boothe said the legislature will face some obstacles with education funding with some new expenditures coming up recently.

“There’s a tremendous increase in the number of federal military veteran scholarships because we have more veterans now with the deployment of national guard and they qualify for the scholarship programs in Alabama,” Boothe said.

“That’s an additional $30 to $35 million, primarily out of higher education.”

Another piece of legislation would call for the governor’s office to revive the Office of Small Business Development.

“Small business is the backbone of this country and its high on the agenda in both house and Senate,” Boothe said. “There’s a big move on the presidential level to support small business.”

Other efforts listed in the agenda include:

• implementation of the Electronic Notification System recommended by the School Safety Task Force,

• legislation that would prevent the removal of long-standing monuments, statues and memorials,

• a constitutional amendment declaring Alabama a pro-life state in the case that Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court,

• a bill that would allow doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel to choose not to perform abortion procedures that violate their moral beliefs,

• measures praising and continuing the work of the Joint Legislative Budget Reform Task Force and the Consumer Lending Task Force, and

• a resolution calling upon the U.S. Congress to work cooperatively with President Donald Trump in implementing the ambitious government reform agenda that he voiced across the nation throughout the presidential campaign.

Efforts listed in the Senate Democratic Caucus legislative agenda include:

• legislation would incorporate casinos and lottery funding into both the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund,

• legislation that would raise property taxes by $5 million, or $15 for every $50,000 of property owned,

• a bill would streamline how out-of-state entities, doing business in Alabama, pay taxes,

• a bill would allow job applicants to wait until a job is conditionally offered before disclosing their criminal background,

• a bill that would repeal Alabama Act Number 2011-673, which requires photo identification in order to vote,

• a bill that would allow those with valid driver’s licenses to automatically be registered to vote,

• a bill that would provide Alabamians the right to vote before Election Day to ensure more people have the opportunity to participate in the electoral process, and

• a bill that would define racial profiling while also prohibiting Alabama law enforcement officers from engaging in the practice.