Alabama legislature preparing for 2019 session

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, January 22, 2019

As the March 5 start of the 2019 legislative session approaches, local representatives are preparing for the issues that are expected to arise for the state.

Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Troy, said the most pertinent issue to tackle is the annual budget. That will be a bit easier this year, he said, as the state appears to be in a better financial situation than it has been in a long time.

“I think the education budget will be very good for education employees and the program in general,” Holley said. “The general fund budget is going to be in the best position it’s been in for years, although many of the things we need to spend it on have already been spoken for.”

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The general fund and the education budget are the two budgets that the legislature is tasked with setting each year. Last year’s education budget of $6.8 billion was one of the highest to date.

The general fund budget covers all the other government expenditures outside of public education. Holley said one thing that will again be a big issue to face is the state’s overcrowded prison system.

“The prison system and increases in compensation for state employees I think will be two things on the front burner,” Holley said. “I think we’ll also be looking at an increase in the gasoline tax as one of the proposals.”

Legislators shot down a proposal to increase the gas tax in 2017, but Holley said he thinks the legislation has a good chance to pass this year if it remains clean.

Local commissioners have stated that an increase in the gas tax statewide is needed for the county to being repaving many roads that have not been resurfaced since they were constructed 50 years ago.

Holley said the legislature will again decide whether to join the federal Medicaid program.

“We have for years declined,” Holley said. “But a new president is in office and he is going to make it available and is making some changes, but we don’t know what to expect yet. But it’s something we need to look at.”

Holley said other issues will likely arise during the course of the session, but lawmakers have not gathered yet to determine legislative agendas. More will be known about the financial situation of the state after budget hearings are held in February.

Newly elected Rep. Wes Allen, R-89, said he is looking forward to beginning the session but does not yet know what issues to expect to come before the legislative body.

“There are certainly always big issues facing us,” Allen said. “ I haven’t seen a bill or anything, but infrastructure funding is always an issue. The prison system is a continuing issue and, as a former probate judge, mental health is something important to me that affects not only Pike County, but communities throughout the state.”

Allen said he is ready to get to work in three legislative committees including Constitutions, Campaigns and Elections; Urban and Rural Development; and the powerful House Judiciary Committee.

“I think I will bring a unique perspective coming from the probate court, coming from the judiciary,” Allen said. “I also think I bring a unique perspective and experience to the constitution and elections committee with all my experience as chief administrator for all elections in Pike County. I’m looking forward to serving on those committees. I’m going to represent values and principles of folks in District 89 and Pike and Dale counties.”