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Lawmakers return to Goat Hill

By Huck Treadwell

The Alabama Legislature will convene for the 2021 session Tuesday for what former lawmaker and political analyst Steve Flowers called a “strange” session.

Flowers said lawmakers will have their hands full when they assemble at the state capitol, also known as Goat Hill, Tuesday.

Flowers, who represented Pike County in the Alabama House for four-terms, said Gov. Kay Ivey may have pulled the rug out from under state lawmakers Monday when she signed two contracts for mega prisons, and those same lawmakers may be facing an unexpected issue with complications in administering COVID-19 vaccinations to eligible people.

“It’s going to be a very, very difficult session because of COVID and problems with the inherent function of the Legislature,” Flowers said. “It’s going to be a very, very heavy laden session because of last year. By constitution, the Legislature is supposed to meet from February through May. But, the session was cut by two-thirds when they had to stop in March because of COVID.”

Flowers said before the lawmakers bang the gavel to open the session, they’ll be left holding the bag on how to fund two mega prisons in the state. Alabama faces a slew of federal lawsuits based on overcrowding, mental healthcare and violence.

Ivey signed two, 30-year contracts with two Limited Liability Companies to build and operate mega prisons in Escambia and Elmore counties. The Elmore County mega prison would specialize in medical and mental health needs.

“Gov. Ivey is aware senators are not enamored with her for being left out of the process [on mega prisons],” Flowers said. “I think she’s going to have some problems with the Legislature because of  signing the contracts before the session. Signing before the session starts makes me think she thought they would try to intervene. So, she beat them to the punch.”

Flowers said problems with people getting COVID vaccinations in Alabama may be an unexpected issue lawmakers will have to deal with.

“I don’t know what the problem is, but people in Alabama are not getting the vaccines like they are in other states,” Flowers said. “COVID is really starting to get on people’s nerves. People are mad about it and legislators are hearing from their constituents.

“When I was in the House, if I got two or three calls from constituents, I knew something was going on. People don’t normally call their legislator. I knew if it was important enough for someone to call, they were representing more people than themselves. This is an underlying issue that surfaced. Dr. Scott Harris [Alabama State Heath Officer] and the governor may be put on the hot seat.”

Flowers said legislators will have to navigate through those two possible roadblocks in the opening days of the session as well as address some serious issues quickly. Flowers said the legislature will only meet for two weeks, then take a week break to assess the calendar for the remainder of the session.

Flowers said he thought lawmakers would move swiftly to address local bills because that is required by the Constitution of 1901.

“Alabama has such an archaic and weird constitution that it requires counties and municipalities to go to the legislature if they want to get anything done,” Flowers said. “There are going to be a lot of local bills that have to be addressed.”

Flowers also said it was likely lawmakers would tackle some economic development issues that were lacking in renewal as well as passing a COVID liability bill to protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits.

After the break, Flowers said lawmakers would most likely tackle the budgets, both the Education Trust Fund and General Fund, before moving on to other issues.

Flowers said 2021 may be the year Alabama finally addresses gambling. Ivey put together a committee to study gambling, and Flowers said the committee’s report was highly detailed and addressed common concerns.

“I think if gambling is addressed, it will be as a whole, not just a lottery,” Flowers said. “I think if it is addressed, it will be the governor’s proposal. She put together a stellar committee that did a very detailed study. The study indicated only about 3 percent of people would become addicted to gambling and it also looked at a regulatory commission.”

Flowers said Indian gaming currently has a monopoly in Alabama and the state is losing money to contiguous states that have legalized gambling or lotteries.

“People are tired of driving to Georgia or Florida to get lottery tickets,” Flowers said. “All the legislators have to do is allow the people to vote on it. I don’t see how any legislator can say to their constituents they can’t vote on issues. I think there are a lot of Republicans that will vote for it because of all the money going out of the state.

“I think the issue will come up.”