Legislative Report 031017

Volume 18 Number 5 – March 10, 2017

9th & 10th legislative days

House Committee Approves General Fund Budget

The House Ways and Means – General Fund Committee approved the $1.8 billion General Fund budget on Wednesday.

The budget level funds most state agencies and does not include a raise for state employees.

Rep. Steve Clouse (R – Ozark), Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said the budget sets aside $97 million to carry into 2019 or as a contingency for possible changes by Congress affecting state funding.

In 2016, lawmakers included $105 million from the BP settlement to go toward Medicaid in the 2018 fiscal year budget. That extra money will not be available in 2019. Chairman Clouse said, “we’re trying to be able to for the first time ever put a significant amount of money forward into next year to anticipate that loss.”

“I think we may very well be back in a special session later on in the year based on what comes out of Washington,” Clouse said. “And if we do, then I would certainly like to have at least $90 million in the bank instead of zero, to try to deal with those problems.”

The budget also includes a $9.6 million increase for state employees’ and retirees’ insurance in order to prevent their insurance rates from increasing.

The Alabama Medicaid Agency would get $701 million from the General Fund, essentially the same as this year, plus $105 million from the BP oil spill settlement plan.

The Medicaid appropriation is $43 million less than what Governor Bentley requested.

Clouse noted that Medicaid’s General Fund appropriation was $399 million in 2007. “So we have officially now doubled the Medicaid budget in 11 years,” Clouse said.

The budget is scheduled for a House floor vote on Tuesday.

New Prison Plan Advances in the Senate

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a new version of Governor Bentley’s prison construction bill this week.

The original plan called for borrowing $800 million to build four new prisons – three men’s and one women’s prison. The new plan would allow for the construction of three new men’s prisons and renovations to Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women. The total for the construction and renovations would total $775 million.

Most of the existing men’s prisons would close and be consolidated into three larger, regional prisons at sites not yet named.

A provision calling for a “design-build” method to award contracts for the prison construction was removed from the bill.

It had drawn opposition from some who said it was better to follow the state’s normal competitive bid process.

Another change in the bill is a provision to allow city and county governments to form authorities that could issue bonds to build prisons and then lease those facilities to the state, with the lease payments pledged to the bond debt.

The state could enter agreements with up to three authorities.

Sen. Cam Ward (R – Alabaster), sponsor of the legislation, said the proposal for local authorities was a compromise with lawmakers concerned about the possible closing of prisons in their districts.

The committee adopted an amendment by Sen. Vivian Figures (D – Mobile) to set aside $20 million in bond money for prisoner reentry programs and $5 million for additional medical and mental health staff in prisons.

The committee also adopted an amendment by Sen. Bobby Singleton (D – Greensboro) that would require the Department of Corrections to negotiate for possible purchase or lease of a vacant, privately owned prison in Perry County, which is in his district. The purchase price could not exceed $20 million.

The commissioner of the Department of Corrections would have to certify to the Legislative Council that he or she has negotiated in good faith on the prison.

The committee approved the plan on a voice vote. Sen. Ward said the bill could come to the Senate floor as early as next week.

Senate Approves Bill Preventing Monument Removal

On Thursday, after extended debate, the Senate approved a bill that would prevent cities from removing historic monuments by a vote of 24 – 7.

Opponents of the bill say it interferes with local governments’ sovereignty and raises questions about whose history is being preserved. Proponents of the bill say the bill is needed to preserve the state’s history.

The bill would forbid local communities from removing historic monuments on public property 20 years and older without a court order. For those younger than that, the community would have to apply for a waiver from a new state committee to move the monument.

The local government would first have to pass a resolution expressing its desire to remove the monument, then have to submit documentation to the state committee, including a history of the monument, commentary from interested preservation and heritage groups, and any other facts relevant to the committee’s decision.

Memorial streets 15 years and older would have to go through the same process if a municipality wanted to rename it. Monuments on private property would not be affected.

The bill now moves to the House.

Rolanda Hollis Wins House Seat

Democrat Rolanda Hollis won the Alabama House of Representatives District 58 seat during a special election Tuesday night.

Rep. Oliver Robinson (D – Birmingham) vacated the seat when he retired last year. Hollis, 50, defeated her challengers, James T. Howell and Rodney Huntley, who are also Democrats, with 62 percent of the vote.

Hollis is a real estate broker who plans to focus on sewer rates in Jefferson County, prison reform and education.

Special Counsel to Resume Investigation into Bentley

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee instructed Special Counsel Jack Sharman to resume his investigation of Governor Robert Bentley.

The resolution instructs Mr. Sharman to “resume his activities and investigation and to coordinate as much as is practical and possible with any other related investigations and proceedings so that we will stand better ready to move forward with public hearings when appropriate.”

The committee’s investigation has been on hold since November at the request of then-Attorney General Luther Strange.

Today’s move by the committee comes one day after it rejected a different resolution.

That vote on Tuesday came after an extended discussion about concerns raised by the attorney general’s office that an impeachment investigation could affect a criminal investigation because of double jeopardy.

Upcoming Legislative Schedule

The House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, March 14 at 1:00 and 2:00 p.m., respectively. They are expected to expend three legislative days on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Thursday will mark the 13th legislative day. The legislature will take a two-week Spring Break the last two weeks of March.