Legislative Report – April 5, 2019

Volume 20 Number 2 – April 5, 2019

5th, 6th & 7th legislative days

House Approves Bill to Exempt Economic Developers from Ethics Requirements

On Thursday, the House approved HB 289 by Rep. Alan Baker (R – Brewton) by a vote of 94 – 4. Under the bill, economic developers would not be considered lobbyists and would not be required to register with the state or disclose their employers and activity.

A similar bill was signed into law last year, but it expired on April 1. The bill passed yesterday will make the law permanent.

The bill is scheduled for a committee hearing on Tuesday in the Senate Committee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development.

Committee Hears Dueling Lottery Proposals

The Senate Tourism Committee held public hearings on Thursday on SB 116 and SB 130 by Sen. Jim McClendon (R – Springville) and SB 220 by Sen. Greg Albritton (R – Range). All three bills would authorize a public vote on a lottery.

Sen. McClendon’s bills would create a state lottery and allow video lottery terminals at state dog tracks in Birmingham, Macon County, Greene County, Mobile. It would also authorize a new facility in Lowndes County.

Sen. Albritton’s bill would allow for a paper ticket lottery only.

Proponents of McClendon’s bills said electronic games would bring jobs and revenue to economically struggling counties, including areas where jobs were lost as the state shut down casinos with electronic bingo machines.

Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, asserted during his testimony in opposition of all three bills that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which now operate electronic bingo machines, would be in a position to offer full-fledged casino gambling should a lottery pass. The lottery is considered Class III gaming and PCI is able to offer Class III gaming (table games, card games, etc.) if the state allows it elsewhere.

The committee did not vote on any of the proposals.

Blistering DOJ Report on Alabama Prisons

The U.S. Department of Justice, this week, released a blistering report on the state of Alabama prisons. The report acknowledged the “incredibly poor physical shape” of the state’s prisons but focused instead on the violence, sexual abuse, drug trade and extortion that led investigators to conclude that the prisons are so dangerous that there is reasonable cause to believe the state is in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Gov. Kay Ivey said she is moving forward with her plan to build three new men’s prisons to address chronically overcrowded and understaffed prisons. The DOJ report, however, said new prisons might solve some problems but said “new facilities alone will not resolve the contributing factors to the overall unconstitutional conditions.”

Ivey and Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) Commissioner Jeff Dunn have not said new prisons will fix all the system’s problems. They have asked the Legislature for a $40 million budget increase next year, with much of that aimed at hiring 500 new correctional officers and increasing pay to help keep officers on the job. Overall, the ADOC has said it needs to add about 2,000 new officers.

The DOJ report gives the state 49 days to propose a plan. The report includes more than 40 short-term and long-term recommendations on understaffing and overcrowding, violence, contraband, sexual abuse, and facility conditions.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R – Monrovia) said the House and Senate are putting together an emergency task force to address the issues raised in the report and help craft the state’s response. He said that work cannot be delayed.

McCutcheon said the task force would include legislators, officials from the executive and judicial branches, and corrections professionals. He said the goal is to develop a comprehensive response.

The Ways and Means – General Fund Committee maintained the $40 million request from the Governor’s office in committee this week, but it remains to be seen if ADOC will require more money to address the multitude of problems in the state’s prison system.

Upcoming Legislative Schedule

The House and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, April 9, 2019, at 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. respectively.