By Mimi Penhale, Legislative Director
The 2016 Session ended on Wednesday, May 4th. As always, the last few days of session can be a whirlwind of bills being passed and the reality that some bills will die without ever getting a floor vote. This year, there were a many bills that did not make it out of the Legislature, some of which could have major repercussions on the citizens of Alabama. Major concerns are based off of three pieces of legislation that did not pass: the Prison Bond bill, Medicaid Funding, and the BP Settlement money. Here is a brief explanation on why people are concerned about these issues.
Prison Bond Bill
Last year the Legislature passed major legislation to combat the overcrowded prison system problem in Alabama. The legislation changed sentencing guidelines, created another Class of felony and penalties for some nonviolent offenders, and increased the number of probation officer positions, as well as a number of other measures, in an effort to safely decrease the number of nonviolent offenders who are overcrowding the current system. This was a step in the right direction to avoid federal government intervention on Alabama’s prison system, which would include a mass release of inmates.
The next step for Prison Reform was the creation of new prisons in the state. While the 2015 legislation moves the state in the right direction, the legislation will only decrease the number of new inmates, not the current population. At around 190% capacity, something must be done to decrease the overcrowded system and the fastest way to do that, without a mass release, is by creating more bed space. Major stakeholders in Alabama believe that the creation of new prions is the best way to prevent a federal takeover. The 2016 Legislation sought to build four new prisons using an $800 million bond issue. The proposed prison plan would house between 3,000 and 4,000 inmates. Many of our existing prisons would then be closed due to being outdated and not up to federal standards.
Lawmakers concluded session before a compromise could be reached on the bill.
Medicaid funding is part of the General Fund Budget, which was passed out of the Legislature and signed by the Governor around the middle of session. The issue with Medicaid funding is that the budget does not fully fund the $785 million that the Alabama Medicaid Agency says it needs for 2017. The legislature instead chose to fund Medicaid for the upcoming 2017 fiscal year at $700 million. According to Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar, the results of not fully funding the requested Medicaid budget, will be a drop in services for many Alabamians on Medicaid.
Medicaid covers over 1 million Alabamians medical costs. The Medicaid Agency fears that the lack of funding will result in doctors refusing Medicaid patients and services being cut in rural areas. Both would mean longer travel and wait times for poor adults, children, disabled individuals, and the elderly.
Session ended with no additional money going to the 2017 Medicaid Budget.
BP Settlement Money
The BP Settlement issue is twofold: how to receive the money and what to do with the money. The BP Oil Spill Settlement for the state of Alabama is $1 billion that is to be dispersed as $50 million a year over the next 20 years. Many lawmakers support the idea of the state taking a lump sum of around $640 million, by getting a bond issue, instead of the yearly payments. Even though the lump sum would mean less dollars for the state, the lump sum would provide the state with money it could use right now, instead of waiting years to collect enough money to carry out some much needed projects.
The second, and more hotly debated, issue is how to use the money. Lawmakers from south Alabama, especially Baldwin and Mobile counties, believe that more money from the settlement should come to their counties. These counties were hit the hardest by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, which resulted in loss of jobs, tourism, and food production, especially seafood, in these areas. Other lawmakers argue that restoration projects for the affected areas have already been funded by separate money, so the entire state should benefit from the settlement.
The House passed a bill that would use the money to pay back $450 million of the state debt and would give $190 million to costal road projects. However, the bill did not make it out of the Senate committee due to many senators favoring a plan to pay back $540 million of the state debt and using $100 million for road projects across the state, with a double share going to Baldwin and Mobile counties.
Lawmakers concluded session without finding middle ground on the settlement money. Since no decision was made, the state will receive the $50 million a year and hold the money until lawmakers can decide how the money will be dispersed.
Shelby County Represenatives during Health Committee Meeting
Senator Ward Discusses Prison Reform
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Rep. Allen Farley and Rep. Dickie Drake at State House
Senator McClendon works on Redistricting in Al
2017 Regular Session Delegation Bills
By Mimi Penhale, Legislative Director
The 2017 Regular Session is well underway and this session is already shaping up to be exciting. As always, budgets and funding concerns are a top issue for legislators. This session will also feature a bill on building prisons, a bill that would remove the requirement to have concealed carry permits, bills in both the House and Senate related to the Impeachment process, and a bill that would eliminate the state grocery tax. With all these topics gaining major interest, sometimes other legislation gets over looked. Read on to see what your Shelby Delegation is working on.
Rep. Jim Carns has one bill filed so far this session. His bill would make Southern Research Institute exempt from state, county, and municipal sales taxes. Rep. Carns is serving as the Chair of both the Commerce and Small Business Committee and the Jefferson County Delegation, as well as, serving on the Children and Senior Advocacy, the Shelby County Delegation, and the County and Municipal Government Committees.
Rep. Dickie Drake has three bill filed, at this time. These bills focus on military issues, which are very important to Rep. Drake, as he continues to serve as Vice Chair of the Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. Two of the bills focus on the creation and funding of the Alabama Job Creation and Military Stability Commission and the third bill would allow military recruiters access in schools.
Rep. Corley Ellis, the newest member of our Delegation, was elected to fill Mike Hill’s vacancy last fall. Rep. Ellis is in his first session as a legislator and he is serving on the Local Legislation, Financial Services, and Shelby County Delegation Committees. During this time, he is focusing on learning the legislative process and helping constituents who need guidance within governmental agencies.
Rep. Allen Farley has filed one bill this session. The bill would require the Department of Corrections to allow inmates to purchase non-driver identification cards prior to being released. Rep. Farley is serving as the Vice Chair of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, as well as serving as a member of the Children and Senior Advocacy, Judiciary, Shelby County Delegation, and Jefferson County Delegation Committees.
Rep. Matt Fridy has ten bills he is currently carrying this session. The bills range from laws giving Probate Judges contempt powers, eyeglass sales, pro-life legislation, establishing the Transportation Commission, parental rights, and legislation allowing public servants’, who die in the line of duty, spouses the ability to keep receiving benefits after remarrying. Most notable of Rep. Fridy’s bills is one that would establish term limits of four full terms for members of the Alabama House and Senate.
Rep. Arnold Mooney has filed two bills so far this session. His bills focus on granting certain authority to healthcare providers and a bill that would allow law enforcement employment authorization for Briarwood Presbyterian Church. His healthcare bill would allow healthcare providers the authority to decline to perform a service that violates their conscience.
Rep. April Weaver is carrying twelve bills this session. Her bills focus mostly on Healthcare issues, such as, tax credits for rural physicians and dentists, civil immunity for volunteer caregivers, making it a criminal penalty to traffic Fentanyl, and several bills related to the State Nursing Board. One of Rep. Weaver’s bills would create the Safe Birth Options Act, allowing lay midwives to register as a state board and assist with delivers at birthing centers. Rep. Weaver also has legislation related to indigent defense, minor mothers, and a bill that would make it a crime of assault in the second degree to injure a social worker while preforming their duties.
Sen. Slade Blackwell has two pre-filed bills, both of which focus on insurance. One the bills he is carrying would makes amendments to the Alabama Risk-Based Capital for Insurers Act and the other would waive continuing education requirements for some Insurance Adjusters who have already done specific coursework for licensing. Sen. Blackwell is not new to this kind of insurance legislation, as he is again serving as the Banking and Insurance Chair.
Sen. Jim McClendon, who serves as Vice Chair of the Senate Health Committee, has filled three bills so far this session. This year, his legislation is ranges from Shelby County Board of Education elections, schools allowing students to use sunscreen at school, and midwifery in Alabama. His local legislation, if passed, would restrict cities with their own Board of Education from electing the Superintendent of the Shelby County Board of Education. His midwife bill would establish a State Board of Midwifery to license and regulate the practice of certified professional midwifery.
Sen. Jabo Waggoner is carrying ten bills, so far, this session. His prefilled bills range in focus from alcohol sales, local government training institute, clarifying the Real Estate Commission’s authority, exempting certain entities from sales tax, require hospital directory to be sent to the Department of Public Health, the Security Commission compensation, Birmingham City Council, historic buildings income tax credits, and municipal parking enforcement procedures. His historical buildings bill, which he also carried last year, would extend the tax credit for the rehabilitation of qualified structures in Alabama. He will continue to serve as the Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and the Jefferson County Delegation, as well as, Vice Chair of the Senate Confirmations Committee.
Sen. Cam Ward has filed nineteen bills this session. His large list of legislation focuses on a variety of things, a few of which are prisons, inmate issues, healthcare, municipal weed abatement ordinances, family law, and eminent domain, to name a few. He is also carrying several companion bills that our House Delegation members are also carrying. By introducing these bills in both the House and Senate, the legislators are increasing the chances that the bills will get passed. This will be his seventh session as Judiciary Chairman, and he will continue to focus on the prison overcrowding crisis.
While this may seem like a large number of bills being carried, often times only a few will pick up enough traction to actually get passed. Some of this legislation will not garner enough attention or votes to pass during the Regular Session, so legislators will be left to either carry it next session or drop them until they can get enough support. Only time will tell what bills the Alabama Legislature, and the Shelby Delegation, will pass this session.
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