2016 End of Session Update

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 Many of our existing prisons would then be closed due to being outdated and not up to federal standards.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

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.

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Director's Update

2018 Regular Session Delegation Bills

By Mimi Penhale, Legislative Director

 

The 2018 Regular Legislative Session began on January 9, 2018. In a typical year, session begins sometime in late February, but in the last year of the quadrennium, session begins much earlier. By beginning in January on an election year, individuals who are involved with the legislative process are able to finish their work in Montgomery earlier in the year, allowing them time to focus on campaigns in their districts before the primaries in June.

This session, will again focus on budgets, but this time around the Legislature will focus on funding mental healthcare in the state prison system and the Children's Health Insurance Program. Prison’s have been a major concern for our state over the last few years, but this year is different due to the state being court ordered to improve mental health care in prisons. At this point, the goal is to find funding for the program that will meet the guidelines set out by the court order.  The Legislature is also concerned that it will have to provide funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program, since the federal government has not renewed funding for the program at this time. One good thing for the General Fund Budget is that Medicaid is not asking for more money this year; instead, they are working on a surplus from last years budget. This will free up some funds to help address the previously discussed issues facing our legislators.

Being the last year in this legislative cycle, we typically see less bills filled and legislation tends to be less controversial, due to many members of the Legislature seeking reelection. This is by no means a rule, it is just the typical atmosphere found in politics. For a breakdown of what kind of bills the Shelby Delegation has prefilled for this session, see below:

Rep. Jim Carns has no bills prefilled for this session. 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 four bills 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 giving veterans free admission to all state parks and giving preference on competitive state bids to vendors owned by veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also has some local legislation for Leeds, Alabama and that would remove the legislative procedure that a bill must be read at length prior to final passage.

Rep. Ellis is entering his second session as a legislator. He has one bill this session that would require certain evidence of comparable sales or leases to be admissible in taxpayer appeals for the rulings of boards of equalization fixing value of commercial property. He will continue to serve on the Local Legislation and Shelby County Delegation Committees, as well as Fiscal Responsibility and Ways and Means Education Committees.  

Rep. Allen Farley has filed one bill this session. The bill is local legislation for the Pleasant Grove area. 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 seven bills he is currently carrying this session. The bills range from laws that would effect the Alabama Family Trust Corporation, the Alabama Uniform Voidable Transfers Act, workers compensation laws related to spousal benefits extending past remarriage, and changes to the Alabama Assistance and Service Animal Integrity in Housing Act.  Rep. Fridy is also carrying two bills at would help stop attorneys from pressuring individuals to peruse litigation following an accident, by increasing the penalties on attorneys and making traffic reports confidential.  He is also carrying a bill that would put into law that parents have the right to direct upbringing, education, care, and custody of their children.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Rep. Arnold Mooney has filed twelve bills so far, this session. His bills focus on a variety of issues, including; changes to the eminent domain law, decreasing the cost of pre-trial intervention for individuals who drive under the influence, allowing schools to display the Ten Commandments and “In God we trust” without penalty, increasing eligibility requirements for TANF and SNAP recipients, and exempting rooms and spaces that are not used for overnight accommodations from the Lodging tax, to name a few. Notably, he is also carrying legislation that would place private sewer systems under the regulation of the Public Service Commission.

Rep. April Weaver is had filled ten bills this session. Her bills focus mostly on Healthcare issues, such as; tax credits for rural nurse practitioners, palliative and end of life legislation for adults and minors, legislation that would create a review committee for the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, penalizing the trafficking of Fentanyl, and legislation that relates to the Nursing Board. Rep. Weaver also has legislation related to Conservation and Natural Resources, which would make criminal penalties only applicable for intentional violations.

Sen. Slade Blackwell has three pre-filed bills. His bills are all amendments to previous laws; changes to the council manager act of 1982, term limit changes for Craft Training Board members, and continued education legislation for the Insurance Department.  Sen. Blackwell is again serving as the Banking and Insurance Chair, as well as serving on Confirmations, Finance and Taxation Education, Health and Human Services, and Jefferson and Shelby County Delegations.

Sen. Jim McClendon, who serves as Vice Chair of the Senate Health Committee, has filled six bills so far this session. This year, his legislation is ranges from changes to unemployment compensation benefits, reclassifying treasures and artifacts as cultural resources so they are eligible for or listed in National Register of Historic Places, allowing physician assistants, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners authority to sign forms which may be signed by a physician, legislation related to the State Department of Education and Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services and their ability to consult with Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind to track progress in deaf and hard-of-hearing children, and establish the Alabama Cold War Victory Medal Act. One of Sen. McClendon’s most notable pieces of legislation is his legislation that would shorten the election cycle for special elections to one general election.

Sen. Jabo Waggoner is carrying two bills, so far, this session. His prefilled bills are regarding how the salary for the Securities Commission is set and an amendment to how motor vehicles are to be managed while overtaking and passing other vehicles. 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 and a member of six other Senate committees.

Sen. Cam Ward has filed seventeen bills this session. His large list of legislation focuses on a variety of things, a few of which are changes to the criminal code, amendments to sex offender public notices, increasing penalties for human trafficking, changes to the eminent domain law, weed abatement and municipal ordinance legislation, legislation that would expand the types of cases private judges can hear, legislation related to private judges, a bill on court cost and docket fees waived due to substantial hardship, legislation that would add first and second offenders to the Alabama Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act, and making the Joint Legislative Committee on Energy Policy permanent, to name a few. Sen. Ward is also carrying legislation this session regarding changes to Alabama’s Juvenile Justice laws. This legislation hopes to try to change the current system by keeping children from becoming repeat offenders by utilizing successful tactics employed by other states’ juvenile programs.

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