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 Many of our existing prisons would then be closed due to being outdated and not up to federal standards.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

Senator Cam WardSenator Cam Ward    Senator Slade Blackwell    Senator J. T. "JABO" WaggonerSenator J. T. "JABO" Waggoner

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Director's Update

Fall 2017- In the District

By Mimi Penhale, Legislative Director

Since the 2017 Legislative Session ended back in May, our Delegation has been out and about supporting community events and schools. Shelby County cities and organizations have been busy over the past few months with farmers markets, festivals, and events to raise money for Shelby county groups. Some of the events that our Delegation members have attended and are planning to attend include: the annual CASA Roast, tours of local farms with Alabama’s Farmers’ Federation, visiting the Alabama Wildlife Center at Oak Mountain State Park, Montevallo’s Bicentennial Celebration, and the Ground Breaking of the Helena Earth Kind Rose Trials. The Delegation members are also participating in many events around the county on their own, so keep an eye out for them in your area or at your local schools.  

The fall is always a great time for the Legislators to visit schools in their district. Legislators in Alabama are given access to grant money to provide community service projects in their districts. Grants are requested by local schools, libraries, and organizations that work with our public schools. The amount of money that Legislators can access each year is limited and varies depending on revenue brought in by the state.

The grants given by our Delegation members this fall have covered a variety of needs. Some of the grants impacted students and teachers in the classroom, like technology updates and funding for educational programming. Grants outside the classroom will help cover structural updates for school facilities. Some of the organizations awarded grant money for this fall provided students access to programs and community service opportunities that they might not otherwise be able to participate in. The final grants awarded each year are a joint contribution from the Delegation to the overall winners of the Shelby County Schools’ Teacher of the Year recipients. Three teachers, who are named the overall age group winners by the Shelby County Education Foundation, are awarded grant money that can be used by the winners for classroom supplies, technology, or programs.

Providing grants for projects like these and supporting events in the district is a highlight for our Delegation each year. These are a few small ways that we can give back to the communities we serve and love. 

Shelby County Legislative Delegation (C) 2013