Alabama legislators kick-started their session last week, with committees approving bills on abortion, sanctuary campuses and death penalty sentences, among other topics. Those bills could go to the floor of the House or Senate this week.
The governor’s recommendations for the General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets also were introduced last week but have yet to come up for a vote.
Select bills that received attention this week follow. More information about the Legislature and its actions can be found on the state’s legislative site.
Judicial Override in Death Penalty Cases
Sponsor: Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery
Details: The bill would prohibit judges from imposing a death sentence when a jury has recommended life in prison. Alabama is the only remaining state that allows a judge to override a jury recommendation to impose the death penalty. The practice has been ruled unconstitutional in several states that had similar, but not identical laws.
Status: Approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and sent to the Senate.
Sponsors: Rep. Phil Williams, R-Huntsville, and Rep. Paul Lee, R-Dothan
Details: The bill specifies that colleges and universities must comply with state and federal immigration laws and cooperate with authorities on immigration issues. Any college or university that does not comply with the law would lose state funding.
Status: Approved by the House Committee on State Government and sent to the House.
Sponsor: Rep. Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo
Details: The proposed constitutional amendment would declare that it is state policy “to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, most importantly the right to life.” The amendment also would state that nothing in the constitution protects a right to abortion.
Practically speaking, the amendment would have no immediate effect, but supporters said they wanted the language in the constitution in case the U.S. Supreme Court overturns legalized abortion.
If approved by the Legislature, the amendment would be put on the ballot for a vote of the people.
Status: Approve by the House Health Committee and sent to the House.
General Fund Budget
Sponsor: Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne.
Details: Gov. Robert Bentley recommended a $1.9 billion General Fund budget, which is about $50 million less than this year’s budget. It includes $31.2 million for the legislative branch, down from this year’s $42.9 million, and $118.4 million for the judicial branch, down slightly from this year’s $119.7 million.
The bulk of the budget is in the executive branch, which includes state agencies. The governor recommended $1.634 billion in expenditures, down marginally from this year’s $1.639 billion budget. Among the allocations within the executive branch’s budget are:
- Department of Corrections – The governor recommended a $413 million budget, compared to this year’s $413.5 million. The department had requested $459 million.
- Pardons and Paroles Board – The governor recommended $45.9 million, down from this year’s allocation of $55.4 million. The board had requested $56.7 million.
- Environmental Management – The governor recommended an allocation of $400,000 from the General Fund, the same amount the department got this year. The department had requested $7.8 million. The department also gets money in permit fees it collects from industries.
- Ethics Commission – The governor recommended an allocation of $1.84 million, about $735,000 less than this year’s allocation of $2.58 million. The commission had requested $2.55 million.
- Governor’s Office – The governor recommended a budget of $1.02 million, down from this year’s $1.9 million.
- Medicaid – The governor recommended a General Fund allocation of $743.6 million, up slightly from this year’s $720.5 million. His budget also recommended a $66 million conditional allocation, which the agency would get if more funds than projected are available in the budget. The agency had requested $763.6 million. The General Fund allocation is in addition to $105 million the agency will receive from the state’s share of the BP oil spill settlement.
Status: The budget is pending in the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee.
Education Trust Fund
Sponsor: Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur
Details: Bentley proposed a $6.417 billion Education Trust Fund budget, which is just a shade more than this year’s $6.441 billion budget. It includes $4.4 billion for K-12 schools, $1.6 billion for higher education and $370.8 million for other expense. The recommendation would give an increase of $20 million to expand pre-kindergarten in the state. In all, the Early Childhood Education Department would receive $87.3 million under the recommendation, up from this year’s $66.5 million. Other noteworthy allocations in the budget are:
- K-12 Foundation program – The governor recommended $3.6 billion, $10 million more than this year.
- Community Colleges – The governor recommended an allocation of $362 million, the same amount they received this year.
- Veterans’ Affairs education benefits – The governor recommended an increase of $26.5 million to provide scholarships to veterans and their children. The total for veterans’ education benefits in the recommendation would be $91.5 million, up from this year’s $65 million.
- Universities – The governor recommended that universities in the state receive a total of $1.08 billion, the same amount they received this year.
Status: Pending in the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee.