Category: Alabama Legislature
At the very end of the Alabama Legislature’s 2021 Regular Session in May, a slate of four criminal justice bills died before getting a vote in the Senate.
The bills, sponsored by Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, received bi-partisan support in the House and looked to be a lock to go to the governor’s desk. But things can get testy between the chambers on the final days of session and they never came up for a final vote.
“Sometimes with these things, you just run out of time,” Hill told Alabama Daily News on Monday.
Now, Hill is prepared to file the bills again in the special session on prison construction, should they fit into Gov. Kay Ivey’s special session plan.
After restricted public access the past two regular legislative sessions, next week’s special session of the Alabama Legislature will largely be free of COVID-19 protocols.
Secretary of the Senate Pat Harris said that people who aren’t vaccinated are asked to wear masks, as is the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but there will be no enforcement of that request.
“We’re asking people to use common sense,” Harris said.
The Senate gallery will again be open to the public, Harris said, but distancing in committee rooms will still be in place.
“We’re not going to pack the hearing rooms,” Harris said.
The proposed plan to build new prisons in Alabama would also allow the purchase of the empty, privately owned prison in Perry County to hold parole violators who are crowding some county jails around the state.
The Perry County Correctional Facility “has always been the Rubik’s Cube of the prison problem that no one’s ever been really able to figure out,” Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Parole Director Cam Ward told Alabama Daily News.
Built in the 2000s, Ward said, it’s a good 730-bed facility but its remote location and distance from medical care has been a challenge to operations. At one point, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement used the space.
“But it’s never been used to capacity,” Ward said.
Ward and other state leaders will meet with GEO Group, the private prison company that owns the site, this week, about the possible purchase.
UPDATED — Gov. Kay Ivey plans to call lawmakers to Montgomery for a special session on prison construction Sept. 27, she told them in a letter today. “As I have stated before, this is our moment — this Legislature and this administration — to lead our state in a bipartisan manner to solve a problem that has plagued us for decades and that, if not properly addressed, will continue to set us back for decades to come,” Ivey wrote in the letter. Read more.
Two Alabama construction companies could be in the best position to get state contracts to build two men’s prisons under a proposal lawmakers are now weighing.
Montgomery-based Caddell and Birmingham-based BL Harbert were both part of teams expected to build prisons under Gov. Kay Ivey’s earlier plan to lease from private developers three new facilities. That plan fell apart in the spring, but some legislative leaders say Caddell and Harbert have been vetted and put in the groundwork to quickly move on construction, if the Legislature can pass a bill that includes borrowing as much as $785 million.
“It would be problematic if we tried to move out and get somebody else,” Sen. Greg Albritton, who has helped lead discussions on new prisons over the summer, said. “(These companies) are in the best position to do this work.”
For the first time in 15 years, tax receipts in the state’s Education Trust Fund are hitting double-digit growth, prompting the Senate’s budget chairman to say it’s time the Legislature considers some possible tax cuts.
While there are still several factors that could influence revenues in fiscal 2022 and 2023 and some growing expenses, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, told Alabama Daily News the Legislature should consider reducing the income tax burden on some fixed-income seniors and families making around $50,000 a year or less.
“If the stars align correctly, and that’s a mighty big if, I think it’s time to have that discussion about tax cuts and sending money back home, back to the people,” Orr said this week.
The Association of County Commissions of Alabama is asking for a $10 million reimbursement from the state for the increased strain on county jails taking care of state inmates.
The association approved a resolution last week requesting Gov. Kay Ivey and the state Legislature to “retroactively reimburse county governments for their extended care of an increased number of State-responsible inmates throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a consequence of the Alabama Department of Corrections’ decision to drastically reduce its intake activities in 2020 and 2021.”
The reimbursement amount is for the time from Jan. 1, 2021, to July 31, 2021, and accounts for all counties, Abby Fitzpatrick, director of communication and engagement for the association, told Alabama Daily News.
Armed with new information about which districts gained and lost residents, the committee redrawing the Alabama House and Senate, Congressional and board of education maps will begin public hearings Wednesday.
The hearings will be held at community colleges and can be attended in person and observed online. A complete schedule and links can be found here.
Months-long delays in the 2020 gathering of census data has meant lags in getting states their new population numbers, delaying the reapportionment process that happens every 10 years.
MONTGOMERY — The commission charged with analyzing Alabama’s response to the COVID-19 on Wednesday agreed on questions to state agencies about how they reacted early in the pandemic.
The commission’s work comes as the COVID-19 delta variant continues to hospitalize more Alabamians, 2,845 as of Wednesday, 41 of them children, according to the Alabama Hospital Association. Across the state, 840 people with COVID are in intensive care units, making up 52% of ICUs’ populations.
Hospitals are struggling to staff the needed ICU beds. State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris told the commission that a federal team of health care workers is being sent to a hospital in Dothan this weekend to handle the record-high number of COVID hospitalizations they’re seeing.