Alabama Legislature

The Alabama Legislature is returning. Here’s what to expect.

The current Alabama State House in Montgomery, Ala. (Photo by Stew Milne for the Alabama Reflector)

The Alabama Legislature will kick off the 2024 session on Tuesday with work on the state’s two budgets and a host of other issues awaiting them.

Lawmakers this year are expected to take up legislation that would create a voucher-like program for schools in the state and possible legislation creating mandatory kindergarten or something very close to it. Legislators may also consider bills on gambling; ethics and trafficking and kidnapping.

House Republican leaders are taking some cautious steps toward Medicaid expansion, but it’s not at all clear that the measure will make it through during the session. Democrats also plan to file gun safety legislation, though the bills stand little chance of passage. And there’s no sign that the Legislature plans any major action on the state’s ongoing prison crisis.

Education Trust Fund Budget

The Education Trust Fund budget this year will probably fall short of the unprecedented growth of years previous, but lawmakers seem unconcerned.

Kirk Fulford, deputy director of the fiscal division, said that net receipts for 2023 were relatively flat.

“The ETF is still returning to a more normal growth pattern after a couple of years of extraordinary growth and that has been expected,” he wrote in an email. “But normal in this sense means revenues simply could not continue to grow at the pace of 2021 and 2022.”

Total ETF gross receipts at the end of December were $2.42 billion, down slightly from the $2.45 billion collected by the end of 2022.

Fulford wrote in an email that withholding taxes on the individual income tax side were above trend. He wrote that the payments with returns, estimated payments, and S-corp categories had slowed after the abnormal growth.

He also wrote that sales tax receipts were up in 2021 and 2022 but had slowed prior to the reduction to the grocery tax.

Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee Chair Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, who oversees the education budget in the Senate, said that normal growth is something he has anticipated. House Ways and Means Education Committee Chair Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, said the budget is in good financial shape due to previous budgeting.

“I think the state legislature has been very prudent and judicious in how we’ve budgeted since we’ve had this unusual revenue coming in,” he said.

Teacher raises are likely to come up again this year. Garrett said he was waiting to see what would happen with the governor’s budget. Orr said he is anticipating teacher raises “to some level.”

Garrett said he was waiting to see what the governor proposed for the Alabama Reading Initiative, STEM, teacher retention and turnaround schools.

The Alabama Board of Education had previously discussed looking into more funding for struggling readers beyond third grade. Alabama will begin retaining some students who do not read on grade level by the end of third grade.

General Fund Budget

House Ways and Means General Fund Committee chair Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, speaks during the session of the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)

The $3 billion General Fund budget, which pays for most noneducation expenses in the state, remains healthy, though budget makers said they want to be cautious with it.

House Ways and Means General Fund Committee Chair Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, said the budget ended the 2023 fiscal year in September with about 16% growth and a surplus of about $460 million.

The added money will likely mean a supplemental appropriation. Reynolds said that legislators would give about $100 million to state prisons, facing overcrowding and violence. Another $360 million, he said, would go toward state departments like the Alabama Medicaid Agency and the Department of Human Resources (DHR). Reynolds also said some money could go to a second planned prison.

“We’ve got some one-time appropriations, looking at both the [Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the DHR, and we’ve got to begin to have the conversation about funding the second mega prison, which is set to be located in Escambia,” Reynolds said.

But the chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee said the state must be conservative after the inflation of the past few years.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, said that the state must be careful with how they spend the surplus as they pay Alabama’s ongoing obligations, such as rising prison construction costs.

“We have a bit of a surplus and such, but we’ve got a lot of obligations that we got to meet,” Albritton said.

He said the state has $500 million of previously appropriated American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds being used for various construction projects around the state, and since construction costs rose in the past few years, specifically water and sewer lines that need to be replaced. He suggested the state will have to make up the difference in costs to finish these projects, and that those costs have risen as much as 30% to 40%.

“We’ve got a half billion dollars scheduled to go in the ground, but if you add that additional 30%, let’s say, that’s a pretty good chunk of change, and we don’t have any more federal ARPA money,” he said.

Education Savings Accounts

Just like last year, there is a lot of talk about programs like charter schools and voucher-type programs in the lead-up to the session, and uncertainty about what might emerge.

Gov. Kay Ivey supports the introduction of education savings accounts (ESA). An ESA allows a parent to claim money intended for public education and use it for other items, including private school tuition, tutoring or counseling. The governor’s office said she would unveil her plan ahead of Tuesday’s State of the State address, delivered at the start of the legislative session.

In the 2023 State of the State, Ivey unveiled her plans for “school choice” options, including expanding a scholarship program that the state already had.

The four education committee heads in the Legislature have not committed yet to the version they want to see, and appear to be waiting for the governor’s proposal.

Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, the chair of the House Education Policy Committee, said she plans to revive a bill that she sponsored with Garrett, the chair of the House Ways and Means Education Committee, near the end of last session. The bill was based on an education savings account model from Utah.

“It was a really good school choice bill, I felt like,” she said.

The bill would start with providing $6,900 to qualifying students. The Alabama State Department of Education would have some oversight, according to the bill.

Garrett said the Legislature will wait to see what the governor proposes.

Sen. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva, the chair of the Senate Education Policy Committee, said he has had conversations with Orr, the chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee, and the governor’s office about the scope of the bill, but had “nothing specifically right now.”

Orr said it was “premature” to say an upper limit he would support. He said the governor’s office said they want to take a lead on the issue.


There will be some form of gambling legislation this year, likely emerging from the House of Representatives.

The Alabama Constitution bans lotteries and gambling. Some local amendments have allowed bingo in some counties and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Tribe operates some casinos, but no statewide vote has been held since 1999.

Bills to expand gambling in the state have historically fallen apart in the House of Representatives. This year, two House Republicans — Reps. Andy Whitt of Harvest and Chris Blacksher of Smiths Station are working on a “comprehensive” bill.

“We will be drastically reducing the number of locations that you can voluntarily go in and play a game,” Blackshear told the Alabama Reflector. “At those locations you voluntarily walk in to play a game, you may potentially have more options of playing than you currently do.”

Conservative opposition to the measure from powerful lobbying groups, such as Alabama Farmers Federation and the Alabama Policy Institute, as well as from some lawmakers.


Alabama, like most states, does not mandate kindergarten attendance, and previous efforts to pull more children into the grade have not been successful.

But Democrats and Republicans both seem committed to the issue this year. Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, who has pushed for mandatory kindergarten for years, said she will bring a similar bill this year.

In the past, Warren had sponsored a “first grade readiness” bill, which would require kindergarten or some proof of being ready for first grade, such as a test. Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, has opposed the bill in the past. A message seeking comment was left with Smitherman.

Chesteen said that he is planning to sponsor a Senate first grade readiness bill. He said that the Alabama Literacy Act will be fully implemented this year, so he wants to make sure that students have a firm foundation in reading. Among other provisions, the law will require holding back some students who are not reading on grade level by the end of the third grade.

“That’s a priority with our caucus is to make sure that we can get this first grade readiness bill passed and have an assessment for those students that are going into first grade,” he said.

Collins said that she was happy to hear that the Senate was making the bill a priority this year.

“I’ve had that as a priority for five years, so that would be wonderful,” she said.

Warren said she had not spoken with Chesteen or Collins about their versions of the bill.


Alabama’s prisons remain plagued by overcrowding, violence and a shortage of corrections officers.

But legislators have offered next to nothing in the coming session to address the prison crisis, which has drawn a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“I don’t have any direct knowledge of any,” said Rep. Russell Bedsole, R-Alabaster, a law enforcement officer and serves on both the House Judiciary and Public Safety and Homeland Security committees. “I feel like in the last session, going back to one of the previous special sessions where we dedicated some funding for the construction of new prisons, and the governor took care of administering a pay raise for corrections officers.”

Legislators have passed bills in recent years to increase pay and incentives for corrections officers in the hopes of addressing the shortage. A few legislators cited an increase in the recruitment numbers for corrections officers as progress for the DOC is making to address the ongoing concerns from many in the public regarding the safety and effectiveness of the prisons.

The Alabama Department of Corrections declined comment on their recruitment figures. DOC said in a news release in January it had 66 trainees graduated from the Alabama Criminal Justice Training Center at Wallace State Community College in Selma.

According to a court document filed in January 2023, the DOC needs to fill more than 2,000 posts. That would bring the system to more than 3,100 full-time equivalent corrections officers.

“I do know that the Department of Corrections just entered their largest class of corrections officer trainees just this weekend of 120,” said Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro. “While we need a whole lot more, I think we are going to see some legislation around that and around corrections.”

Bedsole said lawmakers are watching the construction of a new men’s prison in Elmore County and the impact of legislation aimed at bringing in more corrections officers.

The Elmore County prison, expected to open in 2026, would be built to house up to 4,000 people. Supporters have argued the new design would be safer for incarcerated people and those working in the prisons.

“The current setup is somewhere around 80% dormitory-style housing,” Bedsole said. “That is basically a large room with rows and rows of bunk beds. The inmates are unable to be separated, so instances of assault and sexual assaults go on and they are hard to detect because of how many people you put in an area and lack of staffing.”

But the costs of the project have gone over $1 billion, almost equal to what the Legislature appropriated for two such prisons in 2021.

The facilities remain dangerous. According to an Alabama Appleseed analysis of DOC data, 325 people incarcerated in state prisons died in 2023, an increase of about 20% from 2022 when 207 people died while housed in prison facilities.

“Many of those who died were young, vibrant people who had their whole lives in front of them and would have contributed to the workforce if they survived in ADOC,” said Carla Crowder, executive director of Alabama Appleseed. “Others were so old and frail, they were no threat to anyone, yet still locked up.”

“Unfortunately, some offenders are going to pass away while incarcerated,” Bedsole said. “You have a very unhealthy population that, typically on the streets, when they were not incarcerated, had a long history of drug and alcohol abuse. And unfortunately, that is very taxing on the body.”

Even though few bills have been proposed, Singleton said it is early in the process, and he expects other bills to be filed to address the ongoing problems happening in the DOC.

“I think there are a lot of bills that have been prefiled and a lot of bills that will be filed,” he said. “I do that there are bills that are going to be coming. I am hearing conversations about corrections officers.”

Medicaid Expansion

Alabama House lawmakers are beginning to talk about closing the coverage gap, or expanding Medicaid, more openly.

House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, previously said the cost of health care has increased significantly, and that a “private-public partnership makes a lot of sense.”

“We’ve got to have the conversation. We can’t not have it,” he said at a Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast in January. “I think we’ll continue to work on private-public partnerships, certainly something that we need to look at. I think it can give people that’s in the gap better insurance than Medicaid.”

Rep. Paul Lee, R-Dothan, chair of the House Health committee, said GOP lawmakers have been more open to the idea as they have encountered people who lack health insurance and lack access to affordable health care, as reported by POLITICO Wednesday.

Lee held a committee meeting in 2023 to discuss challenges the state face because it has not expanded Medicaid, the first time the Legislature formally discussed the issue.

Lee did not return a request for comment.

Albritton, however, said he did not expect Medicaid expansion to happen.

“Our problem right now is that we don’t have enough competition in that market, and the government taking it over is the wrong direction,” he said.

The cost to run Medicaid in the state is increasing, he said, projected at about $100 million more for the net fiscal year because of expiring pandemic-era benefits, such as lower matching funds.

The budget for the Alabama Medicaid Agency for the current fiscal year is $863 million. A 2022 Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) report projected the state share of expanding Medicaid would have been about $208 million that year and rising to about $243 million in 2027.

PARCA also estimated Medicaid expansion would yield annual savings of almost $398 million a year over six years, create over 20,000 new jobs annually and have an economic impact of $1.89 billion each year during that time.

“Listen, Medicaid is a problem. We’re just trying to keep track of it and keep the services going that we have. Extending or expanding right now, in my mind, because of cost, is just not feasible,” Albritton said.

Criminal justice

Legislators will consider bills on crimes and sentences as well as law enforcement generally.

The potential for new crimes and penalties concern criminal justice reform advocates, who fear they could strain an already overcrowded system.

Several bills deal with abduction. Rep. Donna Givens, R-Loxley, is sponsoring HB 42 that would increase penalties for human trafficking. The bill is called the Sound of Freedom Act, named after a film released last year that has drawn criticism for floating conspiracy theories and misrepresenting human trafficking.

Human trafficking in the first degree is a Class A felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison, but Givens’ bill would make the minimum sentence life in prison if the person were found guilty of trafficking a minor.

HB 39, sponsored by Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, creates the crime of virtual kidnapping for people either to threaten or confine, restrain, or physically injure others to steal their possessions. People charged with virtual kidnapping face a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Messages seeking comments were left with Givens and Givan.

Other bills filed by lawmakers deal with criminal records or sentences. HB 50, sponsored by Givan, would seal records for some offenses that will be sealed a certain amount of time after a person has completed a sentence and not committed additional crimes.

HB 41, also sponsored by Givan, mandates that law enforcement agencies release body camera footage when a request is made unless it interferes with an investigation. Currently, law enforcement may withhold releasing body camera recordings if they are part of an ongoing investigation.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa has also filed bills on the Board of Pardons and Paroles and legislation to lessen some criminal penalties.

HB 32, sponsored by England, would address sentencing for murder. Under current law, a person can be charged with murder if he or she causes the death of another person while committing or attempting to commit arson, kidnapping, robbery or sexual assault. Under the bill, a murder charge would not apply if the person who died was a willing participant in the crime.

His other bills relate to people who have been incarcerated. One, HB 44, mandates that an agency have an emergency contact or some way to get a hold of an advocate for people who are incarcerated should they need medical attention or have died. A second is HB 32, which allows people who have been incarcerated to participate virtually in a parole application proceeding, to hear what is transpiring and potentially participate.

A third bill, HB 30, is a carryover from the previous session, also tries to address the decline in the number of people incarcerated who have been denied parole. The bill creates a Criminal Justice Policy Development Council to create guidelines for the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles to use when determining whether to grant a person parole.

It requires the Board to state its reasons for deviating from the guidelines when issuing a decision for parole, along with allowing those who have been denied parole the chance to appeal the decision to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

“The Board needs oversight,” England said in an interview last December. “I think we have seen the ineffectiveness of the Board. Our system is really struggling, number one, and one of the ways to help with that is to try to get the Board to follow some guidelines. Or, at the very least, if they are going to deny somebody parole, at least tell them why.”


House Democrats have filed several bills on gun safety.

The bills are unlikely to advance in the Republican-controlled Legislature, which has loosened gun restrictions over the last several years. But Rep. Phillip Ensler, D-Montgomery, said it is important to try. As of early Wednesday afternoon, no Republican legislator had filed bills related to firearms.

“When there are people dying, and there are lives that we can save through legislation, it is important that we do that and we act now,” said Ensler, a freshman representative who has made gun safety a priority. “I am mindful and very realistic that my proposals alone are not going to stop every act of gun violence, they are not going to save every life from gun violence, but they are things that, collectively, can make a difference.”

Alabama has one of the nation’s highest rates of gun-related deaths.

Ensler’s bills include:

HB 49, which authorizes courts to issue red flag protective orders that will compel someone to surrender a firearm if the court finds that the person is a danger.

HB 36 and HB 48, which make it illegal to convert a gun into an automatic weapon or to own parts that could be used for that conversion.

HB 37, which establishes a voluntary do-not-sell list, which allows people to register themselves so they may not purchase firearms. Violating the terms could result in a class A felony, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $6,000 fine.

Other bills include HB 20, filed by Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, which would make it a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, for a person with a firearm to not inform a law enforcement officer questioning them of the fact.

HB 72, filed by Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, would prohibit possessing or transferring assault weapons under certain circumstances. HB 74, also filed Givan, prohibits bump stocks.

Mental Health

Reynolds said the state will also put some more funding into mental health services due to increased program costs. He said that with a sixth mental health crisis center opening in 2024, the state needs to look at recruiting and retaining the workforce.

“There’s only so many contract health providers throughout Alabama, so we’ve got to stand them up to fill that gap,” he said.

Albritton said the Legislature has doubled the Department of Mental Health’s budget in the last four to five years, but he has not seen enough results.

“The services don’t seem to be doubled,” he said.

He said he has not seen a bill related to mental health issues in the state, but that there is a lot of talk about it. He’d like to see a plan before they can “throw money at that problem.”

While funding has concentrated on building crisis centers, he said there should also be a focus on providing people with long-term mental health care.

“We’ve done [crisis centers]. We’ve put those up. Those are functioning,” he said, but they are “not meeting the needs.”


Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, the chair of the House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee, said changes to state ethics law will be “pretty substantive.”

“I guess if I had to classify it, I would say it’s major. It’s not a little thing, but we’ll just have to see how what happens with the bill and when it’s filed,” he said.

He declined to give details on the potential bill as he still has to present it to the commission but said that will be his focus in the upcoming session.

The commission has met several times since the 2023 Legislature session to discuss current state ethics laws, issues that have been brought up and what lawmakers can do about it.


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