Issues to watch in the 2019 legislative session
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers return for the 2019 legislative session on Tuesday. Gov. Kay Ivey will discuss her agenda in her State of the State address Tuesday evening. Here are some key issues to watch when lawmakers return.
The dominant issue is Gov. Kay Ivey’s proposed 10-cent gas tax increase to fund road and bridge construction. The increase would be phased in over three years and then indexed to construction costs. The Republican governor has the backing of GOP legislative leadership. However, the Alabama Republican Party committee voted to oppose a gas tax increase, noting its increasing the overall tax burden unless there is a tax cut elsewhere. Lawmakers anticipate Ivey will call a special session to focus attention on the issue and bypass tough procedural vote hurdles that exist in a regular session.
The Alabama Department of Corrections is seeking more than a $40 million increase, much of which would be used to try to hire additional corrections officers. The state faces a directive from a federal judge to increase prison staff. Ivey is also pursuing a plan to build three regional prisons. However, the administration is considering leasing the facilities, which would bypass the need for the Alabama Legislature to approve a bond issue.
Republican Sen. Jim McClendon of Springville plans to bring back a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a state lottery. Alabama is one of only five states without a state lottery. McClendon’s proposal would split proceeds evenly between the state education budget and the general fund. It would also allow video lottery terminals at state dog tracks. A previous legislative effort to start a state lottery was mired in disputes over electronic gambling machines.
The proposal would forbid motorists from holding a cell phone and other devices while driving. A person could use a hands free system to text by voice and make and answer calls if they only touch one button. Republican Sen. Jim McClendon of Springville said his bill is patterned after Georgia’s law. Alabama currently has a ban on texting and driving, but McClendon said it is largely unenforceable because an officer can’t tell if a motorist is texting or dialing.
TEACHER/ STATE EMPLOYEE PAY RAISE
Lawmakers will consider pay raises for teachers and possibly state employees as well. Sen. Arthur Orr and Rep. Bill Poole, the chairmen of the Senate and House education budget committees, said they expect a pay raise for educators, but declined to name the size of the increase being considered. After better than anticipated conditions in the separate state general fund budget, state Rep. Steve Clouse, who chairs the House budget committee, said he is cautiously optimistic lawmakers can also approve a small raise for state employees.
Legislation has again been introduced to allow people to carry a handgun without getting a concealed carry permit. The bill has created tricky territory for some Republicans in the Alabama Legislature as it pits two groups they traditionally like to support: gun rights groups and law enforcement.
A proposal would end a decades-old system that has allowed some sheriffs to personally pocket leftover jail food funds. Republican Sen. Arthur Orr said his legislation would require jail food funds go to into a separate account that could only be used for feeding prisoners. Orr said a small portion of leftover funds could be used for law enforcement expenses, such as guns or bulletproof vests. Leftover funds could not be used on salaries.
The bill would require law enforcement officers to collect data on race and traffic stops. The bill by state Sen. Rodger Smitherman last year cleared the Alabama Senate on a 27-0 vote but did not get a vote in the Alabama House of Representatives amid Republican opposition.
The proposal would extend the time that people have to repay a payday loan from two weeks to a minimum of 30 days. The proposal is designed to give borrowers more opportunity to raise the funds needed to repay a loan.