On Tuesday February 4th, Governor Kay Ivey delivered the State of the State address to a joint session of The Alabama Legislature. The Governor is required by the Constitution of the state to update the Legislature on the state of the state on the first day of every legislative session. Since Tuesday was the first day of the legislative session for 2020, that is why it was held on the same day as the State of the Union address from President Trump this year.
In her speech Governor ivey reviewed some of the successes from the previous session, including the Rebuild Alabama Act, that is already funneled over $100 million from the new gas tax revenue in 6 months to infrastructure projects around the state. She also laid out her priorities for the legislative session and what she would like to see accomplished.
The Governor announced that she was moving forward with a prison building plan that would see the state build three new SuperMax style prisons in the state and close down a large number of the states decaying and dilapidated prison infrastructure. Because it will not be spending any more money than what is already budgeted for the Department of Corrections, this plan does not need the approval of the legislature. The governor also wants to see the legislature take up a comprehensive prison and criminal justice reform package during the session including recommendations made by a study group formed last year by the Governor to study the issue of criminal justice and prison reform.
There are some reservations in the legislature about this priority for the governor. Senator Vivian Davis Figures from Mobile said after the address, “I do have some problems with us saying that we’re going to build three new prisons, and one of those prisons is not for the women. Also, I think we need comprehensive prison reform, rather than just building three new prisons. It needs to be a comprehensive program put in place so we can make sure as people come out of incarceration, they will have a better chance to be successful in life.”
One of the areas in criminal justice reform that will be an issue to tackle is Representative Chip Brown’s constitutional amendment giving judicial discretion to judges to deny bail to certain defendants that meet certain criteria. As a matter of fact the Legislature had a committee meeting hearing about that amendment on Wednesday February 5th at 1:30 p.m. Representative Brown is confident of the amendment’s chances passing the Legislature this year and getting on the general election ballot in November. He said, “You know it passed 92-3 last year in the House and so I would expect those same people to vote for it again. I think that the we’ve had a year to really look at the issue and we’ve seen some tragedies occur that could be prevented if that law were in place in the future. I really do. I think we’re going to get it through this year.”
Another area in which the governor spoke about was education. She proposed a 3% pay raise for all teachers in the state and encouraged the legislature to pass it. She also announced that she would be working with the legislature to pass a $1 billion bond issue to assist local schools and communities in building out their education infrastructure, which could include new classrooms, safety measures, and/or technological upgrades.
The Governor also wants to expand the state’s Pre-K program. Senator Figures was optimistic and encouraging of these efforts after the speech. Senator Figures said, “in terms of the pre-k program. In terms of the billion-dollar bond issue that we’re going to do for education. It is so needed.”
Senator Figures was also concerned about the governor’s effort to get amendment one passed on the upcoming primary elections ballot mentioned by the Governorin her State of the State speech. Amendment one would change the way the state sets up it’s statewide Board of Education. Currently the State Board of Education is elected from districts around the state in regular elections. Amendment one would change that board from an elected position to an appointed one. Senator Figures after the speech said, “I, of course, am not in support of the school board becoming politicized. One thing that she failed to mention about that is that they would be appointed members by her. And that politicizes it, in my opinion. I didn’t agree with that.”
The governor announced that she would be forming a gambling task force to study all of the issues surrounding the gambling issue in the state of Alabama. she also said that the task force and study group would be tasked with collecting the facts and the data before she feels comfortable moving forward with where the gaming issue might end up. This study group will not only look at the lottery, which has been proposed in this legislative session, but also look at a potential compact with the Indians, and possibly legalizing casino gambling in the state as a whole. Representative Chip Brown said after the speech, “knowing this governor, I think it’s an attempt to really get the facts and study the issues before we jump out there and make a rash decision. Especially on funding, on where it might go, where the dollars are allocated. So I applaud her for doing that, I really do.”
There was some concern from legislators about the amount of spending that the governor proposed in her State of the State address. while it was generally well received, and the state is doing well with a strong economy, record low unemployment, as well as revenues coming into the state coffers, some cautioned that The state needs to be prudent in any additional spending that it does in this year’s budget. State Senator Chris Elliott from Baldwin County said after the speech, “The Alabama Legislature started the day with budget hearings indicating that the state was flush and in better financial shape than it has been in recent history. We ended the day broke, borrowing and expanding long term commitments. It will be incumbent on the Legislature to exercise fiscal restraint in keeping with our conservative values.” other legislators, who spoke to BamaNewsNow anonymously, compared the Governor and all of her proposed spending increases to FDR, Huey Long and Oprah Winfrey, who was famous for her regular extravagant giveaways on her nationally syndicated television talk show.
The Alabama legislative session should wrap up at the end of April or early May.