The Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature started on Tuesday, Jan. 9 and this Legislature will face lots of problems that badly need to be addressed. The members of the House and Senate are hoping for a quick session that will allow them to get on the campaign trail for state elections in November. However, there are several critical issues that can’t be ignored.
This is an election year in Alabama for all 140 legislative seats, and also for the governor’s office and other statewide offices. Campaign considerations are bound to influence what legislation is proposed and passed during the session. Gov. Kay Ivey gave her first State of the State address outlining her agenda and she hit a home run. While it was a politically charged talk, it didn’t come across as “political.” Instead, it was a combination of concern and sincerity in laying out a plan for our state.
While the upcoming elections will be on their minds, the Legislators must first focus on the state’s two budgets. That has to be the top priority. The Legislature must also address issues ranging from prison health care to the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program. Both issues were discussed by Gov. Ivey in her State of the State address. The Governor did a tremendous job of setting out her agenda for the 2018 legislative session. The following are some of the more important items on that agenda:
• Supporting Alabama’s education system from Pre-K to the workforce will be a priority;
• Ensuring the needs of our state’s rural citizens are being met and providing proper care and facilities to those incarcerated in Alabama; and
• Badly needed pay raises for state employees and teachers. Alabama state employees have not received a cost-of-living increase since 2009. Alabama teachers and education employees have gotten two cost-of-living raises during that span.
• The Department of Corrections has asked for a $30 million supplement to this year’s budget and a $50 million increase for next year. Most of the increase would go to expanding health care services for prisoners, a move prompted by a federal judge’s ruling that mental health care is “horrendously inadequate.” Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said he does not expect a prison-building proposal this year. For the last two years, lawmakers have rejected plans to issue bonds to build prisons.
• Funding for the Alabama Medicaid Agency is always a key issue. Medicaid consumes more than one-third of the General Fund. Close to 1 million Alabamians receive some services from Medicaid. Slightly more than half are children. Lawmakers used $105 million in BP oil spill money to prop up this year’s budget and that won’t be available for next year. A $53 million carryover into next year, however, will help offset Medicaid’s need for state more money.
• Congress has not reauthorized funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known in Alabama as ALL Kids. Federal funds have fully paid for the program the last two years. If Congress does not fully fund it this year, Alabama lawmakers would have to appropriate about $53 million in state funds to sustain the program. That could significantly affect other programs, including the requested increase for prisons and pay raises for state employees and teachers.
Governor Ivey’s goal for this legislative session is to invest in our state’s future, provide for our people and to spend taxpayer dollars responsibly. I would give Gov. Ivey an A+ for her State of the State speech to the legislators and to the people of Alabama.
My hope is for a productive legislative session with a good number of long-standing problems being solved. Gov. Ivey has the ability, experience and intense desire to make positive things happen during this session of the legislature. I predict that she, with the help of the Legislative leaders, President of the Senate Dell Marsh and Speaker Mac McCutcheon, will be successful.