By Steve Flowers
There is no question that Gov. Kay Ivey’s Infrastructure/Gas Tax Program was the cornerstone issue of this legislative session. This monumental legislation will be a tremendous enhancement for Alabama’s economic development for decades to come. Governor Ivey and the legislative leadership deserve accolades for addressing this important project. They were indeed thinking of the next generation rather than the next election. Governor Ivey deserves most of the credit. She reached across the aisle and garnered almost unanimous support from the Democratic legislators. Indeed, the legislation passed the House on an 84-20 vote and passed 28-6 in the Senate.
However, other major issues will be on the table. The Alabama Department of Corrections is seeking a $42 million increase in their budget in order to hire much needed additional correctional officers. A federal judge has ordered the state to increase guards and mental health professionals.
State Sen. Jim McClendon of St. Clair County is listening to his constituents. Other legislators would be wise and well-served to be as diligent and in touch as McClendon. If they were, they would join McClendon in offering to let their people vote on a state lottery.
There is a hue and cry from all corners of the state asking, “Why don’t we have a lottery. Why are we letting our money go to Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee?” Conservative estimates suggest a state lottery would generate between $66 to $90 million dollars in new revenues for Alabama.
Alabama is one of only five states without a state lottery. Senator McClendon will offer a proposal that would split the proceeds from a proposed lottery between the Education Trust Fund and General Fund Budgets. Believe you me, if it gets to the public for a vote, it will pass. In every civic club I speak to around the state, the first question I am asked is, “Why in the world can’t we vote on and have a lottery.”
Senator McClendon is also continuing his crusade to stop motorists from having wrecks from distracted driving. He has a proposal that would forbid drivers from holding a cell phone and other devices while driving. Someone could use a handsfree system to text by voice and make and answer calls if they only touch one button. McClendon said his bill is patterned after Georgia’s law.
The state education coffers are overflowing; therefore, lawmakers may be able to give teachers a pay raise. Senator Arthur Orr and Representative Bill Poole, the chairmen of the Senate and House education budget committees, said they expect a pay raise for educators is a probability.
Even the General Fund has better revenue projections. State Rep. Steve Clouse, who chairs the House Budget Committee, has said that he is cautiously optimistic that there could be a small raise for state employees.
It would be unusual for a super majority Republican legislature to not pay homage to or adhere to some placating of gun owners in the Heart of Dixie. This year’s deference would allow people to carry a handgun without getting a concealed carry permit. Another bill would allow church members to carry their guns to church.
In bygone days, county sheriffs had a lot of political power. Long ago, the legislature passed laws that allowed sheriffs to pocket money left over from jail food funds. It was a loophole that should have been closed years ago. Recently, some sheriffs have been caught in this endeavor in a bold, brazen and very lucrative way. Sen. Arthur Orr has offered legislation to stop this archaic practice. His bill would require jail funds to go into a separate account that could only be used for feeding prisoners. Leftover funds could not be used for salaries.
State Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), has again offered legislation that would require law enforcement officers to collect data on race and traffic stops. His bill cleared the Senate unanimously last year, but failed to come up in the House.
There has always been criticism aimed at PayDay loan companies in recent years. Their usurious practices have even caught the ire of Republican legislators. A legislative proposal would extend the time that people have to repay a PayDay loan from two weeks to a minimum of 30 days.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.