Some Legislative Issues
By Steve Flowers
The 2020 legislative regular session is wrapping up. After this week’s two-days of meeting days, only one final legislative day remains on May 17.
There has been a myriad of high-profile measures addressed during this year’s session. However, the budgets and how state dollars are spent are always the paramount issues on the minds of legislators, especially the budget chairmen.
The elephant in the room, which is on the back of everyone’s mind, is the prison issue. Alabama must have new prisons. The governor wants to and has moved unilaterally to privatize the new prisons. Legislators are skeptical of the open-ended cost and believe the state should own the prisons and a bond issue should be floated to pay for the state’s new prisons.
This skepticism by legislative leaders has resulted in a bill that is meandering through the legislature, which would create a joint legislative oversight committee to review any large expenditures. The bill would require any non-education state agency or state department to obtain approval from a newly formed oversight committee on obligation transparency for any General Fund expenditures over $10 million.
As the COVID pandemic shutdown began last March, home delivery of groceries and all merchandise flourished. Everything under the sun began to be delivered to people’s homes, except for alcohol in Alabama. We have very strict laws regarding the sale of alcohol. These laws are administered and upheld by the Alabama Alcohol and Beverage Control Board. Well, there has been a hue and cry from a good many Alabamians who have desired that wine, beer and liquor be delivered to their homes the same as other grocery items. The legislature heard their concerns and adhered to their wishes. They passed legislation allowing for home delivery of alcohol during this session, and Gov. Kay Ivey signed the law.
However, in a recent conversation with Alabama Beverage Control administrators, Mac Gipson and William Thigpen, they are of the belief that very few Alabamians will actually be able to afford this luxury. The legislation calls for very stringent guidelines regarding the delivery process. It will probably be cost prohibitive for delivery companies to participate. There will be costly prohibitions in order to adhere to the ABC’s guidelines. Someone will have to be 21 or older at home to sign for the alcohol. Delivery drivers will have to have perfect driving records that will have to be void of DUI’s for at least six years. There will have to be proper refrigeration for certain beverages and numerous other precautions. There can be no delivery to college campuses or their surrounding neighborhoods. This legislation is not the panacea that at home drinkers believe it will be. Alabamians are also still prohibited from purchasing alcohol from out-of-state under any circumstance. Those Alabama drinkers who delight in garnering select brands of bourbon, scotch, vodka, gin and fine wines must still drive to some other states to get their preferred indulgence.
The perennial legislation regarding the use of medical marijuana for medicinal purposes has been front and center this session. It usually gets passed in the Senate. It always gets bogged down in the House of Representatives. It has become law in most states. However, Alabama is a conservative state, and the Alabama House is a very conservative and deliberative body. Sen. Tim Melson, who is a staunch conservative Republican senator and a physician, is the sponsor. He has seen first-hand how the use of medicinal marijuana has helped his patients. A good many Alabamians, who have suffered debilitating pain from cancer and other illnesses, can and will attest to using this relief.
Alabama now has an official state vegetable, the sweet potato. The Alabama legislature made it official during the regular session. Alabama has taken heart in creating official emblems and honors over the years. We have an official state fruit, the blackberry. The official tree fruit is the peach. The official crustacean is the brown shrimp. The official amphibian is the red hills salamander.
All in all, it may not be a bad Session.
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.