Prison changes, lottery bills postponed as session cut short

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Alabama lawmakers began the 2020 legislative session with several big-ticket items before them, including a prison overhaul, a possible state lottery and medical marijuana legislation.

Those issues fell by the wayside as the coronavirus outbreak interrupted the legislative session.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said it is “very possible” that the governor will call them into special session at some point to deal with prisons or other issues. The U.S. Department of Justice last year said that male inmates live in violent prisons that violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The Justice Department threatened to sue Alabama unless conditions improve.

“When you look at all the important issues that we talked about, legislation that we have not addressed. And then you put in there all of the issues that we are going to be concerned with when it comes to corrections — that’s a lot of work to be done.”

Lawmakers used their abbreviated meeting time to focus on state budgets and passing a $1.25 billion bond issue to fund school construction.

Here is a look at what passed and failed in the 2020 regular legislative session:

WHAT PASSED:

SCHOOL BOND ISSUE

Lawmakers approved a $1.25 billion bond issue to fund capital projects at public K-12 schools, two-year colleges and universities. Every K-12 school system will be given at least $400,000. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey proposed the bond issue in her State of the State address earlier this year.

STATE BUDGETS

Lawmakers approved pared-down Education Trust Fund and General Fund budgets. Both budgets have spending increases, but lawmakers trimmed back planned increases — including pay raises for teachers and state employees — because of the expected hit to state revenue during the virus outbreak.

OCCUPATIONAL TAX BAN

Alabama lawmakers swiftly approved a ban on cities implementing new occupational taxes without legislative approval. Lawmakers rushed passage of the bill as the city of Montgomery considered an occupational tax.

WHAT FAILED

PRISON POLICY CHANGES

Lawmakers approved a funding increase for the Alabama Department of Corrections, but plans for a package of reform bills, including enhanced educational programs for inmates and making changes to mandatory sentencing laws, did not get votes.

PAY RAISES

Alabama lawmakers and the governor had hoped to give pay raises to public school employees and state employees. The raises were jettisoned as lawmakers scaled back spending because of the expected cuts to state revenue during the virus outbreak.

GAMBLING

Proposals to establish a state lottery and to allow the Poarch Band of Creek Indians to have casinos did not get floor votes. Even before the pandemic interrupted the session, the Republican Ivey attempted to press the pause button on gambling debate by creating a new work group to study gambling proposals and revenue projections.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

The Alabama Senate approved the bill that would have authorized the use of medical marijuana for certain conditions, but it did not get a vote in the House of Representatives. Proponents were optimistic about the bill’s chances this year even though it has faced past opposition in the House.

PANDEMIC POWERS

A bill would have limited the powers of the state health officer to order closures. It would require the governor to sign off on the state health officer’s orders during a virus outbreak. The bill would have required legislative approval to extend any state of emergency issued by the governor beyond 14 days. Supporters said it put “checks and balances” in the process but opponents said it put politics over science in managing a public health emergency.

Republished with the permission of the Associated Press.