Alabama lawmakers return to decisions on budget, prisons

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Alabama lawmakers return from spring break Tuesday with decisions ahead of them on several major pieces of legislation. The session can last until May 16. Here is what to look for in the final weeks of the 2016 legislative session.

GENERAL FUND BUDGET VETO:

Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to veto the state’s general fund budget over Medicaid funding. The lawmaker-passed spending plan provides $85 million less than what Bentley says is needed to adequately fund the state’s Medicaid program. Legislative leaders have said they plan to override the governor’s veto, a procedure that requires a majority vote of all the members in the Senate and House.

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FALLOUT FROM GOVERNOR’S SCANDAL:

Bentley recently admitted that he had “inappropriate” conversations with a top female staffer after racy recordings surfaced. The admission comes as the politically wounded governor is trying to make headway on his budget and prison construction proposals. At least one lawmaker has said he wants to consider an impeachment resolution, but other Republicans called that discussion premature.

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GASOLINE TAX:

The proposal would raise the state’s gasoline tax to pay for road and bridge construction. The proposal would raise the gasoline tax by 6 cents per gallon. The tax would then be adjusted every four years to equal the average tax in Alabama’s four border states.

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PAYDAY LOAN:

The bill would put a Colorado-style restriction on the payday loan industry by giving borrowers at least six months to pay back the loan instead of just a few days or weeks. The bill would also require that people be allowed to make installment payments.

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PRISON CONSTRUCTION:

The governor is seeking an $800 million bond issue to build four new large prisons — three for men and one for women. Most existing prisons would be closed under the plan. The governor’s major initiative for the session is still awaiting its first floor vote.

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LOTTERY:

Lottery bills have so far stalled in the Alabama Legislature under a mix of opposition to gambling, disagreements on how a state lottery should be structured and a push to include casino gambling. The bills, so far, have not gotten a floor vote in either chamber.

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TENURE/TEACHER EVALUATIONS:

The bill would extend the time to obtain tenure from three to five years. It would also create an evaluation system in which 25 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation score would come from measures of student achievement growth by using ACT Aspire or other test scores. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh named the bill his priority for the session, but it has hit opposition from the Alabama Education Association. Marsh said he is anxious to try to get to the bill to the Senate floor.

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Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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