Legislative Update, Week 6
The Alabama Legislature convened this week for the 11th, 12th and 13th legislative days. The House is expected to reconvene after a two week spring break on Tuesday, April 4th at 1:00PM. The Senate will reconvene earlier than normal to address the Education Trust Fund Budget on Tuesday, April 4th at 10:30AM.
The House met all three days long into the evening addressing the General Fund Budget and other controversial issues such as faith based child care licensing and pro-life bills. After passing the General Fund Budget, the House dedicated Thursday to “Pro Life” Day. They passed three pro-life bills and the Alabama Child Placing Agency Act.
Meanwhile in the Senate they focused on the gun permits, the Education Trust Budget and prison construction. Please see below a quick recap of week 5 in the Alabama Legislature.
The General Fund Budget Passed in the House
The House passed the General Fund Budget, HB 155 late Tuesday evening after Democrats filibusteredfor nearly 3 and a half hours over the state employee pay raise. There were three amendments offered to give state employees a one-time bonus, which all failed. The last pay raise state employees received was nine years ago.
The $1.843 billion General Fund Budget, HB 155 sponsored by Representative Steve Clouse, R-Ozarkpassed the House on Tuesday putting aside $97 million for next year. The FY2018 budget begins on Oct. 1 and level funds most state agencies. Medicaid, the state’s largest expense will receive $700 million with a one-time $105 million from the BP Oil spill.
The $97 million savings for next year was based on not knowing what changes Congress would make to the Affordable Care Act, which could potentially cost the state more for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Former Budget Chair, Representative John Knight said the “$97 million wouldn’t make it through the budget process” fearing the Senate would utilize it.
The General Fund is expected to be in the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee when the Legislature returns in April.
Education Trust Fund Budget is Debated in the Senate
Disappointed Senator Arthur Orr, R- Decatur had every intention of passing the $6.4 billion Education Trust Fund Budget, SB 129 in the Senate before they legislature departed for a two-week spring break. However, with a substitute offered on the floor, many Senators didn’t have a chance to read the budget and wanted to offer amendments.
The budget would increase spending by $90 million over this year, an amount determined by the Rolling Reserve Act, which caps spending based on a 15-year history of tax revenues. There were concerns about “earmarks” for higher education and that K-12 was not properly funded. The most notable item was an increase to the state’s Pre-K program of $15 million and would hire an additional 150 teachers for grades 4th-6th. The Senate will convene earlier than normally, at 10:30AM when they return from spring break to pass the education budget.
Prison Construction Bill Passes Senate
After several hours of debate, the Senate passed the third, but scaled down version of the Prison Construction Bill. The scaled down bond went from $800 million to $325 million which would allow construction of three new men prison and up to a $100 million for renovations for the women’s prison. The bill will allow a partnership between counties and municipalities who would issue bonds to build prisons and lease them to the state. The lease payments would be applied to paying the bond debt, then the state would own the prisons at the end of the lease terms. The bill moves to the House to be considered. Representative Connie Rowe, R-Jasper will carry the bill in the House.
The Alabama Legislature will be on spring break for two weeks. Those items expected to be the focus will be the Education Trust Fund Budget, the General Fund Budget, child care licensing and prison construction.