What to expect in this year’s legislative session
Alabama lawmakers will be back in Montgomery Tuesday to kick off the 2024 legislative session. State leaders are already talking about an array of issues from education to the economy. For a sense of what to expect this session, WBHM’s Andrew Yeager spoke with Todd Stacy, host of Alabama Public Television’s Capitol Journal.
After several years of record-setting budgets in Alabama, Stacy described this year’s budget outlook as “stable” with a slight dip in the Education Trust Fund. The small downturn follows last year’s decision to reduce the state sales tax on groceries by one percent.
“It’s a blip,” Stacy said. “It’s nothing the legislature’s going to have to be concerned about.”
Stacy said 2023 ended with more revenue than projected so he expects lawmakers to consider some supplemental spending bills.
“Budgets are still healthy. That’s thanks in part to the way the legislature has decided not to spend it all at once, but to save it, store these revenues in rainy day accounts,” Stacy said. “They’ve taken a conservative approach and that’s paid off.”
School choice initiatives are expected this year, with support from Gov. Kay Ivey . According to Stacy, Ivey’s main legislative goal this session is to approve education savings accounts.
“This would allow parents to take a certain portion of taxpayer dollars to use to send their children to a different school, a school of their choice – be it a private school, home school situation or a different public school,” Stacy said.
The governor’s bill has not been released, but it’s expected to be a major part of her State of the State speech on Tuesday evening.
While Alabama has a low unemployment rate, it lags most states in workforce participation, a measure of the percentage of people working or looking for work.
“There are many factors for that – health care, child care, care for aging parents, transportation is a big one,” Stacy said. “I think you’re going to see a lot of conversation this session about how do we remove barriers to the workforce for those who are sitting on the sidelines.”
In terms of health care, Stacy doesn’t expect any legislative efforts toward Medicaid expansion or to provide health insurance to more Alabamians. Instead, discussions are underway for the executive branch to form some kind of public-private partnership to cover Alabamians without insurance.
“If we can close that coverage gap, offer people affordable insurance, maybe that’s an incentive to get back into the workforce because too few companies actually offer health benefits themselves these days,” Stacy said.
Lawmakers will likely consider gambling legislation, although such measures have fallen short for years.
As the minority party, Stacy said Democrats will “play defense” to the Republicans’ solid control of the legislature.
“They’ve become pretty good at it,” Stacy said.
One clash between the two parties could come over a bill to ban ballot collecting or what critics refer to as “ballot harvesting.” Stacy said Democrats see the issue as one of voting rights, whileRepublicans contend it is election interference.
“Look for that to be a fierce debate early in the session,” Stacy said.