Lawmakers last week ended the 2019 legislative session passing a slew of bills and the budgets. It was by far one of the busiest and most contentious sessions in years. WBHM’s Gigi Douban talks with Don Dailey, host of Alabama Public Television’s Capitol Journal, for a recap.
The 2019 legislative session was a first for dozens of lawmakers elected in November. Dailey says the freshman crop took a cue from their constituents on a polarizing issue like the gas tax increase lawmakers approved in a special session. “That was a difficult thing for freshman lawmakers to have to tackle their first couple of weeks on the job,” Dailey says.
There was no overhaul of the state’s troubled prison system, which is plagued by overcrowding, violence, and a number of inmate suicides. But lawmakers passed a few key bills to address understaffing. It’s estimated the state needs to hire 2,000 correctional officers to adequately staff its prisons; a measure approved by lawmakers would hire 500. “And also significantly it would raise the pay of those new officers and the existing officers,” Dailey says. Low pay compared to other states and the violent conditions in state prisons have been obstacles to hiring more correctional officers.
Gov. Kay Ivey was non-committal on whether she will call a special session to address prisons, Dailey says. But she planned to assemble work groups of key legislators to meet and discuss ways to address the problems in state prisons. Dailey says most lawmakers expect to return to the issue in early fall.
The $2.1 billion General Fund budget includes a 2 percent pay increase for state workers, a $44 million increase to the Alabama Department of Corrections, and it fully funds the state’s share of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
The education budget was a record $7.1 billion spending plan. It includes a 4 percent raise for teachers and other education personnel, and funding increases across the board for most education programs.
Here’s a recap of some other measures passed this session:
Alabama lawmakers voted to establish a medical marijuana commission to draft legislation for possible consideration next year.
Lawmakers approved the study commission Friday. Dailey says the bill is watered down from the original medical marijuana bill, which members of the House opposed.
Republican Sen. Tim Melson of Florence has said it would be a step forward toward the goal of allowing ailing patients to access medical marijuana.
Melson’s original bill would have allowed patients with certain medical conditions to purchase medical marijuana with a doctor’s approval. The Alabama Senate approved the measure, but the proposal hit opposition in the House.
The approved study commission bill also extends Carly’s Law, a law that allows some patients to access CBD oil through a study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The legislature passed two bills that affect drivers. One requires all vehicle passengers to wear a seat belt. The other makes it so drivers who camp out in the left lane for more than a mile without passing someone can be ticketed.
This measure makes chemical castration a condition of parole for people who commit sex crimes against children 13 or younger. Rep. Steve Hurst has sponsored this measure for years; this time it passed. According to the legislation, these individuals can avoid chemical castration by serving out a full prison sentence.