This year’s regular legislative session is coming to an end and, as is often the case, its last days have amounted to capital crunch time. With unavoidable issues such as electoral redistricting and a governor’s potential impeachment having already eaten up many of lawmakers’ 30 annual working days, state senators and representatives worked in the session’s final hours to tie up loose ends when it came to other controversial legislation, including a bill mandating insurers cover a particular type of autism therapy and a bill authorizing prison construction.
While earlier this year it appeared a potential impeachment of former Gov. Robert Bentley would consume the session, the embroiled executive’s resignation and misdemeanor plea deal following the fallout from his admittedly inappropriate relationship with a top aide precluded that possibility. With impeachment worries out of the way, lawmakers were able to pass both the state’s general and education trust funds budgets, although details of the latter were being finalized as of press time.
Those budgets — which total nearly $8 billion combined — reflect level funding of most state agencies despite requests for increases, with a couple of exceptions. A slight increase for the state’s law enforcement agency, ALEA, in the state’s general fund will go toward hiring new officers, although the funding bump was more than 18 times less than what ALEA had requested.
“This budget funds the core functions of state government while protecting taxpayers from any tax increases,” said Sen. Tripp Pittman, who heads the Senate committee overseeing the general fund. “The increase for the ALEA will put an additional 30 state troopers on the roads, making our highways safer.”
The only increase in the education budget came for pre-K, which saw a funding bump of around $13.5 million. Budgets aside, legislators also focused on other, more controversial issues during this regular session.
One of the major issues facing the Legislature this year was redrawing many of the state’s electoral districts, which were ruled unconstitutional by a federal court. GOP lawmakers, who, according to the court, racially gerrymandered the state’s election map following the 2010 census, now must redraw — lawfully — the voting boundaries. That hasn’t proven easy, however, because of the opposition of Democrats, who say the newly proposed map — like the previous one — inappropriately dilutes black voting power, particularly around Jefferson County.
That opposition led House Democrats to ask for the reading of the entire 500-plus page redistricting bill, a process that ending up taking nearly two entire legislative days, even when read by computer, as is the modern custom with longer bills. Although the bill eventually passed in the House of Representatives, it had yet to pass the Senate as of press time.
Another piece of legislation — one mandating insurers cover a particular type of autism therapy — also garnered headlines when Sen. Pittman, a Baldwin County Republican, initially refused to report the bill out of his committee, which had passed the legislation with little dissent. While the bill also passed the House 100-0, Pittman’s opposition to the bill may still be its undoing, as an amendment he offered to the legislation may effectively kill the proposal for this year.