A look at the issues before lawmakers in 2018
Jan. 10, 2018
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers on Tuesday began the 2018 legislative session. Here are some highlights of opening day and the issues before lawmakers this year:
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is proposing pay raises for both teachers and state employees. While Ivey did not give a number in her State of the State speech, the numbers in a budget presentation to lawmakers indicates she is seeking a 2.5 percent raise for teachers and 3 percent for state employees who have gone years without a raise because of the traditional low growth in the state General Fund.
Alabama lawmakers must begin grappling with the price tag of complying with a federal judge's order to overhaul mental health care in state prisons. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson last year ruled the state's care was "horrendously inadequate." The prison system is seeking an additional $80 million over the next two years to increase the number of corrections officers and pay for an expanded health care contract. Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the system may need to add as many as 1,000 corrections officers.
GOOD BUDGET NEWS
While past sessions have seen lawmakers grappling with where to make budget cuts, rosier budget projections given Tuesday will likely allow them to dole out some additional dollars this year. Finance Director Clinton Carter said the state's two budgets have rebounded and surpassed pre-recession levels. The state general fund, which pays for prisons, Medicaid and other non-education government spending, will also begin the budget process with a boost since lawmakers purposely decided last year to leave $93 million in reserve.
However, one major budgetary question mark for lawmakers — and one with ramifications for tens of thousands of Alabama children — is the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides subsidized health insurance for children in lower-income working families. Congress so far has only funded the program through March. House Ways and Means Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, called it the "big unknown" for the session. If the state has to pick up even part of the cost of program, Clouse said that will cast a "shadow" over the entire budget and impact spending in other areas.
EYE ON ELECTIONS
Gov. Ivey in her first State of the State speech said "wounds have started healing" after a cloud of scandal enveloped the state. Ivey catapulted to the governor's office last year by the sudden resignation of then-Gov. Robert Bentley during an impeachment push. Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh said lawmakers are looking forward to a session in which they can focus on issues and not controversies. Ivey and lawmakers are up for election in 2018.