By MARY SELL and CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – It’s the last day of the Alabama Legislature’s 2021 Regular Session, but likely not the last time they”ll meet this year.
After last year’s session got curtailed by COVID-19, lawmakers this year have taken their full compliment of 30 meeting days within 105 calendar days and the clock runs out at midnight tonight.
Lawmakers expect to be back in Montgomery this summer or later in the year to address redistricting and other issues, including a possible prison bond.
Meanwhile, it appears that this wasn’t the session for passage of a wide ranging gambling bill that would have created a lottery and allowed for casino and sports betting.
Anything passed today runs the risk of a governor’s pocket veto — dying without her signature.
The House comes in at 10 a.m. and the Senate at 11 a.m.
In the House
A calendar for the House today does not include the Senate-passed gambling bill, which caused a breakdown in the House when members last met May 6. Despite a last-ditch effort by some lawmakers, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, has said too many other bills need attention today to risk a gambling filibuster.
McCutcheon told ABC3340’s Lauren Walsh that “there are differences that cannot be resolved in the amount of time we have left…”
The House still must pass the state’s 2022 General Fund budget.
House budget chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, told Alabama Daily News that he plans to have the final vote be the first order of business today.
“That’s my intention unless a kink gets in the system, but we need to get it on out and take the (budget isolation resolution) off at that point for the rest of the bills that day,” Clouse said.
The House’s 18-bill calendar includes legislation to ban vaccine passports in the state, limiting the governor’s power during states of emergencies, changing law enforcement’s asset forfeiture rules and stopping the third-grade holdback provision for the Literacy Act.
Notably, the calendar does not include the bill to prohibit hormone treatments and surgeries for transgender youth.
Full House special order calendar:
In the Senate
Senate leadership said last week they felt like they’d done their heavy lifting already. It’s 22-bill calendar appears noncontroversial.
“I don’t see a high-profile bill in the bunch,” Senate Rules Committee chairman Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, told Alabama Daily News last week as he was working on the calendar. He said the Senate has already dealt with the biggest issues of the session, including gambling and medical marijuana, the budgets and several alcohol delivery bills.
Waggoner and Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield said they’ve asked members to identify bills that are important to them on the final day.
“We’re combing through the legislation to make sure we leave no stone unturned,” Scofield said.
The Senate’s agenda includes sexual assault survivors’ “bill of rights” and a bill allowing dogs at outdoor dining facilities.
Full Senate special order calendar:
Prison bond talks
Off the Senate floor, lawmakers have been discussing a prison bond issue as an alternative to the governor’s plan to lease three new privately owned facilities.
Alabama Daily News first reported last week about conversations in the Senate about a possible last-day effort to substitute existing legislation with a bill to allow the state to issue bonds for prison construction.
“We’re definitely tracking that to see if we’re going to take action or not,” Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield told ADN last week. “We’re discussing that among ourselves and with the governor’s office to see if there’s anything we can do to be helpful.”
Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said the state must have new prisons and he’s willing to consider a bond issue to get it done.
“if there’s a bond issue that would come up to be able to get those people out of those inhumane situations … I’m willing to support it. It just depends on how it is written, and how the money is gonna fund a lot. I support the concept.”
Singleton said a bond is how the prison construction should have been handled from the beginning.
“If we’re going to be on the hook, we should be in the game from the beginning,” Singleton.
Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne, said a possible prison bond issue is still an option and one he’s willing to vote for on the last legislative day.
He said the bond would be significantly less than the about $3 billion the state would spend on 30-year leases for three large prisons.
The Senate has a draft bond bill that it could use to replace an existing, pending House bill.
Elliott said the bond route would save at least $1 billion.
The governor’s office has previously said a bond issue is problematic because it sets the state back years in realizing new facilities and comes with extra costs, such as maintenance.
“We have been in discussions with legislators about the issue of prisons for years and continue to be engaged with legislators and legislative leadership on the many, complex issues regarding our facilities,” Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola told ADN last week. “The governor continues to pursue solutions to this decades-old problem, and she remains focused on ensuring these facilities are built.”
Elliott said the Legislature would like a signal from Ivey before moving forward.
“There has been a reluctance to jump out in front of the governor on this and derail her plan,” Elliott said. “But I think everyone is now looking at this going, ‘Come talk to us, Governor and tell us we need to do this now,’ and it’s as good as done.”
“Now, if we get it done Monday or in a special, I don’t know, but it’s as good as done.”
But the Senate’s bond discussions don’t appear to have reached many members of the House, which would also have to agree to the plan on the last day.
House Minority leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, told ADN on Wednesday he had not been a part of any conversations regarding a prison bond issue and at this point it is too late to consider such a big move without having enough details.
“Right now without any details, I can’t support it,” Daniels said. “With so many things going on it takes away from other things, so if we try to talk about prisons on the last day and try to talk about gaming at the same time, it’s just another issue that’s going to mix things up.”
Daniels said he is not against the Legislature handling a prison bond bill but said conversations about how to improve Julia Tutwiler Prison, the state’s major female prison, should happen before they move on to men’s prisons or the building project.
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, a major voice in prison reform at the State House also expressed some skepticism in trying to pass such a large bond issue on the last day.
“Seems like a very short window to talk about spending $2 billion on a prison bond issue, but then again, this is the Alabama Legislature and stranger things have happened.”
England said spending that much money makes him hesitant to support the effort:
“I don’t think there is a plan attached to it and I don’t know the circumstances of it and just me personally I think I can find a better way to spend $2 billion.”