Reed stresses public access during session; Reducing jail crowding a priority for counties

Reed stresses public access during session; Reducing jail crowding a priority for counties

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A priority for the newly-nominated Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, for the 2021 legislative session is to ensure the public has access to the State House.

“We’re going to have to have the House open and people are going to have to have access and be able to understand what we’re doing in an open and transparent way,” Reed said on Thursday during the Association of County Commissions of Alabama’s legislative priorities meeting.

During part of the 2020 regular legislative session, the State House was closed to the general public because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

Opening the State House for the session that begins Feb. 2 will be an ongoing challenge as conditions surrounding the coronavirus change weekly, Reed said, but safety protocols will be put in place to hopefully reduce the spread of the virus.

Some of Reed’s other legislative priorities for the upcoming session include extending incentive packages like the Growing Alabama Credit and the Alabama Jobs Act; enacting liability protection against frivolous COVID-19 related lawsuits; improving high-speed internet access across the state; eliminating state taxes on stimulus resources or programs; and addressing the state’s crowded prison system.

The ACCA said it will oppose any prison legislation that does not help reduce county jail populations.

Sonny Brasfield, the association’s executive director, said a 2015 reform that eased crowding in state prisons made it worse in county jails and shifted a financial burden to them.

“Alabama counties will oppose any changes to laws related to the operation of the prison system in Alabama until or unless the Legislature corrects the unintended consequences from the 2015 prison reform act,” Brasfield said.

That multi-bill reform package was meant to reduce the state’s prison population through various reforms but ended up placing a larger burden on county jails to hold parole or probation violators and ultimately crowding county jails, Brasfield explained.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, also gave a presentation on Thursday about legislation he’s working on with the ACCA to reform the state’s “dips” and “dunks” system of parole or probation violators. He’s the chairman of the Senate’s General Fund Committee.

“Dips” are when recently released inmates have a technical violation of their parole and are sent to the county jail for a three-day stay. “Dunks” are when they have six or more “dips” and are transferred to state prison for a 45-day stay.

Albritton said his legislation would involve shortening the amount of custody time for “dips”, make the state pay for any health care costs associated with parole violators, require the state to pay for transportation costs and establish a more efficient inmate transfer process, among other reforms.

“The least amount of government interference in people’s lives is where we need to be but when we are in your life, i.e. when you’re an inmate, we need to be able to treat you fairly and effectively so that we can handle you properly,” Albritton said.

Other priorities the ACCA wants to tackle in the 2021 session are:

  • Providing liability protection for counties and businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits.
  • Adding two additional local government seats to the Employee’s Retirement System governing board.
  • Changing the state’s ethics law revolving door provision for public employees.
  • Getting reimbursement from the state the cost of new electronic poll books.
  • Creating incentives for businesses to create facilities that will house people for short periods of time during natural disasters.