What’s on tap at the State House – Tuesday, March 9

What’s on tap at the State House – Tuesday, March 9

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The General Fund budget and bills to expand gambling in the state, create harsher penalties for those who participate in destructive riots and curtail state spending without legislative approval — welcome to the fifth week of the Alabama Legislature. Here’s what’s on tap.

Today’s business starts in the House Judiciary Committee at 10 a.m. Rep. Allen Treadaway’s House Bill 455 to increase penalties for those who participate in riots will have a public hearing. A vote is also expected today.

Treadaway, a retired Birmingham assistant police chief, earlier this year told The Associated Press that he began drafting the bill after a summer protest in that city turned destructive and led to multiple businesses being damaged. Treadaway’s bill would require:

  • A person arrested for participating in a riot, blocking traffic during a protest or assaulting a first responder would have to wait 48 hours in jail before being eligible for bail;
  • Create the new felony crime of aggravated riot for knowingly participating in a riot that causes property damage or harm to a person. It would be a class C felony, punishable by a minimum of six months in jail.
  • Make it a felony to injure a first responder during a riot or to spit or throw bodily fluids on a first responder.
  • Creates a felony for repeat offenses of obstructing traffic with sit-ins and marches.
  • Prohibit local governments that defund their police departments from receiving state money.

House Bill 455 has 50 GOP co-sponsors. Democrats in the House have spoken against it, saying it’s an attempt to silence and intimidate people.

The Senate Government Affairs Committee meets at 1 p.m. and its agenda includes a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit Alabama governors from entering contracts larger than $5 million without the Legislature’s approval.

Senate Bill 290 from Sen. Greg Albritton would not impact Gov. Kay Ivey’s deals to lease three mega prisons, but could stop or at least slow future deals that large “without some means of paying for it or a means of oversight in how it’s done and when it’s done,” he said.

The bill says “the governor and executive agencies of the state may not enter into a contract or other binding agreement that imposes an obligation on the state for a contractual period of more than two years or for consideration of more than ($5 million) without the approval of the Legislature as provided by general law.”

Albritton, R-Range, has been one of the loudest voices of opposition to Ivey’s plan to lease three large men’s prisons. Albritton said the governor’s prison lease plan was a “major contributor” to his filing of this bill, but not the single reason. Albritton chairs the Legislative Contract Review Committee that reviews service contracts state agencies enter into. Some of them can be multi-million dollar agreements.

Albritton noted that the prison lease contracts aren’t final until the financial close by June 1, but he doesn’t intend to try to stop it.

“The governor has told us that this is what she wants to do, this is how she wants to approach this,” he said. “And I have to respect that and let that be. My next job, frankly, is to figure out how we’re going to pay for it.”

In September, Ivey announced that three new men’s prisons would be built in Elmore, Bibb and Escambia counties. Tennessee-based Corecivic was selected for the Elmore and Escambia locations.

BL Harbert was selected to build the third men’s prison in Bibb County.

Last month, Alabama Daily News reported that lawmakers learned the projected total lease payments were expected to be $94 million the first year and increasing each year thereafter. The total cost over 30 years for the three prisons is estimated at slightly more than $3 billion.

When the leases are up, the states will not own the prisons.

If approved by lawmakers, the proposed constitutional amendment would not need Ivey’s signature but would require voters’ approval. Albritton said that most likely wouldn’t happen until November 2022.

Albritton’s bill is different from House Bill 392, approved by the House. That bill by Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, would require any state agency or department planning to spend more than $10 million or 5% of their annual appropriation from the General Fund, whichever is less, to first be approved by the oversight committee on obligation transparency.

The House convenes at 1 p.m. today and its agenda includes the record-setting $2.4 billion 2022 General Fund budget.

The proposal approved in committee would increase the fiscal year 2022 budget by $78.9 million from the fiscal year 2021 budget, putting the budget at a record-setting $2.4 billion. It’s also about $15 million more than what Gov. Kay Ivey proposed in February, an increase that is spread out in increments to various state agencies. Here’s the budget spreadsheet.

The Senate meets at 2 p.m. and Sen. Del Marsh’s lottery and expanded gaming bill is expected to be debated and amended, if work on those amendments is complete.

His bill would allow for a lottery, expanded casino gambling and legalized sports betting.

If approved in the Senate and then the House, which in the past has been more likely to kill gambling bills, the measure will go before voters for final approval. Alabamians voted down a state lottery proposal in 1999.