The Alabama Legislature 2017 Regular Session

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The Alabama Legislature will convene for the 2017 Regular Session on February 7, 2017. The past two (2) Regular Sessions have been somewhat contentious, to say the least. It is expected that the 2017 Regular Session may be even more contentious. The issues facing the Legislature as they convene are numerous and they are not easy issues to deal with. Below, issues are explored that are sure to come before the Legislature. There are other issues that may, or may not, come up in the Regular Session. Some of these, if not dealt with during the Regular Session, will of necessity be dealt with in one or more Special Sessions of the Alabama Legislature.

Alabama is one of the very few states that have a bifurcated budget process. The budgets in Alabama are divided between Education and General Funds agencies. With the extreme level of earmarking of revenues historically the Education budget has fared far better than the General Fund. Growth revenues such as sales tax and income tax go to education leaving the General Fund to find revenue wherever possible. It is expected that the Education Budget shall be well funded to meet the needs of the education community. Ever since the passage of the Rolling Reserve legislation proration of the Education Budget has not happened. The General Fund is another story. Medicaid and the Alabama Department of Corrections consumes nearly 2/3 of the General Fund Budget.
During a Special Session in 2016 significant funds were diverted from the BP Settlement to help prop up Medicaid for the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 budget years. With the passage of the BP legislation it was thought that Medicaid would not be a problem in the coming budget year. So much for good intentions. Medicaid Commissioner, Stephanie Azar, is suggesting that even with the BP money Medicaid will be significantly short of what they need in the 2017-2018 budget year and in the out years it will be even worse. This will not play well with the Legislature.
Factor in the current trial in Montgomery against the Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC) dealing with mental health issues and it is all but certain that DOC will be forced to increase expenditures on mental health care within their system. With other lawsuits pending against DOC increased appropriations will become a must have expenditure. With revenues for the General Fund not expected to increase there will be some very tough decisions that will face the Alabama Legislature. The prospect of the Legislature increasing, or enacting, any taxes in the year before they will all stand for election are slim and none – and Slim is headed out of town on a race horse. The choices before the Legislature will be:

  • Raise revenue;
  • Cut Medicaid;
  • Disregard the Federal Courts in respect to funding for DOC; or
  • Fund Medicaid and DOC and impose severe cuts on all other General Fund agencies.

None of these options are palatable in the year before elections. Budget Hearings begin on Monday, January 29, 2017. A copy of the Budget Hearing schedule is attached.

Several years ago the Alabama Legislature passed legislation creating a system of Regional Care Organizations (RCOs). The thought was that with these RCOs the state would slow the increase in Medicaid spending by moving payment from a fee-for-service model to a capitated rate. On paper it looked very promising but as a very wise lady once said “looks good on paper but how will it work on the street?” With the deadline approaching for the RCOs to go live several key players withdrew from the process. UAB, Children’s of Alabama, Baptist Health and the University of South Alabama, among some others, decided to withdraw from the RCO process. With these withdrawals the prospect of a statewide RCO system is looking less and less plausible. In fact, several influential Members of the Alabama Legislature have raised the very real possibility that they will introduce legislation to repeal the RCO authorization and return Medicaid to a fee-for service system. This uncertainty is causing serious discussion and concern in the medical community – physicians, hospitals and pharmacy to mention a few.

Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC)
As mentioned above DOC is currently engaged in a trial dealing with mental health care within the system. It is all but certain that Judge Myron Thompson will order massive changes to the DOC protocols requiring significant increases in funding. Following that are other lawsuits that will further strain the resources of the DOC.
As an added distraction Governor Bentley is determined to push forward with his plan to construct four (4) new men’s prisons and a new woman’s prison at a price tag of $800 million. It is not certain if the Governor will ask the Legislature to deal with this issue as a part of the 2017 Regular Session or if he will call a Special Session within the Regular Session. Either way, this issue is sure to be a hotly debated issue that is very likely to change before it is resolved. If a Special Session is called during the Regular Session it is assumed that two weeks of calendar days will be lost from the time available for the Regular Session.

On Friday, January 20, 2017, a three Judge Panel issued a 500+ page order requiring the Alabama Legislature to redraw 12 Legislative Districts (3 Senate and 9 House). On the surface 12 out of 140 Districts is not that much. But consider that when a single District is redrawn it impacts every District that touches that District. As a result far more than 12 Legislative Districts will have to be redrawn. Redistricting was accomplished before the 2012 elections via a Special Session of the Alabama Legislature. To try and accomplish redistricting during a Regular Session will be a tough task.

Spring Break
Typically, the Alabama Legislature takes a one week break during the Session that corresponds with the week that the majority of school districts takes for Spring Break. Recently that time has been split into two different weeks for different Districts. Accordingly, it has been planned for the Legislature to take a two (2) week Spring Break this year. That break is currently schedule for the weeks beginning March 20 with the Legislature returning on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. This plan alone would have compressed the meeting days of the Legislature into fewer weeks. The Constitution allows 105 calendar days (15 weeks) for the Legislature to complete 30 Legislative Days. Without a Spring Break the Legislature could meet for two (2) Legislative Days per week with Committees meeting on Wednesdays resulting in several three (3) day weeks. Legislators, and staff, do not like three (3) day weeks. If there is a Special Session within the Regular Session it would end up resulting in there being only 11 weeks in which to complete the 30 Legislative Days. That means more three (3) day weeks and increased tension among the Members of the Legislature and the staff. Add to that the need to accomplish redistricting and the days available for consideration of budgets and all other legislation gets compressed and a contentious Session becomes all the more likely.

Grand Juries
Currently there are four (4) Grand Juries that are still convened. Three State Grand Juries – Lee County, Montgomery County and Jefferson County – and one Federal Grand Jury. Proceedings of Grand Juries are considered confidential and there is no official word as to who is being investigated by any of these Grand Juries. Press reports based on observations on who has testified at some of the Grand Jury proceedings include members of the Executive Branch and Members of the Alabama Legislature. There is no indication of when, or even if, any of these Grand Juries will report or if any indictments will be forthcoming. Speculation is rampant about what, and when, something will happen. Speculation, all unsubstantiated at the present time, includes the Governor, former members and current members of the Governor’s staff, Members of the Senate, Members of the House of Representatives, lobbyists and others. There are any number of folks in Montgomery that are on pins and needles pending some action by any, or all, of these Grand Juries.

2018 Elections
Even though we are just getting over the 2016 elections 2018 is looming. When one considers the Members of the Alabama Legislature that are likely to run for higher office or have announced that they will not be running for reelection and you have an added dynamic in the Legislative process for the coming Session. In the Senate:

  • Sen. Del Marsh – Speculation abounds that Sen. Marsh will either run for Governor or the United States Senate seat to complete the unexpired term of Senator Jeff Sessions;
  • Sen. Cam Ward – Sen. Ward was originally expected to run for Attorney General. It now looks as if Sen. Ward will run for reelection;
  • Sen. Rusty Glover – Sen. Glover is expected to run for Lt Governor;
  • Sen. Artur Orr – Speculation has Sen. Orr running for Attorney General but no announcement has been made;
  • Sen. Tripp Pittman – Sen. Pittman is expected to run for either the U. S. Senate or Baldwin County Probate Judge;
  • Sen. Paul Sanford – Sen. Sanford has indicated that without changes to the Alabama Ethics law he will not run for reelection;
  • Sen. Gerald Dial – Sen. Dial has announced his retirement from the Alabama Legislature;
  • Sen. Phil Williams – Rumors have had Sen. Williams as a possible candidate for Lt. Governor;
  • Sen. Dick Brewbaker – Sen. Brewbaker has announced that he does not plan to run for reelection;
  • Sen. Larry Stutts – Sen. Stutts has made no announcement but he is not expected to run for reelection;
  • Sen. Quinton Ross – Sen. Ross has been mentioned and is considered to be high on the list to become the new President of Alabama State University. Ross’ District is also one of the Districts that must be redrawn as a part of the Court ordered redistricting;
  • Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison and Sen. Billy Beasley – Both Senators Districts are subjects of the mandatory redistricting;
  • Representatives Barbara Boyd, Anthony Daniels, Patricia Todd, Chris England, A. J. McCampbell, John Knight, Peblin Warren, Dexter Grimsley and James Buskey – These nine (9) House Members are all subjects of the redistricting Order. As mentioned above though these are to only Members named every District that touches one of these Districts will be changed; and
  • Other Members of the House of Representatives – As Senate seats come open there are numerous Members of the House that are expected to run for open Senate seats.

The good news is that there will not be any Special election after these Districts are redrawn. The bad news is that many Members of the Alabama Legislature will be running in new Districts next year.

With all of this the 2017 Regular Session looks to be a very interesting 3 ½ months.
The Alabama House will reconvene in Regular Session at Noon on Tuesday, February 7, 2017
The Alabama Senate will reconvene in Regular Session at Noon on Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The views and opinions contained in this report do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the clients of Public Strategies, LLC.