Same Song – Second Verse
(a little bit louder and a little bit worse)

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Six down – twenty-four to go. Twenty percent of the available Legislative Days in the 2017 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature are done and none of the big issues have yet to be addressed. For example:

  • Neither budget has come up in Committee and the Committee Agendas for both the General Fund and Education Budgets have nothing scheduled again this week;
  • Prison reform and the prison bond issue has been a hot topic of discussion among those at the State House and Members of the Legislature. No one is even speculating at what the final Budget number will be for the Department of Corrections (DOC). With the uncertainty of what Federal District Judge Myron Thompson will order as a result of the just completed trial dealing with mental health care at DOC it will be difficult to craft the DOC portion of the General Fund Budget. The legislation dealing with constructing four men’s mega-prisons and one prison for women, at an estimated cost of $800 million, will come up in the Senate Judiciary Committee for the first time on Wednesday, March 1. The general consensus is that if there is movement towards a bond issue and construction of new prisons that the number of men’s prisons will be reduced and the bond issue will be far smaller than the $800 million bond issue proposed by Governor Bentley;
  • Medicaid continues to be a black hole. With the withdrawal of UAB Hospitals, Children’s of Alabama, Baptist Health, University of South Alabama Hospital and East Alabama Medical Center for the RCO structure it appeared that the only hope to salvage the conversion to RCOs was through commercial managed care. If commercial managed care organizations decide that the funding is not available to sustain a managed care program it is all but inevitable that the RCO authorizing legislation will be repealed and that Medicaid will continue as a fee-for-service program. One of the toughest questions facing Medicaid is that even if the RCOs move forward what will be the reduction in administrative overhead be at the Alabama Medicaid Agency. During pre-Session budget hearings Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar indicated that Medicaid would not reduce its staffing. The question then becomes why should the State of Alabama continue to pay the estimated 3 ½% overhead for the Medicaid Agency and then pay an additional 12-15% administrative fee to RCOs? With that management structure only the providers will be cut in their reimbursement which will lead to decreased availability of medical providers;
  • Impeachment is another one of the hot-button issues facing the Legislature. Consider for a moment that former Attorney General Luther Strange asked the House Judiciary Committee to suspend its Impeachment investigation on November 1, 2016. The Committee cooperated with the Attorney General’s request. On Thursday, February 16, 2017 Governor Bentley appointed Attorney General Strange to the vacant U. S. Senate seat formerly held by Jeff Sessions. On Friday, February 17, 2017 Governor Bentley named Marshall County District Attorney Steve Marshall as the new Attorney General for the State of Alabama. The following week, after conferring with his staff Marshall recused himself from the investigation of Governor Bentley and named retired Montgomery DA Ellen Brooks as a Special Assistant Attorney General and tasked her with conducting any, and all, investigations into Governor Bentley. Brooks’ reputation as a hard-nosed prosecutor should answer any question as to any potential deal that the Governor may have made with Marshall. We have known both Marshall and Brooks for many, many years and are convinced that if there is any wrongdoing on the part of the Governor and those around him that Brooks, with the full support of Marshall, will find it and prosecute those involved to the fullest extent of the law;
  • Leadership in the House of Representatives continues to evolve. During the week ended Friday, February 24, the House Republican Caucus found itself with its Majority Leader announcing his resignation as Leader and the House Minority Caucus announcing the appointment of Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham) as the new Assistant Minority Leader. The House Republican Caucus will elect a new Majority Leader at the Caucus Meeting at noon on Wednesday, March 1. Among those reported to interested in running for Majority Leader, in alphabetical order are Nathanial Ledbetter (R-Rainsville), Chris Pringle (R-Mobile), April Weaver (R-Alabaster and Phil Williams (R-Huntsville); and
  • The 2018 elections are just around the corner. Fundraising for the races can begin as early as June 5, 2017. Already we have seen State Senator Rusty Glover (R-Semmes) announce his intention to run for Lt. Governor and discussion started around the State House last week that Representative Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville) will enter the race for Lt. Governor. U. S. Senator Luther Strange has announced his intention to run for the remaining term of the seat formerly held by Jeff Sessions. Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) has set up an exploratory committee to run for Governor. Also expected to run for Governor are current Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries, John McMillan (R-Baldwin County) and Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh (R-Montgomery) who currently serves as President of the Alabama Public Service Commission. On the Democrat side of the equation discussions about candidates for Governor include former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Sue Bell Cobb (D-Montgomery) and Representative Craig Ford (D-Gadsden). In the race for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court a heated contest is expected in the Republican Primary between Acting Chief Justice Lynn Stuart and Associate Justice Tom Parker. As June 5, 2017 approaches we can expect many more candidates to line up for various offices.

To say the least times are very exciting and unpredictable in Montgomery these days. We are reminded of all of this by a sign once seen that pretty well sums it all up:

I have been bawled out, held up, held down, hung up, bulldozed, blackjacked, walked on, cheated, squeezed and mooched; stuck for war tax, excess profits tax, state dog tax and syntax; Liberty bonds, baby bonds and the bonds of matrimony; red cross, green cross and double cross; asked to help the women’s relief corps, men’s relief and stomach relief. I have worked like hell and have been worked like hell, have been drunk and gotten others drunk; lost all I had, and now, because I won’t spend and lend all the little I earn and go beg, borrow or steel, I have been cussed, discussed, boycotted, talked to and talked about, lied to and lied about, robbed and damned near ruined, and the only reason I’m sticking around now is …………

Have a great week and please let us know if you have any questions.
The Alabama House will reconvene at 1:00pm on Tuesday, February 28, 2017
The Alabama Senate will reconvene at 2:00pm on Tuesday, February 28, 2017

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