Alabama Senate

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Today is the last day of the 2016 legislative session, and the last chance for lawmakers to decide the fate of Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley's $800 million prison construction proposal.

A conference committee will meet later today to try and reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

Bentley is seeking to borrow $800 million to build three new prisons for men — housing up to 4,000 inmates each — and one new women's prison. Most existing state prison facilities would close.

Lawmakers will reconvene in Montgomery today for the final five days of the current legislative session, with a lot of work left to do.

Dozens of high-profile bills will be considered this week. One issue still in the air is Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s $800 million bond issue that would close most of the existing state prison facilities in favor of four new large prisons. The bill has cleared the Senate but still faces a floor vote in the House.

State Senate Looks at Education Budget

Apr 12, 2016

Alabama is looking to increase teacher’s salaries. APR’s Student Reporter Josh Hoppenstein has more on how this might happen…

The Alabama Senate Finance and Taxation Committee are debating whether or not a new budget will give most public school teachers more money.

The Senate will be voting on the budget this Wednesday. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said he would like the full Senate to vote on the issue.

If the proposed budget is passed then teachers as well as other employees’ salaries will increase by about four percent.

Alabama senators have approved establishing an innocence commission to review some of the state’s capital convictions.

Senators voted 20-6 in favor of the bill yesterday, sending it to the House of Representatives. The proposed legislation would create a panel to review new evidence in death row cases that hadn't previously been heard by a court.

Bill sponsor, Republican Senator Dick Brewbaker, says he supports the death penalty in Alabama, but he thinks the state should work harder to make sure people are guilty before executing them.

Ed Henry
Albert Cesare / Montgomery Advertiser / AP

An Alabama lawmaker is following through on his threat to file an impeachment resolution against Governor Robert Bentley. APR’s MacKenzie Bates reports this move is in the wake of a scandal involving one of the governor's top aides, who has since resigned.

Hartselle Republican Rep. Ed Henry introduced the resolution yesterday. The action comes after Bentley admitted that he made inappropriate remarks to the former aide, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. However, Bentley denied suggestions that the two had an affair.

The Alabama Senate has passed a Constitutional amendment reinforcing Alabama's position as a so-called "right-to-work" state. APR’s Stan Ingold has more.

Senators passed the amendment 25 votes to 9. Alabama voters will now have the chance to approve the amendment at the ballot box in November.

Right-to-work states prohibit companies from requiring workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

Alabama law already has the prohibition, but Republicans say adding the amendment to the state Constitution will give businesses additional assurances.

The Alabama House of Representatives voted unanimously yesterday to approve an education budget that gives teachers their first pay raise in several years.

The spending plan would give a 4 percent raise to teachers making less than $75,000 annually, and a 2 percent raise to all other teachers in the state.

All 105 state representatives approved the budget, sending it to the Alabama Senate for consideration.

In 2013, lawmakers approved a 2 percent pay raise for teachers, but that was offset by increases in benefit costs. The last raise before that came in 2007.

Alabama lawmakers are quickly moving to block a minimum wage hike that has already been approved in Birmingham.

The Alabama Senate could vote today to give final passage to a bill stripping cities of the ability to set their own minimum wages.

Republican Rep. David Faulkner of Mountain Brook says his bill will maintain uniformity across the state. Faulkner says it would be an undue burden on businesses to allow hundreds of different minimum wages across Alabama.

Alabama State House
Jay Williams / Flickr

The Alabama House of Representatives approved measures to cement the state’s right-to-work status and to ban the sale of fetal tissue yesterday.

One bill would amend the state’s constitution to prevent companies from requiring their employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment. The practice has already been prohibited under state law, but Republicans say adding the language to the state constitution will make Alabama more appealing to industry. Lawmakers fell three votes short of passing the measure last week. Yesterday, the bill passed 69-33.

Wilson Lock
Dailynetworks / Wikimedia

Alabama lawmakers are getting closer to a budget agreement after lots of activity in both chambers yesterday.

The Alabama Senate made a few revisions to the 25 cent per pack cigarette tax increase proposal before passing it 21-13. The House voted 52-42 to accept those changes.

Lawmakers also struck a compromise on transferring money from the education budget to the general fund. The House had approved a $50 million transfer, while senators wanted to transfer twice that. A conference committee approved a measure that will shift $80 million between the two budgets.

Alabama State House
Jay Williams / Flickr

Alabama Senators will continue budget talks today after a late-night meeting yesterday failed to end in agreement.

A conference committee will meet again this morning to keep discussing a proposal to shift education funds to the cash-strapped general fund budget.

The committee met for over an hour last night but couldn’t reach an agreement. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh described the talks as productive, but fragile.

Senators want to shift $100 million from education funds. House members voted to move half of that.

The Alabama Senate narrowly passed a budget that slashes millions of dollars from Medicaid, mental health, law enforcement and nearly all other state agencies.

Senators voted 19-15 for the cut-filled budget yesterday after lawmakers failed to agree on how to fix a $200 million budget shortfall during the special session. The new budget is identical to the one passed at the end of the regular session and then vetoed by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley says he will not back down as he battles with members of his own party over tax increases.

The governor says the cuts currently proposed to state services will cause a tremendous amount of pain to the citizens if lawmakers fail to plug a revenue hole.

The Alabama Senate will vote later today on a budget that slashes $200 million from Alabama’s state agency funding. Governor Bentley calls that budget unworkable and unacceptable. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh says Republican senators remain largely opposed to any tax increases.

Alabama State House
Jay Williams / Flickr

The Alabama State Senate and House of Representatives began their special legislative session yesterday, then quickly adjourned for three weeks.

Governor Robert Bentley had surprised lawmakers who were expecting the session to begin in August by calling it on just a few days’ notice. The session is necessary after lawmakers failed to pass a General Fund budget for the fiscal year beginning in October.

Deontay Wilder
Brynn Anderson / Associated Press

Alabama lawmakers just finished their first legislative session under a new pay structure that gives them a salary equal to the median household income in the state

Voters approved the change in 2012 with the prediction that it would save the state money and would be a fairer way to set legislators’ pay.

However, Alabama Senate numbers show that, so far, the new system costs about the same. The legislator who sponsored the idea said it is premature to judge.

The Alabama Senate is headed to a budget vote as they wrap up a session marred by frustrations and disagreements over a hole-filled general fund.

Senators are expected to vote this after  on a budget that includes significant cuts to state agencies. Lawmakers failed to reach an agreement this session on revenue.

Democratic Senator Bobby Singleton says Republican legislators should be ashamed of the budget.

Alabama legislators are desperate to end a legislative session marked by frustration and disagreements over how to handle a gaping hole in the state's General Fund budget.

The Alabama Senate will vote today on a General Fund budget expected to include significant cuts after lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on new taxes or moving revenue from the state's education budget.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh says a special session to try and patch some of those budget holes is looming.

Alabama’s Senate could be debating allowing medical marijuana in the state soon, since a Senate committee approved a comprehensive medical marijuana bill yesterday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4 to 3 to pass the measure. The bill was likely able to pass committee because three Republican senators failed to attend the meeting.

The legislation, if passed, would allow patients who suffer from 25 specific conditions to purchase a maximum of ten ounces of medical marijuana per month from a state-regulated dispensary.

A Senate committee has approved a bill that would repeal Common Core standards in Alabama public schools.

The State Senate Committee on Education and Youth Affairs voted 5-3 yesterday morning in favor of repealing current standards applying to math and English curriculums.

Those standards are built into the state's Alabama College and Career Ready Standards.

Supporters of the bill say repealing Common Core gives more control to state and local educators.

Opponents say it would put Alabama behind other states and disrupt learning.

The singer who became famous for the song "When a Man Loves a Woman" died yesterday. Percy Sledge had a massive impact on what became known as the "Muscle Shoals sound".

Sledge walked into a recording studio in Alabama's Muscle Shoals region in 1966. In a few weeks, his signature song "When a Man Loves a Woman" would become the first of his five gold records.

Dick Cooper is the Curator of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. He says Sledge's legacy was defined when he was just 25 years old.

Two Alabama economic development bills aimed at bringing new jobs to the state are another step closer to becoming law.

Alabama lawmakers passed legislation yesterday to revamp how the state offers economic incentives to companies.

The Alabama Jobs Act would create a pay-as-you-go model for tax abatements and other benefits offered to companies creating jobs or capital investment in the state. Alabama's present model offers those incentives upfront.

That bill is now headed to Governor Bentley's desk to be signed into law.

The Alabama Senate will start debating some sweeping changes to the state's prison system today.

Republican Senator Cam Ward is bringing the bill to the Senate floor, which would change sentencing and probation standards to try and reduce prison overcrowding.

The proposed legislation is based on a year of study by the state prison reform task force. One of the main changes is the creation of a new Class D felony level, which will keep low-level, non-violent offenders out of prison entirely.

Yesterday was a busy day in the Alabama Senate. Two bills passed the Senate floor and are on their way to be heard in the House of Representatives.

The first is a bill that looks to change how Alabama recruits businesses and industry. The Alabama Jobs Act would create a pay-as-you-go model for incentives like tax breaks that the state uses to recruit companies.

Under the old model, the state would provide millions of dollars of funding up-front. This bill will allow Alabama to peg those incentives to the companies' performance.

Lawmakers could give final approval very soon to legislation establishing charter schools in the state of Alabama.

The Alabama House of Representatives will debate a bill that would allow charter schools in the state this afternoon. That bill is expected to spark a filibuster from Democrats and other opposed lawmakers.

Charter schools are public schools that have freedom from the curriculum and regulation requirements placed on other public schools. Alabama is one of eight states without charter school legislation currently in place.

A state Senate committee is expected to vote on a reform bill today aimed at reducing overcrowding issues in Alabama prisons.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet at 10 AM today. The bill, among other changes, would create a new felony category, Class D, for low-level theft and drug convictions.

People convicted of class D felonies would be sent to community corrections programs instead of prison.

The bill would also mandate a period of supervision after release from prison.

Lawmakers want to keep the identities of the companies supplying drugs for lethal injections in Alabama a secret.

That's what a bill that just passed the state House yesterday in a 76 to 26 vote will guarantee. That bill now moves to the Alabama Senate.

Alabama hasn't executed a death row inmate since 2013, partly because the state has had trouble obtaining lethal injection drugs. Pharmaceutical companies have historically shied away from associating their name with an execution drug.

The Alabama Senate approved a measure to establish charter schools in the state in a 22 to 12 vote last night. That bill will now head to the House of Representatives.

The proposal allows the establishment of up to 10 brand new charter schools in the state each year, and allows school districts to convert an unlimited number of existing schools to charter status.

Republicans say charter schools provide education choices to families and encourage innovation. Opponents say they will drain resources from existing public schools.

The city of Selma is preparing to remember the fiftieth anniversary of the attack known as "Bloody Sunday".

Today also marks fifty years since the funeral of civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson. His death at the hands of an Alabama State Police Trooper is considered one of the reasons Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Selma to help organize the voting rights marches.

Vera Jenkins Booker was the nurse that tended to Jackson when he was brought in to the Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma.

epa.gov

    

 Democratic state Sen. Quinton Ross of Montgomery is the new minority leader in the Alabama Senate.  The Senate Democratic Caucus announced that it picked Ross to replace Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, who did not seek another term. The caucus said Figures will become the group's treasurer.

Ross is taking over the leadership of a smaller minority. Going into the Nov. 4 election, Democrats held 12 of the 35 seats in the Senate. They now have eight.

Alabama State Legislature

The new Alabama Senate elected in November will get to serve in a redesigned Senate chamber in Montgomery.

Senate Secretary Pat Harris says his staff is gutting the Senate chamber, including the removal of gray laminate desks and podiums that have been there since 1985. He's asked the state's two-year college system to build hickory desks and podiums that will be stained dark. The walls are also being redone and the audio system reconfigured to provide more evenly distributed sound.

Harris says the project should be finished by Nov. 15 and cost less than $200,000.

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