By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
Week Two of the 2014 legislative session begins today, and there is much to watch in Alabama politics. With both the House and Senate prepared to consider and vote on more bills this week, this session is already beginning to have an impact.
Week One Review
Last week, Speaker Mike Hubbard declared it “Tax relief day” in the House of Representatives, with the body passing several measures aimed at tax changes. The Senate also aimed to pass legislation the first week of session, but was mostly stalled by various factors including the LRS-Bronner ordeal and further negotiation being needed on Senator Marsh’s proposed lobbying restriction bill. All of last week’s events were all covered here on Alabama Political Reporter; “A little bit of work, a whole lot of Moulin Rouge,” as our editor Bill Britt summed it all up.
Health Care Rights of Conscience Act
All the talk from political leaders in Montgomery up to the new session was that issues on the agenda were to be low-key, noncontroversial election year approved subjects. Despite this, some interesting bills have popped up for debate. Early on the House calendar for consideration last week was HB31, the Health Care Rights of Conscience Act, which would codify that “Health care providers [are] authorized to decline to perform services that violate their consciences.” When asked about why the bill ended up being skipped over, Speaker Hubbard clarified that it was only because they were trying to pass legislation on the topic of taxes last week. The bill would would come up again soon, he said, and that time may be today or tomorrow.
Two Day Week
Despite articulated efforts to get through legislation as quickly as possible, to get lawmakers home for election season, this week will only be a two day work week for legislators. Most Senate and House business will be conducted today, and most committee meetings will be held tomorrow.
Criminal Justice Changes
Even before the Department of Justice’s recent report on the clearly unconstitutional conditions of Tutwiler’s Women’s Prison, lawmakers had a clear idea of the problem facing Alabama when it comes to incarceration. Alabama’s prisons are among the most overpopulated in the nation, and with both Republicans and Democrats agreeing that capacity at almost 200% is unacceptable, it is clear that the challenge must be taken on by the legislature, lest the federal government by way of court order comes in to sort out our house themselves.
In this area, many changes have been proposed. The legislature is already moving to create a task force to study likely reforms in the area, and many legislators have bills in committee on the topic, each with varying impact and effectiveness.
Speaker Hubbard has also said the subject is an issue, and that reforms may come by way of saving dollars on inmate health care costs.
In addition, the Attorney General proposed legislation known as the “Fair Justice Act,” which is being put forward in both the House and Senate. It includes changes to death penalty appeals procedures, among other things.
Much interesting action may also happen this week in committee hearings, where some major legislative proposals will be discussed this week. Among them are proposed changes to the sunset laws, which Republican Dick Brewbaker has said would “dilute” the minority. Also being considered are bills that would make major consolidations and changes to state government overall, provisions which Democrat Roger Bedford have said would create “too much concentration of power and too much government bureaucracy.”
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