By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, March 3, both houses of the Alabama state legislature returned to Montgomery for the opening session of the 2015.
Speaker Mike Hubbard (R from Auburn) said in a statement on Facebook, “Proud to gavel in the 2015 Legislative Session in the Alabama House of Representatives. I look forward to working with my colleagues from across the state to continue to enact bold reforms and conservative solutions that will put Alabama First.” Some media outlets had joined a call by ‘Alabama Political Reporter’ Editor Bill Britt for Speaker Hubbard to resign while he faces his upcoming trial for 23 criminal charges of breaking Alabama election law. Hubbard appeared unmoved by his critics.
One of the biggest issues will be how to deal with the budget. Governor Robert Bentley addressed the combined legislature and made an appeal for a proposed $700 million package of tax increases and changes.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) told legislators in his state of the state address, “The budget I will send you will contain 8 separate tax increase proposals – which are fair and necessary – for a total of $541 million in estimated increased revenue. We must also free up funding so that our Legislature can better manage where the money goes.”
Gov. Bentley continued, “Ninety-one percent of all state revenues for both budgets are already earmarked. Alabama has the highest percentage of earmarks in the country, by a huge margin. I will propose we unearmark some of those funds so that we can better determine the needs of our state and steer the taxpayer dollars where they will be best used. The plan I am proposing will replace the funds that we unearmark and create more money in the Education Trust Fund. The results will be an estimated $250-300 million more for K-12 Education, the State’s 2 Year systems and Higher Education.”
Alabama Senate President Del Marsh (R from Anniston) told the Alabama News Network, “I don’t think anything is dead on arrival. I appreciate the governor taking the first efforts as it’s his job to do. He’s done that. I think he’s made it very visible to the people of this state that we have some serious financial problems and we need to address them.”
Senator Bill Holtzclaw (R from Madison) said on his blog, “We start committee meetings in the morning where we will begin reviewing bills that have been introduced. I have the General Fund Committee meeting at 9:30 followed by meetings in my office. The Transportation and Energy Committee meets at 11:30 and I’ll close out committee meetings with County and Municipal Government at 2:30.”
One of the hardest issues for the legislature to tackle will be prison reform. At a press conference to introduce the Senate’s legislative agenda, Sen. Cam Ward (R from Alabaster) said, “If you look at what happened in California where a federal court intervened and forced the release of over 142,000 inmates, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in new costs, it shows you that we have a serious challenge that we as a state need to take on.” Gov. Bentley chose Sen. Ward to head the Alabama Prison Reform Task Force that has been working on the issue for months. The Alabama Corrections System are currently running at 195 percent capacity.
Charter schools will also be discussed in this session. Sen. Marsh said in a statement, “Alabama’s children are the building blocks of our future and they should be given every available option to succeed. That starts with a quality education. While there is no silver bullet to cure all problems in education, giving community leaders another tool in their belt, ensures that no child’s dreams are limited by a lack of educational opportunities.
Expanding educational choices for Alabama parents is part of the Republican House super-majority’s Alabama First Agenda.
Speaker Hubbard said in a statement, “The Alabama First agenda is designed to put Alabama firmly on the road toward being first in education and first in economic development.”