By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY — Gov. Robert Bentley’s political career may be over, but the 2017 legislative session isn’t. House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Madison, said Monday night that he is ready to get back to work.
“This will not affect us at all,” McCutcheon said after Bentley’s resignation and Gov. Kay Ivey’s swearing-in ceremony Monday night. “We were working very hard before this happened. You have to keep in mind that the members of the House are very resilient.”
Monday began with several hours of impeachment hearings in the Alabama House of Representative’s Judiciary Committee but ended with Bentley’s resignation and the ascension of a new Governor.
Impeachment hearings were expected to last all week and the House’s schedule had been adjusted accordingly. They were set to meet later in the day Tuesday and other committee meeting schedules were changed on Wednesday to accommodate the high-profile hearings.
But with Bentley’s resignation and plea deal, the House can get back to a more normal schedule after Tuesday, when they will still have to meet at the 4:30 p.m. meeting time set last week.
Even though they’re meeting later, the House still has a full Special Order Calendar to address Tuesday with questions still looming about several legislative priorities this session, which only has about 15 working days left. The Senate will feel a sharper fallout from Bentley’s resignation.
With Ivey moving across South Union Street into the Governor’s Office at the State Capitol, leadership roles will change in the Senate. Sen. Del Marsh, D-Anniston, the Senate president pro tempore, will now take Ivey’s place in presiding over the Legislature’s deliberative body.
“Senator Marsh is a very capable public servant, and I will continue to work closely with him to advance an agenda that puts the people of Alabama first,” said Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, the Senate majority leader.
Between prison reform, redistricting and passing the Education Trust and General Fund budgets, the Legislature has a packed schedule ahead to make sure that everything gets done without the need for a special session.
“We’ll look at the time line that we have left, the number of legislative days we have left to work with, and then we’ll prioritize the issues that we have,” McCutcheon said. “Right now, we have three main priorities: The Education Trust Fund Budget, the General Fund Budget, and we have the redistricting issue. Those are the top priorities right now.”
Last year, a Federal Court found 12 of Alabama’s legislative districts unconstitutional and ordered the Alabama Legislature to redraw them before the next election season. Primaries for the 2018 statewide elections will begin next spring, so the Legislature will have to agree on new districts before the end of this year.
Prison construction — Bentley’s top legislative priority this year — has also been a hot topic at the State House, where the Senate last month passed a bill authorizing the construction of several new prisons.
That bill awaits action in the House, where it’s future is uncertain.
The Alabama Legislature is also about halfway done with its only constitutional duty: passing the two budgets that fund education and all state agencies for the next fiscal year. The Education Trust Fund Budget has passed the Senate and the General Fund Budget has passed the House. Both are awaiting action in the next chamber.
“We’ve got to work those budgets through the committees to see if there are any issues, what our differences are, in their respective houses,” McCutcheon said. “The redistricting bill is also being worked on.”
While Bentley’s departure may have little effect on the Legislature, which he seldom visited, it has had an impact on the rest of the state, which is reeling from the ouster or resignation of its three top elected officials in the course of one year.
The first was former House Speaker Mike Hubbard, whom McCutcheon replaced last summer. Hubbard was removed from office in June after being convicted of 12 felony ethics violations — violations of the same ethics law he himself shepherded through the Alabama House during his first special session as speaker in December 2010.
“We’re coming off of some difficult days in the House, with the former speaker, and here we are now,” McCutcheon said. “Since I have had the honor of being speaker in August, we have been working together good. There is a great working atmosphere in the House, and the members have been addressing the problems that we have.”
McCutcheon’s easy-going but careful approach to leading the Alabama House is a big change from Hubbard’s hardline, assertive approach to getting his membership in line. Several House members who have spoken with APR, even many Democrats, have praised McCutcheon’s tone and tenor.
McCutcheon said the new style is helping the membership tackle the issues.
“Our problems have not gone away, but everybody is really working hard together to try to solve them,” McCutcheon said.