Gov. Kay Ivey in her State of the State address Tuesday — delivered virtually and streamed online from inside the state Capitol — talked about the troubling year behind us, and what might lie ahead.
Instead of speaking before a joint Senate and House, Ivey spoke from inside a largely empty Capitol, a decision made to mitigate the dangers of COVID-19.
Ivey discussed the COVID-19 pandemic that sent unemployment skyward, “social unrest” and “a polarizing national election,” as well as the natural disasters that rocked communities across Alabama over the last year.
“So, make no mistake, there were no tears shed when we bid goodbye to 2020 a month ago,” Ivey said
“At 2.7 percent, Alabama had the lowest unemployment rate in our state’s history,” Ivey continued. “We were seeing economic prosperity all around and, we were dealing with the wonderful problem of more jobs than people to fill them. During the past 12 months, Alabama – like the rest of the country – had no choice but to deal with one giant challenge after another.”
Ivey took a moment to thank State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris for his work as the Alabama Department of Public Health dealt with the unprecedented challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While we are still living in a challenging year, I can report with confidence that things are getting better. As the supply of vaccine increases and is in more arms, the end of COVID-19 is closer than ever before,” Ivey said.
Speaking on the 2021 Legislative Session, which began Tuesday, Ivey threw her support behind a bill that would prevent state income taxes from being collected on those who received federal CARES Act funds, and for legislation to renew economic development incentives that expired in 2020, and for a bill that addresses COVID-19 litigation.
Ivey also spoke on the challenges facing the state’s students and teachers, and said she’s proposing a 2 percent pay raise for education employees “as a way to express our state’s gratitude to our teachers who rose to the challenge during an unprecedented time for our state.”
Ivey also proposed $46 million to expand 96 beds at the Taylor Hardin facility in Tuscaloosa, and $6 million for an additional crisis diversion center, and an infrastructure project aimed at opening up development opportunities in some rural South Alabama counties.
“Later this year, we’re going to turn the shovel on a long discussed four-lane Highway 43 from Thomasville to Tuscaloosa. This will provide interstate connectivity and economic development opportunities for many rural counties in Alabama’s Black Belt between the cities of Mobile and Tuscaloosa,” Ivey said. “I am also pleased to announce plans to connect two more rural counties with four-lane access in Geneva and Fayette counties – and plans for others are under development.”
Ivey said the Alabama Department of Corrections has faced significant challenges that are a result of “decades of neglect” and said her plan to build three new prisons will improve safety for inmates and staff. Ivey on Monday signed leases for two of those new prisons from the private prison company CoreCivic. Ivey’s controversial plan will cost the state an estimated $3 billion over 30 years, and won’t address many of the problems detailed in a lawsuit filed against the state by The U.S. Department of Justice, those concerned over the plan have said.
“We will also continue to move forward with criminal justice reforms, and I am grateful to have the support of so many in the Legislature as we seek to improve our criminal justice laws,” Ivey said.
Ivey discussed her directive last year that established a group to study gaming, a topic long argued over in Montgomery and one that hasn’t resulted in uniform legislation to address the matter. That group released their findings last year, and gaming legislation is expected to be introduced during this session.
“I am confident the Legislature will be thoughtful and deliberate as they debate this issue. But let me be absolutely clear, this must be a transparent process – with no deals being cut under the table. If something does not pass the smell test, I’ll sure let you know,” Ivey said.
“We must consider our challenges ahead as more than momentary struggles and view them in the lenses of our legacy. Remember, there is nothing we cannot achieve when we work together. My fellow Alabamians, good night. May God continue to bless each of you and the great state of Alabama,” Ivey said.