By STEVE FLOWERS
There is no question Gov. Kay Ivey’s infrastructure/gas tax program was the cornerstone issue of this legislative session. This monumental legislation will be a tremendous enhancement for Alabama’s economic development for decades to come.
Ivey and the legislative leadership deserve accolades for addressing this important project. They were indeed thinking of the next generation rather than the next election and Gov. Ivey deserves most of the credit. She reached across the aisle and garnered almost unanimous support from Democratic legislators. Indeed, the legislation passed the House 84-20 and passed 28-6 in the Senate.
However, other major issues remain on the table. The Alabama Department of Corrections is seeking a $42 million increase in its budget to hire much-needed additional correctional officers. A federal judge has ordered the state to increase guards and mental health professionals.
State Sen. Jim McClendon of St. Clair County is listening to his constituents and other legislators would be wise and well-served to be as diligent and in touch as McClendon. If they were, they would join McClendon in offering to let their people vote on a state lottery.
There is a hue and cry from all corners of the state asking why Alabama doesn’t have a lottery and why we let our money go to Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee. Conservative estimates suggest a state lottery would generate between $66 million and $90 million in new revenue for Alabama.
Alabama is one of only five states without a state lottery. McClendon will offer a proposal that would split the proceeds from a proposed lottery between the Education Trust Fund and General Fund budgets. Believe you me, it will pass if the public gets to vote on it. In every civic club I speak to around the state, the first question I am asked is, “Why in the world can’t we vote on and have a lottery?”
McClendon is also continuing his crusade to stop motorists from having wrecks due to distracted driving. He has a proposal forbidding drivers from holding a cell phone and other devices while driving and said the bill is patterned after Georgia’s law.
The state education coffers are overflowing therefore lawmakers may give teachers a pay raise. Sen. Arthur Orr and Rep. Bill Poole, the chairmen of the Senate and House committees, said such a raise is a probability.
Even the General Fund has better revenue projections. State Rep. Steve Clouse, who chairs the House Budget Committee, has said he is cautiously optimistic there will be a small raise for state employees.
It would be unusual for a super-majority Republican legislature to not pay homage to or adhere to some placating of gun owners in the Heart of Dixie. This year’s deference would allow people to carry a handgun without getting a concealed carry permit. Another bill would allow church members to carry their guns to church.
In bygone days, county sheriffs had a lot of political power. Long ago the legislature passed laws that allowed sheriffs to pocket money left over from jail food funds, a loophole that should have been closed years ago. Orr has offered legislation to stop this archaic practice, requiring jail funds to go into a separate account to be used only for feeding prisoners.
Sen. Rodger Smitherman has again offered legislation requiring law enforcement officers to collect data on race and traffic stops. His bill cleared the Senate unanimously last year but failed to come up in the House.
Criticism has been aimed at payday loan companies in recent years, even catching the ire of Republican legislators, and a proposal has been offered to extend the time people have to repay such a loan from two weeks to a minimum of 30 days.
The House of Representatives is mourning the loss of Rep. Dimitri Polizos, who was in the restaurant business in Montgomery for generations. He was a true gentleman, an active church member and leader in the Greek community in Montgomery. He epitomized what people should expect in legislators. He was a citizen legislator who was a business and family man first and legislator as a civic contribution.
Steve Flowers served 16 years in the Alabama Legislature and can be reached at www.steveflowers.us.