It has been said that “no man’s life, liberty or property is safe with the Legislature in session.” (And in the old days of 100 percent male assemblies the “l” in life was changed to a “w.”)
This year’s legislative session was unusual in a couple of ways. There was action on some controversial issues and the Legislature, dominated by Republicans, showed a willingness to pass new taxes.
Here are a few of what I consider to be “winners” and “losers” of the 2019 sessions (regular and first special).
Alabama’s road builders were clearly winners. Leave it to the Republicans to out-do themselves on the gas tax. They skipped right over the traditional nickel a gallon increase to 10 cents a gallon, the first six cents of which will go into effect this fall.
In addition, after two years of two cents a gallon increases, the legislation has an indexing clause that will mean additional increases without new legislation in future years as the wholesale price of gasoline and diesel fuel increases.
Legislative leaders and Gov. Kay Ivey explained that the state’s infrastructure was crumbling and that Alabama’s roads and bridges needed repair and replacement.
Anti-abortion advocates were clearly winners, as the Legislature passed the most restrictive law in the land prohibiting and criminalizing virtually all abortions. Lawmakers celebrated the fact that it flew in the face of Roe v. Wade since it was designed as a test case for the new, more conservative U.S. Supreme Court to consider and possibly overturn the long-standing opinion.
Lottery advocates were clearly losers. Supporters were faced with opposition from two distinct strange bedfellows. Some legislators just opposed any form of gambling. When they teamed with casino supporters, who wanted players to be able to access lottery “tickets” from casino machines, the legislation was effectively killed.
Those wanting improvements to Alabama’s prisons were clearly losers since the Legislature probably did not do enough to improve horrific conditions there. But lawmakers may be back in a special session to deal with that matter, since a federal court has ruled the conditions unconstitutional and ordered the state to make improvements. The Legislature did appropriate money to hire 500 additional prison guards and pay those already on board a little better.
Alabama’s sheriffs were in a sense losers because the long-standing fee system on feeding was abolished. Under a decades-old law, sheriffs could personally keep whatever was “left over” from the $1.75 a day the state provided per inmate for food. It was reported that one North Alabama sheriff had pocketed $750,000 over the years to buy a beach house and another one actually was behind bars for awhile for serving inmates corn dogs three meals a day.
In ordering that the meals be funded from county general funds, legislators raised the allowance to $2.25 per day. I know they will get fat off that.
Alabama’s working poor were clearly losers when the Legislature did not expand Medicaid. It means those who work and make too much for traditional Medicaid will still not have adequate health care and that rural hospitals will continue to shutter their doors. And that Alabama will not be able to hire up to 30,000 new doctors, nurses and other medical personnel.
Lee County really didn’t have any controversial local legislation this year, so our “l(w)ife, liberty and property” were not locally impacted.
Retired Auburn attorney Don Eddins is publisher of The Auburn Villager newspaper and the online publication, auburnvillager.com. Before going into law, he was state Capitol reporter for The Huntsville Times and state editor for The Columbus Ledger. Email him your comments about the newspaper to email@example.com.