Panel approves more prison spending & clears way for possible st - WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.

Panel approves more prison spending & clears way for possible state employee bonus

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committeeapproved additional spending for the Alabama Department of Corrections duringits meeting Wednesday. The increase for prisons was one of the few fundingboosts.

The budget also included $250,000 to hire an ombudsman tooversee Tutwiler prison. The new position would report directly to Gov. Robert Bentley.

"I think this is a way to give the governor a direct to whatis going on inside Tutwiler with the inmates to make sure there are concernsthat are being addressed and it's been successful in other states and toprovide that flexibility for the foreseeable future" Sen. Orr said.

There have been multiple cases of rape and custodian sexualmisconduct in recent years at Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka. TheDepartment of Justice has also been investigating the conditions of the inmatesat Tutwiler for the past year.

Governor Robert Bentley has worked with Sen. Orr on theombudsman initiative.

Corrections Commissioner Kim Thomas said he fully supportsthe state bringing in an ombudsman.

"We're supportive and we're going to work to make thathappen" Thomas said. "I like this idea by Senator Orr and want to work with himon developing this concept that he has in mind. It will also help with helpingthe state meet an important PREA standard."

PREA stands for the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

In addition to prison spending, lawmakers are also expectedto attempt to put together a one-time $400 bonus for the 2015 fiscal year.

Gov. Robert Bentley proposed a conditional 4% raise for allstate employees during his State of the State Address. State employees haven'treceived any kind of bonus or cost of living adjustment since 2008.

Sen. Orr, who chairs the committee that writes the GeneralFund, says state employees are looking for any bump in their pay from thelegislature.

"You know generally what we hear is that they would begrateful to get anything in this upcoming fiscal year so it's not what we wouldwant to do but it's what we have the resources to afford at this time and wewant to do what we could afford" Orr said."

Democrats pushed for an absolute 4% raise to be included inthe budget, but the top member of the Senate asked for it to be tabled and thecommittee obliged. Sen. Roger Bedford said he could figure out a way to makethe raise a reality, despite the cost.

Bedford said, "I think we can afford $18 million and thatit's a question of priorities and I would be glad to put a plan together andpresent it on the floor of the Senate that will pay for this out of existingrevenues that won't hurt anybody and that won't raise taxes. I think the state employeesdeserve it and I think that 4% is affordable."

The General Fund Budget now goes to the full Alabama Senatefor consideration. The Senate could consider it as soon as Thursday.

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