On Your Side: Taxpayers to foot bill on possible special legislative session

Published: Aug. 9, 2021 at 4:34 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - They say time is money. That’s certainly true for legislative action in Alabama, which is on the taxpayers’ dime.

We’re counting the costs as lawmakers prepare to make important decisions on how to spend your tax dollars and COVID relief funds, potentially during a special legislative session.

A regular legislative session spans fifteen weeks and costs taxpayers roughly $1.5 million. Unfinished business that can’t wait another year can trigger a call for a special session. That equates to twelve legislative days and adds up to around $400,000.

It’s important to note: lawmakers’ salaries aren’t included in those totals. Each bring in more than $51,000 a year. Other expenses like mileage and travel allowance are accounted for in the overall session costs.

This year, lawmakers say at least two special sessions are warranted. First, to handle the state’s prison crisis after the funding fell through for the controversial prison construction plan. It’s a time sensitive issue. The Justice Department filed a complaint against the state alleging conditions in Alabama’s male prisons violate their constitutional rights due to inmate-on-inmate violence, excessive use of force by prison staff members and unsafe conditions. If remedial action isn’t taken, the prisons could fall into federal receivership costing Alabama far more than it currently funds the Alabama Department of Corrections.

The second potential special session would take up redistricting. Every decade, lawmakers must redraw district lines to reflect population shifts shown in the latest census report. This covers district maps for Congress, the Legislature and the Alabama Board of Education. It’s one of the most impactful actions taken on by the legislature. It affects every voter and it’s mandatory to reach the ‘one person, one vote’ constitutional requirement that ensures electoral districts are equally populated. Reapportionment is a lengthy process, which often ends in court. That’s why the special session is expected in late fall to firm up new districts ahead of the 2022 election.

Combined, the special sessions would cost upwards of a million dollars. Only Governor Kay Ivey has the power to call the legislature back to Montgomery. She hasn’t committed to either session, Ivey’s office says she’s exploring all options.

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