Legislative session hits halfway mark; questions remain on budgets, prisons
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Lawmakers passed the halfway point this week on the legislative session with major issues still needing to be resolved.
First and foremost, as it is almost every year, is the General Fund Budget.
The big issue with the budget is the $85 million shortfall projected for medicaid. Republicans seem content right now to push the budget though, knowing a veto is likely to come from Governor Bentley.
Republicans have enough votes to override the veto and odds are they will. However if lawmakers pass the budget as is, it is likely lawmakers would be back for a special session.
Leadership in both the House and the Senate say a special session should not come until later in the year, possibly after the presidential elections. If that is the case, the state will miss its transition into a system of regional care organizations, and a federal wavier worth more than $500 million.
Democrats will have a hard time preventing the budget as they can only filibuster the bill, but do not have the votes to stop it.
Also still on the agenda is Alabama's Prison Transformation Act. The plan would call for an $800 million bond issue for the building of four new prisons.
This week, lawmakers passed the bill out of committee but some issues still remain. Many are concerned about how the prisons would be built.
To save money, the plan is to use a design build method; a practice never used by the state before. Many local contractors are worried they could be left out of the project and have been fighting the bill.
Another major issue with the bill is paying for the prisons. Right now the state says it would pay for the bond through savings in consolidation and construction. The money, on paper, works but it is tight. Governor Bentley said on Wednesday that there is no room for error with the plan.
Lawmakers have one week before they take their spring break on the March 28.
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