State facing prison, guns, healthcare issues

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, March 29, 2017

On the heels of the controversial decision to pull a planned vote on the American Health Care Act, and with little time left before the state legislature reconvenes in early April, Alabama’s legislators in both D.C. and Montgomery are facing uphill battles on some pretty key issues.

It was a mixed bag of reactions from members of Alabama’s Congressional delegation after the vote on the AHCA was yanked at the last second. Rep. Martha Roby, Rep. Mike Rogers and Rep. Bradley Byrne all expressed disappointment in losing a bill they each said they would have voted for, had they just been given the chance. But, Mo Brooks, who, like Roby, Rogers and Byrne, is a Republican, said he wasn’t convinced and wouldn’t have voted for the bill that would have effectively repealed Obamacare.

While the next step for Republicans wary of the Affordable Care Act is murky at best, things aren’t much clearer in Montgomery, where the legislature will reconvene with a lot to talk about – including who can legally carry a firearm and what to do about Alabama’s literally deteriorating prison system.

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The battle over firearms centers around SB24, a bill introduced by Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), that would eliminate the need for Alabamians to get a permit before carrying a concealed handgun. That idea is not sitting well with the Alabama Sheriff’s Association, which is officially arguing the existing law increases the safety of law enforcement officers. But, a recent report from included part of an email from ASA Executive Director Bobby Timmons, the tone of which suggests the fight may be more about maintaining the funds raised by licensing fees than about officer safety. According to the report, 12 states already allow for concealed carry without a license, including Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. Could Alabama be next?

But maybe the most pressing matter facing state lawmakers during this session is what to do about a prison bill that has morphed several times since Gov. Robert Bentley introduced it in 2016. It’s most recent incarnation slashed what the state could borrow to pay for new prisons by hundreds of millions of dollars and includes a stipulation that two unspecified communities would need to basically volunteer to borrow money for the construction of two prisons and then lease those facilities to the state. Where those facilities would be built and who would build them, as well as how it would affect other communities like Atmore that already have multiple prisons nearby is still very much up in the air. And while legislators like Rep. Greg Albritton, who represents Escambia County, have said they believe their communities would be interested in taking on the task of banding together to build one of the two prisons, actually procuring the funds and getting the ball rolling seems like a much heftier lift. The bill passed the state Senate in March and now moves to the House. Should the legislature not come to a decision soon, a federal mandate could be on the horizon in Alabama, with costs being handed to state taxpayers. Add to the mix that many in Montgomery believe the governor also belongs in one of the state’s already overcrowded prisons, and it appears lawmakers have a very tough row to hoe when they return to work next month.