The 2017 regular legislative session, which began under the looming clouds of impeachment and adjourned in the bright sunlight of legislation that will provide groundbreaking therapy for thousands of children on the Autism spectrum, is one that deserves a place in Alabama history books thanks to the width and breadth of issues it covered. Two responsible and fiscally conservative agency and education budgets were passed without the rancor and discord that usually accompanies the appropriations process, new reapportionment maps for fairly-drawn and constitutionally-acceptable legislative districts were adopted, and the items that were include in the House Republican Caucus’ “Alabama Proud” agenda will bring new focus and improvements to the aspects that make our state a great place to live, work, and
As the session convened, impeachment charges pending against Gov. Robert Bentley were reaching critical mass, and when hearings into the matter were called to order, he resigned from office while pleading guilty to various ethics and finance violations. I am confident that newly sworn Gov. Kay Ivey will restore a sense of honor, honesty, and openness to the Alabama Governor’s Office.
Despite the circus-like atmosphere created by the Bentley scandal, House Republicans concentrated upon the work at hand and passed several significant initiatives into law.
The Legislature approved a $1.85 billion General Fund budget that spends taxpayer dollars responsibly, anticipates future needs, and, for the first time in modern history, carries forward roughly $93 million to next year’s spending plan. The FY2018 budget also provides funding for a new class of at least 30 state troopers, and slows skyrocketing growth in Medicaid spending, which has proven to be a persistent problem since passage of the dangerous Obamacare social experiment.
The Education Trust Fund budget, which was approved with unanimous support, increases spending for K-12 schools, community colleges, and public universities by approximately $90 million next year. It provides for an additional 152 teachers in grades 4 – 6 next year, and funding for Alabama’s nationally-recognized “First Class” Pre-K program was boosted by $13 million, which was included in the “Alabama Proud” agenda.
The budgets also ensure that teachers and state workers will not experience additional out-of pocket costs related to their employment and health insurance benefits in the coming year.
While passage of the state spending plans is our primary constitutional responsibility, the Legislature also addressed a broad range of economic and social issues.
Lawmakers updated the Alabama Jobs Act, which is a common-sense program that awards economic incentives to businesses only after at least 50 new jobs have been created rather than before, and we worked with the executive branch to place a new emphasis on the needs and concerns of small businesses across the state.
Voters will soon have the chance to ratify a constitutional amendment that proclaims Alabama a pro-life state so we will be prepared to take action as soon as the abomination known as Roe vs. Wade is overturned. We also approved legislation that protects doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel from being forced to perform abortion procedures that violate their moral beliefs and secured the religious freedoms of faith-based adoption and foster placement agencies.
And because some radical elements are working to tear down monuments to our past and erase entire sections of our shared American history, we passed the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act and enacted a separate provision that requires students to successfully pass a basic civics test as a prerequisite for graduation.
Perhaps no bill this session generated as much interest, emotion, and passion as one requiring most insurance plans to cover applied behavioral therapy, which is considered essential for autistic children but is out of the economic reach of many families. Throughout the session, the committee rooms, corridors and galleries of both chambers were often filled with children on the autism spectrum and their parents, who were eager to share their stories with any legislator who would listen.
This massive grassroots effort proved successful as the autism insurance mandate was approved by the Legislature in its final days, and Gov. Ivey signed it into law mere hours after final passage. The legislation and the movement that promoted it serve as pleasant and reassuring reminders of the way Montgomery is supposed to work.
Because a massive $800 prison construction bond issue failed to generate the support necessary to pass, a pending federal court order involving inmate treatment, facility conditions, Department of Corrections staffing, and other factors may demand a special session be called, but even with this factor, the 2017 session was a historic success when viewed from any angle.
A session that began in the gloom of impeachment ended with bright hope being offered to children and parents who need it most. For that, we may all be thankful.
Read and download the entire Recap here.