By Mimi Penhale
This year’s Regular Session began on January 11, 2022. Since this is the fourth year in a quadrennium, and an election year, legislative session begins a bit earlier. The earlier session date is due to the upcoming primary state wide and legislative elections that will be held on May 24, 2022. Any runoff elections will occur June 21, 2022, with the General election to follow on November 8, 2022. In years that there is not an election for the legislature and state wide offices, Regular Session has to be held earlier, so it doesn’t interfere with the primary election date.
Last year was a unique year for the Alabama Legislature. The legislature met three times, for one regular session and two special sessions. The first special session met in September, to address the prison mandates handed down to Alabama by the federal government. Alabama had to address the overcrowding, lack of mental health services to inmates, and re-entry programs for parolees.
The second special session was held in October. The legislature had to meet to discuss and approve new district lines for the House, Senate, and Congressional seats. These lines are reviewed every 10 years, following a census to account for shifting and growing demographics in our state. The new district lines have gone into effect and will be used for the upcoming elections this year.
The General Fund Budget and the Education Budget are always a main focus of the Legislature, as these are the only things required by the Alabama constitution that the Legislature pass each year. This year’s budget debates will focus on money allocated to the state through the American Rescue Plan Act. The federal government allocated money to each state to address state losses during the pandemic. The legislature will have to determine the allocation of $1.5 billion of the ARPA funds, which has to be used by 2026. Projects of interest for those funds include reimbursements for healthcare providers, broadband internet expansion, and water and sewer infrastructure repairs.
There are a few other pieces of legislation that we expect to see this session, although whether they will pass or not is uncertain. Permitless carry has been a hot topic for many years now, and we will again see the issue brought before the legislature. In recent years, gun rights activists have gain momentum, but they are still at odds with most sheriffs in our state. Many people also hope to see a lottery or gaming bill come out of the legislature this session, to allow citizens of the state to vote on whether we should have a lottery and expand gaming in Alabama. This is always a hot-button issue, so with it being an election year, the legislation might not gain enough traction to reach a floor vote. Also on the table are bills to address teacher and state employee pay raises, as well as, teacher retiree and state retiree pay raises. With the recent inflation of our economy, a raise would benefit many citizens in our state.
As the session takes way, we will see what bills gain traction and what might be put off for future debate.