- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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May 9

The TimesDaily of Florence on Gov. Robert Bentley’s $800 million prison construction plan:

Alabama’s prisons have come into focus as one the state’s most urgent problems with the possibility of interdiction by the federal courts looming on the horizon.

Like so many of Alabama’s problems, money - or the lack of it - is at the root of the problem.

Gov. Robert Bentley is proposing spending $800 million to build four new prisons that would hold 4,000 inmates each, and a new women’s prison. He would close the state’s existing 16 aging and overcrowded prisons. But a bill that would do that died Wednesday in the closing hours of the 2016 legislative session.

Many lawmakers, including a significant number in the Republican super majority, have their doubts about the governor’s plan. They want to know about financing, design and construction, all of which appear nebulous at this time.

Bentley said he has not given up on his plan, and will consider a special session this summer to try again to pass it, and to address the BP oil spill settlement, which could provide some of the gap in funding for the state’s ailing Medicaid program.

Before calling a special session, Bentley has some salesmanship to do before lawmakers - and the public - buy into his plan. And it will have to be more than a sales pitch; he must spell out how the plan will work and who will perform the work.

Bentley said the consolidation of prisons, among other things, will result in savings that will pay for building the new prisons. That, likely, is true, but the savings would be felt some years later.

The governor’s plan needs much more scrutiny than it has received. There are no plans on the drawing board; no real discussion of financing has taken place; and no locations for the new prisons have been revealed.

That latter point is a bone of contention for a number of lawmakers whose districts contain state prisons.

The prisons are economic engines for many rural areas, providing jobs and other economic activity legislators don’t want to lose in a state still struggling to recover from the Great Recession.

As matters stand today, less than a week after the end of the legislative session, it does not appear the governor has enough support to pass his prison plan. Until he has laid all the cards on the table and answered questions, a special session would be a waste of time and money.

Online:

http://www.timesdaily.com/

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May 7

The Gadsden Times on state legislators:

The next time Nick Saban or Gus Malzahn are short a place kicker or punter, they should head to Goat Hill in Montgomery. As we’ve often noted, Alabama’s legislators love kicking cans out of sight and mind, even though they always return like boomerangs.

The Legislature wrapped up its 2016 regular session last week, leaving three critical issues unsettled.

Gov. Robert Bentley’s $800 million prison construction plan died with the session. A compromise plan scaled back to $550 million was approved by the Senate, but never came to the floor in the House. Speaker Mike Hubbard said it would’ve been useless, because the votes weren’t there to break a filibuster.

The day before, a bill to establish a plan for spending an expected $1 billion settlement from BP for the 2010 Gulf oil spill died in a Senate committee.

The intention was to issue bonds against the settlement funds, which would mean more cash up front that would be used to pay back state debts and for road projects across the state. That collapsed in a dispute between lawmakers from the coastal counties most impacted by the spill, who believe their areas deserve more, and those from other parts of the state, who insist Alabama as a whole suffered and the windfall should be spread around.

Unless something changes, the state will only get $50 million a year from the settlement, parceled out according to a judge’s ruling in the lawsuit.

The collateral damage was Medicaid, which insists it needs an extra $85 million to adequately care for its clients and move forward with the new regional care organizations that have been seen as a way to control the agency’s costs. Alabama gaining the benefits from the BP money up front would’ve eased that problem.

It’s unfair to call the session a complete failure. We’ve praised the bipartisan efforts that produced a strong education budget and raises for teachers.

However, we’re growing weary - and Alabama’s voters should be, too - of things being left undone or unresolved in the regular legislative session.

Bentley long ago promised a special session on Medicaid, and last week signaled his willingness to call one on the prison plan. He did it twice last year, and despite his scandal-weakened state still has that weapon in his arsenal. We think he’ll use it.

We suppose it will take that - and a focused session call that prevents legislators from posturing and firing razzberries at Washington - to get anything accomplished.

The end result may not please everyone; compromises rarely do. Medicaid might have to do with less (although the RCOs must move forward). Any prison fix might not be as expansive or involve as much debt or deviation from state policy as Bentley’s (although opponents need to understand more prison space must be a part of easing the overcrowding).

We chuckle at the territorial nose-slicing and face-spiting we’ve seen over how to best use a billion dollars. Surely they’ll get that figured out.

We’re just tired of what seems to be the prevailing attitude in Montgomery: “We’re not going to make any tough calls until we absolutely have to.”

We think that’s a craven, irresponsible, unacceptable dereliction of the duties these people were elected to do.

Online:

http://www.gadsdentimes.com

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May 6

The Dothan Eagle on Alabama lawmakers’ traditions:

Alabama lawmakers have a number of traditions employed with every legislative session.

They traditionally override a resolution meant to ensure that budget legislation takes priority over other measures.

They’ll employ an unrecorded verbal vote to afford plausible deniability on controversial measures.

And when all is said and done, they choose one failed measure to receive the Shroud Award for the session’s “deadest” bill.

That’s been tough in recent years, as so many bills that would have had a positive effect on issues in our state never made headway in legislative sessions that have been overshadowed by distracting matters such as the effort to impeach the governor, the impending trial of the House Speaker on corruption charges, and, of course, the evergreen gambling arguments.

This year, the award went to a measure that sought to regulate and legalize fantasy sports. Previous deadest bills would have allowed small town police to enforce speed limits on interstate highways, legalized medicinal marijuana and established a tax holiday for gun purchases.

Many measures obviously need to die a slow death. But considering the dysfunction of our legislature, the Shroud Award might best be replaced by a new tradition that recognizes strategies and efforts to create a more efficient and productive legislative session.

That would be an award worth winning.

It’s time for a new tradition

Alabama lawmakers have a number of traditions employed with every legislative session.

They traditionally override a resolution meant to ensure that budget legislation takes priority over other measures.

They’ll employ an unrecorded verbal vote to afford plausible deniability on controversial measures.

And when all is said and done, they choose one failed measure to receive The Shroud Award for the session’s “deadest” bill.

That’s been tough in recent years, as so many bills that would have had a positive effect on issues in our state never made headway in legislative sessions that have been overshadowed by distracting matters such as the effort to impeachment the governor, the impending trial of the House Speaker on corruption charges, and, of course, the evergreen gambling arguments.

This year, the award went to a measure that sought to regulate and legalize fantasy sports. Previous deadest bills would have allowed small town police to enforce speed limits on interstate highways, legalized medicinal marijuana and established a tax holiday for gun purchases.

Many measures obviously need to die a slow death. But considering the dysfunction of our legislature, the Shroud Award might best be replaced by a new tradition that recognizes strategies and efforts to create a more efficient and productive legislative session.

That would be an award worth winning.

Online:

http://www.dothaneagle.com/

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