Thursday, February 9, 2017

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1548: The time is upon us!

  The time is upon us. It comes every year like clockwork. It commenced February 7, 2017 this year. It will go until mid-May. The obstacle will be great. The challenges will be gigantic. The results will fall short. It’s the 2017 Alabama Regular Legislative Session.

  Even after 33 years, I can’t tell you all or most of the issues that will come before the 2017 Alabama Legislative Session. I can tell you two for certain. I can tell you others with a great degree of certainty. I can predict others, but predictions are worth very little in this legislative narrative. It’s the 2017 Legislative Session.

  I am certain that the Alabama Legislature will consider an education budget in this session. I am certain that a general fund budget will be considered. Both are required by the Alabama Constitution. In my many years in the Alabama Senate, we have never failed to consider budgets. There were times we did not pass budgets in a regular session, but we certainly considered them. I am certain that we will consider budgets this year. However, considering is one thing, passage is another. It’s the 2017 Legislative Session.

  I can tell you with considerable certainty that the prison construction bill will be considered. It’s Gov. Robert Bentley's number one priority. It may not pass, but it will be considered.

  I can tell you with absolute certainty that other bills will be presented to the legislature. I can do that because they have already been presented; it’s called pre-filing. I have pre-filed a number of bills myself. One would call for every county to have a driver’s license office open at least one full day per week. The bill passed the Alabama Legislature last year, but the governor pocket vetoed it at the end of the session. This bill may not be considered, but it has already been pre-filed. I hope and pray that we consider and pass it. I will also work to pass it. It’s the 2017 Legislative Session.

  Another bill I pre-filed has to do with what’s called "judicial override" in death penalty cases. An Alabama judge can override a jury verdict of life without parole in a death penalty case and impose a death sentence. Nearly a quarter of those on Death Row are there by virtue of judicial override. That’s why Alabama has the third highest death penalty rate in the entire world. Another senator has introduced a similar bill. I welcome his efforts. It has been a long lonely struggle. Alabama is the only state in the nation that has unregulated judicial override. I can predict with great certainty that passage will be a huge challenge. It’s the 2017 Legislative Session.

  I am almost certain that a bill will be filed to expand Medicaid in Alabama. Up to 700 Alabamians die each year because this state refuses to expand Medicaid. Tens of thousands suffer needlessly. Hundreds of thousands go without health insurance that could provide health protection and peace of mind. I pray that this bill passes because the impact would be so far reaching: tens of thousands of jobs; multiple rural hospitals saved; biggest economic development initiative in the history of the state; hundreds of millions in additional tax revenues; better health for all citizens, etc. Expansion of Medicaid may be more acceptable in Alabama now that the national political leadership has changed. Maybe common concern, common care and common sense will prevail. I can’t predict but I am hoping, praying and working. It’s the 2017 Legislative Session.

  Too many roads in too many Alabama counties are in bad shape. There is a proposed gas tax to help fund the repair of these roads. It would provide a much-needed boost for better roads. Bad roads result in unnecessary accidents and injuries, damage to our vehicles, the endangering of our school children, etc. We are going to pay one way or the other. It’s better to pay a little up front rather than a lot down back. This bill makes sense, but it died last year. I cannot predict passage. It’s the 2017 Legislative Session.

  I feel like gaming will be considered in this session. It may be a lottery or bingo, or slot machines or other forms of gaming. Every state surrounding Alabama and nearly every state in the country has some form of gaming. Alabama is in deep financial trouble, but we say no to gaming. Millions in revenue could help carry the financial load. However, our people go to Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee to gamble. All I say is let the people decide with their vote. If it passes the Alabama Legislature, I predict the people of Alabama will support the referendum. It’s the 2017 Legislative Session.

  I predict that legislative redistricting will be considered in this legislative session. A three-judge federal court has ruled that Alabama violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act in the way it drew certain districts to hurt African Americans. Districts should be considered for 2022. Even though the court keyed on 12 districts (3 Senate and 9 House) to change those 13 will impact many other districts. We may have new legislative districts for nearly everyone. It’s the 2017 Legislative Session.

  So many other bills have been pre-filed. So many more will be filed as the session progresses. Each of us will work to pass bills we like and oppose those we dislike. It’s hard to predict an outcome when so many are going in so many directions. Yes, it’s the 2017 Legislative Session.

Epilogue: Everything we do that broadly impacts others comes with various obstacles, great challenges and great opportunities. The 2017 Alabama Regular Session is no different. The real question is whether we can forge challenges into opportunities in this legislative session.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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