Prisons, medical marijuana and gambling are expected to dominate debate when the Alabama Legislature convenes for its regular session Feb. 4.
Alabama Farmers Federation External Affairs Director Matthew Durdin said the state’s largest farm organization is prepared to be the voice for rural Alabama as legislators consider these and other issues.
“Last year, the Legislature invested in rural Alabama through infrastructure spending, broadband internet expansion and incentives for job creation,” Durdin said. “While the Legislature is prepared to tackle issues such as prisons and gaming, the leadership also has said it will continue its focus on rural Alabama in the areas of healthcare and education. The Federation looks forward to working with lawmakers to represent the interests of our 330,000 member families.”
In recent years, Alabama fell under scrutiny of the U.S. Department of Justice for prison overcrowding. Gov. Kay Ivey has proposed building three mega-prisons and could call a special session to address the issue once legislators gather in Montgomery.
Among legislation certain to be introduced this session is a 75-page bill to legalize medical marijuana by Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence. In December, the Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission voted to recommend the legislation by a vote of 12-3 with three abstentions. The Federation is monitoring the legislation and will work to ensure, if approved, farmers have an opportunity to grow the plant and that distribution is tightly controlled.
Meanwhile, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians has launched a campaign to bolster support for casino gambling in Alabama. The tribe has proposed a $225 million payment to the State of Alabama for exclusive gaming rights plus additional taxes, licensing fees and revenue sharing, which could generate $1 billion for the state. In exchange, the group is seeking to expand its footprint with two additional sites and add Class III games like blackjack and roulette. The proposal also would authorize a traditional lottery. Last year, a paper lottery passed the Senate but failed on a procedural vote in the House of Representatives.
While both the General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets are expected to be financially sound, legislators will be challenged to find an estimated $100 million in the General Fund for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Federation Director of Agricultural Legislation Preston Roberts said the organization will work to maintain funding for agricultural programs.
“Agricultural education, career tech programs and conservation efforts are important to our farmers and the future of our state,” Roberts said. “We thank the Legislature for recognizing these needs in past budgets, and we will work to preserve critical funding this year.”
Federation budget priorities include funding for Ag in the Classroom, Classroom in the Forest, Career Tech Initiative, Concentrated Animal Feeding Program registration fees and matching funds for federal conservation programs.
During the session, Durdin said the Federation will review hundreds of bills to ensure members are not subjected to burdensome regulations and taxes. The organization’s positions on proposed legislation are based on policy developed through a grassroots process, which begins with individual members at the county level.
County Federation leaders will visit with elected officials Feb. 12 during the organization’s annual Taste of Alabama Legislative Reception in Montgomery.