News Legislature Convenes Monday To Consider Budgets

Legislature Convenes Monday To Consider Budgets

Legislature Convenes Monday To Consider Budgets

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alabama Legislature is expected to meet May 4 to quickly pass the state budgets and local bills before adjourning sine die. The Alabama Constitution requires the Legislature to pass the budgets by May 18, or Gov. Kay Ivey would have to call a special session prior to the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year. 

Speaker of the House of Representatives Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, told reporters, when the Legislature returns, legislators will have their temperature taken before entering the State House and will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing. The public will not be allowed in the building, but steps are being taken to livestream audio and/or video of the proceedings over the internet and on Alabama Public Television. 

“Our goal for the remainder of this session is to conduct the people’s business and to position Alabama to repair the economic damage that has been done,” McCutcheon said. “We remain confident that Alabama’s best days are ahead of us, and we remain eager to [do] the work that will get us there.”

Democratic senators and representatives have expressed concern about the Legislature reconvening while restrictions against gatherings remain in place. They’ve also challenged the ability to craft budgets before the full economic impact of the pandemic is known. House and Senate leaders have countered that state agencies and schools need approved budgets in order to plan for the coming year. 

When the Regular Session began, both the General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets were projected to have substantial surpluses. Falling tax revenue has changed the economic outlook. It is anticipated both budgets will be leaner than earlier predicted, with additional spending for pay raises and some new programs unlikely. 

Alabama is set to receive about $1.8 billion in federal stimulus money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, but guidelines may prohibit the funds from being spent for expenses already budgeted. 

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, this week said he would like to invest $800 million from the relief package in expanding broadband access. Alabama currently ranks 38th for high-speed internet access. 

“Now is the time to take some of that, a big enough section of that money, (for) high-speed broadband across this state, in every corner of this state,” Marsh told reporters. “Had this been in place, our kids would still be in school. Telemedicine would exist for all citizens of this state.”

If lawmakers are successful in passing budgets this month, a special session is still likely in late summer to address challenges with Alabama prisons and other issues. 

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