The Alabama Legislature is set to convene on Groundhog Day, but the 2021 Regular Session won’t be a repeat of previous years.
New Senate leadership, social distancing and reinvigorated debate on gambling will make the Statehouse look and sound different when the state’s 140 legislators gather Feb. 2.
“Following the COVID-shortened 2020 session, lawmakers and advocacy organizations are eager to get back to work,” said Alabama Farmers Federation External Affairs Director Matthew Durdin. “We look forward to working with leadership in both the Senate and House of Representatives to advance Federation policies and meet the needs of rural Alabama.”
In the upper chamber, Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, will take over as president pro tem, following a decision by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, to step down from the position he’s held 10 years. Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, will fill Reed’s previous role as senate majority leader.
Legislators will be greeted by a backlog of proposed legislation after the 2020 session, which saw only 16 non-appropriation bills pass out of 856 introduced. However, with COVID-19 still raging, House leadership already has announced changes to achieve social distancing.
Representatives will be spread throughout the House chamber, gallery and overflow rooms and will vote using computer tablets.
“Things will certainly look different, and we don’t know how these changes will impact public access to the Statehouse or legislative agendas,” Durdin said. “It makes the relationships cultivated by Federation members at the local level even more important. We will need to be even more engaged to make sure the voices of agriculture, rural Alabama and conservative values are heard by legislators.”
Gambling is once again expected to be a hot debate topic when lawmakers meet. An 876-page report issued in December by Gov. Kay Ivey’s study group on gambling policy examined the costs and potential revenue of legalized gambling. While the possibility of $500-700 million in revenue garnered headlines, the report also acknowledged immense social costs including crime, unemployment, bankruptcy, illness, suicide, domestic violence, child abuse, theft, undue political influence and increased dependence on social services.
Other unfinished business from 2020 includes debate over medical marijuana and prison reform.
Meanwhile, the Federation’s priorities include retaining funding in the Education Trust Fund and General Fund budgets for agricultural education, career and technical education, the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) program, Sweet Grown Alabama agricultural brand, rural broadband, conservation programs and matching funds for on-farm irrigation. The Federation also will work to secure funding for the Alabama Rural Economic Center, a 500-acre, multi-use complex underway in Chilton County.
The Federation will support legislation to reauthorize tax credits for job creation and economic development through Growing Alabama and the Alabama Jobs Act. Another important bill for business owners will be civil liability immunity against unwarranted lawsuits associated with the coronavirus.
In addition, the Federation will work to expand the weight limit for forest product license plates to match provisions of surrounding states.
Currently, trucks hauling forest products weighing over 42,000 are required to purchase a commercial registration. The organization also will work to lift the limit on the number of F-4 farm tags a producer may purchase and clarify that grain bins should be exempt from ad valorem tax under existing state exemptions.
Follow the Federation’s social media channels during the session and check out the weekly Capitol Connection newsletter at Alfafarmers.org/CapitolConnection.