The Alabama Council of Association Executives held the Legislative Information Seminar in the Capitol Auditorium on Tuesday, January 31st. Guest speakers included Governor Robert Bentley, Michael Sentance (Superintendent of the Alabama State Board of Education), Clinton Carter (Finance Director of Alabama Department of Finance), and Luther Strange (Attorney General’s Office).
Governor Bentley declared that prison reform would be his administration's primary focus this session, hoping to stave off a Special session by pushing legislation to be signed and passed before Spring Break. This legislation will be modeled after the House Substitute that passed the lower Chamber in 2016, calling for an $800,000,000 bond that will help rebuild facilities and provide a safer environment for correctional officers as well as inmates. Going for a more “holistic approach”, Bentley aims to incorporate a “faith based initiative” into the system that will help lower recidivism by providing parolees with job training and housing for a better future. When asked about Medicaid, Governor Bentley stated, “Every state is different. We all use different methods to fund Medicaid, and this new (Presidential) administration seems to be taking that into account. We [Alabama] have a bare bones policy, but other states rely more heavily on the system, and it’s important that those aspects are considered when talking about national healthcare.”.
Michael Sentance discussed plans to construct a new public school system, mainly focused on the long term goals of education. As for Charter Schools, Sentance believes, “[Charter Schools] give us a chance to explore new methods of accountability.” However, the Superintendent also stated he is, “not sure charter schools can be effective in Alabama’s current condition. We need a solid plan before trying to implement charter schools.” Math and Science curriculum reconstruction is also on his list, with the focus on Computer Science and Engineering. Sentance has called for a strategic planning group on Reading that will help determine the course of this construction because, “If our children cannot read properly, they can never be expected to learn the complexities of math and science.”
Clinton Carter began by bringing up Bentley’s 2012 “Road to a Billion” plan, which aims to save the state a billion dollars every year. The Finance Director stated that he believes we will find these savings in a State Technology Initiative. Carter believes that technology is a great investment and will bring many jobs to the state of Alabama. His administration is pushing for legislation to consolidate our state technology departments into the larger Office of Information Technology, where they will be able to consolidate power, eliminate waste, and advance the state technologically. Although Carter made mention that there are “two to five pieces of legislation we are pushing this session”, including a “lump sum retirement plan” aimed at giving employees more options for receiving their pensions while also saving the state money in the long run.
Luther Strange was the last guest speaker formally scheduled and touched on the major focuses of the Attorney General's Office including the state’s legal battles with the Environmental Protection Agency and the False Claims Act System, the Death Penalty, and Ethics Laws in Alabama. He also briefly mentioned the redistricting that will be occurring throughout the state.
Mac McCutcheon and Del Marsh gave an overview of the House and Senate Agendas. Planning for Education/A Comprehensive Education Plan are among both leader’s top priorities. “Long term solutions” are at the heart of everything they are working on, especially education and budgeting, and both leaders are pushing for cooperation on all fronts. There is already a Budget Reform Task Force that has been meeting since January 30th, and their primary focus has been “to gather information, not to support legislation”. The task force is reviewing everything from tax collections and credits, to a “fees system”, retirement, and indexing; all of which will culminate in passing a substantial budget. Education is being left in the hands of Sentance and his team, but both chamber leaders have been active in gathering information from different education specialists and are prepared to accept any recommendations that will unify our state’s educational system. Redistricting was only briefly mentioned and as soon as the session begins, they will call for a task force to evaluate what needs to be done.
Overall, the seminar was a great way to gauge what the major interests are for the State of Alabama, as well as the anticipated tempo our legislators will have this session.
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