MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers return to Montgomery on Jan. 11 for the 2022 legislative session. Here are some issues to watch as the session begins.
PANDEMIC RELIEF FUNDS
Lawmakers face decisions on how to spend over $1.5 billion in state relief funds from the American Rescue Plan. Congress allocated $2.12 billion for Alabama through the American Rescue Plan. The state has so far received $1 billion and has $580 million remaining after using $400 million for prison construction and $80 million to reimburse hospitals and nursing homes. Key lawmakers say they expect infrastructure projects to be among the proposed uses.
Lawmakers are expected to again debate legislation that would do away with the need to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun. The legislation, known as "constitutional carry" to proponents, has been introduced for several years but never passed as it faced opposition from law enforcement. "I think, based on the feedback that I'm getting from members of the Senate, there's going be a lot of interest in the constitutional carry legislation. I've heard that from both House and Senate members. So I think it will definitely be an issue that will be debated and will be something that we will deal with in session, for sure," Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed said.
Nearly two dozen House Republicans are backing legislation similar to a Texas law that would ban most abortions and allow anyone to file civil lawsuits against violators and collect damages. The bill titled the "Alabama Heartbeat Act" would prohibit medical providers from performing an abortion once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks and before some women know they are even pregnant. The measure would allow private citizens to file civil lawsuits against anyone who "aids or abets" an abortion and to collect at least $10,000 in damages for each performed abortion.
Lottery and casino legislation will again be introduced in Alabama's upcoming legislative session — with the goal of getting the measure before voters in November — but the outlook for the proposal is unclear. Some leaders in the House of Representatives have expressed skepticism that the bill will get a vote this year. Republican Sen. Greg Albritton of Atmore said he plans to propose a constitutional amendment that would include a state lottery, a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and a yet-to-be-determined number of other gambling sites. Gambling legislation has failed in past sessions under a mix of conservative opposition and disputes over the number of casinos and who would have casino licenses.
Republican Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur is proposing an overhaul in math instruction that would include more math coaches in schools, summer programs and interventions. Eventually in 2028 fifth grade students would need to show they were meeting certain math benchmarks to move to the sixth grade under the proposal. Lawmakers previously approved a similar promotion requirement for third-graders with reading. However, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has said she will ask lawmakers for a one-year delay of the reading promotion requirement after the pandemic interrupted classrooms. The high-stakes promotion requirement for third-graders is currently set to take effect this spring.
REMOVING RACIST LANGUAGE
The Committee on the Recompilation of the Constitution has proposed a plan to strip racist language, such as provisions about segregated schools, from the state's governing document. The sections were invalidated by court rulings but remain in the document. It also reorganizes the massive, sprawling document that has nearly 1,000 constitutional amendments to try to make it more user friendly. If approved by lawmakers, it would go before voters in November 2022.
TRANSGENDER TREATMENT BAN
Lawmakers could again debate an attempt to forbid doctors from providing gender confirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers or sex reassignment surgery to treat transgender minors. The Alabama Senate approved the bill in 2021, but it did not get a vote in the House of Representatives. Arkansas became the first state to enact such a measure, but a federal judge in June blocked it from taking effect.
ELECTION YEAR INFLUENCE
Alabama legislators are up for reelection this year. For lawmakers seeking another term, the session brings the last opportunity to shore up their records before voters make their decisions. That traditionally brings a flurry of legislation and resolutions that legislators believe will appeal to their voters. The primary is May 24. However, lawmakers will also feel the need to finish up the session quickly in order to hit the campaign trail.