MONTGOMERY, Ala., May 22, 2020 — The oddest session of the Alabama Legislature in recent memory, if ever, adjourned on Monday. Disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, more than half of the actual working days of the session were conducted in a State House closed off to the general public. Since returning on May 4 from a nearly two-month break, legislators, particularly members of the House, were forced to observe strict social distancing practices; many Representatives, for example, had to sit in the House gallery rather than at their desks on the House Floor. Not surprisingly, then, the scope of work during the session’s final days was limited to budget-related bills and local bills.
In the end, the Legislature fulfilled its constitutional requirement of passing the Education Trust Fund and State General Fund budgets for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Thanks to proper planning and a robust economy, both budgets appear to be in excellent shape as of right now; the ETF budget is actually the largest in the state’s history. But major items originally included in the budgets, such as a pay raise for state employees and educators, were not added to the final document. Legislators made clear that the budgets could certainly be revisited as needed, but wanted to help public entities, particularly schools, plan for next year as early as possible.
In addition to the budgets, legislators passed a bond issue for school construction. The effort will inject approximately $1.25 billion into the state’s public K-12, postsecondary, and higher education systems, making this the largest public school construction funding mechanism in over a decade.
Finally, after much discussion between legislative leaders and the executive branch, Gov. Ivey approved a plan on how the state would generally allocate the $1.8 billion it has received from the federal government as part of the CARES Act. The plan is as follows:
- $300 million to reimburse state agencies for pandemic-related expenses;
- $250 million to reimburse local governments for pandemic-related expenses;
- $250 million to “support the delivery of healthcare” to Alabama citizens;
- $300 million to support impacted citizens, businesses, and organizations;
- $53 million for the reimbursement of equipment and infrastructure necessary for remote work and public access to the functions of state government;
- $300 million for expenses related to remote instruction and learning;
- $200 million for pandemic-related expenses by the Department of Corrections;
- $10 million to “ensure access to the courts” during the pandemic;
- $5 million to the Alabama Department of Public Health; and
- Nearly $119 million for “any lawful purpose” provided for in the CARES Act.
The Alabama Legislature officially met for 21 legislative days during the 2020 Regular Session. As of the end of the 21st legislative day, representatives and senators had introduced 1,060 measures: 508 House bills, 348 Senate bills, and 204 resolutions. Of those measures, 199 had been signed into law by Gov. Ivey.
The Alabama Legislature’s next regular session will begin on Feb. 2, 2021. Until then, Gov. Ivey has the ability to call legislators back to Montgomery for special legislative sessions that can last no longer than 30 calendar days. Many pundits expect that there will be at least one special session during this interim.
Questions? Email Jason Isbell, ABA Vice President of Legal & Governmental Affairs.