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Alabama Legislature 2013: 10 hot issues to watch in the upcoming sessionPrint Email >Kim Chandler By Kim Chandler AL.com
on February 02, 2013 at 9:39 AM, updated February 02, 2013 at 11:54 AM
1. General Fund -- Lawmakers say revenues are flat in the General Fund budget, which funds Medicaid, prisons and other non-education agencies, prompting another year of tough budget decisions.
2. Medicaid 2014 -- State Health Officer Don Williamson said Medicaid will need at least $685 million from the General Fund to maintain the healthcare program for 900,000 poor Alabamians next fiscal year. "The problem is the General Fund doesn’t have that kind of money,” Williamson said. Williamson said they will be looking at "significant" changes to whittle down the budget request to the money available.
3. Medicaid 2014 and beyond -- Lawmakers will grapple with trying to overhaul Medicaid, which now consumes more than one-third of the General Fund. A study commission recommended dividing the state into community-based managed care networks. Lawmakers will also consider a cap on future Medicaid expenditures and some want to look at commercial managed care in which the state would pay a company to manage the program. Regardless, transforming the health care program is not expected to be easy.
4. Teacher pay raise -- Democrats are calling for a 10 percent pay raise for teachers and education employees over the next two to three years. They have not had a cost of living adjustment since 2008. Republicans say any raise has to be "realistic" considering other demands on the Education Trust Fund such as the required repayment of money borrowed from the Rainy Day Account.
5. Education “flexibility” – Proposed bills in the House and Senate would let school systems seek waivers from state policies to have more flexibility over curriculum, budgets, staffing, personnel and other issues. The idea has the backing of the Alabama Association of School Boards, but it has drawn opposition from the Alabama Education Association, which argues it's similar to a charter school bill.
6. Guns -- A bevy of gun legislation will come before lawmakers this session ranging from a constitutional amendment affirming the right to bear arms as a fundamental right to more controversial legislation clarifying Alabama is an "open carry" state and allowing people to keep weapons in their cars while at work.
7. Efficiency -- Efficiency is the buzzword assigned to coming proposals that would streamline or revamp government agencies. Top Republicans, Gov. Robert Bentley and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, have put forth rival proposals to reorganize state public safety functions, but Marsh said they are working on a compromise plan.
8. 2014 – The 2014 elections could color much in the upcoming session. Republicans, beginning their third session in control of the Alabama Legislature, are looking to extend their political dominance. But they could face challenges within their own party from Tea Party types. Democrats, fighting for their political survival, are looking for issues to convince voters to pick donkeys over elephants in 2014.
9. Alabama Trust Fund -- On Sept. 18, voters approved a constitutional amendment that bailed out the state General Fund by taking $437 million over three years from a state savings account. Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard said that one of the first bills on the House floor will repay the money by 2026. Senators are pushing similar legislation.
10. AEA vs. RSA -- Legislators say a feud between the leadership of AEA and the Retirement Systems of Alabama could possibly spill over into the legislative session in funding decisions or possible efforts to revamp the control board. “That fight is going to be a real knock-down, drag-out,” Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham said.