Jones: Special session likely for prison bill, Medicaid fix

Published 12:39 am Friday, May 6, 2016

The day after the Alabama Legislature adjourned sine die with unfinished work on the table, state Rep. Mike Jones predicted there is a special session in the group’s future.

mike-jonesIn the final minutes of the legislature’s 2016 session Wednesday night, bills that would have allocated BP settlement money, eased the funding gap in Medicaid, and moved the state forward in addressing prison overcrowding, all died.

“Between Medicaid, BP, and prisons, we’ve got issues,” he said. “We can’t let these things just lie to the side, because they could potentially impact the state in an enormous way.

“A lot of work was done on them, but the final act didn’t happen,” he said. “Likely, once the governor evaluates it, we’ll be back.”

Jones, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, worked hard to get a bill through the legislature that would have closed at least some of the state’s aging prisons and replaced them with fewer, larger structures. The Department of Corrections currently houses more than 24,000 inmates in facilities that have an architectural design capacity to house 13,318 inmates, and is in danger of being ordered by the federal government to release prisoners.

In its original form, the proposed $800 million prison construction bill would have closed all but two existing prisons and built three new prisons for men and one for women. Prison officials would not say which facilities would remain open.

Jones recently toured four correctional facilities.

“The facilities are in complete disrepair, and it impacts the security of our corrections officers, it impacts the security of our inmates, it impacts these federal lawsuits affecting our state,” he said.

Versions of the proposed construction were approved in each body of the legislature, but when after a conference committee met to iron out the differences in the two bills Thursday, the bill was not brought to the floor of the House.

Jones said the final version was better than the original version passed by the House, and had added accountability, including a clause that would have brought the issue – with a feasibility study and cost analysis – to the floor of the legislature on the first day of the 2017 session.

“If the data had shown it was bad, we could have suspended this whole approach,” Jones said.

Jones said the legislature also will need to look at legislation to allocate BP settlement monies.

“One of the versions of that bill paid debt and provided short-term funding for Medicaid,” Jones said. “When it died, all of those issues died with it.”