It’s a wrap
Published 12:25 am Thursday, June 30, 2016
Legislature could continue prison, Medicaid work later this summer
Area residents who attended the Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce’s legislative wrap-up luncheon on Wednesday had questions about prisons, Medicaid, infrastructure, and whether or not the governor is yet earning a salary.
Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, explained that a bill designed to relieve prison overcrowding failed in the final hours of the 2016 legislative session. No one in the House or Senate questioned the need for new prisons, he said. Rather, senators and representatives whose economies depend upon the employment at current facilities were concerned about the loss of jobs.
Larry Popwell asked Jones and Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, if any nearby area had been surveyed as a possible site for a new prison facility.
Holley said any of the state’s 67 counties would gladly give property for a prison. But he used Barbour County as an example.
“It has a major prison,” he said. “If you moved that one, I believe you would cause an economic disaster in that particular county.
Holley said prison conditions – not just for prisoners, but also for the guards who work there – weigh on his conscience. Prisons currently have 61 percent of the personnel needed, and are operating by having people work overtime.
“Those prison guards in those prions – not air conditioned; only some of the administrative offices are air conditioned – and they’re working over time, meaning 12, 15 hours a day, because we don’t have enough personnel.”
Asked about Medicaid funding, Holley said the legislature added $15 million in new funding to the program, leaving an estimated $85 million hole. But that shortage in funding will cost the state $3 in federal funding for every $1 it didn’t fund, he said.
The senator said there is still a possibility the legislature will be called back into special session to address prisons and Medicaid.
Current Commission Chairman Bill Godwin talked about the issues county governments face in using gasoline taxes to keep roads and bridges in shape. Because the tax is based on consumption, not the price of gasoline, revenues have been flat, he said. A measure that would have added a gasoline tax failed in the last session. Godwin asked why.
“Those revenue measures have to start in the House,” Holley said.
Jones added that a portion of BP funds was dedicated for roads.
The Association of County Commissioners is still working to get an additional gas tax passed.
Marcia Reichert asked if Gov. Robert Bentley, who vowed before taking office to not take a salary until Alabama unemployment was at 5 percent, is being paid.
Jones said he is not, but he’s getting closer to his goal, based on economic indicators.