Jones: Redistricting is session focus

Published 1:52 am Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Redistricting will be a major focus of Alabama’s 2017 Regular Session of the legislature, which begins next Tuesday, Rep. Mike Jones said.

mike-jones-copy“The recent court ruling dealing with redistricting said nine house and three senate districts must be redrawn,” Jones told Rotarians on Tuesday. “It is difficult to just redraw, and this has to be completed before June of this year. Because it has to be completed quickly, it now has to become a priority for this session.”

In January, a three-judge panel ruled that the mapmakers weakened the voting strength of a powerful part of Democrats’ voting bloc — African-Americans — into just a few districts, and ordered them redrawn.

Jones said because candidates can begin raising money for their campaigns one year from the date of an election – or in the case of the 2018 state elections, in June of this year – the work needs to be completed.

“You will see that work expedited and becoming a priority for the session,” he said.

State prisons also will large on the legislative agenda, he said. Last year, the legislature came close to agreement on the construction of four super prisons – three for men and one for women. That legislation died just as the session ended.

Jones said he asked for and has received a full analysis of existing prison buildings, the cost to upgrade them, and the cost of new construction.

“The first version of the prison analysis is 560 pages long,” he said. “It is a study of the 17 major prisons in the state.”

Building four new “super prisons” would cost $800 million, he said, while renovating and remodeling existing ones would cost $440 million.

Even though it would be less expensive, he said, the older facilities would still have more security risks than the new designs, and it would still be difficult to secure the inmates housed in dorms.

“We said at the end of the last session, if we didn’t address some issues, there would be an increase in violence.”

That was evidenced by numerous incidents in the past several months, he said, including the stabbing of the Holman Prison warden.

“That’s not a line that is often crossed. When a warden is stabbed, you’ve crossed a barrier. Once we crossed it, the violence escalated, both inmate to inmate, and inmate to corrections officer.”

The violence has made it more difficult to hire corrections officers, he said.

Asked if there would be uses for the 17 existing buildings if the new construction were approved, Jones said that the study shows seven should be demolished, while the other facilities could be repurposed for things like community corrections.

Other issues on which he touched included:

  • Impeachment. Jones chairs the impeachment proceedings that began against Gov. Robert Bentley last spring. The proceedings were put on hold at the request of Attorney General Luther Strange.

“There will be a point, and I can’t say when it will be, when we will complete the impeachment process,” he said, adding that he is waiting for the attorney general to release that requested pause.

  • A proposed 3-cent gasoline tax. The Association of County Commissioners has asked for legislation authorizing a 3-cent gasoline tax with which to repay a bond issue for infrastructure construction.

“There is no question there needs to be some investment in roads and infrastructure,” Jones said. “Are there enough votes in House and Senate to pass a gas tax? I don’t know.”