Chamber hosts legislative luncheon

Published 12:19 am Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, and Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, talked budgets, prisons, impeachment, and the coming legislative session in a legislative luncheon Tuesday. The Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce coordinated the event, which was sponsored by PowerSouth.

Holley said the state must deal with rulings in three lawsuits addressing conditions in the Alabama Prison System, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, mental health services, and the general health of prisons.

Jones said he visited a number of prison facilities in the state before sponsoring prison legislation in the past, and the conditions are very bad.

Holley said in the past, the legislature attempted to address problems with a construction bill that would have reduced the number of employees needed to run prisons, and in turn save the state money.

Holley said it takes $18,000 to train a prison guard, but the Department of Corrections is losing employees at a rate that is 20 percent greater than they are hiring employees.

Jones said he believes the legislature should address the problems before being forced into a federal takeover, as happened in California when the state did not address problems in its prison system. Just the legal fees in California topped $500 million, Jones said.

“Part of our job is to be good stewards of the state’s money,” he said. “We can face this reality, or spend double, triple or more.”

Holley said that preliminary projections show a 3 to 5 percent grown in the Education Trust Fund. However, he said, if the federal government choses not to fund CHIPS, a health insurance program for low income children, it will leave a $90 million hole in the Education Trust Fund budget.

“There is a lot of uncertainty in Washington, and that could affect our budgets,” Holley said.

Jones also recapped the preparations made to impeach then-Gov. Robert Bentley in the last legislative session. Bentley resigned before the process began.