Saturday marks a new year. Ten days later, Alabama’s 35 Senators and 105 Representatives will be back in Montgomery for the 2022 Alabama Regular Legislative Session. Alabama legislators have a full plate for 2022.

Here are just the top 12 issues 1819 News readers are likely to hear more about in 2022.

Permitless carry

“One thing that is really gaining momentum is constitutional carry,” State Rep. David Wheeler (R-Vestavia) told 1819 News. “Everywhere but in Mobile County where law enforcement has come out against it.”

State Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) and State Reps. Shane Stringer (R-Satsuma) and Andrew Sorrell (R-Muscle Shoals) have introduced bills ending the requirement that Alabamians must purchase a concealed carry permit from their local sheriff to exercise their Second Amendment rights. The Alabama Sheriff’s Association has blocked every effort by Second Amendment supporters to pass constitutional carry. This could be the year that changes.

Record budgets

The 2021 legislature passed the largest education trust fund (ETF) and state general fund (SGF) budgets in the history of the state. There are already reports that state revenues are coming in at a faster rate than even those rosy predictions. Legislators are already working with the State Finance Director’s office on supplemental appropriations for the 2022 budgets and early projections are that the 2023 fiscal year budgets (which go into effect on Oct. 1) will be the largest budgets in state history, surpassing even the record 2022 budgets.

Broadband

COVID-19 put an exclamation point on what the 2020 Census already showed state lawmakers: that too many communities in Alabama don’t have access to high-speed internet or internet at all in some cases. Employers don’t want to locate in towns without reliable internet connectivity. Young people don’t want to settle in a town where they are shut off from doctors, shopping, schools, and entertainment options available on the web. Teachers need the internet to connect with students and students need the internet to compete with their peers in Alabama and around the globe. The state is awash in federal funds for broadband. Expect the legislature to appropriate massive sums for extending wire to those communities that still are unserved.

Prisons

ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn resigned before Christmas leaving the prison debacle for John Hamm to try to resolve. Generations of Alabama politicians have gone to Montgomery promising to “get tough on crime” but didn’t appropriate the funds necessary to keep prisoners properly housed, cared for, and guarded. The prisons are old, overcrowded, and extremely dangerous, so much so that the U.S. Department of Justice is suing the state for violating the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment banning “cruel and unusual punishments.” The state is already in federal court trying to address many problems in the system. Construction on a new mega-prison is scheduled to begin next month, but the state probably needed those facilities three years ago. Legislators will consider justice reform legislation as well as proposals on how to reduce recidivism, and address the chronic shortage of prison guards and mental health professionals.

Gambling

The Poarch Creek Band of Indians (PCI) spent a small fortune on lobbying and media, promoting a constitutional amendment allowing for a massive expansion of gambling in Alabama in 2020 ahead of the legislative session. PCI hoped to get that amendment on the ballot for the people of Alabama to vote on in the 2020 election. Then COVID-19 hit, and that legislative session got blown up. Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) brought that legislation back in 2021. It predictably passed the Senate but ran into a buzzsaw of opposition in the House of Representatives. Sen. Greg Albritton (R), from Atmore – where PCI has a major casino – is bringing back the gambling bill. The state has no need for new revenue at the moment, but PCI and the dog tracks have expended a lot of energy and money to sway the legislature on this issue.  If it does not pass in this session, it likely would be 2024 before voters could vote on gambling and 2026 before the state would see significant gambling revenues.

Stiffer penalties for rioters

Americans watched in horror as cities burned and rioters battled police and destroyed downtowns during the summer of 2020. State Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-Morris) and State Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville) have both introduced legislation to increase the penalties for rioting and attacking a first responder, including minimum jail time for someone so charged. That legislation could not get out of the House last year but is back in 2022.

Medicaid Expansion

Nationally, in 2019, 55.9% of Blacks versus 74.7% of whites had private health insurance. Some 43.5% of Blacks used Medicaid in 2019 and state Medicaid rolls have grown during the pandemic. Republican refusal to expand Medicaid as a condition for supporting Marsh’s gambling bill is one reason why Democrats refused to support gambling, dooming the bill in the House during the 2021 legislative session. The Alabama Hospital Association has been consistently urging legislators to pass a Medicaid expansion, especially struggling rural hospitals.

State Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville), who chairs the Senate Health Committee, told 1819 News that the Senate Republicans had no plans to bring a Medicaid expansion bill in 2022.

“I do not think so,” McClendon said when asked if the legislature would pass Medicaid expansion in the election year. “I don’t see it happening. It could come from the other side of the aisle. I don’t know what could come out of the House.”

Ban on sex changes for children

Sen. Shelnutt and Rep. Wes Allen (R-Troy) have introduced legislation to prevent healthcare providers from performing sex-change procedures on minors. The bill would ban giving children sex-change surgeries, puberty blockers, and massive doses of sex hormones to make the body mimic the sexual characteristics of the other gender.

Shelnutt told 1819 News that his bill does not prevent any adult from having any medical procedure. All it does is protect a child from having anything cut off or from being given puberty blockers or hormones that will have irreversible consequences that would affect them for their whole lifetime.

State income tax cuts

Rep. Wheeler said that the legislature is expected to consider some measures to cut the tax burdens on Alabamians.

“Alabama is just one of two states where federal income tax is deductible,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler explained that Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook) introduced a bill last year to cut corporate taxes from 5.0% to 4.5% and it would be paid for by eliminating the state’s federal income tax deduction. Wheeler expected that bill to return.

“When the federal government lowers tax rates like they did with the Trump tax cuts, that increases our effective rate,” Wheeler said.

Other states have lowered their corporate rates putting Alabama at a competitive disadvantage.

Wheeler said that Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) is bringing a bill to cut taxes for lower-income earners. The Orr bill, as proposed, would increase the personal exemption.

Grocery tax

Currently, the state has a 4% sales tax on food. Wheeler told the 1819 News that there is a proposal before the House Republican caucus, “to cut the tax on groceries and prescription drugs in half."

Sanctuary state for guns

State Rep. Craig Lipscomb (R-Gadsden) has pre-filed a bill that “would prohibit the state and its agencies and political subdivisions from participating in the enforcement of any federal act, law, order, rule, or regulation relating to firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition, and would provide criminal penalties for a violation.”

This would apply to local law enforcement as well as ALEA.

Rep. Parker Moore (R-Hartselle) has pre-filed a similar bill as has Sen. Allen.

Ban on Critical Race Theory

State Reps. Danny Crawford (R-Athens), Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville), and Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) have all introduced bills that ban Critical Race Theory instruction not just in K-12 schools, but also in state agencies, including in public universities according to the wording of some of those bills.

“The bill that ultimately passes will have parts of all three bills,” Oliver told 1819 News.

Oliver predicted that the CRT ban bill would pass during the regular session.

Republicans hold a 77 to 27 supermajority in the Alabama House of Representatives and a 28 to 7 supermajority in the Alabama Senate.

The 2022 Alabama Legislative Regular Session begins on Tuesday, Jan. 11. The legislature will debate these issues and more in the coming legislative session.

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