While the Alabama Legislature works on allocating federal ARPA funds in a special session, questions on abortion and school choice loom on the horizon for the regular session.
Fewer than 100 bills have been filed so far, but more are expected when the regular session resumes on March 21.
School choice remains an unknown, as it was in 2022 when former State Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and former State Rep. Charlotte Meadows (R-Montgomery) introduced a bill to expand school choice.
The bill ultimately went nowhere, but Alabamians' appetite for school choice has not diminished.
State Sen. Larry Stutts (R-Tuscumbia) and State Rep. Ernie Yarbrough (R-Trinity) have proposed a school choice bill called the Parental Rights in Children's Education (PRICE) Act. The bill would allow parents to start an "education savings account," allowing them to use some of their tax funds to send their children to private school, home school or even an out-of-district school.
Governor Kay Ivey briefly addressed school choice in her Tuesday state of the state address, but it lacked the enthusiasm of previous remarks on school choice delivered in her January inaugural address.
State House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) did not say if the proposed PRICE Act was closer or farther from the mark of the legislative consensus. However, he did say he believed the legislature was "moving in the right direction" on expanding school choice.
"I don't think there's any question that we're going to probably expand some school choice," Ledbetter said. "There's areas I think it's going to be good in. I think the number one goal is to make sure that we move up and give our kids the best education they can get. However, it takes. If it's school choice or if it's fixing inside the walls. I mean, some of those areas, be it Wilcox County or Lowndes County, may not have but one choice. So we got to make sure everybody's taken care of."
"I've talked to the education trust fund chairman. I've talked to the education policy chairman. We'll be meeting with them the next week and looking at a lot of different ideals. I think we'll see a little more movement than [Ivey] talked about last night, and the conversation will continue."
The legislature will also consider legislation related to abortion.
State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures (D-Mobile) filed a bill to add exceptions to Alabama's abortion law.
In 2019, the Alabama Legislature passed a near-total ban on abortion called the Human Life Protection Act.
After the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) overturned Roe v. Wade in the decision of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization last June, Alabama's abortion laws went into effect.
Sponsored by Figures, Senate Bill 35 would add an exception in cases of rape and incest in Alabama's abortion laws.
Ledbetter appealed to Alabama's most recent legislative actions to protect life as a possible indication of the House's desire to add exceptions to Alabama's abortion law. He referenced the Human Life Protection Act of 2019 and a 2018 Constitutional Amendment that recognized and supported the importance of unborn life as a matter of state policy and clarified that there is no right to abortion provided in the Alabama Constitution.
Ledbetter said any exceptions would be considered on merit by the House GOP Caucus, a necessity due to the Republican supermajority in the Alabama legislature.
"I certainly think that it's something that will be talked about in caucus," Ledbetter said. "I think it's an issue our members will bring forth on what they want to do, and I look forward to that conversation. I feel good about where we're at: you know, we're for life, and we're passing bills and going to do bills for adoption this year, and I think that's a good sign that we want life. I mean, our children deserve that, so we look forward to getting that passed.
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