Senator Steve Livingston recently expressed concerns about the new Alabama Prison Revitalization Program. According to Livingston, the new system appears to be failing as three of the major banks, the major players, have stepped away from the issue. Livingston stated a package may have to be put together and reviewed in a special session this year, allowing for a special bond for the prison issues.
Alabama was recently sued by the Federal Government, citing Alabama’s mental health care for mental health issues and healthcare was grossly inadequate. The Senate recently approved $26 million to go into corrections and prisons to address this issue.
“I admire Governor Ivey,” Livingston stated. “The prior Legislatures that I’ve been a part of, we’ve looked at prison systems maybe three times, and we’ve been unable to do anything with it legislatively. She understood that, and she took the bull by the horns and tried to wrestle the beast down.”
According to the Office of Governor Ivey, “Alabama is revitalizing its corrections system by replacing prison facilities that pose the greatest risk to public safety, place the largest financial burdens on taxpayers and inhibit development of programs for inmate rehabilitation. Governor Kay Ivey is leading the charge on improving the state’s prison infrastructure and on reducing public safety risks. The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) is working with Alabama-based public works professionals, HPM – which has partnered with national prison and correctional system experts, CGL. These improvements are part of Alabama’s commitment to reduce overcrowding and facilitate statewide prison reform. Statewide prison reform will save money, make prisons safer and improve public safety.”
In rural counties, such as Clayton County, where corrections facilities are providing over 250 jobs, this issue has divided the Legislature as senators representing their districts are then resisting their facilities being closed and moved to another district, thereby causing the loss of even more jobs.
Another concern for the Legislature is the pledging of 5% of the budget to go toward this program by Ivey without the Legislature’s approval. According to the Constitution, and abiding by the fine lines separating the three branches of government, the Executive, Legislative and Judicial, it is the Legislature that establishes budgets and designates funds from the budget.
The prison issue is an estimated $3billion issue for 30 years, totaling $100million per year. The Executive Branch and some departments such as Corrections, Pardons and Paroles, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), Department of Human Resources, take a whopping $2.1billion – 88% – of the $2.4billion budget, and this is where the concern lies for the pledging of that 5%.
“If we start letting the Executive Branch take that little 5% every year out, then we won’t have any funds to deal with regular government,” Livingston stated. “If another governor were to come in and do the same thing, that would be 10%, then 15%. Pretty soon, we won’t have any say-so about where we spend money. We need to make sure that line is defined among the three branches. Governor Ivey signed a stack of papers for this, but none of it was provided to the Legislature.”
This year, $7.9million will be going into ALEA for driver’s license offices and to provide more offices to the public. The budget also allowed a 2% raise for their employees and other state employees.
Medicaid saw a surplus in its annual budget. Because of federal funding coming into the state in the past year, not as many citizens have been on Medicaid. As a result, there was money left over. The Senate decided to leave those funds alone and allow Medicaid to carry it over into this year as a supplement in the event there is a jump in Medicaid subscribers. Medicaid will also see another $10million to go towards mental health. Last year three regional crisis centers were established, one in Huntsville, Birmingham and Mobile. This year, the Senate is adding mobile crisis centers throughout the state.
Students who classify for English as a Second Language (ESL) students in this area are a growing concern. In DeKalb County schools and Fort Payne City schools, 36% of the students enrolled are ESL and cannot adequately read the English language. Representative Nathaniel Ledbetter recently issued a “test” to Senator Livingston, written completely in Spanish, citing this is what the ESL students feel like when they are presented with a test written completely in English.
“We’ve got to do something about that,” stated Livingston. “We need to let our educators sit us down and tell us what they need.”
By Martha Smith