The Alabama Legislature convened for a 5-day special session which began on September 27 where it debated and approved a package of bills that will construct new prisons and improve existing facilities. The package also included a sentencing reform bill. Governor Ivey received and signed the bills into law immediately.
While the Business Council of Alabama did not take an official position on the matter, BCA’s Interim Executive Director, Robin Stone expressed his gratitude to the Governor and members of the legislature for tackling this important issue.
“Once again, Governor Kay Ivey and the members of the Alabama legislature showed great leadership by identifying a problem and coming together in a bipartisan manner that resulted in real and practical answers,” said Stone. “They brought forth an innovative and common-sense Alabama solution to an Alabama problem.”
The $1.3 billion plan will be paid for through a $785 million bond issue, the use of $400 million in one-time federal dollars from the coronavirus American Rescue Plan Act allocated to Alabama, and $154 million from the state’s General Fund Budget. The state finance office expects the debt service on the bond issue to be $50 million annually.
The legislation lays out a three phased plan that begins with the construction of new facilities. Phase II projects would begin only after completion of at least 60% of the new construction and a certification that funds are available to move forward. Phase II would also include renovation of existing Department of Correction facilities in Madison and Jefferson Counties; construction of a new, 1,000 – bed women’s facility in Elmore County, and renovation of one existing facility in either Barbour or Bullock counties. Phase III will require the completion of a study on the status of all the newly built or renovated facilities, trends in the inmate population and other relevant factors. It also requires a report to the Governor and Legislature.
The proposals will create at least three new prisons. One will be located in Elmore County with at least 4,000 beds and will specialize in medical and mental health services, education and addiction treatment programs. Another facility holding 4,000 will be built in Escambia County. These two “mega prisons” will be the first new correctional facilities built by the state since the mid 1990s. The two new sites will be twice as large as any current state facility. Work is expected to begin on the new prison projects in early 2022.
The legislation includes an exception to the state’s standard competitive bid process on public works projects and allows direct negotiations with the contractors. Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, who sponsored the legislation said that Caddell Construction based in Montgomery and B.L. Harbert International in Birmingham are each expected to be the main contractors for Phase I projects in Elmore County and Escambia County, respectively. The legislation requires that all projects after the first two prisons would follow the standard public works bid law. The legislation calls for the closure of four existing facilities once the new prisons are completed.
The legislation also contains provisions that promote the participation of minority-owned businesses and requires the state to provide training programs to help minority-owned businesses compete for work associated with the projects.
Clouse added that direct negotiations with the contractors, which had already done design work on these projects, would save up to $75 million and speed up completion.
The legislation was sponsored in the Senate by General Fund Chairman Greg Albritton (R-Range). It was approved by a vote of 32-2.
Two pieces of legislation that will create new civil causes of action against employers have been pre-filed for the upcoming 2022 regular session.
Rep. Tommy Hanes (R-Bryant) introduced a bill (HB 16) that would allow employers to be sued for “any adverse reaction, injury, temporary, permanent disability or death of an employee arising from an employer mandate that the employee receive a COVID-19 vaccine.” Co-sponsors are Andrew Sorrell (R-Muscle Shoals) and Arnold Mooney (R-Birmingham). The legislation would provide for private rights of action in court against an employer for any damages caused by an adverse reaction, injury, or temporary or permanent disability arising from an employer mandate that he or she receive a vaccination for COVID-19.
Rep. Ritchie Whorton (R-Owens Cross Roads) is sponsoring legislation (HB 31) that would prohibit employers, places of public accommodation, and occupational licensing boards from discriminating against an individual based on their immunization status. Rep. Whorton’s bill defines discriminate as “the discharge, refusal to hire, refusal to promote, demotion, harassment, segregation, or discrimination in matters of compensation or benefits against an employee.” The bill also includes independent contractors or volunteers under the right to file suit. Rep. Whorton’s legislation would allow for an employer, potential employer or place of public accommodation be subject to a civil cause of action. It lists available remedies to include, but not be limited to: injunctive relief; compensatory damages; punitive damages and attorney fees. The bill also provides that the Attorney General may also bring a civil cause of action against employers.
Co-sponsors of Rep. Whorton’s legislation include: Tommy Hanes (R-Bryant); Mike Holmes (R-Wetumpka); Tim Wadsworth (R-Arley); Andrew Sorrell, (R-Muscle Shoals); Phillip Pettus (R-Killen); Bob Fincher (R-Woodland); Jim Carns (R-Birmingham); Chip Brown (R-Mobile); Chris Sells (R-Greenville); Scott Stadthagen (R-Hartselle); Craig Lipscomb (R-Gadsden); Shane Stringer (Citronelle); Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville); Tracey Estes (R-Winfield); Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville); K.L. Brown (R-Jacksonville); Danny Crawford (R-Athens) Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville); Steve McMillan (R-Bay Minette); Ivan Smith (R-Billingsley); Randy Wood (R-Anniston); David Standridge (R-Hayden) and Wes Allen (R-Troy).
The BCA has fought against the creation of causes of action against employers for decades. BCA opposes legislation that attempts to limit employers’ freedoms to implement employment at-will policies. For more information on either of the pre-filed bills referenced above, please reach out to the BCA Governmental Affairs staff.
The Alabama Legislature is not finished for 2021. A special session is expected to be held in late October or early November to draw new political districts based on the 2020 census. The U.S. and Alabama constitutions require “reapportionment” after each 10-year census to equalize population in the respective districts. The legislature must draw new lines for its seven congressional districts, eight state Board of Education districts and all 140 Senate and House legislative districts.
While the prison special session was swift and smooth, a reapportionment session is likely to be more complicated because of the impact it will have on the alignment of districts represented by the legislators currently in office. Reapportionment is typically led by the legislature and specifically the chairs of the Reapportionment Committees. The current chairmen of the House and Senate Reapportionment Committees are Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) and Jim McClendon (R-Springville), respectively.