Alabama days away from 2020 legislative session

By PAUL DEMARCO / Columnist

This is an opinion column.

We are now about a week away from the start of the 2020 Alabama Legislative session, which will begin on Feb. 4.

As members of the Alabama House of Representatives and Senate prepare to head to Montgomery for business, the public should pay close attention.

In addition to the constitutionally mandated requirements that lawmakers pass annual budgets to fund education and state agencies, there will be plenty of other bills to watch as they make their way through the chambers.

Now most of the legislation is routine and passed to either enable, limit or prohibit city, county and state agencies or regulate activity within the boundaries of Alabama. While most of those bills are mundane and do not draw attention, there will be plenty that will bare close scrutiny.

For starters, there will be debate about how the state will address the violence in state prisons and concern for future overcrowding within the current facilities. There are already calls for sentencing reform, in particular, to reduce the criminal penalties for some state offenses. However, the state’s prisons are filled with violent and hardened felons. Thus, crime victim advocates and prosecutors are rightly skeptical of what has been proposed.

Secondly, there will be a lot of discussion about eduction reform since the state’s recent ranking as last in the nation in math scores. There will be a push to fund more pre-k and early learning programs for both math and reading in state schools.

Of course, as it has every session, gambling will be a major issue and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians are making a strong push to enact legislation which would legalize casino style games in the state and allow for more locations in North Alabama. Proponents for a state lottery and those opposed to all gambling will make their voices heard.

Finally, there will be debate on whether the state will legalize medical marijuana, which has drawn strong opposition from the state’s top health officer and the attorney general.

The session will run through May, but with so many controversial issues up for debate, watch for early fireworks this session.

Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives.