March 5, 2021

Governor touts prison plan, urges transparent gambling debate

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday said new leased prisons are the foundation of remaking the state’s troubled corrections system and urged lawmakers to be transparent as they head toward debate on gambling later this year.

The Republican governor gave her annual State of the State address on the opening day of the legislative session. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ivey addressed lawmakers by remote feed instead of standing before them in a crowded chamber at the Alabama Capitol.

The Republican governor signed new leases this week for two of three planned new prisons, an idea that has met with mixed reviews from legislators. The three leases would cost an estimated $3 billion in payments over 30 years.

“One of the most critical issues facing our state is the dire condition of our prisons. It’s no secret the Department of Corrections is facing significant challenges that are the result of decades of neglect,” Ivey said.

She said the cornerstone of improving the system will be to replace the “state’s aging and failing prison infrastructure with safe, new, sustainable and affordable men’s prisons.”

The Republican governor praised Alabamians’ resilience during the deadly pandemic in a year that “tested both our patience and perseverance.”

“Despite all that was thrown at us, Alabamians remained grounded and kept our resolve. You never gave up. And while COVID-19 has proven to be a worthy adversary with no regard for class, race or gender, the disease has shown us just how much more we can accomplish if we work together,” Ivey said.

Ivey put her support behind three pieces of GOP-backed legislation that are expected to hit the fast track in the first two weeks of the legislative session, including a bill that would exempt coronavirus relief funds from state income tax.

“After all, these monies were meant to tide people over until the economy recovered. It was never meant as an opportunity to grow the state’s bank account,” Ivey said.

Another bill would provide lawsuit protection to businesses, medical providers and other from certain civil lawsuit damages from virus-related lawsuits. The third bill would renew state industrial incentives.

The governor thanked teachers for their work during a challenging school year and proposed a 2% pay raise for educators and state employees.

One of the most controversial pieces of legislation this session is an expected bill to authorize a public vote on a state lottery and casinos. Sen. Del Marsh said Tuesday that he hopes to introduce the legislation as soon as possible. Marsh said his proposal would steer lottery proceeds to college scholarships and other gaming revenue to the expansion of high-speed internet in the state.

Ivey, while not pushing the proposal, said she will monitor the debate.

“I’ve never been an out-front champion on this issue, but I have always believed that the people of Alabama should have the final say.” Ivey added that “if something does not pass the smell test, I’ll sure let you know.”

In response to the governor, lawmakers have given mixed reviews to Ivey’s prison lease plan.
“An Alabama solution to this Alabama problem shouldn’t involve creating generational debt to give to an out of state landlord trying to make a profit of of warehousing people,’ Rep. Chris England, a Democrat from Tuscaloosa, said.

“Before we spend this money, we need a process that involves the people’s elected representatives so we can have some transparency, accountability, fiscal responsibility, and also find other ways to deal with this problem than just building new prisons,” England said.