MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Legislature will convene for the 2021 Legislative Session one month from today on Feb. 2. To get an idea of what topics will be discussed and what the public should know about the issues its legislators will be working on, The Tribune talked to Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview and Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman.
In the House, Shedd said the representatives will be hard at work catching up on opportunities they missed due to last year’s abbreviated session.
“There’s still a lot of concern about being in session with the pandemic still going, but I feel like we’ve got to get back to work,” he stated. “I think we’ve got to be focused on trying to catch up, seeing what we can do and what we need to do to help those who’ve been hurt economically by the pandemic as well.”
Shedd said the pandemic has demonstrated the need for a widespread broadband infrastructure throughout the state – both for education and for business – so he will focus a great deal of effort to help expand the networks in place as well as adding new ones.
Over in the Senate, Gudger said he expects to see a lot of discussion regarding COVID-19 liability insurance.
“I imagine there will be a lot of information and bills to protect businesses, small businesses and churches, people like that, from being sued by someone saying, ‘This is where I got it from,’” he explained. “Everyone might think they know where they caught it, but there’s not a definite map.”
The two legislators also mentioned two upcoming topics in common: gambling and prisons.
A final report submitted to Gov. Ivey by the Governor’s Study Group on Gambling Policy on Dec. 18 discussed detailed research of different methods of gambling, how other areas have implemented these methods and the pros and cons of each kind. The three main gambling forms studied were lotteries, casino gaming and sports betting. The Study Group found that implementing all three would generate an estimated $510-710 million in revenue for the state and create up to 19,000 new jobs, though the decision would not be without costs – an estimate of over 66,000 residents of Alabama may develop gambling disorders. Both Gudger and Shedd said that the decision on whether or not to allow gambling and which forms of gambling to allow will likely appear in the upcoming session. The full 876-page report can be found at https://governor.alabama.gov/assets/2020/12/FINAL-GSGGP-GAMBLING-REPORT.pdf.
Early in December, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the State of Alabama over unsafe and unsanitary conditions in men’s prisons across the state. The suit alleges that the State violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of prisoners in 14 major correctional facilities “by failing to prevent prisoner-on-prisoner violence and sexual abuse, by failing to protect prisoners from the excessive use of force by security staff (with the exception of the Hamilton Aged & Infirmed Correctional Facility), and by failing to provide safe conditions of confinement in violation of the Constitution.” It went on to allege that the State has “failed or refused to correct the unconstitutional conditions” since negotiations started in Spring 2019 and that the State “is deliberately indifferent to the serious and systemic constitutional problems present,” and therefore the United States “has determined that constitutional compliance cannot be secured by voluntary means.” The full complaint can be found at www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/1344011/download.
Shedd and Gudger both expressed concern over this suit and the possible cost for Alabama taxpayers.
“My biggest legislative worry for a long time has been the fear of the federal courts taking over the Alabama prison system and the cost that it would incur to the taxpayers of Alabama,” said Shedd. “I think that’s something we’ve got to really focus on to resolve that.”
Said Gudger, “The state needs more facilities for the amount of prisoners that we have. That is something that affects all of us because that will cost the taxpayers money, and so we need to be able to be as efficient with our budget as possible.”
After talking about the upcoming legislative session, The Tribune asked both men what hopes and aspirations they had for the upcoming year.
Shedd: “As everybody probably knows, I try to focus on local projects. One thing that I’m very hopeful for and working hard toward is the St. Bernard bridge four-lane, or at least getting it started, so that (U.S. Highway) 278 can be completed. That’s my biggest wish.”
Gudger: “The main thing that I think everybody’s looking forward to is a fresh start – just having a year where we can have a normal environment and do day-to-day business, go to church, go to restaurants. With the vaccines coming, whether you’re for them or against them, at least that’ll start creating some more normalcy for the citizens of the state of Alabama. That’s the number one thing, getting to have a regular environment because 2020 has been so unusual. Number two, as far as aspirations, I’m looking forward to a really good session. I go into the state legislature this year on Feb. 2, and I’m looking forward to getting there, looking at the bills, looking at the things we have in front of us so that we not only can hopefully bring some money back to this district and the state, but also look at issues like liability insurance and anything local that we need to be addressing. As far as personal aspirations, I just want to continue working at my small business trying to pay off debt, continue trying to balance family and politics, being a husband and father and a son taking care of my mom, and doing what I love to do every day.”
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