‘Bama gun ban? — Medicaid to work — Ethics overhaul, and more in today’s Alabama Legislative session update
Editor’s note: This is a round-up of the day’s major events in Montgomery.
The Alabama Legislature wrapped up work for the week on Thursday with discussion of a much-debated proposal to overhaul the state’s ethics law, a new gun-restriction proposal and postponement of a prison health contract.
Here is a look at the major developments in Montgomery on Thursday:
The big story: Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, along with Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston), House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) and Ethics Commission Director Tom Albritton unveiled proposed changes to the Alabama Ethics Act.
But legislative leaders do not expect a vote until next year. Instead, Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) will sponsor legislation to set up the Ethics Clarification and Reform Commission, which would review the proposal.
Sponsors described the legislation as an effort to strengthen the ethics law.
“After nearly two years of work and the input from many around the state, I am pleased to join with the legislative leadership in announcing the introduction of legislation to improve the Alabama Ethics Act,” Marshall said in a statement. “The updated Ethics Act, which was written with direct input from the Attorney General’s Office, is meant to strengthen and add further clarity to the current Alabama ethics law passed in 2010.”
Republicans passed the sweeping ethics law in 2010 immediately after the newly elected GOP majority took office. Signing the law was one of outgoing Gov. Bob Riley’s last acts.
But in the ensuing years, some lawmakers complained that the rules were too restrictive and deterred qualified people with business interests from seeking office.
Supporters of the proposed changes argue they will achieve three goals — encouraging honest people to serve by better defining the line between legal and illegal behavior; creating a clear process for people serving in government to seek guidance on potential ethical conflicts; ensuring that people who violate the public trust are held accountable.
“My office had a strong hand in the writing of this bill, but we didn’t do it alone,” Marshall stated.
Critics have castigated the proposal as a naked effort to weaken the ethics law, including legalizing some conduct for which former House Speaker Mike Hubbard was convicted of in 2016.
According to AL.com, Albritton called the proposal a “good starting point” that needs further discussion.
“There’s a lot of good in there, and there’s a lot in there I don’t like,” he said.
Making Medicaid recipients work: The Alabama Medicaid Agency will seek a federal waiver to allow it to impose work requirements on able-bodied adults, the Montgomery Advertiser reported Thursday.
The newspaper reported that the agency had begun soliciting comments as part of the process to get permission from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“Currently, both the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) program in Alabama contain certain work requirements for individuals participating in these programs,” the application to CMS states. “Alabama Medicaid plans to utilize the resources that have been successful in these programs to assist Medicaid recipients in gaining the tools necessary to become more self-sufficient.”
The vast majority of Alabama’s roughly 1 million Medicaid beneficiaries are children, elderly or disabled and would not be affected by a work requirement.
But critics contend that the requirement unfairly would make some recipients ineligible for Medicaid by boosting their incomes above the low eligibility limit. This includes low-income residents who qualify because they care for children or dependents who benefit from the health care program.
“The state really needs to ask two questions,” Jim Carnes, policy director for Arise Citizens’ Policy Project, told the Advertiser. “Do we want to get people to work, or do we want to get people off Medicaid? Because this would kick people off Medicaid.”
Prison contract delay: Amid questions over a health care company’s connection to a Mississippi bribery case, an Alabama legislative committee held up a contract for prison health care, according to the Associated Press.
The Legislative Contract Review Committee delayed the proposed $360 million contract with Wexford Health Sources to supply medical and mental health care to inmates until 2020.
Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said Wexford offered the best bid in terms of quality and price. But Wexford is among a dozen firms facing a lawsuit by the state of Mississippi over alleged kickbacks the Magnolia State’s former prison commissioner.
“There are just some questions floating around out there,” Contract Review Committee Chairman Jack Williams told the AP. “I held it up in order to give the governor’s office time to evaluate these others concerns that have been raised primarily from the state of Mississippi.”
Under state law, the committee can delay a contract for 45 days, but cannot block it indefinitely.
Gun ban in Bama? Alabama would not seem to be fertile ground for a sweeping gun ban, but that is just what a state lawmaker has proposed, according to AL.com.
Rep. Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) introduced a bill to ban the sale of all semiautomatic guns — rifles and handguns.
“It’s time that we had that conversation in the state of Alabama as well as across the country,” she told the website. “Because it appears as though it’s all right for our children to be killed. And nothing is done about it.”
Moore’s bill comes after a mass shooting killed 17 people at a high school in neighboring Florida on Valentine’s Day. She accused gun supporters of wanting to “hide behind the Second Amendment” but argued that semiautomatic guns are “used for war.”
Speaker McCutcheon told Al.com that he did not know how Moore’s proposal would be received. He said he intended to discuss various gun and school safety proposals next week.
“What are they trying to accomplish with this and how does it promote safety in our state?” McCutcheon said.
Tweet of the day:
And before you ask, for more than 30 years I have been president of one of Alabama’s oldest and largest hunting reserves. But right is right. Taking tax-paying property off the market while Forever Wild sits on $22 million in cash is a head-scratcher#alpolitics #67counties pic.twitter.com/qu4S2kTLdJ
— Sonny Brasfield (@sonnybrasfield) March 2, 2018