Alabama execution method change advances, budget passes, Ten Commandments debated — Alabama Legislature Session Update
Editor’s note: This is a round-up of the day’s major events in Montgomery.
Republican legislative leaders in Alabama on Thursday continued to execute the election-year game plan they set for the legislative session — no frills, no controversy and get home in plenty of time to campaign for re-election.
Committees in the state House of Representatives advanced the general fund budget, a death penalty change and a DUI bill.
Here are the major highlights from Wednesday.
The big story: Some years, fights over budgets get ugly. This year, the two major spending bills largely have been headache-free.
On Wednesday, the state House of Representatives general fund budget committee approved a $2 billion blueprint and a separate bill to grant a 3 percent pay raise for state employees and a bonus for retired state workers, according the Montgomery Advertiser.
“I think we pretty well covered our bases,” House Ways and Means General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse, (R-Ozark) told the paper. “There’s going to be a lot of questions about the budget, but I haven’t found any particular agency, any particular legislator who’s opposed to anything in any great degree.”
The cost-of-living adjustment would be the first raise for state workers since 2008. It would mean an extra $1,238 a year for people making the $41,258 median salary for state employees.
The full House is expected to vote on the budget next week.
In a sign of how painfully slow the recovery from the Great Recession has been, the budget will be the biggest since 2008.
Other highlights, according to the paper, include:
- a $55 million increase in funding for the state prison system, the largest increase for any agency.
- a $53 million increase for the Alabama Medicaid Agency.
- an $8.9 million increase for the Department of Mental Health.
- a $3.1 million increase for the Alabama Department of Human Resources.
- a $2.4 million increase for Alabama Department of Public Health.
Executions: A never-before-used method of execution moved another step closer to becoming a sanctioned execution technique in Alabama, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
Already passed by the Alabama Senate, the House Judiciary Committee approved a measure to make nitrogen the method of execution. It has not been used anywhere for executions in the United States, although two states allow it as an option, according to the paper.
The Alabama bill would not mandate use of nitrogen hypoxia
“It’s about giving the prisoners the option for an alternative to what is currently being used, in terms of lethal injection,” state Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose), the sponsor in the upper chamber, told the House committee. “This is a more humane method. One that is less invasive, and one that I think needs to be an option for the condemned.”
Supporters of the bill noted that the availability of drugs used in the lethal injection cocktail have become scarce. They also argued that nitrogen hypoxia is painless and cheaper than drugs.
But some lawmakers questioned whether nitrogen hypoxia should receive more study. Some also raised questions surrounding the fact that there are no court precedents related to the drug, according to the Advertiser.
Ten Commandments: A state House committee voted 9-3 in favor of a bill to allow public display of the Ten Commandments on state property or in public schools, according to AL.com.
The bill would not compel schools or other facilities to display the commandments and would require any display to include a “historical context.”
Supporters argued that a lack of faith contributes to a host of social ills.
“They forgot who Christ is in their life,” Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) said.
Opponents characterized the proposal as a distraction, according to the news website.
“This state has gone through this before,” Rep. Ralph Howard (D-Greensboro) said. “This bill does not solve one problem or any problem that this state has.”
DUI loophole: A bill offered by state Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville) and Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Birmingham) would close what they regard as a loophole in a 2014 law that authorized judges to require ignition interlocks to disable vehicles if drivers are drunk.
The lawmakers announced the bill at a news conference on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.
The bill would require drunken drivers to use an ignition interlock device after their first offense.
The law passed in 2014 did not require the devices for offenders who entered pretrial diversion programs. According to the AP, Mississippi — which requires the device for all first-time offenders — prevented twice as many drunken drivers as Alabama in 2016.
McClendon said making the device mandatory would deter drinking and driving.
Tweet of the day:
The House Judiciary Committee adopted the ACCA amendment to juvenile justice bill HB225. This means juveniles will no longer be endlessly held in dentention centers. Thank you to the members who voted yes & to the county leaders who reached out to show their support. #alpolitics
— Alabama Counties (@alabamacounties) March 7, 2018