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Flowers: Legislative session essentially successful

The 2021 legislative session ended last month with an impressive slate of legislative accomplishments.

A goodly amount of the credit for the success of the session goes to the leadership of the new President Pro Tem, Senator Greg Reed of Jasper, who just completed his first session in this role.

The Senate was deliberate, effective and efficient as it took up a longer than usual list of issues given the legislature’s early departure from Montgomery last year due to the pandemic.

The Senate’s accomplishments include successes that range from economic development incentives, COVID-19 relief, legislation to support military families, election security, broadband expansion and more.

The Senate was also able to pass a constitutional amendment to allow the people of Alabama to vote on whether the state would finally legalize, cap and control gaming and a lottery. Although this bill did not make it through the House, it was an impressive feat to move this hotly debated topic through the Senate.

The legislature dealt successfully with the state’s budgets, which is the legislature’s number one responsibility. While the COVID-19 pandemic has led to many states across the country having to cut their budgets, the state of Alabama’s two budgets – the General Fund Budget and the Education Trust Fund Budget – were the largest ever passed in state history.

Senator Reed and the budget chairmen in both chambers were successful due to years of conservative budgeting by the legislature, as well as the resilience of the Alabama economy. Alabama’s conservative budgeting approach has given the state the resources needed to provide funding to support Alabama students, public employees, and to give our government agencies the resources they need as they work to improve our state.

The Education Trust Fund Budget, the state’s largest budget in history, provided a record-breaking $7.67 billion in funding. The budget provides a substantial amount of funding to address critical educational needs across the state, the most noteworthy of these being meeting the high demand for certified math and science teachers.

There are around 7,500 secondary level positions for math and science teachers statewide, and only 4,300 of those are filled with properly certified individuals. Science and math are critically important subjects for the educational success of Alabama students, and to excel in these areas, it requires our state to be able to recruit and retain credentialed teachers.

To address this concern, the budget included the Teacher Excellence and Accountability for Mathematics and Sciences (TEAMS) Act program to raise the salary schedule for math and science teachers so that they will make more money moving forward. Starting in the 2021-2022 school year, well-trained and educated middle and high school math and science teachers could earn up to $15,000 in additional pay each year.

The budget also provides funding for Governor Ivey’s recommended 2% across the board pay raises for all teachers, support workers, and transportation workers. The budget allocates about $80 million for these raises that go into effect on September 30, 2021. The budget also funds the school nurse program to ensure there is a nurse in every school system and sets up a retiree trust fund to present teachers with bonuses.

It is not only educators who will see pay raises as a result of these budgets. In the General Fund Budget, the largest ever passed by the state, the legislature included a 2% pay raise for all state employees. The budget also includes a 7.2% increase for the Department of Mental Health and a 12.5% increase for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.

While the regular session has come to a close for the year, there are still several potential special sessions that could be called by the governor. These could include special sessions to deal with issues ranging from gaming, to prison reform, to redistricting.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at: www.steveflowers.us.