Issues to watch for in final days of Legislature

Published 9:13 pm Monday, May 2, 2016

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Alabama lawmakers on Tuesday begin the final two days of the legislative session with some major decisions before them. Lawmakers plan to meet Tuesday and then adjourn the session Wednesday. Here are three issues to watch in the 2016 session’s final hours.

OIL SPILL SETTLEMENT: Lawmakers are trying to reach a compromise on how to dole out $1 billion from the state’s settlement from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee on Tuesday afternoon will consider a House-passed plan that would use settlement money — after getting cash upfront by doing a bond issue — for state debt repayment and road projects in Mobile and Baldwin counties. Of the projected $639 million the state would get upfront, $450 million would repay money borrowed from other state funds in previous years to avoid budget cuts.

Another $191 million would go to coastal road projects. The proposal would also free up $70 million for Medicaid, which would largely fill a projected $85 million hole in the Medicaid budget next fiscal year. The precariously balanced compromise has just two days to get through the Alabama Senate.

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PAYDAY LENDING: The House of Representatives on Tuesday will consider new restrictions on the payday lending industry. The state Senate approved a Colorado-style law that would give borrowers up to six months to repay the loans instead of a few weeks. A Pew Charitable Trusts study found that the number of Colorado payday stores shrank by half after that state passed a six-month repayment law. However, the House Financial Services Committee shelved that legislation in favor of a watered-down bill that cuts the effective interest rate but doesn’t extend the repayment period that long. Reform advocates say the committee-passed bill is reform in “name only” and will try to resurrect the stronger bill. Industry representatives have said the Colorado-style bill will eviscerate the industry. Any changes approved by the House will have to go back to the Senate for consideration.

PRISON CONSTRUCTION: Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley’s proposed $800 million prison construction plan is inching closer toward final passage but faces critical votes ahead.

Bentley is seeking to borrow $800 million to build three new mega-prisons for men — housing up to 4,000 inmates each — and one new prison for women. Most existing prisons would be closed under the plan.

The Alabama House of Representatives approved the plan last week. House members, after expressing concern about approving the money without seeing more specific plans, tacked on an amendment essentially giving themselves veto power over the project. Under the amendment, lawmakers would have to approve a cost analysis and project feasibility report submitted by the prison system before construction could start. Bentley opposed the amendment. The legislation now goes back to the Alabama Senate where opposed senators could try to block the legislation. The prison system has projected that it can pay for the bond issue through savings generated by consolidating existing facilities.