COVID-19: The Alabama Legislature’s Response

The Alabama Legislature’s two-week recess is over, but the session will not resume on March 31. No date has been set to reconvene either house. The Legislature is constitutionally mandated to enact General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets and end the session by May 18.   

Enacted Legislation  

Before the recess, the Legislature acted on one bill relating to COVID-19.

The Legislature approved, and Governor Ivey signed, HB 186 appropriating an additional $5 million from the General Fund to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) for COVID-19 preparation and response.

For perspective, ADPH’s fiscal year 2020 budget is $861,467,948, but only $52 million are state appropriations. This additional $5 million represents a 9.6% increase in the state appropriation. In its 2018 Annual Report, ADPH reported spending approximately 22.7% of state appropriations on infectious diseases.  

Proposed Legislation

HB 448  proposes to expand Medicaid coverage for new mothers for 60 days after the birth of a baby to one year.

HB 447 proposes to expand Medicaid, as described in the Affordable Care Act. 

Resolutions

SR 49 urges Congress to provide additional rental assistance to eligible families in USDA rural housing units. According to the resolution, there are approximately 13,000 Alabama families living in such units.

HR 107 urges the promotion, sharing and posting of practices to reduce the spread of infectious diseases.

SJR 40 asks Alabamians to fist bump rather than shake hands.

HJR 121 is a joint resolution from Democrats in both houses asking the Governor to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.  

Other Actions

Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) plans to file a bill providing businesses civil immunity from lawsuits that allege contraction of COVID-19 on those business’ premises.


The 2020 Census: Alabamians Are Responding

2020 Census Logo

While the COVID-19 pandemic rightly consumes so much of our attention, it is important—and perhaps comforting—to remember that other important aspects of public life continue. One of these is the 2020 Census

Census information began to arrive in the mail last week, and already, people are participating. An accurate Census count is now more important than ever as state and local governments will be coping with a very different post-pandemic reality. 

The map below, provided by the Census Bureau, reports self-response rates by state, congressional district, county, city, and census tract. The self-response rate, sometimes called the initial response rate, is the percentage of households that respond to the initial request to participate. Households that do not respond to this initial request receive additional requests and, ultimately, a visit from a Census worker.

Tracking the self-participation rate is a good measure of the effectiveness of Census promotion efforts and helps the Census Bureau adjust strategies. The self-response rate does NOT indicate the total percentage of households counted.

For more on the 2020 Census, see The 2020 Census: What’s at Stake for the State of Alabama published by PARCA last fall.

Are Alabamians participating?

As of March 25, Alabama’s self-participation rate is slightly ahead of the nation at 27.7% compared to 26.2%. For comparison, the state’s final self-response rate in 2010 was 62.5%. Within Alabama, Autauga County leads all counties at 33.4%.

You can complete the Census here.

The map below allows you to explore response rates at all geographic levels and is updated every day at 2 PM CST.


Prisons, education, taxes, trust in government. What do Alabamians think?

See the Full Survey

A slight majority of Alabamians oppose building new prisons, but an overwhelming majority support expanding rehabilitation and re-entry programs for people leaving prison, returning nonviolent offenders to the community, and spending more on education.

These are among the key findings of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama’s Public Opinion Survey: 2019 Edition, released today.

The survey, conducted in partnership with Samford University and led by Dr. Randolph Horn, again found high levels of agreement on critical issues facing the state.

Alabamians value education, rating it a top priority among major state services. State residents say education investment should be increased, as too little is now spent on education. While not agreeing on the source of revenue, a majority of residents are willing to pay more in taxes to increase funding for education.

There is some evidence that the current tax system is seen as regressive: majorities of residents say low-income residents pay too much, and those with higher incomes pay too little.

Consistently high percentages of Alabamians feel that they have no say in Montgomery or that state officials do not care what they think suggests that Alabamians do not believe state government is responsive to their concerns.

 Corrections

  • 86% support expanded rehabilitation and re-entry programs for people in prison.
  • 83% support moving people with nonviolent convictions back to the community.
  • 58% oppose building new prisons to address overcrowding.  
  • 54% believe only violent offenders should go to prison.  

Education

  • 74% believe the state spends too little on education.  
  • 69% support increasing taxes to support education, but no single option garners majority support.  

Taxes

  • 45% say they pay the right amount of taxes.  
  • 45% say lower-income earners pay too much.  
  • 52% say upper-income earners pay too little.  

Trust in Government

  • 82% support keeping the General Fund and Education Trust Fund separate.
  • 69% believe state government officials do not care about their opinions.
  • 57% believe they have no say in state government.

The survey of 410 randomly selected Alabamians was conducted between January 28 and March 3, 2019 and yields a margin of error of +/-4.8 percent.

See the Full Survey


Alabama’s Prison System: A Crisis in Corrections

How we view, value, and fund the justice system generally, and prisons, in particular, is complex and value-laden, particularly in Alabama. Our prisons have been marked by violence, overcrowding, poor healthcare, and federal court intervention for more than a century. Our current crisis is again brought into focus through a series of recent and current federal lawsuits.

The status and conditions of Alabama’s prisons will be a major focus in the 2019 legislative session. Governor Ivey has proposed building three new prisons at a cost of $950 million, only the most recent in a series of construction proposals.

At the same time, others are calling for robust reform of the entire criminal justice system.

To help frame this conversation, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama is providing a series of briefs which:

  • explore the general state of Alabama’s prison system;
  • summarize recent sentencing reforms;
  • analyze sentencing in Alabama compared to neighboring states;
  • explore alternative sentencing and community-based responses, and
  • pose questions that advocates of sentencing reform and construction should address.

These forthcoming briefs provide a high-level analysis for state and local policymakers and concerned citizens. They do not provide the solution to Alabama’s prison crisis. Indeed, it may be that no single solution exists. Rather, the goal of the reports is to inform and spur policymakers to action—while there is still time.

Read Brief #1: Introduction