AL lawmakers return Tuesday from spring break, face decisions on impeachment and budgets

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers return from spring break Tuesday to a full plate of issues. State budgets, prison construction and action on the proposed impeachment of Gov. Robert Bentley are among the matters set to be decided before the session ends in late May.

Here’s a look at the key items before legislators:

IMPEACHMENT

Gov. Robert Bentley faces possible ouster from office over a scandal involving a former aide. The impeachment attempt, which started out as a long shot pushed by the governor’s critics, could end with the House making a decision in May.

The governor’s attorney objected to the special counsel’s plan to release his report on April 7, saying the investigation has gone “off the rails” and gives the governor no opportunity to respond. Lawmakers might be influenced by a decision by the Alabama Ethics Commission, which is expected to consider April 5 whether there is any probable cause Bentley broke state ethics law.

DEATH PENALTY

The Alabama House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to end Alabama’s practice that allows a judge to impose a death sentence when a jury has recommended life imprisonment. Alabama is the last state to still allow a judge to override a jury’s sentencing recommendation in capital murder cases. Senators approved the measure in February on a 30-1 vote. Since 1976, Alabama judges have overridden jury recommendations 112 times, according to the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative. In 101 of those cases, the judges gave a death sentence.

REDISTRICTING

Lawmakers must redraw the legislative map after federal judges ruled that they relied too much on race when drawing lines. The judges struck down a dozen districts, but more are likely to be impacted as lawmakers make adjustments. The court said the new districts must be in place before the 2018 elections. The ruling came after the Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference challenged the map drawn by the GOP-majority Alabama Legislature. They argued African-American voters were “stacked and packed” into designated minority districts.

STATE BUDGETS

State lawmakers have not completed either the state education trust fund budget or the general fund. The Alabama Senate delayed a vote on the education budget before lawmakers left for spring break after some senators complained they had not had time to review the revised budget bill. The Senate will also take up a House-passed general fund budget that attempts to save money in anticipation of tougher fiscal times next year. House Ways and Means General Fund Committee Chairman Steve Clouse said the state is about to exhaust oil spill settlement money that has helped prop up the Medicaid budget, and there are also unknowns about what changes the Trump administration might make to Medicaid.

PRISON CONSTRUCTION

Alabama lawmakers are continuing to negotiate on an effort to build new prisons to relieve overcrowding. The Senate approved a plan that hinges on interest from local communities in having the prisons and the jobs that will come with them. The bill authorizes the state to lease up to three prisons built by local communities. The bill would also authorize a $325 million state bond issue to build one new prison and renovate others, but the state must have two lease agreements in place before borrowing money.

CHILD CARE REGULATIONS

The proposal would require all day care centers to be licensed and inspected by the state and end Alabama’s long-standing exemption for faith-based facilities. The bill’s sponsor delayed a vote in the House amid pushback from groups that wanted to maintain the exemption for churches. VOICES for Alabama’s Children said the state is one of seven that broadly exempt faith-based day cares from regulation. Exempt facilities do not have to meet regulations such as worker-to-child ratios.

ADOPTION/RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Faith-based adoption agencies, including those that care for state foster children, could turn away gay couples and others on religious grounds without risk of losing their state license or contract, under a bill approved by the House. The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate. Proponents argue it is needed for the religious freedom of the faith-based agencies, while opponents argue it legalizes discrimination. South Dakota, Michigan, North Dakota and Virginia have passed similar laws.

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