Lawmakers to decide redistricting, prisons at session’s end

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers are heading into the final days of the legislative session with some big ticket items still outstanding, including prison construction and redistricting.

Legislators on Tuesday will begin the final six days of the sessions that will determine the fate of dozens of bills. Here’s a look at some of the key issues before lawmakers:

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REDISTRICTING

This is the most contentious issue before the Legislature. Lawmakers must redraw legislative districts after a panel of federal judges tossed out 12 districts, ruling they were unconstitutionally gerrymandered on racial lines. The ruling came after the Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference successfully argued African-American voters were “stacked and packed” into designated minority districts, making neighboring districts whiter and more likely to elect conservative Republicans. Black lawmakers have accused Republicans of trying to make minimal changes to the maps. The House of Representatives will vote on House districts Tuesday.

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PRISON CONSTRUCTION

A prison construction bill is getting new life in the last days of the session. The House Judiciary Committee could take the bill up this week.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said the House plan would replace Tutwiler Prison for Women and would also lease new men’s prisons built by local communities. Alabama prisons are at 173 percent capacity and have come under criticism for crowding and violence. Gov. Robert Bentley first proposed the large construction project, but the measure stalled as an impeachment push geared up against him. Bentley resigned last month.

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CONFEDERATE MONUMENTS

A conference committee will decide what to do with legislation aimed at protecting Confederate monuments by prohibiting the removal of any historic marker or monument. The conference committee will try to work out differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill. While the bill does not specify protection of Confederate symbols, it comes as some Southern cities consider taking down Confederate monuments. Black lawmakers have opposed the legislation as it moved through both chambers.

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STATE BUDGETS

State lawmakers are nearing completion of both the state education trust fund budget and general fund. The Senate must decide whether to go along with House changes to the education budget. The House must decide whether to accept Senate changes to the general fund. House Ways and Means General Fund Committee Chairman Steve Clouse said the state is trying to keep some money in reserve because the state is about to exhaust oil spill settlement money that has helped prop up the Medicaid budget.

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CHILDCARE REGULATIONS

The proposal would allow the state to inspect faith-based day care centers and faces a key hurdle on the Alabama Senate floor. The House-passed bill would require all child care facilities that take government subsidies to be licensed. It would also allow the Department of Human Resources to inspect the exempt facilities once yearly. Alabama has had a longstanding law exempting faith-based day cares from state licensure and regulations such as maximum child-to-worker ratios. The compromise bill is far short of the original intent to require all day care centers to be licensed. However, child care advocates called it a significant step forward.

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AUTISM COVERAGE

A trio of Republican senators has threatened to derail the final days of the session unless an autism therapy bill gets a committee vote. Supporters of the bill were unhappy after it stalled in the Senate after being unanimously approved by the House. The bill would mandate coverage of what’s called applied behavioral analysis therapy. Parents of children on the autism spectrum say the intensive therapy can be life-changing for children, but the cost puts it out of reach for many families. Blue Cross of Alabama and business groups have said it will increase insurance costs, and only some insurance plans will be required to provide the coverage.

The chairman of the Senate budget committee has said the committee will vote Wednesday.

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DEATH PENALTY

The Senate-passed bill would add nitrogen gas to lethal injection and the electric chair as allowable methods of execution in the state. The Senate also passed legislation aimed at shortening the time of death penalty appeals. It would require inmates to raise claims of ineffective counsel at the same time as the inmate’s direct appeal claiming trial errors.

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