ATHENS, Ala. — Limestone County area lawmakers gathered Tuesday to discuss the most recent legislative session with members of the community.
The legislators, including Alabama senators and representatives called the session a success, despite COVID-19 obstacles and some unfinished business, including a lottery and a new prescription drug plan.
Legislators said the legislature moved forward on rural broadband upgrades, pointed to new increases in pay to lure and retain teachers and they touted a planned expansion of mental health services.
They agreed that timing led to some bills not getting to the floor for a final vote.
And, the session was also marked by Gov. Kay Ivey signing a once-unthinkable medical marijuana bill.
The bill’s lead sponsor Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, a medical doctor, attended Tuesday’s breakfast meeting. He expressed relief that the measure was finally was approved and excitement about potential benefits for patients.
The legislature debated the measure the last three sessions before ethis year’s breakthrough. Melson said some minds were changed about medical marijuana, but not everyone was on board.
“The hardcore people that were against it,” Melson said. “The on-the-fence people, when they started hearing people’s stories and success stories, I think they got swayed. Once you have a family member that needs it and you’ve seen the benefit, or a friend, then it’s easier to vote for it.”
There will be several steps to setting up Alabama’s medical marijuana, including identifying growers, processors and distributors. Melson said that set-up will take “12 to 15 months.”
“I think that we’ll have to get a commission appointed by each individual assigned to appoint people, such as the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker, pro-tem,” Melson said. “People like that will have to go and vet a bunch of people, as far as their qualifications to be on there.
“And once they do that, I think things will start rolling pretty quick. Also, we’ve got to get set up for ALEA to do inspections and Department of Ag to do their inspections as well.”
Legislators let Gov. Kay Ivey take the lead on a prison plan, but that deal fell through. Now they’ve got find a solution.
House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said that work is underway.
“Matter of fact we’re meeting this week, leadership in the Senate, and myself, will be sitting down with her to meet in Montgomery about the prison construction issue.
“I think that’s very important to us moving forward with the lawsuit from the DOJ, they are wanting us to show movement if you will in a positive direction.”
Ivey had proposed a prison lease deal with a private company, now Alabama may do it in-house, McCutcheon said.
“I would hope that we would look now at a state bond issue program,” he said. “And that we could come to some kind of agreement on putting together a state bond issue, which would mean the state themselves would own the new facilities and go ahead and move forward with building the new facilities.”
McCutcheon said it’s up to the governor to decide on calling special session on the prison issue. He said a special session is likely to take place this year.