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Prison construction plan passes House, moves to the Senate

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MONTGOMERY -- The Alabama House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a prison constriction package, including a bill to borrow up to $785 million to build two mega-jails, marking an optimistic outlook for final passage as the legislation moves to the Senate.

The prison construction legislation will be in the Senate General Fund budget committee meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday. If approved there, the package could receive final passage and go to Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday in the quick-moving special session.

House Bill 4, the multi-phased plan of building three new prisons and renovating others, caused the most debate in the House on Wednesday but ultimately passed in a mostly party-line vote of 74-27.

The House also passed two other funding bills that would appropriate $135 million for renovations in prisons, allocate $19 million to purchase the Perry County Correctional Facility and the use of $400 million of the state's American Rescue Plan Act funds.

House Bill 5 passed 75 to 25, while House Bill 6 passed 78 to 22, both mostly along party lines.

Bill sponsor Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said he was confident the construction plan would save the state money compared to previous prison bills, create a safer prison environment and satisfy some of the Department of Justice’s recent concerns about inmates' health and safety.

“That this is a win, win, win situation for the people of Alabama,” Clouse said.

Most House Democrats were ultimately unsatisfied with more focus toward building new facilities rather than more robust sentencing reform, rehabilitation measures and overhauling the parole process.

After debate was cut off by the Republican majority on House Bill 4, House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said he sees the need for new facilities but it has to come with criminal justice reform.

“Our position has always been we cannot support construction without reform,” Daniels said.

Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals, was only one of two Republicans that voted against the construction plan bill.

“I don’t have a particular problem with the prison bill itself, only the $785 million bond issue,” Sorrell told ADN. “I don’t vote to borrow money my children and grandchildren will have to pay back.”

The other GOP no vote was Rep. Tracy Estes of Winfield. Hamilton Aged and Infirmed, one of five men's prisons slated to close in the bill, is in Estes' district.

Rep. Barbra Boyd, D-Anniston, expressed concerns on the floor that a new women’s prison would ultimately be “pushed out of the way."

Building the new women’s prison is included in the second phase of the plan but doesn’t include a way to fund that project and construction wouldn’t likely begin until 2025, at the earliest, Clouse said on Wednesday.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said on the floor that he agrees new facilities are needed, but believes more of the legislature’s attention should be directed toward things like sentencing reform.

“These buildings will capture a mindset, and that mindset will be that these buildings are more important than the people that are in it,” England said. “This mindset will also kill any momentum, or any effort in the future, to deal with the real underlying core problems that we are facing.”

The House was expected Wednesday evening to debate and vote on two sentencing reform bills, but Democrats have said they don't go far enough to modify state law.

While Clouse defended his bill from Democratic criticisms on the floor, Republicans mostly stayed quiet, not wanting to drag out the debate. The lone Republican to rise and speak was Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Cullman, who said building new prisons is just the first step in fixing the state's myriad prison problems.

"In my view, this is not the end of us addressing the prison problem,” Shedd said. “It’s the beginning of us seriously addressing the problems in our prisons."

Clouse justified the use of the $400 million COVID relief funds for prison construction due to the high rate of COVID cases and deaths inside Alabama’s prisons, saying the new facilities would help reduce infection rates during future crises.

Various state finance officials have also said the COVID relief funds fall into the "lost revenue” category that is allowed under the APRA, but concerns over Alabama's usage of the funds from a top congressional Democrat yesterday have put some lawmakers on edge about the usage.

Multiple Democrats said on Wednesday they thought the relief funds should be used on healthcare, education or other relief measures to help Alabamians facing problems right now due to COVID-19.

“Just because we can spend it, doesn’t make it right,” Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Mobile, said.

Two Democrats, Rep. Rod Scott of Fairfield and Rep. A.J. McCampbell of Linden, voted for the construction bill. McCampbell agrees more sentencing reform is needed, but he voted for the new prisons in order to protect prison employees currently working in dangerous and deadly environments.

"We can't build our way out of our prison crisis," McCampbell said. "But those people who are working in there, keeping us safe, deserve the ability to go home every night."

Sen. Bill Beasley, D-Clayton, also filed his own prison construction bill on Wednesday that is very similar to Clouse’s bill but would build smaller prisons and increase requirements before existing prisons can be closed. Beasley has three prisons in his district. As of Wednesday afternoon, the bill was not scheduled for a Senate committee meeting, making it unlikely to have the possibility of getting a vote before the special session ends.

Roll call vote on House Bill 4

Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Huntsville: Yes

Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville: Yes

Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston: No

Rep. Dickie Drake, R-Leeds: Yes

Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody: Yes

Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford: Yes

Rep. Craig Lipscomb, R-Gasden: Yes

Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden: Yes

Rep. Ben Robbins, R-Sylacauga: Yes

Rep. Ginny Shaver, R-Leesburg: Yes

Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston: Yes

Rep. Louise Alexander, D-Bessemer: No

Rep. Wes Allen, R- Troy: Yes

Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton: Yes

Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison: Yes

Rep. Russell Bedsole, R-Alabaster: Yes

Rep Chris Blackshear, R-Phenix City: Yes

Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Mobile: No

Rep. Chip Brown, R-Hollingers Island: Yes

Rep. Jim Carns, R-Birmingham: Yes

Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Selma: No

Rep. Adline Clarke, D-Mobile: No

Rep. Steve Clouse: R-Ozark: Yes

Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham: No

Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur: Yes

Rep. Danny Crawford, R-Athens: Yes

Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville: No

Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville: Yes

Rep. Barbara Drummond: D-Mobile: No

Rep. Brett Easterbrook, R-Fruitdale: Yes

Rep. Corley Ellis, R-Columbiana: Yes

Rep: Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa: No

Rep. Tracey Estes, R-Winfield: No

Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla: Yes

Rep. David Faulkner, R-Vestavia: Yes

Rep. Joe Foust, R-Fairhope: Yes

Rep. Bob Fincher, R-Woodland: Yes

Rep. Barry Forte, D-Eufaula: No

Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville: Yes

Rep. Victor Gaston, R-Mobile: Yes

Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham: No

Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika: No

Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville: Yes

Rep. Dexter Grimsley, D-Newville: No

Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville: No

Rep. Tommy Hanes, R-Scottsboro: P (not voting/not present)

Rep. Corey Harbison, R-Cullman: Yes

Rep. Kenyatte Hassell, D-Montgomery: No

Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham: No

Rep. Mike Holmes, R-Wetumpka: Yes

Rep. Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro: No

Rep. Reed Ingram, R-Montgomery: Yes

Rep. Gil Isbell, R- Gadsden: Yes

Rep. Thomas Jackson, R-Thomasville: No

Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia: Yes

Rep. Sam Jones, R-Mobile: No

Rep. Jamie Kiel, R- Russellville: Yes

Rep. Wes Kitchens, R-Arab: Yes

Rep. Kelvin Lawrence, D-Hayneville: No

Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville: Yes

Rep. Paul Lee, R-Dothan: Yes

Rep. Joe Lovvorn, R-Auburn: Yes

Rep. Rhett Marques, R-Enterprise: Yes

Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Livingston: Yes

Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Bay Minette: Yes

Rep. Charlotte Meadows, R-Montgomery: Yes

Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-Birmingham: Yes

Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmigham: No

Rep. Parker Moore, R- Decatur: Yes

Rep. Tashina Morris, D-Montgomery: No

Rep. Ed Oliver, R-Dadeville: Yes

Rep. Kenneth Paschal, R-Pelham: Yes

Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Green Hill: Yes

Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile: Yes

Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham: No

Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville: Yes

Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville: Yes

Rep. Proncey Robertson, R-Mount Hope: Yes

Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham: No

Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper: Yes

Rep. Howard Sanderford, R-Huntsville: Yes

Rep. Rod Scott, D-Fairfield: Yes

Rep. Chris Sells, R-Greenville: Yes

Rep. Randall Shedd, R- Cullman: Yes

Rep. Harry Shiver, R-Stockton: Yes

Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne: Yes

Rep. Van Smith, R-Clanton: Yes

Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R- Muscle Shoals: No

Rep. Jeff Sorrells, R-Hartford: Yes

Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette: Yes

Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R- Hartselle: Yes

Rep. David Standridge, R-Hayden: Yes

Rep. Shane Stringer, R-Mobile: Yes

Rep. Rodney Sullivan, R-Tuscaloosa: Yes

Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris: Yes

Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley:Yes

Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee: No

Rep. David Wheeler, R- Vestavia Hills: Yes

Rep. Andy Whitt, R-Harvest: Yes

Rep. Ritchie Whorton, R-Scottsboro: Yes

Rep. Margie Wilcox, R-Mobile: Yes

Rep. Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa: Yes

Rep. Debbie Wood, R-Valley: Yes