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AP: Ivey, lawmakers begin election year session

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey will take center stage Tuesday as she gives her first State of the State address since being catapulted to the governor’s office nine months ago.

Ivey will lay out an agenda for the coming months from the Alabama Capitol on the opening day of the 2018 legislative session. Ivey, previously the state’s lieutenant governor, became governor in April following the resignation of then-Gov. Robert Bentley, who stepped down amid an ethics investigation and impeachment push in the fallout of an alleged affair with a staffer.

Political scientist Bill Stewart said the speech is an important moment in Ivey’s new administration as she seeks the office in the 2018 gubernatorial race.

Stewart said Ivey enjoyed popularity simply because she represented a clean break from the scandal that engulfed her predecessor, but now people will be looking to more from her administration.

“People need to feel comfortable with her leadership, and she needs to convince people she is worthy of a full four-year term in office,” Stewart said.

Ivey will lay out her agenda that is expected to include initiatives for education, rural broadband and corrections. One of the most pressing budgetary matters before lawmakers this session is compliance with a court order to overhaul prison mental health care.

“Gov. Ivey’s goal for this legislative session is to invest in our future, provide for our people and spend taxpayer dollars responsibly,” Ivey spokesman Daniel Sparkman said.

In seeking the governor’s office in 2018, Ivey will face challenges from within the Republican Party and Democrats. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and state Sen. Bill Hightower are challenging Ivey in the GOP primary. On Democratic side, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb have announced runs for governor.

Like Ivey, lawmakers begin the session Tuesday under the backdrop of an election year. In addition to the governor’s race, all statewide offices and legislative seats are up for election in 2018.

Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh said he expects a compressed session in which the emphasis will be on state budgets. The session could end as soon as late March.

“Let’s get in and get out as quick as possible,” House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said.

The session is expected to be dominated by two major budgetary issues: prisons and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Alabama is facing a court order to improve conditions in Alabama prisons after a federal judge last year ruled that mental health care was “horrendously inadequate.” State lawmakers will deal with the price tag of trying to comply with the ruling against the state.

McCutcheon said lawmakers would like to see to see pay increases for state employees and teachers, but it depends on available money and health insurance costs.

The session begins at noon Tuesday.

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