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Coronavirus could impact state Legislature, budgets

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The coronavirus could impact the second half of the Alabama Legislature’s bill-passing session, as well as the state’s budgets.

Gov. Kay Ivey on Sunday encouraged state employees to work from home if possible and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alabama Department of Public Health are recommending no gatherings of more than 50 people.

There are 140 members of the Legislature and during session, the State House is filled with hundreds of state employees, lobbyists and members of the public. 

Meanwhile, people above the age of 65 have been urged to take extra precautions to protect themselves from the deadly virus. At least one-third of lawmakers are seniors.

Lawmakers are currently on their previously scheduled spring break. 

Regular legislative sessions are 30 “legislative days” — when the House and Senate chambers meet — spread over 105 calendar days. So far, lawmakers have used 12 legislative days and the calendar days run out in mid-May.

When they left Montgomery last week, House members said their next legislative day would be Thursday, March 26. The Senate said it’d be back Tuesday, March 31.

After a 2014 winter storm paralyzed the state during a legislative session, lawmakers approved a new joint rule that says if both chambers lack a quorum during a state of emergency — which Gov. Kay Ivey declared last week — “then that day will not be considered a legislative day.” 

Lawmakers could also return after spring break and quickly adjourn again to a later date. But not matter what, this session ends by mid-May.

The only thing the Legislature is constitutionally required to do is approve the state’s education and General Fund budgets for the upcoming fiscal year before its Oct. 1 start date. As recently as 2015 and 2016, budgets were approved in summer special sessions.

Early this year, estimates for the 2021 budgets showed increases over current year revenues. Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, the Senate General Fund budget committee chairman, said he expects the coronavirus and its subsequent impact on the economy and drop in the stock markets to impact those projections.

“We don’t have any data yet,” Albritton told Alabama Daily News Monday morning. “All we know is that it will affect us, we just don’’t know how badly.” 

This story will be updated.

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