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Lawmaker proposes splitting regular session into 2 portions

An Alabama lawmaker is suggesting the Legislature’s annual regular sessions be split into two parts, one early in the year and the second in the fall.

The state’s budgets would be passed in the earlier portion, Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, explained to Alabama Daily News.

Hill, a lawmaker in his third term, said the Legislature traditionally meets for about 3.5 months early in a year. The executive and judicial branches run 12 months a year.

“Things come up that the Legislature ought to be involved in, in my mind, but there’s no mechanism there to do that,” Hill told Alabama Daily News.

He said he’s not lengthening the days lawmakers would be in Montgomery, just spreading them over the year.

A current regular session is 30 legislative days in a 105-day period.

Under House Bill 35, starting in 2027 there would be 20 legislative days over 75 calendar days starting in February. If the budget-related bills were not approved in those 75 days, a special budget session would be called, lasting up to 12 legislative days over 30 calendar days, as special sessions now do.

The second part of the regular session would happen in September. Ten legislative days over a 30-day period.

That would give lawmakers time to react to anything that’s happened since April, Hill said.

“I don’t think you’re doing a service to the people of this state when you realize there are things the Legislature should and needs to be in a position to take, but we’re not in a position to take them because of the process and the way the system is set up,” the former judge said.

“I do not want to disrupt the budget process at all, I want to give the Legislature the flexibility to handle things at a more opportune time, in a more opportune way.”

The governor can call a special session at any time, as she has done in recent years to center the focus on a few bills or issues, including a gas tax increase in 2019, prison construction legislation in 2021, American Rescue Plan Act spending in early 2023 and redistricting in summer of 2023.

But those calls are limited and while other bills can be introduced, they take two-thirds approval in both chambers to pass, a harder lift in shortened special sessions.

Hill said his bill could alleviate the need for some of those special sessions.

Like about half the states, Alabama’s Legislature is considered a hybrid. Not full-time work, but more than part-time, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.

Alabama lawmakers’ salary is annual and not based on time spent in Montgomery.

Hill’s bill is a constitutional amendment that would require approval by Alabama voters.

The bill has been assigned to the House State Government Committee. Chairman Rep. Chris Sells, R-Greenville, said he hadn’t yet seen the bill.

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