By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, says he is pleased with what has been accomplished so far in the legislative session and expects the same amount of productivity when lawmakers come back in a week.
“What we’ve gotten done over these last two weeks is phenomenal,” McCutcheon told reporters upon the House’s adjournment Thursday. “We’ve even done better than I thought we would.”
All of the safety precautions, including limiting public access to the State House, will still be in place when legislators come back, McCutcheon said, but there could be a loosening of restrictions as time moves on.
“We’re trying to move in a direction where maybe we could make some changes to allow more people to be involved in the process,” McCutcheon said.
The House and Senate did experience some technical difficulties with the live streaming capabilities and the House’s virtual voting system for members not in the chamber also had some glitches, but McCutcheon said it hadn’t caused any major problems.
Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, said in a statement that he was proud the Senate accomplished their goal of passing the three priority bills.
“Alabamians expect these kinds of results from their representatives in the legislature, and we have delivered,” Reed said. “I appreciate my colleagues in the Senate and the House, as well as the governor’s support and leadership, as we delivered these results for the people of our state.”
Legislation that would provide immunity from COVID-19 related lawsuits, l ensure COVID-19 relief funds are not taxed and an economic incentives package were the three priority bills approved last week and signed by Gov. Kay Ivey.
McCutcheon said he fully expects members to return after the scheduled week-long break and has not heard of any more members testing positive for COVID-19 since the session started.
Members who choose to will be tested again with a rapid COVID-19 test when they return to the State House on Feb. 23.
During the first week of session, one House member tested positive. The lawmaker and a clerk who worked with the member were quarantined. McCutcheon said that the member, who was not identified, has not experienced any bad symptoms related to the virus.
McCutcheon said some of the bills he expects to tackle when they come back will concern prisons or criminal justice, state agency policies, economic development, voting rights and proposals on enforcement of the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act.
“We’ve got a lot of work out there still to do,” McCutcheon said.
Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, also said in a statement that he was pleased with the bi-partisan work accomplished in the first two weeks of session.
“There is certainly much work left to be done, and I am confident we will continue to focus our efforts on accomplishing successful results for Alabamians,” Scofield said.
McCutcheon said House members have an “appetite” for tackling gambling legislation but didn’t say what he thinks of the bill yet.
“I think members in the House are in a wait-and-see mode,” McCutcheon said. “They’re wanting to see exactly what we’re working with.”
When it comes to legislation concerning the Memorial Preservation Act, McCutcheon says he knows some local governments have been put in a “very difficult position,” but wouldn’t say if he supports or is against any particular legislation.
“When you listen to county commissions and municipal governments, they’ve been put in a difficult position in trying to figure out what should they do, to protect the monument. Do they have a place to move the monument to? Many of the governments didn’t want to destroy the monuments for historical perspective, then you’ve got the archives department that’s involved in this discussion as well,” McCutcheon said. “There are a lot of moving parts here and before you start speculating on what you would or wouldn’t do we need to let the process work.”
One bill from Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, would allow local communities to remove unwanted statues, including Confederate statues, and place them at the Confederate Memorial Park or another public site. It was moved to a sub-committee last Wednesday.
Another bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Holmes, R-Wetumpka, would increase the fines in the legislation from a one-time $25,000 fee to a $10,000 daily fee for elected officials or institutions for every day a monument is removed.