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Prison construction plan passes House, moves to the Senate

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – 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 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.

Roll Call vote on House Bill 4

Rep. Louise Alexander, D-BessemerNO
Rep. Wes Allen, R-TroyYES
Rep. Alan Baker, R-BrewtonYES
Rep. Mike Ball, R-MadisonYES
Rep. Chase Bedsole, BriarsfieldYES
Rep. Chris Blackshear, R-Phenix CityYES
Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-AnnisonNO
Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-MobileNO
Rep. K.L. Brown, R-JacksonvilleYES
Rep. Chip Brown, R-MobileYES
Rep. Jim Carns, R-Vestavia HillsYES
Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-SelmaNO
Rep. Adline Clarke, D-MobileNO
Rep. Steve Clouse, R-OzarkYES
Rep. Merika Coleman, D-BirminghamNO
Rep. Terri Collins, R-DecaturYES
Rep. Danny Crawford, R-AthensYES
Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-HuntsvilleNO
Rep. Will Dismukes, R-PrattvilleYES
Rep. Dickie Drake, R-LeedsYES
Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-MobileNO
Rep. Brett Easterbrook, R-FruitdaleYES
Rep. Corley Ellis, R-ColumbianaYES
Rep. Chris England, D-TuscaloosaNO
Rep. Tracy Estes, R-WinfieldNO
Rep. Allen Farley, R-WarriorYES
Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain BrookYES
Rep. Joe Faust, R-FairhopeYES
Rep. Bob Fincher, R-WoodlandYES
Rep. Berry Forte, D-EufaulaNO
Rep. Danny Garrett, R-TrussvilleYES
Rep. Victor Gaston, R-MobileYES
Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-BirminghamNO
Rep. Jeremy Gray, D- OpelikaNO
Rep. Lynn Greer, R-RogersvilleYES
Dexter Grimsley, D-HeadlandNO
Rep. Laura Hall, D-HuntsvilleNO
Rep. Tommy Hanes, R-Bryant-
Rep. Corey Harbison, R-CullmanYES
Rep. Kenyatte Hassell, D-MontgomeryNO
Rep. Jim Hill, R-MoodyYES
Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-BirminghamNO
Rep. Mike Holmes, R-WetumpkaYES
Rep. Ralph Howard, D-GreensboroNO
Rep. Steve Hurst, R-MunfordYES
Rep. Reed Ingram, R-MontgomeryYES
Rep. Gil Isbell, R-GadsdenYES
Rep. Thomas Jackson, R-MobileNO
Rep. Mike Jones, R-AndalusiaYES
Rep. Sam Jones, D-MobileYES
Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-RussellvilleYES
Rep. Wes Kitchens, R-ArabYES
Rep. Kelvin Lawrence, D-HaynevilleNO
Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter, RainsvilleYES
Rep. Paul Lee, R-DothanYES
Rep. Craig Lipscomb, R-GadsdenYES
Rep. Joe Lovvorn, R-AuburnYES
Rep. Rhett Marques, R-EnterpriseYES
Rep. AJ McCampbell, D-DemopolisYES
Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-HuntsvilleYES
Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Bay MinetteYES
Rep. Charlotte Meadows, R-MontgomeryYES
Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-BirminghamYES
Rep. Parker Moore, R-HartselleYES
Rep. Mary Moore, D-BirminghamNO
Rep. Tashina Morris, D-MontgomeryNO
Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-GadsdenYES
Rep. Ed Oliver, R-DadevilleYES
Rep. Kenneth Paschal, R-PelhamYES
Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-KillenYES
Rep. Chris Pringle, R-MobileYES
Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-BirminghamNO
Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-HuntsvilleYES
Rep. Kerry Rich, R-AlbertvilleYES
Rep. Proncey Robertson, R-Mt. HopeYES
Rep. Ben Robbins, R-SylacaugaYES
Rep. John Rogers, D-BirminghamNO
Rep. Connie Rowe, R-JasperYES
Rep. Howard Sanderford, R-HuntsvilleYES
Rep. Rod Scott, D-FairfieldYES
Rep. Chris Sells, R-GreenvilleYES
Rep. Ginny Shaver, R-LeesvilleYES
Rep. Randall Shedd, R-CullmanYES
Rep. Harry Shiver, R-Bay MinetteYES
Rep. Matt Simpson, R-DaphneYES
Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle ShoalsNO
Rep. Jeff Sorrells, R-HartfordYES
Rep. Kyle South, R-FayetteYES
Rep. Van Smith, R-ClantonYES
Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-HartselleYES
Rep. David Standridge, R-HaydenYES
Rep. Shane Stringer, R-CitronelleYES
Rep. Rodney Sullivan, R-NorthportYES
Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-BirminghamYES
Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-ArleyYES
Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-TuskeegeeNO
Rep. David Wheeler, R-Vestavia HillsYES
Rep. Andy Whitt, R-HarvestYES
Rep. Ritchie Whorton, R-Owens Cross RoadsYES
Rep. Margie Wilcox, R-MobileYES
Rep. Rich Wingo, R-TuscaloosaYES
Rep. Randy Wood, R-AnnistonYES
Rep. Debbie Wood, R-ValleyYES

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.

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