State lawmakers are back in Montgomery for the 2024 Session of the Alabama Legislature. There is an old joke that floats around Montgomery every year about this time, advising Alabamans to lock up their valuables because the legislature is back in session. Make of it what you want but as of noon today the 2024 regular session is underway.

Budget hearings have already brought many lawmakers to the capital to hear Fiscal Year 2025 requests from each state agency and department at the state house. It might be noted that allocating funds for the General Fund Budget and Special Education Trust Fund Budget are the two main duties annually required of lawmakers.

The house is where all money legislation originates and Rex Reynolds, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman. told reporters today that there is a surplus of around $460 million with $100 million going to Alabama prisons, leaving $361 million to divide among other agencies.

One of a number of key issues facing lawmakers is mental health. There are several bills already submitted. Of most impact locally is budgeting for the Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility in east Tuscaloosa.

There is also a push to provide more funding for 9-8-8 mental health crisis centers like the new one in Tuscaloosa. Another problem to be addressed is providing more mental health professionals. Alabama is well below the national patient to professional ratio.

The Department of Mental Health entered into a settlement with the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP) regarding clinical treatment and staffing ratios. The department proposed $11,839,145 from the general fund be allocated to increase staffing at Taylor Hardin and a navigator program to assist with inpatient service coordination.

The Alabama County Commissions Association, as part of its legislative agenda, is asking for more funding to train law enforcement officers on how to better handle persons with mental health conditions.

Other critical issues facing the new legislative session are Medicaid expansion, healthcare, work force development, mandatory kindergarten, statewide lottery/gaming, state prisons, pardons and paroles board, criminal justice, and gun safety.

Gov. Kay Ivey is set to deliver her seventh State of the State Address at 6:00 tonight as she sets out her agenda for the session.

Tomorrow morning at 11:00, a group of citizens will gather on the Alabama State House steps for their annual prayer session. The event is being sponsored by the conservative Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP) and is advertised as "a time of prayer for and with our elected officials."

Lawmakers are limited to 30 meeting days within a period of 105 calendar days for the session.

There are usually two meeting or "legislative" days per week, with other days devoted to committee meetings.

The Legislative session final adjournment is to be no later than 6:00 p.m. on Monday June 3, 2024.

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