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October 2016 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

New leadership in the judiciary and looking ahead to the issues that will most likely dominate the 2017 legislative session are just two of the subjects grabbing headlines in Alabama political news this month.

Lyn Stuart Assumes Leadership of State Judiciary
Justice Lynn Stuart has served as the state’s acting chief justice since May, when ethics charges against Chief Justice Roy Moore led to his suspension. The Court of the Judiciary recently suspended Judge Moore for the remainder of his term which ends in 2019. Justice Stuart, currently serving her third term on the state’s highest court, is the most senior justice. She won election as a district judge in Baldwin County in 1988. Governor Fob James appointed her a circuit judge in the county in 1997. Three years later, she was elected to the state’s highest court where she has served since that time. As the top administrator of the state courts, Stuart oversees day-to-day operations and will be tasked with addressing the perpetual struggle to adequately fund the court system.
Contract Review Committee Delays Contract
The Legislative Contract Review Committee recently met and agreed to delay a $1.3 million legal services contract after State Auditor Jim Zeigler presented objections to unbid contracts to provide legal services for the Alabama Medicaid to implement their RCO plan. Zeigler calls the RCO plan “fatally flawed and needs to be scrapped.” After the state did not expand Medicaid to include the poor, non-disabled and non-senior adults, most of the beneficiaries affected are children. The largest Medicaid provider to this segment is Children’s Hospital of Alabama. Children’s Hospital recently criticized the RCO plan saying it will place a further financial burden on the state’s beleaguered General Fund. The State Medicaid Agency will be able to present their case for approving the legal contract to the committee next month.

Prisons Big Issue for 2017
Next year, Alabama lawmakers could again face calls to build new prisons in order to reduce overcrowding. In a recent letter to Governor Bentley, The Department of Justice stated that it is launching an investigation into the 14 men’s prisons in Alabama. The investigation will focus on whether prisoners are adequately protected from physical harm and sexual abuse at the hands of other inmates or staff, and whether the prisons provide sanitary, secure and safe living conditions. The Department of Justice warns that the state could face a lawsuit if violations are found, and the state doesn’t work to correct them.

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