What we’re watching during the 2019 special session

This week brought a first in recent memory at the Alabama Legislature: a session within a session. The regular session began Tuesday, but lawmakers have put it on hold until March 19 to make way for a special session on the state gas tax.

At Gov. Kay Ivey’s call, legislators will consider a proposed 10-cent gas tax increase, to be phased in over three years. (The current tax is 18 cents per gallon.) Ivey’s plan aims to strengthen Alabama’s roads, bridges and port, which has become a mantra for state leaders in the run-up to the 2019 session.

Arise hasn’t taken a position on the gas tax proposal, but we have a lot to say about infrastructure. We’re calling on lawmakers to claim a larger vision of infrastructure as Alabama begins its third century of statehood.

Rural hospitals, for example, are key infrastructure but weren’t mentioned in the governor’s State of the State address Tuesday night. Seven rural hospitals have closed since 2011, including one in Georgiana that will close Friday. Another overlooked sector is public transportation, which receives no state funding in Alabama.

There’s a good chance we’ll see Arise issues emerge in the gas tax debate. For example, the Montgomery Advertiser on Wednesday cited a potential push for Medicaid expansion to win gas tax votes from Democratic members. Some lawmakers also have expressed interest in reducing the grocery tax to offset the effects of the gas tax hike. Wouldn’t it be amazing if a plan to rebuild roads and bridges became the first step toward helping struggling Alabama families get health coverage and make ends meet?

Why is this special session happening?

Ivey called a special session to remove a procedural hurdle for the gas tax bill. To pass in the regular session, any bills other than the Education Trust Fund and General Fund budgets must first win a three-fifths majority in both chambers in a vote called the budget isolation resolution (BIR). But in a special session, any bill included in the governor’s “call” can pass with a simple majority.

The Legislature can meet for up to 12 legislative days across 30 calendar days during a special session. But because the regular session started first, each day of the special session also will count against the 105 calendar days available for the regular session. Lawmakers can meet for up to 30 legislative days during the regular session.