On Tuesday, Feb.4, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey delivered the State of the State address in Montgomery. In her address, Ivey outlined her top goals for Alabama’s 2020 legislative session, which also began this week.
Alongside her address Tuesday night, Ivey further elaborated about her administration’s priorities at the Harbert Center in Birmingham last week. On Jan. 31, Ivey spoke at an annual conference hosted by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama or PARCA. PARCA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank established by Samford University.
At the event, Ivey detailed her plans for addressing Alabama’s failing prison system, education issues and the 2020 Census.
Overcrowding and violence in Alabama prisons have remained Ivey’s biggest priorities in 2020. These issues have become so severe that the U.S. Department of Justice has threatened to intervene if conditions don’t improve.
“Another issue that has gone unaddressed for a long time is the dangerous conditions in our prisons. We will continue to come together and address issues of overcrowding and violent conditions and we know the Department of Justice is ready to step in and take over if we don’t,” she said.
However, Ivey urged the federal government to give Alabama time to resolve these issues.
“We know that the issues are multifaceted and long-standing and my main priority is to seek an Alabama solution. Maintaining the status quo is not an option,” she said.
Ivey also addressed her prison study group’s newly released report. Last July, Ivey established the Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy, which for the past seven months has searched for solutions to these prison issues. On Jan. 30, this commission submitted its findings to Ivey.
“They gave me their report and we will be addressing critical items to ensure our justice system is fair and rehabilitative. I was so pleased with how thorough they were and the fact they were bipartisan and left politics at the front door,” she said. “We will be going through all of that and I am sure there are some good recommendations in there so we legislators can take action.”
Ivey has already drawn from this report and has shut down several prisons and will redesign other prisons to better rehabilitate inmates in the coming months.
“My commissioner of corrections is spearheading the efforts to build new facilities that will transition our facilities from warehouses to rehabilitation,” she said.
Ivey said she is keen on helping inmates adjust to life after prison.
“That is an important step we must make and we must ensure that our prisoners are being rehabilitated, and learn some skills so when they get out of prison they don’t come back,” she said.
During 2020, Ivey will also focus on improving Alabama’s schools.
“Unfortunately, Alabama is at the bottom of just about every educational ranking that you can find. It seems to me that we become complacent and accustomed to being at the bottom, but our children are suffering from this,” she said.
According to Ivey, Alabama schools face problems up and down the K-12 spectrum.
“We need to get energized about fixing the education system. Too many of our third graders can’t read and too many high school graduates are not ready for a career or college,” she said.
Ivey attributed Alabama’s failing education system to improper leadership.
“We need stability in our system. We’ve had five superintendents in the past five years,” she said. “We need accountability and we need term limits so board members will only serve two consecutive terms, six years each, which will keep fresh ideas coming into the system.”
In addition, Ivey weighed in on whether Alabama should adopt a lottery to increase school funding. In November of last year, Mississippi enacted a lottery, leaving just Alabama and four other states without one.
“The legislature is going to have to support a lottery if we are going to have one,” she said. “If they pass it, it goes straight to the people. It does not go to the governor’s office so we will have to see where that goes.”
However, Ivey has proposed Amendment 1, a ballot initiative, which she said will address many of these issues. Alabamains will vote on this initiative during the state’s primary election on March 3.
The 2020 Census also begins later this year and Ivey encouraged all Alabamians to take part in the nationwide population count. The census is set to start in Alabama on April 1.
I urge everyone to complete their census form … because the census numbers have a direct impact on the number of representatives in the United States’ Congress … and on the amount of federal funding that we get, which funds our schools, community programs, job opportunities and education,” she said.
According to Ivey, however, millions of Alabamaians neglected the last census in 2010 and she warned that if Alabama fails to participate this year, the state risks losing a congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“We have to shoot for at least an 80 percent participation rate. We discovered in the last census that over a million young people, meaning children, went uncounted,” she said. “This is a critical time and the outcome will affect the future of our state and every citizen.”