MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - 2019 was filled with a swarm of stories, some of which caught the eyes of people across the country. Here are some of the top stories in state politics.
For the first time in nearly two decades, Alabama leaders increased the state gas tax to fund an infrastructure plan. The governor called a special session in January to increase the fuel tax by 10 cents by 2021. The money would go toward roads, bridges and the Port of Mobile repairs.
The vote did not come without hours of debate during the session. In the end, both Democrats and Republicans voted in support of the legislation. There were several dissenting votes.
Ivey emphasized earlier this year that "every penny that is raised through this new resource will be scrutinized, will be accounted for infrastructure-only, period.”
A near-total abortion ban passed the state legislature, bringing in eyes from across the country as the new law became one of the strictest in the country. The Human Life Protection Act would make performing an abortion a felony at stage of pregnancy with almost no exceptions. One exception includes if the mother’s life were in danger.
However, a lawsuit immediately followed the passage to halt the legislation from going into effect. Legislation supporters anticipated the lawsuit because they hoped the law would reach the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God," Ivey said in a statement after signing the legislation.
The debate did not come without shouting matches which caught national attention. State Democratic lawmakers said the law took away a women’s right to choose.
IVEY CANCER TREATMENT
Gov. Ivey announced in September she would begin radiation treatments at UAB for cancer. Ivey said a “tiny, isolated malignancy” was found on one of her lungs.
“The good news is I am one of the fortunate ones where this was discovered early, and it is very treatable,” the governor said in a video announcement she released.
The governor then announced mid-October that she had completed her radiation treatment.
“I am constantly reminded that I have so much for which to be thankful; God has been incredibly gracious to me,” Ivey said.
AL DEMOCRATIC PARTY TURMOIL
The Alabama Democratic Party was filled with turmoil as two factions of the party dueled for control. Two people claimed to be the chairs of the Alabama Democratic Party.
There has been a long-standing struggle between the two groups after the Democratic National Committee called for new bylaws and party elections.
The DNC did not approve Chair Nancy Worley’s submitted bylaws. The national party said Worley’s submitted bylaws did not represent enough minorities in the party. This is when the separate faction of the party held new leadership elections and approved new bylaws pre-approved by the DNC. The separate faction elected Rep. Chris England as the Chair.
Worley filed a lawsuit in response, claiming the faction had held elections illegally. Now a circuit judge decided to let the Alabama Supreme Court decide whether the court has jurisdiction to resolve the dispute between the two state party factions.
Currently, England’s faction of the party appears to have control over the party office building and social media.
IVEY BLACK FACE REVELATION
Gov. Ivey was also in the spotlight after an interview surfaced indicating she wore blackface during a skit during her time as a student at Auburn University.
Ivey said she was made aware of a taped interview that she and her then-fiance gave to the Auburn student radio station in 1967. In the tape, her then-fiancé described Ivey as wearing blue coveralls and having put “black paint all over her face” for a skit.
The governor released a video apologizing for her participation in the skit.
“I offer my heartfelt apologies for the pain and embarrassment this causes, and I will do all I can – going forward – to help show the nation that the Alabama of today is a far cry from the Alabama of the 1960s,” Ivey said in part.
U.S. SENATE RACE FIELD CROWDS
Secretary of State John Merrill pointed to Sessions’ announcement as one reason he dropped from the race.
Some Republican candidates had begun running advertisements but campaign activities are expected to pick up in the new year.
U.S. DOJ THREATENS LAWSUIT OVER AL PRISONS
The United States Department of Justice threatened Alabama with a lawsuit in April if the state does not fix the dilapidated conditions in Alabama’s men’s prisons. The lawsuit would result in a federal takeover which many state lawmakers say would push Alabama’s budget to the brink.
The DOJ investigation into Alabama prisons paints a disturbingly grim picture of life inside facilities that are so violent and overrun by overcrowding that Alabama’s Department of Corrections stands in violation of the Eighth Amendment, subjecting prisoners to cruel and unusual punishment. They presented their findings in a 56-page letter addressed to Gov. Ivey.
The governor has pointed to three new prisons as one way to improve conditions inside the walls. She has moved forward with the RFP process. The governor also implemented a Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy to meet every month. The group heard testimony and discussed solutions to the overcrowding and violence problems. They also looked at programs that could reduce the recidivism rates and help former inmates adjust to society.
State lawmakers plan to propose several pieces of legislation during the 2020 legislative session. There are talks of a special session to address the prison crisis.
LEADERS PUSH BOARD OF EDUCATION REFORMS
Alabama has a history of sitting last in national test scores. Recent NAEP scores put the state at 52nd in math.
The governor and Republican leadership urged the passage of legislation that would allow Alabamians to vote on an amendment whether to remove State Board of Education member elections. Instead, this would become a seat appointed by the governor and then confirmed by the senate.
Gov. Kay Ivey has said this would take the politics out of education. She believes it is one way to help solve Alabama’s poor scores.
“We need a bold plan that works for Alabama, which is exactly what this constitutional amendment will provide our students," Ivey said once it had passed.
Some state school board members have shown concerns over ridding elections.
“I don’t understand why our legislators think that the citizens did such a great job electing them, but yet we didn’t have enough knowledge to vote our state school boards," board member Jackie Ziegler said.
The board would turn into a commission that its members would need to meet diversity requirements.
Voters will make the final decision in March of 2020.