A state senator said he was considering legislation to prevent government agencies from spending state money to promote referendums and proposed constitutional amendments.
“We should not be using public money to influence the decisions of voters,” Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, told the Alabama Daily News on Thursday. “The government does not need to put its finger on the scales to try to influence the decisions that voters will have to make.
Orr’s comments were prompted by a meeting of the Legislative Contracts Review Committee on Thursday and information the committee received from the Alabama Department of Conservation about a proposed 200,000 public relations contract. $. The committee heard that the contract was to notify the public of a 2022 constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters, would allow the state to borrow $ 80 million to improve parks.
The committee cannot cancel contracts, but it can delay them for up to 45 days. It was decided to delay Conservation Thursday.
Later Thursday afternoon, Ed Poolos, Deputy Commissioner of Conservation, told the Alabama Daily News that lawmakers received inaccurate information from the department in a contract summary and at Thursday’s meeting.
“This contract is not a public relations contract with anything to do with the issuance of bonds or the constitutional amendment,” Poolos said. “This is a renewal of a contract that we have had in place with (a public relations company) for eight years.”
Poolos said the company helps advertise special events or spread the word when a natural disaster shuts down or changes a park’s operations.
The constitutional amendment will be on the May 24, 2022 ballot and Poolos said the company could help formulate messages to the media on the proposed obligation, “but that’s not the intent of this contract.”
He said the department would contact lawmakers about the inaccurate information.
Members of the Senate and the House overwhelmingly supported the constitutional amendment law. The $ 80 million would be used to expand and improve campgrounds and recreation areas.
The proposed constitutional amendment would also allow an additional $ 5 million to be spent on improving and maintaining historic sites and parks under the jurisdiction of the Alabama Historical Commission.
Orr in the Senate voted for the fundraising bill.
“Nonetheless, we don’t need to use government money to try to influence voters’ decisions. It is a slippery slope, whatever the value of the cause. “
This is not the first time Orr has argued that public money should not be spent to influence voters. In 2017, he sponsored legislation to prevent higher education institutions and local schools from spending “any public money against state or local ballot action, even though it has been determined that the expenditure serves a public purpose.
This bill authorized the Senate but died without a vote in the House.
Orr said Thursday night he was considering a new bill related to public money and voting initiatives.
“We still should not allow public funds to be used to pressure voters to vote a certain way,” he said.
More information sought on the mental health contract
The Contracts Review Committee held for further information an Alabama Department of Mental Health contract with a Connecticut company that processes documents for clients of the department as part of a lifelong program autonomous. The program has 325 clients and the contract will grow to more than $ 8 million.
“That’s over $ 24,000 per (customer) to do paperwork,” said representative Chris Pringle, R-Mobile. “That’s a lot of money.”
The chairman of the committee, Representative Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, said next year’s general state fund and education budgets will include more money for mental health services. He said lawmakers want to know he’s reaching those he’s meant to help.
“What I want to be sure of is that we aren’t just lining the pockets of paper pushers,” Garrett said.