Aggressive agenda a focus for Democrats in Alabama Legislature

By Rodger Smitherman

Alabama State Senator Rodger M. Smitherman
Alabama State Senator Rodger M. Smitherman

The Alabama Legislature in 2016 did more to help corporations and big business, but failed to meet many of the needs of middle class and working class Alabamians. As a leader in the Senate and the representative for District 18, I will work diligently in 2017 to ensure that we improve pay for all state employees, expand access to healthcare and shore up our system of public education from pre-kindergarten through college.

This means we will address shortfalls in our Medicare and healthcare systems to serve those potentially impacted by changes in the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care). It also means we will continue our efforts to ensure that students and the staff and teachers who serve them have the tools needed for success.

It’s no secret that there is a direct correlation between a well-educated workforce and the ability to attract and retain business and industry. We must provide a foundation that includes a rigorous education program that begins preparing all students in pre-K and graduates them from high school prepared for college, career or vocational trade.

I am alarmed by the proposed changes in the so-called Alabama Accountability Act that would take more from funds for public education and allow it to be used for private school education with few restrictions. When it was first introduced, the Accountability Act was presented as a means of allowing students in failing schools to transfer to other schools, taking public dollars with them. The effort now is to increase the amount of public money that can go to private schools and make those funds available for students who have attended failing schools or schools parents feel are underperforming. This misuse of public tax dollars should not be allowed because it will only benefit certain groups of individuals. We need to focus on giving all students and their teachers the tools they need in public schools so that they reach optimum success.

I am also greatly concerned that there is not enough support for healthcare in our state – a vital link to a good quality of life for all Alabamians and a major source of employment. Almost a third of Alabamians – many of them children – rely on Medicaid and other government supported resources for healthcare. With change anticipated in healthcare funding on the national level, we can anticipate changes that will impact those who cannot afford to be without adequate healthcare.  Providing access to quality health care is the least we can do for our children and for many of our state’s workers.

Addressing these issues carries a cost, and the money is already here. We must close some of the loopholes so that larger businesses pay their share of taxes, just as the small businesses do. If we collected half of the taxes due this state from larger businesses, we would have enough money in the General Fund Budget to fund Medicaid and many of our other needs.

We must also pass legislation to legalize gaming in Alabama—not just a lottery. We lose millions every year to surrounding states because our residents simply cross state lines to purchase lottery tickets and visit casinos. Alabama is making significant contributions to education in Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia. Our children deserve the same opportunities for scholarships and education support provided in surrounding states.

I support the agenda for the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus which includes “Ban the Box” laws to give people with a criminal history the opportunity to get a job without disclosing their criminal background on their application. We also advocate for a raise for state employees and retirees, and we will seek to expand access to the polls by repealing the Photo Voter ID law and expanding the hours of operation for driver license offices throughout the state.

The Legislative Black Caucus led a successful federal court challenge of the gerrymandering of legislative districts that improperly used race to determine representation. The next step in this process is to redraw the lines so that all people have equal voter access and equal representation.

This is an aggressive agenda, and every item here is necessary to improve the quality of life for all of Alabama. I am committed to working with all lawmakers who sincerely want to serve and deliver the kind of government the residents of this state deserves.

Revenue Generating Bills

  • Combined Reporting Act: Sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman (D-Birmingham), the bill would streamline how out-of-state entities, doing business in Alabama, pay taxes. It would generate a low estimate of $30-$50 million and a high estimate of as much as $150 million (according to the Alabama Legislative Fiscal Office) for the state by eliminating this corporate loophole, which has existed for decades.
  • Gaming/Lottery: This legislation would incorporate casinos and lottery funding into both the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund. It is important to include casinos, because they create jobs by employing people and creating opportunities for new businesses in the vicinity of each casino.
  • Property Tax Increase: Sponsored by Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, this legislation would raise property taxes by 5-mills or $15 for every $50,000 of property owned.

Workers’ Rights Legislation

  • “Ban the Box” Bill: Sponsored by Sen. Quinton T. Ross Jr. (D-Montgomery), this bill would allow job applicants to wait until a job is conditionally offered before disclosing their criminal background.

Voters’ Rights Legislation

  • Repeal Photo Voter I.D. Bill: Sponsored by Sen. Hank Sanders (D-Selma), this bill would repeal Alabama Act Number 2011-673, which requires photo identification in order to vote.
  • Automatic Voter Registration: Sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham), this bill would allow those with valid driver’s licenses to automatically be registered to vote.
  • Early Voting: Sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), this bill would provide Alabamians the right to vote before Election Day to ensure more people have the opportunity to participate in the electoral process.

Criminal Justice Reform Legislation

  • Racial Profiling Bill: Sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), this bill would define racial profiling while also prohibiting Alabama law enforcement officers from engaging in the practice.

Rodger Smitherman represents District 18 in the Alabama Senate.