The Blount Countian talked to the county’s four representatives to get an initial impression on what concerns and issues may occupy the Legislature in this year’s session, which began Tuesday, Jan. 9. As one of them observed, just because they say what they expect from the session doesn‘t necessarily mean that’s exactly what’s going to happen. “There are always some surprises that you couldn’t possibly have seen coming,” he said. Their comments are summarized here. Responding were District 34 Rep. David Standridge of Hayden, District 11 Rep. Randall Shedd of Fairview, District 27 Rep. Will Ainsworth of Guntersville, and District 13 Rep. Connie Rowe of Jasper.
As a general matter, all four agreed that an emphasis of this session will be to pass the General Fund and Education budgets as a priority matter, not to be slowed by other concerns or issues. Rep. David Standridge
“As chairman of the Rural Caucus, one of my big priorities is rural broadband and trying to expand coverage of this service throughout rural areas of the state. (District 9) Sen. (Clay) Scofield has a bill he’s working on to address expanding broadband and I’m working on that with him. I’m also working on a couple of other bills, but I don’t want to talk about them yet. It’s a little too early in the session, and both could depend on what other developments occur.”
Standridge said he is preparing to introduce a bill to allow school systems, municipalities, and other entities to purchase heating and air conditioning systems directly from cooperative purchasing organizations if pricing from those sources is lower than alternatives. They are presently precluded from purchasing heating and air conditioning systems from cooperatives by other rules and regulations, he said. Other issues he mentioned he will be interested in include cost of living pay raises for teachers, and efforts to address the opioid crisis. Rep. Randall Shedd
Shedd said he has sent a letter to the governor and state school board stating that the most important decision that will be made by the state this year will be their choice of the next superintendent of the Alabama State Department of Education. “We need to do whatever we have to do to find the best superintendent in the nation for Alabama,” he said.
Other points he made:
• as chairman of the Urban and Rural Development Committee, he said he will be concerned about how his committee can “put legs on” issues related to economic development in rural and rural fringe areas.
• the $800,000,000 prison construction issue from last year probably will not resurface as a prison building proposal, but the Legislature will have to be prepared to spend money on prisons in response to the federal lawsuit mandating improvement in prisoner health matters, particularly those related to mental health.
• if the federal government does not solve the problem related to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), then the state will have to.
• it’s going to be necessary to find ways to remedy the plight of rural hospitals; low Medicaid reimbursement rates are putting them in jeopardy of failure and some in Alabama have already failed. Rep. Connie Rowe
Rowe focused on her efforts as chairwoman of the Republican Platform Committee over the last several months to develop a comprehensive agenda to guide Republican Party efforts over the coming year. Called the “Flag, Family and Country” legislative agenda, the platform includes the following areas of emphasis (greatly condensed):
• Childhood trauma and domestic violence bills
• The Veterans Employment Act
• Parks for Patriots Act of 2018
• Resolution urging respect for the American flag
• Resolution supporting construction of a border wall with Mexico
• Consideration of proposals by the Alabama Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council
• Prioritizing of rural development initiatives
• Providing new levels of budget and fiscal information to taxpayers.
“Getting the budgets through is going to be at the forefront for everyone,” Rowe said. Something else that’s absolutely essential in my view is solving the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding challenge if the federal government doesn’t do it. It if doesn’t, the state will have to pick it up. The All Kids insurance program for children in Alabama will have to be funded. That’s not a party thing. That’s a human thing for our kids. Finding the money will be a problem, but we’ll have to do it. Rep. Will Ainsworth
“What you’re gonna see is a laser focus on budgets, “ Ainsworth said. “In general, they’re in better shape this year. The General Fund is looking good and the Education Budget has had more revenue coming into it this year. My first priority is to do what we have to do to get those budgets passed,” he said. “For the first time in my four years, we’re in pretty good shape, thanks to conservative practices and a growing economy.
Ainsworth, who is planning to run for Lt. Governor this fall, said his candidacy is “going great. “ “It’s being well received among voters, and I have enjoyed the campaigning around the state,” he said. “One of my main platform items is to recruit industry and people seem to respond to a successful businessman with sound business ideas being in the race. He said his campaign leads all candidates in the amount of money raised by a considerable margin. At the moment, two other candidates have been campaigning for the job, he said.