Earlier this month, The Blount Countian met with House District 11 Rep. Randall Shedd to get a glimpse of what’s in store for Alabama citizens in the upcoming session of the Legislature. The legislative session begins March 3 and will end in late May or early June.
Shedd represents about 13,000 Blount County voters. The district broadly includes the central area of the county, extending both to the west and to the north to include Cleveland, Blountsville, and most of Brooksville.
Of the total district, Blount County comprises about 29 percent, Cullman County about 58 percent, with the remaining 13 percent in Morgan County.
Following are Shedd’s answers – some quoted, some paraphrased.
Rep. Randall Shedd
Q: Can you give a quick summary of the bills you have pre-filed to introduce in the House on behalf of your district?
A: Shedd said he has pre-filed three bills:
• a bill to grant a pay raise to employees of Alabama’s two-year community colleges, who were not included in pay raises given to other teachers and thus have had no raises for seven years.
• a bill to repeal legislation enacted in the last legislative session to aggressively regulate barbers in Alabama; regulations are deemed too oppressive to barbers, many of whom are one-man businesses of reasonably long standing, who would bear an unreasonable cost burden to modernize their business as required by new regulations, according to Shedd.
• a bill to authorize creation of a disabled veterans license tag for motorcycles.
Q: What other bills are you working on that you may introduce this session?
A: Two other bills are possible:
• a bill to institute performance-based pay for state government employees; pay would be indexed to agency performance, based on comparison to objective ratings of performance of comparable agencies in other states.
• refiling of last year’s bill to give senior citizens more convenient ways of accessing monetary assistance to pay high heating and cooling bills, by engaging county senior centers as coordination points, rather than requiring seniors to travel to more distant community action area headquarters.
Q: In general, what are your three top priorities for your district?
A: • Transportation projects – getting funding for Ala 160 and U.S. 278 upgrades; getting District 11’s fair share of funding for all infrastructure projects.
• Meeting needs of county senior centers, especially including the Nectar senior center in Blount County. • Jobs and education generally.
Q: There are several major education issues the Legislature may deal with this session. Please comment on them.
A: “Public education is generally not a problem in our area of the state, but it is in other areas,” Shedd said.
He said there will be a significant effort to authorize charter schools in Alabama in this session, as well as an effort to expand the Alabama Accountability Act. An effort may resurface to combine the two historically separate state budgets – the General Fund budget used to operate all agencies of state government other than education, and the Education Trust Fund, used to fund the Department of Education and the public school system in the state.
Q: What is your position on each of these related issues?
A: Shedd said his position on education issues is that he generally doesn’t support education legislation that would be funded by taking away money from public schools. “I don’t want money taken away from our good public schools to fix problems with schools elsewhere in the state. If they’ve got problems in other areas, they need to bring their schools up, not pull ours down.” On efforts to repeal the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards, often referred to as Common Core, Shedd said he would have to see the details of any proposed legislation, but that he is inclined to vote for repeal. On charter schools, he said said that issue is a priority of House leadership, but that he had given his word during his election campaign not to support charter schools. “I’m going to keep my word on that,” he said.
Q: Indications are that the bill to expand the board of the Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) to include representation from Blount and other counties in its service area will be reintroduced this session, after its narrow defeat last year. Where will you stand on that?
A: Shedd said he would support the bill, adding that “what we really want is for Blount County to realize some benefit from the water from Inland Lake it supplies to Birmingham, and has supplied for many years.” Shedd noted that the Jefferson County delegation and the BWWB would “spend a lot of energy” opposing the bill.
Q: Both you and Rep. Standridge were elected to the leadership of the House Rural M Caucus – he as chairman and you as treasurer. What specific matters or initiatives will it be concerned with?
A: Shedd commended Standridge on his leadership of the Rural Caucus, observing that he has positioned it as a caucus to to good things quietly, not to cause controversy. “We don’t want it to be the rural areas against the cities. We’re not against the cities and their needs, we just want to focus on problems affecting small towns and rural areas and figure out how to solve them.” He gave three examples of caucus priorities:
• making sure the package of economic development initiatives Gov. Bentley is preparing to introduce has a rural module or component – for example, making sure it has a provision to address unique problems in getting jobs to rural areas.
• in healthcare, the trend toward hospital closings in rural areas has become a major concern for the caucus.
• public transportation in rural areas is an issue of interest;“I’ll be working on that from a Rural Caucus standpoint and also from my position as chairman of the Senior Advocacy Sub-Committee,” Shedd said. “The lack of adequate public transportation in rural areas affects a lot of senior citizens, and improving it is one of my priorities,” Shedd said.
Q: The decline of gas tax revenues used as a main funding source for county and state road maintenance has been a growing concern in recent years. Are there any legislative initiatives to change the gasoline tax formula to increase revenues or offset declining revenues from that source? What’s your position on the issue?
A:“Revenue from the gasoline tax has been declining for years, since it’s based on gallons used, and gallons have been going down as vehicles have become more efficient,” Shedd said. “We can’t move forward on Ala 160 and U.S. 278 with those declining revenues. I support adjusting the gas tax formula to get revenue stabilization – not a tax increase – but I fully intend to support revenue stabilization to offset the decline,” he said.
Q: Tourism is shaping up as a focus in Blount County. Do you anticipate that the Blount County delegation will have a role in helping with that?
A: “I firmly believe in tourism and Blount County has beautiful sites to attract tourists and their dollars. We’re going to do everything we can to get it funded as projects come along. We’re working on it now.”
Q: What have you learned from your experience thus far in the Legislature?
A: “I have learned that to accomplish things for my district, I need to work with my colleagues and through the Republican Caucus. You gotta learn what works. At the same time, I know that when I press that button to vote, it’s not my vote. It’s my district’s vote. It doesn’t belong to lobbyists. It doesn’t belong to the leadership. It belongs to the people in my district, and should reflect what they think,” Shedd said.
Q: What do you dread about the upcoming session, and what do you look forward to?
A: “I don’t dread anything. Debate is how our system works. It’s healthy, as long as it’s done in a respectful way. As far as what I look forward to, I’m excited about being a strong voice for retirees and senior citizens, and especially about being in a good place to do some good things for them in Alabama.”