Thursday, February 18, 2016

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1497: What will this session really mean for the people of Alabama?

  What will this 2016 Alabama Legislative Session mean for the people of Alabama? This is a question that numerous citizens are asking. This is a question that many legislators are asking. This is a question that reporters are asking. This is a question that I am asking. But what are the answers?

  I know where I stand on the issues. I do, however, not expect to pass a single piece of general legislation, but I will introduce a dozen or so bills. I may pass several local bills. I know well that it is not a question of what I can pass; the question is what I can help prevent passing? What will this 2016 session mean for the people of Alabama?

  If some executive and legislative leaders have their way, we will snatch $181 million from public education to help fund prisons and other areas of general government. As it now stands, we do not have sufficient funding for public education. We cannot fully fund transportation to get our children to and from school. We cannot fully fund books for our children to study. We cannot fully fund supplies for our teachers. And there is so much more we cannot fund, but there are some who would further reduce funding. What will this session really mean for the people of Alabama?

  While we are on the issue of education, let’s talk about teachers. They have had only one cost of living raise since 2008, and it’s now 2016. That one raise was for just two percent. That means teachers are making about 20 percent less in real dollars than they made eight years ago. Yet, we demand more from them than ever before. At the same time, we are trying to repeal Common Core educational standards. I will do everything I can to see that teachers get a good raise and Common Core standards are retained. What will this legislative session really mean for the people of Alabama?

  Some are proposing that we borrow 800 million dollars to build four new prisons. I stand strongly against this proposition. How can we cut public education while spending more on prisons? Something is terribly wrong with that picture. Alabama has the second highest rate of incarceration in the United States. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world with a little less than five percent of the world’s population, yet almost 25 percent of the prison population. And Alabama’s rate of incarceration is the second or third highest in the United States. If putting more people in prison is the answer, we ought to have the second lowest crime rate in the world. Of course, that is not the case. Either Alabama has worse human beings than the rest of the country and the world, or something is drastically wrong with our system. I believe Alabama’s citizens are just as good as other people. Therefore, it must be the system. That’s why I stand 100 percent against taking funding from public education while spending more on prisons. What will this session really mean for the people of Alabama?

  As important as education is, health is even more important. Education helps us to live better lives; health helps keep us alive. So many Alabamians do not have health insurance or adequate health care. The governor could expand Medicaid to cover hundreds of thousands of the working poor, create tens of thousands of jobs, save thousands of lives, prevent a number of rural hospitals from closing, provide hundreds of millions in revenue and much, much more. There are bills pending in the Alabama Legislature to expand Medicaid, but roadblocks loom on the road to passage. I stand strongly for these bills, but the over-arching question is, “What will this session really mean for the people of Alabama?”

  Forty four states have a lottery that provides funding for education and/or other areas of government. Two of the six that do not have lotteries are Mississippi and Nevada, which do have casino gambling. Alabama does not have a lottery. Our citizens, however, help fund education in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee by crossing into these states to buy lottery tickets. Alabama shuns a lottery allegedly on moral grounds. At the same time, we refuse to act to save lives, to help heal the sick, to release the captives, to include those left out and lift those who are down, and so on. I ask you, “Where is the morality?” There is so much more, but I have run out of space. However, I will address jobs, funding for rural roads, keeping driver’s license offices open and more in the future. I leave you with the question, “What will this session mean for the people of Alabama?”

EPILOGUE – I know challenges are great. I also know that the blessings are greater. That’s why I keep going in the Alabama Legislature even in the face of great challenges.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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