By Danny Garrett
The 2015 session of the Alabama Legislature convened March 3. A few bills had been pre-filed prior to the opening of the session and several other bills were introduced.
The first bill I introduced as your representative — HB97 — would provide teachers in grades K-12 with the opportunity to be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses they incur to purchase supplies and materials for their classrooms. Teachers would be eligible to receive a tax credit of up to $250 on their Alabama individual income tax return. The bill has been assigned to committee and will hopefully move forward for a vote by the House and Senate.
Legislators also heard presentations by representatives from the Legislative Fiscal Office and the governor’s finance director concerning state finance and budget issues. Last Tuesday, Gov. Robert Bentley delivered the annual “State of the State” address to the constitutional officers, members of the Supreme Court and the legislature in the historic House chambers in the state capitol building.
The House Republican Caucus has approved several bills that will be a focus and priority in the 2015 session. The 2015 Legislative Agenda – “Alabama First” – is designed to put our state on the road to being first in education and first in economic development. There will also be a focus on putting the conservative values of Alabama first. The legislation that comprises the “Alabama First” agenda includes:
- 21st Century Workforce Scholarships, which will provide an additional $5 million in funding for student scholarships in career-tech dual enrollment programs across the state
- Parental Empowerment Tools, which will provide school choice options through the creation of public charter schools and other parental empowerment tools vital to a student’s education growth and success
- Economic Development Reform, which will overhaul and update the state’s economic development incentives to recruit new business and retain existing business in Alabama
- The Regulation Repeal Act, which will repeal more than 300 obsolete, unenforceable and unneeded laws that are currently on the books
- The Truth in Salary Act, which will require state agencies and public education entities to provide employees with an annual itemized statement detailing all benefits that are being provided along with their cost to the taxpayers
- The Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act, which will protect ministers and judges from being forced to participate in wedding ceremonies that violate their fundamental religious beliefs and will reaffirm existing law
- The Student Religious Liberties Act, which will re-establish the freedom of student-led prayer and religious expression by all faiths in our schools
- The Capital Punishment Preservation Act, which will allow the Department of Corrections to once again utilize the electric chair as the primary method of execution if lethal injection is ruled unconstitutional or if the drugs essential to carrying out that death penalty process are unavailable for any reason
Several people in the district have voiced concerns about charter schools. Alabama is one of only eight states that currently doesn’t offer this form of public education, and many aren’t familiar with how charter schools operate. Charter schools aren’t private schools and can’t establish criteria for admission. In addition, a charter school must achieve and maintain certain goals and results in order to maintain its charter. Because Alabama would be one of the last states to adopt charter schools, our legislation should benefit from the experiences of other states. The bill is currently being discussed in the Senate, and the House will take up the bill for discussion and public hearing this week.
The proposed legislation has received input from a number of groups, including state school superintendents, educators, education leaders and the Alabama State Department of Education Superintendent Tommy Bice. I have spoken with the two school superintendents in District 44 and submitted their comments to the bill sponsor.
My first memory of national or world events as a child was the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960s. I remember watching news reports and hearing conversations about that turbulent time in Alabama history. Carol and I had the opportunity this past weekend to attend the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma. I especially enjoyed sharing the occasion with many of my colleagues in the state legislature. I also had the opportunity to visit with Sen. Jeff Sessions, Congressman Robert Aderholt and Congresswoman Martha Roby, among others.
Although I don’t agree with most of President Barack Obama’s actions or policies, it was a poignant and significant moment when Congressman John Lewis, who was hospitalized 50 years ago from injuries suffered while he marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, introduced an African-American president. One of my colleagues in the House, Rep. Juandalyn Givan, from Birmingham, shared how emotional it was for her to see Alabama State Troopers provide an escort from Montgomery to Selma for the National Black Caucus. Politics aside, this could only happen in America and, to me, speaks volumes about the heart and soul of the American people and about the people of Alabama.
It’s an honor to serve as your state representative.
Danny Garrett represents District 44 in the Alabama House of Representatives, which includes Trussville, Clay and portions of Pinson. He can be reached by phone at 205-410-4637 or by email at email@example.com. You may also follow his Facebook page, “Representative Danny Garrett.”