By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Late last year Dickie Drake (R) from Leeds was elected to the Alabama State House of Representatives seat that was once held by his brother, Owen Drake (R) from Leeds. Governor Bentley called a special election to fill Owen’s seat after Owen lost his battle with cancer over the summer. Dickie Drake defeated three opponents on his way to winning the election.
Rep. Dickie Drake said that he has gained a lot of respect for members of the state legislature once he got to Montgomery and saw just how much work was involved in being an Alabama state representative. Rep. Drake said, “It was like getting a four year education in 30 days.” “I learned a lot.”
On his work as a state Representative, Drake said, “All you can do is vote for the concerns of the people in the district.”
On the Jefferson County Occupation tax situation, Rep. Drake said that some people misunderstand his position on the issue. Rep. Drake said that he did vote for the Jefferson County Occupation Tax to be put on the calendar the last day of the session; but he never would have actually voted for the massive tax increase. “My plan was to enter a substitute bill when it came on the floor for debate.” Despite Rep. Drake’s vote, the motion by Rep. John Rogers (D) from Birmingham to strike the bill from the calendar on the last day of the session passed, so Rep. Drake never had his chance to introduce his substitute bill.
Rep. Drake assured voters, “I will never vote for a perpetual Occupation tax.” Rep. Drake said however that he did support giving the Jefferson County Commission an Occupation tax that would have expired in a certain number of months. The tax would have sunset, but it would have given Jefferson County time to deal with the Cooper Green situation, which Rep. Drake called a “real money pit”, and time to transition to the lower revenues.
Rep. Drake said that he could not support either of the bills that were introduced by Jefferson County supporters. The first bill would have given $20 million a year of the Jeffco occupation tax money to UAB. “UAB did not need the money.” The second was a perpetual occupation tax which he could not support. Rep. Drake said that there were hidden user taxes and a gas tax in one version of that bill.
Surprisingly Rep. Drake said that the Jefferson County occupation tax was not the issue that got the biggest response from voters. The two bills where he was the most inundated with the most emails included the bill to allow larger bottles of beer to be sold in Alabama. Rep. Drake said, “Those beer people are really well organized.” The second the bill which would have allowed nonprofit organizations to operate spay and neuter clinics in Alabama. That measure was defeated in the legislature although Rep. Drake voted for it.
Rep. Drake introduced two bills in the legislative session. The first would have prevented counties from charging non-sewer users environmental impact fees for a sewer system they do not use. Rep. Drake tried hard to get that passed, but the Democrats threatened to filibuster the session to prevent the bill from coming to a vote.
The other piece of legislation Rep. Drake sponsored was the Savannah Hardin Bill. The bill was named for a Cullman County girl who was run to death by her grandmother and stepmother as punishment for lying about eating a cookie. The bill would have required persons with knowledge of child abuse to report it. Rep. Drake said that the bill had no opposition; but it ran out of time on two different House daily calendars so the legislature was never able to bring it to a vote. Rep. Drake said that he had already pre-filed the bill and was confident that it would pass in the next legislative session.
Rep. Drake did have some legislative success in his first legislative session. SB 278 authorized the Governor to command the Alabama State Defense Force. The Alabama Defense Force is an all-volunteer group (many of them ex-military) who assist the Alabama National Guard in emergencies and when the National Guard is deployed overseas. The state defense force is not armed and is not paid. They serve in a support role to the National Guard. The bill was originally sponsored by Alabama State Senator Phil Williams (R) from Rainbow City. Rep. Drake sponsored the bill in the House and managed to pass it in the House on the last day of the 2012 regular session. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed the bill into law on Tuesday. This was the first legislation sponsored by Rep. Dickie Drake.