By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, February 25, the Alabama House Republican Caucus announced their 2015 legislative agenda. This year’s GOP agenda has been titled, the Alabama First Agenda. On Wednesday Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) was joined by the Chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee Representative Mac McCutcheon (R-Capshaw) and State Representative Paul Lee (R-Dothan) when they unveiled the House Republican Caucus’s 2015 legislative agenda.
Speaker Hubbard said, “The Alabama First agenda is designed to put Alabama firmly on the road toward being first in education and first in economic development, and when it comes to combating liberal mandates and policies from Washington, this agenda puts the interests, needs, and conservative values of Alabama first.”
Rep. Lee is the chair of the Republican Caucus platform committee which developed this year’s legislative agenda. The full Caucus membership ratified the recommendations at a recent meeting.
Chairman Lee said, “I believe the platform committee crafted a document that truly reflects the needs, concerns, and beliefs that most Alabamians share. Whether you are a fiscal conservative, a social conservative, or simply someone who cares deeply about improving our public schools, this agenda has something that should appeal to you.”
Rules Committee Chairman McCutcheon said the agenda bills will be given first priority once the session convenes on March 3. This has been the practice in previous sessions since the voters of Alabama gave the Republican Party control of the legislature in 2010 after over 130 years of Democratic Party control. In 2014 Alabama voters gave the GOP added another five seats to add to their already commanding super majority.
Chairman McCutcheon said in a statement, “Because Republicans hold such a large number of seats, these bills have already secured the support of a majority of the House membership. By quickly passing these agenda bills, we can take important steps toward improving education, strengthening our economy, and standing tall for Alabama values.”
The legislation that comprises the “Alabama First” agenda includes: scholarships in career-tech dual enrollment programs; an ambitious charter schools bill; an updated economic incentives bill to lure more high impact employers to the state; a bill reauthorizing use of the electric chair if lethal injection drugs become either illegal or otherwise impossible to obtain; a bill protecting and encouraging more student led prayer in Alabama’s public schools; deregulation to make Alabama government more efficient; a bill protecting the rights of ministers, judges, and others to not participate in marriages they feel are violations of their religious beliefs; and a bill directing state agencies to provide each employee with an itemized statement of the values of the benefits they get from the state.
What is not found in this year’s ambitious agenda is any expansion of gambling in Alabama, Medicaid expansion, or any of Governor Robert Bentley’s (R) requested $700 million in tax increases.
This was not lost on Alabama House Minority Leader, Rep. Craig Ford (D-Gadsden). Rep. Ford released his own statement critical of the GOP agenda. Rep. Ford said in his statement, “Once again, they are not addressing the real problems. They are dodging the issue of the multi-million dollar hole in the General Fund budget, and offering absolutely no solutions. They don’t even acknowledge the problem! And because they have no answers to the budget problems, they hope to distract the taxpayers with talk about charter schools and other non-relevant issues.”
Rep. Ford has long favored more legal gambling. He said that, “House Democrats have offered a real solution, including a state lottery and negotiating a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians. We are committed to focusing on the real problems and offering real solutions that protect the taxpayers.”
Minority Leader Ford, “Instead of wasting the taxpayers’ money and time, the Republican Caucus should be focusing on solving the actual problems our state is facing. It’s time to let the people vote on a state lottery! It’s time to consider negotiating a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians. Instead of taking money out of our already underfunded public schools to create new charter schools, let’s look at actual reforms to make schools better.”
Rep. Ford said, “Alabama faces serious problems. The taxpayers deserve serious solutions. The Republican Caucus’ agenda offers no solutions at all. But Gov. Bentley has shown he takes the state’s problems seriously, and House Democrats are ready to work with the governor to pass a lottery and work together on other solutions.”
The House Republican Caucus has proposed what they call: ‘21st Century Workforce Scholarships.’ The House Republican Caucus wrote that a strong and skilled workforce will help ensure that more Alabamians have long-lasting, good-paying jobs. The GOP is proposing providing an additional $5 million in funding for career-technical dual enrollment scholarships across the State.
The Caucus is also proposing more school choices for parents, what they call ‘Parental Empowerment Tools.’ The Caucus wrote, “Every child in Alabama deserves access to a quality education regardless of their economic status, race, or zip code, and parents and guardians are the most qualified to make educational decisions on their behalf.”
The Caucus is expected to support the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act that will be sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and handled by Representative Terri Collins (R) in the House.
The Caucus is working with Gov. Bentley and the Alabama Department of Commerce on an Economic Development Initiative to overhaul and update the state’s economic development incentives to recruit new business and retain existing business in Alabama.
The Regulation Repeal Act promises to continue GOP efforts to downsize government and reduce red tape and repeal more than 300 what they have determined are obsolete, unenforceable, and unneeded laws currently on the books.
The Truth in Salary Act 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 promises to protect judges, ministers, and others from being forced to participate in wedding ceremonies that violate their fundamental religious and moral beliefs.
The Student Religious Liberties Act is needed because, “A series of federal court decisions over the last fifty years have whittled away the rights to prayer and religious expression in schools and created much confusion as to what is now permissible and what is not. House Republicans will re-establish the freedom of student-led prayer and religious expression in our schools by enacting the Student Religious Liberties Act.”
The Capital Punishment Preservation Act 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.
The House Republican Caucus wrote that their 2015 legislative agenda is designed to put our state firmly on the road toward being the first in education and first in economic development. And when it comes to combating the liberal mandates and policies being handed down by the Obama administration, this agenda puts the interests, needs, and conservative values of Alabama first.