By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—At a press conference on Wednesday, the Republican Caucus laid out its theme of this year’s agenda: “Continuing Positive Progress.” The priorities for the 2016 Session include, economic growth, protecting children and families, and education pay raises.
President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper), presented the proposal outlining six legislative priorities: Make economic incentives more flexible and accountable, capitalize on Alabama’s ports, increase protection of abuse victims, expand suicide awareness, education pay raises and a plan to change hiring and retention practices of educators.
“The people of Alabama elected us to focus on jobs, education, and families – and we’re doing just that,” stated Reed.
According the press release, any bills related to these six goals will be given priority treatment as they pass through committees and given high placement on the calendar for floor debate.
“Republicans in the Senate are committed to positive progress and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate as we continue to focus on common-sense, conservative solutions to the problems facing Alabama,” said Marsh.
The first portion of the plan outlines identifying opportunities to make Alabama more competitive in the areas of economic incentives and providing incentives for more shipments destined for Alabama to be received through its ports.
The abuse and suicide part of the plan proposes a Class A felony for child abusers whose victims are under the age of six and an expansion of suicide awareness/prevention.
Education is presented as the third portion of the plan citing pay raises for teachers and educational staff while another part addresses hiring and tenure.
“While addressing our primary goal of passing balanced, responsible budgets, Senate Republicans will also tackle our legislative priorities,” stated Sen. Greg Reed.
Last year’s budget deficit resulted in raising taxes and dividing the Use Tax between General Fund and the Education Trust Fund. Marsh indicated that there was “no desire” in the Senate this year to use any education dollars to fix General Fund problems.
“I think it was a ladies’ and gentlemen’s agreement last year that we weren’t coming back to education to solve this problem again, so I would be very surprised to see those dollars come from education at this time,” said Marsh.
In response to the public hearing held on the repeal of Common Core, Marsh said he thought that decision should be made at the State school board level. “If there are enough colleagues for it to be brought to the floor, I will not stand in the way but I am not convinced that those votes are there to bring it to the floor.”
Reed added historically, that has been the problem, saying, “In the past, there have not been enough votes to bring it to the floor.”
Marsh said regarding the RAISE act, which has yet to be introduced, since last session he has met with AEA, Association of School Boards, Superintendents, Dr. Bice, Students First and other various entities that are interested in education issues discussing K-12 needs. He said he hopes to have the final draft available next week and plans to have it in committee in ten days to two weeks.
Marsh said the pay raise could be part of the bill, but he sees them as separate issues, but later said he thought it possible that they could be combined. Early drafts of the RAISE bill contained incentive-based merit raises for education employees, that portion was dropped last week.