By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama House Democrats are badly outnumbered in the State House of Representatives; but that does not mean that they don’t have ideas they want to push forward. The group announced their 2017 agenda on a Thursday, March 9, 2017 press conference in the State House.
New House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) “All Alabama families want is a fair shot and level playing field – and, they deserve that. This is why we are focused on major investments in education, infrastructure, innovation and the Alabama worker.”
State Representative John Knight (D-Montgomery) announced that he was introducing legislation to end the sales tax on groceries, a cause he has championed for over a decade. Knight said that he intends to accomplish this at some point real soon. Knight said that Alabama is one of only two states with a full sales tax on foods. Knight said that this has not gotten done because, “There are no lobbyists for working families in the State.”
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) has proposed a task force to study taking the tax off of food; but Knight said that the idea has been studied enough and can be done now.
State Representative Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) announced that he was yet again introducing Legislation to create a State lottery. Ford said that this version of his lottery would fund: scholarships for high school graduates, K-12 education, and economic development. Ford did credit Alabama Governor Bentley (R) for calling a special session in 2016 to pass a lottery, though the legislature failed to accomplish that task.
The State Senate passed a lottery bill in 2016 that allowed “electronic lottery machines” at the existing dog tracks and opened the door to possible lottery computer games. The House stripped that provision from the lottery bill and defined a lottery as strictly a game on paper cards. A bipartisan group of Senators, including some of the most outspoken gambling advocates in the State, then voted to kill debate on the House version of the bill. The debate exposed the wide disagreements within both the parties on gambling expansion in Alabama and how unlikely it is for any lottery to pass.
State Representative Barbara Drummond (D-Mobile) emphasized Democrats support for public schools in Alabama.
The Democrat wrote in their platform statement: “Alabama parents and families want to put their children on the right track for success in school, work, and life. That path starts with a first-class education. We must reverse the chronic pattern of underinvestment in our schools, students, teachers, and classroom technology. By investing in our public schools now, we can rebuild our skilled workforce and lay the foundation to drive economic growth and development for years to come. Our goals are ambitious, but so are our young people. They deserve nothing less than an education agenda that is at least equal to their talent and drive.”
State Representative Christopher John England (D-Tuscaloosa) spoke on reforming prisons and reducing recidivism through rehabilitative services. Rep. England said that State run prisons should not be a jobs program. The bottom line is when we invest in people we don’t have to invest in buildings, referring to Gov. Bentley’s plan to spend $800 million to build four new prison to expand prison capacity in the State.
The Democrats announced that their, “Caucus members have introduced over a dozen pieces of legislation as part of the agenda package and more will be introduced in the coming weeks. Members will also be holding a series of town hall meetings across the state to discuss this agenda and other issues of importance to Alabamians.”
Rep. Daniels said, “We are going to spend the next 20 days doing everything we can to make sure we get real results for those who sent us here.” “We are committed to staying focused on this agenda for as long as it takes to get it done. We know that this is a marathon, and we are prepared to do the work.”