With the Alabama Legislature set to embark on a new quadrennium, I believe it is vital to take the time to reflect upon the progress we’ve made, the obstacles we have yet to overcome, and to assess the new and emerging challenges we must face together to move Alabama forward on a path toward greater prosperity. Too often, we can become distracted by cynical political controversies or complex “culture war” issues, but the 2023 Legislative Session represents a genuine and viable opportunity to renew our shared focus on the true, undeniable, and common priorities that lie ahead.
Although we have made great strides in recovering from the devastating human and economic losses we felt during the pandemic and its aftermath, many Alabama families and businesses are still struggling. That’s why the Alabama Legislature should strongly consider ideas like repealing the regressive grocery and gas taxes which would help everyone. We should champion proposals like eliminating the state taxes on overtime pay, which would put more money into the pockets of hard-working Alabamians and their families. These are small, but significant steps we can take on our journey toward greater prosperity.
Of course, the term “prosperity” is not just a measure of wealth, it is more broadly defined as the condition of being successful and thriving. In other words, to be prosperous one must also be healthy. That’s why we must expand access to affordable health care and increase our investments in telemedicine, especially for communities that lack adequate medical services. It’s why we must find new ways to attract and retain health care providers in our rural communities. Together, we can increase prenatal, maternity, and child care throughout our state. As the author and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson insightfully noted, “The first wealth is health.”
Renewing our focus on Alabama priorities and prosperity must also include finding solutions for uncomfortable issues, like dealing with our current prison crisis and reforming our criminal justice system. We must improve our Pardons and Paroles process and work together to make our correctional facilities safer. Investing in inmate reentry programs will lower the chances that a person may commit another offense, which keeps our communities safer and helps to grow our economy.
Another lesson we learned through the pandemic was the demonstrable importance of in-person classroom education led by qualified educators. That’s why, during the last legislative session, we passed the largest Education Trust Fund budget in Alabama’s history to ensure that our teachers and students have the tools, resources, and support they need to be successful. Although recent reports showed that Alabama students’ scores did not drop as drastically during the pandemic as other students throughout the nation, we must continue to support our teachers and foster the innovation of new methods to improve students’ test scores, job readiness, and access to affordable post-secondary education and training. Renewing our commitment to continually improving public education is how we can best help our children secure their brightest future.
Another Alabama priority that deserves our focus is to ensure that we protect voting rights and renew our commitment to making voting easier, more accessible, and secure. The people of Alabama deserve to have their voices heard. It is also worth noting that this last election in Alabama had historically low turnout, which is why we need to be supporting common sense policies that increase voter engagement and participation.
So, as we embark on this new legislative quadrennium, I am hopeful that we can find common ground and renew our focus on Alabama’s priorities. It’s time to put the political distractions aside and work together on behalf of the people who have entrusted us to represent their best interests. That is how we can achieve greater prosperity and propel Alabama toward long-term success. Together, let’s make 2023 a year of accomplishment and growth.