Allow me to spend a few moments bringing Alabama House District 17 residents up to speed on the happenings in the Alabama Legislature since lawmakers first returned to Montgomery on March 7.
Immediately upon arrival and hearing Governor Kay Ivey’s State of the State address later in the evening, the legislature was called into a special session to conclude the expenditure of more than $1 billion in federal funding provided through the American Relief Plan Act.
The funds were used to address a handful of desperate needs in the state, including public water and sewer access, stormwater drainage following extensive rains, broadband expansion in our rural areas, partial reimbursement for hospitals and nursing homes regarding funds loss during the COVID-19 pandemic and other less known needs. Among those needs were funding for veterans homes, mental health services, telemedicine, food banks, senior citizens programs, housing assistance, and summer learning opportunities for children.
Upon completion of the two-week special session, the legislature opened the regular session with a mission to face two major issues before the annual spring break (March 27-31). Those issues were streamlining the adoption process and creating much stiffer mandatory penalties for those convicted of trafficking fentanyl within our state’s borders.
Each of these bills sailed through the House of Representatives and Senate, considering the fact members in each chamber had a clear understanding of the need. Fentanyl now appears to be the most deadly drug in our nation while the path needed to be made clearer for those wishing to provide a warm, loving home to children in need.
Representative Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) introduced the fentanyl legislation and shepherded the bill through the lower chamber for final passage. The bill was forwarded to the Senate for final approval before being sent to the governor for her signature.
I am honored to serve as co-chairman of the children and senior advocacy committee in the House, the committee through which the adoption bill originated. Considering this bill was being carried by Representative Ginny Shaver (R-Leesburg), who serves as committee chairman, I was charged with the task of serving as interim chairman in this process. Partnering with Shaver in this journey was a pleasure, as we were on a mission to improve the adoption process in Alabama. I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to other members of the committee and legislature for supporting our efforts.
As these two bills were working their way through the Alabama State House, I continued to work on my own bills, including one which would clearly define discharging of a firearm on school grounds as a felony. Current law addresses cases where a firearm is discharged into an occupied or unoccupied school bus or building, but there was so no such offense listed in state code for simply discharging a weapon on school grounds.
Just prior to the spring break, I was able to push the bill through the House Judiciary Committee, which I assure you is no small feat, considering the panel consists of attorneys, judges and law enforcement officers. Going before this particular committee was a first for me since my arrival in Montgomery.
Returning to Montgomery on Tuesday, April 4, I am scheduled to resume my process of pushing several local bills for Marion and Lamar counties, as well as a few bills with statewide application. The statewide bill drawing the most attention from state media is the one which would allow an expectant mother to claim her unborn child as a dependent deduction on her state income tax. This would save each couple less than $100, but would leave these additional funds in the respective taxpayer’s pocket to help cover a few additional pre-natal expenses. This process would also serve as a reminder the State of Alabama recognizes that which is in the mother’s womb as an unborn child. In short, this bill would simply allow the mother or couple to claim the child as a state tax deduction one year earlier than normal.
Allow me to note your legislature is operating more efficiently than ever. First of all, we are starting each legislative day on time. Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter gavels in each time at the exact minute the session day is expected to start. In a sense, this is serving to add 20-30 minutes per day compared to our previous quadrennium.
The speaker’s new policy also requires those coming to the podium to discuss only the bill now under consideration, as opposed to using their time to complain or make arguments about legislation which has already passed or may be coming up for discussion later in the legislative day or later in the session.
Much more work is being performed on each bill in committee in an effort to lessen the time needed to discuss and amend the bill on the full House floor. Each step in this process has proven beneficial so far.
Much work remains to be done in Montgomery between now and the end of session on June 19. We will hit the ground running upon our return, as the special session has consumed so much of our time to date. But I assure you, I will be doing my part to be your voice in Montgomery while carrying and promoting common sense legislation in Alabama.
Tracy Estes is Alabama State House District 17’s state representative from Winfield.
See complete story in the Journal Record.