The 2020 session of the Alabama Legislature begins next month, and the members of Cullman County’s delegation shared some of their goals with members of the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce Friday at the chamber’s monthly Community Luncheon.
State Reps. Randall Shedd, Corey Harbison and Scott Stadthagen were joined by State Sen. Garlan Gudger to discuss some of the issues at the forefront of the session, which begins on Feb. 4.
Shedd said this year’s legislative session could be a little more contentious than usual due to the primary elections that are set for March 3, but he still believes there will still be good work done in the legislature.
“With all of those distractions, we’re going to do some good things,” he said.
Shedd said some of the issues that will up for discussion during the session include the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ proposal to bring casino gambling and a lottery into the state; medical marijuana; and prisons. He said the legislature will pass a package of bills to deal with the prison crisis.
“We have to address that,” he said.
The legislature will also pass a bill package to address something that all of the local delegates have been working toward: mental health and addiction, Shedd said.
“That’s something that’s way past time for us to do that,” he said. “And I’m proud of this delegation for the work that’s being done on that.”
Harbison spoke about some of the same issues as Shedd, and said he is going to be looking closely at the possibilities for medical marijuana in the state, and is excited that the legislature may address it.
He said he has read reviews and studies on the subject, and interested to see what comes out of the final studies, because it seems like it could be an alternative to other types of medication.
“If it helps people and gets them off of other prescription medication, then personally, I would be willing to entertain it if it does help people,” he said. “Because that’s what we’re down there to do, is to help everybody and do what’s best.”
On the subject of the Poarch Creek gambling proposal, Harbison said he has heard from many local people that they want a lottery, but they don’t want to give a monopoly to the tribe.
Even if the legislature does decide to move forward with that proposal, it would have to be implemented via a constitutional amendment, which means the people of Alabama would have the chance to vote on it and have the final say on its passage, he said.
Stadthagen said he agreed that the Three P’s — pot, prison and Poarch Creek — would be at the forefront of the upcoming session, but he is also looking to be more involved in the state’s mental health crisis.
“It’s something our state has neglected for decades,” he said.
When Alabama began feeling the effects of the Great Recession, mental health funding was drastically cut, and Cullman County and the rest of the state are now feeling those effects.
“We went from 1,000 beds to 300,” he said. “Everywhere you look there is a family that has been touched by mental health, and that’s something that I am really trying to grab a stake on.”
Gudger said the U.S. Department of Justice sent out a report during last year’s legislative session that told the state to make progress on fixing its prison overcrowding issue or a federal judge will come in and tell the state exactly what to do and how to do it.
If a judge does come in to tell the state to what to do, the cost of addressing overcrowding will balloon from around $900 million to around $3 billion, he said.
“No one in this room wants to spend excess taxpayers dollars, including your own, to pay for something that a federal judge wants to tell us,” he said. “Kay Ivey said it best, ‘This is an Alabama problem, let’s get an Alabama solution.’”
Gudger said the legislature’s consideration of the Poarch Creek gambling proposal will also need to determine where the money from gambling would go, as well as who would sit on the state’s Gaming Commission.
“Whoever’s in charge of that and on the board rules the roost,” he said. “If all those members are Poarch Creek Indians, I would be against that. If there’s a mixture of diversity, I would be for it.”
On the local level, Gudger said he recently sent a letter to Alabama Department of Transportation Director John Cooper asking the department to fund the paving of AL 69 in Bremen and the paving of Welcome Road in Baileyton.
He said Cooper has passed the requests on to his team, and he is confident that both projects will be funded.
“This delegation has worked together to get that done,” he said.