Local legislators

Addressing business leaders Friday afternoon, from left, are State Sen. Garlan Gudger, and State Reps. Corey Harbison, Scott Stadthagen and Randall Shedd.

Alabama’s legislative session ended in May, and Cullman County’s local delegates gave an update on some of their recent successes for the area during the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce’s Community Luncheon.

State Sen. Garlan Gudger, and State Reps. Corey Harbison, Scott Stadthagen and Randall Shedd each had a turn to speak to chamber members at Stonebridge Farms during Friday afternoon’s luncheon. 

Gudger also highlighted some of the state money that has been allocated to Cullman County over the past year, including $500,000 for mental illness, $200,000 for PTSD treatments for veterans, $100,000 for the North Alabama Agriplex to expand, $215,000 to fix leaks in the roof at the Cullman County Agricultural Trade Center and $375,000 for Wallace State Community College’s aviation program. 

He said there have been several projects funded in the area, including $2 million for paving on Main Avenue in Cullman, $1.7 million to pave roads in Baileyton and Fairview, $250,000 to pave County Roads 4 and 6 in the Arkadelphia/Colony area and $1 million to pave AL-69 in Dodge City. 

“All of that is not local taxpayer dollars,” he said. “It’s money from Montgomery that we fought for, on top of the budget, to bring that money in.”

Gudger said he also worked to support a bill, sponsored by Stadthagen, banning transgender athletes from competing on girls’ sports teams, and he is also working on a bill to add more regulation to vape stores to help prevent the state’s youth from having access to them. 

He said vape stores do not have any regulatory body like the Alabama ABC Board with alcohol, and he wants regulations to stop the stores from marketing to kids. 

“There needs to be representation in these vape stores, because the growing group in America that’s getting on vapes is 13- to 16-year-olds,” he said. 

Harbison also spoke about a few bills that were passed during this year’s session, and said he and the rest of Cullman County’s delegation opposed a bill that allowed for the creation of lifetime pistol permits after Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry spoke out against it. 

Harbison said he sponsored a bill to make pistol permits free in Cullman County, but it failed in the legislature. 

“At the end of the day, this delegation fights for what the people at home want us to, and I think that’s what we need to do,” he said. 

The legislature also voted this year to change the structure of the Cullman County Commission from three full-time commissioners to four-part time associate commissioners and a full-time commission chair, and Harbison said he believes that is a change that can help the county.

With the current format of the county commission, many people who are still working daily jobs are unable to run for one of the commission’s seats, so making the associate commissioner positions part-time should allow for more potential leaders in the community to step up, he said. 

“I think it’s going to add some stability, I think it’s going to open it up to a whole category of people that’ll help Cullman County move forward for years to come,” he said. “I’m excited about it and I think that’s one big accomplishment that we’ve done together.”

Stadthagen said one piece of legislation he is proud of is a bill he sponsored banning transgender athletes from competing on girls’ sports teams. He said he wanted to protect the state’s female athletes. 

He said he was happy to see the bill recently be signed by Gov. Kay Ivey.

“We’ve recently had her sign it with a ceremony and picture, and I believe it’s one of my highlights so far as a legislator,” he said. 

The legislature is expected to meet in a special session later this year for apportionment of the state’s representative seats, and Stadthagen said he would like to see the county’s delegation stay the same. 

“I like the people of Cullman County, I like this delegation,” he said. “We work well together as a team.”

Shedd said he has continued to focus on the expansion of broadband internet into rural Cullman County, and he and the rest of the county’s delegation have also focused on providing more mental health funding and services to the area. 

He said the local delegation took part in a working group to come up with legislation on mental health, and passed bills that are meant to help the people of the state. 

“We really, really rolled up our sleeves and worked to pass significant legislation dealing with mental health,” he said. 

Shedd invited Wellstone Executive Director Jeremy Blair to the stage, who spoke about how state funding has helped create a Crisis Diversion Center in Madison County and a Mobile Crisis Team in Cullman County. 

Blair shared stories about how the diversion center aided a man in Huntsville who was armed and suicidal, as well as the mobile team’s success in helping someone who was going through a crisis in Cullman.

Shedd said those two Wellstone programs were created by legislation that Cullman County’s delegation helped create and pass, and funding mental health care is important in making sure the area’s people remain safe. 

“I think it’s good that if you have a family member, a loved one or a friend who’s got a mental health problem, they don’t have to go to jail now, they don’t have to go to a hospital now,” he said. “There’s another way to help them.”

Tyler Hanes can be reached at 256-734-2131 ext. 238.

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