THE ISSUES

 


THE ISSUES

“I believe that cooperation is better than conflict when attempting to solve complex problems, unity is better than division when trying to lead a vision of future possibilities, empowerment is better than resentment when helping to destroy injustices, and bridges are better than walls when unifying a community.” – Rayford Mack

Roughly 40% of Montgomery’s school-aged children live in single-parent households. As you single parents know, it’s difficult enough to make a living and provide for your family’s needs let alone devote what’s left of your time, resources, and energy to help and encourage your child with school-work.

I will introduce legislation to form legislatively-recognized “Partnering in Education Taskforces” (PET.) A PET is identified as an unincorporated association, a formal framework for the purpose of tutoring, nurturing, and supporting of our school children. A PET will be governed by representatives from individual member entities. A PET may serve a single school, group of schools or district. 

A representative chosen by the members of each PET shall serve as a non-voting member of the Board of Education of each school district served by the PET.

PET legislation will provide tax incentives, with appropriate guidelines and accountability measures, to businesses that enter into formal partnerships with individual schools, non-profits, civic clubs, and houses of worship for the purpose of identifying and training employees and members who will cooperate regularly with individually-identified at-risk students to devote regular time to tutoring and otherwise providing emotional support to such students. 

Employees of cooperating businesses must be considered on-the-job and compensated when engaged in these activities. Cooperating companies will receive tax credits from state taxes to partially defray the salaries of employees engaged in the PET’s activities.

Individual members will receive a tax credit commensurate with hours engaged in the enterprise. 

Non-profits, civic organizations, and houses of worship so partnering should be regularly recognized by the Alabama State Department of Education.

  1. Healthcare – According to CMS, Alabama is the 6th worse state, including the District of Columbia, to receive health care. Alabama has shortages in many health-care-related fields. It has been said that “Alabama’s low access ranking may be one reason why it ranked equally low in outcomes. Again in 44th place, Alabama performed better than state neighbors Tennessee (48th place) and Mississippi (51st or worst), but Alabama proved to have the highest infant mortality rate and was the fifth-highest of all states in its rate of heart disease.

One method to address these inequities is through MEDICAID EXPANSION. Many people disfavor the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) when it is referred to as “Obamacare.” Semantics aside, one provision of the ACA allows the various states to elect to expand Medicaid. Medicaid is a federal government-run health insurance program intended to help low income individuals, senior citizens, and individuals with disabilities pay for health care. 

According to the state Medicaid Agency, 35% of Alabamians are covered by Medicaid, and another 21% are covered by the state Children’s Health Program. (SCHIP.) Those covered are primarily children and adults with certain qualifying special needs. This leaves a “Medi-Gap” of over 75,000 adult citizens without any or sufficient, insurance.

Those uninsured or under-insured typically delay visits to the health-care provider until their condition becomes critical, landing the ill-person in the emergency-room. Under federal law, hospitals have a statutory duty to stabilize and treat all-comers regardless of ability to pay. Since the person is uninsured or under-insured the hospital must absorb or “eat” the cost. It is true that hospitals receive a subsidy through CMS to provide “uncompensated care,” however the government payments cover only a fraction of the cost. Thus, hospitals loose substantial funds placing a burden not only on the hospital, but also on the insured patients and their insurance company. According to the Kaiser Foundation, nationally, 38% of doctor visits are uncompensated. As might be expected, Alabama is on the low-end of the equation. This combination of facts leads to bad outcomes, unhappy patients, and health-care providers who are considering moving to a state that actually pays.

A novel plan to expand Medicaid has been placed into operation I the State of New Hampshire, named “Granite-Care.” Granite-Care is a legislative enactment as opposed to a governor’s order. According to New Hampshire state figures, in 2019, an individual earning up to $1,346 a month or a family of four earning up to $2,782 would be eligible for expanded Medicaid under Granite-Care.

Granite-Care contains a controversial work or community engagement requirement that is presently under litigation. I propose deleting this provision from my bill.

About 40% as many people are covered, both adults and children, under the program as compared to Medicaid and SCIP. This does not include those who are covered by employer-provided or self-purchased health-care insurance. Thus, the vast majority of New Hampshire state residents are covered by health-care insurance.

Rather than simply allowing more individuals to enroll in standard Medicaid, New Hampshire’s program subsidized private insurance for low income individuals.  A combination of federal and state money covered the cost of premiums, but enrollees were responsible for copays. Most other states that expanded Medicaid eligibility under the ACA simply expanded their standard Medicaid rolls.  Only five other states — Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Montana — created a special expanded Medicaid program, like New Hampshire’s.

New Hampshire draws on a number of different funding sources to pay its share of expanded Medicaid costs. These include:

  • Taxes on insurance premiums paid for customers who are enrolled in the program;
  • A portion of liquor commission profits (these are designated to pay for substance abuse treatment or behavioral health services); 
  • Fees paid by health insurance companies (these are based on the number of expanded Medicaid enrollees who would have previously been considered part of the state’s high-risk pool); and
  • Additional gifts or donations.

The advantages of expanding Medicaid in Alabama are numerous. 

  • Provides greater access to health coverage;  
  • Saves the state money;
  • Reduces uncompensated care; 
  • May help to safe some rural hospitals on the cusp of closing their doors, sending their patients to metropolitan areas such as Montgomery further adding to over-crowding of Montgomery’s hospitals;
  • Helps stem the tide of health-care providers either leaving the state of Alabama or initially choosing to practice in a more profitable state;
  • Promotes economic growth and job creation; and  
  • Allows for state flexibility.

States that accepted the expansion of Medicaid when the federal government was covering 100% of the costs actually made money for the state treasury rather than paying out. Obviously, those deadlines for 100% federal cover have long-since passed, but the savings to the state treasury are still substantial considering the economic growth generated, additional taxes paid by employees and companies making money, increased work capacity and reduction of hours lost to illness by the worker.

I propose a statute similar to New Hampshire Chapter Law 342 (SB 313) under New Hampshire RSA 126-AA to require the Alabama Medicaid Agency to apply to the United States Department of Health and Human Services for a waiver amendment and extension with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to continue its existing authority to implement work and community engagement requirements as a condition of continued eligibility under section 1902(a)(10)(A)(i)(VIII) [42 U.S.C 1396(a)(10)(A)(i)(VIII)] of the Social Security Act. This bill would remove the Governor’s discretion in the application for the waiver. Alabama’s waiver would contain no work requirement provisions as I view them arguably unconstitutional.

  1. Government Corruption and Ethics – Since Alabama hit the “political trifecta” in 2017-2018 of removing from office the chief executive officer of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of state government, the legislature at first strengthened ethics and anticorruption laws. When the dust settled, the legislature began to roll-back these ethical protections. According the Yellow Hammer News

From April 17, 2017, Alabama has had a rough political year. Following the resignation of scandal-ridden Gov. Robert Bentley yesterday, each of the state’s three major political leaders has been removed in less than 365 days.

In April of this year, the legislature proposed a bill to weaken many of the anti-corruption provisions of the State Ethics Law and other laws.

I oppose efforts to weaken Alabama’s ethics and corruption laws. I oppose legislation that decimalizes some of the acts for which the former Speaker of the Hose was convicted.

  • Gifts to lawmakers under $25;
  • Bribery is bribery and in amount should constitute a felony;
  • “Thing of value” should be carefully and reasonably defined within the state Ethics Law;
  • Under the Ethics Law, the definition of “family” should not be limited to dependents and spouses but should be in a reasonable manner that does not unnecessarily people who have minimal contacts with a public official but at the same time includes those who could actually be involved in criminal schemes with the public official;
  • The definition of “principal” should likewise be defined in a reasonable, but not contorted, manner;
  • “Lobbying” should include attempts to unduly influent any government official not just legislators; 
  • The State Ethics Commission should be reinvested with the authority to do its job and not be hamstrung with the inability to issue subpoenas and perform other necessary functions; and
  • Persons convicted of felony violations of Ethics and Anticorruption laws should be prohibited from holding public office for a reasonable period of time.
  1. Mental Health and Substance Abuse – According to the CDC, in 2017: 

Alabama providers wrote 107.2 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons. This was the highest prescribing rate in the country and was almost twofold greater than the average U.S. rate of 58.7 prescriptions.

In a state-wide survey, mental health care and substance abuse was the 4th highest vote-getter as a problem facing Alabama. It matters because mental illness and substance abuse can alter reasoning skills, coping mechanisms, emotions, and behavior. This can have a profound impact on the individual and family, but also on the broader society.

Serious and untreated mental health concerns, including substance abuse, can place a strain on the communities by increasing unemployment, crime, and healthcare costs. Substance abuse alone has been estimated to cost $504 billion in direct and indirect costs, including lost productivity, in 2015 alone. 

Left untreated, mental health and substance abuse disorders can hinder an individual’s ability to live a healthy, confident life, and the ability to be productive members within the community. Untreated mental health and substance abuse issues can be significant contributing factors to job loss, homelessness, criminal behavior, and premature death. 

More than one in four adults living with a severe mental health issue is also struggling with substance abuse issues. The effects on the communities can have direct and indirect consequences. Direct consequences can include injuries, social and legal problems, impaired health, overdose, deaths, and babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. Indirect consequences include higher health care costs, the spread of infectious diseases, drug-related crime, interpersonal violence, unintended pregnancy, and stress within families.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, “[Alabama] State government spends a large part of its budget for corrections incarcerating substance abusers.” As e know, the Alabama Corrections System is in danger of once again being taken over by the federal courts. Would not an “ounce of prevention” equal much more than a “pound of cure” in this situation?

I support efforts to prevent and properly treat the mental issues that are the basis for the addiction. The Alabama Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) is a program developed to promote the public health and welfare by detecting diversion, abuse, and misuse of prescription medications classified as controlled substances under the Alabama Uniform Controlled Substances Act. 

I support legislative efforts to strengthen monitoring of particularly opioid prescriptions consistent with Constitutional standards. Providers who chronically over-prescribe should be prosecuted for felony offense in addition to losing their license to practice.

While over-prescribing is a serious issue, another issue is patient access to mental health care as a matter of prevention. Access to care is largely, but not exclusively, a function of size of the mental health workforce. 

Alabama faces a growing workforce shortage in many industries, including mental health services. There is a particular shortage for trained professionals serving the elderly. Unaddressed, this shortage will escalate as the senior population is growing faster than other age groups.

I support efforts to explore incentives to attract and retain mental health professionals and to explore licensure regulations to allow all medical professionals to practice at the highest levels of their training and certification.

I support legislative efforts to re-evaluate mental health practitioner standard of care treatments that could be considered for expansion or modification in Alabama.

  • The use of medication to treat opioid addiction could be expanded.
  • The state could require healthcare professionals who prescribe medication treatment for addiction, do so only in consultation with a trained mental health professional.
  • The number of state-funded residential beds for substance abuse treatment could be expanded.
  • The number of nonprofit or low-cost methadone clinics for those with heroin addictions who suffer multiple relapses could be expanded.
  • The state could create a harm reduction program for opioid users, which includes education, counseling, referrals to treatment, and needle services and which has been shown to reduce the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C and increase the likelihood an individual will seek treatment.
  • The state could expand mental health and substance abuse treatment in the corrections system, which could also help reduce recidivism rates.
  1. Poverty and Homelessness –

In 1993, a group of concerned citizens, including Auburn University President Wilford Bailey, Auburn History Professor Emeritus Wayne Flynt, Social Work Pioneer Eulene Hawkins, and Alabama Baptist Convention President Earl Potts, came together to form “Alabama Possible,” (AP) then known as the Alabama Poverty Project. They joined with others across the South to study poverty, publicize their findings, teach undergraduates what they had learned, and mobilize public policy to bring about systems change. 

AP notes that “Alabama is the 6th poorest state in the nation with more than 800,000” living below the federally-defined poverty line.

I endorse the AP project in its program to combat poverty by educating individuals as to its nature. I believe that individuals who have “tasted” poverty will be inclined to seek innovative solutions. To this end, I propose specific line-item funding in the state budgets to provide AP training to students, faculty, and administrators; business and community leaders; state agencies; nonprofits and faith-based organizations; and professional development conferences.

Poverty manifests itself in the family’s insecurity in or inability to maintain sustainable levels of the following factors, among others.

  • Reliable income;
  • Food;
  • Energy,
  • Health-care;
  • Education;
  • Protection from crime;
  • Transportation;
  • Child-care allowing family members to be gainfully and regularly employed;

I propose line-item funding of actualize the following:

  • Expand subsidies for child-care enabling the family member to work;
  • Legislative expand Medicaid as outlined under Heading 2, above;
  • Expand the Alabama Housing Trust Fund;
  • Exempt most categories of food items from the state sales tax; and
  • Provide subsidies for county or municipal-owned mass-transit systems and encourage innovation in private partnerships in the provision of reliable transportation to Alabama’s working poor.
  1. (NEW). Jobs and Economic Development – An economy grows where the best workers are well-paid and encouraged in their opportunities to obtain and hold a job unrestrained by other pressing needs.

Ben Zipperer, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank stated in testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor, stated that it is his belief that every working person deserves a good job with fair pay, affordable health care, and retirement security. He stated the following.

To achieve this goal, EPI conducts research and analysis on the economic status of working America.

I am an economist with particular expertise in the minimum wage and low-wage labor markets. My testimony establishes that

  • A national $15 minimum wage by 2024 is an important corrective to ensure that low-wage workers share the benefits of economic growth.
  • The bulk of recent economic research on the minimum wage, as well as the best scholarship, establishes that prior increases have had little to no negative consequences and instead have meaningfully raised the pay of the low-wage workforce.
  • Minimum wage workers, and low-wage workers generally, are mostly adults and are also disproportionately women and people of color.
  • Workers in every region of the country will soon need $15 per hour to maintain a modest but adequate standard of living.

I agree with his statements and thus, I propose to legislatively raise the minimum wage in Alabama to $15 per hour incrementally over a period of five years.

Childcare as an incentive to holding a job – I propose that no low- or middle-income family spend more than 7 percent of their adjusted gross income on child care. Qualifying families would receive either tax-credits or direct subsidies to off-set their expenditure on childcare in excess of 7% of adjusted gross income available by filing tax returns whether the family owes taxes or not.

  1. Crime and Violence – Specifically gun violence in our schools. We all know that we live in a culture punctuated by the sound of gunfire. This sound is nowhere more frightening than in our schools. Children who are entitled to a public “safe place,” now must practice “active-shooter” drills and live with the fear of an occurrence. 

I believe that arming teachers, a popular “feel-good” solution, has proven not only ineffective but dangerous to the teachers themselves, to the children, and to the truly trained law-enforcement personnel responding to an occurrence. In short, it’s a bad idea to which I propose an alternative.

I endorse the plan proposed by the “Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund” (the Fund) named “Keeping Our Schools Safe: A Plan to Stop Mass Shootings and End Gun Violence in American Schools.” This plan is the product of a study undertaken by the Fund, the American Federation of Teachers, and the American Education Association in coordination with leading experts in the field of security which calls on the legislature to do the following.

  • Pass red flag laws;
  • Encourage responsible firearm storage;
  • Raise the age to purchase semiautomatic firearms;
  • Require background checks on all gun sales;
  • Create threat assessment programs in schools;
  • Implement expert-endorsed school security upgrades;
  • Initiate effective emergency planning; and
  • Create safe and equitable schools.

According to the Executive Summary of the Report:

The first part of this plan focuses on preventing shooters from getting [access to] guns by enacting sensible laws including:

  1. Red Flag laws so that law enforcement and family members can act on warning signs of violence, like those that repeatedly occurred in Parkland, and temporarily prevent access to firearms;
  2. Responsible firearm storage laws to address the most common source of guns used in school gun violence, including the guns that were used in the Santa Fe shooting;
  3. Raising the age to purchase semiautomatic firearms to 21 to prevent minors, like the shooter in Parkland, from easily getting their hand on guns; and
  4. Requiring background checks on all gun sales so people exhibiting warning signs, minors, and people with dangerous histories can’t evade our gun laws and get access to guns.

The report of the Fund continues.

The second part of the plan focuses on evidence-based and expert-endorsed actions that schools can take. These solutions empower educators and law enforcement to intervene to address warning signs of violence and to keep shooters out of schools. Schools can do this by:

  1. Establishing threat assessment programs in schools to understand and intervene when a student is a risk to themselves or others;
  2. Implementing basic security upgrades to prevent access to schools and classrooms;
  3. Planning in advance for emergencies so staff can immediately lock out schools and law enforcement can respond quickly; and
  4. Establishing safe and equitable schools to help reduce gun violence, especially in high-risk communities.

I will introduce legislation designed to implement these proposals in the State of Alabama for the sake of our children and the personal ands economic security of our community. I suggest that the implementation of such legislation will not only have the effect of providing the best protection we can provide for our schools but will present residual beneficial outcomes for the community in general.

  1. (NEW) Improving the State’s Image – If the Legislature adopts and the Governor signs my proposals, Alabama will catapult herself to a position of leadership among her sister states.
  2. Tax Paying for All These Good Things.

One could argue that many of my proposals may have more or less merit. However, even if supportable, they will come with a price-tag. I propose to address the price-tag in discussion of Heading 10. – Tax Reform. Alabama possesses one of the most regressive and ineffective taxation systems in the nation. To address this issue, I propose the following:

  • Amend the State’s Constitution to significantly, with exceptions, increase the rate of real property taxation on certain properties and to “uncouple” the proceeds from the Special Education Trust Fund. 
  • I propose to double that rate of taxation on tracts of land larger than 10 Acres with exemptions for property owned by individual citizens, family-owned properties, or properties owned by businesses, whether incorporated or not, that employ less than 25 full-time persons or 25 full-time equivalents on average for more than 26 weeks per tax year or that produce an average annual gross income of less than 1 million dollars, and that are engaged in farming or ranching, or on property upon which the primary residence of the primary individual taxpayer resides, or on property used for bona fide religious, educational, or eleemosynary purposes regardless of whether owned by an individual or by an entity whether incorporated or not.
  • I propose an increase in the rate of the state’s income tax rate to 10% on annual incomes whether active or passive, in excess of one million dollars. Amounts less than one million dollars will remain at the existing tax rate. Married individuals filing jointly should pay a maximum rate of 9% on the excess of such income over one million dollars.
  1. Proposal for a high-speed magnetic rail system to the major cities with provision for intermodal transportation, such as Uber, Lyft, Bike sharing, within the cities to be paid for by a Infrastructure Modernization Construction Fee (IMCF) on over-the-road commercial trucks based on annual mileage. The high-speed magnetic rail system would be intended to reduce personal vehicle congestion on our major interstates and roadways, while at the same time decrease travel time for passengers either around work or leisure. The main artery would run from Mobile to Huntsville with stops in Evergreen, Montgomery, Clanton, Birmingham, and Cullman. There would be additional rail systems to Tuscaloosa (From Birmingham), to Tuskegee and Auburn (from Montgomery), to Dothan (from Montgomery), to Talladega and Gadsden (from Birmingham) to Florence (from Huntsville), to Selma and Demopolis (from Montgomery), and to Gulf Shores (from Mobile). This would connect the majority of the state allowing for faster and safer travel times, less congested roadways, more productivity time as the passenger cars would be equipped with Free WiFi. Additionally, this would make Alabama look more attractive for hosting major sporting events or conferences and also being working hubs for high-tech corporations. It would create thousands of construction jobs and thousands more to operational tech-related jobs. These are all high-paying jobs. We could be leading the nation in modern infrastructure development.
  • I propose to pay for this travel system through three methods: 1) The imposing of an IMCF) on all state based and through state commercial truck travel. All state based truck-utilizing companies would pay a $1/per truck/per day fee to be collected monthly. Trucks traveling into the state from outside Alabama would pay the following fees: $1 for travel under 150 miles. $3 for travel of 150-300 miles. And $5 for travel over 300 miles. These fees would be collected at toll stops at state entry points. Drivers would have to provide documentation of the intended travel itinerary. 2) Passengers on the high-speed rail system would pay a fee of $2 per segment of travel. High use cards could be purchased for $50/month. Travel to Tuscaloosa or Auburn on Home-football game dates would be charged $10/person for round trip. This amount allows for a cleaning fee. For races at Talladega, the fee for that segment would be $5/per person. Also allowing for a cleaning fee. 3) The seeking of federal grant dollars, such as California was awarded…$1 Billion dollars.
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