Community talks in Fairhope about upcoming legislative session topics

Posted 1/23/24

FAIRHOPE — Alabama Arise arranged a community gathering in Fairhope to address issues impacting people across the state and in Baldwin County while also expressing their expectations for this …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Subscribe to continue reading. Already a subscriber? Sign in

Get the gift of local news. All subscriptions 50% off for a limited time!

You can cancel anytime.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Community talks in Fairhope about upcoming legislative session topics


FAIRHOPE — Alabama Arise arranged a community gathering in Fairhope to address issues impacting people across the state and in Baldwin County while also expressing their expectations for this year's legislative session.

Alabama Arise is a member-led organization that operates statewide and is dedicated to promoting public policies aimed at enhancing the well-being of Alabamians facing marginalization due to poverty. Its membership comprises faith-based, community, nonprofit and civic groups, along with grassroots leaders and individuals from various regions of the state.

The key focus areas for Alabama Arise in this year's legislative session encompass ensuring sufficient state budgets for education, healthcare and various human services. This includes advocating for Medicaid expansion, tax reform (particularly the removal of state sales tax on groceries), safeguarding voting rights, advancing criminal justice reform through the revision of punitive sentencing laws, making comprehensive investments in maternal and infant healthcare, addressing public transportation needs and advocating for death penalty reform.

The meeting, held at the Fairhope Unitarian Fellowship on Jan. 18, brought together over 40 people to talk about health care, reforming Alabama's prison system and voting rights.

Health Care
Tommy DePriest, a family medicine resident at South Baldwin Regional Medical Center, presented information regarding Medicaid expansion and priorities that legislators and representatives should focus on during the legislative session.

During the meeting, DePriest gave examples of working-class individuals who do not have health care and the effects this has on them.

“Mr. B is a 50-year-old gentleman with diabetes who has come to our clinic after being hospitalized for a week. He is also without previous primary care, is self-employed, uninsured and showed up to the emergency room with dehydration because he has been nauseous and throwing up because his blood sugar is too high,” DePriest said. “He has not been able to afford a medication that was discharged from hospitals. Despite the fact that insulin prices have lowered significantly, he cannot afford to pay for these. He is just right above the line for Medicaid.”

After giving this example, DePriest argued that Medicaid in the state should expand, allowing people like Mr. B to receive quality care for their medication and prevent unnecessary emergency room visits and hospitalizations.
State Rep. Jennifer Fidler, R-Silverhill, said she thinks expanding Medicaid is a concern.

“We (the state) have got to make sure it is something that we can afford for the future,” Fidler said. “We need to do something with insurance and try to figure that out. We are responsible for that, not only financially, but this state is on a budget and if we can’t pay the bills, people go home.”

Reforming Alabama’s prison system
Elliot Spencer, advocacy director for Alabama Appleseed, led the discussion on reforming Alabama’s prison system.

Spencer discussed HB 29, also known as the “Second Chance Bill,” which allows a judge to re-examine old cases of inmates sentenced to life without parole for non-violent crimes.

A member of the national Appleseed Network, Alabama Appleseed is part of a larger network that spans 18 Appleseed Centers throughout the U.S. and in Mexico City. The Appleseed Network, established in 1994, is dedicated to creating and supporting a network of state advocacy centers. These centers are designed to tackle local issues and actively work towards developing and promoting practical, systemic solutions.

“What we want to do with this bill is hopefully get it passed and ideally impact hundreds of individuals who are currently incarcerated," Spencer said.
With Alabama prisons facing overcapacity of 114%, Spencer argued that this bill will allow more space in prisons and allow individuals to have a second chance at life.

The victims’ family would be notified prior to the re-examination of the case.
Spencer added that another point of interest he hopes is discussed at the upcoming legislative session is the creation of an independent commission that would oversee prisons.

“This independent commission would be comprised of some formerly incarcerated folks themselves, faith leaders, experts in mental health counseling and psychotherapy,” Spencer said. “They really would create a level of transparency for the public to actually be able to monitor and report incidences of violence that are happening within our correctional facilities.”

The last area that Spencer is supporting in the session is money toward a reentry program that supports incarcerated individuals.

“Alabama does not create or does not have any sort of formalized reentry program statewide that supports incarcerated individuals or formally incarcerated individuals or committing themselves back into society,” he said. “Usually, these men and women are released from prison after serving several decades incarcerated, and they are given back the bag with the clothes they first had when they went in decades ago. If they do not have family or living relatives that are able to support them, they are on the road to figure out how to navigate this technological society that is new to them.”

Fidler said she would like to learn more about these points before forming an opinion.

“I just don't know enough regarding that,” she said. “I'm one of those that really likes to go in depth on each situation and understand the complexity of it. One of the most wonderful things that I think we have about our prison system is integral vocational school. It allows inmates to go to a vocation school and learn to trade and is completely voluntary. So all inmates can get in there and actually learn something maybe barbering or masonry, but only 10 to 15 percent attend these programs.”

Voting rights
Alabama Arise Organizing Director Presdelane Harris led the discussion on voting rights.

“In democracies that will be stronger, it means more people participating in voting,” Harris said. “So for that reason we look at and support legislation that will not limit people's access and ability to vote. In particular, some of our work in the fields that we support, there is a lot of overlap within the realm of voting rights such as restoration and no excuse absentee voters.”

Harris mentioned HB209. This proposed bill stops anyone from handling someone else's absentee ballot, like applying for or delivering it in specific situations, but there are some exceptions. It also says an individual cannot pay or get paid for doing these things in certain situations. This could lead to needing more money locally.

“It's a bill that really has the impact of criminalizing helping folks get access to absentee ballots to vote,” she said. “The idea here is, again, we should not create more barriers to people accessing our democracy. This will criminalize someone who might help a neighbor or friends and say they may be guilty of a criminal penalty.”

“I want everyone to be there (voting polls). I do not want anybody illegally taking away your legal right to vote," Fidler said. "That has happened, and it does happen unfortunately. That is what I believe, and I am sorry if you do not believe that, but we do have people that are fraudulent and we get hit with them every day.”

Presented bills for upcoming session
Rep. Donna Givens, R-Loxley, is set to introduce HB42, also known as the “Sound of Freedom Act.”

Current law considers human trafficking in the first degree. This proposed bill suggests that if the victim of human trafficking is a minor, the person responsible would face a minimum sentence of life imprisonment. Currently, sentences for this felony are punishable by 10 to 99 years.

Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Josephine, has put forward five Senate bills for the upcoming session. These bills cover areas such as state affairs, education, counties and municipalities, retirement and changing the Alabama Constitution of 2022 for Baldwin County to clearly outline the Bon Secour Landmark District in the county.

The legislative session will convene on the first Tuesday of February in Montgomery.