Monday, January 27, 2014

The GOP has a double standard for working families

The Alabama Legislature has been in session for two weeks now, and the Republican supermajority has wasted no time showing that they have a double standard for Alabama's working families.

At the State of the State address, Governor Bentley talked about Golden Dragon and all of the jobs they would bring to Alabama. Bentley neglected to mention that they are providing this company with millions in incentives with no guarantee they will create the 300 jobs they claim they will create. ThyssenKrupp received a billion dollars in incentives and left the state after less than three years.

I know well the Black Belt needs an economic boost- we need jobs and we need opportunities to succeed, but I also know how precious our tax dollars are and that they should be used appropriately. 

That’s why I’m co-sponsoring Representative Greg Burdine’s bill to do just that--HB311 would require companies to pay back the incentives they are provided if they do not hold up their end of the bargain.

Meanwhile, Senator Bryan Taylor has proposed a bill to require individuals on public assistance at any level to complete a required amount of community service work to receive their benefits and Senator Trip Pittman has proposed a bill to require drug testing for public assistance recipients, even though a similar law was struck down in Florida.

Senator Taylor's bill exempts those who are disabled, but does not take into account the single parents working two jobs who still can't make ends meet. It doesn't take into account that some of these folks are retired service men and women, who have done a lifetime's worth of community service when they enlisted to protect our rights and freedoms. And it doesn't take into account that abuse of the system is far less than the Republicans want you to believe.

The issue with this should be clear- we are going to ask single parents and veterans to pick up trash on the side of the road and report for drug tests like prisoners to receive meager benefits, but we're perfectly willing to give away billions to companies who may or may not uphold their end of the bargain.

They want to show poor people the value of hard work, as if being poor is a direct result of not trying hard enough, but they feel no need to extend this lesson to the companies who take billions in tax dollars with no guarantee that they will do the work they promised they would do.

From the legislature's assault on the working poor to Governor Bentley's refusal to expand Medicaid and provide healthcare to 600,000 Alabamians who fall into the coverage gap, it's clear that the Republican Supermajority is out of touch with what it means to be a working family in Alabama.

I know their hearts are in the right places- I know they want to help the people of Alabama get ahead. But it's time for them to realize that we will not balance the state's budget on the backs of our hard working families. We will not get ahead as long as we hamstring the parents and veterans who make this state great. And we will not succeed if we continue to put politics over the people we swore we would represent.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dr. King's dream is alive and well

Today, we honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the dream he shared for all people of this country.

Dr. King was a drum major for justice, an agitator for equality and a fighter for freedom. Dr. King's life has impacted people around the world who are continually inspired by his words at the Lincoln Memorial and his letter from the Birmingham jail. Now, 50 years later, it is our job to ensure that his dream did not die on the balcony on the Loraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

Some people say it has been 50 years since the movement, but I think we're still a part of the movement, and we must keep pushing forward for justice and peace among all people.

When Dr. King accepted his Nobel Peace Prize, he said, "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture of their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits."

See, a lot has changed since Dr. King last spoke to us, but there is still work to do to achieve his dream.

People everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, but hunger in Alabama is the highest in the United States. 

People everywhere can have education and culture for their minds, but public schools and teachers in Alabama are under attack by the Republican supermajority.

People everywhere can have dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits, but the Voting Rights Act has been crippled, voter suppression is rampant and district lines have been drawn to favor rich over poor.

We are a long way from the America in Dr. King's dream. 

if we expect to see a difference in this world, we must continue the fight. We must rise every day and work to bring the people together, for just as we are one body in Christ, we are one nation under God.

I know the dream is still alive. 

The dream didn't die when they murdered Emmett Till in 1955, because the dream lived on when his mother stood bravely against the terrible violence her son endured. 

The dream didn't die on the Edmund Pettus Bridge with billie clubs and tear gas on Bloody Sunday, because the dream lived on when we got to the other side and saw President Johnson sign the Voting Rights Act. 

And the dream didn't die on the balcony of the Loraine Motel, because the dream lives on through those who work to honor the legacy of Dr. King today.

We must honor the life and legacy of Dr. King by being evidence that his dream lives on by rising up and living out the true meaning of our creed, that all men are created equal.

Monday, January 13, 2014

It's time to return to Montgomery and address the state's issues

As my fellow legislators and I return to Montgomery today, it is important that we remember why we were elected to public office.

The people of this state want representation that will bring them good jobs, a strong education and fair policies. The people want a government that works for them and their families' interests.

But over the past three years, the Alabama Republican supermajority has not worked for the best interests of the voters. They've slowed our economy, assaulted our public schools and halted our health care.  This session must be different.

Alabama is one of five states that has suffered from a shrinking economy in the last year. We are currently 49th in the nation in job creation, after creating only 300 more jobs than we lost last year. We have common sense proposals to address these issues, starting with an increase in the minimum wage for our working families and an apprenticeship program to allow small businesses to train students entering the workforce.

We cannot recruit jobs without an educated workforce, which is why I want to work to bring more career technical programs and dual-enrollment scholarships to this state.  We must train our students to fill the spots opening from retirements and new industry that comes to this state.

But education starts much earlier than high school. We must also invest in the programs that work: the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative and the Alabama Reading Initiative. We must invest in pre-k and we must put money into every public school. All of this starts with repealing the Accountability Act, a law passed behind closed doors to use your tax dollars to send a few wealthy students to private schools. 

The other component to a quality workforce is a healthy workforce. Alabama opted out of accepting federal money to expand Medicaid, and now we must find the funds to cover the health needs of our citizens. Right now, half of all babies born in Alabama are born on Medicaid, and 40 percent of all children are covered by Medicaid. Governor Bentley has promised that he will not expand this critical program, which puts children and families at risk of not receiving the care they need.

Jobs, education and health care affect millions of individuals across this state every day. This isn't just public policy--this is people's lives and wellbeing and for that reason, we must treat the legislative process with respect.

We must debate these bills, and we must work together to compromise and find solutions that work for families and businesses across the state. That's why we were elected, and that's the job set before us this session.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Increasing the minimum wage is right for Alabama

I have made it no secret that one of my main goals for this legislative session is to encourage an increase in Alabama’s minimum wage. In the past few weeks, I’ve received a lot of support for this legislation, but also experienced a lot of pushback. I want to use this time to address those individuals’ concerns and explain why I refuse to back down on this bill.
I have heard several concerns that an increase in the minimum wage will lead to unemployment. When a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research looked at the data from older and current studies, he found that minimum wage increases had no significant effect on job loss. More than 100 economists agree.
The truth is that when our hourly workers make more money, they put every dime back into the economy. They are able to spend a little more on food, on clothing, on transportation, and that money goes back into the very business that pay minimum wage. This goes back to Henry Ford and the first automobiles. He realized that paying his workers more meant that they were actually able to buy his products, which made his company even more profitable.
Another concern I have heard is that people making minimum wage should work harder to get a raise. One person even said, “If a middle-aged woman is working for minimum wage, something is wrong…People simply do not work a minimum wage job long for no good reason!”
I have to tell you, hearing comments like that is unnerving because they show a complete lack of understanding and empathy. The fact is, people work minimum wage jobs for a variety of reasons and I can assure you that one of those reasons is not because they want to.
Everyone deserves enough pay to provide for the basic necessities at poverty level. When we don’t pay our employees a living wage, they turn to the government to help make ends meet. Some companies even provide instructions for their hourly employees to sign up for food stamps and other benefits. If we want our women to choose life, we must provide her with the resources to confidently bring a baby into this world. We can pay our employees well enough to help them provide for themselves or we can offer them assistance in the form of charity and social programs.
But I will promise the Republicans this: you can’t have it both ways. You cannot wage a war on the social safety net, promising to dismantle Medicaid and drug test for benefits while fighting a minimum wage increase and arguing that any minimum wage is unfair to businesses.
When this bill gets to the Committee, the Republicans will vote it down. It will likely never see the House floor. But we have fought this battle before, and we will continue fighting it.
From the 1968 strikes in Memphis to the Alabama State House, ask the members of the legislature and the supporters of big business: Am I not a human being just like you? Do I not need a roof and three meals and health care and transportation? Do I not have feelings and self-worth and dignity just like you? Am I not more than a bottom line?
I am just one vote in the Alabama legislature, but if we work together we can make a better life for all Alabamians.