By Roger Bedford
This past week, we ended one of the most successful legislative sessions in years. We were able to protect our children, seniors and teachers and do all of it without raising taxes.
We were able to enact both the education trust fund and general fund budgets days before the end of the session. This gave everyone time to look into the budgets including the Governor’s right to exercise a line item veto which he did on the education budget.
The good news is that we will not lose any state funded teaching jobs.
The budget chairs, Senator Hank Sanders and Representative Richard Lindsey, did a good job steering through these murky waters of tough economic times. We were able to protect the Alabama Reading Initiative Program, the math and science program, distant learning and the pre-K program.
I am also pleased to report to you that we were successful in solving the PACT (The Prepaid College Tuition Program) problem.
You will remember that Kay Ivey, state treasurer and chairman of the board of the program, ran it into the ground without informing the Governor or the legislature that she was having problems.
This endangered the viability of this fund and threatened 48,000 scholarship holders.
As such, we were able to come up with the funding by earmarking $548 million in annual debt service payments from the education trust fund for the year 2015 through 2017.
Annual tuition increases will be capped at 2.5 percent with the exception of the University of Alabama and Auburn University. These caps could be relaxed if the PACT earnings exceed 5 percent for two consecutive years.
I am also pleased to report to you that we passed a solid general fund budget. It will fully fund Medicaid to see that our seniors have good healthcare in nursing homes.
As you may know, 74 percent of all beds in nursing homes are paid for by Medicaid dollars.
You may also know that 38 percent of all children’s health insurance in Alabama comes through Medicaid and also one in two live births in Alabama are paid for with Medicaid dollars.
We also expanded the CHIP (children’s health insurance) program, allowing coverage for 14,000 more children in Alabama.
We also passed legislation that gives employers — who hire an employee currently unemployed who works for at least a year for the company from the date of hiring — a tax credit. The amount of the credit will be based on the salary with salaries of $14 or more an hour being eligible for a 50 percent deduction.
I am pleased to report to you that the new construction of roads and bridges bill passed the legislature. This will allow our local communities to receive additional help with unsafe bridges and roads.
Many of our school buses still have to detour for miles trying to avoid unsafe bridges. This bill will also help stimulate our economy and create some 30,000 new jobs.
While the session was a good one, we were not able to pass some important legislation including the infamous Bingo bill.
While many opponents tried to distort the purpose of the bill, its goal was not to bring more gambling to Alabama but, to regulate and tax the gambling that has already been legalized in some 14 counties in Alabama.
Unfortunately, Governor Riley — through the squandering of taxpayer dollars and use of intimidation tactics — was successful in stopping the bill from passing and thus denying the people of Alabama the right to once and for all vote on this matter.
We were also not successful in passing an accountability bill as it relates to no bid contracts and in passing a bill to tighten security on the Internet with regard to sexual predators.
While these bills passed the senate, they failed in the House.
Continued good news for our senate district was announced through the Alabama Department of Transportation with the letting of three new projects.
The projects include the grading, draining and paving of a segment of County Road 69, known as Blake’s Curve, from 0.110 mile north of Delashaw Road and extending northerly 0.236 miles in Winston County.
The second project is in Marion County includes the resurfacing of State Road 13 from Don Tidwell Bridge at Bear Creek to just south of the Franklin County Line.
The third project is in Franklin County and calls for the resurfacing of State Road 24 from the Mississippi State Line in Red Bay to Kennedy Street.
It has been good to go around the district seeing everyone.
I enjoyed seeing the Cherokee Rescue Squad and being updated on how they have been doing. I also enjoyed attending the New Bethel Volunteer Fire Department’s candidate gathering.
It was also good to see so many of you in Hackleburg for the annual Neighbor’s Day.
Roger Bedford is the state senator for Franklin County. He can be reached at email@example.com.