MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Alabama House Democratic Caucus released a list of priorities it wants to focus on as the Alabama Legislature prepares to start its 2016 session. The minority party's agenda was released one day before the session kicks off.
The Democratic Caucus has three primary areas on which it wants to focus. Education, Economy, and Elections.
In the area of Education, Democrats will push for a bill that would allow Alabamians to vote on a lottery. Citizens last voted on, and shot down, the measure in 1999 when it was proposed by then-Governor Don Siegelman. Under the Caucus' plan, if passed, the proposed lottery's proceeds would fund scholarships to the state's two and four year colleges and universities.
Other agenda items include pay raises for Alabama's teachers (K-12 and post secondary) in the area of five percent, with a two percent increase for retired educators.
There's also hope of starting Pre-K for every one of the state's 39,000 4-year-olds. Democrats say the estimated $144 million needed to pay for the program would come from repealing of the "Rolling Reserve Act". Democrats say in 2015 the Education Trust Fund budget's $140 million surplus went into what is basically the state's second savings account, known as the "Budget Stabilization Fund". By repealing the act, the minority party wants to move the money to the Pre-K program.
The fourth project in the Democrats' education agenda involves educating E-cigarette uses of the warnings of the product. They want legislation that require product advertisements to include health disclaimers.
Democrats are calling for several changes on the economic front. Those changes include pay equity for women, an increase in the minimum wage, and the "Made in Alabama Act" that affects state contracts.
House Democrats say in regards to pay equity, they will propose legislation that protects employees who discuss their salaries with co-workers. The bill would also allow those workers to file complaints with the Alabama Dept. of Labor free of fear from retribution.
A minimum wage increase would actually start with the creation of a state minimum wage, because Alabama does not currently have one. If started, Democrats say they want to gradually raise it to $10.10 per hour with an automatic cost-of-living increase that would be triggered when social security benefits are increased.
And the final economic plan laid out in the Democrats' agenda involves the "Made in Alabama Act" which would essentially call for state contracts to be awarded, when possible, to Alabama-based businesses. As it currently stands, Alabama law will allow the state to award the contract to an Alabama-based company if its bid is no more than five percent greater than the lowest bid. Under Democrats' proposals. that five percent preference would move from an option to a mandatory requirement.
The third portion of the minority party's agenda for the 2016 session is dedicated to voter issues including an automatic voter registration system, an independent redistricting commission, and creation of an early voting option.
House Democrats believe an automatic voter registration system is the answer to multiple issues caused by overwhelmed county registrars, and a society of voters who are on the move. The bill that's being proposed would link voters' registration to their driver's license or state ID card renewals.
Being registered is the first step, but having multiple days in which to actually vote is the next goal for Democrats in Alabama's House. Citing 37 states that allow for early voting, House Dems want Alabama to move toward a system that allows for ballot casting at county court houses during the six days leading up to an election.
And the final step in the Democrats' voting-issues wish list includes the creation of an independent redistricting commission that would be made up of five members, four of whom would be chosen by the House and Senate Majority and Minority leaders. The last would be chosen by the four appointees. Democrats say such a system would be used to draw state legislative and state board of education districts, and would help remove partisan politics from the equation.
Only time will tell if any of the minority party's agenda items are passed in Alabama's legislature. The Alabama House Republican Caucus' agenda was released Thursday. Republicans currently hold a super majority in both chambers.