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A new year always brings hope for a fresh start in one’s life. For Alabama state leaders, the year 2024 requires going back to the basics to address chronic issues that have plagued the state, such as crime, education and poverty.
State representatives and senators made excellent progress in passing bills that strengthened the Alabama criminal justice system. Laws to stiffen penalties for fentanyl trafficking, retail theft and gang violence became law. In addition, the state’s generous good time laws were amended to reduce the amount of time inmates could earn for an early release from prison.
This session lawmakers need to address the problems with the state’s work release program that has allowed felons convicted of murder out unsupervised on the streets. Legislators also have to stop the slew of bills that have been pre-filed to gut the current parole board’s ability to keep prisoners behind board who had been convicted of heinous crimes. Week after week the headlines in 2023 have reported the violence in our state which should focus legislators on making public safety a priority.
As for education, this past year a historic $8.8 billion education budget and $2.8 billion supplemental allocation was passed to fund state public education. The monies have been used to pay for additional math and science academic enhancement, pre-k, teachers, and salaries.
Even with the massive infusion of money, the state is still ranked low in scholastic achievement, and this past year the Alabama Department of Education reported that overall public schools actually declined from the year before. Thus, this upcoming session there will be a big push for education reform that includes school choice. The question will be what it actually looks like and how ultimately it will make a difference in our state.
Finally, we are three years past when COVID-19 was at its peek and the nation was shut down. Like other states, our small businesses and their employees suffered through the mandated lock downs. Yet, the economy is now thriving in the state as Alabama continues to attract new companies and existing businesses grow.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey reports that there has now been $42 billion in new capital investment that has led to both the most people employed in state history and the lowest unemployment. The state continues to receive allocades for its economic development efforts.
The strong economy has led to increased revenue, which lawmakers have used to fund more state services. And there are “for hire” signs everywhere you go; folks have to just agree to take those jobs. And while we approach a new year, there are plenty of reasons to believe 2024 will be another good one for Alabama business owners and their employees.
Thus, while there is optimism for the new year, Alabama state leaders must address the chronic issues our state has to move our state forward.
Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives and can be found on X, formerly Twitter, at @Paul_DeMarco.