Aug
26
2015

State Leaders Say Life Matters. Now It’s Time To Prove It.

Last week, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey wrote an article entitled “Life Matters” in response to the recent Planned Parenthood videos. Like Lt. Gov. Ivey, I am 100 percent pro-life, and was shocked by the videos that came out. Life does matter, and should be treated with dignity and respect at every stage, including before birth.

But Lt. Gov. Ivey’s article–specifically the title–also raised another point: the difference between being “pro-life” and “pro-birth.” The title of the lieutenant governor’s article was “Life Matters,” but she didn’t write about life after birth.

Is life no longer sacred after you’re born? If the lieutenant governor wants the government to protect life before it is born, then shouldn’t she be asking for the same after the children are born?

A perfect example is Medicaid. More than half the children born in Alabama are born under healthcare paid for by Medicaid. From the mother’s prenatal care to the delivery itself, Medicaid pays for half the births in Alabama. But just a few weeks ago, the Alabama House of Representatives voted to cut $156 million from Medicaid, which would have basically shut the entire program down.

Being pro-life should not just stop at birth. Being pro-life should mean that legislation is passed to help all of our state’s babies, including the 53% who are born under care paid for by Medicaid, or the children whose regular pediatric visits are paid for by Medicaid (on average, 30-60 percent of pediatricians’ business comes from Medicaid patients).

I promise you that 90 percent or more of the legislators who voted for those cuts to Medicaid claim to be “pro-life.” But their votes would have shut down Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, forced doctors and hospitals all over the state to go out of business, and ultimately led to even more abortions when mothers lost their only source for prenatal and delivery care.

In 2014, Alabama had the second highest infant mortality rate in the nation, according to the CIA’s World Factbook. This fact highlights how important that prenatal care provided by Medicaid is to those mothers and their children. And if we are pro-life, then how can we be ok with that statistic or those legislators who voted to cut funding for the only program that keeps the number infant deaths from being even higher?

For these reasons, I believe that being pro-life means we should expand Medicaid. And if Lt. Gov. Ivey truly does believe that “Life Matters,” then she should be calling on the governor to expand Medicaid, too!

Expanding Medicaid will provide more mothers with prenatal care, which, I believe, will reduce the number of abortions in Alabama. It will also improve the health of hundreds-of-thousands of children in Alabama who don’t currently have any health insurance. I can’t think of anything more “pro-life” than that!

As it stands now, Medicaid eligibility in Alabama is limited to children and pregnant women, unless the family makes 18% above the poverty line: $4,368 a year in a four-person household. If we were to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, eligibility would expand to working families who make 138% above the poverty line: $16,243 a year per individual and $33,465 for a family of four.

Imagine what that would mean for the 176,000 people in Alabama that fall under, what the Kaiser Family Foundation calls, the “coverage gap”, where they make too much money to actually qualify for Medicaid but too little to qualify for federal subsidies?

Lt. Gov. Ivey is right to argue that life matters before birth. But life also matters after that child is born. If Lt. Gov. Ivey and our state legislators really believe that “life matters,” then she and those legislators will call on Gov. Bentley to expand Medicaid. And if she doesn’t call on the governor to expand Medicaid, then we will know that “Life Matters” is little more than just a catchy title for an editorial.

Expanding Medicaid is not a partisan issue. Republican governors across the country have done it, including Gov. Kasich, whom Gov. Bentley endorsed just last week. So if our state leaders truly are “pro-life,” if they truly do believe that “life matters,” then they will expand Medicaid and protect hundreds-of-thousands of Alabama children’s lives-both born and unborn.

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Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Aug
24
2015

BUDGETS SHOW OUR PRIORITIES: WHERE ARE ALABAMA’S?

When families sit down each year to make our household budgets, it’s a negotiating process. It’s an exercise in give-and-take. It’s a time to sit down and evaluate where we are and prioritize our plans for the upcoming year.

Yet as we are still in the process of creating our state’s budget, we have to wonder if we see the same level of prioritizing and planning that we would expect of our own families.

For too many years, the state has borrowed money from here and there to compensate for shortfalls in the budget, and now it’s time to repay that money. The Governor has promised to veto any budget that doesn’t include new revenue, but the Republican House supermajority is sticking to reckless cuts across the board.

In their last desperate attempt to prove a point, the House Republicans passed a death sentence for thousands of Alabamians, by cutting Medicaid to the point that the program would simply dissolve. They didn’t do away with the Medicaid Agency, they just cut their resources to the point that Medicaid couldn’t keep the lights on, much less provide needed services.

The Republicans control the budgeting process, and they’re using their power to play politics with critical government programs in order to get their way and safeguard their reelection.

The people of Alabama should be looking to the Republican supermajorities to find responsible methods to resolve our budgeting issue, and that should include accepting revenue that is on the table through Medicaid Expansion and closing corporate tax loopholes so that everyone pays their fair share.

Just like when your family sits down to make your budget, you can’t just cut “groceries” out the budget to find a little extra cash to pay the power bill. Alabama can’t just cut “Medicaid” out of the budget to find a little extra cash for prisons.

The fact of the matter is that we’re doing something far more important than budgeting for our own families: We’re taking responsibility for the money that has been sent to Montgomery from all Alabama families’ household budgets. It’s our job to spend that money as wisely as the families who earned it.

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Rep. Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

Aug
19
2015

A New School Year Is Starting, But It Should Be Starting Later

Remember when school didn’t start until after Labor Day? Over the last few weeks, students across Alabama have started a new school year–right in the middle of August. Some have even been back for two or three weeks.

Instead of spending the last few weeks of August working summer jobs or on family vacations, teachers and students are preparing to head back to school. Why?

It wasn’t always this way. In 2012, the state legislature passed a School Start Date bill that mandated a longer summer break for our public schools. It was a bill that had broad bipartisan support. Supporters argued that extending the summer break would benefit families, students, employers, Alabama’s tourism industry and even the government.

But then the legislature failed to renew it, and the state did not get to feel the maximum benefits of the law.

Shortening summer vacation to only two months hurts Alabama families. Kids no longer get to spend August playing unencumbered, going to camp or doing some last minute reading. Families miss out on important, quality vacation time together (and with a son in college and a daughter starting her senior year of high school, I can tell you those family vacations are precious while they last!).

For teachers and other educators, the summer months are the only time they can do any professional development work, such as taking classes for an advanced degree or participating in training programs that help them learn more effective methods for teaching various subjects.

Older students, and even some teachers, use those summer months to work summer jobs that help them learn important skills and make some extra money that some families rely on. A study by the Association of American Educators revealed one in five teachers work a second job.

An Alabama teacher I spoke with said if he had a full summer to work he wouldn’t need to moonlight during the school year and could totally focus on his classroom. A longer summer vacation would provide students and teachers a greater opportunity to earn money during the summer and reduce the amount of work they need during the school year – allowing school to be their main concern.

The latest report showed pushing back the school start date would generate an estimated $300 million annually in additional revenue and create about 4,500 full-time jobs across the state. More money spent in Alabama means more money to better fund public education.

A shorter summer break is hurting education by depriving schools of funding they would otherwise be getting, and hurting Alabama economically by cutting into the business our tourism industry is losing in the month of August.

On top of that, the state of Alabama also has to spend more money when school starts in early to mid-August. Part of that is due to higher air conditioning bills. Many schools turn their air conditioners off or set them on a higher temperature during the summer, which they obviously can’t do once students and educators return to school. And because it is hotter in August than it is in September, the cost of air conditioning school buildings is higher, which you, the taxpayer, has to pay for. Additionally, starting school earlier increases other expenditures, such as gas and maintenance for school buses, that we otherwise wouldn’t be spending.

But what about the argument that starting school earlier improves academic performance?

According to former Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott, “Early start dates do not translate into academic excellence.” In an opinion piece printed in numerous Texas papers Scott said, “academic excellence is a combination of four factors: sound public policy, talented teachers, involved parents and motivated students. Perhaps it’s time to stop debating issues that don’t add value to our children’s education and start focusing on the right services and resources for students and teachers.”

I couldn’t agree more. When the Flexible School Calendar Act of 2012 was passed it focused on what was best for students and teachers. The act pushed back the school year to late-August and offered a twelve-week summer vacation. The bill was supported by teachers and parents alike. It didn’t force schools to start at a particular time, but did guarantee a full summer break. Unfortunately, it wasn’t reauthorized by the Alabama legislature.

So as everyone heads back to a school this month, I wish you all luck. May this be a great year to be a student in Alabama! My hope is that this time next year, our students are enjoying a longer, fuller summer if the legislature will renew the Flexible School Calendar Act.

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Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Aug
18
2015

Statement by Rep. Darrio Melton regarding the Birmingham City Council’s vote to increase the minimum wage

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 18, 2015

“When we introduced legislation two years ago to begin the conversation about raising the minimum wage in Alabama, it was only a dream that we would see the project produce fruit. With the urging of the Alabama Young Democrats and other vocal citizens for change, the Birmingham City Council is standing on the right side of this issue for working families. I’m empowered by this progress and ready to continue the fight to bring a living wage to all working Alabamians. I will continue to bring legislation to increase the minimum wage statewide to $10.10 per hour so that hard work pays fairly in all corners of the state.”

Rep. Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma and the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.