AACC hosts Hammett, Carnley at annual Legislative Luncheon

Published 4:30 pm Friday, May 24, 2024

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State Senator Josh Carnley and State Representative Matthew Hammett served as the featured speakers for the Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Legislative Luncheon event hosted by PowerSouth on Wednesday.

Both legislators were elected to their current offices on Nov. 8, 2022.

Hammett, who serves Alabama House District 92, spoke about the state’s budgets and select House bills that were passed in the recent legislative session.

“It’s an honor to serve you in Montgomery. Senator Carnley and I enjoy our jobs and enjoy working for you in Montgomery. The general fund budget passed was a record at $3.4 billion. State employees as of Oct. 1 will get a 2 percent pay raise, which is the second year in a row we have done that,” Hammett said.

According to Hammett, the Education Trust Fund was a record-breaking budget of $9.35 billion and will provide teachers a 2 percent raise.

“I’m pretty sure this is the fourth year in a row teachers have received a raise in salary. $587 million will go to the Alabama Community College system, which is a $36 million boost over last year. Sen. Carnley and I are committed to using the community college to train workers and develop our workforce. Last year, we were fortunate enough to get LBW President Dr. Brock Kelley funding for his career center on the Andalusia campus. This year, we asked for about $5 million to do some improvements on the Opp campus. Nothing has been done in a long time to update these facilities and I hope this funding will help get that done for LBW,” he said.

Another topic discussed in the most recent legislative session was in-vitro fertilization. According to Hammett, the bill was completed in five legislative days.

“When we started our session, we knew there were going to be a lot of hot-topic issues, but we had no idea this was coming. The courts ruled that an embryo had the same rights as a fetus. When that was done, a lot of these in-vitro clinics shut down due to liability. Some people spend $50,000 or more to go through this process, and we had to come in and get it fixed where it will not hold these clinics responsible,” Hammett said.

The Housing Tax Credit (HB 346) creates tax credits to incentivize the construction of affordable workforce housing across the state.

“One day, Mayor Johnson came to the caucus lunch with me in Montgomery. That was one of the biggest issues we talked about here in Andalusia. We are bringing industry in, but there is a lack of housing. I hope this will alleviate some of that burden here in Andalusia,” he said.

Carnley, who represents Alabama Senate District 31, said engaging with the community helps him and Hammett serve as representatives for this area in the capital city.

“This is an opportunity for us to share with you some of the things we went through this session and hopefully inform you as we answer questions. Matthew and I work well together, and he has done a good job for Covington County. I enjoy going to Montgomery and working for the people,” Carnley said.

According to Carnley, some issues do not impact citizens in certain areas of the state.

“Our job is to go up there and try to do what we think is best for the state of Alabama. You get these national issues that come in and press on you, but I hope we never lose sight that we are Alabama, and that’s who we want to represent,” he said.

Carnley added that Covington County and Andalusia have a strong partner in PowerSouth.

“Even when all of these bills are going on, you can rest assured that rural Alabama and Covington County are known because of PowerSouth and its influence. They are very influential in Montgomery and when a lot of these bills surrounding economic development and growth are discussed, they are very engaged. They help us with issues we have and make sure they are heard to represent you guys,” he added.

The first Senate bill Carnley discussed was SB48, which highlights the parents’ right to know.

“This was a big issue when COVID was around, and students were home. Parents could see a child’s curriculum and would want some transparency. This bill sets a path for transparency for public K-12 schools to post the curriculum on school websites, so parents can see what their children are studying. It provides a path for parents to engage with their schools,” Carnley said.

He also discussed SB1 that speaks on ballot harvesting and the absentee ballot process.

“There were a few counties in the state where a lot of absentees were counted above 15 percent. In general, most of the state’s ballots, including those down, here have about 3 percent cast for absentees,” Carnley said.

SB50 refers to appliance freedom, a Senate bill that states citizens are entitled to purchasing an appliance of their choosing.

“Up in New York and some places, legislation says that you cannot have gas stoves. They are doing away with certain types of appliances,” he said.

Carnley also spoke on SB253, known as the Alabama Career Pathway Act, which establishes a new workforce pathway to earn a high school diploma.

“This bill is basically a career pathways diploma. Our school systems have that one pathway to a high school diploma. This says if a student in ninth grade elects not to go the academic route, it allows them to eliminate two maths and two sciences and replace those with a focus on a skill or technical training,” Carnley said.

An open forum for questions was held after the two spoke. One topic involved allowing a statewide vote on gambling and the lottery, which Hammett and Carnley both voted against. The two legislators said they expect the topic to be addressed again next year.

“One of the biggest problems I have is that the state is going to set the gaming commission. Everybody is accountable to somebody, and I am accountable to you voters. On the casino part, there was a projected $386 million a year in revenue at these seven sites. Four were going to be controlled by Poarch Creek Indians who were going to tax casinos 24 percent to get this $386 million. That is $1.8 billion of losing, and there is not one in Covington County. If it was a straight lottery, it would have passed, but that’s the problem I have with it,” Hammett said.

“Fundamentally, for me, any type of gaming or lottery is praying on those who are less fortunate or are probably not going to make a good decision with their money,” Carnley said. “I get the whole revenue argument; if we want to go down that street, there are a lot of other things we can legalize and tax to generate revenue. For me, it’s more of a moral issue; gaming in Alabama is a zero-sum game.”

Others participating in the luncheon included AACC Executive Director Mellisa King, Chamber President Jennifer McClung, Chamber Vice-President/PowerSouth Legislative Chair Ginny Grimes, AACC Director of Membership Services Maggie Holmes, PowerSouth Governmental and Public Affairs Representative Lora McClendon, City of Andalusia Communications Director Michele Gerlach, and Chamber Immediate Past President William Alverson. Scott Rogers, Richard Moore, David Pierce, and Jeff Sellers performed “The Star Spangled Banner.”