Lawmakers pose for a photo inside C’s Cakes and Coffee House. Photo by Kat Bell
Early morning on April 8, Alabama legislators met with Montevallo locals as part of an outreach program at C’s Cake and Coffee House.
With 10 more weeks in this legislative session, Alabama State Representatives Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo, and April Weaver, R-Brierfield, met with residents to inform them of actions taking place in legislature.
While topics like the gas tax had local representatives busy for many weeks, the regular session has brought about news of a large portion of money coming to Alabama.
“Last week the house passed the general fund budget. We’re excited to get that done. It’s a $2.1 billion budget,” said Weaver.
The representatives also announced that prisons will have $40 million dedicated to them in the name of reform.
“If the state is going to cop somebody of their liberty and put them in a place away from the population, the state has an obligation to feed them, clothe them and keep them safe. The state has done a woefully inadequate job for decades,” said Fridy.
It has been announced that correctional officers will see a 20% salary raise, and there is hope that more officers will be hired to help regulate prisons.
“I think we can all agree that being a correctional officer in our prisons is a very dangerous and difficult job, and we as a State knew we had to do something to address that,” said Weaver.
The state of Alabama has also decided to increase the number of mental health employees for inmates. According to Fridy, there are not enough resources for mental health within state prisons.
He also described reports of prisons in Alabama being difficult for him to read because of inmate violence in terms of stabbings, injured and murdered correctional officers and suicides.
“Almost half of the folks in custody either have diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues. We have to address that,” explained Fridy. “If we want to reduce recidivism and have people leave our custody that are contributing members of society, then we have got to address the mental health issues.”
Another problem with local prisons is that most of them were built in the 40s and 50s.
“Quite frankly, tearing those down, the amount of money that we will save from maintenance cost alone will fund the construction of one or two modern prisons,” said Fridy.
However, Fridy expressed that Shelby County has served as a good example for how jails should be set up because inmates are monitored more easily by correctional officers.
If Alabama is not able to reform its prisons, they could be sued under the 8th Amendment. Therefore, inhibitions could result in the state losing money and having inmates released before they have completed their entire sentences.
“The solution is putting a program in place that will protect our correctional officers and give our prisoners a second chance by coming out of prison and being productive members of society,” said Fridy.
The representatives also discussed vaping, something which the representatives have labeled as a major problem as it has become a trend among younger people.
“Alabama was one of three states that virtually had no regulation when it came to vaping,” said Fridy. “Anybody that works in education can tell you that over the last two to three years the use has exploded. Over the last five years vaping has increased about 900% among teens.”
Fridy described the issue by explaining how the problem is that teens are becoming addicted to vaping. He believes that this could lead to them smoking cigarettes by the time these teens are in their twenties and thirties.
He hopes that a bill he has worked on will regulate vaping significantly, and will work to decrease teens access to vapes.
“It’s going to go a long way in getting vaping devices out of the hands of teenagers,” said Fridy.
“We have such great resources here that ours are best practices across the state. When you get outside of Shelby County, it’s so nice to see that everybody looks back to us as the way that things are done right,” said Weaver.
The two legislators additionally discussed how many of their constituents are interested to see if and how the lottery may come to Alabama. However, Fridy shared that much of the senate cannot agree on guidelines.
“There’s a majority that want a lottery, but not a majority that can agree on a) what the lottery will look like and b) where the proceeds from the lottery will go,” said Fridy.
Fridy noted that many people in the community want the money to go toward the Education Trust Fund (ETF). However, he said it will likely exist as a paper lottery, with scratch offs and a regional lottery, which means the funds are not likely to go into larger state funding programs like the ETF.
The representatives ended their chat by discussing how Alabama will reach a new state record for educational spending this year.
“This year will probably be the largest education budget we’ve ever had in the history of Alabama. The booming economy gives us an opportunity to do some great things,” said Fridy.
According to Weaver, they are hoping to see some of that money go directly to the University of Montevallo.
“We are all proud supporters of the University of Montevallo, and we always look forward to working with them. We fully support their request for the Education Trust Fund. Hopefully some good things are going to come out of there for you guys,” said Weaver.