Dillard used the Town Hall as an opportunity to keep students up-to-date on local legislation. Photo by Harrison Neville
It is an easy matter for students to become so wrapped up in college life that they miss out on the events occurring in their own state’s legislatures. At the Feb. 21 SGA town hall, UM’s Vice President of Advancement and External affairs, Scott Dillard, informed students on some of the topics being discussed by the Alabama legislature in the State Capital, Montgomery, and how they might affect Montevallo students.
According to Dillard, a current hot topic in the state legislature is the infrastructure bill. Commonly known as “the gas tax,” this bill would bring about a 10 cent per gallon increase to the tax on gas.
The raising of the gas tax would allow for more to be done on Alabama’s bridges and roadways that need repair. Dillard said that there are over 2,000 bridges that are more than 50-years-old in the state of Alabama, which is significantly greater than the expected lifespan of the average bridge.
“If it doesn’t pass this year, I’m not sure it will ever pass,” noted Dillard, adding that the tax increase has garnered the support of Governor Kay Ivey and Alabama’s Speaker of the House.
To avoid having the infrastructure bill clog up the legislature, Ivey intends to call specific meetings to resolve the legislation.
Moving on to bills that pertained more specifically to higher education, Dillard began to talk about the “Lottery Bill.” This controversial bill would establish a state lottery for Alabama.
Dillard explained half of the money earned would go into the Alabama general fund and the other half would go into the education fund.
“Alabama is one of three states with two budgets,” said Dillard. Alabama has both a general fund, made up of approximately $4 billion, and an education fund, which has approximately $7 billion.
Dillard noted that there were a number of things included in the education budget that he believed should not be there. These include funding for the Department of Commerce and the Barber Vintage Motorsports’ Museum funding.
Dillard encouraged students to attend Higher Ed Day and to ask their representative to fund a request Montevallo has made for an additional $1 million. This money would be used to upgrade the University’s facilities. Currently, UM receives around $20 million from the State.
The University also received a $25 million grant from the federal government through a program called GEAR UP, which works with kids from low-income communities to boost college readiness and award scholarships. The grant will also provide education on financial aid to parents. The program is currently active in Birmingham and Jefferson County school systems.
Another bill Dillard brought up was one that would ban people from touching their cellphones while driving a car. The current laws outlaw texting while driving, but this would prevent any use of a cellphone while behind the wheel. Dillard stated that it is likely the bill will pass.
A more campus-specific bill would stop students from preventing a speaker from talking by shutting them down.
“An extreme example would be when that white-supremacist went to Auburn,” said Dillard. If passed, the bill would guarantee campus speakers the right to speak. This does not mean students could not protest; rather, it means that students could not prevent the speaker from saying their piece.
“We are likely to lose a House member,” said Dillard when discussing how the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census is likely to affect Alabama. While other states have grown, Alabama has remained stagnant at best, which is why it is likely to lose a representative in the house.
This was the second town hall SGA has hosted this academic year. Going forward, SGA’s focus will begin to shift toward the upcoming SGA election season.
Harrison Neville is the editor in chief for The Alabamian. He is a fourth-year English major whose hobbies include reading, hiking, cooking and writing. He has previously worked for The Alabamian as a managing editor, distribution manager, copy editor and SGA columnist.