State legislators begin pushing their agendas

Published 6:51 pm Monday, January 13, 2014

With the Alabama Legislature starting Tuesday, local representatives are focusing on minimum wage reform, voting rights, a spaceport and a shrinking Alabama’s general fund as top priorities.

State Reps. Darrio Melton (D-Selma) and David Colston (D-Hayneville) both said raising the minimum wage is one of their top priorities. The bill, sponsored by Melton, would raise the minimum wage to $9.80 per hour.

“It’s hard to make it right now when you’re a single mother, single father, or just to take care of yourself when you’re making $7.25 an hour,” Colston said. “I just don’t see how a single parent, supporting two kids, can live off of minimum wages now. I think that increasing the minimum wage is one of the more important things that we need to get accomplished this session.”

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Colston said an increase in minimum wage would particularly affect his district — parts of Autauga, Dallas, Lowndes and Wilcox counties — because of a high poverty rate.

If successful in his efforts, Dallas County residents could notice the changes implemented by Melton’s voting rights bill most quickly. The bill would allow voters to register and vote in the same day.

“Voting is a fundamental right in America and we should expand the opportunity as much as possible,” Melton said. “We don’t want to hinder anyone just because they don’t meet a particular deadline for voting.”

Melton also mentioned a bill that would initiate a feasibility study for a spaceport in Alabama. The study would examine sites that would be best suited to house a potential spaceport — a hub for commercial spaceflight. Melton was asked to be the lead sponsor of the bill.

“I think it has great potential for economic development,” he said. “And, I think the possibility of it locating somewhere in west-central Alabama is very promising.”

Passing bills isn’t the only priority during the session, according to Colston. He said preserving   Alabama’s general fund — used for ordinary government expenses — is another important issue to address. It’s estimated the general fund is $83 million less than last year’s session, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.

“The general fund is going to be short this year,” he said. “It’s my hope we don’t get it off of the backs of state employees and teachers. We need to find money to improve the health of the fund.”

Melton said his minimum wage bill might help alleviate stress on the general fund and reduce the number of Alabama residents that rely on social welfare to pay bills.

Regardless of the issue, Melton said he would continue to fight for Alabama’s Black Belt.

“My priority is always making sure that attention is place on the Black Belt,” he said. “I want us to get the same opportunities and not be looked over because of politics.”