Monday, July 31st, 2023
The Bohemian | OWA Parks & Resort
GUMBO was proud to host a Legislative Update Luncheon on July 31st at OWA Parks & Resort with our many dedicated stakeholders. The event featured a panel discussion with Baldwin County delegation members including Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine), Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne), Rep. Alan Baker (R-Brewton), Rep. Donna Givens (R-Loxley), Rep. Frances Holk-Jones (R-Foley), and Rep. Jennifer Fidler (R-Silverhill).
GUMBO Chairman Penny Groux kicked off the event and highlighted GUMBO’s successful efforts this year within the Alabama Legislature and the growth of GUMBO as a leading business organization.
The panel discussion was moderated by Christie Strategy Group Vice President, Maeci Walker, and Poarch Band of Creek Indians Director of External Affairs, Kristin Hellmich, and each legislator was asked a question related to their achievements during this year’s legislative sessions.
The discussion kicked off with Sen. Elliott addressing his instrumental role in the inclusion of tourism incentives in the Alabama Jobs Act renewal legislation and the process of ensuring they were included. Elliott explained that the first major hurdle was to successfully get the tourism incentives included in the Alabama Jobs Act legislation rather than introduce a stand-alone bill. He continued on to discuss some opposition that was carefully navigated when Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) attempted to amend the legislation in committee. He said he was incredibly proud of the work that was done to ensure that the legislation was successfully passed, and he thinks that it will prove to be very beneficial to the state of Alabama and our tourism industry as a whole.
Rep. Baker added to the conversation by articulating his own experiences while serving as the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development Incentives. He explained the need for reauthorizing the Alabama Jobs Act to keep Alabama competitive, in addition to cultivating new incentives like the tourism incentive language.
Sen. Elliott also went on to highlight the importance of passing the Dram Shop legislation this year, which changed the strict liability standards in Alabama when an accident occurs involving an intoxicated patron. The legislation now requires that a server knowingly serves a visibly intoxicated person for the server or business owner to be held liable. Elliott was excited to provide an update on the immediate effect of the new law; Alabama’s Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating has already decreased from Grade 10, which was the highest in the nation, to Grade 5. This reduction in rating will greatly assist businesses in securing more affordable alcohol liability insurance rates.
Sen. Albritton was asked to speak on the changes he has seen in the budget over the past several years as he served as the Senate General Fund Budget Chairman. Sen. Albritton first reassured the room that Alabama was in a positive position regarding both the Education Trust Fund and General Fund budgets. He explained how both budgets had surplus amounts this year and how the legislature worked hard to make long-term differences rather than short-term fixes. Much of the General Fund budget was allocated for capital improvement projects, water and sewer improvements, and pay raises for many different agencies.
Later on during the panel, Sen. Albritton provided an update on gaming legislation as he has sponsored several gaming bills over the years. He explained that right now, the cards lie with the Alabama House of Representatives and he welcomes legislation so the State can properly regulate the industry.
The moderators then turned to Rep. Baker, who is a well-known advocate and supporter of education policy, to touch on the Education Trust Fund budget and other education priorities that were addressed this year. Rep. Baker informed the audience of the strong budget year, with a surplus amount in the Education budget that was strategically allocated to where it was most needed. Teacher pay raises were a major priority this year, both for the Governor and the Legislature, as well as investing in a savings account that the State would be able to access in times of need in future years.
Baker also mentioned the passage of the Alabama Literacy Act, which aims to improve the reading proficiency of public school kindergarten through third-grade students by establishing testing standards to ensure students are able to read at the proper grade level and continue excelling in their educational career. As a former school teacher and coach, he highlighted how this effort was not solely on third-grade students and teachers as the process will begin as early as Kindergarten.
Next, a question arose regarding new legislation that was passed this year adding stricter repercussions for fentanyl trafficking in Alabama. Rep. Simpson led this charge and played a major role in bringing this issue up to leadership members including Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) and Governor Kay Ivey. He explained how he originally approached local sheriffs to learn more about their own experiences with fentanyl trafficking and the dangerous situations that both law enforcement officials and everyday citizens can be put in because of this ongoing issue. He said he worked hand-in-hand with local law enforcement to draft the legislation ahead of the 2023 Regular Legislative Session and proudly introduced the piece as HB1 this year. The bill was one of the first signed into law in 2023.
The panel discussion then shifted to the three freshmen members – Rep. Givens, Rep. Holk-Jones, and Rep. Fidler.
Rep. Fidler kicked off the discussion by touching on her experience as a freshman legislator and what surprised her most during her time in Montgomery. Fidler explained how, as an outsider to politics, it was a pleasant surprise to see how well members of both parties actually worked together in comparison to what today’s national media claims. She continued by saying that although Republicans and Democrats disagree on many legislative issues, they frequently worked together on more commonalities than not. The camaraderie that members had together, whether they were seatmates, suitemates, or simply friends from the chambers, was refreshing to see. As a well-known figure to regularly communicate with her constituents on the happenings in Montgomery, Fidler was asked how she keeps such close and open contact with her district while traveling to Montgomery. She mentioned multiple avenues like social media, newsletters, and regular town halls as her avenues to successfully let her constituents know what is occurring, why, and what the effects will be of legislative actions in the Capital City.
The moderators then turned to Rep. Holk-Jones to ask about a social worker bill that she sponsored and how the effects of the bill will improve access to mental healthcare. Holk-Jones explained how a large number of social workers in Alabama who have received the highest level of education in their profession were not allowed to diagnose individuals with certain mental health conditions under previous law. Her legislation increased the qualifications required for licensed independent clinical social workers to diagnose and develop treatment plans. She continued on to highlight the positive effects that this piece of legislation will have by helping to alleviate the workforce crisis within the industry, utilize these qualified professionals at a larger rate, and increase the care the individuals struggling with mental health issues need.
Rep. Holk-Jones was then asked to speak on the importance of GUMBO’s involvement in the legislative process and her perspective this year as a legislative member. As a former board member of GUMBO, she went on to say how much GUMBO’s presence, influence, and involvement have grown in Montgomery. She highlighted how present GUMBO’s governmental affairs team was and the positive results that were yielded this year with the many legislative victories. She added that it was exciting for her to see how influential and recognizable GUMBO’s members were this year during our State House visit earlier in the Spring.
Finally, our moderators asked Rep. Givens to provide the audience with an explanation of her legislation regarding the surrendering of infants and why it was a priority for her during this year's regular session. She explained how she had attended a fundraiser where she met Mississippi’s Lieutenant Governor who discussed legislation regarding “Safe Haven Baby Boxes.” Rep. Givens spoke with her about the legislation and asked if she would be willing to share her bill text so Rep. Givens could file it in Alabama. Rep. Givens explained how she worked to invite all involved parties to the table to discuss the concept of this bill in Alabama and how they could make it work. The bill successfully passed and Rep. Givens was happy to announce to the crowd that not only will ten new Safe Haven Baby Boxes be installed in the ten largest cities in Alabama but an additional box will be provided locally in Foley.
Legislators thanked GUMBO for hosting them at the event and providing an opportunity for them to connect with community leaders in South Baldwin County and recap the work that was done in Montgomery. It was mentioned by many of the delegation members how effective and influential GUMBO has become in Montgomery regarding legislative priorities and leading the tourism industry forward.
With this year being GUMBO’s 20th anniversary, it is important to highlight the growth in membership, influence, and leadership throughout the community to better Baldwin County as a whole. You can find a more in-depth summary highlighting the many legislative achievements from this year in our 2023 Legislative Report.
Thank you to all stakeholders who were in attendance, OWA Parks & Resort for hosting the event in such an incredible venue, and all Baldwin County delegation members who participated in the panel and continue to serve our community!