Dees Campaign Releases Policy Proposals
Alabama is currently facing serious issues which require serious policy solutions to address them adequately. The Dees campaign has outlined its general policy stance on some of the various issues that affect District 54 and the state as a whole to provide voters with a better understanding of Jerome's legislative approach.
A Comprehensive Plan for Alabama House District 54
Alabama House District 54 is one of the most diverse districts in the state. From the demographics of its constituents to the varied sectors of industry that occur within its borders, the development of policies that benefit all within the district could be expanded and implemented as a model for statewide growth. Consequently, it is of vital importance that any representative from District 54 have a detailed understanding of the issues and the policy experience to represent viable solutions to their colleagues in Montgomery. Our campaign has developed this plan to identify the issues and present possible solutions to accomplish the goals listed in our platform which are: Education, Health Care, Economy, Criminal Justice Reform, Civil Rights Protections, and Environmental Protections.
According to a study released by the Alabama State Department of Education (Plan 2020), our state is ranked 50th in the nation in math proficiency, and 1 in 3 Alabama students who actually make it to college are required to take remedial courses. This same study revealed that between 2008 - 2014, funding for higher education was slashed by 39 percent and that tuition rates for public institutions increased by 46 percent - placing us squarely in the bottom 10 for each category. And while Alabama has developed a first-rate Pre-K program through the Office of School Readiness, this resource is not accessible to all children.
Improving the administration and funding of our educational systems must be our number one priority. Ensuring that our teachers and youngest citizens have the resources they need in order to achieve their fullest potential is not only our moral obligation as a society, it is a wise investment in our communities. Reaching children before the 4th grade and improving their literacy rate has been proven to reduce the dropout rate. This in turn reduces the costs for families sending their kids to college by eliminating the need to attend remedial courses; it ultimately provides local businesses with a thriving and capable workforce; and it significantly reduces the likelihood of entrance into the criminal justice.
To achieve this goal, there are several approaches the Legislature could take, the two most obvious being a lottery and/or revision of our tax structure. For decades, our neighbors in Georgia and Florida have utilized lotteries to pump millions of dollars into their educational systems, offering full- and partial-tuition scholarships to thousands of in-state students in the process. Alabama would greatly benefit from implementing its own lottery and would have the distinct advantage of being able to examine what funding mechanisms have worked in those states and which administrative procedures failed and should be altered or avoided altogether. The Legislature could also address educational funding by revising our property tax rates and how those dollars are distributed at the state and county levels. One of the greatest drivers of inequality in our educational system is that the zip code where you were born often defines the resources that will be available to your school. That is fundamentally unequal and should be addressed by the state. Each child should have equal opportunity to rise or fall based on their own skill and efforts.
In 2014, Governor Bentley made the partisan-political decision to pass on $3 billion in federal funding to help our state expand Medicaid/Medicare. It can safely be said this was a politically driven decision because Alabama’s health score card according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for that same year reads as follows:
Teen Birth Rate - 10 most in the country
Heart Disease - 3rd worst
Stroke - worst
Diabetes - second worst
Obesity rate - 1 in 3 Alabamians (5th worst)
As relates specifically to health insurance, the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation reported in 2016, that of the state’s 4.5 million citizens, there were 643,000 uninsured Alabamians (13 percent).
Regardless of whether Alabama chooses to participate in the Affordable Care Act exchange or creates its own system, something must be done soon, because our state is severely ill. Our campaign proposes the creation of a statewide Medicare for all program that would be a hybrid of what was passed by Governor Romney in Massachusetts and, most recently, by Governor Sandoval of Nevada - both of whom are Republicans. With some of the world’s best medical facilities and institutions right here in our backyard, there is absolutely no reason that when United Nations representatives visited Alabama within the past year, they should have been able to conclude that our health outcomes in many of our communities are on par with emerging second- and third-world countries. (“UN Poverty official touring Alabama’s Black Belt: ‘I haven’t seen this’ in the First World”, Connor Sheets, AL.com, December 8, 2017). The prescription for Alabama’s ills is simple: invest in a robust health care system.
Despite our seemingly low recent unemployment rates, Alabama’s overall economic status remains anemic and antiquated. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, we rank 24th in population, but 45th in Gross State Product per capita (State’s economic output minus imports then divided by state population). We rank 47th in average individual income ($23,606) and 46th in average household income ($41,415). For comparison, the average income of an Alabama household is only $3,000 more than a household in Guam ($38,973). If Alabama is ever going to move forward economically, we will have to do a better job developing a workforce, infrastructure, and social culture that is more appealing to investors while, simultaneously, empowering native, entrepreneurial Alabamians to follow their dreams and establish thriving, businesses in their own communities.
After boosting pre-K accessibility, developing innovative, modern workforce training programs for Alabamians is a top priority. Building a base of entrepreneurs and enticing foreign companies to relocate here - without giving away the farm through billion dollar tax incentives - will never occur if we don’t have a skilled workforce. Similarly, our substandard roads, bridges, and public utilities (like broadband or fiber optic internet connectivity), must be updated from the 50 and 60 year old systems on which we currently live our lives.
To further ensure that each and every Alabamian is able to provide for themselves and their families and live with dignity, we must join the growing number of states implementing a fair, living wage for all workers. While there are several models across the country that propose a definite number, our campaign suggests following the federal employee model. For example, the state would impose a base minimum wage of $9.00 per hour. That minimum wage would then be supplemented by a cost of living adjustment keyed to the community in which that worker was employed. Since the cost of living in areas like Birmingham and Mobile are higher than they are in Brewton and Midway, the respective adjustments would be reflected in the workers’ final wages accordingly. This regional flexibility takes into account the ability of small business to meet costs that may be more challenging for them than for larger corporations, while protecting the economic dignity of Alabamians who work hard daily and simply want the opportunity to provide for their households the best that they can.
Criminal Justice Reform
As a defense attorney and former prosecutor, criminal justice reform is an issue near and dear to me. Alabama’s prisons have a capacity of 13,000 beds. Our inmate population is 25,000. This means that our prisons are filled to almost double their capacity. This means that Alabama has a higher inmate per total population rate (5.2 per 1,000) than countries like Russia (4.46 per 1,000) and Rwanda (4.92 per 1,000). This means that Alabama, whose annual incarceration budget is $462.5 million, spends $18,500 on each inmate every year. To put that in perspective, if the State were to send one student to Auburn and one to Alabama - with their tuition and books completely paid off - it would cost $23,500. Further consider that the cost of the typical rehabilitation center ranges from $3,000 - $6,000.
Given that a significant number of our presently incarcerated inmates are non-violent offenders, we as a society must decide whether we’re going to continue to throw money down the drain pursuing this useless, failed strategy. Mental health treatment, substance abuse programs, and supervised workforce training centers are far more beneficial and cost-effective methods to address crime and rehabilitation, by all short- and long-term metrics.
Finally, how we charge and sentence present offenses must be a part of that conversation. Decriminalization of marijuana, citations with required substance abuse treatment for most possession controlled substances, and greater sentence flexibility for other offenses would have a significant impact on the prison population and the rate of offender recidivism. Each of these solutions are viable, humane, and cost-effective to the community.
Civil Rights Protections
While in many respects, Alabama, at the urging of the federal government, has taken several steps forward in the civil rights arena, we are currently facing an attack on the equal rights protections which many of us have taken for granted the past few years. People of color, women, and the LGBTQ community need representatives in Montgomery who will be outspoken advocates and defenders of our rights to vote, work, express themselves, and simply live the lives that the United States Constitution asserts we are entitled to enjoy.
Automatic voter registration at age 18, early voting opportunities, repeal of voter ID laws, and the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identification as protected classes for 14th Amendment equal protection and due process purposes would go a long way towards ensuring the dignity of all who choose to call Alabama home. It would also foster that aforementioned culture that would be far more welcoming to the innovative and forward-thinking companies that Alabama needs to advance into the 21st century.
Despite Alabama being one of the most biodiverse states in the country, our environmental protections are embarrassingly weak. With our natural resources and our climate, Alabama could be at the forefront of developing and exporting green, renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Unfortunately, our lack of a clear, and comprehensive official water management plan puts us at severe economic risk for the future, because we share watersheds with Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida - all of whom have water plans that address the needs of their populations. Without a plan, if those resources became scarce, Alabama would be left as the odd man out in the event of a litigation battle with those other states. While we still have the chance to become a leader in this field, we must develop a forward-thinking strategy that strongly positions our economy for the future and protects the beauty our great state possesses so that our children and grandchildren can continue to enjoy these natural resources.
These issues did not occur overnight and, obviously, cannot be reasonably expected to be resolved overnight. Moreover, one person cannot solve all of these problems. It will require a truly cooperative approach from legislators, the private sector, and, most importantly, the people of Alabama. However, our campaign’s promise to you is that, if elected, I will give every effort to make these proposed solutions a reality. And while I have offered ideas about what I believe might work best, I continually remain open to hearing your ideas ideas and suggestions. Thank you for taking the time to review my goals for this district and this state, and I look forward to proudly serving as your representative for Alabama House District 54.