Alabama House Democratic Caucus held a press conference earlier this week to promote their legislative agenda. The Caucus featured Democratic Reps. Adline Clarke (Mobile), Ralph Howard (Greensboro), Napoleon Bracy (Mobile), and Neil Rafferty (Birmingham).
The Democratic Caucus is focused on voting, raising the minimum wage, allegations of fraud in the Prichard Water Board, and the recently passed anti-rioting bill.
Clarke is sponsoring House Bill 103 which would provide for “no-excuse” early voting and the establishment of early voting centers in multiple locations in every county in Alabama.
“We should be making every effort to increase voter turnout by making it easier for citizens to cast a ballot, not harder,'' Clarke said. "Alabama House Democrats will continue to [oppose] barriers to voting,” Clarke said. “We will be opposing HB193.”
HB193 is sponsored by State Rep. Wes Allen (R-Troy). The legislation bans ballot harvesting in Alabama and prohibits any person from accepting or receiving payment for any process relating to absentee ballots.
“Everyone should have the opportunity to have their voices heard,” Clarke said. “Twenty states have some form of early voting, some as [early] as 45 days.
“I have had numerous constituents ask to have early voting in Alabama."
Employers are supposed to allow workers the opportunity to leave work to vote.
“We know that does not always happen,” Clarke said. “Folks have got to choose between remaining on the job and going to vote.
“Many of us have the responsibility of getting our disabled relatives and friends to the polls,” Clarke said, suggesting that having more than one day to accomplish this would benefit many Alabamians.
1819 News asked Clarke if she was worried about the integrity of the vote with having to protect those ballots and voting machines if they are open for weeks.
“I am not the least bit concerned about that,” Clarke said. “Early voting is working in other states, and it can work in Alabama.”
Rep. Howard is sponsoring HB185, which would raise the minimum wage in Alabama to $10 an hour.
“It would be a significant first step in helping to end wage disparity and it would go a long way toward helping full-time workers become self-sufficient,” Howard said. “It is time that full-time workers receive a real living wage.
“There is no reason that a couple who are both working 40 hours a week should not be paid enough to pay rent, utilities, and groceries for their families. There are still too many employers who pay low wages to their workers.”
Howard claimed that higher wages would grow the economy.
“Raising the minimum wage helps workers and the economy,” Howard said. “A large section of our society is underpaid and undervalued.”
Howard was asked about the economic disparities between businesses in more affluent areas such as Vestavia Hills, Madison, Gulf Shores, Alabaster, and Huntsville, compared to less affluent areas like Bessemer, Prichard or the Black Belt counties, and whether he was concerned that raising the minimum wage in more economically distressed areas may force many small business owners to close their doors.
“No, I don’t think it will,” Howard said. “I talked with the businesses in my area and listened to them and I think it [$10 an hour] is a fair wage.”
Rep. Bracy addressed the allegations of financial fraud by the City of Prichard Water employees, which has now led to arrests and an F.B.I. investigation.
“It highlights the immediate need we have in Alabama for stronger government oversight and, when appropriate, swift intervention and accountability,” Bracy said.
"In 2018 there was a formal ethics complaint,” alleging misconduct by the Prichard Water Board. “I and Vivian Figures worked to dissolve the Prichard Water Board and fold it under Mobile.
“Somewhere along the line somebody dropped the ball and failed the people of Prichard,” Bracy said. “We must find out what happened and how this could take place so long. Obviously, there are gaps in our systems, and they must be improved.”
Bracy said that the FBI, IRS, and other authorities raided the home of waterworks director Nia Bradley.
“I am proud to say that she was finally arrested,” Bracy said.
Rep. Rafferty discussed his opposition to the passage of HB2, the anti-riot bill in the Alabama House of Representatives.
Rafferty claimed that HB2 “would have a chilling effect on the right of people to protest.”
Rafferty warned that there would be “unintended consequences.”
“This is a knee-jerk reaction to a nationwide protest against the death of George Floyd,” Rafferty said. “This bill does nothing to improve public safety.
“We should be doing more to hold law enforcement accountable and fix our broken criminal justice system."
Clarke said that the Alabama House Democratic Caucus Legislative Agenda was “Pro-Growth, Pro-Innovation, and Pro-Alabama."
“The Alabama House Democratic Caucus will continue its work for the people and promote public policies that benefit everyone in our great state,” Rafferty said. “While our colleagues across the aisle continue to engage in controversial political distractions like banning Critical Race Theory, defunding public education, or promoting reckless bills that would allow young people in their twenties to ride motorcycles without a helmet, we will keep our focus on the real issues that face Alabama.”
Tuesday will be day 16 of the 2022 Alabama Regular Legislative Session.
To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email [email protected].