Ahead of session, Stadthagen hosts town hall in West Point

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Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle, left, met with constituents Tuesday night in West Point. (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

WEST POINT – Members of the community had an opportunity to discuss important issues, ask questions and voice concerns with Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle Tuesday night at the first of a series of town halls planned in his district, Alabama’s 9th. Stadthagen was joined by a roomful of his constituents, including Cullman County Commissioner Garry Marchman and Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry, at the Brandin’ Iron in West Point.

The group discussed the many items and issues on the agenda for the upcoming legislative session, including the protection of existing Confederate monuments. Alabama Attorney Gen. Steve Marshall supports the protection of the monuments and Stadthagen also stands behind the protection, saying, “Don’t mess with history. You can’t erase history, but you can learn from it.” 

Those at the meeting seemed to overwhelmingly support the protections as well. There were concerns about the slippery slope removing the monuments could potentially create, some asking if it would lead to renaming streets, schools and other landmarks. 

Concealed carry permits

Stadthagen said Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa will once again introduce a bill eliminating the need to obtain a permit for a concealed pistol. In 2017, the Alabama Senate passed his bill but it died in the House committee. 

Gentry spoke about his position, saying, “I was one of three sheriffs last session that was pro no permit for Alabama. You can open carry without a permit, but once you get in the vehicle, there’s a vehicle exclusion that you have to have it unloaded if you don’t have a permit. Well, if you’ve got a good guy and it’s unloaded, he might as well have a rock.” 

Gentry pointed out that the majority of accidental discharges happen during the loading and unloading of a firearm. For safety reasons, he said, not requiring permits would eliminate the loading and unloading in public places. Gun permits would still be available and needed for those traveling to other states. 

Broadband

Stadthagen said he was recently asked about his views regarding broadband internet access. He said, “it’s kind of a no brainer question to me. We have to have it. We have to have it for our kids, our students in rural areas. Right now, it’s just Charter and AT&T fighting over who’s going to get it.”

Lottery

About his views on a statewide lottery, Stadthagen stated firmly, “I’m for letting the people vote for it; the tough part is deciding where the money goes.”

Recommended areas were education, the state’s general fund, infrastructure, mental health and prisons. 

Marchman stressed, “The way it’s set up is going to be a big deal.”

One citizen worried about how the money would be managed. Stadthagen said he hopes to address overall fiscal responsibility with a new bill he has written.

He said, “We legislate money prior to handing it out to departments. We don’t legislate AFTER we give it out. There’s no policing it. I pre-filed a bill last week. My bill is going to propose that every department in the State of Alabama that receives funding from the general fund, whatever they can save within that fiscal year is going to be a 90/10 split. So, 90 percent will go back to the general fund while 10 percent will be dispersed equally to every employee in that department as a bonus or incentive so they police themselves.” 

Stadthagen said the Alabama State Employees Association has had an opportunity to study the bill and is supportive of the ideas proposed. With the bill, Stadthagen hopes to eliminate departments’ rush to fill out their budgets at the end of each year in order to receive more money the following year.

Mental health care and prisons

On the topic of mental health care, most of the discussion focused on care for those in prison and not on the lack of mental health resources available to law-abiding citizens.

Stadthagen said, before asking Gentry for his thoughts , “I think if we get every inmate that has a mental illness and we put them in a place where they need to be, a hospital, our prisons will be just fine.” 

Gentry replied, “You have to differentiate between true mental illness and drug-induced mental illness. The main problem right now with the prison system is the moment they hit prison, they are out. You have a big push. We are the only county in the state that’s under a federal injunction now and basically it’s this: it doesn’t matter what you do, what you get arrested for, you should bond in, come it, make bond and walk right out.”

Gentry continued, “Prisons are a violent environment, but there’s tons of programs down there for these guys but they aren’t there long enough to use them. There’s no motivation to get the help because there are no consequences. Also, there’s no place to take the true mentally ill. Long-term treatment facilities aren’t available.”

Gentry also cited the “dip and dunk” program as no longer doing what it was designed to do. The dip (72 hours In county jail) and dunk (45 days in county jail) was created mainly for probationers. By keeping these offenders local, the program would alleviate overcrowding. He said the prisons want the time to be served in the prisons thus raising the numbers. 

Gas tax

Stadthagen said the plan being pushed by Gov. Kay Ivey would raise the tax on gas 12 cents over the next four years: 6 cents the first year and an additional 2 cents each year until it reached the 12 cents. The bill is worded in a way that could be tricky to voters, he said.  A “yes” vote would be a vote against the proposed tax plan, he said.

Stadthagen acknowledged the need for infrastructure improvement, but said he has many concerns regarding adding more tax to gas.

“Is there need for infrastructure? Yes! The need is there, but many of my constituents live in rural areas with long commutes. They are living paycheck to paycheck and the extra money for gas is going to hurt. I campaigned on being fiscally responsible,” he said, with the comments in the room circling back to the perceived poor money management and lack of oversight in Montgomery. 

Marchman explained, “Sixty million gallons of fuel were bought in Cullman last year. That comes to roughly $45,000 per mile per year of gas tax that comes out of Cullman County that goes to the state but we don’t have money to fix our roads. I’d likely be more supportive if the money stayed local.”

Stadthagen said he has seen the top 10 projects the State wants to focus on if the gas tax is passed. He said nothing in the 9th District is listed.

Stadthagen encouraged those in his district to reach out to him or his office with any questions, concerns or ideas.

“When I ran for this position, I didn’t run to be a career politician,” he said. “I ran to do what’s right for our community and to serve the people of our district. That’s where I’ll stand. Where our people stand is where I’ll stand. If it’s against leadership, so be it. If it’s with them and we get lucky and end up on the same page down there and they stand where we are back home, that’s great. But if not, so be it.” 

Stadthagen can be reached at 334-261-0436 and www.facebook.com/repscottstadthagen.

The next regular session of the Alabama Legislature begins March 5.

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