2024 Madison County State Legislative Delegation Public Forum writeup

The 2024 Alabama Legislative session begins on February 6th. On Monday, January 22nd Rob and I attended my first Madison County State Legislative Delegation Public Forum. This is Huntsvillians’ yearly opportunity to tell our state reps what we want from them this session. To my surprise, I left feeling hopeful – at least about the Huntsvillians who showed up. It was also a great chance to see who’s working on what locally. 

I also gave my first public comment since moving back home to Huntsville there.

I’d planned to spend my three minutes at the podium talking about Who killed Daniel Williams? A tale of terror in Alabama prisons by John Archibald. 

A few months ago an Alabama prison inmate kidnapped Daniel Williams. Williams was a young father who should have gotten out after serving a one-year sentence for theft. Instead, this inmate kept Williams tied up for two days, during which time he repeatedly raped him, and then he beat Williams to death. I was going to ask the legislature to address the rape, murder, and even illegal organ harvesting that are rampant in Alabama prisons rather than banning certain flags, protecting the death penalty (which is extremely expensive and has no impact on crime rates), and trying to limit the number of medical cannabis dispensaries. (Several people spoke out about the Alabama death penalty clusterfuck.) I also thought I might mention that between 2016 and 2020 childhood poverty and the percentage of children living in “extreme poverty” increased in Alabama. 

However, as we were getting started someone asked participants to not speak on the same topic if others have already addressed it. 

Pam Caruso, representing the League of Women Voters, talked about Alabama prison reform. She also mentioned Alabama Appleseed. And he spoke about an effort to create a new office of independent oversight, an ombudsman, to assist the Governor. Lastly, she talked about a “Second Chance” bill filed by Representative Chris England, HB29. Robin Buckaloo and Roger Ellis also repped LWV. They spoke about Alabama term mortality and SB1, respectively.  Alabama and Mississippi were number one and two for term mortality 2021. AL is full of maternity desserts. 

So instead I spoke about how average housing costs doubled in Huntsville between 2016 and 2020. And rates of homelessness also rose dramatically in the same period. And how average housing costs and homelessness correlate almost perfectly. And how exclusionary zoning is raising average housing costs and homelessness. 

I was very, very pleased with the quality and quantity of speakers at the Forum. Nearly every issue they raised was important and pertinent. 

A woman named Sadie Johnson described being raped from the ages of 9 to 16 by her stepfather and how if she’d gotten pregnant under current Alabama law the authorities would have forced her to give birth to her stepfather’s child. Rep Daniels has submitted HB3. And she mentioned HB31. 

Tara Bailey, representing The Alabama Channel, spoke about government transparency and how Alabama’s Open Records Law is one of the weakest in the nation. IIRC, Kyle Whitmire has some great reporting on Alabama government opacity. 

My friend (and past podcast guest) Joy Johnson spoke about the climate catastrophe, water plan, and economy in North Alabama. She pointed out that Huntsville’s economy is disproportionately based around defense and war-making and that these things are not life-building and not great for the environment. 

Speaking of the environment, Nick advocated for eliminating parking minimums. Alison Montgomery spoke against the deeply transphobic “protect women’s safety” bills that define women by sex.

Sociologist Dr. Marissa Alison, representing the Madison County chapter of Read Freely Alabama spoke about efforts to tie state funding for Alabama public libraries to their willingness to censor books that contain queer characters or discuss racial justice. She opposes SB10. 

A representative from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. spoke about HB50 and the need for feminine hygiene products in schools in Alabama. Apparently, a quarter of young women nationwide will skip school due to lack of these supplies.