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Walker
Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Working for Walker County

By Rep. Matt Woods

“I was hired to fight for the people of District 13 and Walker County, that is exactly what I will continue to do.” – Rep. Matt Woods, ALHD 13 

I want to thank you for taking the time to read my legislative updates. When I ran for office, I made a commitment to work hard for the people of Walker County and my articles are intended to keep you updated on some of the legislative work that is happening in Montgomery.

Many people do not realize that the only requirement the legislature actually has is to pass a budget. Last week was a huge week for the Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget, which started in the House of Representatives this year. We passed a record $9.35 billion budget, an increase of roughly $550 million, which includes a 2% pay raise for educators and support staff. The House also approved a $1 billion appropriation from the state’s Advancement and Technology Fund, which can be used for capital projects, security improvements, and technology upgrades in K-12 schools, colleges, and universities.

I expect that this record budget will have a huge impact on Walker County, as evidenced by a $25 million appropriation for BevillState Community College. This budget item will help build the recently announced Alabama Energy Infrastructure Training Network, which will host an array of workforce development opportunities in Walker County. I am very excited about this development because it will be the first of its kind in Alabama and will deliver training for students all over the Southeast.

I am always looking to ensure that Alabama is a great place to raise our families. One way we can improve is by making surechildren are properly protected from those who would do them harm. I was proud to support, and Governor Ivey recently signed into law, “The Sound of Freedom Act,” named after the recent motion picture that depicted a real-life effort to rescue children from sex trafficking in Columbia. This bill imposes a minimum sentence of LIFE IMPRISONMENT for anyone convicted of human trafficking of a minor within Alabama.

You may recall from articles earlier this session that I sponsoredthe “Alabama Child Protection Act.” This bill (HB168) wouldmake child sexual abuse material created by artificial intelligence (AI) technology a felony just like pictures or videoscreated of actual children. The state will no longer have the burden of proving the identity of the depiction in question. If it looks like child pornography, then it will be prosecuted as such. This was brought to my attention by a situation where a group of young women had their pictures used to make images that are now considered child sexual abuse material. With all the mental health challenges in our schools, students do not need to be faced with this terrible act of cruelty. I set out to pass the most comprehensive bill

possible to give our children every protection they deserve. This bill raises the age covered by our child pornography law to age 17, it awards victims the opportunity to seek civil and punitive damages (previously not in law). The bill also requires schools to adopt policies against this act and to distribute copies to students, teachers, and faculty making them aware of the consequences of breaking this law. I appreciate the support of Attorney General Steve Marshall and his staff for helping draft this legislation that I believe is the strongest law in the country dealing with child sexual abuse material. I am happy to report that this bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously and will soon be signed into law by the Governor. 

People often ask me, “Do I enjoy my ‘new’ job?” I can tell you it is a challenging position. There are a lot of complex issues that the legislature deals with daily. Passing laws that protect our children and help fund their education is a bright spot for our legislative efforts and one that I am very proud to be a part of. I’ve often heard it said that half of the role of a legislator is to guard against bad bills. Just last week the people of Alabama were facing a new tax increase that would have cost $127 million dollars in a new online retail sales tax. While I always want to have well-funded schools, counties, and municipalities, It’s my opinion that too many people are struggling to get by right now. With food prices soaring, and reckless energy policies creating rising prices at the pump, now is simply not the time to add another new tax. I am not a tax and spend legislator. I live in the real world. I could not in good conscience support a tax increase during these difficult times of rising inflation.

The tax proposal was also unfair to municipalities with less than50,000 residents. Under the proposed tax increase, large cities would have received over $40 per person from the new tax, whereas the City of Jasper and every other city under 50,000 people would have received approximately $14 per person. I am proud to say when faced with the question of how a person’s tax dollars generated in a large city are worth almost 300% more than the same tax dollar generated in less populated municipalities, the conversation of tax increases came to halt. This was a win for rural Alabama. We shouldn’t have to pay an outsized portion of taxes to larger cities simply because they have more people. Your hard-earned dollars that you pay in sales taxes should benefit your community, not be redistributed to a city somewhere else. Thankfully, the majority of my House colleagues felt the same way and we will not be voting on this any time soon. I was hired to fight for the people of District 13 and Walker County, that is exactly what I will continue to do.

Until next time, I appreciate the opportunity to serve you and look forward to more good things to come for Walker County.

Representative Matt Woods represents Alabama State House District 13, which covers parts of Walker County. You can contact him at [email protected].

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