Chamber hosts legislative summit

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By Kaitlin Hoskins, News Editor

The Gadsden-Etowah Chamber of Commerce recently hosted legislators representing Gadsden and Etowah County for a legislative update summit.

The event was held at The Venue at Coosa Landing on June 11 and Chamber members and business owners were invited to attend.

Those in attendance received updates from the Alabama legislative session and the Washington, D.C. legislative session.

State House Representatives Mack Butler (District 28), Mark Gidley (District 29) and Craig Lipscomb (District 30) attended, as did State Senator Andrew Jones (District 10). Unfortunately, those with the Washington, D.C. delegation — U.S. Senators Katie Britt and Tommy Tuberville and U.S. Congressmen Robert Aderholt and Mike Rogers — could not attend themselves, but all except Rogers sent staff members to attend and give updates on their offices.

To start off the event, former State Representative and current Gadsden Mayor Craig Ford welcomed the guest speakers and the audience and thanked them for their continued service to Gadsden and Etowah County.

Ford shared anecdotes from his time as a legislator and how he learned early on that working together was the best way to get things done for the citizens of Etowah County.

“When Governor Riley was in, we went in there to ask for some money for a road project here in Gadsden,” Ford recalled. “The governor looked at us and asked how many county commissioners we had. I told him that we didn’t have everyone and not everyone agreed on the project. He said ‘Craig, I appreciate you and what you’re trying to do, but come back when y’all get together.’ And that spoke volumes to me. From that day on I knew that we needed to be in unison and working together for the betterment of Etowah County.”

Ford also gave a quick overview of things happening in Gadsden before turning the microphone over to Jason Harper, who handles government affairs and business development for Goodwyn Mills Cawood.

Goodwyn Mills Cawood is an architecture and engineering firm in the Southeast that has worked with municipalities in Etowah County on various projects. They were also the sponsor of The Chamber’s legislative summit.

Harper called the current time period for Etowah County a “mini renaissance.”

“Give yourself a pat on the back,” Harper said. “There are so many good things happening in Etowah County. From the Mega Site to the airport and the things Mayor Ford and his staff are doing. Thank you for electing people who are engaged.”

Harper turned the microphone over to the state representatives next. The first being Rep. Butler. Butler, who just finished a renovation project on the old Gadsden Hardware store in downtown Gadsden, bragged about the growth in Gadsden and Etowah County.

“I’ve never seen the cooperation like this,” Butler said. “Nobody was on the same page before. We were fighting with the county commission or fighting with city councils. That’s no longer the case. It is a new day in Gadsden and a new day in Etowah County.”

Then Butler gave a brief rundown on the legislation passed this last session that he was proud of. Two of which were the universal school choice bill and a property tax bill.

The school choice bill, which has been named the CHOOSE Act and was signed by Governor Kay Ivey in March of this year, created a program similar to school vouchers that would provide eligible families with as much as $7,000 to help pay for private school and $2,000 for homeschooling expenses.

The property tax bill caps increases of assessed values on residential and commercial properties at 7 percent of the assessed value from the prior year.

The next three speakers, Rep. Lipscomb, Rep. Gidley and Sen. Jones also talked about the growth in Etowah County and the same bills. Jones added that the “Working for Alabama” legislative package signed into law by Ivey in May was also impactful for citizens of Etowah County. The package contained several bipartisan bills focused on “workforce” in Alabama. It covers education programs, tax credits for housing and childcare and more.

Jones also covered some important changes to license reciprocity laws in Alabama which will help active duty servicemembers and their spouses.

“We wanted to make sure that they are able to come to Alabama, using their current state license and immediately begin working here,” Jones said. “We don’t want our servicemembers families losing up to six months of income because they don’t have a license in Alabama. Now they can get to work and not miss a beat while they apply for an Alabama license.”

Jones also mentioned the veterans mental health bill.

“Veteran suicides and mental health issues occur more frequently than the average general population based on a lot of factors,” Jones said. “This bill will create a committee to oversee specific tailored programs for veterans and their mental health needs and establish pilot projects that will work to treat our veterans.”

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