MONTGOMERY — Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) on Wednesday joined with a bipartisan group of legislative leaders, military officers and Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed to highlight the importance of a pending package of bills that is designed to retain, safeguard and improve the military presence and investment across Alabama.
The legislative package, which has already passed the Senate and is now working its way through the House process, is the result of work by the Alabama Military Stability Commission, a statutory panel that is chaired by Ainsworth. The commission is comprised of several elected officials, cabinet members and regional appointees from areas around the state with a heavy defense concentration.
Since he assumed the office of lieutenant governor in January 2019, Ainsworth has consistently stressed his desire to “make sure Alabama is the most military-friendly state in the country.” Under his leadership, the Military Stability Commission also unveiled the “Heroes Welcome” website last year.
The legislative package now moving through the lower chamber stalled last year when the 2020 regular session was abruptly halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The federal military bases located in Alabama play an important role in our state’s economy and job climate, so retaining and, when possible, expanding their footprint must always be a top priority,” Ainsworth stated. “And mayors in the cities and counties that house them will attest to how vital our military bases are in providing employment opportunities and revenues in local economies across the state.”
Among the bills in the package are measures that will allow military dependents attending public colleges and universities in Alabama to pay in-state tuition while stationed here; extend the enrollment deadline for military families to apply for magnet schools; guarantee the acceptance of out-of-state occupational licenses for military dependents in various professions; and others.
The legislative group present for Wednesday’s press conference in front of the State House included Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper); House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia); Senator Tom Butler (R-Madison), chair of the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee; Representatives Dickie Drake (R-Leeds), chair of the House Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee; and Representative Kirk Hatcher (D-Montgomery).
“The strong military presence in Alabama is important not only to our nation’s security, but also to our state’s economy. That is why this package of bills was one of the first the Senate took up and passed this session,” Reed remarked. “These bills show that supporting the thousands of service members and veterans across our state are a top priority of the legislature, and I appreciate Lieutenant Governor Ainsworth for all of his work and leadership in delivering this support to the military families who call Alabama home.”
McCutcheon underscored this pro-military package is also a priority for the House.
“Even the smallest advantage we put in place can tip the balance of whether a base stays here, leaves here, or expands here, and the legislative package put forth by the Military Stability Commission signals that Alabama is serious about keeping and building upon our military bases,” said McCutcheon, who represents parts of defense-centric Madison County. “Offering items like in-state college tuition and additional job opportunities for military dependents not only makes Alabama more attractive to Pentagon decision-makers, it also demonstrates a needed measure of our state’s famous southern hospitality.
Butler noted that addressing issues important to military families is especially timely since Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal was recently announced as the permanent headquarters for the U.S. Space Command.
“Redstone Arsenal has been the backbone of the Tennessee Valley’s economy since its founding 80 years ago, in 1941, and that role is continuing to grow even more with the recent decision to locate U.S. Space Command at Redstone,” Butler commented. “There’s no better way to roll out the red carpet for Space Command than by passing this legislative package and offering even more advantages and opportunities for the military personnel who will soon call Alabama home.”
A military retiree with 42 years of service in the U.S. Air Force and Alabama National Guard, Drake has firsthand knowledge that improving the quality of life for armed forces personnel and their families is a factor in determining where assets are allocated.
“As a career serviceman, I can tell you that whenever a military family receives a new posting, the first thing they do is research the schools, the job market, and the quality of life in the city where they are being assigned,” Drake outlined. “Dissatisfaction in any of these areas spreads quickly throughout the ranks, and it soon reaches the brass that makes the decisions at the top. Those are the folks who decide if military bases live or die.”
The group of military officials present included Alabama National Guard Adjutant General Sheryl Gordon. Reed and Hatcher empathized the strong, mutually beneficial relationship between the local community and Montgomery’s Maxwell Air Force Base.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn