My Plan to Restore Liberty, Fairness and Prosperity to Alabama

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I hope that everyone has had a wonderful Independence Day! It is such a meaningful day, and one of my favorite holidays.

Several weeks ago, the Libertarian Party of Alabama received notice that I will appear on the ballot for House District 96. We have been working hard for months to ensure that the people of Coastal Alabama will get a better choice, and I am excited to have achieved that first goal. This is not the end, though. The end goal is a victory. There is a long way to go until November 6th, and I am confident that we can garner enough support to win a three way race.

I thought that the anniversary of America declaring independence from British rule would be the perfect day to more thoroughly lay out what I intend to do once in the State House. I want to explain what I will do to ensure that we all are able to enjoy the kind of Liberty for which our Founding Fathers fought so hard. 

But because of the bias in favor of the two-party system, it will not be easy. Neither, though, was our victory over the British so many years ago easy. I am at a distinct disadvantage, much like the American rebels were. I cannot simply rely on people voting for me because of party identification. There's no choice to vote straight-ticket Libertarian. I cannot simply rest on a few vague ideas, shake a few hands, and hope for the best. I have to identify real issues and real solutions. So today I will lay out what I want to address and how. Note that these will just be brief summaries that I will go into more depth on in the future. But this will lay a road map for what I hope to accomplish. 

1) Term Limits: I will seek to impose term limits on State Representatives and State Senators. When one becomes too entrenched in one area of government, they become less connected with their constituents and more vulnerable to corruption. Obviously it is difficult to convince a bunch of career politicians to limit their own terms in office, as Baldwin County's own Trip Pittman discovered. It will not be simple, but nothing worth achieving ever is.

2) State Lottery and Fantasy Sports: While I do not necessarily like the idea of the government having a monopoly on the lottery, the fact is that Alabama is losing its citizen's money to other states that do have the lottery, or other forms of gambling. This money needs to stay in Alabama so that we can benefit from it. In a related area, fantasy sports leagues that provide prize money, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, remain illegal in Alabama. This is nothing more than absurd virtue signaling. It is ridiculous that it is illegal here, and I would help push through legislation to change that.

3) Civil Forfeiture/Property Seizure Reform: I have seen first hand many of the abuses of the civil forfeiture system. For those unfamiliar, the civil forfeiture laws allow the government to seize property, through civil proceedings, that is the fruit of criminal activity. The problem is that property with only a weak link to criminal activity is seized, and then required to be forfeited in exchange for plea deals. We need more oversight to ensure that this is not being done in Alabama. More offensively, property can be seized without criminal charges ever being filed, and if the owner of that property cannot afford to hire an attorney, it will be forfeited. As a prosecutor, I inherited just such a case. Fortunately, the case was taken on pro bono, and then the filed was handed to me. Once I realized what had happened, I fought until I was given authority to voluntarily dismiss the case. But that's not enough. We cannot simply rely on the good will of prosecutors. I will advocate for a simple solution: One must be charged with a crime before any civil forfeiture action can be commenced. And the property cannot be forfeited unless it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that it is the fruit of criminal activity. Currently, the State must only prove their case beyond a preponderance of the evidence (i.e more likely than not), but to deprive someone of their property, I believe that further due process should be required.

4) Marijuana and Drug Law Reform: I understand that many in Alabama are not "ready" for for marijuana legalization, but I would like to move toward more reasonable marijuana policy. First and foremost, medical marijuana must be made legal. Marijuana's medicinal efficacy is, at this point, an overwhelmingly foregone conclusion. Depriving sick people who could benefit from this plant is not just bad policy, it is morally wrong. I would like to move toward legal marijuana in general, but this would be the first step. I am hopeful that once people see how well a legal medicinal marijuana system operates, they will be more open to legalized recreational marijuana. If legalized for recreational purposes, Alabama would see a windfall as the first state in the Southeast to pass such legislation. And would also see tax/revenue benefits. 

Generally, I will move us toward a treatment-based system regarding drugs that will not only be more successful in treating addicts, but it will lighten the load on police (and make their jobs safer), aid the already-under-funded court system, and the lift much of the burden off the prison system. Alabama currently has the third highest per capita incarceration rate in the country, with 634 of every 100,000 people being imprisoned. And over $400,000,000 a year from our State's General Fund is allocated to the Department of Corrections. This is second only to Medicaid. We have to address this massive drain of money and resources, and drug law reform will do just that. If someone violates the personal or property rights of another, they must be punished. But what we are talking about here is criminalizing drug addiction, which is a physical and mental illness. It cannot be treated or cured through incarceration. As the Drug Prosecutor who worked closely with the Baldwin County Drug Court, I saw how much better a treatment-based program worked, as opposed to a punitive system of incarceration. This will help people and save our state money.

5) Grocery Tax: Did you know that Alabama is one of only seven states that taxes groceries like everything else, and that thirty-six states have no tax on groceries at all? Isn't it time for a state as fiscally conservative as Alabama to end this tax? This is especially important for Baldwin County since it is simple to drive across the border to Florida to take advantage of their lack of a grocery tax. Much like the absence of the lottery in Alabama, we are willingly losing business to our neighbors. I will admit that this is not something that we can rush into. We cannot leave essential services, funded by this tax, without what they need to survive. But when taken within the context of the additional revenue from the lottery, medical marijuana, and after considering the money that I will help save the state through cuts, I am confident that this is possible.

6) End the Government Subsidization of Political Parties: I have written about this in detail already. So please click here for further discussion of this issue. Require Democratic and Republican parties to pay for their own primaries. Alabama tax payers spend millions to help the Dems and GOP nominate their candidates. They are private organizations and shouldn’t be publicly funded.

7) Electoral Reform: The two-party system works to protect itself. Both Democrats and Republicans prefer it, because it makes it easier to get and hold power. George Washington warned of the dangers of the two-party system, and I will work to put an end it. But we must enact changes to our laws to help in this effort. 

Alabama is notoriously hostile to third parties and independents. FairVote ranks Alabama as the worst state for ballot access. The fact that over 40% of Americans identify as politically independent makes this even more offensive. The old parties are selfishly seeking to disenfranchise the plurality of voters. In Alabama, just to get on the ballot, a third party or independent candidate must obtain verified signatures from at least three percent of the qualified electors who cast ballots for the office of governor in the last General Election in the jurisdiction or political subdivision for which ballot access is sought (e.g., statewide, county, district). For example, if a third party or independent candidates wants to run for a statewide office such as US Senate or Governor, they must obtain over 35,000 valid ballot access petition signatures. And this is only the "valid" signature requirement. To be safe after challenges, a candidate/party would likely need to obtain over 50,000 "raw" signatures. This is a massive and expensive undertaking (though one that the Libertarian Party of Alabama intends to conquer for 2020). We need diversity of view points and ideas, and Alabamians of all political view points should have an opportunity to vote for someone they believe in. The only way to accomplish that is to lower the bar of ballot access to a sane level.  Our ballot access requirements need to be reformed in a major way. 

Straight ticket voting also must end. In addition to giving the two old parties a distinct advantage, it encourages voters to remain ignorant of the specific policies and qualifications of individual candidates. They can simply walk into their polling place, fill in one circle, and walk out without looking at the names of the people for whom they voted. Alabamians are better than this. I am confident that all voters in this state would be insulted by this system once they took the time to consider it. We are one of only nine states to allow such straight party voting, and it is time to join the majority.

I would also look to enact a change in our general voting system. One that will encourage more participation, save tax-payer money (through instant-runoffs), and result in elected officials that are more supported by more people. We should not have to hold our nose to vote. And I believe that something such as Ranked Choice Voting, which is being tested in Maine, would serve all these goals. Much like my other suggestions for electoral reform, the only "negative" this would have is that it would weaken the heretofore-unchallenged-control of the two old parties.

The old parties are far too comfortable with their stranglehold on power, and they will not relinquish this hold without a fight. Electing me will be a clear sign to Montgomery that Coastal Alabama will not sit idly by and let Democrats and Republicans enjoy unchallenged power while failing to truly help the average Alabamian.

8) Regulations: I will seek to cut business regulations where ever practical. This will include winding back the ridiculous number of occupations that must get the blessing of the government before doing business. Alabama should be a place that encourages entrepreneurship and small business. Our current system impedes growth and places an undue burden of anyone looking to grow a small business, or simply make a living for themselves. Of course certain types of businesses/occupations likely need some oversight, but I would take a thorough look at which those are, and eliminate the unnecessary occupational licenses. A state that is welcoming to business will benefit all citizens. Alabama is fairly good on this issue, but we can be so much better. We should be a destination state for all businesses, big and small.

9) Workers' Compensation: The Alabama Workers' Compensation Statute is horribly outdated and desperately in need of reform. Both corporate and worker advocates will agree we need changes to make it more fair and reasonable for all involved. I will go into more detail at a later date regarding specific changes, but our current statute is, at once, unfair to employees and far-too-costly for employers. Compromises will have to be made, but a re-write of this area of law is imperative.

10) Hospital Lien and Civil Justice Reform: This is an area that I will discuss in more detail in the near future, but we need to address an often-misused hospital lien statute, and bring about other changes in civil litigation laws and rules that will ensure that every Alabamian has their Seventh Amendment Right to Trial protected. Currently, the Alabama Hospital Lien statute allows hospitals to ignore their contracts with health insurance providers and bill accident victims exorbitant amounts. Typically, large amounts are billed to health insurance providers for all manner of medical procedures and tests. But these large amounts are not paid as billed, and no one expects them to me. That is because medical providers enter into contracts with health insurance providers wherein they are only allowed to bill insurance policy-holders for (much lower) agreed-upon amounts. So while an MRI might be billed at $5,000, the hospital, having a contract (for instance) with Blue Cross Blue Shield, knows they will only be paid 10% of that. It is built into their business model, but because of the wording of the statute, certain local hospitals (including the entire Infirmary Health System) are ignoring those contracts and requiring patients who are accident victims to pay amounts that everyone believes to be too high. They contract out these bills to companies such as RevClaims to collect this absurd amounts from patients. It will be a simple fix. The statute will just be amended to require that the billed amounts can be no greater than the allowed/contractual amounts of a given-patients' health insurance policy. This is something else that both patient and insurance advocates will be in favor of. We simply need to disallow this type of extortion and save both businesses and individuals money.

11) Initiative and Referendum: In years past, bills have been left pending in Legislative Committee which would return direct power to the people of Alabama through initiative and referendum. Initiative and referendum would allow citizens, through petition, to propose or repeal legislation, or even remove elected officials. It is a necessary check on government power and corruption. And, much like term limits, it is difficult to find sitting members of the government who will advocate for it. Visit Let Bama Vote for more information on this very important issue from one of Alabama's best resources on I&R, Frank Dillman. 

In the coming months, I hope to expand on many of these ideas and to talk personally with voters about what I can do to improve upon my plans. I am not set in my ways. I want what is best for Alabama and its people. I am always open to reconsidering, amending or changing based upon new or better information. Do you have an idea? Get in touch with me and let's talk.

I invite questions. And I would be happy to address any issues or ideas you might have. So please don't hesitate to get in contact with me. 

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  • Matt Shelby
    published this page in Blog 2018-07-04 17:52:55 -0500