Nearly 100 people attended the Legislative Open Forum in the Sandridge Student Center at Athens State University Monday evening as four members of the local legislative delegation responded to a wide range of questions from the lively audience.
Athens State Vice President for Advancement Rick Mould moderated the cordial 85-minute question-and-answer session. Audience members were able to sign in and individually question the Republican legislators, including state senators Arthur Orr of Decatur and Bill Holtzclaw of Madison.
State representatives Dan Williams of Athens and Mac McCutcheon of Monrovia also attended. It was previously announced that Alabama House Majority Leader Mickey Hammon, R-Decatur, would participate in the forum but he did not attend.
“This is the second forum we’ve had in (three) days,” Williams said. “We had an excellent turnout Saturday morning (for the Bill of Rights rally) at the Limestone County Courthouse Square. It wasn’t a time for politicians to speak but it was a time for us to listen.
“It was focused on the 10 amendments that really guarantee us the freedom we have in this country.”
The delegation discussed gun control and the Bill of Rights and explained Gov. Robert Bentley’s decision last November to decline expanding the Medicaid program under the Affordable Health Care Act as a cost-saving measure that would prevent further budget shortfalls.
The controversial landmark legislation was spearheaded by President Barack Obama and passed by a divided Congress, which has a Republican House Majority and a Democratic-controlled Senate.
Limestone County NAACP President Wilbert Woodruff, who recently attended a Montgomery rally to protest the governor’s decision, told the delegation that accepting the federal health care funding would assist low-income families.
“The reason we were rallying was in hopes of spurring the governor to reconsider his stance on the federal health care act,” Woodruff said. “A lot of our citizens desperately need this (federal funding).”
The Alabama Legislature, whose House and Senate have a Republican majority, begins the 2013 general session in two weeks. Holtzclaw called crafting the two major state budgets — the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund — “the hot-button topic.”
Orr and McCutcheon said expanding the Medicaid program would only put the state further behind in balancing the budget.
“We had to borrow money from our Alabama Trust Fund to fund our current Medicaid system,” Orr said.
“When you look at the end numbers (for expanding Medicaid), it’s almost impossible to fathom,” McCutcheon said. “At the end of the day, who’s going to pay for it?”