Citizens pack into Madison County Legislative Forum

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - For the rest of the legislative session, it will be the elected officials doing all the talking and the voting, but Monday night was a chance for citizens to voice their concerns directly to their representatives.

Inside Huntsville City Hall was standing room only, and more than 50 people signed up to speak. Each citizen had three minutes to make their pitch about their cause. While lawmakers weighed in occasionally, the night was more about listening.

“It kind of puts you on the right track and lets you know hey, we’re watching and these are the things we want you guys to do," said Rep. Anthony Daniels.

One by one, they came with their questions, their causes and their passions - from distracted driving penalties to serious state budget concerns.

“Put some charges in front of the use of a tablet, and save lives,” said Helen Worley.

“We have a revenue problem, we have a serious revenue problem,” said Cindi Branham.

The budget situation, so dire, one man even suggested what many consider political suicide, raising state property taxes to help with Alabama's crippling budget shortfalls.

“We are hurting in Alabama and you do not want the legacy that you presided over the decay of so many functions and so many services and the quality of life for our people," said Bryan Bennett, a concerned citizen.

For many issues, lawmakers didn't respond or share their opinions, like when one citizen made this request, “And I’d also like for you to impeach Governor Bentley." Her statement was met by thunderous applause.

On the topic of prison overcrowding, a United Methodist minister named Marcus Singleton spoke against Governor Bentley's proposal.

“This plan would authorize the 800 million dollar bond to construct three new 4,000 bed men’s prisons and a women’s prison,” said Rev. Singleton.

Singleton refused to allow a lack of response, encouraging State Senator Bill Holtzclaw to tell the man, he didn't know how he would vote yet, but believed if the bill stayed in its original form, he couldn't support it.

“I’m not going to borrow 800 million dollars, that’s going to take 30 years to pay back. I would submit to you sir, there are far better ways to fix our prison problem in Alabama," said Sen. Holtzclaw.

Rep. Mike Ball believes changes to the prison bill are inevitable.

“I would be shocked if that bill gets through in the form that it’s been proposed. There’s still a lot of questions and I don’t think it’s started moving yet," said Ball.

Chances are, most lawmaker's decisions weren't swayed by the forum, but at least it's a reminder, each piece of legislation they sign has a big impact one way or another.

“It’s important that you think and that you listen," said Ball.

Another major topic included the state bill that would eliminate funding for a program that covers high school science lab supplies. Both State Rep. Jim Patterson and State Senator Arthur Orr said they would not support the bill, after hearing from their constituents.