Leaders from West Alabama traveled to the state's capital Wednesday for the annual Montgomery Drive-In, where they are in for a whirlwind of meetings with many of the state's elected officials and agency leaders.

The trip is organized every year by the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and is presented this year by the University of Alabama System. Typically arranged at the beginning of the legislative session, the trip allows area leaders to meet the people elected to represent the area in the statehouse and learn their priorities

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The trip also includes West Alabama's next generation of influencers as the almost four dozen members of the 2023-2024 class of Leadership Tuscaloosa made the trip with other Chamber leaders.

The day started at the top of RSA Tower in Montgomery, where the Tuscaloosa contingent heard from Secretary of Labor Fitzgerald Washington, who touted the state and region's low unemployment rate while also saying that overcoming longstanding workforce participation barriers remains a top priority.

The group also heard from Danne Howard of the Alabama Hospital Association and Ted Hosp Vice President for Governmental Affairs at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama about their efforts to guide an expansion of Medicaid in the state, although they said even optimistically, major progress on that front is likely at least a year and a half away.

(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
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After lunch, the Tuscaloosa Chamber group assembled in the Alabama State House, where they met with the lion's share of our legislative delegation, including Republican House Reps. Bill Lamb, the just-elected Bryan Brinyark, Ron Bolton and Cynthia Almond, Senator Bobby Singleton and Democratic Representatives Chris England and Curtis Travis.

(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
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Each legislator outlined which parts of west Alabama they represent and talked about their priorities for the session - several stuck to Governor Kay Ivey's messages from her Tuesday night State of the State address and said they were prioritizing legislative action on school choice and a statewide lottery, issues that are certain to generate controversy.

Singleton warned of bills coming to the legislature this session that he called agenda-driven time-wasters, like debates over critical race theory and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
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England pledged to take on prison reform this session, and Almond said she will introduce legislation aimed at alleviating some workforce barriers associated with housing. Bolton pledged to sponsor a bill designed to find funding for district attorneys and courts in Tuscaloosa County to tackle the felony case backlog plaguing prosecutors there.

All this and more must be accomplished before the legislative session, which began yesterday, ends in mid-May.

Wednesday afternoon will include time with Attorney General Steve Marshall and a dinner with some of the top leaders of the state.

For more from the Drive-In and all the other initiatives the Chamber is spearheading, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread,

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Gallery Credit: (Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)