Alabama State of the State Address 2001

Following is the full text of Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman's State of the State Address:

Ladies and gentleman, thank you. Lieutenant Governor Windom, Speaker Hammett, President Pro Tem Barron, Speaker Pro Tem Newton, Members of the Judiciary, Constitutional Officers, Members of the House and Senate, and my fellow Alabamians. Please join me in welcoming Alabama's first lady. On behalf of the people of Alabama, I want to thank you, Lori, for your commitment to children.

Tonight, we gather for a single purpose: To do the peoples' work. As Governor, I will work night and day, to leave this state better than I found it. I will give my best. But as my Dad used to say, "Son, work hard. do your best, but also know where you want to go." Like so many times before, my dad was absolutely right. You have to do your best. You have to work hard. You have to know what your priorities are. I know my priorities. Good schools. Because every Alabama child deserves a quality education. And I will work until it is done.

Safe streets, because every Alabamian deserves to live in safe communities and in safe homes. And I will work until it is done. Quality healthcare, because our children and parents deserve healthcare at a price families can afford. And I will work until it is done. Good paying jobs, because every Alabama family deserves to share in the American dream. And I will work until it is done.

That is Alabama's destiny. In this legislative session, I ask you to take the next step, in fulfilling that destiny. Here's what we have to do. We will get our priorities straight in education. We will put kids, teachers and classrooms first. We will connect every Alabama school -- every single one -- to the Internet, and make Alabama a national leader in school technology.

We will expand early learning programs... and expand Alabama's nationally recognized Reading Initiative. We will put character education, into our schools, and take violence out. We will provide health care to every Alabama child by the year 2005. We will protect our seniors who built this great state, and ensure they are able to live out their lives, in a healthy, independent, and dignified way. And we will continue bringing high paying jobs to the greatest workers in the world, the workers of Alabama.

But we will also get tougher. Tougher on the thugs and criminals who prey on our children and our families. We will continue to crack down on violent criminals, drunk drivers and the sexual predators of our children. To habitual violent criminals, I say: Listen to me, and listen to me good. From this point on, you will serve 100 percent of your sentence. That is our agenda. That is what we must do. Together, that is what we will do.

The work we begin here tonight rests upon the solid foundation of progress we have built together. The people of Alabama sent each and every one of us, Democrats and Republicans, here to do a job, to get things done. To keep their interest, the public interest, in our hearts. They sent us to work together, and we did.

Just look at what we've accomplished in the last two years. We imagined a time when our children would no longer suffer the indignity of learning in dangerous, substandard portable classrooms. Today, Alabama is engaged in the single largest school construction project in our history. New schools and new classrooms are being built in every part of Alabama. That has been done, and we did it, together.

We imagined taking teacher salaries to the national average, and now, Alabama is the only state in the nation, which has made a legally binding commitment to do so. And we will continue to take teacher salaries to the national average -- step by step -- until we reach our goal. We imagined an Alabama, where there was a dramatic increase, in the number of National Board Certified Teachers -- the highest honor a teacher can achieve. And you know what? In our first year we doubled the number of National Board Certified Teachers. Last year we nearly tripled that number again.

Today, Alabama is ranked in the top 15 states in the nation, for National Certified teachers. And we did it together. We imagined an educational system that held teachers and principals more accountable. Together, we made it easier to get bad teachers out of the classroom faster, and we abolished tenure for principals. We imagined teacher testing and teacher background checks, to ensure that when parents leave their children at school, they are left in the safest, most qualified hands possible. Now, teacher testing is on its way into the classroom, and we conduct national criminal background checks on all new teachers. And this we did together. We imagined an Alabama that would set high standards, for our children, our teachers and our schools. And now, we are the only state where students must pass the four most critical subjects, four years in a row, to graduate. And last year, the Fordham Foundation ranked Alabama in the top five states in the nation for academic standards and accountability. This we did together.

We imagined giving Alabama school children the best reading program in the nation. Now, the Alabama Reading Initiative is nationally known, as the best of the best. States like Florida and Massachusetts, the home of MIT and Harvard, are copying Alabama's Reading Initiative. And we did it together.

But seeing is believing. So, let me introduce several students from the Andalusia Elementary School, and their reading specialist Mary Ann Danford. Ms. Danford tells us that her students are excited about reading and look forward to reading everyday. They even call Ms. Danford the "reading lady." Listen to this folks: In September, 33-percent of the students in the 3rd, 4th and 5th grades were reading below grade level. But, today, because of the Reading Initiative, 94-percent of the students at Andalusia elementary are now reading at or above grade level. Quite an accomplishment in just four months. And quite an accomplishment in your hometown, wouldn't you say Mr. Speaker?

We imagined giving every child a chance to succeed. Through mentoring, tutoring, summer school and after-school programs, today, we are setting our students up for success, not failure. Our High Hopes program is providing mentors and tutors to nearly 40,000 students. And we did it together.

Today in Alabama, high school dropout rates are at an all time low, and test scores have reached an all time high. Folks, we are changing education for the better, and, yes, we are changing it forever. We imagined safer schools, with safer classrooms. With your help we've now expanded alternative schools, to get disruptive students out of the classroom... increased penalties for bomb threats... placed video cameras in the hallways of more than 130 schools, and we have established a Safe Schools Hotline to report suspicious activities in our schools. This we did together.

We imagined an Alabama, dedicated to protecting our children. We've increased standards for childcare providers, and now require background checks, for every childcare worker. This we did together. We imagined a goal of having healthy children - and we now have more than 80,000 children covered by Alabama's health initiative. This we did together. We imagined an Alabama taking steps to preserve our natural treasures. We made the single largest land purchase in our State's history, adding nearly 50,000 acres, to Alabama's Public Land Trust --- land now protected and preserved for our children and our grandchildren, forever. This we did together.

We imagined a safer Alabama. And with your help, we toughened penalties for the cowards who commit domestic violence. We increased penalties for habitual drunk drivers. And reduced the number of appeals in death penalty cases, balancing the scales of justice, finally, back in the favor of victims of crime. And this we did together.

We imagined an Alabama, attracting the world's best jobs and companies. And you attract those jobs with a highly skilled, highly educated work force. Thanks to our friends in higher education, Alabama's children are prepared to meet the job challenges of the 21st Century. Today, our combined efforts have worked once again. This morning, Toyota made it official: Alabama is their new home. We now have three of the top five automotive manufacturers in the world in Alabama. Daimler-Chrysler, Honda and Toyota.

One of our corporate leaders is here with us tonight. Bill Taylor, president of Mercedes, would you please stand? And please ask Duncan and Gloria Herron, who are team members at Mercedes to stand. The Herron's 18-year old daughter worked at Mercedes this past summer. And they have a 17-year old son who can't wait to work for Mercedes himself. Folks, that's what it's all about. Keeping families together.

We've created tens of thousands of jobs, jobs that will keep our children working in-state and jobs that will keep our families together. Jobs that give Alabama families the hope and dream of a higher quality of life. One thing is certain, good jobs impact the lives of Alabama families a whole lot more than anything government can do. This we did together.

And with the passage of Amendment One, we have embarked on the biggest infrastructure project in Alabama's history. This is the most important road and bridge project, since Big Jim Folsom's, Farm-to-Market road program, some 50 years ago. We will invest in our farmers and we will make the Port of Alabama a premier port of international trade. And THIS, we did together. As some of you may know, I lost both of my parents during my first two years as governor. I know the dedication and sacrifices that my parents made for me. Your parents and grandparents made the same sacrifices for you. They built this great state. And because of what they did for us, we owe them a debt, and I am determined to pay it. We will not forget our seniors. In the last legislative session, we dared to imagine a "Seniors' Safety Net," setting up a trust fund, for our parents. With your help, we now have $50 million in trust, to protect our seniors. We said we would do it, and we did it together.

THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is the state of our state. THAT is the measure of the progress we have made in just two short years. THAT is the foundation upon which, we must now build our future --- together. Because neither success, nor failure, is final. We cannot rest. We cannot pause. Our work is not complete. Our job this year will be tougher, because of economic uncertainty, but it should not, and will not stop us. We will provide our children, with the education they deserve. We will make sure our homes and communities are safer. We will ensure that our seniors live a healthy and dignified life in their golden years. We'll have to work harder and smarter to get these things done. But we will do them, together.

So tonight, I ask for your help again. The budget I propose: Will be tighter. Will be leaner. But it will fund our priorities. This budget will put Alabama kids and classrooms first. It will protect our seniors and families, and yes, it will get us through a period of economic uncertainty with our hopes and dreams intact.

As always, my agenda begins with our children. Providing early childhood education is the best long-term investment we can make. For every dollar invested in early learning, ten dollars will be saved in social costs, in such areas as teen pregnancies, school dropouts, welfare and crime. Early learning builds self-esteem and self-confidence that children need to succeed in school, and in life.

So tonight, I ask you to expand early learning opportunities from the eight sites we currently have, to 43 sites throughout Alabama. This must be our priority. I ask you to expand the Alabama Reading Initiative again this year. And we'll expand it, each and every year, until we reach every Alabama child. This is one of the most important educational investments we can make. Just look into the faces of these children. THEY must be our priority.

I want to continue rewarding Alabama teachers who are smart enough, and tough enough, to earn National Board Certification. Alabama is now a national leader in board certified teachers. Let's keep it that way. This must be our priority. Rural areas of the state are experiencing teacher shortages in critical subjects like math and science. I propose a simple deal: To our college students, if you agree to teach math and science in one of these under-served areas, your student loans will be forgiven. It's a good deal for you, and it's a great deal for the children of Alabama. This must be our priority.

Finally, I ask you to join with me, to set up a special fund of $50 million dollars, to ensure there will be no teacher layoffs. NO TEACHER LAYOFFS! This must CERTAINLY be our priority. These are my education priorities: Putting kids first. Putting teachers first. Putting classrooms first. These same principles guide the legislative initiatives that I put before you tonight.

Because Alabama schools should build strong character, as well as strong minds, I ask you to put character education into our schools. It is time to require students to show respect for their teachers by using proper titles or by saying yes sir, or no ma'am. Help me make this the law of Alabama.

In this session we will continue to improve teacher quality in our classrooms. Did you know that teacher preparation programs do not require teachers to be competent in technology? How can we adequately prepare our students to meet the challenges and demands of the 21st Century, if our teachers are hitchhikers on the information superhighway? We must require all new teachers, to be technology competent, BEFORE they enter the classroom. Help me make this the law of Alabama.

Furthermore, we must improve financial accountability in our schools. Some school systems have had problems with financial management. In fact, the Jefferson County System has been unable to account for tens of millions of dollars. Someone should to go to jail! We must demand financial accountability from all school superintendents. We must require every school superintendent to pass a course in financial management BEFORE they take office. And we must also allow school boards to FIRE superintendents when they fail to do their job. Help me make this the law of Alabama. Did you know Alabama was the first state in the nation to cover children under the Children's Health Insurance Program? Tonight, I ask you to set a new goal: That we insure every Alabama child by the year 2005. Because a sick child can't learn, no matter how smart the child is. Help me make this the law of Alabama.

Our families deserve to feel safe in their homes and their neighborhoods. I am sick and tired of a Parole Board that seems to care more about the rights of criminals than the rights of victims. I am sick and tired of repeat violent criminals and sexual predators being released. And I am sick and tired of the victims of crime being left out of the parole process. Let's stop it right here, right now. It seems like every month we see murderers and sexual predators freed, after only having served a small part of their sentence. And then they go out and commit more crimes. This revolving door has got to stop. We must put common sense back into our criminal justice system before it's too late.

For repeat murderers and sexual predators, the guesswork will now be gone. You will serve your full sentence. We will put you away, where the Parole Board can't let you out. Repeat violent criminals and sexual predators will serve 100 percent of their sentence... no ifs... ands... or buts. We will lock you up and throw away the key. Help me make this the law of Alabama.

And tonight, I am asking you to help me crack down on adult sexual predators of our children, in two additional ways. First, by providing a death penalty option, when a repeat adult sexual predator, violently rapes or violently sodomizes a child 12 years of age or younger. Secondly, by requiring chemical castration before a repeat sexual predator of a child can even be considered for parole. Help me make this the law of Alabama.

Right now there is a loophole in Alabama law that allows cowards who beat their wives within an inch of their lives to escape the harshest penalty, simply because a weapon wasn't used. We must close that loophole right now. So tonight, I am asking you to strengthen Alabama's assault law. Help me make this the law of Alabama.

I am asking for your help tonight to further protect our children. Today, opening an unlicensed child care facility is only a misdemeanor with token fines. It's not enough. Let's increase the fines and penalties, and close down these unlicensed childcare facilities, once and for all. Help me make this the law of Alabama. We need to protect innocent victims from drunk drivers. That means requiring habitual drunk drivers to purchase ignition interlock systems for their cars. Help me make this the law of Alabama.

Attorney General Pryor, I look forward to working with you on this crime package and also strengthening Alabama's ethics laws. As I said earlier tonight, we owe a debt to our seniors. Tonight, we will continue to pay down that debt. It's time to expand meals on wheels to even more seniors. We must establish a public-private partnership that gets hot meals to the 15,000 seniors currently on waiting lists. And we must not tolerate abuse of our seniors. We will require background checks for all nursing home and assisted living employees who work directly with seniors. And help me increase penalties and fines for assisted living facilities that continue to operate, without being licensed. Help me make this the law of Alabama.

Let me introduce you to a special lady -- Mrs. Gladys Powell of Tallassee. Mrs. Powell, who is 85 years young, worked until last year through Alabama's Senior Employment Program. She has lived independently all of her life and wants to keep it that way. And, so tonight, for Mrs. Powell and other seniors, we will begin the Alabama Family Cares Program. Mrs. Powell, it will help you and other seniors stay at home longer and live more independently. Help me make this the law of Alabama.

That is our agenda for our future, and these are the steps we must take together. Kids first. Classrooms first. Tougher laws for our criminals. More help for our seniors. Helen Keller, one of Alabama's greatest citizens, once said: "No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit. Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement." Tonight I say: Let us sail to uncharted lands. Let us leave today and find the stars.

I believe in Alabama with all my heart. I believe in the people of Alabama. I believe in the future of Alabama, and I believe in you to get the job done. I believe that the stars destined to fall on Alabama will be bigger and brighter than ever. If you can imagine THAT future, if you can see it and believe it, then together we can make it happen. Do it for Mrs. Powell. Do it for the Herrons. Do it for these kids. Do it for all the people of Alabama. Thank you. God bless you, and may God bless this great state of Alabama.

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