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Wes Kitchens is the newest member of the state Senate

State Senator Wes Kitchens (R-Arab) spoke to Capital Journal’s Todd Stacy recently to discuss the 2024 Alabama Regular Legislation Session that began last week. Kitchens is the newest member of the Alabama Senate, having been elected and sworn in just last month.

Kitchens previously served two terms in the Alabama House of Representatives representing Marshall County.

“I was elected in 2018 to the House of Representatives and prior to that I had been a basketball coach,” Senator Kitchens said. “I come from a family of educators and farmers. My dad still coaches the Arab high school girls’ team.” “So, basketball has always been in my blood. I got out of coaching, and I was the President of the Chamber of commerce working with businesses and economic development.”

Republican Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville) gave up his position in the House of Representatives to run for Lieutenant Governor. Kitchen ran for that open House in 2018 and Clay Scofield leaving the Senate to accept a senor position with the Business Council of Alabama gave Kitchens the opportunity to run for Senate District Nine in the special election in January.

“I think it is probably one of the most unique districts anywhere in the state,” Kitchens said of SD9. “It goes from northern Blount County, has all of Marshall County, and southern Madison County. You have some very rural areas in that district particularly in Marshall county but also in parts of Madison County; but it also has all of Redstone Arsenal, the Space and Rocker Center, and the Marshall Space Flight Center.”

Kitchens said that 60% of the workforce in the district commutes into Huntsville and Madison County to work.

The greater Huntsville area is one of the fastest growing areas in Alabama

“There is not a lot of places to live in Madison County,” Kitchens explained. “It is growing so fast. The housing market is just outrageous. If you find a home for sale you better jump on it fast. That is carrying over to Guntersville and Arab as well.”

Leaving the House of Representatives was a difficult decision for Kitchens.

“That was a big question,” Kitchens said. “I struggled with it when I first heard that Senator Scofield was going to be stepping down. One is the opportunity. A senate seat does not come open very often. Speaker Ledbetter put a lot of trust in me. I served on some great committees and did not have any intention of going anywhere.”

Ultimately serving SD9 proved to be too big of an opportunity for Kitchens to pass up.

“This game me the opportunity to represent my grandparents (who live in Boaz) and also to be a voice for the people who commute back and forth,” Kitchens explained.

Because there was no Democrat or third-party candidate running in so there was no need for a general election so Kitchens was sworn in to the Senate just two weeks after defeating Rep. Brock Colvin (R) and former County Commissioner Stacy George in the Republican primary without a runoff.

“We got the official notification and was sworn in two weeks to the day following the election when I was able to take the oath of office so I could officially start the session as a Senator,” Kitchens explained. “We had to hit the ground running and get ready for the session.”

One issue that Kitchens is prepared to address is capping the amount of property tax increases that homeowners experience due to annual reappraisals.

“That is going to be something that is going to come fairly quickly,” Kitchens said. “I have been gotten complaints and questions about that since I was first elected in 2018.”

Kitchens explained that the big increases are happening because, “Home prices continue to skyrocket - not just here but all around the country.”

As home valuations increase the amount of taxes the state and local governments collect also increase.

“What we are looking at is having a true cap where you are not going to get hit with an exorbitant bill that you didn’t plan on,” Kitchens said. “We are not saying that you can’t raise it; but there has got to be some parameters where you can’t be hit all at one time with it.”

In 2023 the House passed a ballot harvesting bill that would have outlawed practice of people being paid to go around and collect absentee ballots from people at election time. The Senate did not take up the bill; but the Senate sponsor has reintroduced it as a Senate bill.

“That is one bill that is going to come very quickly,” Kitchens said. “Making sure that we have some of the strongest elections possible and we support that as citizens of the state of Alabama.”

One of the most controversial topics this session will be the school choice bill.

“Everybody has a different view on what school choice truly is,” Kitchens said. “If you ask a hundred different people you probably are going to get a hundred different answers.”

Kitchens said that the Legislature needs to “Find a good balance.” “Protect our public schools while also supporting those students that go on to private schools and home schools as well.”

Members of the House of Representatives have introduced a gambling bill. That bill could be voted on in committee on Wednesday.

“Well, I think the biggest thing is the regulation of it,” Kitchens said. “I have not seen a bill yet. I know that it is going to start in the House. I am anxious to see what the final version of that is.”

Kitchen said that the Senate will look at it, if the bill has the votes to pass out of the House of Representatives; but that he thought that it was important that any gambling bill have, “Teeth to it so that it can be regulated.”

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