4 years ago

What to expect as Alabama’s legislature goes into its election year Session

Mark Twain

Agenda Bills Coming First Out of the Gate

Republicans are going to come right out of the gate this week with bills from their “Commonsense Conservative” agenda specifically related to tax relief. Rep. Barry Moore’s Tax Relief Act and Rep. Jim Patterson’s Tax Elimination Act will likely move very early in the session, as will Rep. Paul DeMarco’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

If history is any guide, House Republicans will plow through their entire agenda in the first couple of weeks of the session. Last year they quickly passed all ten of the bills on their agenda, but only six of them went on to pass the Senate and only five were ultimately signed into law by the Governor.

RELATED: House Republicans: 2014 will be year of ‘taxpayer relief’ in Alabama

Common Core Fight Rages On

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, has publicly stated that he hopes to avoid contentious issues because legislators are anxious to get back to their districts to campaign.

But while it’s unlikely that any piece of legislation will spark the kind of fights we saw last year with the Alabama Accountability Act, Sen. Scott Beason’s continued push to repeal Alabama’s version of Common Core Standards promises to keep the halls of the State House buzzing with conservative activists. Marsh says he won’t bring the bill up for a vote because Republicans are so divided over it. Common Core is by far the most emotionally charged current political issue in the state. That alone is plenty of reason to keep an eye on it during the 2014 session.

Too Early to Tell on Teacher Pay Raise

Another education-related issue that will be in play this year is a potential pay raise for school teachers. In 2013, the legislature passed a budget that gave teachers a 2 percent raise, the first they’d seen in six years. Governor Bentley says he will include another pay raise in his budget this year. House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, is calling for a 6 percent raise. Bentley says that won’t be possible because of budget constraints. When it comes to budgeting, both Bentley and Ford have the luxury of floating spending proposals without the pressure of executing them. Legislative Republicans will ultimately craft the state’s budgets, and the budget chairmen seem uncertain right now on whether the state will have enough money to hand out any raises. Tight budgets are squeezed further this year due to skyrocketing healthcare costs brought on by ObamaCare. Democrats love this issue politically because it gives them an opportunity to paint Republicans trying to balance the budget as anti-education.

Related: ObamaCare could keep teachers from getting a raise

Modernizing Economic Incentives

The most significant legislation related to jobs this session could end up being a proposal to overhaul the way Alabama offers economic incentives to major industries considering locating in the state. Although landing Airbus was a major coup, economic developers have privately expressed frustration with the way the state currently has to structure its incentive packages. Numerous sources have told Yellowhammer that legislation is quietly being worked on to put Alabama on a level playing field with other states.

Asphalt vs. Concrete

A little known issue that’s been bubbling below the surface since last year is a so-called lifecycle budgeting bill being pushed by out-of-state — and some out-of-country — concrete companies. Opponents of the bill say it’s a government mandate that picks winners and losers in the pavement industry and flies in the face of free market principles. Proponents say it’s a way to save the state money over the long haul. One thing that’s indisputable though is that there are no concrete companies in Alabama, while numerous asphalt companies located in the state would take a hit. Both sides are bringing the big guns into the fight. Former Gov. Bob Riley and his lobbying outfit are representing the cement industry. They are pitted against the asphalt industry’s lobbying firm of Swatek, Azbell, Howe & Ross, which includes longtime Riley adviser Dax Swatek. This is set up to be one of the more interesting behind-the-scenes battles of the session.

Calls for Medicaid Expansion Fall on Deaf Ears

Democrats have indicated that they will continue their push for the state to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare. Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, said it will be her caucus’s top priority. The PR campaign will continue over the next 6 months, but insiders say expansion advocates are simply holding out hope that Gov. Bentley will reconsidering his opposition to the expansion after he wins re-election. The Governor has ratcheted up his rhetoric against the expansion in recent months, especially after leftwing public officials and members of the media started attacking him. It’s hard to imagine him changing directions at this point.

Revolving Door Comes to a Stop

In response to numerous legislators leaving office mid-term to take jobs as lobbyists, Sen. Del Marsh is sponsoring a bill to close the “revolving door” between elected office and the governmental affairs world. “The Revolving Door Act” bans former legislators from lobbying either house of the legislature for two years after leaving office. House Republicans have also included the bill in their legislative agenda. It’s being sponsored on the House side by Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton,


Finally, the top issue this session — as it should be every session — is the state’s budgets.

The state is constitutionally required this year to pay back the rest of the money owed to the state’s Rainy Day Fund out of the education budget. It’s too early to tell what that amount will be because we don’t yet know how much money the state will bring in this year, but it could be as much as $128 million. That, combined with the spike in state employees’ healthcare costs brought on by ObamaCare, means the education budget will be as tight as ever.

The General Fund budget is unfortunately in even worse shape. The rising costs of Medicaid are swallowing a greater chunk of the General Fund each year. After level-funding most agencies last year, it’s very likely that some will receive a cut in this year’s budget.

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims


22 mins ago

Alabama Secretary of State to Facebook: ‘Don’t say you helped us with something if you didn’t help’

Secretary of State John Merrill challenged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s revelation that his company helped disrupt the spreading of false information during Alabama’s special U.S. Senate election last December, telling Yellowhammer News that he has been shown no evidence to support Zuckerberg’s claim.

In an interview published Thursday, Zuckerberg revealed to the New York Times that his company targeted and eliminated a “significant number of fake Macedonian accounts that were trying to spread false news” about Alabama’s election.

Merrill’s office spoke with Facebook’s Government and Politics Team on Thursday to follow up about Zuckerberg’s claims.


“We said, ‘we don’t know what you’re talking about.’ We wanted one specific example,” Merrill said.

Just a week before the election in December, a deceptive campaign ad implying that voters’ ballot selections would be made public was spread on Google and Facebook. Merrill’s office contacted both Google and Facebook and asked for the ad to be removed. Google removed it, but Facebook did not.

Merrill said Facebook never responded about the ad.

“We believe that people in each state need to have accurate information that’s truthful,” Merrill said. “If [Facebook] can’t use their platform for that, they shouldn’t allow that kind of content be published.”

He continued, “For future races, I think it’s important that Facebook be available to address serious issues, for candidates, for officials, and be responsive in that they hear what the accusations are and evaluate merits of the claim.”

Facebook is receiving pressure from all sides after recent reports revealed that it allowed Cambridge Analytica, a private data firm associated with President Donald Trump’s campaign, to mine data of more than 50 million of the platform’s users without their permission.

Merrill said that he hopes the pressure will lead to some change.

“I think they’ll be more responsive,” he said. “The people will hold them more accountable. I hope people will hold them more accountable.”

@jeremywbeaman is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News

52 mins ago

Lawsuit over HealthSouth fraud cleared to move forward

The Alabama Supreme Court says one-time employees of the old HealthSouth Corp. can move ahead with a lawsuit over the fraud that nearly wrecked the Birmingham-based company.

The justices overturned a lower court decision blocking the lawsuit in a decision Friday.


HealthSouth survived a massive fraud scandal in the early 2000s that resulted in the ouster of founder Richard Scrushy. The company now calls itself Encompass Health.

One-time employee shareholders filed suit in 2003 over the fraud, but the case was delayed 11 years. The court now says the latest version of the lawsuit is related to the original complaint and can go forward.

Encompass Health operates 127 hospitals and 237 home health and hospice locations in 36 states and Puerto Rico.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

1 hour ago

In a fistfight between Trump and Biden, Congressman Robert Aderholt is calling Trump all the way

We have seen Ali-Frazier, we watched The Rock-Hulk Hogan, and if Vince McMahon could stop screwing around with the XFL reboot, maybe we could get “Crazy Uncle Joe” vs. The Donald.

This is a match where everyone would win because two of America’s largest big mouths would get punched in the mouth. We could raise some money: if Biden wins, the money could go to pay for illegal aliens college scholarships and if Trump wins, the purse could go towards a big beautiful wall.

Even though this fight will never happen, Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) was on the radio this morning and he thinks Trump would clean Biden’s clock:

“No question Donald Trump would win. That’s an easy one. Well, you know, if you have ever been around Donald Trump he is a big man, and of course I know that Biden isn’t a small guy. But Trump is a big guy, full of adrenaline and energy and I wouldn’t  even think twice about it.”

Why this matters: The back-and-forth threats between Biden and Trump are undignified and trashy. Biden is a former Vice President who should know better, but clearly doesn’t. What he does know, through his history of gaffes and boorish statements, is that he will suffer no consequences for being a jerk. He also knows that President Trump cannot help himself to respond. And even though he responds with the same foolishness, he will be treated as the aggressor and the bad guy.


The details:

— President Trump has 3 inches on Joe Biden and would have a marginally longer reach.

— Biden is in far better shape than the president, he works out regularly and it would be almost impossible for Biden to have a worse diet than Trump.

— Both individuals claim to be men of the people, but neither has any real tough-guy credentials. Trump has been a millionaire loudmouth his entire life while Biden has been a politician for more than 40 years.

— Trump would truly best Biden when it comes to trash talk, Trump uses Twitter to regularly spar with friends and foes alike, while Biden prefers to let the mainstream media do most of his talking.

Listen to the interview with Congressman Robert Aderholt here:

Dale Jackson hosts a daily radio show from 7-11 a.m. on NewsTalk 770 AM/92.5 FM WVNN and a weekly television show, “Guerrilla Politics,” on WAAY-TV, both in North Alabama. Follow him @TheDaleJackson.

2 hours ago

2 charged in overdose death, photos of body posted online

Two teenagers in Alabama are accused of posting photos on social media of an overdosed teenager’s body before deciding to drive her to a hospital.

Al.com reported Thursday that Marshall County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Heath Thomas says 19-year-old John Garrett Guffey and 18-year-old Lillie Marie Cooper were indicted on charges of corpse abuse and criminally negligent homicide.


Thomas says that in April 2017, the pair decided to take her, but their vehicle ran out of gas. Firefighters were called to a Mapco station to help the unresponsive passenger.

Investigators determined she died from an overdose at a home.

A prosecutor wasn’t available for comment to Al.com and the sheriff’s office didn’t release further details.

The teenagers are jailed with bail set at $10,000. It is unclear if they have lawyers.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

3 hours ago

Trial date set for Alabama officer charged with murder

A judge has set a trial date for a police officer charged with murder in the shooting death of a man in Montgomery, Alabama.

A court order released Thursday says Aaron Cody Smith will go on trial Aug. 13. A hearing in the case is set for a few days earlier.


Smith is charged in the 2016 shooting death of 58-year-old Greg Gunn, who authorities say was walking in his neighborhood when Smith shot him. The confrontation began when the officer stopped Gunn shortly after 3 a.m.

Smith’s attorney says the officer is innocent. The defense has portrayed the white officer as a victim of racial prejudice since Montgomery is mostly black and the man who was killed was black.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)