While I strongly support the increased funding for our military, I could not in good conscience vote for the Omnibus that costs almost $1.3 trillion. The military threats to our national security are real and serious, but so is the fiscal threat to our national security.
— Gary Palmer (@USRepGaryPalmer) March 22, 2018
Senate Dems want to increase smoking age to 21, here’s what that could mean for Alabama
WASHINGTON — In new legislation proposed by a group of Senate Democrats, the legal smoking age would rise to 21. Such a move would have mixed outcomes for the states, including Alabama, that depend on the tax revenue generated from tobacco sales.
The Tobacco to 21 Act was introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and would make it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. This bill has also gained support from Dick Durbin (D-IL.), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and several other Senate Democrats.
“We know that the earlier smokers begin their unhealthy addiction to nicotine, the more likely they are to suffer from tobacco-related diseases or die,” said Senator Schatz. “This year, Hawaii became the first state in the nation to raise the minimum smoking age to 21. It was an historic public health achievement that we should adopt nationwide.”
While Schatz’ home state of Hawaii is the first state to introduce the legal smoking age at 21, there are also over 90 American cities and counties that have raised the tobacco age to 21. Alabama is only one of four states that currently has a legal smoking age of 19, while others currently maintain the legal tobacco age at 18.
Raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco products would continue the measures that America has taken to be healthier, says Senator Dick Durbin, a supporter of the Tobacco to 21 Act.
“Thanks to tobacco control measures like banning smoking in public places and placing warning labels on cigarette cartons, far fewer people smoke now than did fifty years ago,” said Senator Durbin. “As a result, far fewer families have lost loved ones to tobacco-related disease and death. But we still have a long way to go. We can help prevent a new generation from falling prey to this deadly epidemic by passing another commonsense measure to reduce youth tobacco use: raising the minimum tobacco age of sale to 21.
In the last 50 years, nearly 21 million people in the United States have died as a result of tobacco-related illnesses, making it the leading cause of preventable death in the country. In a recent report, the Institute of Medicine found that raising the legal age of sale of tobacco products to 21 nationwide would “reduce the number of new tobacco users, decrease smoking frequency by 12 percent, and save more than 220,000 lives from deaths related to smoking.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that tobacco use costs the United States approximately $170 billion in direct medical costs and $156 billion in lost productivity every year.
But the prospect of raising the smoking age could put a significant strain on state budgets, which rely heavily on tax revenue from tobacco products. In 2012 alone, Alabama collected $106 million in state and local revenue on tobacco products. In 2015 the cigarette tax increase was one of the only proposed revenue measures to make it through the state legislature.
Governor Bentley, a medical doctor, told Yellowhammer he supports anything that would decrease the number of smokers.
“As a doctor, I know first-hand the dangers of smoking,” said Bentley. ” Any effort that hinders a person’s ability to smoke is a positive step in the right direction. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health it is estimated that 22.5% of Alabamians are smokers. As Governor, the health of Alabamians is important to me and smoking is an unhealthy habit that kills our citizens.”
Healthier Alabamians also correlates with potential savings on healthcare costs. Currently Medicaid is one of the state’s largest budget items, third behind only education and public sector pensions. In that respect, the loss of cigarette tax revenues could possibly be offset by a decrease in the healthcare costs of those who may have chosen to smoke if it was easily available when they were younger.
The Tobacco to 21 Act is supported by the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Academic Pediatric Association and several others that advocate in health-related professions and organizations.
“By raising the minimum tobacco age of sale to 21 across the country, we can cut the number of new smokers each year; build a healthier, tobacco free America; and save lives,” Schatz said.
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— Casey Cappa (@caseycappa) August 20, 2015
Sessions announces investigation of companies replacing Americans with foreign workers
WASHINGTON — Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) announced Tuesday morning with his colleague Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) that the U.S. Department of Labor has launched an investigation into two outsourcing companies accused of helping a utilities company in California fire American employees in favor of foreign workers in the country with controversial H-1B visas.
“We’re pleased to hear that the Labor Department is taking a first step to stanch this tide of visa abuse,” Sessions said in a press release. “A number of U.S. employers, including some large, well-known, publicly-traded corporations, have laid off thousands of American workers and replaced them with H-1B visa holders. To add insult to injury, many of the replaced American employees report that they have been forced to train the foreign workers who are taking their jobs. That’s just plain wrong and we’ll continue to press the Administration to help solve this problem. We look forward to the outcome of the Labor Department’s investigation.”
In April, Sens. Sessions and Durbin, along with bipartisan group of eight of their peers in the Senate, wrote letters to the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Labor asking the federal agencies to pursue the investigation against foreign outsourcing companies Infosys and Tata for their role in replacing American employees at Southern Cal Edison with cheaper foreign labor.
In March Sessions slammed Southern Cal Edison for treating its employees like “commodities.”
“People aren’t commodities,” Sessions said passionately during a Judiciary Committee hearing. “We compare labor to commodities, but they’re not commodities. They’re human beings. They have families. They have hopes and dreams. They want stability in their life.”
In his press release Tuesday morning, Sessions shared that the annual cap for H-1B visas was already reached more than a month ago, causing corporations to claim that the demand for workers exceeds what the American labor force can provide.
Sessions has long rejected that claim, saying that there are plenty of highly-skilled American workers willing and able to perform the technical jobs the H-1B visas are supposed to support, it is simply corporations desiring a workforce that won’t demand quite as high of a salary.
“Congress represents the people of the United States,” the Senator said back in March. “And yes, bringing in talent is a good thing, but we have no obligation to yield to the lusts of big businesses. They all want more profits and lower pay for workers, that’s just what they do.”
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— Elizabeth BeShears (@LizEBeesh) January 21, 2015
(Video) Sessions tells Durbin: Dem filibuster is harming national security
WASHINGTON — Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) shot back at Dick Durbin (D-IL) Thursday for saying Republicans are threatening national security.
He’d “been trying to understand what is holding up funding for the Department of Homeland Security,” Durbin said earlier in the day.
“Have you ever heard of a filibuster?” Sessions asked Durbin during remarks on the Senate floor Thursday morning. “What about the filibuster you’re leading to block the bill that funds Homeland Security? I mean, how much more obvious can the answer be to what’s holding up funding for the Department of Homeland Security?… You and your team of filibusterers. That’s what it is. There is no doubt about that. We need to get this straight.”
The bill funding DHS has been held up in the Senate for weeks, where Senate Dems are filibustering even the possibility of a vote unless the GOP concedes to also fund Obama’s executive amnesty.
Sessions told Durbin that, despite the media and Democratic party’s best efforts to place blame on the shoulders of the GOP, “the whole world knows who is blocking the bill that funds Homeland Security.”
The illegal immigrants given amnesty by Obama’s executive actions could cost taxpayers upward of trillions of dollars, according to some estimates.
Several of Alabama’s Congressional delegates have spoken out on the need to pass DHS funding before the February 27th deadline, though they may disagree on how.
On Wednesday Congressman Mo Brooks (R-AL5) called on the Senate to “go nuclear” to pass the funding bill.
“The Senate leadership claims they lack the 60 votes to overcome a Democrat filibuster and pass the House’s Homeland Security funding bill,” Rep. Brooks said. “Yet a mere majority of the Republican Senate has the power overcome Democrat Senator obstructionism. Just as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democrat Senate majority in 2013 used the ‘nuclear option’ to change Senate rules and cut off filibusters on presidential appointees, now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican majority has the power to exercise the ‘nuclear option’ and eliminate filibusters for any bill that funds the federal government.”
Senator Sessions disagrees with the use of the “nuclear option,” saying it’s important to abide by long-held Senate rules.
“The only thing standing in the way of this bill is the Senate Democrats who will not allow the bill to go forward,” Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL4) said in a press conference Thursday.
Congress is expected to recess Friday for a week long Presidents Day break. When they return to Washington, they will only have a week before DHS’s current funding dries up, threatening a shutdown of the agency.
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— Elizabeth BeShears (@LizEBeesh) January 21, 2015
Sessions blasted out-of-control spending, amnesty during whopping 33 hours at the Senate mic in 2013
Senate Majority leader Harry Reid logged over 30 hours speaking at the mic on the Senate floor in 2013. Senators Cruz and Paul gained widespread notoriety for marathon filibusters. But none of them had anything on Alabama’s very own Sen. Jeff Sessions.
According to analysis done by the Los Angeles Times, Sessions logged more speaking time than anyone in the Senate in 2013 — over 33 hours.
“That’s an impressive distinction considering that Reid opens and closes the Senate most days that it is in session, often making extended opening remarks, while Sessions is a member of the minority party without a formal leadership position,” wrote Michael Memoli of the L.A. Times. “Sessions, though, is the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee and spoke often during the year’s various fiscal debates. He also was one of the most outspoken opponents of the comprehensive immigration reform bill debated in the first half of the year, and took to the floor often to state his case.”
Sen. Ted Cruz logged “only” 20 total hours at the mic, even though he held the floor for 21 consecutive hours during his ObamaCare-related quasi-filibuster in September. The discrepancy is due to Cruz occasionally deferring to his colleagues without yielding the floor.
Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster deriding U.S. drone policy while speaking out against Obama’s CIA director nominee didn’t even allow the Kentucky senator to crack the top 5 of the Senate’s top talkers.
Sessions emerged has the key opponent of the so-called “Gang of Eight” immigration reform legislation back in the spring of 2013. According to statistics provided by Sessions’ staff, in one month, from May 28, the day the immigration reform bill was passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, through the time it passed in the U.S. Senate on June 27, Sessions spoke 30 different times on immigration for a grand total of just under 13 hours to lay out the case.
Sessions came in well ahead of Reid (30), Cruz (20), Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois (20) and Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn (19) to take the 2013 Senate talking championship.
(Jeff Poor contributed to this report)
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Sessions fights to save veterans benefits ahead of budget vote
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, has spent the last several days fighting to undo cuts to veterans benefits that are included in the Ryan-Murray budget deal, which was passed by the House last week.
The current legislation cuts veterans benefits by $6 billion over the next decade.
The Senate is set to vote on the bill Tuesday morning. Both Sen. Sessions and fellow Alabamian Sen. Richard Shelby have said they are opposed to the current bill.
Although it sailed through the House on a bipartisan vote of 332-94, Senate Democratic leaders indicated over the weekend that the bill’s passage is far from secured in the upper chamber.
“The struggle is still on in the United States Senate,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, told Fox News on Sunday.
But progress was made on Monday, leading aides on both sides of the aisle to predict that they will have the 60 votes needed to pass a procedural motion on Tuesday. They will then move move for final passage later in the week, which requires only a simple majority.
Many Senate Republicans have cited the fact that the budget deal exceeds the Budget Control Act of 2011 as grounds for opposing it. The Budget Control Act capped 2014 discretionary spending at $967 billion. The Ryan-Murray budget smashes through that cap.
“I’d really like to stay within the (spending) caps,” complained Sen. John Boozman, R-Arkansas. “This busts the caps and as a result I’ll vote against it.”
But Sessions and several of his Republican colleagues have chosen to focus their attention on the cuts to military retirees and vets.
“We need to find a better way to save $6 billion than take it out of the hides of our retired veterans,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi.
Sessions’ plan to rescue veterans benefits involves saving money by closing a tax credit loophole that watchdog groups say has been frequently exploited by illegal immigrants.
The fix is simple. Applicants seeking to receive the child tax credit would have to submit their Social Security numbers. That way the IRS could easily weed out the illegal aliens taking advantage of the system. Sessions’ amendment would save the federal government roughly $4.2 billion, freeing up room for veterans benefits to remain at higher levels.
The handwringing in D.C. has already commenced with a budget deadline looming on Jan. 15. If a deal is not reached by then, another partial government shutdown will ensue.
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Sessions & Shelby ‘NO’ on budget deal, Senate GOP will filibuster
Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, and Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, will emphatically vote “no” on the Ryan-Murray budget deal that skated through the U.S. House Thursday by a vote of 332-94.
Sessions, the top Republican on the Budget Committee, went a step further and said he and his Senate GOP colleagues will filibuster the deal.
Democrats concede they need Republican votes to get the deal through the senate. Not a single Senate Republican to this point has indicated they will vote in favor of the measure, not even the usual suspects like Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina.
With 55 Democratic members of the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid will need to persuade at least 5 Republicans to break ranks and vote with him to get the deal passed through the upper chamber.
“We need Republican votes to pass the budget agreement. Period. We need at least five,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, the Senate’s second ranking Democrat. “There are not five Republicans who have announced they’re for it.”
The filibuster Republicans are planning will not be a “talking” filibuster like the ones Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul led earlier this year. Rather, it is a procedural maneuver that will simply require the bill to get 60 votes to proceed to final passage.
“They’ll need 60 votes on cloture and 60 votes on the budget point of order,” Sessions told The Hill.
Many Senate Republicans cited the fact that the budget deal exceeds the Budget Control Act of 2011 as grounds for opposing it. The Budget Control Act capped 2014 discretionary spending at $967 billion.
Alabama’s House delegation voted in favor of the Ryan-Murray plan 5-1. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, was the only Alabama representative to vote no.
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AG Strange pushes back against more fed targeting of conservative Alabamians
Today Attorney General Luther Strange and Alabama Policy Institute (API) President Gary Palmer addressed API’s recent receipt of a letter from U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) that inquired about API’s relationship with the American Legislative Exchange Council and asked whether API supports “stand your ground” legislation.
According to a joint statement put out by the Attorney General’s office and API, Durbin’s request infringes upon API’s constitutional right to free association.
In 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized “the vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one’s associations” and addressed behavior of this very sort, stating that “[i]t is hardly a novel perception that compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute . . . a restraint on freedom of association. . . .” Both the Attorney General’s Office and the Alabama Policy Institute value the right to free association and the constitutional protection this right provides from harassment or intimidation.
AG Strange said that his office plans to push back against the “political intimidation” coming out of Washington.
“The emerging trend of Washington officials targeting conservative groups in Alabama is both disturbing and unacceptable,” Strange said. “My office will stand with Alabama organizations like the Wetumpka Tea Party and the Alabama Policy Institute against viewpoint discrimination and political intimidation by the federal government.”
API’s Palmer dialed in on the rights of all Americans to associate with like-minded individuals and groups.
“The Alabama Policy Institute recognizes Senator Durbin’s constitutionally-protected right to hold his policy positions and associate with those who agree.” Palmer noted. “API and the more than 300 other organizations targeted by Senator Durbin have the same right as we continue to promote and defend our nation’s founding principles against those who consider our Constitution to be a hindrance to their grand agendas.”
With respect to “stand your ground” legislation, Alabama law protects the right of an individual to use deadly force in self-defense or in defense of another without a duty to retreat when the individual is not engaged in unlawful activity and is in a place where he or she has the right to be. The U.S. Supreme Court has also held “the inherent right of self-defense” to be “central to the Second Amendment right [to bear arms].”
“While I understand that Senator Durbin is interested in self-defense laws, including the ‘stand your ground’ laws found in a majority of the states, they are a matter of state authority under the Tenth Amendment,” said Strange. “My office is prepared to defend the laws of our state from any unconstitutional federal intrusion that improperly limits the rights of Alabamians to keep and bear arms.”
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Senator Durbin targets Alabama think tank on ‘Stand Your Ground’
On August 6, the Alabama Policy Institute received a letter from Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) inquiring into the Institute’s affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and specifically ALEC’s support of “stand your ground” laws. Unfortunately, the letter appears aimed more at political intimidation of an organization that directly promotes policies Senator Durbin opposes than fostering a healthy debate about self-defense laws.
In 2005, ALEC drafted model legislation that would remove the duty of an individual to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense or the defense of another. That law, adopted by many states including Alabama, has become known as “stand your ground.” Durbin’s letter, sent to more than 300 corporations and non-profits, asks whether the recipient organization has provided any recent funding to ALEC and whether or not the organization supported the “stand your ground” legislation.
Alabama’s “stand your ground” law dictates that “a person who is justified … in using deadly physical force in self-defense or in defense of another, who is not engaged in unlawful activity and is in any place where he or she has the right to be, has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground.” Alabama has also adopted the “castle doctrine” which means that a person is authorized to use deadly force against an intruder or attacker in a dwelling, residence, or vehicle under certain circumstances. Similar laws can be found on the books in over half of the states in the union. In fact, as a state legislator, President Obama voted in favor of Illinois’ “stand your ground” law when it passed in 2004.
The Alabama Policy Institute has and will continue to support the constitutional right to bear arms, as provided in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and in Article I, § 26 of the Alabama Constitution. We also agree with the Supreme Court in D.C. v. Heller that “the inherent right of self-defense [is] central to the Second Amendment right.” Senator Durbin apparently does not share this view. Given the broader context of the large-scale IRS targeting scandal exposed earlier this summer, it is difficult to consider the letter as anything other than an attempt to stifle the right of free speech and free association amongst groups that stand for policies that Senator Durbin is against.
Near the end of the letter, Durbin notes his intention to hold a hearing on “stand your ground” laws and that any responses to his letter will be made publicly available at that time. As a non-profit think tank, publicizing our stances on policy issues is fundamental to the mission of API; thus, Senator Durbin’s perceived attempt to have us shy away from defending Second Amendment rights and from supporting likeminded groups will fail. However, if Durbin is successful, for-profit corporations will be reluctant to support organizations that promote policies like “stand your ground” for fear of blatant targeting and backlash levied by politicians who oppose them.
The Alabama Policy Institute appreciates Senator Durbin’s review of our work, as we seek to promote and protect the rights provided to Alabamians by our state and federal constitutions. API will also continue to fight against pervasive federal intrusion in areas like criminal law, over which states have always enjoyed sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment.
Katherine Green Robertson serves as senior policy counsel for the Alabama Policy Institute (API). API is an independent, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families. If you would like to speak with the author, please call (205) 870-9900 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
24th anniversary of the greatest House floor speech of all time
24 years ago today, then Congressman, now Senator, Dick Durbin gave the most stirring speech in defense of America’s favorite pastime in the history of the United States House of Representatives.
“I don’t want to hear about saving trees, any tree in America would gladly give its life for a day of glory at home plate,” Durbin said backed by the cheers of his colleagues. “I don’t know if it will take a constitutional amendment to keep the baseball traditions alive, but if we forsake the great Americana of broken-bat singles and pine tar, we certainly will have lost our way as a nation.”
Go watch a Barons, Stars, Bay Bears or Biscuits game tonight in celebration.
What else is going on?
1. FBI admits to using drone surveillance in Alabama
2. Wetumpka Tea Party’s Gerritson slams Obama for ‘fake,’ ‘phony’ scandal monikers
3. Study ranks Alabama ‘most honest state’
4. Shelby derides ‘stale Obama policy leftovers’ during Senate floor speech
5. Liberal media criticizes Alabama PSC for opening meeting in prayer