State Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) will air his first TV ad in his campaign for governor next week. An advance look at the commercial, which focuses on term limits, a flat tax and cutting spending, can be seen here:
Two top Ala. Senators propose bills laying out guidelines for Convention of States
Two top-ranking Alabama State Senators today held a press conference to stress the importance of establishing guidelines for amending the U.S. Constitution through a Convention of the States, as outlined in Article V of the Constitution.
Working with lawmakers from 31 other states through the Mt. Vernon Assembly, Senators Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, are sponsoring two bills that would set parameters on delegates to an amendment convention in the event one is called to amend the U.S. Constitution.
Under Article V of the nation’s governing document, an amendment convention can be convened if two-thirds of state legislatures, or 34 states, approve an application for the convention to occur. Proposed amendments would then have to be ratified by three-fourths, or 38 states.
The proposed bills in the Alabama legislature designate a process by which delegates are selected to represent Alabama at the convention and establish guidelines for delegates to follow.
Senate Bill 199, sponsored by Pittman, is designed to hold potential delegates accountable by requiring the Legislature to adopt instructions for delegates, in addition to providing that a vote by a delegate outside the scope of the Legislature’s instructions is void.
“From out-of-control spending to seemingly endless gridlock, it’s easy to see why so many Americans think Washington is broken,” Pittman said. “Fortunately our nation’s Founding Fathers had the foresight to provide states with a mechanism to hold the federal government accountable. Article V of the U.S. Constitution is an important protection tool for states to use against a runaway federal government. It’s equally important, however, that the states have checks in place to ensure delegates honestly represent the views and beliefs of Alabamians, not special interests. These two bills will ensure that Alabama’s delegates are accountable to the people if and when a convention of states is convened.”
Senate Bill 200, sponsored by Orr, establishes qualifications for delegates and gives the Legislature the authority to appoint and recall delegates.
“Nearly three out of four Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction,” Orr explained. “The national debt is skyrocketing, only to be compounded by trillions of dollars in unfunded entitlement programs. By many accounts, the federal government has far overstepped its bounds with unprecedented regulations into numerous areas of our economy and everyday lives. Given the dire outlook, many are realizing that a state-led amendment convention is our best hope for a positive change of direction. If nothing else, this movement of states is a sharp reminder to Congress that we mean business.”
Orr and Pittman also pointed out that while all amendments to the U.S. Constitution to date have been proposed by Congress, 20 states, including Alabama, have petitioned Congress to call a state-led convention on a balanced budget amendment to control unchecked federal spending. This coalition, they said, shows a positive trend of states that are ready and willing to take on a crucial problem Congress has long ignored.
In 2011, the Alabama House and Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 100, sponsored by Orr, formally petitioning Congress to call a convention under Article V for the specific purpose of passing a federal balanced budget amendment, requiring that, in the absence of a national emergency, federal spending for any fiscal year not exceed total federal revenue.
Both SB199 and SB200 have received their first reading and are pending action by the Senate Committee on Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections.
Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims
Rep. Barry Moore introduces bill to render ObamaCare ‘null and void’ in Alabama
Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, has introduced a bill that would render null and void certain provisions of ObamaCare and prevent Alabama state employees and agencies from implementing portions of the law that exceed the powers granted to the federal government in the U.S. Constitution.
“I refuse to sit idly by and watch Obamacare destroy our healthcare system and hurt working families all over this state,” Rep. Moore said. “I want Alabama to have the strongest possible protections against this destructive law. The states have an obligation to check the federal government when it exceeds the boundaries set forth in the Constitution. That’s exactly what this bill does. People throughout my district have expressed to me the harmful effects of Obamacare on their families and small businesses. We’re not going to have state employees doing the dirty work of the federal government when it comes to infringing on our liberties.”
The Alabama Freedom of Health Care Act cites the Tenth Amendment to the Constitutes, which provides that the federal government is authorized to exercise only those powers delegated to it in the Constitution.
The bill states that ObamaCare “grossly exceeds” those powers and therefore cannot and should not be considered the supreme law of the land.
The bill goes on to state that “no agency, officer, or employee of the state, or any political subdivision thereof, may engage in an activity that aids any agency in the enforcement of those provisions of (ObamaCare)… that exceed the authority of the United States Constitution.”
The bill empowers the Alabama state legislature to take “all necessary actions to ensure that all agencies, departments and political subdivisions of the state” do not aid in the law’s implementation in the state.
The Alabama Attorney General is also empowered to bring court action in the name of the state if he has “reasonable cause to believe that a person or business is being harmed by the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.”
Such action could be taken against “the person or entity causing the harm to restrain by temporary restraining order, temporary injunction, or permanent injunction the use of such method, act, or practice.”
Moore said that constituents in his wiregrass-area district have grown frustrated with the rising costs of health insurance brought on by ObamaCare and have expressed their desire for him to act.
Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims
Court rules Alabama’s property taxes not discriminatory, don’t violate Constitution
An appeals court ruled today that Alabama’s property tax system, which was passed in the 1970s, was not created in an effort to hinder school desegregation, but rather to ease concerns about potential spikes in property taxes.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit is an important victory for the state.
“Today’s ruling in Lynch v. Alabama again confirms the State’s consistent position that Alabama’s property tax structure does not violate the United States Constitution, and equally as important, that the citizens of Alabama have a right to structure their own tax system,” Strange said. “The Office of Attorney General remains committed to defending and vindicating this important right whenever necessary.”
The federal appeals court’s opinion upholds an October 2011 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.
The 11th Circuit agreed with the State that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge Alabama’s property tax millage caps because removing the caps would not result in relief of the harm claimed by the plaintiffs. The Court stated that “the remedy the plaintiffs seek would not redress the asserted injury, which at bottom is the inability of the plaintiffs and their elected officials to raise state and local revenue for public education.” The Court noted particularly that “voters in Lawrence and Sumter Counties, where the plaintiffs reside, have rejected various proposals to increase property taxes.”
The Court also considered the issue of property classifications in Alabama’s tax system, and found it constitutional. In the 11th Circuit’s view, there was no basis for rejecting the District Court’s well-supported finding that racial motivation played no substantial or motivating factor in enacting the State’s property classification system.
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamYHN
Federal court says new Alabama legislative districts not discriminatory
A federal appeals court issued a ruling on Friday that the new districts for the Alabama House and Senate do not violate federal law.
In 2011, the Alabama legislature approved the new district lines to keep up with population shifts seen in the 2010 census.
After the U.S. Department of Justice approved the new districts, the Legislative Black Caucus filed a suit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution claiming the new districts are racially discriminatory.
In August, Attorney General Luther Strange’s office provided evidence and legal arguments to a panel of three federal judges. The court concluded in a 2-to-1 vote on Friday that the new districts did not discriminate and did not violate the Voting Rights Act nor the United States Constitution.
The new districts will be used in the 2014 legislative races.
“I am committed to protecting every citizen’s right to vote for equal representation in state government,” Strange said in response to the ruling. “ I have believed from the beginning of this process that Alabama complied with all legal and constitutional requirements in adopting the new district lines, and I am pleased that the court agreed with our position that the new legislative districts are consistent with federal law.”
“This was a complex case that required skilled and talented legal counsel, and it has been a top priority for my office,” he continued. “I am proud of the evidence we presented and grateful for the attorneys who helped achieve this successful result.”
Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said he’s hopeful the court’s ruling will put to rest any remaining concerns over the new districts.
“This judgement reaffirms that our approach to redistricting was in line with the provisions of the Voting Rights Act, something that the department of justice also affirmed,” Marsh told Yellowhammer. “It is our hope that there will be no further delays so that voters may be informed of any district change in advance of the June primary.”
“We made it clear from the outset of the redistricting process that we were committed to seeking public input from across the state and utilizing the federal census data in a manner that resulted in fairly drawn legislative districts that fully complied with the law,” House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, added. “Not only was our plan cleared by President Obama’s Justice Department, it also has more majority-minority districts than the reapportionment plan that the Democrats drafted a decade ago. Today’s decision simply affirms our efforts followed the letter of the law, as we knew all along.”
(3:45 p.m. — this story was updated to include a comment from Sen. Del Marsh.
4:44 p.m. — this story was updated to include a comment from House Speaker Mike Hubbard)
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamYHN
CARTOON — NSA: ‘Constitution? Never heard of it’
Follow Scott on Twitter @SStantis
AG Strange files suit to block ObamaCare’s assault on religious liberty
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and Alabama-based Eternal World Television Network filed suit on Monday to challenge the ObamaCare mandate that forces non-profit religious organizations to include contraception and abortion-inducing drugs in their employees’ health insurance plans.
Under ObamaCare, employers are mandated to provide health insurance that covers contraception and sterilization services and related counseling and education.
In the lawsuit, EWTN declared that contraception, sterilization, and abortion are “gravely immoral practices” because of the “destruction of human life.”
However, they have until July 1, 2014 to comply with the sanction. If they don’t, the network will face penalties that could amount to more than $12 million per year.
EWTN is the world’s largest Catholic media network, located in Irondale, northeast of Birmingham. Attorney General Strange said that he’s proud to stand with EWTN to oppose what he called an “unconscionable mandate.”
“Whatever we personally may think about contraception and abortion-inducing drugs, the government should be in the business of forcing people to violate their religious convictions,” Strange said.
ObamaCare stipulates that religious groups may get a third party to provide the services in question for free, instead of offering the services themselves. But Strange and EWTN said they believe that provision is nothing more than a “fig leaf” covering the underlying issue that faith-based organization are being forced by law to go against their religious beliefs.
“We all know that insurance companies do not provide anything for free; the employers are still going to be paying for these services through increased premiums or otherwise even if the insurance company technically covers those products through a separate ‘free’ policy,” said Strange. “This isn’t just about who ultimately has to pay. It is about the government forcing EWTN to participate in a scheme that violates its religious beliefs.”
Strange also said ObamaCare violates Alabama Law. In November 2012, an amendment was added to the Alabama Constitution to protect any state resident or employer from being compelled to participate in a health care system.
“The freedom of religion, and to believe as conscience requires, is our ‘first freedom’ under the United States Constitution,” Strange said. “The people of Alabama have recognized the importance of this freedom and have enshrined it in their Constitution as well. Alabama law does not allow anyone to be forced to offer a product that is against his or her religious beliefs or conscience.”
Attorney General Strange is asking the Court to find that the mandate is in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and the Administrative Procedure Act, to declare that the mandate does not preempt or displace Alabama’s own laws, and to issue a permanent injunction to stop enforcement of the mandate against EWTN and other religious organizations that object to providing insurance coverage for contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization.
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamYHN
Gun Bill Passes Legislature, Goes to Governor
The Alabama House of Representatives Monday morning passed the much-debated Omnibus Gun Bill, which proponents say will give Alabama the strongest Second Amendment protections in the country. It now goes to the Governor for his signature.
The final bill was the product of a compromise between the National Rifle Association, The Alabama Sheriffs’ Association and the Alabama District Attorneys’ Association.
“Achieving this compromise required a long journey with a lot of back and forth among law enforcement, business representatives and gun rights activists, but we finally found the right mix,” Rep. Ed Henry, the bill’s House sponsor, said.
“While not perfect, SB 286 is an important step in the right direction for the law-abiding gun owners in Alabama and residents of other states traveling to and through Alabama,” The National Rifle Association said in a release.
The Business Council of Alabama, however, remained unsupportive to the end.
BCA President & CEO Billy Canary said his organization, which represents the state’s business community, did not support the legislation because it would require businesses to allow employees to keep a gun in their car at work. Canary cited the Fifth Amendment and said the bill “erodes the constitutional property rights of businesses.”
But House Speaker Mike Hubbard said it was important to address the issues with Alabama’s gun laws now in light of the Obama Administration’s continued attempts to infringe on our Second Amendment rights.
“With President Obama dead set on limiting our right to bear arms, it was imperative for us to push legislation that would defend this important constitutional right for Alabamians,” Hubbard said.
The NRA said the bill, if signed by the Governor, “will restore and protect the rights of responsible gun owners and sportsmen in Alabama by reforming the state gun laws in the following ways:
- Allows those who possess a valid Alabama pistol permit to keep firearms stored in their vehicle while at work, as well as allowing those who possess a valid Alabama hunting license to store an unloaded rifle or shotgun in their vehicle while at work.
- Allows transportation of a handgun in a vehicle without an Alabama pistol permit as long as the handgun is unloaded, locked in a container and out of reach of the driver or passenger.
- Shifts the current “May Issue” concealed carry permit system to a “Shall Issue” permit system and requires that a sheriff must issue or deny the carry permit within thirty days. Should someone be denied a permit, a written denial must be provided and that applicant would have an opportunity to appeal the denial.
- A permit to carry a concealed pistol shall be good for one to five years (to be decided by the applicant seeking the carry permit).
- Requires sheriffs to use the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to conduct a background check on concealed pistol permit applicants.
- Allows for all other valid state-issued permits to carry a concealed firearm to be recognized in Alabama.
- Strengthens Alabama’s firearms preemption statute by reserving for the state legislature complete control over regulation and policy relating to firearms, ammunition and firearm accessories in order to ensure that such regulation is applied uniformly throughout the state.
- Extends the current Castle Doctrine to include places of business to ensure the right of self-defense does not end when you enter your business.
What else is going on?
1. IRS Protest to Take Place Tuesday in Birmingham
2. What to watch for on the final day of the 2013 session
3. Rubio Out-raising Paul 2 to 1
4. Shelby Sees Similarities Between Obama & Nixon Administrations
5. Alabama Should Push Forward with School Choice
Roby Introduces Amendment to Force Congress to Balance the Budget
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) today introduced an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that, if passed and ratified, would require Congress to annually pass a balanced budget and finally force the federal government to live within its means. Rep. Roby’s proposed amendment would also require the President to submit a balanced budget to the Congress on time each year. The White House said yesterday that they will not meet the legal deadline to submit a budget for the third time in four years.
As Members of the House of Representatives took to the floor today to read the Constitution at length, Rep. Roby said making the nation’s governing framework just one amendment longer could fundamentally change the direction of the country for the better.
“Hardworking, taxpaying Americans balance their family budgets every month,” Rep. Roby said. “But, for the past four years, they’ve watched the federal government over-spend by more than $1 trillion. We’re $16 trillion in debt. It’s past time Congress and the President were Constitutionally required to balance the budget. A Balanced Budget Amendment would restore the fiscal common sense that regular Americans employ every day. It would also provide economic clarity and confidence for a country still struggling to create jobs.”
The ongoing debate about the rate of federal spending and how to reduce the public debt underscores the need for this amendment.
“Yesterday the President spent an hour lecturing Congress about ‘paying our bills.’ Well, one great way to ensure you can always pay your bills is to never charge up more than you can afford. The spending reductions through entitlement reforms we’ve continued to seek are important and needed, but the long-term solution to our country’s debt problem is requiring Washington politicians to pass a balanced budget every year.”
The Balanced Budget Amendment would:
· prohibit federal expenditures from exceeding federal revenues within the same fiscal year and 20 percent of the gross domestic product for the preceding calendar year.
· require the President to, on time before each fiscal year, submit to Congress a proposed federal budget in which total outlays do not exceed total revenues received by the United States.
· have an exception for times of Congressionally-declared war and authorize suspension of prohibitions by concurrent resolution approved by a three-fifths vote of the Senate and a two-thirds vote of the House of Representatives.
Rep. Roby introduced a similar amendment in her first term. The House of Representatives demonstrated its ability to pass such an amendment in the last Congress as part of its efforts to reduce the debt, but the Senate failed to seriously consider the measure.
Constitutional Amendments require passage from both Houses of Congress with a two-thirds majority (290 Representatives, 67 senators) and ratification by three-fourths (38) of the states. Click HERE to see the amendment.
Business Owners Denied First Amendment Protections
On November 19th, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton ruled that Hobby Lobby, the arts and crafts chain, and other for-profit companies must pay for the coverage of contraceptives such as birth control, the “morning-after pill” and the “week-after pill,” regardless of the religious convictions of the owners. In his ruling denying an injunction on certain provisions of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), Judge Heaton said “…the court has not found [that]… for-profit companies such as Hobby Lobby and Mardel have a constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.”
Hobby Lobby and Mardel, owned by the same family, have a clear conservative Christian influence. There are 18 Hobby Lobby stores in Alabama, and every one of them closes on Sundays, plays praise and worship music, and displays Bible verses and other references that uphold their core beliefs. Mardel Christian and Education sports a Bible verse at the top of their website, sells Bibles, religious literature and Vacation Bible School materials. Unlike some religious organizations, Hobby Lobby has no qualms about paying for some forms of birth control, but takes issue with the morning-after pill and abortifacients. Founder and CEO David Green said of his company, “We seek to honor God by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles.”
There is no question of the religious basis of these two companies; yet, because they are for-profit entities, they are being denied their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. Not-for-profit organizations with religious convictions, such as Catholic churches and parochial schools, have already received waivers allowing them to exercise their religious principles. Essentially, Judge Heaton told business owners across America that their religious beliefs are not protected under the First Amendment because of the tax status of their organizations.
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling found that business owners’ expenditures toward political ends, such as funding political action committees or running advertisements against candidates, are expressions of free speech. Why is this same reasoning not carried to other sections of the First Amendment? Why can business owners display their preferences and honor their convictions when it comes to their political convictions, but not religious ones?
The first section of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The First Amendment was specifically designed to prevent laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion. Period. Is not the enforcement of a law that is directly in conflict with the exercise of a religion directly contrary to this most important of rights? There are at least 1,722 organizations that have already received waivers from other portions of the Affordable Care Act. Any company that does not wish to comply with a provision it finds morally and religiously objectionable should be granted the same respect, regardless of the tax status.
Elizabeth Robinson is a policy analyst for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.
The Racist Results of Blind Loyalty
By: Cameron Smith, Alabama Policy Institute
After Alabamians voted to preserve racist language in their state Constitution, headlines nationwide gladly noted the state’s failure. For much of the nation, Alabama’s failure was simply confirmation of the latent racism they believe pervades Alabama.
If the majority of Alabamians who voted ‘no’ on Amendment 4 had actually done so for racially-motivated reasons, perhaps that perception would be justified. But the largest driver for the ‘no’ vote was a massive misinformation campaign launched by the Alabama Education Association (AEA).
Amendment 4’s failure had nothing to do with the right of Alabama’s children to a constitutionally guaranteed “liberal education.” Alabama has not guaranteed the right to a public education since 1956, and somehow, public education has gone on. AEA’s opposition to Amendment 4 was entirely about strengthening its ability to challenge the current constitutional provisions in court. After losing its litigation efforts in 2002 and again last year with Judge Lynwood Smith’s decision in the Lynch case, AEA realized the difficulty of challenging a constitutional provision it does not like without being able to allege racial discrimination.
In short, the AEA wanted to preserve as much of its ability to use racial animus as possible to shape education funding and tax policy through the courts, especially since it no longer has total control over the Alabama Legislature.
The AEA remains one of the most significant powerhouses in Alabama politics even with Republicans in charge. The AEA commands the votes of educators in Alabama who trust the AEA to take positions in their best interest.
Most of that power is derived from AEA’s ability to extract dues and political donations from its members. AEA cleared more than $15 million in membership dues according to their 2010 IRS form 990. Their A VOTE political action committee holds almost $3 million. Most importantly, every politician in Montgomery knows that the AEA has no problem using those resources to combat opponents.
For decades, the AEA has effectively dictated most public policy in Alabama and continues to stand directly in the way of needed education and state budgetary reforms.
With respect to Amendment 4, the AEA also stood in the way of tearing the vestiges of Alabama’s racist past from the highest authority in the state.
At the same time, the AEA’s misleading propaganda raised the specter of Amendment 4 undermining a non-existent right to public education, they conveniently left out the fact that nobody was actually denying children of any color a public education. No one was at the schoolhouse doors trying to block their entrance. In fact, if Amendment 4 had passed, nothing would have changed other than Alabama being another step away from a racist past.
The AEA and its supporters made sure that did not happen.
As a result, the defeat of Amendment 4 perpetuated the stereotype of Alabama as a racist state and gave Alabama another hurdle to clear in its efforts to change that image. Members of the AEA who have fought tirelessly against racial discrimination should think long and hard about the racial impact of their loyalty to AEA the next time this issue makes its way to the ballot.
Cameron Smith is Policy Director and General Counsel for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.