2 months ago

Alabama State Legislature Update: Tax cuts, Medicaid reform, ride-sharing and more

State House/State of Alabama


The Alabama Legislature on Thursday moved closer to cutting taxes, saving money for Medicaid and approving rules for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Here are the major developments in Montgomery.

The big story: The Alabama Senate approved a modest tax break, one of the centerpieces of the Republican agenda for the 2018 session.

The bill, sponsored by Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) sailed through the upper chamber on a 28-0 vote.

The tax cut would be nothing of the magnitude of the federal tax cut passed last month. But it would give a small tax break to almost 200,000 low-to-middle-income families.

The bill would raise the standard deduction for families with incomes up to $33,000.

“It is a testament to the Republican Legislature that through smart, conservative management we have been able to guide the state through tough financial times and are now in a place where we can bring tax cuts to the hard-working people of Alabama,” Marsh said in a statement.

Marsh said in the statement that he will continue to work for “responsible ways to give people a tax cut” until the bill reaches Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Legislature to look for ways to reform the tax code that are fair to all of the people of this state,” he said.

Kimble Forrister, executive director of Arise Citizens’ Policy Project, told AL.com that his advoacy group for the poor would have preferred the Legislature act on its longtime priority of eliminating the sales tax on groceries. But he said the tax bill would be a “very modest improvement” for families.

“It’s not as much as they would get from taking the sales tax off groceries,” he told the website. “But it’s still a few dollars every week and every little bit helps when you’re trying to make ends meet.”

The bill now moves to the state House of Representatives.

Medicaid reform: The Alabama Senate unanimously approved a Medicaid reform that supporters say will save the state $5 million to $6 million.

Alabama is the only state without a law allowing for its Medicaid agency to collect money from a dead Medicaid recipient’s estate. Under federal law, the state has the right to collect from a dead recipient’s estate an amount of money equal to Medicaid expenditures.

“Federal law requires the states to seek reimbursement from the estates of deceased recipients — otherwise, taxpayers are going to eat millions of dollars each year in unrecovered costs,” the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) said in a statement. “Alabama doesn’t have an option under federal law, and we do have an obligation to protect taxpayers’ dollars.”

The recovery law does not apply when the deceased has a living spouse, a child younger than 21, or a child who is blind or disabled.

The bill now goes to the state House of Representatives.

The gig economy: The Senate approved a bill to set up uniform, statewide rules governing the operation of ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro), passed unanimously.

“This is important to the state of Alabama because ride-sharing is the new trend across the United States … It’s important for us as a state to keep up with trends,” he said in a statement. “If we pass this legislation, we will be the 45th state in the U.S.,” Singleton said in a statement. “This will allow citizens in the state of Alabama to be employed and it will allow people who don’t have transportation to be able to move around in their cities.”

Supporters argue that the uniform rules would promote the growth of such services by wiping away the confusing patchwork of regulations that vary from city to city. Uber and Lyft operate now in only 15 cities — Auburn, Birmingham, Daphne, Gardendale, Gulf Shores, Homewood, Hoover, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, Mountain Brook, Pelham, Tuscaloosa, Trussville and Vestavia Hills.

Currently, only five other states lack uniform regulations. The legislation would task the Public Service Commission with issuing permits that would allow drivers to operate statewide.

“This is a perfect example of a bipartisan bill that works for all Alabamians,” Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) said in a statement. “Installing this regulatory framework is going to provide folks all over the state another choice in transportation, ensure safe operation for both drivers and riders, and pave the way for more jobs in the state.”

The bill now goes to the House.

Get a job faster: Under a bill passed by the Alabama Senate, unemployed workers would have less time to find a job but would receive slightly more generous benefits while they look.

The bill, sponsored by Orr, would cut the maximum time on unemployment from 26 weeks. Instead, people would have from 14 to 20 weeks – depending on the unemployment rate — to find a new job. The maximum weekly benefit would rise from $265 to $275.

According to AL.com, Orr said the move would put Alabama in line with other states in the Southeast that have adopted similar policies.

“Some people will take the full 26 weeks and not look for a job until that 26 weeks is about to run out,” he said. “This, hopefully, will encourage them to perhaps look a little bit earlier.”

Unemployed people enrolled in a state job training program would get an extra five weeks of benefits.

Despite passing an amendment by Sen. Roger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) to use the county unemployment rate instead of the statewide figure, he still voted against the legislation.

“Even if it was 3 percent, those people who are the 3 percent need the full benefits,” he said. “All the low rate is saying is that we have a lower number that needs benefits than we would otherwise. It doesn’t eliminate the need of benefits.”

Not so fast: A state representative who has proposed making it a crime to disrupt a political speech in public places got a lukewarm reception for his bill, the Montgomery Advertiser reports.

The bill would make it a misdemeanor to “prevent or attempt to prevent another person from making a public speech on public property because of the content of the speech.” Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia, said the proposal was a response to a wave of protests shutting down speakers across the country.

“This would make it unlawful to prevent someone from going into a public facility they’ve been invited to make an address,” he said, according to the Advertiser.

But the Advertiser reported that lawmakers of both parties expressed concerns that the bill was too vague and questioned how it might affect free speech. Legislators referred it to a subcommittee.

Tweet of the day:

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at LifeZette.com and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.


11 hours ago

End the shutdown politics

For far too long, Congress has relied on short term, stop-gap funding bills to keep the federal government open and running — and have done so when up against holidays and midnight deadlines.

Take the most recent continuous resolution: last month, as a member of the House of Representatives, I voted around 5:30 AM on a Friday morning against a massive spending bill that raises America’s deficit next year to about $1 trillion.


Yes, you read that right. While you and your family were sleeping, a handful of your duly-elected representatives were making deals in the middle of the night. For the last 40 years — but increasingly more so in the last decade — this has been and is the way Washington operates. It needs to end now.

Put simply, this is how it works: time is running out as Congress approaches a funding deadline. In exchange for their votes, appropriators demand more money for “insert name of pet project” and the spending bill balloons as more and more wish list items are added. Inevitably, one party demands more or they’ll threaten to walk from the deal.

A small leadership team from both sides then hammer out a deal behind closed doors — with Republicans agreeing to spend even more money America does not have, has to borrow to get, and cannot afford to pay back. This is what Washington did in February with its “debt junkie” spending bill and what it’s poised to do again this week.

Moreover, these last-minute side deals for unrelated, often deemed “must-pass” legislation, have no business being in a continuing resolution and should be voted on as stand-alone bills. But because of threatened government shutdown risks, the bulk of Congress is subject to the spending demands of the powerful few.

The party in power almost always loses in the game of shutdown politics, as it suggests the party does not know how to govern and does not deserve to govern. In the late-night rush to negotiate a deal, the powerbrokers eventually concede, bad policy is enacted, and Congress is pressured to vote for the deal to please some segment of their constituency. It’s a loss on both sides of the aisle.

Perhaps even worse, the country loses — big time — as bills are introduced and voted on before the public has time to digest them and submit their views to their elected officials. Transparency in government becomes nonexistent. And the deficit increases exponentially.

Let’s take a quick look at previous short-term continuous resolutions.

Remember the cromnibus back in 2013? At the time, the last-minute Christmas bill seemed monstrous with the approved $63 billion increase in spending authority over two years. That’s pocket change compared to the McConnell-Schumer Deal that passed last month and busted the discretionary budget spending caps by $296 billion over two years. All this adds up to trillions of dollars, and as a result of the February continuous resolution vote, deficits will blow through the $1 trillion mark annually and indefinitely.

While Congress seems hell-bent on passing unaffordable spending bills and adding trillions to America’s debt, eventually the gravy train is going to an end and become a train wreck because America simply can’t afford these expensive deals.

That’s why last week I introduced H.R. 5313: The End Federal Shutdowns Act. This legislation automatically requires continuity of spending at the previous year’s levels should Congress fail to pass spending bills on time. Hence, government shutdowns become a thing of the past.

The concept is simple: whatever the spending level was for the previous year becomes the spending level for such time as it takes Washington to pass legislation that changes priorities and reallocate different spending amounts. If this legislation were enacted, leadership of both parties would have no choice but to aggressively seek timely regular order agreement and passage of appropriations bills to achieve new funding and policy objectives. A flat-spending alternative would be a strong incentive for constructive compromise involving a majority of representatives.

Providing for an automatic continuous resolution should be the easiest vote most of us in Congress make this year. It provides stability for the federal government and prevents rank and file members from being held hostage to the demands of special interest groups, leadership, and powerful appropriators.

I’m urging my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come together and do what’s right for the Congress and for the country. A vote for H.R. 5313 is common sense — something that seems to be lacking in Washington these days.

Let’s stop shutdown politics once and for all.

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks is a Republican from Huntsville

12 hours ago

Christy Swaid is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

When pro sports star Christy Swaid first moved to Alabama in 2002, she said she immediately fell in love with her new home, but it broke her heart to learn that the state ranks in the top three nationally for diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and hypertension and that Alabama children are developing type 2 diabetes at one of the fastest-growing rates in the nation.

Swaid, a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, is a six-time world champion professional jet ski racer, the winningest female in the history of the sport, and was twice named “One of the Fittest Women in America” by Competitor Magazine in 2000 and by Muscle and Fitness in 2001.


After years advocating for marine safety, Swaid channeled her extensive fitness experience and passion for service into launching a nonprofit in 2006 named HEAL (healthy eating active living) with a mission to use evidence-based methods and education to “measurably improve children’s health and reverse the growing epidemic of childhood obesity,” according to HEAL’s website.

“My heart and mission is to help children prevent diseases before they get established, but then follow them throughout their school experience with more healthy eating, active living techniques and encouragement,” Swaid said in a January Alabama Public Television interview.

Swaid tested her curriculum-based fitness and nutrition program in a six-month pilot program that measured results in fifth grade PE classrooms at 10 Alabama schools and found promising results among participating children: 75 percent showed improved fitness, 57 percent of overweight and obese children reduced their body mass index (BMI), and all participants reported improvements in healthful eating.

The program has steadily expanded, serving 130 Alabama schools in 27 counties and reaching 27,000 students across multiple grade levels. There are 175 schools on a waiting list pending funding; HEAL raises their own funds to offer the program to schools at no cost.

Last year, four Alabama schools using the HEAL curriculum earned an “America’s Healthiest School Award” from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, whose judging standards include the healthiness of meals and snacks served, how much students move at school, and the quality of physical and health education.

“I am so proud of our state,” Swaid told APT. “Ten years ago, this was a kitchen table conversation, and I was able to glean the brightest and the best minds who also have big hearts to help put their fingerprints in making the most progressive solution to our nation’s worst epidemic, and that is what HEAL is … a genius cluster.”

Swaid developed her research-based curriculum in partnership with professors from UAB and Samford University.

“It is all science-based and it’s friendly, and it includes every child, including children with special needs,” she said.

Swaid will be honored with Gov. Kay Ivey in an awards event March 29 in Birmingham. The Yellowhammer Women of Impact event will honor 20 women making an impact in Alabama and will benefit Big Oak Ranch. Details and registration may be found here.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

13 hours ago

Alabama eyes potential economic impact of fatal deer disease

A fatal deer disease is inching closer to Alabama, where whitetail deer are the most popular game animal and hunting generates a $1.8 billion yearly economic impact.

The Montgomery Advertiser reports that a dead buck tested positive for chronic wasting disease in Mississippi’s Issaquena County last month; until then, the closest state to Alabama with the neurological disease was Arkansas.


Chuck Sykes with the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division says it’s unlikely a diseased deer would wander “over an imaginary line on a map,” but that infected meat or animals could be brought in knowingly or unknowingly. Alabama has banned the import of carcasses from states where CWD has been confirmed.

The department says states with CWD have seen an up to 40 percent decrease in hunting license sales.

(Image: Outdoor Alabama)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

13 hours ago

Alabama ranks 4th most federally dependent state

Alabama is the fourth most federally dependent state in the union, according to analysis done by the personal finance website WalletHub.

The details:

Researchers compared the 50 states by examining both the dependency of state governments and of state residents.


To determine state government dependence, researchers looked at federal funding as a share of state revenue in each of the states.

To determine the dependency of residents, researchers used returns on taxes paid to the federal government and each state’s share of federal jobs as metrics.

Alabama’s state government was ranked the thirteenth most federally dependent and Alabama’s residents were ranked fourth most dependent.

New Mexico, Kentucky and Mississippi were ranked the three most federally dependent states.

In January, WalletHub ranked Alabama the tenth most affected state by the federal government shutdown, which was determined by various metrics indicating the state’s dependence upon the federal government.

That analysis examined Alabama’s share of federal jobs and contracts, its access to federal lending programs, and its percentages of children reliant upon the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Click here to read the experts’ analyses.

13 hours ago

Fort Rucker, Maxwell Air Force Base and more recently discussed in House defense appropriations subcommittee hearings

Serving on the House Appropriations Committee gives me a valuable and unique opportunity to participate in the conversations surrounding funding for the various functions of our federal government.

It’s hard to believe it, but the debates on funding for the Fiscal Year 2019 have already begun. I’ve been glad to be part of these important discussions and advocate for programs that are critically important to the State of Alabama and our country as a whole.

Recently the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, on which I’m grateful to serve, held hearings to review the Fiscal Year 2019 budget requests from various services. So far during this budget request season, our subcommittee has heard from the Navy and the Marine Corps, the Air Force, and the Army.


I was glad to take part in all these discussions for several reasons. I have always been a strong advocate for properly supporting our military so that our men and women in uniform have everything they need when we send them into harm’s way. Secondly, our state and district have a very large military presence, and I consider fighting for our interests one of my greatest responsibilities in Congress.

When the Air Force testified before Defense Appropriations, I was glad to have the opportunity to have a conversation with Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff General David Goldfein. You may remember that Secretary Wilson was the key decision maker for the F-35 mission. We talked about the Air Force’s priorities for the next year, and I thanked her in person for making the decision to send the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the 187th Fighter Wing at Dannelly Field in Montgomery. As I told Secretary Wilson, the men and women of the 187th could not be more thrilled about this extraordinary opportunity, and our entire state and community share in this excitement.

When the Navy and Marine Corps came before the subcommittee to discuss their budget request, I asked Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson about the F-35 mission’s potential to enable the Navy fleet as a whole to be more capable. I was thrilled when he assured me that yes, this would definitely be the case. In my role on the Appropriations Committee, I will also continue to support the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program manufactured in Mobile as well as the other important priorities for our state.

During the Army’s testimony before Defense Appropriations, I reviewed the Army’s budget request with Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark Esper and Chief of Staff General Mark Milley. The people of Southeast Alabama care greatly about the Army, and we are so proud that our very own Fort Rucker is the home of Army Aviation. Unfortunately, the Fiscal Year 2019 budget request for Army Aviation aircraft is significantly reduced from this year, so I pressed Secretary Esper about this. I appreciated his response and his assurance that operations will proceed as usual at Fort Rucker. This news on top of the announcement we recently received that 17 Lakota helicopters will soon be added to the fleet at Fort Rucker are both great indications that this proud military installation in our backyard will continue to excel for years to come. Of course, in my role on the Appropriations Committee, I will continue push for strong Army Aviation funding.

I deeply appreciate these distinguished military leaders for taking the time to review their budgets and priorities with us. Each of these individuals have led lives of dedicated service to our country, and I am grateful to their families for the many sacrifices made on our behalf. I will continue to prioritize the national security of this great nation, and as always, I will never stop advocating for the important work being done in Alabama’s Second District at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base and Fort Rucker.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.