7 months ago

‘A great day in Alabama’: State legislature passes pay equity, literacy acts, civil asset forfeiture bill, more

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama legislature had a busy Thursday, passing a slew of impactful bills on what is expected to be the penultimate day of the 2019 regular session.

One of the most emotional, bipartisan acts of the session came with the passage of State Rep. Adline Clarke’s (D-Mobile) pay equity bill, HB 225. On the Senate floor the previous day, State Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) surprised the chamber’s sponsor of the bill, State Sen. Vivian Davis-Figures (D-Mobile), by introducing an amendment that strengthened the bill and changed its name to the “Clarke-Figures Equal Pay Act” in honor the two sponsors.

This came after Figures on the floor expressed concern that the bill was going to die in the Senate. The chamber ended up passing the bill unanimously, following in the House’s footsteps in that regard.

On Thursday, the House concurred with the Senate amendment, sending the bill to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk. The governor quickly returned HB 225 to the legislature with a technical executive amendment, and – on the same day – both chambers concurred with the governor’s technical change, setting the landmark bill up to become law imminently.

Mississippi will now be the only state without a gender-based equal pay law. Clarke on Thursday said it was “a great day in Alabama.”

Read more about HB 225 here.

Alabama Literacy Act

State Rep. Terri Collins’ (R-Decatur) HB 388, known as the “Alabama Literacy Act,” passed the Senate as amended in a unanimous vote on Thursday.

The House then concurred with the Senate’s amended version, sending the transformative bill to the governor’s desk.

This bill would require third graders to pass a reading test before advancing to fourth grade.

If signed into law, the Alabama Literacy Act would go into effect for the 2021-2022 school year. The legislation also includes several initiatives intended to boost reading scores.

Read more about HB 388 here.

General Fund budget

Both chambers of the Alabama legislature on Thursday concurred with the conference committee’s report on the General Fund budget bill, HB 152, sending the legislation to the governor’s desk.

In a statement after the bill’s final passage, Ivey signaled her support for the budget, which featured a two percent raise for state employees.

“While remaining steadfast in our fiscally conservative approach, we have put forward a General Fund, which provides important funding that moves our state in a positive direction,” she said.

Core promises were kept in the General Fund budget, including Ivey’s State of the State pledge to return $35 million of annual “diversion” to roads and bridges that had been going to cover a shortfall in ALEA and court system funding.

The governor outlined, “Very importantly, we are wisely using our dollars to tackle some of our state’s major challenges. From areas of public safety to mental health, our state is making great strides. I am very proud that this year’s budget returns $35 million to our Road and Bridge Fund. I applaud General Fund Chairs Rep. Clouse and Sen. Albritton for their tremendous leadership on this legislation. The Alabama Legislature can be proud of this strong budget.”

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) also released a statement upon final passage of the General Fund budget.

“I want to commend Sen. Albritton on passage of his first General Fund budget,” Marsh said. “Although this is usually a thankless job, Sen. Albritton did an excellent job of working with the General Fund Committee, Senators on the floor, colleagues in the House, as well as countless hours behind the scenes to ensure that this budget was fair to everyone in Alabama.”

“This is a budget that received bipartisan support and that all Senators can be proud of. Through conservative fiscal practices and living within our means we have been able to come out with a robust budget that provides funding for state agencies including more money to our corrections system to hire new officers, money to hire new state troopers, an increase to Mental Health and a sizable reserve for future budgets. I thank everybody for their diligent work,” he concluded.

The General Fund budget ended up covering all $35 million for CHIP, even though the governor had proposed this being funded through the Education Trust Fund (ETF).

Read more about HB 152 here.

The ETF budget bill is scheduled for conference committee at 9:00 a.m. on Friday and is expected to be approved by both chambers and then head to the governor’s desk that same day. The ETF budget and the package of SB’s 397 and 398 are the key outstanding items left before the legislature can adjourn sine die.

Civil asset forfeiture

State Sen. Arthur Orr’s (R-Decatur) SB 191 passed the House on Thursday, sending the bill to the governor’s desk.

The final version of the legislation was a compromise, which has also been called a “watered down” substitute that Orr reached with stakeholders concerned the bill would hurt law enforcement’s ability to do their jobs.

If SB 191 becomes law, law enforcement agencies would still be able to civilly seize assets without a criminal conviction. However, the legislation does mandate that law enforcement agencies report how often they use civil actions to seize a person’s property when said person has not been convicted of a crime.

Orr has said the measure as passed is an “incremental” step and that he plans on reintroducing a bill to ban the practice of civil asset forfeiture again next year.

SB 191 passed unanimously in both chambers and brought hardline conservatives together with leftwing factions on policy in a rare circumstance.

State Rep. Andrew Sorrell (R-Muscle Shoals) joked that this bill even managed to bring him together with the SPLC, something he thought he would never say.

In a statement after SB 191’s final passage, Emily Early, staff attorney for SPLC Action Fund, applauded the legislature but agreed with Orr’s desire for a bill that goes further.

“A mandatory reporting system for civil asset forfeiture can help ensure the civil asset forfeiture law is not abused or used primarily to create revenue for the government,” Early said. “SB 191 recognizes the importance of the mandatory collection of information about civil forfeitures in reaching this goal, but does not go far enough in ending the abusive practice altogether.”

“While we applaud the efforts of our state legislators in taking this step towards protecting the property and due process rights of Alabamians across the state and urge Governor Ivey to sign SB 191 without delay, it’s not enough for the actors who profit from civil asset forfeiture to simply report what they take from Alabamians,” she added. “In future legislative sessions, we hope and expect that lawmakers will learn from the data provided through this new law and give Alabamians the necessary relief they deserve constitutionally by ensuring that a criminal conviction is required before any property is forfeited to the state.”

Will the Bible be back (kind of) in public schools?

State Sen. Tim Melson’s (R-Florence) SB 14, the bill to allow elective biblical literacy classes to be taught in public schools, received final passage by the legislature on Thursday.

The final version of the bill clarified that this proposed law is not only nondenominational, but that the legislation would not just allow the Christian Bible to be taught. The Torah and the Quran were both mentioned as other options allowed under the bill.

Local school districts would get the choice to offer these strictly elective classes, which would not be intended to be faith-based classes but instead be essentially historical in nature, allowing the “objective” study of religious texts, artifacts, monuments, symbols, etc.

Under the bill, school districts would not be mandated to offer the classes, nor would any student be forced to take one of the classes.

SB 14 also spells out, “A teacher of a course offered pursuant to this act may not endorse, favor, promote, disfavor, or show hostility toward any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective.”

Melson has one piece of hot-button legislation still pending, although it has become a “watered down version.” His medical marijuana bill was substituted in a House committee earlier this week to set up a commission to study the issue. The bill is still awaiting consideration on the House floor.

In case you missed it:

The legislature also gave final passage to HB 540 and HB 380 on Thursday. Both bills are expected to become law.

Additionally, the governor held a signing ceremony for two major broadband bills: SB 90 and HB 400.

This came after Ivey the day previous held a joint signing ceremony for some previously passed legislation, including HB 468, SB 147, HB 287, HB 479, HJR 91, SB 138 and HB 402.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

23 mins ago

Ivey orders flags to half-staff honoring slain Navy ensign

Governor Kay Ivey announced Friday that she is ordering all flags on government grounds to be flown at half staff on Sunday, December 22 to honor the life of Navy Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson.

Watson, an Enterprise native who spent many of his formative years in Blount County, was killed in the shooting at Naval Air Station in Pensacola, FL, on December 6.

“Let us remember the life and service of Ensign Watson, who died as a hero trying to protect his fellow service members. We offer our heartfelt condolences and prayers to his family, friends and community,” the governor said in her directive.

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According to reports relayed to the media by his family, the 23-year-old Watson saved many lives with his actions on the day of the shooting. His heroic actions drew praise from many of Alabama’s political leaders.

“After being shot multiple times he made it outside and told the first response team where the shooter was and those details were invaluable,” Adam Watson, the victim’s brother, told the Pensacola News Journal (PNJ).

Watson’s father, Benjamin, said of his son, “His mission was to confront evil, to bring the fight to them, wherever it took him. He was willing to risk his life for his country. We never thought he would die in Florida.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

You’re invited!

The biggest birthday party in Alabama’s history is taking place on December 14, and you are invited! Join us in Montgomery for the grand finale celebration of our state’s 200th birthday.

Watch the parade, listen to concerts and performances, visit open houses and much more.

This is sure to be a day you don’t want to miss. The event is free to the public and lasts all day starting with an elaborate parade at 10:00 a.m. The parade will travel from Court Square Fountain in downtown Montgomery up Dexter Avenue to the State Capitol. There will be marching bands, city floats and unique displays of Alabama history on wheels, such as the USS Alabama and U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

The parade is a great opportunity for families to enjoy the celebration together – and it’s only the beginning of a packed day. Following the parade, Governor Kay Ivey will dedicate Bicentennial Park. The afternoon will offer performances, exhibitions and open houses throughout downtown Montgomery. The day will conclude with a concert featuring popular musicians from Alabama and the history of Alabama presented in a never-before-seen way.

Visit Alabama 200 Finale for a complete rundown of the day’s events.

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1 hour ago

Roby votes ‘no’ on impeaching Trump, says Democrats setting ‘dangerous precedent’

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (AL-02) on Friday voted “no” on both articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump during a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee.

Both articles were reported favorably from the committee, each on a party line vote of 23-17; all Democrats present voted to support impeachment, all Republicans voted against.

The two articles are expected to advance to the full House floor for a vote as one package. That vote is expected next week.

Before Friday’s vote, the Judiciary Committee held a markup on the articles the day before, and Roby made extensive comments about what she deems a “woefully incomplete” and “flawed” process conducted by House Democrats.

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“The articles of impeachment before us in this Committee do not meet the necessary requirements nor have they followed an exhaustive pursuit to even find all of the facts of the case. Therefore, the bar to impeach a sitting president of the United States has not been met,” said Roby, who is retiring from Congress after this term.

She outlined, “Whether you identify as a Republican, Democrat, or Independent, whether you agree or disagree with a president’s policies, whether you like or even dislike a president, the American people should feel cheated by what has taken place here.”

“The American people deserve a process that puts politics aside. The American people deserve a process that is led by our promise to protect and defend the Constitution. The American people simply deserve better,” Roby emphasized.

The full text of Roby’s speech as follows:

I have made clear how woefully incomplete this process has been, how the Minority’s right to a hearing has been completely disregarded, how no fact witnesses were called before us, and how staff questioning staff to get the truth was bizarre.

No matter what any Member on this side says here tonight, the Majority will unanimously vote to send these articles of impeachment to the House Floor. However, I have a duty to continue to point out how flawed this process has been. All Members of Congress are required to take an oath of office at the beginning of every Congress. By taking this oath, we swear above all else, to defend the Constitution of the United States.

I have the distinct honor to represent the hardworking people of Southeast Alabama. They have placed their trust in me to represent their values and be their voice here in Congress. This revered and longstanding oath serves as a guiding principle for every decision I make as a Member of Congress.

For the record, let me be clear:

I believe in the rule of law.

I believe that no person is above the law.

I believe process is vital to this very institution.

I have stated time and time again before this Committee: process matters. Without abiding by a framework that adheres to our Constitution, we are charting a course that does not follow our country’s founding principles.

Whether you identify as a Republican, Democrat, or Independent, whether you agree or disagree with a president’s policies, whether you like or even dislike a president, the American people should feel cheated by what has taken place here.

We sit here tonight without all the facts of the case because the Majority decided to conduct an incomplete and inadequate pursuit of the truth. Many questions remain.

With the consequential decision of impeaching a president, it is our right and duty to the citizens of this country to properly use the powers of congressional oversight, to adjudicate impasses through the courts, and arrive at actual undisputed facts of a case that all Americans, regardless of ideology, can agree are truthful and honest.

In the impeachment proceedings of President Nixon, the underlying facts of the case were undisputed. In the impeachment proceedings of President Clinton, the underlying facts of the case were undisputed. Here before us tonight, that is not the case.

The articles of impeachment before us in this Committee do not meet the necessary requirements nor have they followed an exhaustive pursuit to even find all of the facts of the case. Therefore, the bar to impeach a sitting president of the United States has not been met.

For the sake of our country and for the future trajectory of this body, I implore my colleagues to take a hard look at the course of this investigation. It has severely discounted the tenets of our democratic system.

Tomorrow, we write history: a history that cannot be undone. A dangerous precedent will be set for future Majorities of this body.

The American people deserve a process that puts politics aside. The American people deserve a process that is led by our promise to protect and defend the Constitution. The American people simply deserve better.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

If character decides the Heisman Trophy, Jalen Hurts wins in a landslide

Nine yards.

That’s the amount of offense LSU quarterback Joe Burrow generated per game more than Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts this season.

That’s it.

Picking up a mere 27 extra feet each game, Burrow is now the prohibitive favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

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Both quarterbacks had great years. In fact, their seasons largely mirrored each other. Both experienced breakout campaigns after previously respectable — but not necessarily exceptional — seasons. Both accounted for 51 touchdowns in 2019. Hurts and Burrow have each carried their teams into the college football playoff where they face off on December 28.

Hurts leads the nation with 11.76 yards per pass attempt. He is second in the nation in passing efficiency, with a 201.5 rating. The quarterback who sits third in passing efficiency? Joe Burrow.

Hurts may very well lead the nation in another category. It is not as easy to measure as most other statistical categories in the game, but one which should put him over the top for college football’s most prestigious award.

That category is character.

And it matters for the award. The stated mission of the Heisman Trophy is to recognize “the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”

You may not be able to attach a number to Hurts’ character and integrity, but it has been on display at every point during his college football career.

Who better to testify to the type of person Hurts is than Alabama head coach Nick Saban. Saban believes no player in the country has exhibited the level of integrity Hurts has shown.

“There’s never been a guy that anywhere in college football that did things more correctly and set a better example as a leader than Jalen Hurts did while he was here by staying here after he was replaced as a starter,” Saban observed.

Rather than dwell on being replaced in the middle of a national championship game, Hurts grew from it.

“That day made me who I am,” he told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Hurts has led his new team with the same standard of excellence to which he held himself throughout his time in Tuscaloosa. The nation got a sneak peek at his legendary work ethic when he hit the weight room after a blowout win against Texas Tech in September. And he showed his uncommon focus when he slid into his own team’s Instagram account to comment “Rat Poison” on a post touting the Sooners’ impressive offensive stats.

Hurts befriended a young man who had been twice assaulted by bullies in videos that went viral across the country. In a typical show of humility, Hurts remarked that meeting the young man “was an inspiration to me.”

He added, “It meant the world to me honestly to meet him.”

None of this comes as a surprise to fans of the Crimson Tide.

In an era when players are more apt to begin working on their brand than working in their communities, Hurts shared his time with others. He had a special relationship with Alabama superfan Walt Gary. The two of them enjoyed snapping selfies together, with Hurts adopting a tradition of capturing Walt’s weekly game predictions on video.

These are a few of countless examples of the kind of character and integrity Hurts will carry with him to the Heisman ceremony in New York City on Saturday.

Hurts has nothing left to prove on the field. And his character has made him a winner off the field whether they call his name or not.

If character and integrity are the deciding factors for the award, expect Jalen Hurts to win in a landslide.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

3 hours ago

Zeigler’s army and the legislature to butt heads on ending an elected school board

There may be a new heavyweight battle on the horizon between some powerful groups in the state of Alabama on a generally insignificant issue.

Back in May, the State Senate unanimously passed SB397, which paved the way for a vote on the 2020 primary ballot to decide if the Alabama Constitution will be amended to allow for the governor to appoint the State Board of Education rather than electing members.

Little did the legislature know that come later in the summer, a group of citizens throughout the state, led by Jim Zeigler, would come together to defeat the governor and ALDOT’s proposal to levy a toll on the I-10 bridge in South Alabama.

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Zeigler now thinks this makes him a potential person of the year for Alabama, and he’s probably right.

Make no mistake, his leadership led to a group of citizens defeating the toll project, and now Zeigler has shifted his attention to a new fight: keeping the State Board of Education elected and keeping the decisions in the hand of the people.

This will ultimately pit Zeigler against a new foe: the Alabama legislature.

State Senator Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) joined WVNN radio in Huntsville Thursday, and when asked if the legislature’s unanimous vote was an effort to advance the issue to the ballot to let the people decide, or if it was an endorsement of the idea, Givhan told host Will Hampson it was the latter.

“No, that’s an endorsement,” Givhan plainly laid out.

He continued, “[W]hen the legislature sends something to the people, I think generally it is something they want to happen. When they send it to the people it’s not like, well yeah, let’s float this out there and see what the people think.”

The argument from the legislature is clear: the system we have right now is not working.

Alabama is consistently ranked in the bottom of education nationally and has been ranked there for decades.

Other groups, such as the Alabama Policy Institute (API), have been very vocal in their support of an appointed school board. API’s Phil Williams was an outspoken supporter at ALGOP’s summer state executive committee meeting.

However, this emerging citizens group led by Zeigler has made it clear that giving the people accountability is the answer, and taking away their vote is not.

Jim Zeigler is joined on this issue by his wife Jackie, who is the SBOE District 1 representative.

Jackie Zeigler told Alabama Media Group, “As representative for State Board of Education District One, I am vehemently opposed to any attempt take away the voice of the people.”

This represents another episode in an ongoing saga that has pitted the people versus those elected to represent them.

The people of Alabama are probably not going to give up their right to vote on a position they don’t pay any attention to. Most people reading this don’t know who their Alabama Board of Education member is; this won’t change that.

I’m indifferent to the whole thing because the decisions by the state school board aren’t going to have a huge impact on my kid one way or the other. Local school boards have far more impact and few people care about that either.

If the election were today, I would vote to keep the board the way it is, but I’m open to changing my mind.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN