2 weeks 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

12 hours ago

Birmingham students awarded scholarships to fuel their studies in technical fields

The Birmingham chapter of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) recently awarded five students sholarships to further their studies.

The mission of the organization is to provide energy professionals, executives, entrepreneurs and students a pathway to learn more about the energy industry through education, mentoring, community service and business networking.

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Phillip Coffey, Marketing specialist for Alabama Power, helped organize the annual scholarship luncheon. He says the organization gives greater exposure and representation of the energy industry to students and professionals.

The chapter awarded $10,000 in scholarship funds – Iva B. Williams Endowment Scholarships – to five students:

  • Grant Sims.
  • Alexander Washington.
  • Adetola Koiki.
  • Micah Pruitt.
  • Amira Gilford.

The Birmingham chapter of AABE is made up of employees from Alabama Power, Southern PowerSouthern Nuclear Company and Southern Company Services.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

14 hours ago

Tuberville’s warning on immigration: ‘We have more Middle Easterners coming across that border at times than we do people from Latin America’

As was the case with several of the past elections, immigration will be a significant issue in the 2020 campaign cycle, especially with President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.

The 2020 U.S. Senate GOP primary in Alabama will not be an exception, especially as many Republican base voters are growing restless with congressional Democrats stalling Trump’s effort to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.

During an interview with Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5, former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville, a candidate for the Republican nomination for the 2020 U.S. Senate race, decried the lax border security and added that in some cases Middle Easterners were exceeding the number of those from Latin America coming across the border.

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“The problem that we’re having, and people don’t understand this, is we do need workers,” he said. “We need people over here to work. I’m big on immigration, but we got to get them in there the right way. And we’ve got to know who is here. We have more Middle Easterners coming across that border at times than we do people from Latin America. We do not have a clue who is coming across, and a lot of these people aren’t coming over here to help this country out. They’re coming over here to tear this country down. They are not for the Constitution. They are not for our laws. They are not for the people in this country. They want to tear it down, and we’re not going to let that happen.”

“That’s the reason I’m running because I want the people in this country to have safe neighborhoods, safe streets,” Tuberville continued. “It sounds like a politician, but all you got to do is open up your eyes and look. That’s one of my mottos in this campaign: Open your eyes and look at what’s going on, and let’s get these people out of Washington that won’t do anything and put people up there that will make a decision and don’t care if they go back and get reelected.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

16 hours ago

Roby: Honoring our symbol of freedom

On June 14th, 1777, our country’s flag was officially adopted by a resolution of the Second Continental Congress. Many years later, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that established June 14th as Flag Day, and on August 3, 1949, this day of observance was officially established by an Act of Congress.

Now, every year on June 14th, our country has a special opportunity to celebrate our flag and reflect upon what it symbolizes. The American flag displays 13 horizontal stripes alternating red and white with a blue rectangle, specifically referred to as the “union,” that bears 50 small, white, five-pointed stars arranged in nine horizontal rows. As you may know, the 50 stars on the American flag represent our 50 states. The 13 stripes represent the 13 original colonies that declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain and became the first states in the United States.

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While the design of the American flag has been officially modified 26 times since its initial adoption in 1777, the symbolic meaning has remained the same. Whether flown on front lawns across Alabama, in front of schools, universities and businesses of all sizes, or proudly displayed at military installations across this great country, for centuries the American flag has been an inspiring emblem of pride, hope, and freedom for countless people throughout the world.

Whenever I see our flag, I am especially reminded of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have fought to defend it and all it represents. This year, Flag Day comes during an especially important time, as I recently was proud to announce my 2019 appointees to our United States service academies.

Each year, it is my distinct privilege and honor as a member of Congress to nominate students from the Second District to be considered for appointment to the United States Air Force, Naval, Military and Merchant Marine Academies.

This year, I am very pleased to announce that I nominated the following students who received official appointments to the service academies:

  • Daniel Brayden Banner is the son of Dan and Amanda Banner. He is a graduate of Providence Christian School in Dothan, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.Theodore Maxwell Dowd is the son of John and Donna Dowd. He is a graduate of Northview High School in Dothan, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
  • Amore Jacarra Hardy is the daughter of Regina Hardy. She is a graduate of Booker T. Washington Magnet High School in Montgomery, and she received an offer of appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.
  • Timothy Jurard McClendon is the son of Emma Lee McClendon. He is a graduate of Carroll High School in Ozark, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.
  • Johnny M. Montgomery, III, is the son of Johnny Montgomery. He is a graduate of Stanhope Elmore High School in Millbrook, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.
  • Jackson Scott Parker is the son of Scott and Hannah Parker. He is a graduate of Abbeville High School, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
  • Isaac Taylor Sherman is the son of Jeremy and Morgan Sherman. He is a graduate of Prattville High School, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.
  • Seth Cameron White is the son of Steve and Terri White. He is a graduate of Wicksburg High School, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Naval Academy.

In the spirit of Flag Day, I believe these students from our communities are to be commended not only for their academic excellence, but more importantly, for their eagerness to serve our great country. I am incredibly proud to join their families, friends, teachers and hometowns in offering my sincerest congratulations and thanks. Our flag will continue to shine as a symbol of freedom because of young leaders like these men and women.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

18 hours ago

SEC Baseball Tournament at Hoover Met sees record crowds

Record crowds of more than 160,000 people attended the 2019 SEC Baseball Tournament.

The tournament, held annually at the Hoover Met Complex, had an estimated $15 million economic impact on the area.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said the conference three years ago looked for a host site that would enhance the tournament experience for fans. “After reviewing numerous proposals and visiting a number of potential sites, it turned out that Hoover, our longtime home, could provide everything necessary to make it the right venue for SEC Baseball,” Sankey said.

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He said the city of Hoover stepped things up with the Finley Center to house the SEC Fan Fest, the construction of on-site practice fields and, this year, the addition of a new video board.

“We feel those changes in particular have been game-changers in providing the SEC with a ‘baseball campus’ that is unique to college post-season tournaments,” Sankey said.

From May 21-26, 12 teams competed in the double elimination tournament, which was won by Vanderbilt.

Throughout the week, 162,699 people attended the various baseball games and 32,000 of those attendees came through the SEC Fan Fest. The area included access to inflatables, arcade games, a zip line, climbing, miniature golf course, live entertainment, food and beverage options and more. Fans were able to watch the game from a giant flat-screen TV and couches in the large, air-conditioned facility.

“The 2019 SEC Baseball Tournament was a tremendous success at the Hoover Metropolitan Complex,” said Hoover Mayor Frank V. Brocato. “The city of Hoover was able to welcome a record-setting number of baseball fans throughout the week and attendees had many options for activities around the baseball tournament once they arrived at the complex. … It is certainly our privilege to have hosted this tournament for the past 22 years. We look forward to seeing everyone back in 2020.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

19 hours ago

State Sen. Cam Ward: ‘I don’t think you bring back a lottery’ in proposed prison special session

The Alabama legislature was not able to come to an agreement on a lottery this past general session, meaning the body will likely address it in the future.

Could that come as soon as later this year, when Gov. Kay Ivey will reportedly call a special session to address Alabama’s prison system? Given the state’s prisons are under the threat of a federal government takeover, some have suggested that a lottery could be used as a funding mechanism to fix the state’s ailing prisons.

During an appearance on WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), who has been out in front of the prison issue, downplayed the chances of lawmakers addressing the lottery as part of any prison solution.

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“I just don’t see what has changed since the regular session until now that would make a lottery even feasible to bring up in a special session,” Ward said. “I mean, you look at our state. We’re one of four states that have two budgets. And the bulk of our money goes to the education budget, which has a $400 million growth fund this time, and that’s good. But at the same time, we had a lottery that we passed out of the Senate that money went to the general fund, which is constantly struggling with issues like prisons, Medicaid, and mental health. And it failed in the House because most people want to see it all go to education. I just can’t imagine why a lottery bill would come back during a special session because I’m not sure what has changed since it failed in the House this last time. I mean, unless something has changed that I’m not aware of, I don’t think you bring back a lottery in this special session.”

Ward said he did not see the need for increased revenue to solve the prison problem, noting the significant increase in funding for the Department of Corrections already.

“I think the money is already here,” Ward replied. “I really do. I don’t think you need any kind of increase in revenue. I mean, good gracious we gone from a $380 million budget for prisons just a few years ago. Today we’re at $560 million-$580 million. I don’t think you need to do any more revenue. I think it’s how you handle policy within the prison and how you handle the policy with sentencing.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.