2 weeks ago

Alabama legislature passes campus free speech bill with bipartisan support in Senate

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate, in a resounding vote of 24-1, on Thursday passed as amended State Rep. Matt Fridy’s (R-Montevallo) HB 498, a bill intended to safeguard freedom of speech on college campuses in the Yellowhammer State.

This bill passed the House by a 73-26 vote last week when the legislation was met with staunch opposition and heated debate from that chamber’s Democrats. However, the only real drama in the Senate came outside the chamber, when Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) had to be ushered away from Fridy after the senator started berating and hurling expletives at the Republican from Shelby County.

Language warning:

After that dust-up, Singleton ended up being the only “no” vote against the legislation. Perhaps seeing that the House Democrats’ remarks against the bill had been a bad look politically, four Senate Democrats voted “yes” while three were not present or chose not to vote.

State Sen. Billy Beasley (D-Clayton) even spoke in support of the legislation.

“I’ve always believed in freedom of speech in the United States and certainly in the state of Alabama. On college campuses – two-year and four-year colleges – everyone has a right to their freedom of expression,” Beasley stated. “There have been occasions since I have been in the Senate when I have voted with the majority party if I thought the issue was representative of the people in my district or in the best interest of the state of Alabama.”

The bipartisan vote came after State Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) on the floor tacked on an amendment pushing the effective date of the legislation to July 1, 2020. This will give colleges and universities sufficient time before the legislation would go into effect, and the amendment means the legislature’s 2020 regular session will unfold before that effective date.

State Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) carried HB 498 on the Senate floor immediately after he successfully guided HB 380, the crucial Board of Pardons and Paroles reform bill, through the chamber.

After the Senate passed the amended version of the bill, the House (at Fridy’s request) concurred, sending HB 498 to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk.

‘Nothing is more important than safeguarding the First Amendment’

In a statement, Fridy explained the background behind the legislation, which is very likely to become law.

“Free speech is the cornerstone of our rights as American citizens — and those First Amendment rights certainly apply to college students on university campuses. Around the country, there have been chilling examples where administrators and professors have discriminated against students,” Fridy advised. “Often, pro-life groups and conservative political organizations are targeted. With this law, we are making it very clear that in Alabama, the First Amendment rights of all students, liberal or conservative, will be protected from unfair and discriminatory university speech policies.”

HB 498 would require taxpayer-funded, public colleges and universities in Alabama to adopt speech policies for their campuses that will protect the free and open exchange of ideas.

Specifically, the speech policies must make clear that the outdoor areas of a public college’s campus shall be deemed a public forum for members of the campus community. Institutions would have a window of 90 days after the law’s effective date to submit their policies to the governor and the legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) said the bill was a priority for the GOP Senate Caucus this session.

“Protecting free speech on college campuses is a top priority for Republicans in the State Senate, and I am glad we could get this important bill across the finish line,” Reed outlined. “What this bill does is protect the free exchange of ideas on the campuses of taxpayer-funded, public universities. Nothing is more important than safeguarding the First Amendment.”

Upon Ivey’s signature or HB 498 otherwise becoming law, Alabama would become one of at least seventeen states to pass legislation protecting free speech on collegiate campuses.

Senate Rules Chairman Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) praised Fridy for spearheading the effort to protect free speech on Alabama’s college campuses.

“As an advocate and co-sponsor of the campus free speech bill, I want to thank my Senate colleagues for their steadfast support of HB 498. We are committed to ensuring that freedom of speech is not just a slogan, but a reality that would be equally and fairly applied to all students on public college campuses,” Waggoner emphasized. “Allowing our students to listen to a variety of viewpoints, and without bureaucratic harassment, is long overdue. I also want to thank Representative Matt Fridy for his tireless efforts.”

The bill stipulates that colleges may not establish so-called “free speech zones,” which are small areas on college quads to which students are confined if engaging in speech activity that administrators deem to be hateful or offensive.

“The problem with free speech zones is they are often used to limit the speech rights of religious and politically conservative student groups,” Fridy explained. “So, if you want to hand out pocket copies of the Constitution or the New Testament, some universities have started to say, ‘Nope, you can only do that if you stand over here, in this ten-by-ten-foot square.’ And we’ve seen liberal groups targeted by speech zones, as well.”

HB 498 also would ensure that if hecklers choose to protest and intimidate an invited guest speaker on a public collegiate campus, the institution could not capitulate to the hecklers by forcing the speaker to pay for security costs that have arisen from the protest.

“Protecting free speech is especially important now, when so many on the political left on college campuses are using unfair speech codes to intimidate those with whom they disagree. But ultimately, this bill is meant to protect speech across the political spectrum, because the First Amendment is a right we have as Americans, regardless of our political beliefs. I am very happy that we had bipartisan support for this legislation,” Fridy concluded.

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

11 hours ago

Are you afraid to answer the phone?

Millions of Americans fear answering their phone due to a plague of billions of robocalls. These calls have made a mockery of the national Do Not Call Registry and touch on several public policy questions.

We had seemingly ended the problem of unwanted telemarketing calls. Congress authorized the Do Not Call Registry in 2003 after more than a decade of calls disrupting the peace and quiet of our homes. Fines of $11,000 per violation largely put telemarketing companies, with hundreds of thousands of employees, out of business.

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Why have unwanted calls returned? VOIP technology (voice over internet protocol) allowed anyone with a computer and an internet connection to make thousands of calls. A handful of responses can make thousands of calls worthwhile when the cost is almost zero. Furthermore, technology makes robocallers mobile and elusive.

By contrast, telemarketing firms employed hundreds of people at call centers. The authorities could find and fine telemarketers. Firms had to comply with the Do Not Call registry, even if forced out of business.

Technology further frustrates the control of robocalls. Spoofing makes a call appear to be from a different number. Spoofing a local number increases the chance of someone answering, defeats caller ID, and makes identifying the calls’ source difficult.

By contrast, technology allowed the elimination of spam email. It’s easy to forget that fifteen years ago spam threatened the viability of email. Email providers connected accounts to IP addresses and eventually identified and blocked spammers. Google estimates that spam is less than 0.1 percent of Gmail users’ emails.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) banned almost all robocalls in 2009 (political campaigns and schools were excepted). Yet the volume of calls and complaints from the public rise every year. And the “quality” of the solicitations is lower: legitimate businesses employed telemarketers, while most robocalls seem to be scams.

Telephone companies and entrepreneurs are deploying apps and services to block robocalls. The robocallers then respond, producing a technological arms race. The technology of this arms race, however, is beyond me.

I’d rather consider some issues robocalls raise. The root of the problem is some people’s willingness to swindle others. Although we all know there are some bad people in the world, free market economists typically emphasize the costs and consequences of government regulations over the cheats and frauds who create the public’s demand for regulation. People can disagree whether a level of fraud warrants regulation, but free marketers should not dismiss the fear of swindlers.

Robocalls also highlight the enormous inefficiency of theft. Thieves typically get 25 cents on the dollar (or less) when selling stolen goods. Getting $1,000 via theft requires stealing goods worth $4,000 or more. In addition, thieves invest time and effort planning and carrying out crimes, while we invest millions in locks, safes, burglar alarms, and police departments to protect our property. America would be much richer if we did not have to protect against thieves or robocallers.

Finally, having the government declare something illegal does not necessarily solve a problem. Our politicians like to pass a law or regulation and announce, “problem solved.” Identifying and punishing robocallers is difficult; the FTC had only brought 33 cases in nearly ten years. And less than ten percent of the over $300 million in fines and relief for consumers levied against robocallers had been collected. Government has no pixie dust which magically solves hard problems.

The difficulty of enforcing a law or regulation does not necessarily imply we should not act. The Federal Communications Commission, for instance, recently approved letting phone companies block unwanted calls by default, and perhaps this will prove effective. We should weigh the costs of laws and regulations against a realistic projection of benefits and laws failing to solve problems as promised should be revised or repealed.
Still, a law that accomplishes little can have value. Cursing robocalls accomplishes little yet can be cathartic. A law that costs little might provide us satisfaction until technology solves the problem.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

12 hours ago

VIDEO: Culverhouse vs. UA, Trump and Biden battle in Iowa, the Bentley saga could be over and more on Guerrilla Politics

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Dr. Waymon Burke take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Why did the media get the story with Hugh Culverhouse, Jr. and Alabama so wrong?

— Is the Iowa slap-fight between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden a 2020 preview?

— Now that former ALEA head Spencer Collier has settled his case with the state over his firing, is the sordid Bentley saga over?

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Jackson and Burke are joined by State Representative Mike Ball (R-Madison) to discuss medical marijuana, the prison special session and the lottery.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” that calls out Joe Biden for lying about the lack of lies and scandals in the Obama administration.

VIDEO: Culverhouse/UA, Trump and Biden battle in Iowa, the Bentley saga could be over and more on Guerrilla Politics

Posted by Yellowhammer News on Sunday, June 16, 2019

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

13 hours ago

Alabama team targets international connections at SelectUSA Investment Summit

Alabama is home to a diverse lineup of international companies, and the state’s business recruiters are looking to expand those ranks.

The economic development team is in Washington D.C. at the 2019 SelectUSA Investment Summit, which starts today and is the premier foreign direct investment (FDI) event in the U.S.

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FDI is a significant part of Alabama’s economy. Last year alone, it came from 16 different countries, for a total of $4.2 billion in investment and 7,520 new and future jobs.

Since 2013, the state has attracted $12.8 billion in FDI, according to the Alabama Department of Commerce. It’s spread across a variety of sectors, including automotive, aerospace and bioscience.

“Team Alabama is looking to capitalize on a record-breaking year for FDI in the state, by continuing to build partnerships with world-class international companies looking to grow in the U.S.,” said Vince Perez, a project manager for the Alabama Department of Commerce.

SHOWCASING ALABAMA

SelectUSA is led by the U.S. Department of Commerce, and its annual summit regularly attracts top industry leaders and investors from around the globe. This year’s event is expected to draw more than 2,800 attendees from more than 70 international markets and 49 U.S. states and territories.

Participants of the past five summits have announced $103.6 billion in greenfield FDI in the U.S. within five years of attending, supporting more than 167,000 U.S. jobs.

“We are excited to have another opportunity to showcase Alabama’s vibrant business climate that’s been cultivated over the years through business-friendly policies,” Perez said.

“This year’s Investment Summit is very timely as we will be armed with the recently passed Incentives Modernization Act, which upgraded our already-strong incentive tool kit, making us more marketable than ever.”

The measure targets counties that have had slower economic growth. In particular, it expands the number of rural counties that qualify for investment and tax credit incentives. It also enhances incentives for technology companies.

Joining the Commerce Department at the SelectUSA Summit are PowerSouth, the North Alabama Industrial Development Association, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, Alabama Power Co., and Spire.

Speakers at the summit will include key government and industry leaders who will discuss opportunities in a broad range of areas and industries, such as energy, infrastructure, agriculture and technology.

FDI supports nearly 14 million American jobs, and it is responsible for $370 billion in U.S. goods exports. The U.S. has more FDI than any other country, topping $4 trillion.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

A ‘Story Worth Sharing’: Yellowhammer News and Serquest partner to award monthly grants to Alabama nonprofits

Christmas is the season of giving, helping others and finding magic moments among seemingly ordinary (and occasionally dreary) days. What better way to welcome this season than to share what Alabamians are doing to help others?

Yellowhammer News and Serquest are partnering to bring you, “A Story Worth Sharing,” a monthly award given to an Alabama based nonprofit actively making an impact through their mission. Each month, the winning organization will receive a $1,000 grant from Serquest and promotion across the Yellowhammer Multimedia platforms.

Yellowhammer and Serquest are looking for nonprofits that go above and beyond to change lives and make a difference in their communities.

Already have a nonprofit in mind to nominate? Great!

Get started here with contest guidelines and a link to submit your nomination:

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Nominations are now open and applicants only need to be nominated once. All non-winning nominations will automatically be eligible for selection in subsequent months. Monthly winners will be announced via a feature story that will be shared and promoted on Yellowhammer’s website, email and social media platforms.

Submit your nomination here.

Our organizations look forward to sharing these heartwarming and positive stories with you over the next few months as we highlight the good works of nonprofits throughout our state.

Serquest is an Alabama based software company founded by Hammond Cobb, IV of Montgomery. The organization sees itself as, “Digital road and bridge builders in the nonprofit sector to help people get where they want to go faster, life’s purpose can’t wait.”

Learn more about Serquest here.

15 hours ago

Alabama Power wins Electric Edison Institute awards for power restoration efforts following Hurricane Michael

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) awarded Alabama Power with the EEI “Emergency Assistance Award” and the  “Emergency Recovery Award” for its outstanding power restoration efforts after Hurricane Michael hit Alabama, Georgia, and Florida in October 2018.
The Emergency Assistance Award and Emergency Recovery Award are given to EEI member companies to recognize their efforts to assist other electric companies’ power restoration efforts, and for their own extraordinary efforts to restore power to customers after service disruptions caused by severe weather conditions or other natural events. The winners are chosen by a panel of judges following an international nomination process.

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Alabama Power received the awards during the EEI 2019 annual conference.

Alabama Power’s extraordinary efforts were instrumental to restoring service for customers across Alabama, Georgia, and Florida quickly and safely,” said EEI President Tom Kuhn. “We are pleased to recognize the dedicated crews from Alabama Power for their work to restore service in hazardous conditions and to assist neighboring electric companies in their times of need.”

Hurricane Michael, the strongest storm to make landfall during the 2018 hurricane season, was a Category 5 hurricane with peak winds of 160 mph. The storm hit Mexico Beach, Fla., on October 10 before being downgraded to a tropical storm and traveling northeast through Georgia and several Mid-Atlantic states. Alabama Power sent more than 1,400 lineworkers and 700 trucks to help restore service to customers over the course of two and a half months.

Hurricane Michael also resulted in 89,438 service outages in Alabama Power’s territory. Due to their tireless work, Alabama Power’s crews restored power to 100 percent of customers within four days after the storm, dedicating more than 124-thousand hours to the recovery.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)