3 weeks ago

Alabama Senate committee approves bill to reform ‘badly broken’ Board of Pardons and Paroles

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday gave a favorable report to a bill that would provide much-needed reform of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.

HB 380, sponsored by State Rep. Connie Rowe (R-Jasper), would be a comprehensive overhaul of the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The legislation would specifically mandate that individuals convicted of certain violent offenses (Class A felonies) serve 85 percent of his or her sentence before being eligible for parole. Current law only stipulates that violent offenders serve one-third or 10 years of his or her sentence, whichever is less, unless a unanimous vote of the board rules otherwise.

The bill was crafted by Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office in response to reports in the fall that the board was releasing dangerous felons back onto the street long before their sentences were up. Marshall has called the board “badly broken.”

One egregious example that the attorney general pointed to in a video released this spring was that of Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, who is now charged with three murders in Marshall’s home county after he was released by the Board of Pardons and Paroles while serving a life sentence.

In fact, the state last week announced that it will pay the maximum settlement allowed under the law to the families of Spencer’s victims because of the Board of Pardons and Paroles’ failure.

However, Board of Pardons and Paroles Chair Lyn Head on Tuesday testified, “We are not broken.”

She even defended the board’s release of Spencer, claiming it was unavoidable.

Prior to his release and subsequent alleged murder spree, Spencer had lived a life of crime stretching across three decades, beginning in 1984 at the age of 19. He was convicted and imprisoned for numerous serious property and violent crimes, as well as for numerous disciplinary infractions in prison and for several successful escapes from prison.

On two separate occasions, Spencer was sentenced to life imprisonment. In one memorable case, he attempted to burglarize an occupied home and, refusing to retreat, had to be shot by the homeowner.

Despite all of this, Spencer was granted parole by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles on November 2, 2017.

Spencer was at that time released to a homeless shelter in Birmingham where he was supposed to remain for six months. However, after only three weeks, he left.

Spencer then traveled to Guntersville, where he had several run-ins with law enforcement and was charged for multiple violations of the law, including: traffic offenses, possession of drug paraphernalia, attempting to elude police, resisting arrest and illegal possession of a firearm.

Nonetheless, his parole was not revoked — which seemingly led to three innocent lives being taken.

Less than six months after being released, in July 2018, Spencer allegedly murdered Martha Reliford through blunt-force trauma to her head. Her body was discovered only after the bodies of Marie Martin and her seven-year-old grandson, Colton Lee, were found in a nearby home. They also had been brutally murdered.

Spencer was charged in the three deaths with capital murder in August 2018. He is currently awaiting trial in the Kilby Correctional Facility in Montgomery.

HB 380 would also require that at least one of the three members of the board be a current or former law enforcement officer with a minimum of 10 years’ experience “in or with a law enforcement agency which has among its primary duties and responsibilities the investigation of violent crimes or the apprehension, arrest, or supervision of the perpetrators thereof.”

Additionally, HB 380 would establish a director of Pardons and Paroles that would serve as its chief executive officer. This position would be appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the governor. The bill makes further structural and operational changes to the board to increase accountability and efficiency.

Language in the bill reaffirms that “the board’s paramount duty is to protect public safety” when making decisions, a key point Rowe on Tuesday stressed. She cautioned that the board’s primary role is not to reduce the prison population, despite some misguided perception to the contrary.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) is the Senate sponsor of the legislation. Ward is well known for being the leading bipartisan criminal justice reform advocate in the state legislature.

He cleared up “misinformation” surrounding the bill, saying the legislation would safeguard against the premature release of only the worst type of convicted offenders and not inhibit the release and rehabilitation of those imprisoned for lesser, non-violent offenses.

State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures (D-Mobile) opposed the bill in committee, calling it “premature.”

The committee vote was 6-5 on party lines, with State Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) abstaining.

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.

609

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?

65

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.

349

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:

125

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.

181

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)