The Wire

  • Trump orders establishment of ‘space force’ as 6th branch of military

    Excerpt from Fox News:

    President Trump vowed on Monday to make space great again.

    Speaking at a meeting of the National Space Council, Trump ordered the Pentagon to immediately establish a national “space force” that would become the sixth branch of the armed forces.

    “We are going to have a space force,” Trump said in Washington D.C. “An Air Force and a Space Force. Separate, but equal.”

    This is not the first time that Trump has floated the idea of establishing a “space force.” The president mentioned the idea in May during a ceremony at the White House honoring the Army Black Knights college football team.

    Trump did not go into details about what military role the so-called “space force” would carry out or who would command it, but he framed space as a national security issue, saying he does not want “China and Russia and other countries leading us.”

  • Ivey says import tariffs could hurt Alabama industry

    Excerpt from AP:

    Alabama’s Republican governor is separating herself from President Donald Trump on the issue of trade, saying import tariffs like those supported by the administration would hurt the state.

    Gov. Kay Ivey released a statement Monday saying import tariffs could cause retaliatory tariffs that would drive up the cost of items made in Alabama and sold abroad.

    The administration already has imposed duties on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports, plus steel and aluminum from China, the European Union, Canada and Mexico.

    Ivey says growth in Alabama’s auto industry could be harmed if tariffs are imposed on U.S. goods around the world. Almost 60,000 people work in automotive-related jobs in the state.

  • Police ID suspect in shooting of State Senator’s son

    Excerpt from WKRG:

    “Foley Police Department has identified 29 year old Orneal McCaskey aka “OJ” as the suspect in the shooting of Akil Michael Figures this morning at 635 East Azalea Ave in Foley. The investigation revealed that McCaskey drove to the residence to confront Figures over a female. An argument ensued at the doorway and McCaskey pulled out a handgun and shot Figures at least twice in the lower hip area. After a brief struggle in the house, McCaskey fled the area in a gold or tan colored vehicle. Figures was taken to South Baldwin by private vehicle and later flown to Sacred Heart and has since been released. Orneal McCaskey is wanted for questioning in this case. The public is asked to call Foley Police Department at 251-943-4431 if you know where McCaskey is. He is considered armed and dangerous.”

API and Yellowhammer release 2018 Attorney General Questionnaire

(Pixabay)

Candidates for public office, once elected, bring their underlying principles and perspectives on policy issues into office with them, thus defining how they govern. It is important for citizens to know and understand the candidates for which they are voting, and Yellowhammer News and the Alabama Policy Institute (API) are partnering to bring that information to Alabama voters.

Over the course of the next few weeks, candidates will be issued a questionnaire with questions ranging from political philosophy to state-specific questions on fiscal responsibility, education, and job creation. By providing an outlet for candidates to address these topics, we hope to foster a more engaged and informed electorate in Alabama.

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Why are API and Yellowhammer News issuing these questionnaires?

It is a difficult task to get each candidate running for office on the same stage. When they do share a live audience, candidates are rarely given the opportunity to answer challenging policy questions.  These questionnaires provide this opportunity—one that will benefit both candidates and the electorate. This format will give candidates time to provide more thoughtful responses and will give Alabamians the information they need to cast their vote. Issuing the questions on a public platform provides accountability and transparency between the candidates and voters, which is vital to a more informed citizenry.

How will the process work?

API and Yellowhammer will release a list of questions, which will be posted on the Yellowhammer News website, on the Alabama Policy Institute website, and sent to the campaigns of each candidate. The candidates will each be allowed two weeks to respond to the questionnaire. The answers will be posted by Yellowhammer News and the Alabama Policy Institute and available for the candidates to post on their respective websites.

Last week, the questions were sent to the campaigns of the gubernatorial candidates, who were told that they have until May 11 to submit answers. On Wednesday, questions were sent to the candidates for lieutenant governor, to be submitted by May 15. As responses come in, they will be posted online.

API and Yellowhammer challenge all of the candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general to answer these questions thoroughly and thoughtfully. Prior to casting our votes, Alabama voters deserve to know what their candidates believe and how they will view the issues presented to them.

As election day draws near, we look forward to receiving their responses and sharing that information with you.

2018 Attorney General Questionnaire

Alabama Policy Institute and Yellowhammer News

ACTING PHILOSOPHY

Interpreting the Law

Attorneys general are in the business of interpreting and enforcing the law.  If elected, would you see your role as Attorney General (AG) as that of an activist, with freedom to interpret the law to new situations, events, and presidential administrations, or as that of a constructionist, interpreting the law strictly through the lens of original intent?

Enforcing the Law

Are you willing to aggressively defend state statutes and policies, even if you disagree with them?

Balancing Roles

How do you plan to balance your role as chief law enforcement officer in the state with your role as chief legal representative of the state?

MANAGEMENT

Budget and Staff

The AG oversees a staff of more than 160 and a budget of over $10 million. What has prepared you to lead such a large organization and to be a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars?

Prosecutorial Discretion

Given limited resources, the AG must use discretion in deciding which crimes to prosecute.  What is your overall position on the extent of prosecutorial discretion? Should prosecutorial discretion ever be used to avoid prosecuting an alleged corrupt government official?  Do you think a prosecutor ever has the right to not prosecute a broad range of accused people/crimes?

ETHICS

Code of Ethics

Both the current and the preceding AGs proposed comprehensive reforms to Alabama’s ethics laws.  The Legislature recently established a Code of Ethics Clarification and Reform Commission “to reform and clarify the Code of Ethics”.  The AG will co-chair this Commission with the Ethics Commission Director.  Would you recommend amendments or revisions to the ethics code?  If so, what are your suggestions in doing so?

In the Office of Attorney General

While the Alabama Attorney General’s office is one of the state’s largest legal offices, it has been a common practice for AGs to outsource lucrative legal work to politically connected law firms. The firms often then contribute large sums to the AG’s campaigns for reelection or higher office. Is this an example of the AG using the powers of the office for personal benefit? If so, how will you make changes to this practice?

Ethics and Economic Development

Alabama House Bill 317 exempts certain economic developers from being required to register as lobbyists and drew heated discussion across the state this past legislative session. Is this exemption, in your opinion, as innocuous as proponents claim or likely to lead to abuse as opponents suggest?

INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS

Campus Free Speech

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently said there is “too much suppression of free and open speech on college campuses today.” Do you believe this is an issue in Alabama and, if so, how should the AG respond? 

Religious Liberty

Do you think that individuals and small business owners should be forced to participate in activities that violate their religious beliefs in order to comply with anti-discrimination laws?

FEDERAL ISSUES

Federal Overreach

When Texas Governor Greg Abbott was the Lone Star State’s Attorney General, he made headlines by saying, “I go into the office, I sue the federal government, and I go home.” What role should the AG take in fighting federal government overreach? Would you be willing to file suit—and use state resources—to prevent such overreach?

Immigration

Many state attorneys general have sued the Trump administration for ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. On May 2, 2018, Alabama joined six other states suing to end the program permanently. In your opinion, how effective is this form of joint action and how do you plan on upholding Alabama immigration law if executive action on the federal level runs contrary?

Opioid Epidemic

According to the CDC, Alabama is the state highest-prescribed with opioids, with more prescriptions than people. Opioids are the main driver of overdose deaths and, in 2016, 756 Alabamians died from drug overdoses. As AG, how would you address Alabama’s share of this national crisis?

RULE OF LAW

Civil Asset Forfeiture

Some states are eliminating provisions that allow police to seize property without securing a criminal conviction. Would you support legislation that reforms the use of civil asset forfeiture by law enforcement and the provision that allows agencies to keep the proceeds of seized property? Why or why not?

Prison Reforms

Alabama has received national attention for the state of its prisons and a federal judge recently called inmate care “horrendously inadequate”. How would you address this issue, and do you support the use of private prisons?

Gaming

In its 2009 Cornerstone decision, the Alabama Supreme Court held that local laws in Alabama legalizing “bingo” games for the benefit of churches and other charities authorized only the old fashioned, or “traditional” game commonly known by that name.  The Court repeated itself over a half dozen times in the seven years after Cornerstone. In light of the Alabama Supreme Court’s decisions on this issue, should casinos—like the ones operating in Macon and Greene Counties—be allowed to operate as they are today?  Explain your answer in detail, including whether you consider Alabama Supreme Court decisions on matters of Alabama law to be “the law of the land.”

In 2009, the Governor of Alabama appointed a special task force to enforce the gambling laws of Alabama in the absence of any action by the then Attorney General to shut down or prosecute the operation of gambling machines in Macon, Greene and other counties.  This action by the Governor succeeded in shutting down casinos in these counties.  Should that enforcement action have been taken by the Attorney General instead of the Governor?

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows certain Indian tribes, including the Poarch Creek, to conduct gaming operations on reservation land if such operations are permitted by the law of the state in which those reservations are located. Numerous Alabama Supreme Court decisions have been written arguing that electronic machines of the nature at issue are illegal under Alabama law. Should these machines continue to be permitted on Indian reservations within the State of Alabama? If elected Alabama Attorney General, would you work with the United States Attorney General to make sure that the all gambling laws, including federal law applicable to Indian reservations, are properly enforced?

‘The costs of occupational licensing in Alabama’ — The Alabama Policy Institute and the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy release new research

The Alabama Policy Institute (API) and the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy are pleased to announce the release of a new policy report entitled “The Costs of Occupational Licensing in Alabama.”

On Tuesday, API and the Johnson Center debuted the report’s findings to an audience of lawmakers, academics, and economists.

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An occupational license is essentially a government permission slip to do certain work. In Alabama, before one can become a hair braider, cosmetologist, shampooer, massage therapist, auctioneer, pest control worker, and so on, one must first jump through a variety of hoops—attending classes, taking exams, and paying costly initial and recurring fees—mostly set at the state level and throughout the course of one’s career. Alabama licenses a total of 151 occupations, covering over 432,000 Alabama workers, which represents over 21 percent of the state’s labor force. The report estimates the total initial costs of occupational licensure, excluding the educational costs, to be $122 million.

Occupational licensing imposes substantial costs on Alabamians in terms of reduced occupational mobility, reduced entrepreneurship, higher unemployment, and higher consumer prices.

On the release of this report, API Senior Director of Policy Relations Leigh Hixon said the following: “Occupational licensing reform is a bipartisan issue that we can work together to solve. Many states are introducing legislation to restrict the growth of occupational licensing laws. Currently in Tennessee, for example, the legislature is considering a bill that removes licensing requirements for natural hair braiders. Reforms could help reduce the costs of occupational licensing on Alabamians, especially for vulnerable segments of the state’s population, by lowering prices, increasing competition, giving consumers more choice, and increasing economic opportunity. We are encouraged by the overwhelming interest in and support of this report, and hope to see efforts to reform occupational licensing in Alabama come as a result.”

Bruce Locke, a retired auctioneer from Toney, Alabama, shared his hardships as a small-business owner affording his state-required permission slip to do the job he was educated to do. Locke stated, ”It seemed like the board simply wanted my money. Unhappy with the way I was treated, I gave up my license, and eventually sold my business. There are a lot of states who don’t have licenses for auctioneers, and they’re doing just fine. If Alabama were to eliminate the board, I would definitely go back to work as an auctioneer. I’m just unhappy with the way all this happened, and I hope that this gets addressed soon.”

Courtney Michaluk, policy analyst at the Johnson Center and co-author of the report, declared that the time is now for reform in Alabama: “Our report details the full costs of licensing in Alabama, from education to required training to fees, of all licensed workers in the state. Occupational licensing reform has become such an important issue on the national level, and states are starting to consider whether licenses to work are really necessary and whether this practice threatens individual economic freedom.”

Dr. Edward Timmons, Associate Professor of Economics at St. Francis University, has conducted extensive research on occupational licensing reforms in the states—especially in Alabama. At Tuesday’s event, Dr. Timmons presented compelling evidence on the harmful affects of occupational licensing across the country: ”Occupational licensing has grown from affecting 5% of workers in 1950 to as much as 29% today. Licensing increases prices for consumers but there is little evidence that it enhances quality. My research suggests that the elimination of barber licensing in 1983 in Alabama increased competition in the marketplace as measured by decreases in barber wages and reductions in the number of cosmetologists.”

Given the substantial costs of licensure, policymakers in Alabama should consider substantial reforms to occupational licensing laws, as detailed in this report.

API policy experts are available for interviews and presentations on occupational licensing research. To book a speaker or schedule an interview, please contact Taylor Dawson, Director of Communications, at taylord@alabamapolicy.org

ICYMI: Alabama Legislature review for week 8 — Taylor’s Top 4

Alabama State House (Creative Commons/Jay Williams)

 

In case you missed what went on in the Alabama Legislature last week, here is a review of week eight!

First of all, our prayers and heartfelt condolences go out to Representative Allen Treadaway and his family after the loss of his daughter Kelsey Treadaway last week.

If you want to receive daily news hits from across the state and nation straight to your inbox each morning, click here to subscribe to API’s Daily Clips. 

1. Changes to ethics laws are on the move. . . and then they’re not.

Last Tuesday, Senator Del Marsh (R-Anniston) introduced a bill on behalf of Attorney General Steve Marshall that would strengthen Alabama’s ethics laws and close loopholes in the current laws. Brian Lyman outlines other new provisions in the Montgomery Advertiser: “But the bill also includes some new provisions—including the ability of legislators to create legal defense funds and a lobbying exemption for ‘economic development professionals’ that makes Tom Albritton, executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, uneasy.” According to a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, some of the loopholes being closed are ones that were brought to to light during the trial of former Speaker Mike Hubbard. This comes in the wake of several years of public officials breaking current state and federal ethics laws.

Last Thursday, Senator Marsh announced at a press conference with Attorney General Marshall, Tom Albritton from the Ethics Commission, and several other lawmakers that changes to the ethics laws are on hold for this year, and over the next year, a panel will study potential changes with the goal of developing a bill for next year. From Mike Cason with AL.com: “The bill, as written now, would revise the definitions of some key terms in the law, such as ‘thing of value,’ ‘principal’ and ‘conflict of interest.’ It would require public officials to disclose more information about their sources of income on annual statements they file with the Ethics Commission. Albritton said the attorney general’s bill is a good starting point.”

2. Cost of living adjustment for state employees passes the Senate.

Last Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill by Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) that gave a 3% cost of living adjustment (COLA) to state employees. It is the first COLA that employees have received in ten years. On the passage of the bill, Senator Chambliss said, “This is a long time in coming. It’s been 10 years since we had a cost-of-living adjustment for state employees. That being said, we’ve had some difficult waters economically between then and now,” as reported by AL.com. This bill will go into the larger package that makes up the 2019 General Fund budget and is expected to pass in the House.

3. Occupational licensing burdens might soon be less severe on military families. 

Last week, House passed HB 388, the Military Family Jobs Opportunity Act, which essentially establishes occupational licensure reciprocity for military families in the state of Alabama. In order to receive reciprocity, licensees must have met criteria that is “greater than or substantially similar” to Alabama licensing requirements in receiving their license from a previous state. For those military families coming from states where licensing criteria “is not substantially similar” to Alabama’s, this bill would require state boards to provide a temporary license or certificate. These temporary permits would be for at least 180 days – time in which individuals can complete the requirements for Alabama licensure.

This bill is important because it eases the grip of the government on military families. Currently, spouses that are licensed to work in other states are required to pay for a separate Alabama license. This bill will allow license reciprocity from most states, meaning that residents can get to work without having to wait for a government permission slip. Although it merely addresses a symptom of Alabama’s harmful occupational licensing system, this bill is an important step towards a freer Alabama workforce. API’s Parker Snider wrote about the policy behind the bill on Yellowhammer Friday.

4. The Department of Corrections might be getting more money next year, but there are some issues to be worked out.

Last Thursday afternoon, Senate passed a $30 million supplement for the Department of Corrections (DOC). As reported by AL.com’s Mike Cason on Twitter: “That’s part of an $80 million increase for DOC over two years to pay for expanded health care for inmates and to hire more corrections officers.” The additional funding for the DOC still has to go through the house. The same day that supplemental funding was approved, the contract for a company to come in and provide health care to inmates was stalled.

Also on Thursday, the legislature’s Contract Review Committee delayed DOC’s signing of a contract with Wexford Health Inc., in light of a lawsuit being filed against them by Mississippi for their alleged role in a bribery scheme. Representative Jack Williams (R-Vestavia) cannot block the contract, but he can delay it, which he did today citing the reason for his concern being the circumstances in Mississippi. Williams has said he wants to give the governor’s office more time to think over the information before a decision is made. Click here to read more about the delaying of the contract and the process through which Wexford was chosen as the contractor in Mike Cason’s piece on AL.com.

You also might want to know about…

—  Last week, the Senate passed a bill allowing the Ten Commandments to be displayed on public property. As reported by The Hill, the Senate has passed a bill like this before, but it has failed in the house: “Under the bill, the Ten Commandments would have to ‘be displayed in a manner that complies with constitutional requirements, including, but not limited to, being intermingled with historical or educational items, or both, in a larger display.’ State Sen. Bobby Singleton (D) told the AP he expected the bill would be met with a lawsuit.”

—  Senator Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville) has a bill up that would allow daily fantasy sports gaming in Alabama. This bill passed out of Senate committee this week.

—  You know when you’re uber excited about something, and then that something happens and it’s even more exciting? Well, Governor Kay Ivey last Thursday signed into law the bill that sets up ride sharing framework in Alabama, allowing companies like Uber and Lyft to operate all over the state!

—  Senator Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison) has two bills that could change the landscape of alcohol sales in Alabama. SB 120, still in committee, would put a cap on markup that the ABC board can put on the price of liquor. Also still in committee is his SB 243, which would allow direct shipment of wine in Alabama.

Taylor Dawson is director of communications for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

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Alabama can do more for its military families

(National Military Family Association)
(National Military Family Association)

According to a recent survey, a majority of military family members do not feel that they belong in their local civilian communities. This means that less than half of military families that live in our neighborhoods, shop at our malls, and attend our places of worship feel at home with us.

Why is this the case?

Perhaps it is because of one of the staples of military life – regular mandated relocation. Members of our military often have little to no say in where they live or how often they move, something they do an estimated 10 times more than civilian families. Nevertheless, they choose to sacrifice their desires and expectations for the good of our country.

Anyone who has moved will readily admit that it is rarely an easy task. Along with the logistics of relocating from one area of the country to another, families grapple with leaving friends, schools, and communities they are familiar with for the unknown.

Additionally, even though military families move, on average, once every three years, the effects of compulsory relocation are felt yearly.

Morgan Kistler, a mother of three and wife to a member of the Coast Guard, quickly learned that “during those three to four years when your family is planted, everyone else around you is not.” Every year, children and parents alike repeat the painful season of goodbyes, regardless of whether or not they are the ones leaving.

Clearly, military families face struggles that many families do not. Here in Alabama, we host roughly 8,700 active duty members of our nation’s military and their families.

In a state that rightfully respects and reveres our military, one would expect our laws to reflect an intentional attempt to ease the burden of relocation on these families. Unfortunately, there are sections of our code in which that is not true.

If we want to ease the burden of relocation on military families, Alabama should reform its occupational licensing laws.

In the survey cited previously, 77% of military spouses said that having two incomes is “vitally important” to their family’s well-being. 52% of those same spouses, however, did not earn any income. A good portion of the blame for this disparity lies in the difficulties of getting state-sanctioned licenses to work.

When military families move, the occupational licenses of spouses do not always transfer. Many states require spouses with licenses from other states to jump through a variety of hoops and pay a collection of fees, a process that takes a considerable amount of time and discourages entrance into the workforce.

This session, Alabama lawmakers are considering legislation that would require licensing boards to recognize professional licenses of military spouses from other states, assuming the licensing criteria is similar or greater than Alabama requirements.

For military spouses whose state license does not meet Alabama requirements, boards would be required to provide temporary licenses and allow spouses to work while they complete the requirements for full licensure.

Furthermore, military families would not bear the burden of licensing fees.

As entering the workforce inherently increases connection and interaction with the community, these are meaningful changes that should be supported by all who back our military.

Although we cannot remove every challenge military families face, we must eradicate the state’s contribution to these challenges. Eliminating barriers and making it less complicated for spouses to enter the civilian Alabama workforce will promote greater integration, helping military families feel like they belong to their communities, even if for only a short time.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

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Taylor’s Top 4: Legislative session review for week 7


 
 
Did this week fly by to anyone else? Enjoy the weekend and check out what happened this week in Montgomery in Taylor’s Top 4!

If you want to receive daily news hits from across the state and nation straight to your inbox each morning, click here to subscribe to API’s Daily Clips.

1. General fund budget for 2019 has passed the Senate.

This week, the Senate passed a budget for the 2019 General Fund (GF) by a 26-2 vote. If this budget passes, it will be the biggest GF budget in a decade. This budget includes  $755 for Medicaid and grants an additional $51 million to the Department of Corrections next year. Check out this run-down of funding increases and reactions from lawmakers in this piece by J. Pepper Bryars with Yellowhammer News. During the debate over the budget on the Senate floor, Senator Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) proposed an amendment that would add money to fund a facility that provides vocational training for inmates, similar to the Alabama Therapeutic Education Facility located in Columbiana. The Senate approved that amendment 24-6. Another amendment was offered by Senator Trip Pittman (R-Montrose), chair of the General Fund budget committee, which increased funding to the Alabama Department of Transportation by $4.5 million. The $2 billion budget passed by a vote of 26-2 and will go to the house.

2. Ainsworth wants to arm teachers. 

Last week in the wake of the school shooting in Florida, Representative Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville) said that he was planning on introducing legislation that would allow teacher who had received firearm training to be armed while at school. This week, Ainsworth released the bill—for which he’s gotten 33 cosponsors—at a press conference where he was joined by teachers, school administrators, law enforcement officials, and other lawmakers. While she doesn’t often comment on legislation until it reaches her desk, Governor Kay Ivey seems skeptical of the bill, saying in response to it that “teachers have got their hands full being teachers and instructors and I just think there’s some other way to provide protection.” As reported by WHNT, “Under the bill, teachers or administrators who choose to participate would be responsible for the cost of the firearm and the ammunition. The state would pick up the cost of training.”

3. Hightower has something to say about how the state handles harassment. 

Senator Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) had a bill before committee this week that addresses how the state deals with sexual harassment accusations from state employees. This bill is similar to one moving through the U.S. Congress that would require members to settle sexual harassment claims with their own money, rather than with government money. With this bill, Hightower says that the individual—or “bad actor”—will be solely responsible for their bad behavior.  According to Brian Lyman with the Montgomery Advertiser: “The bill would ban the state’s Board of Adjustment from considering ‘claims of the public at large or employees of the state filed against officers or employees of the state, including elected public officials, for damages associated with sexual assault, sexual harassment, or other sexual misconduct.'” The bill passed out of committee quickly this week with a favorable report and now heads to the full Senate. Personal opinion here: I’m a big fan of this movement to hold the guilty party accountable. This policy gets a thumbs up in my book.

4. The day care bill advances to the full Senate. Will it pass this year? 

Representative Pebblin Warren’s (D-Tuskeegee) bill to add increased oversight to faith-based day cares went to committee in the Senate this week. It passed the house several weeks ago. If you remember, this bill requires all child care facilities that receive federal funds to be licensed. It also removes the provision in the original bill that mandated yearly Department of Human Resources inspection, but requires religious child care facilities to provide insurance coverage and health reports. Last year’s bill on regulating child-care facilities died in the Senate. Mike Cason with AL.com reported on Twitter that there was a good bit of support for Warren’s bill in the committee, which proved to be true with a favorable report, which sends the bill to the full Senate.

Other things that you might want to know about:

—   Senator Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery) wants to lessen the penalty for possession of marijuana. As reported by Brian Lyman with the Montgomery Advertiser, Brewbaker’s bill would institute that “possession of more than two ounces of marijuana would be a Class C Felony, while possession of one to two ounces of marijuana would be a Class D felony, with prison time capped at two years and served in a community corrections facility.” The bill passed committee 6-4, and made an enemy along the way. Senator Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) pledged to filibuster the bill on the Senate floor.

—   Representative Ken Johnson (R-Moulton) had a bill before the House Public Safety committee this week that would ban cities from red light cameras to catch traffic violators. The bill was not voted on following a public hearing, but the chairman of the committee Representative Allen Treadaway (R-Morris), a captain with the Birmingham Police Department, sent the bill to a subcommittee for further study.

—   This week, the full Senate approved Senator Trip Pittman’s bill to add nitrogen hypoxia to the list of means by which an inmate on death row may choose t0 be executed. The bill passed unanimously and heads to the House.

Taylor Dawson is director of communications for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

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Increased Political Polarization: Bad for Alabama and the country

(W.Miller/YHN)


 
 
Our politics are increasingly polarized. Yelling matches on cable news are the norm, and those with opposing viewpoints are labeled as bigoted or anti-American. The division has gotten to the point that, according to the Pew Research Center, most Republicans and Democrats have few or no friends in the opposing party.

The question, therefore, is two-fold: a) What are the causes of increased polarization? and b) Is increased polarization something we need to address?

I’ll begin with the former.

One reason for this increased polarization is that Americans are more often choosing to live among people who are like them politically. 

Here is an Alabama example of that phenomenon. In 1992, Bob Dole, a Republican, won Marshall County by 15 points. In 2016, Donald Trump’s margin of victory in the county was almost 70 points

Another reason for our increased polarization is the rise of the Internet and social media.

While the increased availability of news sources via the Internet is helpful, many choose only to read from sources they agree with politically. The Wall Street Journal offers a tool that allows users to compare the Facebook feeds of people who identify as conservative or liberal. A quick minute or two of comparing the feeds reveals not only the difference between the selection of news, but the frequency of inflammatory rhetoric used to describe people on the other side. 

Although choosing to live near like-minded people and following conservative or liberal news sources are not inherently bad practices, by doing so we unknowingly create an echo-chamber of group-validation that gives no opportunity for differing opinions. This echo-chamber, with its lack of diverse thought or self-criticism, is a major contributor to increased polarization.

So, is this polarization something we need to address?

I believe it is.

Increased polarization has created antagonistic relationships within our state and country. In our communities, we are bombarded with rhetoric that describes those with different views as unreasonable, ignorant, and even evil. Since we so infrequently interact with those politically different from us, we can find ourselves believing those characterizations. 

Although it may be hard to accept, most people, regardless of political affiliation, are genuinely trying to work towards the greater good. The difference between conservative and liberal thought, however, is in the means – how we achieve the greatest good. 

Conservatives, myself included, should therefore spend less time worrying that the left is deliberately attempting to destroy our country. Instead, we should intentionally befriend those politically different while, at the same time, working diligently to demonstrate that conservative policies most effectively create the most good for the most people. 

The more we are willing to acknowledge that those on the other side are people made in the image of God – not scheming adversaries to be defeated – the more likely we will arrive at solutions that work. While I believe that these solutions will be overwhelmingly conservative, we should not be afraid of honest discussion and criticism if we really are correct.

One benefit of purposefully countering increased polarization is that we will, hopefully, stop being wary of good policy simply because it has some support from the other side. Some pursuits, like reforming civil asset forfeiture, supporting our veterans, and protecting our national security, are not right vs. left issues, but right vs. wrong issues. We should be thankful, not worried, when both sides agree.

Undoubtedly, stemming the tide of polarization will be good for both Alabama and the country. It will require work, but it will be effort well spent.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

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Taylor’s Top 5: Legislative Review for week six

(W.Miller/YHN)

Thank goodness it’s the weekend, am I right? Check out what happened in the state legislature and Taylor’s Top 5 for this week!

1. Folks, we are very close to statewide ride sharing!

This week, the Senate unanimously passed a bill that sets up the framework for ride-sharing companies to operate across the state. Now that the bill has made it through the legislature, it now heads to Governor Ivey for a signature, and she has indicated that she is supportive of this legislation.


2. Budgets are on the move.

After several hours of debate and without a single “no” vote, the education budget passed the house this week 102-0. According to Brian Lyman with the Montgomery Advertiser, “the Legislative Fiscal Office projects the budget, the largest in a decade, to grow by about $216 million next year, due to increased income and sales tax revenues from a stronger economy. Most of the increase — $102.4 million — will go to the proposed pay raise for teachers.”

Also this week, the Senate Finance and Taxation committee took up the General Fund budget for 2019, as well as a companion bill by Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) that would give state employees a 3% cost of living increase. Again, Brian Lyman with the Montgomery Advertiser reporting: “The committee approved the pay raise bill — sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville — despite reservations from Pittman, long an opponent of increased spending in most elements of the state budget.” A few other agencies will see increases in next year’s budget, including Medicaid, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, and Alabama Department of Mental Health. This budget marks the largest budget introduced since the 2008 recession.


3. Civil asset forfeiture reform is making its way through the legislature.

A bill by Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) that would reform Alabama’s civil asset forfeiture laws was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. A public hearing was held on the bill. Speakers in support of the bill included Institute for Justice Legislative Counsel Lee McGrath and former U.S. Attorney Kenyen Brown. The committee gave the bill a favorable recommendation by a voice vote, and now the bill goes to the full Senate. Want to learn more about civil asset forfeiture reform in Alabama? I’ve got a few resources for you: an article written by Policy Relations Manager at API Parker Snidera piece written by Jason Snead, policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, or this article that highlights all of the conservative partners supporting civil asset forfeiture reform, written by J. Pepper Bryars, editor-in-chief at Yellowhammer News.


4. Under a proposed law, Gardendale might not be the only growing city not getting their own school system.

The 11th circuit court of appeals ruled this week that Gardendale could not break away from the Jefferson County school system and form their own system, which broke from a ruling last year that allowed the split. In a timely manner, the Senate Education and Youth Affairs committee held a public hearing on a bill by Senator Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham) that would change the requirement for a city to form its own school district from a population of 5,000 to a population of 25,000. One argument made by opponents of the bill was that the financial capacity of the city wanting to form their own system should be considered more highly than the city’s population. The committee did not vote on the bill this week.


5. Military appreciation day was this week, featuring a handful of military bills.

Thursday was designated “Military Appreciation Day” by Governor Ivey, and as such, the Senate passed the Parks for Patriots Act, along with four other bills to support military veterans. Plus, the legislature held a joint session for the purpose of honoring General Gus. F. Perna, Alabama’s only four-star general and commander of the U.S. Army Materiel Command in Huntsville. According to a press statement from the GOP Senate Caucus, “the Senate approved a tax credit for small businesses that hire unemployed veterans, created a voluntary contribution check-off on income tax returns for the Alabama State Veterans Cemetery at Spanish Fort, added Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who own businesses to the preferred vendor list for state contracts, and passed a bill that would make it illegal to park a vehicle in spaces reserved for military veterans.” I am very thankful for individuals who choose to join the military to defend our freedom, and it was great to see active and retired military men and women honored in the legislature.

Other things that you might want to know about:

—  Representative Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville) announced this week that he would be proposing a bill that would allow schools to designate certain teachers to carry firearms after completing firearm training. The idea has already been controversial, and the bill hasn’t even been introduced yet.

—  A bill introduced by Senator Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) would change the state’s sex education law to remove language that calls homosexuality a crime. The bill passed unanimously out of committee this week and now moves to the full Senate.

—  Senator Trip Pittman’s (R-Montrose) bill to allow execution of death row inmates by nitrogen gas passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. If this bill passes, it would add hypoxia as the third option—along with electrocution and lethal injection—for execution in Alabama.

—  After a long day on Thursday, the House finally wrapped up for the week. During that long session (reported to be more than twelve hours by Brian Lyman on Twitter), they passed Representative Lynn Greer’s (R-Rogersville) bill to extend the Stand Your Ground law to churches. The House approved the bill 40-16.

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Tax Incentives: Extremely risky as the sole hope for Alabama economic development

Last month, the state rejoiced with news that Alabama would be the home of a new Toyota-Mazda plant. The plant is expected to bring over 4,000 jobs and billions of dollars in net revenue to the state. With the execution of this deal, known as Project New World, state and local governments will give the two companies around $900 million in tax incentives.

A tool used by state and local governments, tax incentives attempt to lure large businesses with the hope that the revenue brought in from that corporation will offset the incentive costs. Often, incentives leverage the taxes paid by small businesses and use them to bring a large, untouchable competitor into the state. Although small, loyal businesses pay the high tax rate year after year, tax incentives comprised of that money can hurt or destroy their business. While there are no small businesses competing with Toyota and Mazda, an increased reliance on tax incentives can hurt local small businesses that spend years paying into the system.

Even though tax incentives can pay off for Alabama, as they did in the case of the Mercedes plant in the 1990s, there is no guarantee of their success. In reality, tax incentives are a sign of a weak state tax policy and are extremely risky as the sole hope for economic development.

Alabama’s state and local incentives package for Toyota-Mazda has reached $900 million, with at least $270 million of that money given before the production of the first car. The incentives provided before production include almost $200 million in plant site preparation, $20 million in cash incentives, and $50 million in construction sales tax abatements. Another $125 million will be paid out over several years in training-related cash reimbursements, starting in 2019.

If the Toyota-Mazda plant goes according to plan, then these tax incentives will be well worth the new business that the plant will bring to Alabama’s economy. There is, however, no guarantee that the business will flourish, even with hundreds of millions given in tax incentives.

For example, in 2007, Alabama gave over $140 million in tax incentives and $350 million in RSA loans to National Steel Car, a Canadian railcar company that promised an 1,800 person plant in Muscle Shoals. The company, however, defaulted  in 2007 and the RSA took ownership of the plant, employing only 200 people (that’s just 11% of the promised 1,800). More recently, Remington, a gun manufacturer that was given $70 million in incentives to build in Huntsville, filed for bankruptcy after a 27% drop in sales in 2017.

Additionally, the final project agreement between Toyota and Alabama, Project New World, gives no requirements for the amount of Alabama-based contractors that Toyota must hire for the building of the plant, the company must simply use “good faith” in considering both Alabama contractors and vendors and Alabama residents as employees. This means that the amount of economic benefit coming to the state can be much less than anticipated if Toyota and Mazda use out-of-state contractors to build the plant.

Although we hope that the Toyota-Mazda plant produces extreme economic benefits for our state, it is undeniable that Alabama has a mixed history with tax incentives, suggesting that we must not pursue tax incentives alone to spur economic development.

Instead, we should work towards a simpler, more transparent tax policy that invites new businesses into the state. When compared to other states, Alabama’s business tax climate is ranked 35th for 2018. This reality makes it difficult for expanding businesses to come to our state. By simplifying our tax policy and decreasing the barriers of entry for enterprise in the state, there will be increased economic opportunity for both small and large businesses, decreasing the need for tax incentives while increasing Alabama’s economic appeal to corporations looking to expand. A stable and transparent tax code, not risky tax incentives, is the permanent solution to Alabama’s economic struggles.

*A previous version claimed that almost $400 million in tax incentives will be given before the production of the first car. That number incorrectly included $125 million in training-related cash reimbursements. That $125 million will be paid over the course of many years and not necessarily before the production of the first car. The correct amount, therefore, is at least $270 million. The second paragraph was also amended, for clarity, to eliminate the phrase “to bring in major consumable goods retailers” in the last sentence.

Anne Marie Bonds is a Policy Fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

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Taylor’s Top 4: Legislative session week five review

Alabama State House (Creative Commons/Jay Williams)

 

It was a slower week in the legislature, but check out what happened in Montgomery last week during week five of the 2018 legislative session!

By the way, if you want to receive daily news hits from across the state and nation straight to your inbox each morning, click here to subscribe to API’s Daily Clips

1. Education budget is on the move.

It was a pretty slow legislative week, but one big thing did come out of it: movement on the Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget. The House Ways and Means Education Committee met this week, where Chairman Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) introduced this year’s proposed education budget, which includes a 2.5% raise for all education employees and a $20 million increase for prekindergarten. Ten people spoke in favor of the budget on Tuesday. When the committee returned for day two of budget discussion, the $6.6 billion budget passed easily and will now go to the full house for consideration next Tuesday.

2. House says “In God We Trust” should be allowed to be displayed on public property.

A big debate this week came from a bill that aims at allowing the phrase “In God We Trust” to be displayed on public buildings. The AP reported that, “Rep. David Standridge, the bill sponsor, said he wanted to clarify that people can put the phrase on state property.” After mention on the house floor that the phrase comes from the national anthem, debate on the bill turned to debate over the history of the Star Spangled Banner, and specifically Francis Scott Key’s history as a slaveholder. The debate lasted roughly two hours before the bill passed by a 91-4 margin.

3. Payday lending might see some changes. 

Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) has proposed a bill that would, according to AL.com, “set the terms of loans at 30 days, instead of 10 to 31 days allowed under Alabama law now. . . . Efforts to roll back the cost of payday loans come and go every year at the State House, but not much changes. Orr has tried before but his latest bill is probably the simplest approach. It would change only the length of the loans.”  The bill has garnered support thus far from within the walls of the state house, but some folks on the outside—payday lenders in particular—have lobbied against the bill. After a public hearing on the bill in committee this week, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee will likely vote on it next week.

 4. “Upskirting” no more.

I think I’m too awkward to talk about this, but it happened this week so here we go. This week, the Senate passed a bill that criminalizes voyeurism. As reported by Mike Cason of AL.com: “Sneaking a cellphone under a woman’s skirt or otherwise secretly taking photos or videos of someone’s intimate areas would become a crime under a bill passed by the Alabama Senate.” Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) proposed this bill because two women in his district had their cases about this issue dismissed because there is no specific law on it. This bill now moves on to the house.

Other things that you might want to know about:

–   Folks are talking infrastructure investment again. Senate debated—and ultimately carried over—a bill this week that would allow for a building program for roads and bridges if the funds become available.

–   There’s talk of potential change to ethics law. AL.com reports that a bill by Senator Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) that “requires legislators to get approval from the Ethics Commission before entering new business contracts to sell goods or services. . . . The Ethics Commission issues opinions for public officials about whether business and employment activities under certain circumstances run afoul of the ethics law. Pittman’s bill would expand on that, setting up a specific process for the commission to review new business arrangements for legislators in their private sector jobs.” Senator Dick Brewbaker pointed out that making the ethics laws less “murky” could encourage more business-owners to run for the legislature.

–   The fentanyl bill was discussed at a public hearing in committee this week, and it saw some opposition. The AP reported: “Kenyen R. Brown, former U.S. attorney in Mobile and a critic of the bill, said since fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs — and cases can be prosecuted based on the total weight of the mixture — low-level offenders could be treated like traffickers.” Barry Matson, chairman of the District Attorneys Association, spoke in favor of the bill: “No part of me or anybody on the proponents’ side wants to put more people in jail. . . . This is about lives. This is such a deadly substance.”

See you next week! 

Taylor Dawson is Director of Communications at the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

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Juvenile Justice: A broken system with harmful effects on Alabama’s youth


 
 

A fourteen-year-old shoplifts cologne from a local Macy’s with hopes to impress his crush. Lacking the skills of an experienced criminal, he gets caught easily. Although perhaps warranting a fine and community service, he is instead processed as a criminal defendant and placed in a juvenile detention center. Here, he crosses paths daily with violent youth offenders.

While this specific situation is hypothetical, under Alabama’s current juvenile justice laws the situation is possible and likely. Any minor charged with a misdemeanor can be sent to the same centers as major juvenile offenders.

Will that minor come out of the system as an upstanding member of the community or will he or she be likely to commit more violent crimes? Multiple studies find that placing non-violent youth offenders in detention centers actually increases their chances of committing a violent crime later on in life. As one Alabama youth currently in detention stated, “Basically, when you get locked up you learn how to be a better criminal.”

Obviously, non-violent youth should not be grouped with violent youth offenders, but under Alabama’s current juvenile justice laws, wayward minors are prosecuted and punished with long detention sentences – away from their families for months and even years – when realistically supervision and probation may be a better option. This only creates more crime in our state, along with more state spending to house these youth offenders; one placement of a youth offender can cost the state up to $160,000 per year. If we want to decrease crime and state spending in Alabama, then we must make juvenile justice reform a priority.

In 2017, the Alabama Juvenile Justice Task Force met to determine where the system needs improvement and to make recommendations. What they found was shocking.

Over the past five years, there has been a 27% drop in juvenile crime. Even though juvenile crime rates have fallen, the number of youth in detention facilities has risen 6%. This means that the juvenile justice system is becoming more involved in detaining youth, even though there is no correlation between detention and lower crime rates.

Not only is the juvenile system becoming more involved in youth correction, but more than two-thirds of youth offenders in custody are detained for low-level misdemeanors – crimes like shoplifting, fighting in school, and truancy. Instead of detaining non-violent youth, the state should implement more prevention programs and use supervision and probation more often as a punishment, instead of detention, especially for first-time offenders. There is currently a bill, the Juvenile Justice Act, in the Alabama Legislature that implements many of these reforms. It acts on the problems within Alabama’s juvenile justice system, working to help wayward youth instead of treating them as if they were violent adult criminals.

Fortunately, Alabama can follow the lead of other states who have successfully pursued meaningful juvenile justice reforms. For example, Texas reformed its juvenile system throughout 2007-2011 and disallowed detaining youth in detention facilities for misdemeanors. Texas’s detention rate has, in response, declined by 66%, with no increase in crime. Coincidentally, the state has saved over $179 million over 6 years.

Most youth will make mistakes, which is a critical part of growing up and learning how to be an adult. With the current state of Alabama’s juvenile justice system, however, a non-violent crime by a  minor offender can turn into a life-ruining mistake.  Alabama legislators must support juvenile justice reforms not only because it is in the best interest of our state’s youth, but because Alabama’s future is depending on it.

Anne Marie Bonds is a Policy Fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

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Taylor’s Top Five: Legislative review for week 4

And, we’re back! Happy weekend to you.

Taylor’s Top Five is back to fill you in on what you might have missed this week in Montgomery. Hope you enjoy, and let us know if you have any questions on the items discussed below. Have a great weekend!

1. The Senate approved harsher punishment for possessing fentanyl.
For those who don’t know what we’re dealing with here, fentanyl, the synthetic cousin of heroin, is one of the driving forces behind the recent opioid crisis and a high number of opioid-related deaths. As reported by the CDC, fentanyl is one hundred times more potent than morphine. Under a bill passed unanimously by the Senate this week, anyone in possession of two or more grams of the deadly drug will face ten years in prison, with that sentence increasing to twenty-five years if the amount is over four grams. Now that the bill has been approved by the Senate, it goes to the house.

2. Good news: Everyone in the Senate is putting their foot down on human trafficking.
Under current law, obstructing an investigation into human trafficking is a Class C felony. But under a bill that unanimously passed the senate this week, that will change. This bill by Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), would change it to a Class A felony, which carries a minimum sentence of ten years in prison. As reported by Yellowhammer News, Senator Ward said, “Because you want to make it such a hard deterrent for anyone engaged with or associated with this crime, we want to move from a Class C to a Class A felony for those who are involved in obstructing justice in these cases. . . . In the new law, to know about it, and intentionally obstruct the prosecution of these cases, then you’re treated the same as the person who was directly involved in the trafficking.” The bill now goes to the house.

3. The substitute to the day care bill that we discussed last week is on the move.
The substitute to Representative Pebblin Warren’s (D-Tuskeegee) bill, which has been agreed upon by some religious liberty advocates and also licensing advocates, was offered in committee on Wednesday. Nineteen people lined up to speak on both sides of the bill. When the hearing wrapped up, the bill was given a favorable report by the House Children and Senior Advocacy Committee. On Thursday, the bill was put before the full house. On the house floor, the debate over an amendment got heated. Following a lengthy debate on the amendment that was ultimately passed, the house passed the bill 86-5. On to the Senate it goes.

4. It’s official (at least from the House side): No smoking in cars with children.
The bill still has to pass the senate, but this week, the house passed Representative Rolanda Hollis’s (D-Birmingham) bill that institutes a $100 fine for smoking in a car with a minor present. The bill passed by a 41-30 vote. In my opinion, that’s a pretty close margin. It will be interesting to see what happens on this one in the Senate.

5. It was said best in a tweet from Reckon by AL.com: “Stand your holy ground?”
Last year, Representative Lynn Greer (R-Rogersville) offered a similar bill, which failed to pass the Legislature. This year, the church stand-your-ground bill is back. Under this bill, use of physical force is protected if it is used in defending an employee, church member, or church volunteer at a church or church-related event. As reported by the Montgomery Advertiser, after it passed the voice vote in the House Judiciary Committee, Representative Greer said we could survive without this law, “but it provides immunity. You could defend a child and elderly woman and it would provide immunity.” Now, on to the full house.

Other things that you might want to know about:

—The ride-sharing bill passed the House this week by an overwhelming margin. On to the Senate!

—Lawmakers are catching heat over campaign expenses. According to Yellowhammer News: “As many as 70 lawmakers may have received subpoenas in recent days in an investigation into campaign accounts. At issue is how on some disclosure forms, rather than itemize an expense in detail, some lawmakers are simply listing ‘credit card expense.’ Without knowing what was purchased with that credit card, the disclosure doesn’t properly itemize any expenses and the public doesn’t know exactly what was spent from the account, as law requires.”

—Individual school report cards came out on Thursday. As reported by Trish Crain with AL.com: “Of the 1,247 schools that received grades, there were 137 A’s, 352 B’s, 437 C’s, 217 D’s, and 104 schools earned an ‘F,’ according to the method Alabama education officials chose to use.”

—A bill that requires youth sports coaches to take a mandatory safety course passed the house by a 41-21 vote this week. According to the Troy Messenger: “The course will feature emergency preparedness, identifying concussions and head trauma and how to use training equipment and other topics.”

Taylor Dawson is director of communications for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

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Prove the power of free markets: Use tax breaks and bonuses for things that matter

(Opinion) “Crumbs”. That’s how House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi characterized the thousand-dollar bonuses and wage increases that companies are offering employees in the wake of federal tax reform. This description has, appropriately, come under attack. Walmart, Alabama’s largest employer, is spending around $400 million on employee bonuses. In fact, according to Americans for Tax Reform, over 3 million Americans will receive tax reform bonuses. These are not crumbs.

Additionally, changes to tax law are being pursued here in Alabama, specifically to benefit lower-income residents. Whether or not the state bill passes as expected, thousands of Alabamians will have wallets that feel a bit heavier thanks to conservative reform on the federal level.

There are, of course, many ways to use this extra cash. You could invest in the stock market, upgrade to the newest smartphone, or enjoy a streak of impulse-buys on Amazon, among other things. Unfortunately, however, the stock market is unpredictable, smartphones become outdated, and items we were shipped in two days find themselves forgotten in three. That’s why I suggest something different.

Consider giving it away.

Consider giving it away because there is urgent need. Consider giving it away to prove the power of the free market.

I’ll start with the former – the reality of urgent need.

In 2011, a disheartening 12 percent of all pregnancies in Alabama ended in abortion. Organizations like Sav-A-Life, a group API has previously written about, offer abortion alternatives and desperately need funding.

Furthermore, Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city, is ranked by Forbes as the fifth most dangerous city in the country. Groups like WorkFaith Birmingham, that empower unemployed urban residents with the skills and values necessary to maintain employment, are working to transform the city from within and need support.

Urgent need is not, however, limited to Alabama. Globally, 29,000 children under age five die every day, most from preventable diseases. Human trafficking, a multibillion-dollar business, traps upwards of 20 million people. According to International Mission Board President David Platt, over a billion people around the world are born, live, and die without ever hearing the name of Jesus.

Undoubtedly, there is urgent physical and spiritual need.

Now to the latter – how giving away our money can prove the power of the free market.

There are many who believe that the government is best suited to fix society’s problems. Conservatives believe, in contrast, that the private sector, through churches, non-profits, and other charitable organizations, does a much better job of feeding the hungry, supporting the poor, and caring for the widow than do government programs.

We argue that, if the government would get out of our way, we could use our resources more efficiently and effectively. Our increased generosity could, in the long run, save the government money and reveal the power of the free market. Here’s an example of how this could work.

For argument’s sake, let’s say that WorkFaith Birmingham sees an influx of donations because of tax reform. WorkFaith Birmingham then, using these donations, trains previously unemployed Alabamians. These residents, who were on the state’s unemployment, Medicaid, and food stamp rolls, can now support themselves, saving the government money in the process.

President Kennedy said it well when he argued that “the federal government’s most useful role is not to rush into a program of excessive increases in public expenditures, but to expand the incentives and opportunities for private expenditures”.

With that in mind, consider using your tax breaks or bonuses for things that matter, showing that the generosity of individuals, not the government, is the way forward.

We said we would, and I hope we keep our word.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

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Taylor’s top six: legislative review for week 3

Alabama State House (Creative Commons/Jay Williams)

 

We’re back with another recap!

In this week’s Taylor’s Top Six, we’ve got a few updates on things we discussed last week, as well as some new bills that were introduced this week. Let us know what you think of what’s going on in Montgomery!

1. My two favorite words in the English language: tax break.

There must be something in the water. First a tax break from Washington, and now one in Alabama? Under a bill by Senator Del Marsh (R-Anniston), the standard deduction brackets for lower-income taxpayers would change. Certain taxpayers, depending on how they file their taxes, could see an income tax decrease if they accept the standard deduction and do not itemize. Some folks are saying any tax decrease is good for the taxpayer. Others are concerned with tax dollars leaving the state budget. The bill unanimously passed the senate this week.

2. When we all work together, cool stuff like civil asset forfeiture reform is possible.

This week, a bi-partisan coalition of state and national groups—including API, along with the support of The Heritage Foundation, Heartland Institute, and American Conservative Union—publicly announced support for civil asset forfeiture reform in Alabama. Under current law, the government is allowed to confiscate property from people – without securing a conviction – if the government suspects that the property is tied to illegal activity. This bill also creates a system of transparency and accountability with criminal asset forfeiture, which, unlike civil asset forfeiture, does require a conviction. With the establishment of a publicly available online database that provides details of assets and how they are used by the government, Alabamians will know how the government utilizes seized property and funds.

Asset forfeiture reform is not about inhibiting or restraining legitimate law enforcement activities, such as drug interdictions and efforts to disrupt cartels, etc., nor is it about letting criminals walk away with their illicit proceeds or property. Rather, this is about ensuring that innocent people cannot have their property seized and forfeited without due process.

This week, Senator Arthur Orr and Representative Arnold Mooney filed legislation to reform civil asset forfeiture in Alabama. API’s op-ed on the issue was published by Yellowhammer News this week.

3. I’m not sure if “Uber excited” even describes how I feel anymore! It’s really happening, y’all. 

An update on an item from last week: Alabama is one step closer to having ride-sharing services all over the state! This week, the bill passed the senate by a vote of 28-0. Allowing statewide regulations for services like Uber and Lyft would open up job opportunities for individuals all over the state. On the bill, Senator Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) said, “If you have a car, if you have insurance and a good driving record, you basically have a job that you are your own boss.”

4. Another week, another agenda. 

This week, the House democratic caucus released their agenda, “A Clean, Competent and Competitive Alabama.” On the agenda, we find a focus on the following priorities: “Supporting our Public Schools and Prioritizing Early Childhood Education, Investing in our Educators, Rebuilding our Workforce, Ensuring open, Transparent Government and Ending Corruption, Ensuring Access to Healthcare for all Alabamians, Supporting Mental Health, Prioritizing Prison Reform and Reducing Recidivism, Fighting the Epidemic of Addiction.”

5. Reactionary bills seem to be a trend this session. 

Nobody will soon forget the U.S. Senate Special Election of 2017. It’s really all we heard about for the majority of 2017. A bill filed by Representative Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) would eliminate special elections for the U.S. Senate. Clouse cites the amount of money from the General Fund spent on the election as the reason for this bill. A tweet from the Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman pointed out that most states do it the way Clouse is proposing, per the National Conference of State Legislatures. The bill passed the House 67-31.

Also, if you’ll remember the saga that was the state school board’s treatment and driving-out of former superintendent Michael Sentance, SB24 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would replace the State Superintendent of Education with a Director of Education. If voted favorably upon by the general electorate (and approved by the legislature) this amendment would eliminate the election of the Board of Education, now the Board of Counsel. Instead, the governor would appoint the Director of Education, who would then appoint the members of the Board of Counsel. Previously, the State Superintendent was subject to the Board of Education. If it passes, the Director of Education serves at the pleasure of the Governor alone. The bill is in committee.

6. A compromise has been reached on the day care bill that pleases both proponents of licensing and religious organization leaders. 

We received word yesterday that a joint effort between religious liberty advocates and individuals supporting state licensing of child care facilities has resulted in a compromise on the “day care bill,” a proposal that’s come up two years in a row that would require all childcare facilities in the state to be licensed. Under current law, facilities that are part of a church or religious nonprofit are not required to have a license. The new compromise bill requires all child care facilities that receive federal funds to be licensed. It also removes the provision in the original bill that mandated yearly Department of Human Resoures inspection, but requires religious child care facilities to provide insurance coverage  and health reports.

Other things that you might want to know about:

  • While the standard length of time to receive unemployment benefits used to be 26 weeks, that has changed in several southeastern states, and Alabama may not be too far behind because of a bill from Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) that passed the Senate this week. Under this bill, as reported by Mike Cason of AL.com, “[the] amount of time people can receive unemployment benefits [would be reduced] from 26 weeks to a range of 14 to 20 weeks depending on the unemployment rate.”
  • Senator Greg Albritton’s (R-Range) bill to eliminate state marriage licenses passed the senate and has been moved to the House Judiciary Committee. It is expected to go to the House next week.
  • Senator Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) brought a resolution to the Senate to call for an Article V constitutional convention to tackle the issue of term limits. The senate passed the resolution by a 19-8 vote.
  • Senator Pittman is also taking action on state budget earmarks with a bill that would remove $79 million in earmarked funds. We should really have a bill that removes all state budget earmarks, as recommended by API in our Guide to the Issues. There was no vote to take the bill out of committee this week.

Talk to you next week!

(Taylor Dawson is the communications director for the Alabama Policy Insititute)

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Calling all Alabama candidates: Let’s talk education

You spoke, Alabama.

We asked, what issues are important to you and what questions would you ask of your candidates to answer?  In honor of National School Choice Week, let’s explore questions on promoting education and supporting Alabama’s school children.

And it probably won’t come as much of a surprise—Alabamians are very vocal on these issues.

Here are a few questions posed by our readers, and some background information for candidates to consider when responding.

What are your thoughts on school choice?

Historically, Alabama has been slow to embrace school choice. The fight for Alabama’s very first piece of school choice legislation, the Alabama Accountability Act in 2013, was one for the ages. When charter schools were authorized within the first few weeks of the legislative session in 2015, I thought that Alabama was finally embracing school choice, until last session when changes to broaden the AAA suffered a massive defeat. If elected, would you support efforts to broaden school choice opportunities for Alabama families?

An innovative way other states are allowing parents to have more choice over their child’s education is through Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Are you a proponent of ESAs? A brief explanation for those who don’t know what ESAs are: ESAs are private accounts managed by the parents of students for use on their child’s education expenses. Under ESAs, funds that the state would spend on a child at their discretion are now up to the parents’ discretion. Do you agree that Alabama should empower families to customize their children’s education based on their specific needs?

An Obama-era policy that’s been largely rejected in Alabama is common core standards. What is your opinion on common core? A policy that would allow the federal government to tell our teachers how and what they’re to teach our schoolchildren has been a hot issue in Alabama since it was introduced. A percentage of Alabama’s current system of standards—“College and Career Ready Standards”—are based on common core. There have been multiple attempts to shake these standards, whether through revising them or bucking them completely to revert to the previous standards. Would you encourage action on these standards?

The current Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education Betsy DeVos is a proponent of localizing education as much as possible in an effort to give parents more choice. Do you agree?

It’s a common opinion among school choice advocates that parents—not government—should determine the best course for their child’s education. In a speech at Harvard University, Secretary DeVos said, “The future of choice does not begin with a new federal mandate from Washington.” One way to allow localities to take ownership of education is through charter schools, which have a proven record of success nationwide and help reduce barriers to school choice. What would you do to encourage local innovation in education and promote growth of charter schools in Alabama?

Last year, the Alabama School Board was surrounded by controversy, and they have nobody to blame but themselves. How would you institute accountability with the board?

Alabama’s most recent state superintendent held his office for a year before the education establishment forced him out. Under the previous superintendent’s administration, Alabama’s graduation rates were deemed inflated and misreported by federal officials. Throughout the entirety of 2017, the Board seemed to play politics more than they actually made strides for Alabama education. Seemingly as a result of that, two bills have been filed this year to restructure the school board. What would you do to ensure that the board is working for the children?

I think we can all agree that we would like to hear from our candidates. In my conversations with candidates this year, I’m going to be asking these questions, and I hope that you will, too.

What do you want to talk about next? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #CandidateCall, or e-mail me at  communications@alabamapolicy.org.

[This article has been updated to correct the length of Sentance’s tenure as superintendent.]

Taylor Dawson is director of communications for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

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Here in Alabama, the government can legally take your stuff (AND NOT GIVE IT BACK)

(PublicDomainPictures.Net)

(PublicDomainPictures.Net)

 
 

Along Highway 31 in Conecuh County, Alabama, lies a small town called Castleberry. Although the city boasts a population of less than 600 and a single caution light, it has its own police department. To fund itself, the Castleberry Police Department takes advantage of speeding passers-by and writes them tickets.

Nothing to see here.

In the words of President Trump, “Wrong.”

According to reports, after pulling a driver over, law enforcement takes whatever money and other possessions they want, justifying their seizure by claiming suspicion that the money and possessions are the profits of a drug crime. They also often tow the car, only to make drivers pay a $500 impound fee to get it back. Passers-by can then continue along their way – feeling robbed, confused, and reasonably angry.

This is illegal, right? Wrong again.

Although some of the specifics are being tried in court, the Castleberry Police Department is taking advantage of a fully legal practice known as civil asset forfeiture, a maneuver that allows law enforcement officers to legally seize your assets based on suspicion alone.

Originally intended to cut off the cash flow of drug cartels, civil asset forfeiture is a practice that is independent of personal guilt or innocence. Instead, the police charge or suspect your assets – money, cars, homes, and any other possessions – of being involved in a crime, and seize them.

This is clearly problematic. Along with the strange notion that inanimate objects can be charged for violating the law, this practice flies in the face of the fifth amendment due process clause of the United States Constitution that prevents the government from taking “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.

Civil asset forfeiture also hinges on flipping the innocent until proven guilty mantra of the American judicial system, as defendants must prove their innocence to get assets back, a reversal that we must reject. In the case that defendants are defiant and decide to hire an attorney to regain their belongings, the legal costs can rival the worth of the seized assets, making such attempts both expensive and, at times, pointless.

There’s more. According to current Alabama law and the Institute for Justice, police departments get to keep 100 percent of the proceeds from seized assets. The more seized, the more money the departments make.

With this allowance, law enforcement holds both sword and purse. Such a financial incentive makes abuse and targeting of innocent hard-working people, instead of real criminals, more likely.

More than 80 percent of Americans do not approve of civil asset forfeiture, according to a Cato Institute poll. Due to widespread support for change, the Alabama legislature is considering reform. Current proposed legislation protects innocent property owners and ensures that there is no opportunity to impute illegitimacy on our police.

We must call on the Alabama legislature to vote for reforms that eliminate from Alabama law this unconstitutional potential for abuse that, too often, becomes realized.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

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Taylor’s Top Four: Legislative Review for Weeks 1 and 2

Alabama State House (Photo: Creative Commons/Jay Williams)

 

Hang on to your wallets. Lawmakers have returned to Montgomery.

The Alabama Policy Institute presents Taylor’s Top Four, here to fill you in on the things you ought to know from the legislative session. Since we’ve had a couple of slow weeks in Montgomery for lawmakers, we’ll keep this one short and sweet.

1. So many agenda items, so little time. 

Things in Montgomery officially kicked off last Tuesday, and by the end of the week, both the House and Senate Republican Caucuses had released legislative agendas for this year. On the House agenda, “Flag, Family, and Country”, you’ll see child trauma and domestic violence prevention bills, Veterans Employment Act, Parks for Patriots Act of 2018, a guarantee to consider proposals from Governor Ivey’s Alabama Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council, and a commitment to provide the public with immediate access to budgetary information.

From the Senate side, which was released on the second official day of the session, you’ll see an agenda entitled “Fighting for Alabama,” which includes a provision for a state income tax break, growth of broadband in rural areas, making child sex trafficking a capital offense, and creating a pathway to save money on the state’s largest line-item in the budget—Medicaid.

2. Smoking in cars with kids is a bad practice, and the legislature wants to make sure it doesn’t happen anymore.

A proposal this week by Representative Rolanda Hollis (D-Birmingham) would ban smoking in a vehicle with anyone under the age of 19. Now, don’t get me wrong—I think it’s cruel to smoke in a vehicle with a child. But I think we need to really think about whether or not this is the type of thing the state needs to be legislating. There are arguments and precedent to be considered on both sides of this issue, but this ought to be thought about very carefully before we decide whether or not this is the kind of law we should ask our lawmakers to support.

3. My spirits have been Lyft-ed and I’m Uber excited about one bill in particular.

Honestly, you should have known it wouldn’t take me long to include a cheesy joke.

Last week, Governor Ivey, Senator Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro), and Representative David Faulkner (R-Mountain Brook) announced a bill that will set statewide regulations for ride sharing. That means that ride sharing services—like Uber and Lyft—will be available to all Alabamians.

Regarding the bill, Governor Ivey said, “To embrace the future, Alabama must accommodate modern transportation demands. The ability to request an on-demand ride is no longer considered a perk of being in a big city, it is an expectation no matter where one lives or works.” On Thursday, the bill received a favorable report from the Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee. 

If you’re interested in this issue, click here to check out the website for the Ride for Alabama campaign. 

4. Elections, they might be a changin’.

On Tuesday, Representative Mike Ball (R-Madison) introduced a bill that would change the primary election procedure in Alabama. His proposal is that all candidates in a primary election, regardless of the party affiliation, are put on the same ballot. The top two finishers in that election go on to the general election. His hope is that this will increase voter turnout. The Montgomery Advertiser reports: “As filed, the bill applies to all elections save presidential primaries, though Ball said he wanted the legislation to apply only to special elections, citing the long lag time between vacancies and the choice of successors. Two House seats in north Alabama are empty. Montgomery will likely have one vacant Senate seat for the entire regular legislative session this year. The general election for the seat will not take place until May.”

Other things that you might want to know about:

•A bill that would regulate all child care facilities, including religious facilities, was introduced by Representative Pebblin Warren (D-Tuskeegee) on the first day of the session. If you remember from last year, a bill similar to this one was very contentious. It passed the House and died in the Senate last year.

•Representative Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) introduced a bill that raises the age for buying tobacco products in Alabama from 19 to 21.

•A bill from Senator Greg Albritton (R-Range) passed by the senate this week would eliminate state marriage licenses. Similar proposals have come up in the past.

Talk to you next week!

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What do you want to hear from your Alabama candidates?

(Pixabay)
(Pixabay)

 

Most of the talk I’ve heard this legislative session has been preceded with “well, you know it’s an election year. . .” as if to indicate that we shouldn’t expect too much from our lawmakers in 2018.

Rather, our expectations for our elected officials in 2018 should be as high as ever, if not higher.

Many of our elected officials are running for reelection for their current office or entering an election for a new office, and four years have passed since the last time most of them were elected. Before we cast our ballot, it is important for each of us to understand how our candidates will view the issues put before them during their term. API is prepared to ask the tough questions, and we want to know what you will be asking too.

Over the course of the next few months through our “Candidate Call” series, we’ll be exploring topics from good governance and fiscal responsibility to education and protections under the first amendment. And we will be proposing questions to candidates on those issues.

Here are a few examples of the questions we will be asking.

What foundational principles will shape how they will govern and consider policy decisions if they are elected? Hundreds of bills on a wide array of policy issues are introduced each year. While the issues may change, the lens of principle through which we see these issues should not. API views each issue through a lens of strengthening free markets, defending limited government, and championing strong families. How will your candidate use their core convictions to make decisions?

What do the candidates think is the best way to see Alabama rise in national education rankings? As I’ve said before, education is one of the most important things our state can give to its schoolchildren. We need candidates who are willing to stand for all students and not be swayed by the direction of the political wind of the moment. Do they support efforts to increase school choice? Will they hold the state school board accountable?

How would members of the executive branch work with the legislature and local leaders to ensure fiscal responsibility to taxpayers? For example, take the gas tax. If the gas tax is increased, lawmakers should strongly consider decreasing or eliminating another state tax to make the policy revenue neutral. What is the best way to balance meeting the state’s needs and being responsible with the resources that taxpayers already provide?

What qualities are most important for a leader to possess in order to be most effective? Seeing meaningful reforms accomplished in Montgomery will require both sides of the aisle to work together, humility and willingness to consider other perspectives, and wisdom to put politics aside in the best interest of our state’s future. Do they have a record of exhibiting the traits that you want to see in a leader, whether in public office or in another part of their lives?

These are just a few examples of the types of questions that we’ll be digging into this year. Send us a message on Facebook, tweet at us using the hashtag #candidatecall, or e-mail me at taylord@alabamapolicy.org to let us know what questions you want candidates to answer.

Heads up: the first installment in this series will come on the week of January 22-26, which is National School Choice Week. If you have any school-choice related questions to ask our candidates, let us know! 

Taylor Dawson is director of communications for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

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4 New Year’s resolutions Alabama’s elected officials should make in 2018

 

Ah, January, the make-or-break month for New Year’s resolutions. Don’t you think that our elected officials—members of the legislature, state school board, executive branch, and others—should adopt some resolutions? I’ve got a few ideas for them.

      1. Commit to protecting taxpayers.

Want to raise taxes? Meet them with an offset elsewhere. Want to accept additional federal funding? Ask your constituents what they think, and make sure the program for which you’ll be accepting funding won’t put the taxpayers on the hook for an additional financial burden down the road. Want to help more Alabamians find jobs and start businesses? Consider doing something about burdensome occupational licensing restrictions. Fiscal responsibility and standing strong against policies that hurt taxpayers requires resolve, but it isn’t difficult.

      2. When we’re talking about matters of education, put schoolchildren first. 

For the longest time, matters of education in Alabama have been far too political. This year, as we look for a new state superintendent of education and the state school board continues to make decisions on programs and curriculum in our public schools, remember that the needs of our schoolchildren should come first before political games. Education is one of the most important things our state can give children. Their futures deserve to be taken seriously, not sacrificed in the interest of politics.

      3. Think long-term.

Alabama’s elected officials are historically really good at kicking the can down the road in terms of the problems facing our state. Short-term “fixes,” like the lottery proposal to “solve” the budget “crisis” in 2016, just aren’t going to cut it anymore. Alabama is my home, and it’s a place where I want to raise my children and grandchildren. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that for those of us who share that sentiment, we’re not too happy with the idea that our future generations might have to be saddled with financial burdens that we created — or allowed to persist — during our time.

      4. A year without a scandal would be the dream. 

I’ve sure had enough for a lifetime. Haven’t you? This is an election year, so I think — or at least I hope — that most folks in public service will use that, if no other reason, to keep their noses clean this year. We’ve all learned that Alabamians are none too fond of scandals. Every state has their problems, so let’s let the national media focus somewhere else for a bit, shall we?

And for the rest of us? We should resolve to ask our candidates and elected officials the tough questions, expect more from them, and hold them to the values they claim.

Taylor Dawson is Director of Communications for the Alabama Policy InstituteAPI is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

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Astounding percentage of Alabama’s budget is automatically spent, leaving state little flexibility

Did you know that ninety-three percent of Alabama’s budget is earmarked? A recent report from the Alabama Policy Institute explores this little-known fact about Alabama’s budget. 

Originally, an “earmark” was a sign of ownership–a mark in the ear of a sheep or other animal.  Today, earmarks are the sign of bad fiscal policy.

Earmarking is the dedication of certain tax revenues to the financing of specific programs. Currently, 93 percent of Alabama’s tax dollars are earmarked, by far the highest of any state. To put this into perspective, the state with the second-highest percentage of earmarks is Michigan at 63 percent.

This means that state officials only have discretion over how to spend 7 percent of Alabama’s tax dollars.

The excessive amount of earmarking in Alabama’s budget denies our state the financial flexibility that is necessary for taxpayer money to be spent efficiently and effectively.

So, what can be done about the earmarking issue? The Alabama Policy Institute offers two recommendations to drastically reduce its excessive amount of earmarking: setting a target of 25 percent or less earmarking in Alabama’s budget, and eliminating all earmarks that do not align with Alabama’s needs and priorities.

By implementing the recommendations of this Guide, state officials would be able to shoulder the responsibility of Alabama’s budget—and start spending taxpayer money so that it best meets Alabama’s needs and priorities.

Click here to read the full report, Guide to the Issues: The State Budget: Earmarks.

Taylor Dawson is director of communications for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

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Alabama’s 2017 ‘Naughty & Nice’ list released by the Alabama Policy Institute


The Alabama Policy Institute staff made a list and we’re checking it twice as we think back on 2017 and what was “naughty” or “nice.” What made your list this year?

Nice: The legislature passed four pro-life bills this year…

This year, the legislature passed four bills each that aim at protecting the sanctity of life, plus a bill that legalizes midwifery in Alabama.  The pro-life bills included a ban on assisted suicide, a provision that ensures the right-of-conscience of health-care providers, a bill that allows adoption agencies to operate and place children under faith-based policies, and a constitutional amendment affirming the right to life of unborn children. It is great to know that our lawmakers are unafraid to stand up for individuals’ rights and the right to life.

Naughty: But the legislature did not pass the changes to the Alabama Accountability Act, which would have broadened access to school choice for more of Alabama’s schoolchildren.

Amendments to the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) would have expanded the pool of donors and donations to the AAA, thus enhancing opportunities for children to have school choice who otherwise would have none. In 2016, donations to the AAA dropped from $25.8 million to $19.9 million.* If the system is not funded, schoolchildren will be forced to return to the failing schools they left. These amendments addressed the funding problem, but unfortunately, they did not pass. We’ll try again next time!

Nice: Alabama has a female governor! 

Governor Kay Ivey has faithfully served our state in many different capacities over the course of her career. Now, she’s Alabama’s top-ranking government official. Among other things in her first year, Governor Ivey has met with President Trump to discuss infrastructure, dissolved several Bentley-era task forces, and unveiled a gubernatorial initiative called “Strong Start, Strong Finish,” which focuses on early childhood education, computer science in middle and high school, and workforce preparedness. You go, Gov.

Naughty: Unfortunately, the events leading up to her appointment were not the best. 

I really don’t want to relive the saga of former Governor Robert Bentley and I don’t think that you do either. He used state resources on activities related to his alleged affair. He reportedly asked Alabama’s top cop about arresting his own wife for recording his phone calls. According to testimonials, he threatened state employees. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Alabamians have so much to be proud of, but this whole ordeal was particularly embarrassing.

 

Nice: In a recent survey, Alabama ranks fourth in the nation in charitable donations.

According to a survey by WalletHub, Alabama is fourth behind a three-way tie of Utah, Georgia, and Wyoming in highest percentage of income donated to charitable causes. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise in a state as conservative as Alabama. The truth is that government aid does not compare to the abilities of individuals who give to private charity. I’m proud to live in a state where people realize the importance of giving.

 

Naughty: The events leading up to the resignation of Superintendent Michael Sentance were an actual debacle… (And even naughtier were several of the school board members)

Michael Sentance was hired as the State Superintendent of Education in August 2016. Almost immediately, his tenure was surrounded by controversy, at no fault of his own. While Sentance came to his job with an abundance of fresh ideas from his time working in education in Massachusetts (which ranks 46 places higher than Alabama in overall education) members of the state school board seemingly felt threatened. For months, rumors swirled about the school board taking steps to fire him. In September, he resigned from his post. The search for a new superintendent begins again. When will we put Alabama students above politics?

 

Naughty: But Sentance’s resignation pales in comparison to the fiasco of the U.S. Senate Special Election.

This election was one of the ugliest in recent Alabama history. Friends turned into enemies, and you couldn’t turn on the TV or radio without having to endure political ads. In the general election, 21,000 voters were so disgusted with their choice of candidates, they showed up to vote but did not cast a ballot for either one. The Alabama Secretary of State’s office estimates that between $10 million to $15 million were spent to hold the special election, and over $10 million were spent by the two candidates in the general election. In a state as charitable as Alabama, imagine how much could have been done for others with all that money.

Nice: Over the last year, Alabama has added a net of 30,000 jobs. 

In the most up-to-date numbers from October 2017, Alabama added 29,400 jobs to its economy since January 2017.  Even better news, is the unemployment rate is the lowest on record at 3.8%. According to the latest numbers from U.S. News and World Report, Alabama ranks seventh in the nation in poverty. You know what’s a guaranteed way to pull people out of poverty? Having a job. Way to go, Alabama.

From the API team, we wish you a very Merry Christmas!

*If you’d like to donate to a scholarship granting organization, the deadline for this year is December 31! Head over to MyAlabamaTaxes.gov to donate.

Taylor Dawson is Director of Communications for the Alabama Policy Institute.

(Take this article over to social media and start a conversation with your family and friends)

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Will pro-life advocates in Alabama put their money where their mouth is to make an actual difference for women?

(Brian Stansberry/WikiCommons)
(Brian Stansberry/WikiCommons)

 

Voters in Alabama have great concern for the unborn. After Tuesday’s special election, many feel anguish over the loss of a reliably pro-life Senate seat, which could affect federal judicial appointments over the next several years. Without judges who respect the right of states to regulate abortion, pro-life voters feel especially helpless to defend the unborn.

Yet, amidst much discussion of the issue, I feel compelled to share the irony of my experience working with an Alabama pregnancy resource center, where converting pro-life advocates to pregnancy center donors is a sobering challenge. This reality has been, frankly, especially difficult to reconcile with the fervor on display in recent weeks.

While the political system in America will always have consequences for the unborn, it seems many advocates have overlooked opportunities and responsibilities that exist in our own backyard.

Consider Tuscaloosa Sav-a-Life, which operates across the parking lot from the state’s busiest abortion facility. In the clinic, dedicated staff and volunteers offer: pregnancy tests and ultrasounds; prenatal and parenting education; essential baby supplies (even into the toddler years); and post-abortive counseling for those who seek it—all free of charge. Most important, workers share the gospel and compassion of Jesus Christ. The clinic stays booked and does everything possible to accommodate walk-ins.

Sadly, the only thing preventing the clinic from accepting additional clients is a lack of funding. We need a nurse manager,  as well as another ultrasound machine and sonographer. We would like to open five days a week, offer more services, advertise more effectively, and retain or recruit staff with more competitive salaries. But without increased financial support, these goals cannot be attained.

Political candidates find no shortage of voters willing to finance their campaign or advocate their candidacy. But for those of us who believe, according to Scripture, that every individual is created in the image of God and is known to Him long before birth, it is a tragic and misguided mistake to place all our hope in men—flawed, by nature—who hold or seek office in a terribly broken political system.

Spending even one day in a pregnancy resource center affirms that unborn babies and their mothers are best served by face-to-face acts of service. Moreover, it makes clear that even if Roe v. Wade were reversed tomorrow, there is a deeper human need that cannot be met by government restrictions or programs alone.

This is not to dismiss the convictions of pro-life voters but to implore each of us to look beyond the ballot box. There are a number of pregnancy resource centers in Alabama: Find one and support it. Talk to the leaders of your church or civic organization about becoming a financial partner. Include one in your personal year-end giving. A donation of any amount will have an immediate impact.

Many mothers and fathers in our communities face unplanned pregnancies. By supporting organizations that exist to serve their needs, we can do more in one year to protect and preserve the sanctity of life than Washington will do in a lifetime.

Brooke Bacak is a guest contributor for the Alabama Policy Institute (API). Brooke is an expert in various public policy areas, having spent seven years of her career in Washington D.C. serving as policy advisor to several Republican members of the U.S. Senate, including Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Jeff Sessions, Senator Jon Kyl, and Senator Tom Coburn. Brooke and her husband reside in Tuscaloosa with their three children.

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Time to refocus on Montgomery issues like this little known fact about your taxes

Alabama State Capitol

 

Thinking back on the last year, a few things stick out in my mind: the words “fake news,” Alabama’s epic comeback to get a spot in the college football playoff (roll tide), and political ads from Alabama’s Senate election haunting me in my waking and sleeping hours.

With news cycle after news cycle over the last year dominated by this race, the memory of Alabama politics in 2017 is going to have me cringing for years to come.

But here we are, December 15, and we made it through the special election. I honestly never thought this day would come. In fact, at the beginning of this week, I started to panic a little bit about it all being over. What are the news outlets going to talk about now?

Here’s one thing: The Alabama legislature convenes on January 9 — only 25 days away. Now is the time for Alabamians — both lawmakers and voters — to refocus.

While keeping an eye on Montgomery might not be as interesting as D.C. politics, it’s no less important. Just like in D.C., your elected officials are deciding how to spend your tax dollars (well, around 7 percent of your tax dollars, but I’ll get to that). They’re making decisions that impact your life, your family, and your business. It’s our votes that elect them, and it’s our tax dollars that we allow them to appropriate each year to keep the lights on in Alabama. And we have some serious issues that our lawmakers should feel encouraged to tackle this year.

For example, did you know that ninety-three percent of Alabama’s budget is earmarked? That’s right: When lawmakers go to Montgomery to create the budget, they only have discretion over 7 percent of tax revenues that come in each year. Lawmakers should take a look at those earmarks, eliminate those that don’t directly align with Alabama’s needs and priorities, and shoot for trying to get that number down to 25 percent.

Or, how about this: Did you know that Alabama is the fourth most federally-dependent state? According to recent polling, an overwhelming majority of Alabama voters are concerned about this level of dependency and would like the legislature to hold a recorded up-or-down vote before accepting more federal funds. That’s not so difficult.

Going into an election year in 2018, it’s a given that legislators won’t want to do anything too controversial out of fear of losing their seat. But bringing responsibility back to budgeting, cutting a number of ties with the federal government, and restoring individual rights are goals that are far from controversial. In fact, if my representatives go to Montgomery on January 9 with those goals in mind, I cannot wait to vote for them in November.

When lawmakers return to Montgomery in less than a month, they ought to make it clear that they intend to protect their voters — Alabama taxpayers. And voters ought to shift our attention to Montgomery and hold them to that.

Taylor Dawson is Director of Communications for the Alabama Policy Institute. 

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Taylor Dawson: Is the American Dream still alive in Alabama?

(Pexels)
(Pexels)

 

A recent Pew Research study found that more than 80 percent of U.S. citizens believe they’ve achieved the American dream, or at least that they’re on the way to doing so. Only 17 percent of those surveyed said the American dream is “out of reach” for their family.

But what about Alabamians? This high level of satisfaction seems like it might not translate in a relatively poor state like ours.

U.S. Census data from 2016 indicates that 17.1 percent of Alabamians live below the poverty line. Based on that, one could reasonably conclude that because the percentage of those living below the poverty line in Alabama almost matches the percentage of those who believe the American dream is out of reach, affluence — or at least living above the poverty line — is the key to the American dream.

But it may not be that simple.

As the Pew study revealed, 89 percent of Americans (and Alabamians are likely no exception) agree that wealth is not central to achieving the American dream.

There are two big values, however, that were found to be key to its attainment: enjoying fundamental freedoms and having a strong family life. The Pew research found that a whopping 77 percent agree that the American dream is tied to “freedom of choice in how to live”, and 70 percent say having “a good family life” is essential to living the dream.

Freedom of religion and freedom of expression, including the freedom of speech and press, are protected by the First Amendment. Their preservation simply requires that the government and fellow citizens allow a person to exercise their faith and speak their mind as they see fit.

While the freedoms of religion and speech are paramount, other liberties are also essential to the American dream. A large majority of Alabamians embrace the right of a parent to teach their children as they see fit, the principle of free enterprise to engage in business without overregulation and taxation from the government, and the right of a gun-owner to legally purchase and carry a firearm without being treated like a criminal.

Needless to say, the survey’s second most agreed-upon basis for achieving the American dream — having a good family life — is far more personal than the protection of various liberties, but no less important. That’s likely the response of those surveyed because they inherently know what research statistically demonstrates. According to Dr. Pat Fagan of the Family Research Council, adults in intact families are statistically more economically productive, and children from broken families learn less, achieve less academically, and drop out of formal education earlier.

While financial freedom can certainly make life easier, the ageless adage that money can’t buy happiness seems to hold sway in the minds of most Americans, as it certainly must in the minds of most Alabamians. When it’s all said and done, affluence takes a back seat to the love and security of family in every estimation, and that reaches far beyond the traditional notion of the American dream.

Taylor Dawson is director of communications for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

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Leigh Hixon: Alabama lawmakers should curtail federal influence or step aside

 

Lawmakers in Alabama should heed the results of a recent poll revealing a striking consensus among Republican primary voters that the time has come to curtail federal influence in state affairs. Pointedly, these voters implicate elected officials for essentially selling state sovereignty in exchange for an unsustainable crutch of federal funds. Now, voters call for representatives to reverse course — or step aside for candidates who will. 

Voters perceive a direct and unfavorable correlation between strings attached to conditional federal dollars and diminishing state autonomy. But skepticism about such funds also extends to the motivation of lawmakers who approve them, with a mere 37 percent of respondents trusting Alabama’s elected officials to consider only the state’s best interests when determining whether to accept or reject federal funding. 

The implications for those already holding office escalates when voters are asked more specifically about their expectations for representation on this issue. The vast majority of respondents —65 percent— wanted to decrease the level of influence the federal government has over Alabama’s state legislators. 

And if current officeholders are unwilling to change direction, voters are hungry for bolder leaders who will. In fact, 64 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who campaigned on reducing or rejecting some federal dollars in order to limit DC influence in Alabama. 

The good news for legislators is that there is overwhelming and unifying support among voters for commonsense reforms. 

Nearly all respondents —91 percent— expressed support for an annual inventory of federal funds coming into the state. Such information would be useful to lawmakers and voters alike, in order to assess the true cost and value of policies developed in Washington to dictate life in Alabama. As of now, only 33 percent of voters polled felt informed about the mandates the state has already accepted in exchange for funding. 

In addition to closely scrutinizing the agreements that already exist, 79 percent of respondents supported requiring the legislature to hold a recorded, up-or-down vote before accepting any additional federal funding that comes with strings attached. This small step would force legislators to seriously consider the true cost of any “free” grant and allow Alabamians some opportunity to hold accountable those who do not put first the state’s current and long-term best interests. 

Perhaps most telling, 91 percent of those polled supported the creation of a contingency plan for financial readiness in the event federal funding for the state is reduced — a scenario 79 percent of respondents felt important to anticipate. A desire for more autonomous lawmaking is one thing, but a demand for the ability to be self-sufficient suggests an unsettling lack of confidence among the state’s electorate.

While these reform proposals represent a significant shift in philosophy and would align the state much closer to voter disposition, they do not require drastic changes. Their enactment, however, would go a long way toward appeasing a constituency with strong and well-founded concerns about the state’s costly reliance on federal funds to meet its budget needs.

The voter sentiments revealed by this poll are significant, especially for political candidates and officeholders who often seem leery of questioning any opportunity to enhance state coffers. Responses overwhelmingly indicate that voters understand the expense of some “free” appropriations and expect their representatives to do the same. Above all, the survey demonstrates that voters are willing to forego perceived budget boosts in order to preserve and enhance state financial health and readiness. Those holding an elected office — and those aspiring to do so — should feel emboldened to take up the banner for state sovereignty on the fiscal front.

Leigh Hixon is senior director of policy relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

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