Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.
Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.
“The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.
Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.
Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.
Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.
"Frontier Airlines will begin direct flights from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport on April 11, the airline announced today. Frontier Airlines will start by offering direct service to Denver, Orlando and Philadelphia from Birmingham. Introductory prices will start at $39."
"At 87, Clint Eastwood is not only trying new things, he’s trying daring new things, and his new film 15:17 to Paris represents one of the most audacious gambits of his career. To dramatize the tale of three Americans who tackled and subdued a heavily armed Islamist terrorist on a train out of Amsterdam in 2015, Eastwood cast the young men, none of whom had professional acting experience, as themselves. It’s a decision with little precedent in the entire history of motion pictures."
Mo Brooks calls for Senate to end ‘archaic’ filibuster rule
On Tuesday, Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks joined President Donald Trump in calling for an end to the Senate filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes to pass legislation.
The same day, the President took to Twitter to advocate for a simple majority vote in the Senate.
“The U.S. Senate should switch to 51 votes, immediately, and get Healthcare and TAX CUTS approved, fast and easy,” Trump tweeted. “Dems would do it, no doubt!”
Shortly thereafter, Rep. Brooks issued a statement concurring with the Commander-in-Chief, saying that he has long opposed the “archaic” rule.
“The Senate filibuster rule is outdated, obstructionist, and impedes progress,” Brooks said. “There is no statute or provision in the Constitution that supports a filibuster.”
“I stand with President Trump,” he added. “It is time to defeat the archaic filibuster rule to have a chance of implementing the Trump agenda, passing healthcare and tax reform legislation, balancing budgets, properly deliberating and passing spending bills, and ending the cycle of threatened government shutdowns.”
The Huntsville-area congressman explained that the Senate filibuster is an “accidental creation” of an 1806 Senate rules change, which has been used to “empower a minority of senators to thwart the will of the majority and kill legislation.” According to Brooks, the House of Representatives has does not share the rule, and he sees no reason why the Senate needs to keep it.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the rule change “will not happen.” However, certain key upcoming votes — like one that would repeal and replace Obamacare — will be attempted through budget reconciliation, a process that only requires 51 percent to pass.
Brooks is among several Republican hopefuls vying for the Alabama Senate seat currently held by Luther Strange. Party primary elections for the seat are set for August 15, with a possible runoff on September 26. The special election will take place on December 12.
Governor Ivey Ends Lawsuit Filed by Bentley, Trusting President Trump to Handle Refugees
Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey
In the wake of two important executive orders from President Trump this year regarding refugees, Governor Ivey has pulled the plug on a lawsuit filed by her predecessor, Robert Bentley. The suit challenged the federal government’s attempt to resettle refugees against without providing key information to the state.
The President filed one executive order in January and another in March, both aimed at temporarily block immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries like Syria. After hitting roadblocks in federal court with both orders, Trump has now proposed a 25 percent cut in funds for refugee resettlement.
According to an Associated Press report, Ivey’s general counsel, Bryan Taylor, says that the Governor withdrew the lawsuit with confidence that President Trump is addressing the matter on the federal level. “Governor Ivey welcomes the Trump administration’s change in policy to involve the states in the refugee resettlement process,” Taylor said. “Those concerns have now been addressed, and the litigation is ended.”
In January of 2016, former Governor Robert Bentley announced the State of Alabama had filed a suit against the federal government for failing to comply with the Refugee Act of 1980. The law specifically requires the federal government to consult with states before placing refugees within their borders, though the Bentley administration claimed no such consultation had occurred. The lawsuit charged that the U.S government agencies named as defendants failed to provide the state with sufficient information about the refugees who have settled or will be settled in Alabama. The suit was later tossed out by a federal judge.
According to a recent report from the U.S. State Department, only 46 refugees have arrived in Alabama between October 2016 and April of this year.
Alabama district attorney asks churches to help break up gangs
While liberal groups are petitioning for the government to drive away help from the church in confronting societal problems, one Alabama district attorney is making a direct plea to people of faith to help break up local gangs.
Hale and Bibb County District Attorney Michael Jackson is urging local churches to participate in his “adopt a gang member” program, which he hopes will encourage gang members to lean on faith instead of violence.
“We can’t bury our heads in the sand. I want this to be effective,” Jackson told WSFA in an interview last week.
“What we’re trying to do is develop a conscience for some of these young folks. We don’t want them killing people, robbing people and they don’t even blink an eye,” he later added.
Jackson’s initiative suggests that churches seek opportunities to mentor those involved in gangs, or even provide them with accountable leadership positions. He believes it will provide a way out for those caught up in criminal activity.
Jackson recently held a meeting in Selma to discuss the program with about 50 pastors. He says he’s testing the program first in Dallas County, but says he hopes it will eventually be implemented statewide. Ultimately, he said he hopes programs like his will allow churches to become the “backbone of the community” across the country.
Dallas County has faced one of the heaviest waves of gang-related crime this year. Last year, the city of Selma saw a spike of 16 shootings in one month, and many other violent incidents have been committed against law enforcement.
U.S. Attorneys fight back against criticism of Sessions’ tough-on-crime stance
Jeff Sessions speaks at Donald Trump's campaign rally in Mobile, Ala. (Photo: Screenshot)
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a lot of heat from liberal special interests and members of the mainstream media for his effort to roll back soft-on-crime policies put forth by the Obama Administration. Now, one key advocacy group representing federal prosecutors is fighting back against the attacks.
On May 10, Sessions released a memo instructing U.S. Attorneys to once again uphold certain sentencing laws related to drug crimes. The directive cancelled out a 2013 order issued by Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, which prohibited federal prosecutors from pursuing charges that would prompt mandatory minimum prison sentences. The move has been met with hostility from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that argue the policy unfairly penalizes low-level, non-violent offenders.
Amid attacks against the action, the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys (NAAUSA) instead says that Sessions’ opponents are spreading misinformation. On Monday, Breitbart reported that the organization hosted a press call in hopes of clearing up inaccuracies reported by the media.
“For years we kind of sat on the sideline and let other organizations like Families Against Mandatory Minimums [FAMM] and the ACLU get a story out there that was just not factually accurate,” said NAAUSA President Lawrence Leiser.
NAAUSA Treasurer Steve Wasserman said that Sessions’ order is “keeping with the laws of the country.” He also defended the federal sentencing rules, which he says have been inaccurately portrayed.
“The people who have been in favor of sentencing reform have done their best to conflate the state and federal criminal justice systems and leave people with the impression that we are prosecuting, at the federal level, street corner dealers that have a small bag of cocaine or marijuana on them or some kid that’s smoking a joint in his college dorm room,” Wasserman said.
“We at the federal level don’t prosecute ‘low-level drug offenders,'” he went on to explain. “We don’t prosecute users. Less than one percent of the federal prison population consists of inmates who are serving sentences for simple possession, and in almost every one of those cases, those individuals are couriers that plead down to a simple possession charge from a trafficking offense.”
NAAUSA has long stood behind the former Alabama Senator, and were among the first to endorse his nomination for U.S. Attorney General. In November, the organization released a statement praising Sessions as having “unquestionable integrity” and “an unwavering commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equal justice for all.”
Coastal Alabama Rep. slams ‘junk science’ behind shortest red snapper season ever
Fishermen on Alabama's Gulf Coast will have more time to fish for red snapper this year and vastly expanded waters to do it in. (Robert DeWitt/Alabama NewsCenter)
Alabama Rep. Bradley Byrne shares the frustration of most in his district when it comes to the federal government’s overregulation of red snapper fishing. According to him, Coastal Alabamians are infuriated over the announcement that the much-anticipated red snapper season will only last a pitifully short three days. He believes they have a right to be mad.
In a recent interview with Alabama Public Radio, Byrne said that the science used to determine the length of red snapper season is notoriously unreliable.
“[My constituents] have every reason to be outraged, because they have a right to fish in the waters of the United States, and they’re being deprived of that right by junk science. Put junk science in, you’re going to get a bad result out, and that’s exactly what we’ve got here,” Rep. Byrne said.
Every year, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), announces how long the fishing season will last based on the size and stock of red snapper fish. Byrne argues that NMFS’s data is flawed because the service does not measure fish populations in coastal reefs, and red snapper is a reef fish.
“If you dramatically understate the size of the stock and dramatically overstate the number of fish that are being caught, you’re going to dramatically and unnecessarily limit the season to a very short period of time. And that’s what’s happened this year,” Byrne explained.
The Mobile-area Congressman says that he has fought year-round for new laws that would establish a healthier fishing season. Additionally, he’s currently appealing to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose agency oversees the NOAA, to reevaluate this year’s season.
Local fishermen, tackle shops, boat charter companies, and others have long warned that the increasingly tight red snapper season is taking an economic toll on the area. This year, many will gather in Alabama’s coastal marina’s following the season for a protest against the harmful federal regulation.
The red snapper fishing season will begin June 1 and end on June 3.
What to do across Alabama over Memorial Day weekend
U.S. Marine Corps Flickr account
Across the state, Alabamians will spend the weekend celebrating with family and honoring the lives of those who have given their all for our nation. The state has events that cater to every age, so we’re sharing some of our top picks for you here.
Weather forecast: Mostly cloudy, low of 62 degrees
For the third year in a row, WHNT and The Association of the U.S. Army will host “An Evening at the Veterans Memorial.” The event will feature music and poetry readings. For those who cannot make it in person, you can catch a live stream here.
Weather forecast: Scattered thunderstorms, high of 82 degrees
Every year, the Alabama’s historically-focused American Village hosts a free event aimed at honoring “those in every generation who have served and sacrificed for the cause of liberty.” The day’s program includes historic demonstrations, Colonial games, “appearances” made by figures like Martha Washington, Patrick Henry, and Paul Revere, and a wreath laying ceremony at the Veteran’s Shrine.
On Friday night, gather on the lawn in front of Alabama’s Archives Building and enjoy this popular annual concert free of charge. Lawn chairs, blankets, picnic baskets, and coolers are all welcome. The music begins at 7:00pm, but arrive early to claim a good spot.
Weather forecast: Partially cloudy, high of 83 degrees
For those interested in spending the weekend truly reflecting on the sacrifices of America’s servicemen and women, Fort Morgan will host a special program on Saturday featuring historians dressed in uniforms from different eras. Their Memorial Day Tribute program will include guided tours of the historic fort, as well as historic weapons demonstrations and artillery shoots. Admission is $7 for adults, and $4 for children.
When pressed by Rep. Roby, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos confirms no more Common Core coercion
Common Core, an Obama-era education initiative that has concerned Alabamians for years, is losing its grip on Capitol Hill.
During an exchange with Alabama Congresswoman Martha Roby, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has pledged that her agency will refuse to unlawfully coerce states into adopting any curriculum, including Common Core standards.
The commitment was affirmed on Wednesday during a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee. Rep. Roby asked DeVos to acknowledge that the law forbids any use of pressure that could influence curriculum decisions.
“You can count me among those who believe that my state, Alabama, and all states should set high standards that challenge students and build critical thinking skills,” Roby said. “However, the intrusion of the federal government in that process – directly or indirectly – is inappropriate, and it invariably comes with a political agenda from Washington. This has bred a lot of confusion and mistrust, and in many states it has led to a volatile policy environment, so Secretary DeVos, I appreciate your commitment and your forthrightness on this issue.”
DeVos agreed on the need to encourage education excellence and competition among states, but reassured Rep. Roby that the Education Department’s approach to doing sowould follow the letter of the law.
“I would love to see a competition between all the states to outdo one another on how high they set their standards and how high they shoot. We should be shooting for excellence across the board, but in no way should it be a top-down, one-size-fits-all solution from the federal government.”
Roby’s opposition to coercing states into Common Core isn’t new. In 2013, she introduced the Defending State Authority Over Education Act, which aimed to completely remove the Department of Education’s ability to pressure states to adopt federal-level education policies by tying them to grants and waivers. This measure was ultimately signed into law when it was included in 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
From opponent to supporter: Mo Brooks praises latest version of GOP healthcare law
Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks, once a passionate opponent of House Republican’s first draft of the American Health Care Act, is now praising the latest version of the proposed law. His reaction follows a report released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which Rep. Brooks says validates key changes he insisted upon in the original bill.
Brooks says that, according to the CBO, the American Health Care Act will lower average premiums in the individual market by 4 to 30 percent or more. Additionally, he praised tax credits included in the amended health care bill, which range from between $2,000- $4,000 per year for an individual and up to $14,000 per year for a family.
“There is still much work to be done, but the AHCA is a step towards providing Americans the freedom to choose health plans that are right for them at a cost they can afford, not plans forced on them by Washington bureaucrats,” he added.
This week, it was revealed that Yellowhammer State is state hardest-hit by the failures of Obamacare. According to a new study released by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the average Alabamian is paying $397 more monthly for coverage today than they did in 2013.
Rep. Brooks was once outspoken against the AHCA’s original language, previously claiming it failed to deliver on promises Republicans made to the American people.
“This bill is a lump of coal,” he said in March. “And it is the largest welfare program ever proposed by Republicans in the history of the Republican Party. It’s going to be disastrous for our deficit and debt long term.”
Brooks announced earlier this month that he would run for the U.S. Senate in the upcoming special election. Party primary elections will be held on August 15, with a possible runoff on September 26. The general election is set to take place on December 12.
Alabamian nominated to serve alongside Ben Carson in top role at HUD
via Flickr credit given to Gage Skidmore
On Wednesday, President Trump announced that another Alabamian would be selected to fill a key role in his administration.
J. Paul Compton Jr, a Mountain Brook resident and partner in the law firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, has been chosen by Trump to serve as the General Counsel at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Currently, Compton serves as leader of the Alabama-based firm’s Affordable Housing and Community Development practice.
As the General Counsel of HUD, Compton will work alongside Secretary Ben Carson by providing legal opinions, advice, and services regarding departmental programs and activities. He will also play a major role in the department’s efforts to enforce the Fair Housing Act.
His nomination now awaits confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
Compton is far from the first Alabamian to be tapped by President Trump for a major job within his administration. Earlier this month, Trump nominated Kevin Newsom, another legal professional with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, to fill the vacant seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Most notably, Attorney General Jeff Sessions served as one of Alabama’s U.S. Senators for 20 years, and one of his top aides, Stephen Miller, also now works closely with the president. He also selected Alabamian Stephen Boyd to be the next Assistant Attorney General. Yellowhammer founder and former CEO Cliff Sims works for the president as the White House’s director of message strategy. Brock Long, a former Alabama disaster relief manager, was selected to head FEMA. Additionally, Trump recently announced that Spencer Bachus, former congressman for Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District, to serve out the remainder of a four-year term on the board of the Export-Import Bank.
Gulf Coast fishermen set to protest over-regulated, shortest-ever red snapper season
A catch of red snapper and cobia from Alabama’s Gulf Coast. The state’s artificial reef system makes fishing for red snapper relatively easy. (Robert DeWitt/Alabama NewsCenter)
Frustration over federal overregulation of the red snapper fishing has reached a new level following an announcement earlier this month that 2017’s fishing season will be the shortest ever. In response, Alabama sportsmen are planning a “floating protest” aimed at sending a message to the federal government.
This year, the red snapper fishing season will take place between June 1-3. On June 4, local fishermen will gather at marinas in protest of the painfully brief season, which could take an economic toll on tackle shops, charter companies, and other tourism-driven businesses.
Demonstrators in Florida and Mississippi are also planning similar events.
Restrictions on red snapper fishing have increasingly tightened since the mid-2000s. At the time, the average fishing season lasted about 200 days. Over time, the rapid decline of fishing permissions has caused many on the Gulf concern that the move is a precursor to an end of red snapper fishing altogether.
Alabama political leaders are doing their part to fight back against the announcement. Just two weeks ago, the city of Orange Beach passed a resolution requesting the federal government extend the three day season. Earlier this month, Mobile-area Congressman Bradley Byrne also joined Gulf Coast House members from other states in requesting that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross reevaluate and extend the season. In a letter to Ross, they called the decision “unacceptable.”
“On March 21st, we wrote to you about the importance of access to adequate fishing resources in the Gulf of Mexico, and namely Red Snapper. You responded that the Red Snapper fishery is a high priority for you and your department, and therefore it is time for more than three days,” the letter stated.
Alabama State Rep. Jack Williams not running for re-election, will seek leadership role on Jefferson County Commission
Alabama Representative Jack Williams (R- Vestavia) announced in February that he would not run for re-election to his House seat. At the time, he did not expect to seek another political office, but has now announced that he will vie for a spot on the Jefferson County Commission.
Rep. Williams told Yellowhammer News that he will mount a bid for the office held by David Carrington, who has already kicked off a run for governor. In an interview, he said that he was swayed to run after several Birmingham-area officials approached him about the position.
“Commission Carrington and before him Commission Carnes did a really good job moving the county through some very dark financial times and some real messy and sticky situations,” Williams said. “Reflecting on the work they’ve done made me realized that I have a deep passion for seeing Jefferson County develop and reach its potential.”
While Jefferson County has come a long way, Williams acknowledged that many problems remain in need of a solution. He pointed toward the area’s stagnant population growth over the past 40 years, adding that his campaign will emphasize fiscal responsibility, economic development, job creation, and tourism.
“We have an opportunity to do tremendous things in the realm of tourism when people come here,” he said. “They spend their money with our businesses, pay local taxes on their purchases. The benefit is we don’t have to take care of them or educate their children, we just have to entertain them and give them great things to visit while they’re here.”
Looking ahead to his campaign, Williams said that voters can expect “the same kind of leadership” from him on the County Commission as they’ve seen in the State House.
“I’m going to stand up and stand up strongly for the things that I believe in. And I’m not afraid to say when I think somethings wrong and it’s not in the best interest of our community,” Williams said. “I’ve always going to look out for the best interest in Jefferson County first and foremost.”
Rep. Williams has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2004.
Jeff Sessions just strengthened Trump’s crack down on sanctuary cities
Sen. Jeff Sessions appears on CNN's State of the Union. (Photo: Screenshot)
After taking extensive action to crack down on the unlawful policies of so-called sanctuary cities, the Justice Department and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have taken another step aimed at penalizing jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with federal law enforcement officials.
On Monday, the Attorney General released a memo providing clarity on the definition of a sanctuary city. According to the signed document, he and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly have decided that a sanctuary city refers “only to jurisdictions that ‘willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373.’”
Section 1373 requires state and local governments to cooperate with immigration law enforcement, though many cities, like San Francisco, have created policies that prohibit their workers from providing citizenship information even if requested by federal officials.
The memo also clears the path for greater restriction of federal dollars to cities that harbor illegal immigrants.
The move comes as a response to Obama-appointed judge William Orrick, who, in April, struck down President Trump’s January executive action seeking to withhold funds from sanctuary cities. Though Orrick’s sweeping decision claimed that federal entitlement funds like welfare and Medicaid could not be withheld, he added the caveat that his injunction would not block the government from withholding grants that are contingent upon compliance with federal immigration laws.
By directly addressing the nature of funds being withheld from such cities, Sessions strengthened the Justice Department’s position in preventing sanctuary cities from receiving certain federal funds.
“…Over the years, the Department has tailored grants to focus on, among other things, homeland security, violent crime (including drug and gang activity), and domestic violence. Going forward, the Department, where authorized, may seek to tailor grants to promote a lawful system of immigration,” the memo says.
Martha Roby leads in passage of bill combating child sex trafficking
House Resolution 1862, known as the Global Child Protection Act, would expand the definition of “illicit sexual conduct” to cover “sexual contact.” The small addition to the nation’s law is set to make a big impact: it will allow authorities to crack down on global sex tourism and empower them to punish criminal abusers.
Additionally, the legislation is poised to protect victims under the age of 12 by broadening the sentencing code to ensure that offenses against young children are treated with the same severity as crimes against those between the ages of 12 and 18.
“Loopholes in current law are allowing child predators to evade punishment for their abuse of children in the United States and overseas,” Rep. Roby said during a floor speech. “Certain types of sexual contact with children are not explicitly covered under the criminal definition of ‘illicit sexual conduct.’ This allows child predators engaged in global sex tourism to evade punishment for acts that are clearly abusive.”
Roby credits White House officials and the Justice Department for making the issue a top priority. She also pointed to the contribution of Ivanka Trump, who last week hosted the Congresswoman at a bipartisan roundtable addressing human trafficking.
“I appreciate Ivanka Trump inviting me and my fellow lawmakers to be a part of this exchange,” Roby said. “I believe her involvement and leadership on this issue can be instrumental to achieving results. It also wasn’t lost on me that in his first official act after being sworn-in, Attorney General Sessions presented the President with an executive order strengthening the enforcement of federal law on international trafficking.”
Sex trafficking remains a pervasive issue abroad, but also hits much closer to home. The stretch of I-20 between Atlanta, Georgia, and Birmingham, Alabama, which is used by over 10 million people each year, has been named as the “Sex Trafficking Superhighway.” Devastatingly, it’s frequently reported to be America’s number one road for human sex trafficking.
The Global Child Protection Act passed the House by a vote of 372-30, and now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Recapping the 2017 legislative session: What passed in Alabama, what failed to make the cut
State lawmakers tackled a number of challenging issues amid a turbulent year in Alabama politics. Following last week’s conclusion of the legislature’s 2017 Regular Session, following are the bills that passed as well as those that fell short.
NOTEWORTHY BILLS THAT PASSED
The General Fund Budget: The G.F. Budget was sent to the Governor two weeks ago along to fund all state services.
The Education Trust Fund Budget: This approved budget was sent to the Governor late last week. In this year’s version, several programs were K-12 programs were cut, but Higher Education budgets cuts were minimal.
Veterans scholarship changes: The bill will continue the Alabama G.I. Dependent’s Scholarship Program that allows dependents of disabled veterans to receive free in-state tuition, within certain limits. With increasing costs of higher education, however, lawmakers were forced to raise the qualifying thresholds, but this change does not affect students currently covered under the scholarship program.
Autism therapy requirement for insurance: Following a contentious battle in the Senate, lawmakers ultimately passed a measure that forces insurers to cover autism therapies for employees of companies with 51 or more employees. The benefit will apply to individuals 18 and younger. Governor Ivey has already signed the bill, making Alabama the 46th state to enact a law requiring some degree of autism coverage for minors.
Protection of historic monuments: On the final day of the 2017 session, lawmakers passed a bill protecting historic monuments from removal. The bill creates a standing committee to hear waiver requests from cities and counties, though historic artifacts under the care of museums, archives, libraries, and universities are specifically exempt from the prohibition against removal or alteration.
Legalization of midwives: On the final day of the legislative session, lawmakers also gave final approval to making it legal for certified midwives to deliver babies in the state.
NOTEWORTHY BILLS THAT FAILED:
Increased School Choice: Senator Marsh passed his increase to the Alabama Accountability Act, designed make sure students who receive scholarships don’t lose them, but the House voted against the increase in the school choice plan, thanks to intense lobbying efforts by the Alabama Education Association.
Prison reform: Overcrowding in Alabama prisons has long remained as a costly problem, but the bill to build new prisons is on ice for now. Reports indicate that Governor Ivey is considering calling for a special session to specifically address the issue.
Permit-less carry of concealed weapons: A bill that would have allowed citizens to carry guns without a concealed carry permit won approval in the Senate, but failed to pass in the House.
Repeal of Common Core: A bill that sought to return Alabama curriculum requirements to pre-Common Core standards stalled in the House Education Committee. Since introducing the bill, House Rep. Barry Moore (R- Enterprise) said that he plans to address the matter again in the 2018 session.
Alabama lawmakers approve bill cutting appeals time for death penalty cases
The Alabama legislature has passed legislation to reduce the time death row inmates spend awaiting their sentence.
Senate Bill 187, which received final passage on Thursday, has been titled the “Fair Justice Act.” If enacted into law, it would streamline the appellate process, allowing direct appeals to take place simultaneously with post-conviction stages of a death row case.
The legislation was modeled after Texas’ capital punishment law, where the average amount of time before execution is just over ten years according to the state’s Department of Criminal Justice. Currently, in Alabama, the average wait time for a criminal on death row is fifteen years and rising.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall is a key supporter of the measure. He says that it preserves fairness for convicted inmates but prevents the process from stalling, which unfairly affects families of victims.
“Each year that these appeals drag on, the general public is further removed from and even desensitized to the horrendous crimes that led to the sentences of every individual on death row. But, for the families of victims, the pain is not numbed with the passing of years. The endless appeals process reopens their wounds again and again,” Marshall said in a statement after the House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 187.
“This legislation is about justice, and justice should be fair and swift,” he added.
A measure similar to the Fair Justice Act was introduced two years ago but failed to gain necessary traction in Montgomery until this year.
The bill now heads to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk for final signature before it becomes law.
Alabama lawmakers make critical changes to veteran’s scholarship program
Alabama lawmakers have approved changes to the state veteran’s scholarship program, which directly impacts dependents of disabled servicemen and women. Ultimately, the changes may have saved the benefit altogether.
The move is bittersweet. While several members of the House and Senate acknowledged they would have preferred to leave the Alabama G.I. Dependent’s Scholarship Program as-is, the current plan is financially unsustainable considering the increasing costs of higher education. Other efforts to boost the program, like increasing the Veterans Affairs budget a by a whopping $26.5 million, still fell short of being able to fully prop up the program.
The scholarship assists dependents of disabled veterans with tuition, books, and fees at state-supported colleges and technical schools. In total, 16,595 dependents are enrolled.
Senate Bill 315, which was approved on Wednesday by the State Senate, made vital changes that aim at keeping the scholarship available for many. The legislation increases the threshold disability rating for veterans from 20 percent to 40 percent, but allows those currently taking advantage of the scholarship to remain grandfathered in until July 31, 2023. Additionally, the proposed plan caps each new recipients’ scholarship payout at $250 per credit hour and limits the amounts allowed for books and fees at $1000.
Even with the changes, Alabama’s veteran scholarship requirements are still among the more generous of all the states. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Florida and Arkansas require 100 percent, full disability ratings before dependents are eligible for their state’s scholarship programs. Virginia requires 90 percent disability report, while Kansas will only provide the benefit to dependents of a deceased, MIA, or POW service member. Other states like Minnesota cap their annual scholarship benefit for dependents of “severely disabled” veterans.
The bill now goes to Governor Kay Ivey for signature.
Alabama legislators fire back at political correctness, pass bill protecting historic monuments
Upon the legislation’s approval, Sen. Allen remarked on the grave importance of recognizing the actions of significant historic figures, flawed as they may be.
“Where does it end?” Allen asked. “Are all parts of American history subject to purging, until every Ivy League professor is satisfied and the American story has been re-written as nothing but a complete fraud and a betrayal of our founding values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?”
The bill creates a standing committee to hear waiver requests from cities and counties, though historic artifacts under the care of museums, archives, libraries, and universities are specifically exempt from the prohibition against removal or alteration.
“Let’s stop this absurd destruction of monuments that offend the tender sensibilities of any person, anywhere, and preserve our history – the good and the bad – for our children and grandchildren to learn from,” Allen said.
Last month, the City of New Orleans, Louisiana began the removal of several confederate memorials from public grounds, leading to many protests and counter-protests at the sites. According to the mayor of New Orleans, the monuments were removed because they “failed to appropriately reflect the values of diversity and inclusion that make New Orleans strong today.”
The bill now goes to Governor Kay Ivey for signature.
After winning re-election, Bentley said people would see the “other side” of him
Governor Robert Bentley speaks with then-Secretary of Law Enforcement Spencer Collier (Photo: Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
Following his re-election victory, former Governor Robert Bentley reportedly told one of his confidants that political opponents would no longer see the “nice” governor. Instead, he warned that his “other side” would come out during his second term in office.
That’s according to Spencer Collier, the former head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) who was fired by Bentley. At the time, Collier was accused by the then-governor of abusing state funds. He endured months of ethics and criminal investigations, though he was ultimately cleared of wrongdoing by the Attorney General’s office in October of 2016.
In an interview with Huntsville’s WHNT, the former law enforcement leader revealed that he first noticed signs of Bentley’s souring character on election night in 2014.
“He actually made a statement to me, ‘First term, everyone saw the nice governor. This term, they’re going to see the other side of me,’” Collier told the station. “Well, I had never seen the other side of Robert Bentley. And he became arrogant, which is totally contrary to his personality, or used to be.”
Later that evening, Collier was ordered by Bentley to drive over 140 miles to track down salacious audio of a conversation between the governor and his alleged mistress, Rebekah Caldwell-Mason. He now acknowledges that it’s a trip he shouldn’t have made: it roped him further into impeachment and criminal probes against the former governor.
Since then, Alabama’s former top cop says he’s going out of his way to avoid harboring resentment toward the man he once considered a friend.
“I purposely did not watch his speech to resign,” Collier said. “I just chose not to. As bad as he has made our life, and I say our, my family’s life, I still try not to take joy in someone’s misery.”
South Alabama lawmaker surprises with last-minute bid for U.S. Senator
Sen. Trip Pittman, Chairman, Senate Education Budget Committee
Alabama politics is nothing if not full of surprises. On the final day of qualifying for the special election for Alabama’s U.S. Senate race previously held by Jeff Sessions, and now held by Luther Strange, one contender–State Rep. Ed Henry of Hartselle–suddenly dropped out, while another unexpected candidate emerged. Now, Mobile-area State Senator Tripp Pittman is preparing a statewide campaign for U.S. Senate.
Pittman, who kept mum about running for the post, said that he had been considering making a move for the seat, but held back making a final decision until others he respected decided against running. He filed his paperwork on the final day of qualifying for the race.
“I felt like the people, the citizens of Alabama deserved the opportunity to have a competitive race,” Pittman said. “We should let them decide who they think the best person is to represent them in the Senate.”
When asked about Senator Luther Strange’s support from the powerful National Republican Senatorial Committee, Pittman took a shot at the D.C. establishment.
“I think if Luther’s already acting like an incumbent after a few months, what’s going to happen after a few years?” he said. “At the end of the day, the Washington crowd loves inside baseball. They want to control every aspect of what happens in the Senate.”
Pittman says his campaign will aim to reflect his conservative record in Alabama. He points to his effort to reduce the power of liberal special interests like the Alabama Education Association, who lost strength in the State House after the passage of a tenure reform bill that he sponsored in the Senate. Other matters that will be a priority will include term limits, reducing regulations, and promoting free enterprise.
“People need to understand that to keep America great, it’s about keeping America’s economic vitality strong and realizing that liberty requires responsibility,” he said. “At the end of the day, you may not be able to change everything, but you can sure try.”
Jell-O and classic cars? Alabama ranked third most ‘nostalgic’ state
Anyone from the state knows that Alabamians have an undeniable appreciation for the past. Now, a survey has identified the Yellowhammer State as having the third most nostalgic residents in the country.
The report comes from real estate blog Estately, which measured each state’s nolstalgia based on five interests: classic cars, antiques, vintage clothing, vinyl records, and (yes) Jell-O. The analysis scored enthusiasm surrounding each item based on Facebook likes correlating to each topic.
When compared to others, the Yellowhammer State ranked 38th for interest in classic cars, 10th for interest in vintage clothing, and 9th for interest in Jell-O. What caused the state to soar to the top of the survey was interest in antiques and vinyl records, where Alabamians came in 2nd in both categories.
While California took the number one spot overall, the South dominated the top of the list. Louisiana (4), Tennessee (5), Oklahoma (7), Kentucky (9), and Georgia (10) all made the top ten.
For those interested in learning more about their antiques or other blast-from-the-past interests, Samford University even has an acclaimed antiques course. The Birmingham-based university has hosted a six-week antiques class since 1972. Aimed at helping students understand their heirlooms, Professor Dan Brooks, who has taught the class for over 30 years, says the course is all about appreciating history.
Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh says he will not run for U.S. Senate
Sen. Del Marsh, President Pro Tem, Alabama Senate
After weeks of speculation over Del Marsh’s political future, the Senate President Pro Tem has announced that he will not seek election to the U.S. Senate seat once held by Jeff Sessions.
Marsh has indicated that he believes state government needs stability following a series of political scandals, including the resignation of Governor Bentley.
Earlier this month, the Anniston Republican revealed that he was interested in the Senate seat. At the time, he confirmed having met in D.C. with leaders of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) to address their controversial position to treat appointed Senator Luther Strange as an incumbent.
“All I would ask is that they let Alabama choose its senator,” Marsh said, as reported by the Montgomery Advertiser. “They said ‘Well, we protect our incumbents.’ I said ‘Well, I don’t consider Gov. Bentley’s hand-chosen senator to be the incumbent. I think the people will choose that in an election cycle.”
Republicans who have confirmed a run for the seat include current Senator Luther Strange, Huntsville-area Congressman Mo Brooks, ousted state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, State Rep. Ed Henry (R- Hartselle), and Randy Brinson, head of the Christian Coalition of Alabama.
Though he is passing up a bid for Senate, Marsh still may be a candidate to watch in the future. In the past, he’s indicated interest in higher office and has often been pointed to as a strong potential gubernatorial candidate.
The deadline to file for candidacy is Wednesday, May 17. The primary election is set for August 15.
Time’s running out for the 2017 Alabama legislative session: Here’s what still needs to move
Time is ticking until the Alabama legislature wraps up the 2017 session. With only a couple of days left before the House and Senate adjourn for the year, a number of key bills are still in need of passage.
Here are the critical bills we’re watching this week:
The Education Budget
The state Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget will be a top priority for lawmakers in the next few days. The latest version of the ETF authorizes $6.4 billion in education spending for the upcoming fiscal year, which will pay for hiring 150 new teachers across the state. However, the House and Senate versions are slightly different, so today it will be debated by a Conference Committee where House and Senate members will likely resolve the differences and pass this legislation to fund Alabama’s education system.
Permitless Carry Bill
SB 24 would eliminate the requirement to obtain a permit in order to lawfully carry and it passed the Alabama Senate by a vote of 25-6 last month. However, the bill is languishing in a House Committee and our sources inside the legislature are not optimistic about this bill’s passage during this session.
Back in 2012, the Alabama legislature reconfigured its districts but the federal courts said nine House and three Senate districts must be redrawn before next year’s election. A new bill was proposed to address those concerns but Democrats still say it isn’t fair and have been using stall tactics to delay its passage. Nevertheless, it finally passed the House last week and moves to the Senate this week, where lawmakers believe it will ultimately be passed.
Work on the prison reform bill to update the state’s aging correctional facilities dominated much of the legislature’s debate in the early part of the session. The reform bill has passed the Senate and our sources in the legislature say the House is likely to consider it tomorrow, so we’ll have to stand for the result.
Scholarships for Veterans
Republican lawmakers are also working to save the Alabama G.I. Dependent’s Scholarship Program, which has been called “unsustainable” considering increasing costs of higher education. Currently, the scholarship assists dependents of disabled veterans with tuition, books, and fees at state-supported colleges and technical schools. House and Senate legislators are faced with the challenge of stabilizing the program while protecting the needs of veterans and the 16,595 dependents that have enrolled.
Common Core Repeal
Another bill that has garnered considerable attention is a measure to repeal Common Core and protect local control by preventing state officials from adopting other national standards in the future. Sponsored by Rep. Barry Moore (R- Enterprise), the legislation is currently stalled in the House Education Committee.
Breaking: Senator Strange sponsors bill to pay for border wall with sanctuary city dollars
Across the nation, the Trump Administration has led a crackdown against so-called “sanctuary cities.” While U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has threatened to pull funding from governments that harbor illegal immigrants, Senator Luther Strange is going a step further.
Yellowhammer News learned today that the Senator’s filed a new bill entitled the Securing the Border and Protecting Our Communities Act. This measure would block some federal transportation grants to sanctuary cities when those cities refuse to uphold federal immigration laws. The bill also proposes cutting funds to cities or states that penalize local businesses for bidding to work on the border wall.
Senator Strange filed the bill along with Senator David Perdue (R-GA), and it also directs that the funds cut from these sanctuary cities will be used to fund the wall the President is moving to construct on the country’s Southern border
Senator Strange explained the importance of this legislation:
“The American people spoke out loud and clear last year in support of one of President Trump’s most important promises – to finish building the wall on our Southern border. I introduced this bill to make it clear that cities do not get to play games with the safety of their people or ignore clear federal statutes. They can either follow the law or fund the wall.”
Senator Perdue of Georgia concurred:
“Sanctuary cities continue to put politics over safety and security. In their latest attempt at political grandstanding, sanctuary cities are threatening to penalize their own taxpaying local businesses if they submit plans to help enhance our border security with a wall. Our nation is a nation of laws. Until these cities join the rest of us in following these laws, they have no business receiving federal grant funds.”
This bill sends a clear message to states like California, New York, and Rhode Island who’ve moved to keep their states from awarding contracts to companies bidding on construction of the wall. The city of Berkley, California has created a “black list” to cut funds to companies that want to assist with the wall, so this measure will also directly address those actions.
In November, President Trump’s victory was based in significant measure on his promise secure our borders. Since then, he’s signed an executive order laying the groundwork for the wall.
Sessions delivers on gang crackdown: Over 1,000 arrested
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is following through on a promise to strengthen law enforcement against gangs across the United States.
On Thursday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) announced that over 1,000 with connections to gangs have been detained.
Of 1,378 total arrested, 1,095 were confirmed as gang members and affiliates – including 137 affiliated with the Bloods, 118 with the Sureños, 104 with MS-13, and 104 with the Crips.
The announcement comes after an April 11th address given by Sessions at the U.S.-Mexico border, in which he vowed to weaken violent gangs and cartels.
“When we talk about MS-13 and the cartels, what do we mean? We mean international criminal organizations that turn cities and suburbs into warzones, that rape and kill innocent civilians, and who profit by smuggling poison and other human beings across our borders,” Sessions said. “It is here on this very sliver of land—on this border—that we take our stand. It is a direct threat to our legal system, peace and prosperity.”
ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan praised the swift action taken to lessen the grip of gangs, emphasizing that cooperation with local law enforcement is key to their success.
“Gangs threaten the safety of our communities, not just in major metropolitan areas but in our suburbs and rural areas, too,” said Homan. “Gang-related violence and criminal activity present an ongoing challenge for law enforcement everywhere. Our efforts to dismantle gangs are much more effective in areas where partnership with local law enforcement is strongest.”
In January, Birmingham “symbolically” passed a resolution naming the city as a Sanctuary City. At the time, Mayor William Bell stated that the city would not work to help federal agents enforce immigration law.