The Wire

  • Rep. Byrne to Hold 12 Town Hall Meetings

    From a Congressman Bradley Byrne news release:

    Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) announced today that he will hold twelve town hall meetings during the August District Work Period.

    Known as the “Better Off Now” Town Hall Tour, Congressman Byrne will hold public town halls in each of the counties that make up Alabama’s First Congressional District. Byrne will discuss how the American people are better off now thanks to a booming economy, stronger military, and safer communities.

    Byrne ranks among the top of all Members of Congress for the number of town hall meetings held. Since assuming office in late 2013, Byrne has held over 100 town hall meetings, including meetings over the phone and through Facebook.

    All the town hall meetings are open to the public and free to attend. All the information can be found online below.

  • HudsonAlpha technology director to present at Google Cloud conference

    Excerpt from a HudsonAlpha news release:

    HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology Technology Director Katreena Mullican has been invited to present at the Google Next ‘18 conference in San Francisco, Calif, July 24-26.

    Google Next is an international conference where more than 10,000 developers, technology leaders, and entrepreneurs come together to have a collaborative discussion about the Google Cloud Platform.

    Mullican has more than 20 years of experience in architecting Linux, virtualization and hybrid cloud solutions. As HudsonAlpha’s Cloud Whisperer, Mullican brings her expertise in automation of on-prem composable and public cloud infrastructure for scientific applications and workflows to the Institute.

    “HudsonAlpha is one of the top sequencing centers in the world, so it’s my job to think outside the box to design hybrid platforms appropriate for our sequencing and research workloads,” said Mullican.

    Mullican will participate in a Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Cloud Talk Tuesday at 1:00 pm in the South Hall to discuss how HudsonAlpha uses the composable HPE Synergy platform for an on-premises Kubernetes cluster that can scale to Google Cloud Platform.

  • Tabitha Isner claims Russia hacked campaign website — ‘Russian meddling in U.S. elections continues to be a real and immediate threat’

    Excerpt:

    Late Thursday afternoon, Democratic congressional hopeful Tabitha Isner issued a press release claiming “incidents of ‘brute force attacks’ on her campaign’s main webpage.”

    “When investigating the source of these attacks, the website administrator discovered over 1,400 attempts to login to the website as an administrator in the past week,” the release from campaign manager Megan Skipper said. “Of those 1,400 attempts, 1,100 came from Russian I.P. addresses. Russian meddling in U.S. elections continues to be a real and immediate threat.”

4 months ago

Taylor’s Top Eight: End-of-session edition

(Pixabay/YHN)

It’s been just over a week since the 2018 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature came to an end. After marinating on this year’s 26 legislative days, here are my takeaways in the final legislative review for 2018.

There were a few pieces of legislation for which our legislators deserve a round of applause.

1. Ride-sharing services, like Uber and Lyft, are now free to operate statewide, strengthening entrepreneurial capitalism for all Alabamians!

The fact that Uber and Lyft now have the framework to operate all over Alabama is a win for the entire state. In addition to the added safety that having an on-demand driver provides to individuals and communities, these companies operate in such a way that individuals who choose to work for them can practically be their own boss. Increased safety, economic growth, and giving folks the opportunity to have a job — sounds pretty ideal to me! Added bonus: this proposal got young people interested in the legislative process. Talk about a win!

2. A compromise was reached on child care facility safety standards.

During the 2017 legislative session, a bill was proposed — and debated intensely — that would license all child care facilities, whether religious or not. Religious liberty advocates weren’t big fans of the state licensing religious child care facilities. But this year, licensing advocates worked with religious liberty advocates to create a compromise bill that prioritized both the safety of children and religious liberty concerns. Now, all child care facilities in Alabama will have increased safety oversight, and we have a model for how parties on both sides of an issue can work together.

3. Military families should receive reciprocity for their occupational licenses.

It’s no secret that Alabama’s occupational licensing laws are restrictive, and according to a recent API report, these laws disproportionately affect military families. A bill before the legislature this year aimed at lessening those restrictions on military families by providing reciprocity of licenses from other states for military spouses. It passed without a single vote against, but is still waiting on the governor’s signature. There is still much more to be done to reform Alabama’s occupational licensing laws, but this was a great first step.

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4. The Legislature approved the largest tax cut for Alabamians in over a decade.

A bill that was passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Ivey will give a modest tax cut to low- and middle-income earners in Alabama by increasing the standard deduction for an estimated 180,000 Alabamians. The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates this tax cut will lower tax collections in Alabama by $4 million. The bill passed both chambers with no opposition. Anything that puts more of Alabamians’ hard-earned dollars back into their pockets and out of the hands of government is a win in my book.

There were also some actions by the legislature that raised a few eyebrows.

5. The juvenile justice system did not get much-needed reforms

API has been vocal in support of Alabama’s need for reform in the juvenile justice system. In 2017, The Alabama Juvenile Justice Task Force was established. The task force proposed several reforms leading into this year’s legislative session, with support from national organizations weighing in on proposed reforms. The juvenile justice bill passed the House, but despite attempts from Senate sponsors, it failed to pass the full Legislature in the final days of the session. Juvenile justice reform is a serious issue, and it ought to be taken seriously and prioritized by the Legislature next year.

6. Former legislators social club — what an idea that was.

Remember earlier in the session when we heard about a bill that would create a social club for former legislators? Why would legislators need a bill to create a networking association? Anyone can create a social-networking club, but this legislation included a provision for association employees to be enrolled in both the state healthcare and retirement programs. This means that taxpayer funds, that could go to education or infrastructure, would go to club support staff. Alabama tax dollars should not be spent on the expensive health and retirement benefits of an ex-legislators-only social club. Good thing this bill didn’t last long.

What are we expecting to see more of next year?

7. Occupational licensing reform is a must.

The Trump administration, Obama administration, and workers across our state and nation can agree — something needs to be done about occupational licensing restrictions. According to a study by the Institute for Justice, Alabama ranks 47th in terms of most burdensome licensing restrictions in the country. Next year, Alabama’s lawmakers should prioritize reforms that would allow Alabamians to work without having to receive a permission slip from the government.

8. Efforts to improve and expand school choice should be a priority.

There were plenty of pieces of legislation that dealt with education in Alabama this past legislative session — from a pay raise for education employees to the hiring of county superintendents. In the midst of all of this, Alabama is looking for a new state superintendent. At API, we have great hope for education in Alabama in the coming years. A great step forward would be allowing all parents the freedom to make the best choice for their child’s education, whether that is through expanding the Alabama Accountability Act, authorizing education savings accounts, or something else entirely. This is an area where Alabama can be innovative in providing options for our families and schoolchildren, and we hope they will take that opportunity!

4 months ago

Taylor’s Top Four: Legislative review for week 11

The countdown is on! What’s happening as the session winds down? Read below to find out!

1. Gun bills might be finished for this session . . .  

With time quickly winding down in the legislative session, the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee had a meeting scheduled on Tuesday to consider several things: a bill that raises the age to by an AR-15 from 18 to 21, a bill that would allow judges to take firearms away from individuals who might use them for self-harm or harm to others, and a bill that would ban the sale of AR-15s and other similar guns. The meeting was canceled due to lack of participation—only 4 of the 11 representatives on the committee showed up for the meeting. Additionally, the house, on Tuesday, left without debating Representative Will Ainsworth’s (R-Guntersville) bill to arm teachers. With the session expected to end next week and with no action on the bills this week, it appears that time has run out for these bills this session. Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) has said that Ainsworth’s bill will come up again next session, while Ainsworth has called on Governor Ivey to call a special session to consider school safety proposals.

2. But school safety still looks to be a priority of the legislature.

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Just because the legislature isn’t making a decision about arming teachers this session does not mean that they are not concerned with school safety. A bill before the legislature would allow school districts to take money from the Advancement and Technology fund. According to Representative Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), “If [the school systems] have some security needs, whether those are security cameras or improving door lock systems or alert systems or whatever the case may be, the local districts will have the flexibility to point these resources to those specific needs.” The bill previously passed the Senate, passed the house this week, and now heads back to the Senate for a conference committee or concurrence vote.

3. A bill that would bring an ethics law change for economic developers is still moving, but maybe not for long. 

Remember the controversial ethics bill that the House passed by a large margin during week 9 of the legislative session? As a reminder, this bill would allow economic developers to be exempt from the rules that lobbyists are subject to, which includes registration as a lobbyist,  annual training, and reporting of activities. Earlier week, the bill was passed by the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee. On Thursday, Senator Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery) told reporter Chip Brownlee that there are a handful of senators ready to filibuster the bill in its current form. Brian Lyman reported that there may be a substitute in the works, which would be brought up on Tuesday.

4. BJCC expansion is one step closer to becoming a reality.

You might remember hearing about a proposal to renovate and grow the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex by adding a stadium. Well, in order to fund that project, there is a bill currently before the legislature that imposes a 3% tax on car rentals and leases in Jefferson County. According to Barnett Wright with The Birmingham Times, “The rental tax is expected to generate about $3.5 million a year to help pay the debt service on the project, which the BJCC Authority estimates will be about $21.5 million a year.” The bill, sponsored by Senator Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) and Representative Jack Williams (R-Vestavia Hills), has passed both chambers and heads to Governor Ivey for a signature.

You also might want to know about…

—  Governor Ivey signed a few things into law this week, including…

—  A bill that would allow death row inmates a third option for execution—nitrogen hypoxia.

—  A contract with Wexford Health to handle the medical and mental health care at Alabama’s prisons. If you remember, the legislature held up the signing of this contract several weeks ago.

—  A tax break for low-income and middle-income individuals and families in Alabama.

—  The Child Care Safety Act, a bill by Representative Pebblin Warren (D-Tuskegee) that allows for more oversight into religious and non-religious day care facilities.

—   Senator Bill Hightower’s (R-Mobile) bill to allow Alabamians to vote on whether or not they want legislators to be term-limited did not pass in the Senate this week.

—   Alabama is one of only two states that does not have a law mandating equal pay for men and women. A bill by Representative Adeline Clark (D-Mobile) would change that, but since it did not get a committee vote this week, it is unlikely to pass.

—   The legislature has approved a bill that will allow UAB to create the Rural Hospital Resource Center, a facility that will be able to provide assistance to Alabama’s rural hospitals.

—   In November, voters will get to decide on a constitutional amendment that will allow the display of the ten commandments on public property, including schools.

—   After the threat of a filibuster, the stand-your-ground-in-church bill, which was up for debate in the Senate this week, has been stalled.

—   The Alabama Rural Broadband Act, a proposal that would offer grants to companies that will bring broadband internet to Alabama’s rural areas, has passed the legislature and is waiting for the governor’s signature.

4 months ago

Alabama State Legislature review for week 10 — Taylor’s Top Four

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The session looks to be winding down, but we aren’t going anywhere! Here’s your recap of week 10 in the Alabama legislature.

If you want to receive daily news 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 has almost crossed its last hurdle. 

On Tuesday, the house passed the 2019 General Fund budget, which passed the Senate in February. The Montgomery Advertiser reported that it was the fastest the budget has passed in years: “‘The Clerk of the House, who’s been here 30 years, said that’s the fastest he’s seen it,’ said House Ways and Means General Fund chair Steve Clouse, R-Ozark. ‘It’s my 24th year, and I know that was the fastest.'” There are a few things in this budget that have been widely talked about this year: a pay raise for state employees, a bonus for state retirees, a funding increase for the Department of Corrections, and another increase for Medicaid.

Next steps for the budget: back to the senate, either for a concurrence vote or a conference committee, and then to Governor Ivey for a signature. The end is in sight!

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2. Education Trust Fund budget is moving a little slower. 

The 2019 Education Trust Fund budget—which includes a pay raise for education employees—has had a bit of a harder time making its way through the legislature. When the proposed budget went through senate committee on Tuesday, Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), the chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee, responded to questions from committee members during the meeting, which lasted for over two hours. This budget only differs slightly from the one passed by the house in February. The budget passed out of senate committee on Tuesday and passed the full senate on Thursday by a 29-0 vote. Now it—just like the General Fund budget—goes back to its chamber of origin for a conference committee or a concurrence vote, and then to the governor. 

3. New requirements and regulations might soon be coming to Alabama child care facilities. 

It has been a long journey for Representative Pebblin Warren’s (D-Tuskegee) child care safety bill. After being one of the most debated bills during last year’s session and ultimately dying in the senate, a new version of the proposal came back this year. This year’s proposal is a compromise between licensing advocates and religious liberty advocates. Senator Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville) helped to slow down the bill last week, but said he would not this week.  After spending a week in “legislative limbo,” as termed by the Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman, the bill passed the senate by a 23-4 vote. It now heads to the governor. 

4. School safety remains a hot issue this week.

Although school safety bills were thought by many as unlikely to pass this session, multiple proposals have moved in Montgomery this week. The house voted 83-6 to establish the Alabama Task Force on School Safety and Security, which would require a task force to study current Alabama education and safety laws and policies and provide recommendations to the legislature annually. Additionally, a measure passed in the senate that would allow schools to use money, previously dedicated to a state technology fund, to improve school security—including for the hiring of school resource officers. Lastly, Rep. Ainsworth’s bill that would allow trained teachers to carry guns was met with a public hearing on Wednesday and passed a house committee on Thursday, 5-4. None of these measures have been approved by both chambers yet.

You also might want to know about…

—   An amended version of the Juvenile Justice Bill (HB225) passed 69-20. API published an op-ed on juvenile justice reform you can read here.

—   Rosa Parks Day is closer to becoming a holiday. The bill was passed by senate committee this week.

—   Payday lending bill running out of time. The bill has passed the full senate, but is awaiting a committee meeting in the house.

—   A bill banning racial profiling and requiring law enforcement to report race, age, gender, and other information about drivers and officers involved in traffic stops to the attorney general’s office was approved by a house committee this week. The bill has already cleared the senate.

—   Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering might soon become a reality in Huntsville. Senator Arthur Orr’s (R-Decatur) bill that creates the school passed the senate earlier in the session and cleared a house committee this week.

—   Representative Lynn Greer’s stand your ground in church bill passed senate committee. The bill now goes to the full senate.

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.

4 months ago

ICYMI: The Legislature last week – Tax cuts – School safety – Ethics

(State of Alabama)

We are back with your recap of another week in Montgomery! What happened last week in the Legislature and beyond? Read below to find out!
If you want to receive daily news from across the state and nation straight to your inbox each morning, click here to subscribe to API’s Daily Clips.

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  1. Tax cuts might soon be in store for some Alabama families.

Last Thursday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a modest tax break bill that increases the standard deduction for an estimated 180,000 lower-income Alabamians, by a vote of 89-0. Residents who file Married Filing Joint, Head of Family, or Single and make between $20,500 and $32,999 could see a decrease in taxes if they typically accept the standard deduction and do not itemize. Those who file as Married Filing Separate must make between $10,250 and $15,249 to qualify. The bill passed the Senate without opposition in January and now heads to Governor Ivey’s desk.

  1. Governor Ivey introduces her own school safety initiative.

The governor announced a school safety initiative during a press conference at the State Capitol last Tuesday. The executive order creates a council tasked with considering all school safety ideas including, from the governor herself, “arming personnel, utilizing security teams, [and] controlled access to buildings”. The council was asked to submit a report by April 30. The Legislature’s regular session will likely end this month, however, and many, including Bryan Lyman of the Montgomery Advertiser, are doubtful that any bills addressing school safety will pass this session. Governor Ivey could, however, call for a special session later this year.

Last Thursday, a Senate committee passed a bill—which was endorsed by Governor Ivey at her Tuesday press conference—that allows school systems to take money from the Advancement and Technology Fund to go toward school safety measures. The leaders of both legislative chambers—Senator Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and Representative Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia)—have both called for a responsible and thorough approach to school safety.

  1. API and the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy released new research with the hope of seeing occupational licensing reform come to Alabama.

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.” Last Tuesday, API and the Johnson Center debuted the report’s findings to an audience of lawmakers, academics, and economists. Occupational licensing imposes substantial costs on Alabamians in terms of reduced occupational mobility, reduced entrepreneurship, higher unemployment, and higher consumer prices. Speakers at the event included API Senior Director of Policy Relations Leigh Hixon, Associate Professor of Economics at St. Francis University Dr. Edward Timmons, policy analyst at the Johnson Center and co-author of the report Courtney Michaluk, and Bruce Locke, a retired auctioneer who shared his hardships dealing with the licensing board, which ultimately led to him giving up his license.

  1. Remember last week when changes to ethics laws were moving, and then they weren’t? Well, they’re on the move again.

The Alabama House of Representatives spent last Tuesday evening debating an ethics bill that would exempt economic developers from having to register as lobbyists. Proponents of the bill argue that these changes are essential to recruiting jobs to Alabama and that current requirements are scaring away businesses. Opponents labeled the bill as an attempt to weaken Alabama’s ethics laws, a characterization that bill-sponsor Johnson flatly rejected. Although the debate lasted hours, the bill passed, 79 to 7. Two other ethics bills—one requiring lawmakers with consulting contracts to file with the state Ethics Commission and another that expands the definition of a minor ethics violation—received favorable reports from the House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee early this week.

You also might want to know about…

— The House passed a bill making it a capital offense to murder a police officer, first responder, corrections officer, or a child under 14. The bill passed by a 72-20 vote, with six representatives abstaining.

— Bills were introduced in both chambers this week that would make December 1 of each year Rosa Parks Day in Alabama.

Senator Bill Hightower’s sexual harassment policy was adopted by the state Senate.

— A teacher pay-raise bill passed the state house 104-0 and now moves to the Senate.

— The BJCC may be expanding, and a bill that would allow for its funding passed a house committee this week and could be considered in the full house next week.

— State employees haven’t received a pay raise in a decade, but a bill providing for a 3% increase, which is part of the General Fund budget for 2019, passed a house committee last Wednesday afternoon.

— A public hearing last Wednesday addressed a bill aimed at racial profiling that would require police officers to document the race of those pulled over in a traffic stop.

The Senate passed a bill that changes the time to pay back a loan from a payday lender from ten days to thirty days.

A bill that would require county superintendents to be appointed by the county board of education, rather than elected, passed the Senate last Thursday. This bill only applies to counties that do not already have procedures for electing superintendents specified in the state constitution.