The Wire

  • Poarch Creek Indians’ Robbie McGhee: We don’t mind supporting a lottery ‘if it is something good for the state of Alabama’

    Excerpt:

    The possibility of a lottery in Alabama’s future is something that has been put forth by both gubernatorial candidates, incumbent Republican Gov. Kay Ivey and Democratic nominee Tuscaloosa Walt Maddox in recent weeks. In an interview that aired on Huntsville’s WHNT on Friday, State House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) has gone as far as predicting the legislature would take up lottery bill during the 2019 session.

    Given that, it is looking more likely voters may have an opportunity to vote up or down on a lottery for Alabama. One place that it appears less likely a lottery would run into opposition is from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI), which operate three casinos in Alabama.

    In an interview that aired on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal” on Friday, PCI’s governmental relations advisor Robbie McGhee indicated his tribe would not oppose a lottery given this renewed interest in it.

    “It is something we have spoken to in the past that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians doesn’t have a problem with the lottery,” McGhee said.

  • Anniston Star chair, publisher Josephine Ayers gave 4 times to Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during 2018 cycle

    Excerpt:

    A reoccurring theme within Anniston Star editorials and from its editorial staff on social media as of late has been to protest Rep. Mike Rogers’ (R-Saks) unwillingness to sit down with the paper’s editorial board.

    Phillip Tutor, the commentary editor of the Star, has argued for Rogers to come to the editorial board and “to talk with him and hear his views on important things.”

    According to Rogers, he has declined those invitations because of what he indicated was coming to a hostile atmosphere where there was little to gain.

  • Krispy Kreme offering coffee-glazed doughnuts this week only: Here’s where you can get them in Alabama

    Excerpt:

    Krispy Kreme will offer their new “Coffee Glazed” doughnut and “Original Glazed” flavored coffee starting Monday, and 13 Alabama locations will participate.

    While the new coffee will become a permanent fixture on the menu, the coffee-glazed doughnuts will only be available through Sunday.

    In addition to enjoying both new products throughout the week, Alabamians can grab a free Krispy Kreme coffee, of any size, on National Coffee Day – Saturday, September 29 – at participating locations, with no purchase necessary. Krispy Kreme Rewards members receive the extra perk of a free doughnut with their coffee on that day.

    Here are the participating locations:

Rep. Byrne: Breaking down Tax Reform 2.0

(YHN)

Since Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act last year, the American economy is booming, and Alabama families have more money in their pockets. By lowering taxes and simplifying the tax code, we have unlocked our economic potential and made life better for hardworking Americans.

The economic numbers speak for themselves: higher wages, lower unemployment, more jobs, bigger paychecks, employee bonuses and much more. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the average family in Southwest Alabama will see their tax bill decrease by $2,187 a year.

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The good news is that we aren’t stopping here. This week, the House is expected to vote on additional changes and improvements to the tax code, something we are calling Tax Reform 2.0. Working with President Trump, we will continue to make the tax code even fairer and more competitive.

Tax Reform 2.0 includes three major pieces. Here’s a quick overview.

First, we want to make the tax cuts for small businesses and middle-class families permanent. Due to Democrat obstruction and arcane rules in the Senate, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was only able to lower taxes for ten years. Under Tax Reform 2.0, we will make the tax cuts permanent.

The non-partisan Tax Foundation found that making the middle-class and small business tax cuts permanent will create 1.5 million new jobs and increase gross domestic product (GDP) by 2.2%. This further expands our economy and makes life even better for families and small businesses.

Making these changes permanent, will also lock-in the simpler tax filing process. As you may remember, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act simplified the tax code to the point where many Americans are now able to complete their taxes on a postcard-style form. A Tax Foundation study shows that this will save Americans between $3.1 to $5.4 billion in compliance costs. Instead of needing an accountant to navigate the complicated code, most Americans will be able to file on their own.

Second, Tax Reform 2.0 promotes family savings and helps more Americans plan for retirement. Currently, too many Americans have been unable to save for retirement or put money aside to cover unforeseen emergencies.

We want to help small businesses provide retirement plans to their workers by allowing small businesses to join together to create a 401(k) plan more affordable and by giving employers more time to put new retirement plans in place. Just as important, we will help more workers participate in retirement plans by exempting small retirement accounts from mandatory payouts and by eliminating the age limit on IRA contributions.

We don’t stop there. Tax Reform 2.0 will create and expand additional programs to help Americans save. For example, our plan creates a new savings account to offer a fully flexible savings tool that families can use at any time right for them, expands 529 education savings accounts, and creates a new baby savings program to help with the birth of a new child or an adoption.

Finally, Tax Reform 2.0 will help grow the economy by promoting start-up businesses and spurring innovation. We do this by allowing new businesses to write off more of their initial start-up costs and by making it easier for start-ups to bring in new investors. America must lead the way on innovation.

As you can tell, Tax Reform 2.0 builds upon our efforts in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to ensure the American economy remains strong. We do that by allowing Americans to keep more of their hard-earned money in their pockets. I fundamentally believe our country is the strongest when money is with the people instead of the government.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Rep. Martha Roby: Tax reform 2.0 gains momentum

Less than a year ago, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to simplify our complicated tax code and lower rates for all Americans. Thanks to tax reform and other pro-growth policies, our economy is booming. You don’t just have to take my word for it – here are some numbers from the month of August:

–U.S. employers added more than 200,000 jobs as wages increased at the fastest year-on-year pace since June of 2009.

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–Unemployment claims reached a 49-year low. The last time jobless claims fell to this point, it was December of 1969.

–Small business optimism hit a new record high.

–The number of individuals employed part-time who would prefer full-time work but could not find it has fallen to the lowest level since before the 2008-2009 recession.

–U.S. manufacturing grew at the fastest pace since May of 2004.

These numbers all serve as proof that the American people are better off now than they were just two years ago. I am eager to see this strong momentum continue, and I am glad to report that we aren’t slowing down our efforts to foster economic growth right here in the United States. Recently, the House Ways and Means Committee passed Tax Reform 2.0, a series of bills that would modify and build upon the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

The first bill in the series, H.R. 6760, the Protecting Family and Small Business Tax Cuts Act of 2018, would put in place several changes to the individual income tax rate. Since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act provisions are set to expire at the end of 2025, perhaps the most important changes H.R. 6760 would implement are making the tax rate changes and the Child Tax Credit permanent.

According to a Tax Foundation study, making these individual income tax changes from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act permanent would increase long-term Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2.2 percent and create 1.5 million new full-time equivalent jobs.

The second bill in the series, H.R. 6757, the Family Savings Act of 2018, includes a number of important reforms to retirement accounts. For example, individuals would be able to contribute up to $2,500 into a savings account annually, and any withdrawals would be tax free.

The third bill in the series, H.R. 6756, the American Innovation Act of 2018, would allow businesses to deduct their start-up costs. Businesses could either deduct the lesser of their start-up expenses, or for firms with more than $120,000 in expenses, deduct a flat amount of $20,000.

Our tax reform overhaul provides much needed relief to American families, creates jobs here in the United States, grows our economy, and allows hardworking taxpayers to keep more of their own money in their pocket. We now have a unique opportunity to continue delivering on our promise to give the American people more of the results they deserve.

Committee passage of Tax Reform 2.0 is just the first step in the legislative process to make parts of our tax overhaul permanent. I will continue to listen to the people I represent in Alabama’s Second District and work alongside my colleagues in Congress to improve this package of legislation as we move towards advancing these pro-growth policies to the House floor for a vote.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

3 days ago

What you need to know about Alabama proposed constitutional amendments 3 & 4

(W.Miller/YHN)

On November 6, Alabamians will vote on four proposed statewide constitutional amendments. Although the first two amendments will likely receive the most attention (API’s analyses can be found on our website), amendments three and four deserve notice as well. They are, in fact, changes to the longest known constitution in the world.

We’ll start with Proposed Amendment Three, which addresses the University of Alabama’s Board of Trustees.

Currently, the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama System – which governs UAB and UAH in addition to the Tuscaloosa campus – is composed of three members from the seventh congressional district (which includes Tuscaloosa), two members from each of the other six congressional districts, the governor and the state superintendent of education.

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If approved, this amendment would require that the Board continue to be made up of members of congressional districts as drawn on January 1, 2018. This means that, in the case that Alabama gains or, more likely, loses a congressional seat in 2020, the makeup of the board of trustees would not be affected nor thrown into disarray.

Additional stipulations include the removal of the state superintendent of education from automatic membership on the board and of the requirement that board members retire after their 70th birthday.

It is worth mentioning that the bill allowing this University of Alabama-specific amendment passed unanimously in both the State House and Senate.

Amendment Four, in contrast, will have a significantly wider impact if approved.

This amendment addresses something Alabamians have been hearing about for a while now–special elections. It is important to note on the front end, however, that it does not address special elections for the U.S. Congress like that of 2017. Instead, it impacts vacancies in the state legislature.

If accepted, legislative vacancies that occur on or after October 1 of the third year of a quadrennium (in other words, seats that become open only months before the final session of the legislature’s four-year term) would remain vacant until the next general election.

Currently, the governor is required to schedule a special election when state legislative vacancies occur. These elections cost the state money, create voter fatigue, and according to Senator Glover, the amendment’s sponsor, are “just bad government.”

In an interview with API, Senator Glover described one case where, thanks to a late special election, a legislator was sworn in on the last day of session. Cases like these, where relatively powerless legislators are added to the state payroll, will not occur if the amendment is approved.

The main purpose, according to Glover, is to “save some money and confusion.” He estimates that, if this language had been on the books earlier, the state would’ve saved “just under a million dollars” in 2018 alone. For example, this amendment would prohibit what will, come November, be four separate elections for Alabama’s 26 Senate seat in less than a year.

Additionally, the amendment received unanimous support when it passed the Senate and overwhelming support in the House earlier this year.

Although these two amendments are not as polarizing as amendments one and two, both are attempts to make the state better, and they should not be ignored.

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.

3 days ago

Surrogate chooses life: Alabama woman saves unborn child

(Jackson County Sentinel)

In Matthew 22, we are painted a vivid picture of Jesus being cornered by the Pharisees and the Herodians.

Maybe you remember He was asked if it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. This was a well-crafted plan on the part of the Pharisees, not only in asking the question but also in bringing along the Herodians, a group who possessed a fierce loyalty to Rome and its god Caesar.

If He says “no, it isn’t right,” He risks being arrested (at least) and thrown into jail for what amounts to treason. If He says “yes, it is right,” He would basically be admitting Caesar’s “deity” and undermining all of Jewish teaching. He would then be reprimanded by Jewish authorities.

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It was a no-win situation as far as the Pharisees were concerned. I’m sure they were licking their chops in anticipation of Jesus’ impending downfall.

And so, we have Jesus posed with the question of if it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. It is a question I so desperately wish he would have answered differently. If he had, I could be both holy and rebellious come every April.

Of course, He answered it with wisdom and grace, first asking for a coin and to be told whose inscription is on it. He is told it is an image of Caesar. He then replies with the famous line, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” I wonder if someone in that moment thought about asking, “What exactly is God’s?”

Jesus would have then answered, “Whose image is on you?”

What does it mean that we have been created in the Imago Dei – the image of God?

A recent story here in our very own state has driven this point home to me.

Haven Kincaid is a delightful, 26-year-old wife and mother of two (mother of one, prior to this story). She has a passionate heart for troubled youth whom she works with on a daily basis. Her family history is incredible, worthy of a whole separate article, honestly.

Suffice it to say, they are all an extremely close-knit group.

Drawing from the compassion in her heart and the history of her mother having had much difficulty in bearing children, she felt led to become a surrogate mother. One year ago, she came into contact with a foreign couple who could not bear children.

Haven’s heart broke for them, so she agreed to become a surrogate mother for their first child. After the initial testing and implantation, she was pregnant by December of 2017.

Haven and her husband, James, stayed in contact regularly with the couple. Conversations were rooted in anticipation.

“What will you name the baby if it’s a boy or a girl?”

“How will you decorate the nursery?”

“Who’ll get up to feed in the middle of the night?”

The positive energy of this international agreement was palpable between the two families. What’s more, the couple had only two viable embryos to use; excitement was abound when the first took with such ease.

There were no complications, and the donor couple was footing the bill for the whole process. Literally all they needed was a willing heart and a “hospitable” womb; they would take care of the rest.

What they received in Haven ended up being much more than they asked for and definitely more than they expected.  Little did they know, and by the grace of God, Haven is a woman of incredible character and impeccable moral fortitude.

There are times in life when you are presented with a shock. Maybe you come home to find your dog has eaten the meat that was left to thaw (this has never happened at the Hodges home).  Just as there are light-hearted surprises, however, you’ll agree there are just as many instances of horrific revelation. The death of loved one; a terminal diagnosis; a sudden car accident; all are evidence we live in a broken world.

This broken world, though, is under the sovereign rule of God, in whose image we are created. The one true and loving God chooses to use these instances of shock and awe to draw us closer to Him.

When the baby was at 10 weeks’ gestation, Haven and the donor couple decided to have her (Haven) undergo genetic testing (a non-invasive prenatal test called Panorama, taken as a sample from the mother’s blood) in order to get an early glimpse of the baby’s gender and to screen for any genetic abnormalities.

“When I found out the results,” Haven remembers. “I immediately knew the couple would not be accepting of this. Something told me they would push back.”

Haven’s blood sample yielded results strongly indicative of a baby girl with Trisomy 21 – Down Syndrome.

Haven admits she had a heightened level of anxiety due to this. However, it was not the diagnosis unsettling her nerves; she knew in her heart the donor couple would see this as something gone wrong.

Her mind quickly turned to the surrogacy contract signed in the beginning which had an abortion clause. She and James, believing abortion is wrong, were assured this clause was rarely (if ever) enacted; this was basically just a formality of a standard contract reaffirming whose “property” the developing baby was.

In other words, it’s up to the donating couple what is and isn’t done while their baby is in utero. They signed the surrogacy contract with the advice that “the abortion clause is just a formality; it never happens.”

Months later, she learned not only do these things indeed happen, but also her initial fears of the donor couple were spot on. The donor couple suddenly ceased all communication with Haven and James, save for one request: abort the pregnancy and retry for a “normal” baby.

Like I said, sometimes in life you are presented with a shock.

Haven was dismayed, appalled, heartbroken.

Retry for a normal baby…what does that even mean?!” she thought.

Were they suggesting that a baby with Down Syndrome is something less than human?

Were they affirming their belief that this chromosomal abnormality would yield a child unfit and unworthy of life?

Haven’s mind raced with thoughts of what trouble was ahead. There was never a doubt in her mind as to what she should do. She knew when she made her choice to do what was right, though, all hell would break loose.

She felt maybe–just maybe–if she gave the couple some time to cool off and adjust to the news they would change their minds. To buy some time, she offered the compromise of waiting a few more weeks for an official amniocentesis to be performed.

After all, tests are just tests, they can be wrong. Who knows? Maybe this test was wrong and the amniocentesis would show no evidence of a genetic abnormality.

The donor couple agreed. At about sixteen weeks, Haven underwent an official amniocentesis.

It strongly confirmed the results of the initial Panorama testing.

At that moment, Haven and James knew the world would be blessed with a precious and perfect baby girl with Down Syndrome. They knew what they had to do; they knew the life of a precious image-bearer of God was hanging in the balance.

Through the support of her physician and her lawyer, Haven communicated to the donor couple she would indeed not be having an abortion. In fact, not only was she going to deliver the baby but she and James also decided to adopt the child into their own family.

“No, please don’t do that,” said the donor couple. “We couldn’t bear to know that our child was out there somewhere in the world suffering.”

Suffering? Haven was astounded at their outright foolish line of reasoning; Down Syndrome hardly amounts to what is considered “suffering.”  At this point, the cards were on the table: the donors would rather kill the child than allow it to be born with Down Syndrome.

Clearly, their worldview allows them to play the role of God in their own lives, and that’s exactly what they were doing. They were deciding who is worthy and unworthy of life.

In other words, they were acting as judge, jury, and executioner.

Word came back to Haven the couple would be hiring a legal team to fight this breach of contract. They were planning on coming to Alabama to fight Haven’s decision. At this point, Haven’s baby girl was at approximately sixteen weeks gestation.

Fear set in at the Kincaid household.  Would they force her to get an abortion? At this point, she knew Alabama’s law held that abortion is legal up until 20 weeks; she had four weeks to stall the legal process as much as possible.

If she carried to full term, would she have to sign over parental rights to parents who truly wanted the baby to be dead? The questions piled higher and higher. Then, a glimmer of light appeared.

It is no secret that Alabama’s laws are a bit antiquated in some ways. In this instance, however, it played to Haven’s good fortune. Under Alabama law, any child born to a woman and her husband is legally that couple’s child.

At last, a moment of hope in an otherwise dark situation, as this overruled the conditions of the international surrogacy contract.

Through a complicated process of arbitration, middle ground was achieved without the donor couple setting foot inside the U.S.

Haven and James would indeed adopt the child and a no-contact agreement would be signed. There would be no communication between the two parties for any reason whatsoever.

However, the donor couple would pull all funding, past and present, for the pregnancy and delivery. At this point, Haven and James were responsible for all medical expenses starting with the beginning of the pregnancy. This would include the implantation, ultrasounds, blood testing, physician expenses, etc.

Haven and James reasoned this was a small price (literally thousands of dollars) to pay considering the victory that was just accomplished. Obviously, the life of this amazing child was, and continues to be, worth much more than that to the Kincaid family. Obviously, the life of this amazing child was worth nothing other than death to the donor couple.

And so, with tears in my eyes and joy in my heart, it is my distinct honor and pleasure to announce that Scottsboro is home to a precious image-bearer of God – Nadia Lucille Jean Kincaid. She has a small congenital heart defect common for Trisomy 21, but she is otherwise a normal, healthy baby girl.

As you read this, have you ever wondered what makes your life valuable?

God has revealed to us from the beginning of time we are made in His image. That is where our inherent value rests. That is why even the most ardent atheist will be saddened at the loss of a loved one; that is why we all watched in horror when the Twin Towers fell seventeen years ago.

When human life is lost, regardless of age, we mourn the loss of an innately valuable person who bears the image of God. Humankind, above all other earthly life, has intrinsic value and worth. This cannot be given to, or taken away from, us by the government or by the fleeting desires of popular culture; this inalienable truth is literally woven into our very being.

Nadia’s story is evidence that all human life is valuable, whether at nine weeks or ninety-nine years it is worth fighting for. Babies are not mistakes; babies are blessings. Nadia is an incredible blessing, and so is Haven.

We are blessed to have them as a part of our community.

If you’d like to donate to Haven and James in order to help with their medical costs, please visit www.gofundme.com and search for “Surrogate Chooses Life.”

Born and raised in Scottsboro, Dr. Andrew Hodges is a local internist who enjoys reading, writing and running. When not at the office or on a run, you can find him on the water with his wife, Sarah, and two boys, Carter and Miles.

(Courtesy of JC Sentinel)

6 days ago

Alabama Black Belt Adventures celebrates long, successful relationship with Raycom Media

(Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association)

For almost a decade, the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association (ALBBAA) has worked to share the good news about outdoor tourism – the most profitable and attractive industry in a historically economically challenged region of our state.

ALBBAA was formed in 2009 to promote outdoor recreation like hunting and fishing, as well as its rich history and many culinary experiences. The mission: to bring tourists into the Black Belt from all over the country – and world – to visit, spend money and enjoy the many opportunities this region has to offer. A rising tide lifts all ships.

Our constant partner in this effort has been Raycom Media under the leadership of Dr. David Bronner. Raycom has provided more than $8 million in advertising through its network of television stations in 65 markets and more than 100 CNHI newspapers across the nation.

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Thanks to television advertisements aired on stations in 20 states – plus display ads in many local newspapers – Alabama’s Black Belt businesses have received thousands of inquiries about hunting, fishing and other outdoor adventure services. That interest piqued by Raycom and CNHI has paid off in tourism dollars.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2017 report, outdoor recreation accounted for 14 billion in consumer spending in Alabama. Of that, at least $4.87 billion was spent in Black Belt counties. Our state reaped the benefits of outdoor recreation spending in the collection of $857 million in state and local tax revenue. Outdoor recreation generates 135,000 direct jobs in Alabama and $3.9 billion in wages and salaries.

Alabama’s Black Belt region, as defined by ALBBAA, is made up of 23 counties that span the south-central section of the state from Mississippi to Georgia. The region makes up parts of four of Alabama’s seven congressional districts. As of the 2010 census, just over 500,000 residents – of a total Alabama population of 4.78 million – live in the Black Belt.

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association promotes these counties as part of the Black Belt: Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox.

For decades, Alabama’s Black Belt has lagged economically because of many factors, including a small population base and often struggling public school systems. For the most part, Black Belt counties have not attracted many large industries or they have abandoned the region during times of national economic distress.

The partnership between ALBBAA and Raycom has been successful, in part, because the leaders of both organizations recognized the promise of outdoors tourism for boosting the economy of the Black Belt. Chilly winter mornings with bird dogs flushing quail and warm spring days on a riverbank in the Black Belt inspired Thomas A. Harris to start the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association. With few traditional industries in the area, Harris decided promoting outdoor adventures in his home region could “be” an industry. Discussions with Dr. Bronner, whose expertise with recreational tourism was already well known because of the wildly successful Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail spanning the state, resulted in support from Raycom and CNHI.

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association uses a multifaceted approach to draw tourists to the area. The organization’s website (alabamablackbeltadventures.org) offers a one-stop source for hunters, anglers and other outdoor adventure-seekers looking for places to fulfill their dreams of a weekend in a deer stand with big bucks on the prowl or a week working to draw a big gobbler into range. We also visit outdoors trade shows throughout the country promoting the region and making friends from Houston to the Carolinas and all points in between, including the recent Buckmasters Expo in Montgomery.

Our website currently promotes 54 lodges and outfitters in the Black Belt. The site also provides information and links to public land available for hunting and fishing. Golfers can find information on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail courses in the Black Belt. Civic-minded vacationers can plan their tour of historic Civil Rights sites and find fun activities to do outdoors all across the state.

We also share the Black Belt’s stories with professional outdoors writers, travel bloggers and television producers on a national level who visit to experience the great hunting, fishing and heritage sites for themselves. Alabama writers and producers are also involved in telling the story. We have worked with journalists from outlets all over the state and country publishing items that are sure to spark interest in visiting the Black Belt.

In 2019, the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association celebrates its 10th anniversary. Thanks to the advice and cooperation of many friends, such as Dr. Bronner, our association has made sure that this region of our state is not a secret unknown to the thousands of outdoorsmen and women who now enjoy spending their time – and money – in the Black Belt. The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association has succeeded in giving a shot in the arm to our economy.

Pam Swanner is the director of the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association, a not-for-profit organization committed to promoting and enhancing outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities in the 23 counties that make up the Black Belt in a manner that provides economic and ecological benefits to the region and its citizens. Visit here for more information. 

6 days ago

National Hunting and Fishing Day: Celebrating Alabama’s sportsmen and women

(Contributed)

Saturday, September 22 is our nation’s 46th annual National Hunting and Fishing Day. As Co-Chair of the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and as a member of the 48-state National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses, I am proud to take time to celebrate the time-honored traditions of hunting and angling. I am also pleased to recognize the historical and ongoing contributions of our state’s original conservationists — sportsmen and sportswomen.

Alabama hunters and anglers are the primary source of conservation funding for the Yellowhammer State. Through the purchase of licenses, tags and by paying self-imposed excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing tackle, motorboat fuel and other equipment, hunters and anglers drive conservation funding in Alabama and the United States, through the American System of Conservation Funding, a “user pays public benefits” system.

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Last year alone, this system, combined with hunting and fishing license sales, contributed over $47 million to fund state conservation efforts administered through the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). All Alabamians benefit from these funds through improved access to public lands, public shooting ranges, improved soil and water quality, habitat restoration, fish and wildlife research, private and public habitat management, hunter education, boat access area construction and many other DCNR projects funded through this system.

Hunting and angling are also a significant economic driver for our state. Alabama sportsmen and women spend roughly $2 billion per year on their outdoor pursuits, supporting nearly 40,000 jobs in the state and contributing over $165 million in state and local taxes.

Hunting produces countless benefits for our state’s conservation funding and economy, therefore it is important that Alabama sportsmen and women invest time and effort to encourage future participation by the next generation in these time-honored traditions. This effort to increase hunter participation is called recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3) and over 450 individual R3 programs nationwide have had regional success. R3 programs, as well as many others, need your support and it’s going to take the involvement of every Alabama hunter, regardless of age, to ensure the future of the outdoor pursuits we celebrate on National Hunting and Fishing Day.

Our hunting and angling heritage should not be taken for granted, and getting the next generation of Alabama’s sportsmen and women involved in the outdoors will help ensure the conservation of our abundant natural resources for the future.

More information on National Hunting and Fishing Day is available at this link or on the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation website.

Del Marsh, a Republican from Anniston, is the President Pro Tem of the Alabama State Senate.

6 days ago

Corruption, pollution and no pollution

(YHN)

Senator Doug Jones and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin have called on the EPA to reconsider placing the 35th Avenue Superfund Site on the National Priorities List (NPL) for a faster and more expensive cleanup. And we heard of a Democratic opponent attacking Congressman Mo Brooks for signing a letter to the EPA supporting an extension of time for Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) to comment on the proposed NPL listing of the site.

All of this comes after pundits told us that a law firm, Balch & Bingham, and a coal company, Drummond Coal, bribed a politician, Oliver Robinson, to sabotage the EPA’s quest to protect children dying from Drummond pollution.

According to some, the law firm, the coal company and all they touched should burn in Dante’s Hell for poisoning the poor children.

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What drew me into this mess was the more I dug for facts, the more I saw opinion. My history with the EPA made me wary, and it took little effort to determine that lost in the tempest are crucial facts that appear to contradict the thesis on which two years of press are based.

For background, think of this as a Tale of Two Sites. The EPA was cleaning up a Superfund site (35th Avenue); environmentalists pressured to expand the site to the edge of Drummond’s ABC Coke plant in Tarrant. The lawyer got a politician involved to convince Tarrant citizens to oppose the expansion; from that involvement sprang the indictments. Activists whipped it into a frenzy of public corruption and death from pollution by Drummond.

Against this explosive rhetoric, I was surprised to learn that Drummond had nothing to do with the Superfund site; the site was polluted by Walter Coke, a bankrupt company with no connection to Drummond (source: 1989 EPA Walter Coke order, EPA website).

Even more surprising, the EPA wrote the City of Tarrant before the trial of the lawyer and a Drummond executive ever started, saying that the EPA had decided not to add the Tarrant site to the Superfund project. The EPA’s letter, which was an exhibit in the trial, said EPA based the decision on tests showing no pollution on the Tarrant site (Caveat: a boiled egg contains around two parts benzene to a billion parts boiled egg, so “no pollution” means not enough to warrant a Superfund site).

Third, EPA over-reach ignited the initial flame by trying to saddle Drummond with cleanup costs for the Superfund site based on the “Air Deposit Theory,” claiming smoke from Drummond’s ABC plant showered down pollutants onto the Superfund site. Even the Ninth Circuit, our nation’s most liberal, had rejected that theory. The EPA tried it anyway; Drummond called the EPA’s hand; tests showed no actionable pollutants on that ground; thus, the EPA letter to Tarrant. So all of the politicians who wrote letters opposing the Air Deposit Theory were correct — the theory failed in law and fact.

Fourth, a scientific study by NewFields (commissioned by Walter Coke, an admitted polluter, and two other companies in the area, not Drummond) showed the EPA was using bogus testing methods to hype up toxin levels at the Superfund site, trying to show property there was severely polluted when it was not: “flawed and biased approaches,” violating the EPA’s own testing protocols like testing under downspouts and next to roads, knowing asphalt shingle and road residue would skew the results.

Though the EPA admitted no wrong-doing, it knew that it was being watched when it tested the Tarrant site. The EPA’s testing in Tarrant resulted in its letter to the mayor of Tarrant stating there was no pollution there.

So, drilling down through the rhetoric: Drummond had nothing to do with the Superfund site and was cleared of wrongdoing regarding the Tarrant site. Given the EPA’s bogus testing procedures, folks in Tarrant should never want the EPA to test their lots, because home values plummet when saddled with a hazardous waste stigma.

Moving to corruption, what the defendants did here is not a blatant, Chicago-styled money grab like in the Jefferson County sewer debacle, made clear by both the motion to dismiss the indictment and the government’s reply brief-both excellent briefs discussing cases such as the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning an indictment of the Governor of Virginia who used his office to arrange meetings for major donors-showing the fluid state of anti-corruption laws. Oliver Robinson pleaded guilty. The conviction of former Balch & Bingham attorney Joel Gilbert and Drummond Co. executive David Roberson will be appealed, and who knows what the Eleventh Circuit will do.

Clearly, there are two stories here, a corruption charge and pollution. Yet, neither reason nor equity supports a leap from a corruption charge to condemning a company and its law firm for killing children. Such a leap would require one to sail over too many precepts we hold dear in this society: the facts, the truth and the law.

Drummond and Balch don’t need a minnow like me to carry their water. It bothers me, however, that millions of minnows like me are reading how corrupt this state is–when the currents of the real story run deeper-and how a law firm belongs in Hell. Balch & Bingham was never charged with anything — the government used Balch witnesses to prove its case against Gilbert, who retained former state Rep. Oliver Robinson.

The government’s lawyer told the jury Gilbert had not told Balch’s ethics lawyers what he was doing. I’ve dealt with Balch as an attorney since 1974. They’re a yeoman group seeking yeoman solutions to problems; they darken churches and PTA meetings across our state; they’ve set a high bar for ethical standards others envy. I’d hire them in a flash if I were pounded by the EPA, because they know how to pound back — like they checkmated the EPA with respect to the Tarrant site.

Who does have the moral high ground here? Not Robinson, who failed to tell folks in Tarrant he was being paid by Drummond.

Not those who told you Drummond was killing children — they failed to tell you about the EPA letter and that  Drummond had not polluted either site. Not those who campaigned for the EPA to test your property — they failed to tell you about the EPA bogus testing practices and the hit to home values in a Superfund site. The EPA? If bogus testing is anything, it’s corrupt. Pushing a theory discredited by science and the courts is hardly high ground.

The one lawyer and the one executive who committed crimes were wrong. If their convictions hold up on appeal, they should be punished. If the 35th Avenue Superfund Site turns out to be one of the worst Superfund sites in America based on real science, the EPA should put the site on the NPL for a faster cleanup. But saying that everyone who wrote a letter or in any way touched the pushback against the EPA’s effort to expand the Superfund site is the moral equivalent of Nazis for poisoning the poor children of Tarrant is wrong, according to the Obama administration’s EPA’s testing. That line might sell newspaper stories and garner self-righteous glory for the finger pointers, but it’s a lie, so don’t believe it.

Guy V. Martin, Jr. has served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Alabama School of Law and teacher at the Birmingham School of Law. He is a member of the Board of Directors at The Foundry Ministries.

6 days ago

Should Alabama bet on sports betting?

(YHN/Flaticon)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last May that states could legalize sports betting. New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia and Mississippi have joined Nevada in offering legal sports betting, and about twenty other states have taken steps toward legalization.

Should Alabama join this crowd?

The size of the sports betting market is one argument in the affirmative. We lack accurate statistics on the current largely illegal U.S. sports betting market. A 1999 Congressional study estimated that Americans bet between $80 and $380 billion annually, while pro and college football betting has recently been estimated at $100 billion. A study by Oxford Economics for the American Gaming Association estimated that nationwide legalization and mobile betting could result in a $300 billion a year market.

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Most of the bets are paid out to the winning gamblers, but bookmakers keep some for expenses and profits. Legalization brings this gaming revenue out of the black market or back from offshore casinos to support jobs in states legalizing betting. Oxford Economics projects that nationwide legalization could create 90,000 jobs and annual tax revenue of $8 billion, through taxes on gambling and taxes paid by now legal employees.

Without legalization, Alabama will not share in these jobs and tax revenues. Alabama sports bettors’ money will support businesses and government services in other states.

While jobs and tax revenue are nice, prosperity ultimately involves providing goods, services, and activities people want. Jobs from value-creating businesses – those providing the most desired goods and services – create economically thriving communities. Alabama will miss out on a value-creating industry by not legalizing sports betting.

But does sports betting truly generate value? A skeptic could point out that gambling is a zero-sum game (the losses cancel out wins) and creates no products. Yet millions of people value having action on games and get satisfaction from their winning bets. People willingly place bets they know they might lose. Economists call such satisfaction utility. All economic activity beyond sustenance and survival is about generating utility by providing people with things they want.

Why do people enjoy betting? Economists leave such questions to psychologists. The exclusively voluntary nature of market activities excludes predatory activities from value creation. Everyone must either want to participate (place bets) or be compensated to participate – say cleaning up the sportsbook at night. Sports betting passes the voluntary participation test.

Sports betting’s biggest negative is the problem gamblers who lose more than they can afford, resulting in bankruptcy and often devastating their families. This is most unfortunate, but are problem gamblers better off with prohibition? People have long been able to bet illegally, with online betting only making access easier. Prohibition, however, makes problem gambler’s difficulties worse. Legal sportsbooks will not break legs to collect debts; indeed, it will not be profitable to let gamblers make bets they cannot pay off. Regulations on legal betting can help protect problem gamblers from themselves and ensure help is available when wanted.

The increased betting volume from legalization increases the risk of gamblers paying players to fix games. This is a real threat: the “Black Sox” scandal nearly ruined Major League Baseball, and college players who will never play professionally might find gamblers’ dollars very tempting. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver proposed that an integrity fee on all bets, with leagues using the proceeds to guard against illicit deals.

Sportsbooks, though, already have a strong incentive to protect the integrity of games. A $300 billion a year betting market will generate significant profits for years to come provided the public does not view the contests as rigged. Sportsbooks also will not want to pay off rigged bets. Suspicious betting patterns and statistical analysis can help identify rigged contests. Scandals will undoubtedly occur, but cooperation between sportsbooks, the leagues and law enforcement should keep the contests legitimate.

Jobs, taxes and losing both to neighboring states are all worthwhile considerations. But I think that the most compelling argument is the freedom to engage legally in an activity many Alabamians value. Despite the benefits, I wouldn’t bet on Alabama legalizing sports betting anytime soon.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.

Rep Byrne: Setting our funding priorities

(Rep. B. Byrne/Facebook)

I know this may be hard for you to believe, but there was a major, bipartisan victory in Congress last week that failed to gain any of the attention it deserved. I want to highlight some of the progress we made last week and explain why it should matter to those of us back in Alabama.

Last week, both the House and the Senate passed a funding bill that covered three very important parts of our government: military construction and veterans services, energy and water development and Legislative Branch operations.

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I am pleased to see us passing targeted funding bills instead of waiting until the last minute to pass a massive omnibus funding bill. Over the last few years, the House has been able to pass funding bills only to see the process stall out in the Senate.

Thankfully, since Alabama Senator Richard Shelby became Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the process has actually been moving again in the Senate. This has allowed us to focus on passing the smaller funding packages that are targeted toward our priorities.

So why is this funding bill important? Obviously, funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is important for our state, given the large number of veterans that call Alabama home. The bill includes the largest dollar amount in funding for the VA in our nation’s history. This means the VA will have the resources necessary to take care of our veterans, hire high-quality employees, and cut back on the claims backlog.

There have been serious issues at the VA over the last few years, so I am pleased the funding bill dedicates more for the VA inspector general. This money will allow for stronger accountability at the VA as we work to make sure no veteran is left behind.

The bill also includes funding for military construction programs in Alabama and across the country. As we work to rebuild our nation’s military, we must not forget about our military infrastructure. This funding includes money set aside for military housing programs. If we are to retain the best and brightest in our military, we need to ensure they have first-class facilities.

Next, the funding bill sets aside funding for the Army Corps of Engineers. Those of us in Southwest Alabama know the important work the Corps does on a daily basis to keep our waterways open and navigable. This is important to those of us who like to spend time on the water for recreational purposes, but it is especially important for our economy since so much of our commerce is conducted on waterways.

Just consider the Port of Mobile and the important commerce that goes in and out of that Port each day. Under this funding bill, the Corps will receive $7 billion for navigation projects, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, and to help with flood prevention and restoration projects. This money is very important for our country, but especially important for our state.

Finally, the bill funds our nation’s nuclear security strategy by dedicating money to support our nation’s nuclear weapons and the Navy’s nuclear reactors. The bill sets aside money to ensure nuclear weapons do not fall into the wrong hands and funding to prevent against cyber attacks. Our national security must always be the top priority.

As you can see, this commonsense government funding bill is good for our country and Alabama. I was pleased to see it pass the House on a strong vote of 377 to 20, and I hope we can keep up the positive momentum to continue getting the job done for the American people.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

1 week ago

Happy Constitution Day

(U.S. AF)

Today is Constitution Day.

On this day in 1787, our Founding Fathers gathered in Philadelphia to sign the Constitution. They had been meeting together throughout the hot summer to debate what form of government would best protect our hard-won freedoms and give our young nation the best chance to endure.

Little did they know, as they signed the Constitution, that the bold experiment they were undertaking would not only enable the United States to survive, but also lead to the development of the strongest, freest, most prosperous nation the world has ever known.

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It is worth pausing today to reflect on the majesty of the Constitution and consider several features that have helped to make America great.

First, the Constitution confirms that “We the People” are sovereign. Our rights do not come from government. Our rights come from God above — and “We the People” have instituted government to protect our rights. We do not exist to serve government; the government exists to serve us. Let us never forget that.

Second, the Constitution structures our government to protect liberty. The founding generation suffered under the boot of King George, and our Founding Fathers were rightly concerned that a new tyrannical regime would arise in America if power could be concentrated too easily. To guard against the risk of tyranny, our Founding Fathers divided power throughout our government. At the national level, power was separated among the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches. And through federalism, which was later reinforced in the Bill of Rights, all power not specifically given to the federal government remained with the states and the people. This diffusion of power continues to make it extremely difficult for a leader or faction to gain excessive power and trample on our individual rights.

Finally, the Constitution defines the proper role of the federal courts. Article III of the Constitution lays out the powers and responsibilities of the federal judiciary. As Chief Justice John Marshall made clear in the early case of Marbury v. Madison, under our Constitution, it is emphatically the province and duty of judges to say what the law is, not what it should be. Yet in recent decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has made its own law — by ignoring or minimizing the text of the Constitution in favor of the Justices’ own policy views and ideas of what they would like the Constitution to say. This judicial activism flouts the rule of law, makes a mockery of our Constitution, and undermines the sovereignty of the American people. We need judges who will faithfully follow and apply the law as it’s written, and will not legislate from the bench.

Let’s all give thanks today for the wisdom of our Founding Fathers in writing a Constitution that protects freedom and secures the conditions for human flourishing. And let’s rededicate ourselves to upholding the Constitution—and to holding our government officials accountable when they fail to do so.

Jay Mitchell is the Republican nominee for Associate Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court (Place 4).

Report from Washington: What’s happening across East Alabama

(Congressman Rogers/Facebook)

Every August, Congress takes a District Work Period so members have extra time to spend across their congressional district.

Although I live in Weaver full-time and am home when I am not in Washington for votes, it is always wonderful to have some uninterrupted time in East Alabama.

During my time in August, I got to visit with a lot of folks at my six different “Congress on Your Corner” town hall events. I was able to talk directly to folks about issues going on in local communities from Woodland to Ashland.

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I also visited and toured several companies and small businesses. One thing I heard on repeat was how the recent tax reform legislation was helping these businesses thrive and putting more money back in the pockets of their hardworking employees.

I met with my Third Congressional District Veterans Advisory Committee to stay on top of the issues that Veterans in our area are facing so that I can take those concerns straight to Washington.

I had several meetings with East Alabama’s farmers. Agriculture is such an important driver of our State’s economy. As the only member of the House Agriculture Committee from the State of Alabama, it is crucial that I know exactly what the needs are of our farmers and producers.

As a conferee on the 2018 Farm Bill, I want to make sure our state’s agriculture sector has a direct line to me so I can fight for them as we finalize this critical piece of legislation.

I toured career technical centers and was able to tell them about the exciting Carl Perkins legislation that passed the House with my strong support. It’s the most monumental legislation we’ve passed for our career tech students.

I also got to sit down with local elected officials and leaders from across East Alabama to ensure I know what’s going on in their towns so I can continue to be an advocate for their needs in Congress.

It was a busy time with lots of travel, but I am pleased with all we accomplished and will head back to Washington with an updated “to do” list for the Third District.

As we get back to work, I am excited to continue pushing President Trump’s America First agenda for our great nation.

I want to hear from you on this or any issue. Please sign up for my e-Newsletter by visiting this link. To stay up to date, you can also like me on Facebook at Congressman Mike D. Rogers, follow me on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram at RepMikeRogersAL, on Tumblr and you can also subscribe to my YouTube page at MikeRogersAL03.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers is a Republican from Saks. 

Alabama must vote yes on Proposed Statewide Amendment Two

(Pixabay)

According to Pew Research, the only state that is more pro-life than Alabama is Mississippi.

Our status as one of the leading states in the pro-life movement is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in that our state has successfully passed legislation curbing abortion. It is a curse, however, in the sense that a pro-life failure here could spell disaster for the cause at the national level. This is why, in November, Alabama must set the standard and show the world just how strong the pro-life movement is–by voting yes on Proposed Statewide Amendment 2.

The amendment, if approved, would add language to the state constitution acknowledging the sanctity of unborn life and stipulating that the state constitution provides no right to abortion.

That’s the technical explanation. In a recent call with the Alabama Policy Institute, however, Representative Matt Fridy, the sponsor of the amendment, described both its intention and impact.

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Fridy explained that the amendment is not meant to immediately eliminate abortion, but to prevent a problem faced by our northern neighbor.

The problem? In 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that their state constitution provided higher protection for abortion than the federal constitution. As a result, an array of the state’s pro-life measures were struck down by the court, which argued that they were unconstitutional on the state level.

The Volunteer State later passed an amendment–similar to the one we will vote on in November–to specify that their constitution did not, in fact, guarantee any such right.

Fridy wants to eliminate any opportunity for what happened in Tennessee to happen here, and this amendment would be effective in that vein. Any further impact, however, would require change on the national level.

Alabamians should wholeheartedly support this amendment because we, as a state,  overwhelmingly believe in the sanctity of life. For many of us, this belief stems from our Christian values. King David reminds us in Psalm 139 that God knits each of us together in the womb. We are unable to ignore that reality. We also acknowledge the truth described in Genesis, that humans bear the imago dei–the image of God–and are worthy of dignity and respect.

Others of us are pro-life because of a non-religious understanding that each member of our species is due protection, including the least developed of us. We protect the lives of the unborn just as we do those recently born, children, and individuals with disabilities–because of their humanity.

Regardless of why, we at API are proud that most Alabamians are pro-life.

It’s not always easy to hold this opinion, however. Supporters of abortion often highlight the differences between the unborn and born based on physical appearance or mental capacity, suggesting that the unborn are not yet human. These arguments, at times, can seem convincing. Even so, we reject these appeals, recognizing a) the value of all human life and b) that the same dehumanization that euphemizes abortion today was employed in Nazi Germany and 1990s Rwanda to make mass murder seem tenable.

It is not unknown to Alabamians that the stakes are high, and we do not lazily adopt this position. Being pro-life leads us to action: I am a mother to four children, including an adopted child with special-needs. Other Alabamians are foster parents, volunteers at local crisis pregnancy centers, or benefactors of pro-life organizations that fight daily for the dignity of all.

We also, and this must not be ignored, vote as if unknown multitudes of lives hang in the balance–because they do.

Although Proposed Statewide Amendment 2 will not ban abortion within our borders, its unqualified passage will signal to the nation and the wider world that abortion is unacceptable, morally repugnant, and, as many like to say, on the wrong side of history.

We must not squander this moment.

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

2 weeks ago

Paying for checked bags

(Pixabay)

United and Jet Blue recently increased their checked bag fee to $30. Nobody likes paying for things we didn’t pay for in the past, like checked luggage. A bill in the U.S. Senate would limit airlines’ checked bag and other fees, which topped $7 billion in 2016. But economics suggests that bag fees can make air travel more efficient, not merely extract money from travelers.

American was the major airline to charge for checked bags in 2008. The fee rose from $15 initially to $25, and almost all airlines except Southwest use this fee, while some regional airlines even charge for carry-on bags. Airline credit cards and frequent flier programs often allow free bags.

It is tempting but inaccurate to say that until 2008 passengers did not pay for checked bags. Carrying luggage is costly: airlines need larger planes with cargo space and must hire baggage handlers, while extra weight requires extra jet fuel. U.S. airlines are businesses and cannot lose money for too long. Revenue must at least cover costs, with or without bag fees.

Prior to 2008, the price of tickets covered the cost of carrying bags, averaged across all fliers. If passengers checked on average one bag each, perhaps $25 of the ticket price would have covered baggage costs. Fliers with many bags would prefer paying a ticket price covering the average number of checked bags, while passengers without bags effectively paid for others’ luggage.

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Travelers now must pay for checked luggage. This should make air travel more efficient overall. Previously passengers might have checked a bag with contents providing only $10 or $20 of value to them. If the $25 bag fee approximately equals the airlines’ cost of transporting bags, a bag valued at $10 will no longer fly, which is good because it was not worth the cost.

My points about bags apply to other airline services like meals and beverages. If airlines do not charge for alcoholic beverages or meals, ticket prices must cover these costs. First class passengers still receive such “freebies” but their expensive tickets certainly cover the costs.

Should airlines then charge for everything, including the reading light or the lavatory? Two factors limit charging for everything. One is the cost of restricting access and collecting money from willing users. Electronic payments make collecting fees easier, but lavatories would need to be accessible only after paying. Negative reactions from passengers also matter. People do not like being nickel-and-dimed for every little thing; losing a frequent flyer due to a $3 fee is bad business. Social media now amplifies customer complaints.

Until 1978, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) regulated U.S. airlines, including the routes airlines could fly and fares. Forty years of deregulation have reduced fares by 50 percent in exchange for few extra services. Today, most Americans can fly at least occasionally; under government regulation, flying was primarily for business travelers and the well-to-do.

Senators Markey of Massachusetts and Blumenthal of Connecticut have introduced the Forbid Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous Fees, or FAIR, Act to limit fees of any sort, including for changes or cancellation. Rebooking fees run from $75 to $300 plus the difference in price of the flights. Cancellations can result in seats going unused on high demand flights and thus cost airlines. While these fees seem high to me, airlines know much more about their operations and costs than I do.

Competition between airlines for passengers is a better way to keep fees reasonable, fares low, and service quality high. Southwest advertises that bags fly free, and airlines seeking competitive advantage will undercut any excessive fees. If the Senators want to assist the flying public, they should address access to gates at our nation’s airports, a factor which economists find limits competition.

Travelers will pay for checked luggage, either through fees for each bag or higher ticket prices. While it is nice when someone pays for us, air travel is more efficient when we each pay our own way.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.

2 weeks ago

Rep. Roby: We’re one step closer to regular order

(M. Roby/YouTube)

We’re about halfway through the month of September, which means the September 30 expiration date for our current government funding is quickly approaching. I am pleased to report that in the House and Senate, we are unified in our motivation to send final funding packages to the President’s desk before the upcoming fiscal deadline. I am committed to doing all I can to keeping the government open and running for the sake of our priorities and needs as a nation.

It is imperative that Congress works to bring certainty to government funding, especially for our military, including the critical operations that happen in our district at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base and Fort Rucker.

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As you might remember, Senate Democrats shut down the government at the beginning of this year over policy that was totally unrelated to government funding. While Congress and the Trump administration were able to find common ground on a funding solution at that time, much work still remains to fund the government in an orderly, process-driven manner. The way we have been operating is not the way it was designed to work.

In order to fund the government by what we call “regular order,” both the House and Senate are supposed to pass all twelve of our respective funding bills through the subcommittees, through the full committees, and then on the House and Senate floors. After both chambers have passed twelve bills, we are then supposed to go to conference and work out the differences that exist between the versions of each bill. Once a finalized version is agreed upon by both chambers, the bills are sent to the president’s desk where they are hopefully signed into law.

Last year, the House did operate by regular order. The Senate did not, which is what caused us to go into crisis mode earlier this year with four people in a room deciding how to fund the government with a shutdown looming. The product that came out of this broken process was far from perfect, and it will continue to be until we come together and decide to operate the way our founding fathers intended – where the American people have their representative at the table with a vote to reflect their views and priorities.

This year, in the House and Senate, we have truly made progress towards returning to regular order with our appropriations bills. Under the leadership of Senator Richard Shelby who now chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senate has made historic progress. They cleared seven of their twelve appropriations bills by the month of August. This has not happened in almost 20 years, and it is a very big deal. I’m optimistic that with Senator Shelby’s leadership, we are on a more responsible path than in years past.

Now that both chambers have made significant progress in passing appropriations bills for the Fiscal Year 2019, select members have been conferencing to work out the differences between the two versions of each bill. I am proud to report that the House and Senate have both passed the Conference Report for H.R. 5895, the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, a combination of three of the twelve appropriations titles. It now heads to the White House where it awaits President Trump’s signature.

This is great progress, but we still have nine of the twelve funding bills to conference, pass out of both chambers, and send to the president. I am glad to have been selected as a conferee for the Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services and Education package, which combines two very important funding bills.

One of Congress’ most fundamental constitutional duties is to “provide for the common defense.” In both the House and Senate, we have done our due diligence to pass funding bills that provide strong support to rebuild our military after years of devastating cuts. This funding package also includes a Labor-HHS bill that has several priorities that are important to the people of Alabama’s Second District.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I am in a strong position to ensure that our Alabama priorities are properly funded from year to year. I am very hopeful that we can finally begin to operate in a way that ensures your voice is heard, and I am eager to ensure that our government is fully and properly funded before the September 30 deadline.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

The man (men & women) in the arena

Sen. Trip Pittman, Chairman, Senate Education Budget Committee

On November 6th at midnight my public service in the Alabama state Senate will come to an end.

It has been a great honor to represent the citizens of Baldwin County and serve with my colleagues in the State Senate. These individuals do their best to represent their constituents and make the government process work.

There is a process in politics just like in football. The process cannot be taken for granted and the success in the state Senate is due in large part to the leadership of Senate Pro Tempore Del Marsh, who has led the Senate for the last eight years.

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Elected by the entire body of the Senate, Pro Tem Marsh has made the process work and has led by example, the best way to lead. Senator Marsh, unlike his predecessors and others in state government, turned down the trappings of the office.

As Pro Tem of the Senate, he was offered a state-funded vehicle and driver as well as a security detail of State Troopers, which he turned down, preferring to drive his own vehicle and rely on his own skills and agility for his safety. If you know Del, he is not only honest and friendly, he embodies the axiom of being able “to disagree without being disagreeable” and he is a truly good guy.

Under Pro Tem Marsh’s leadership, we passed the toughest ethics laws in the country, and they have worked.

Honesty and integrity should be expected from elected officials, which as we know is not always the case, but the record of the members of the Alabama state Senate during Pro Tem Marsh’s time in office is unblemished, which is a testament to his leadership and the character of our fellow state Senators.

Trip Pittman is state Senator and businessman from Montrose

Rep. Byrne: Look at the facts about the booming American economy

(Rep. Bradley Byrne)

When you turn on the TV or log onto your computer these days, you are bombarded with negative news stories about the latest s0-called scandal from Washington.

I’ve said it before, but I believe it is so true: we need to tune out the noise from the national news media and look at what is actually happening. The U.S. military is being rebuilt, and our communities are becoming safer. But, nowhere is the positive direction of our country more apparent than when it comes to the economy.

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The American people are thriving under a strong economy that is providing promising opportunities for American families. Thanks to lower taxes, fewer regulations, a stronger focus on fair trade, and a less invasive federal government, the American economy is truly booming. Just consider some of the numbers.

The August jobs report found that 201,000 new jobs were created in the United States and the unemployment rate sits at a low 3.9%. At the same time, the report found that wages increased at the best rate since 2009.

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits is at the lowest point in almost 49-years. Surveys have found that consumer confidence has reached its highest level since October 2000. And, second quarter growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) increased to 4.2%, the best performance in nearly ten years.

The economic gains are also reaching populations that have generally lagged behind during other economic booms. For example, youth unemployment has hit the lowest level in 52-years. The unemployment rates for African Americans and Hispanics are also at or near record lows.

Here in Alabama, we are experiencing the lowest unemployment rate in our state’s history. New businesses continue to locate in our area, and Alabama workers are seeing more money in their pockets.

Right here in Southwest Alabama, our communities are experiencing economic growth, and the growth is not just confined to the larger cities.

For example, I recently visited Provalus in Brewton. This is a high-tech company bringing good-paying jobs to the people in Escambia County. I also stopped by Sterling Packaging in Monroeville recently. This company moved from Canada to Monroe County due to our great economic climate and a dedicated workforce. These are just two examples from rural Alabama where new businesses are opening and providing opportunities for Alabama families.

The economic gains show that our conservative, pro-growth policies are working, but there are other priorities we must address to ensure we continue to grow and create opportunities for Americans. Health care remains at the top of the list. We need to make sure our health care system works and is affordable for Americans. Here in Alabama, a top health care priority that directly impacts the economy is saving our rural hospitals. Without a hospital, communities won’t be able to attract new industry.

Also on the list is passing a new Farm Bill that supports our farmers. Agriculture remains the top industry in Alabama, so having a strong, fair Farm Bill is so very important. A big part of the Farm Bill this year is a focus on expanding rural broadband. This is vital to the economic success of rural America.

We know the government does not create jobs, but we can help promote job growth with the right policies. These are just a few tangible ways we can keep our foot on the gas and fully unleash our economic potential.

At the end of the day, we should not let some talking head on television tell us how terrible our country is today. Instead, simply look at the facts about the booming American economy.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

2 weeks ago

John Merrill: ‘The people of Alabama need an Ethics Commission that will enforce the laws’

(John Merrill/Facebook)

I am disappointed to find myself, once again, in a position to ask what purpose the Alabama Ethics Commission serves to the people of this state. To whom are the elected officials or those seeking public office to look to for ethical political leadership? The people of Alabama need an Ethics Commission that will enforce the laws and regulations it is charged with enforcing, with consistency.

When campaigns file their fundraising disclosures with the Secretary of State’s office, they are required to file on a given date no later than 11:59 p.m. When candidates and political action committees (PACs) fail to file these reports in a timely manner, the law requires the Secretary of State’s Office to issue a civil penalty based on the amount of contributions and expenditures from that reporting period. In the event that a candidate or PAC wishes to appeal the penalty, the Secretary of State’s office is required to send those requests to the Alabama Ethics Commission, allowing members of the Commission to determine whether the penalty should be upheld or not.

At three previous Ethics Commission meetings, in February, April and June of 2018, the commission waived fines on 12 appeals that were filed outside the 14-day window allowed by law.

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However, during the Commission’s meeting on September 5, they declined to hear cases filed outside the 14-day window, saying they didn’t have jurisdiction and declining to rule on whether that penalty would stand — despite having previously done so previously 12 times in 2018.

It’s the position of the Secretary of State’s Office that these specific matters were improperly set aside and should be reinstated by the Commission. And, in spite of a request from counsel for the Ethics Commission, the Secretary of State’s Office will continue to adhere to the requirements of state law which clearly establishes the Commission as the sole body with authority to overturn a penalty issued for a campaign or political action committee filing a financial disclosure form after the due date.

Previously, Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton stated, “the commissioners reviewed those files and discussed them in detail before our meeting. So they reviewed every one of them as they have for every meeting.” If that is true, then why have they just now become aware of these appeal date issues? Each appeal delivered to the Alabama Ethics Commission is delivered as a file which includes each file that was not timely filed and a copy of the date the appeal was filed.

The Code of Alabama directs the Secretary of State’s Office to work in conjunction with the Alabama Ethics Commission to administer the Fair Campaign Practices Act. Therefore, without communication and cooperation between our agencies, as well as the commission’s consistent application of the laws and rules established by the legislature, the FCPA does not work.

John Merrill is a Republican and the Secretary of State of Alabama

3 weeks ago

Understanding constitutional Amendment One: The Ten Commandments and religious freedom

(G. Bannister/Flickr)

For years, discussion over the public display of the Ten Commandments has animated Alabama’s political landscape.

The issue is so energizing, it seems, that many politicians frame their own races through the lens of this battle––that support for their candidacy is a vote for the Ten Commandments.

Even so, Alabamians have never actually gotten a chance to vote directly on the issue.

This November, however, a constitutional amendment sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial provides that opportunity.

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Statewide Amendment 1, if successful, would enshrine in the state constitution language signifying two things, a) that the Ten Commandments is authorized to be displayed on public property, including public schools and b) that no person’s religion can affect his or her political or civil rights.

This amendment, as expected, has received its share of support and criticism.

Dean Young, Chairman of the Ten Commandments PAC, suggests this to be a vote where Alabama decides if we “want to acknowledge God.” He also remarks that we will be held accountable for our vote on judgment day.

Not all Christians agree with Young, however. The Baptist Joint Committee, for example, argues that “the government should represent all constituents regardless of religious belief” and not involve itself in “religious favoritism.”

The question, of course, is on the real impact of this amendment.

Essential to the discussion of impact is one provision within the amendment that will not be included on the ballot: the fact that any Ten Commandments display must comply with constitutional requirements.

This provision explicitly acknowledges that Ten Commandments displays in Alabama are subject to the U.S. Constitution, and therefore the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court, it is important to note, has largely settled on an understanding of the constitutionality of this issue through three precedent-setting court rulings.

In McCreary County v. ACLU, the Supreme Court ruled that the display of the Ten Commandments in a Kentucky courthouse was unconstitutional. In Van Orden v. Perry, however, the Court allowed the Ten Commandments to be displayed, provided it was within a larger array of historical monuments and markers.

In regard to the display of the Ten Commandments in public schools, the Court ruled in Stone v. Graham that posting the Ten Commandments in every public school classroom, as required by a Kentucky law, served “no secular purpose” and was therefore unconstitutional.

As this amendment is subject to these precedents and already-existing First Amendment protections, the approval or rejection of this amendment will likely have limited immediate impact in Alabama.

What, then, is the purpose?

In a recent call with the Alabama Policy Institute, Senator Dial – the sponsor of the amendment – answered that question.

He acknowledged that, for the amendment to have greatest impact, the U.S. Supreme Court will have to rule differently in the future.

Senator Dial also offered another reason to support the amendment. He remarked that this amendment would shift liability from the individual or government office displaying the Ten Commandments to the state. The hope of this amendment is to embolden displays of the Ten Commandments under the legal protection of the state constitution, Dial suggests, and to let the state deal with any legal ramifications.

It is important to mention, however, that the amendment specifies that no public funds can be used to defend its constitutionality. If there are legal challenges, Senator Dial suggests that a third party will fund the defense.

To be sure, this amendment brings yet again to the public eye an issue that some consider settled. The Supreme Court precedent will –new rulings notwithstanding – supersede any constitutional amendments the people of Alabama pass or fail to pass on the subject. If the U.S. Supreme Court were to, however, overturn past precedent, the success or failure of this amendment could be consequential.

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.

3 weeks ago

Martha Roby: Finalizing the Farm Bill

(Congresswoman Roby/Facebook)

The farm bill is a critically important piece of legislation that sets agriculture policy in our country for about five years at a time, meaning every five years or so, it is Congress’ responsibility to craft and then ultimately pass a new – and hopefully improved – version to provide our farmers with the certainty they need.

As you may know, over the summer, the House and Senate both passed our versions of the new farm bill, and I was proud to support our bill in the House. Now, it is up to select members of the House and Senate to conference and work out the differences between our two pieces of legislation. I am glad to report that this process is underway, and I’m hopeful the Conference Committee will agree on a final product soon, as the September 30th deadline for the expiration of the current law is quickly approaching.

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In Alabama’s Second District, agriculture is the largest employer, so we fully understand how very important it is that Congress get this policy right. Agriculture legislation doesn’t just affect the farmer who puts the seed in the ground. We’re also affecting the ones who sell the seed, who build the equipment to cultivate and harvest the crop, and those who help process the goods to their final products.

In Congress, I consider it one of my top responsibilities to be a strong voice for our farmers and to represent their concerns. That’s why I’m pleased that in the House, our version of the farm bill addresses many of the issues that the hardworking farmers in AL-02 have told me they face, including reducing regulatory burdens, addressing invasive species like feral hogs, maintaining the crop insurance program, and more.

In addition to these important priorities, the House’s version of the farm bill authorizes substantial funding for rural broadband and implements strict work requirements for food stamp recipients.

Since the Senate is currently bound by a 60-vote threshold to pass legislation, their farm bill is quite different than our version in the House. That said, the final farm bill that ultimately comes out of the Conference Committee will very likely be a combination of both versions.

No matter what differences exist between the two chambers, Alabama’s farmers and producers deserve a strong, consistent, improved, and on-time farm bill to plan for the future. I will remain actively engaged with my colleagues on the Conference Committee to deliver agriculture policy that gives fair treatment to our Alabama commodities, like cotton, peanuts, timber, poultry, soybeans, and catfish. We’ve come too far to not get this done.

Our farmers produce the food and fiber that we all depend on, and it is our responsibility to move forward with strong, commonsense policy that enables them to do their jobs. I am looking forward to sending the final farm bill to the President’s desk, and I will keep you informed on developments.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

3 weeks ago

Losing Jak: Valuable lessons learned in child loss

On the day my son Jak was born, he cheated death.

I had been diagnosed with placenta previa and a C-section was deemed necessary for survival, both for me and my unborn child. But as the doctor pulled him through the incision at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham in the early hours of October 2, 2001, he found the umbilical cord tightly wrapped around Jak’s tiny neck several times.

He explained that had Jak been delivered vaginally, he would have been strangled and likely died. The potentially fatal previa had actually saved his life.

I thought I learned that day just how precious and precarious life is. But it was just a taste – the foreshadowing of a lesson no parent should learn.

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On September 6, 2017, 27 days before Jak’s 16th birthday, I received a phone call from my husband Tim that changed everything. He had found Jak unresponsive in his bedroom and had performed CPR until professionals arrived, who were preparing to take Jak to the ER.

Already at work, I rushed to my car and drove to the hospital as quickly as I could, arriving to find a team surrounding Jak, working feverishly. I stood beside him stroking his hair, begging the doctors and nurses to keep trying.

I explained how impossible this was – Jak was the healthiest child I knew. He’d never even needed an antibiotic he so rarely got sick. He was brilliant, clever, funny and wonderful.

“Look at his eyes,” I pleaded. Jak had such beautiful hazel green eyes and with long, thick eyelashes. They always sparkled with merriment and irreverence.

Their looks of pity told me what I could not accept – my Jak was gone. There is no describing that feeling – when a parent learns the unthinkable. And after a year, that feeling has not changed. It’s still impossible and unfathomable, leaving me breathless and hollow.

That day, death cheated us.

I wish I could say the rest of that day was a blur. But I remember every second, every painstaking detail. Collapsing to the ER floor and wailing with my daughter, Molly, when she saw my face and learned what I could not speak.

The shock setting in as the doctor explained everything they did to try to save Jak; speaking with a detective, answering questions I found so intrusive, but knew they had to ask; being surrounded by my husband and my two other sons, Alex and Sam, in the hospital hallway as we tried to grasp this horrible reality; returning to a home Jak would never live in again and listening over the phone to a volunteer at the organ donation center kindly leading me to the decision I knew Jak would want; laying down late that night in the middle of our oversized couch with Molly on one end and Tim on the other, so that I could hold Molly’s hands as we tried to find rest.

I didn’t want to sleep or the day to end. As horrible as this day was, it was the last one that Jak was alive. The last 24 hours we shared with him.

Months went by before we learned that cardiac arrhythmia was the official cause of death for a perfectly healthy fifteen-year-old who had never shown any sign of heart disease. There had been no warning and there is still no explanation as to what brought on this sudden attack – no drugs, no toxins, no trauma, no overt genetic markers.

Not having a real reason for Jak’s death doesn’t change that he’s gone. But it makes it even harder to accept.

This will seem an obvious statement, but child loss changes you. Profoundly. I barely know myself these days. Before, I rarely cried and was not particularly emotional and thought sentimentalism was a little silly.

Now, I cry every day. Emotions I so easily dismissed are now always right at the edge, threatening to spill over. And while I’m still not overly sentimental, when it comes to pictures of Jak, every pixel is extraordinarily precious. Hand-written notes are treasures.

Losing Jak has also made me a kinder person. When someone says or does something hurtful to me now, my first reaction is to wonder what they might be going through. My second is to extend them the grace I know I need in my life.

I listen more and say less. When someone is grieving aloud, they mostly need to know someone is listening. Attentive and compassionate presence is more important than any response.

The workaholic has disappeared. Though my employer deserves my time during work hours, my family deserves no less when I get home.  This is one thing I desperately wish I’d understood before Jak died.

There is no silver-lining in child loss. If given a choice, I would remain ignorant of these lessons and have my Jak back. I do not have that option, but others have the chance to learn from me. I hope they do.

Shana Teehan is a Senior Advisor/Communications Director for U.S. Representative Kevin Brady (TX-08). She is a former Communications Director for the Alabama Republican Party and former U.S. Senator Luther Strange.

 

3 weeks ago

Economics and Aaron Rodgers’ new contract

(M. Morbeck/Flickr)

The Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers just signed a contract extension making him the NFL’s highest-paid player. Can economics make sense of athletes’ enormous salaries? And are such salaries justified?

Top athletes now make eight-figure salaries; Mr. Rodgers’ four-year contract extension will pay at least $134 million, including $67 million before the end of this year. Top earners in other sports make even more. Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers tops baseball at $33 million per season, while the Los Angeles Lakers will pay LeBron James $38 million a year. And Mr. James makes more annually in endorsements than salary. Boxer Floyd Mayweather topped Forbes’ list of top-earning athletes (which includes endorsements) with $285 million in 2018.

To focus on explaining athletes’ compensation, let’s temporarily set aside any notions of fairness. Economists use demand and supply to explain prices and salaries. Teams demand athletes’ services. The NFL generates about $10 billion in annual revenue, funding a 2018 salary cap of $177 million per team. Quarterbacks get the largest slice of this pie.

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Many quarterbacks would happily work for a fraction of the $33 million per season Green Bay will pay Mr. Rodgers. And yet the Packers and their fans do not necessarily want a less expensive quarterback. Rodgers possesses an amazing combination of physical skills, the intelligence to read defenses, and the capacity to make correct split-second decisions in the face of a pass rush.

Top athletes’ skills cannot be duplicated simply because they are valued by teams. Buyers of unique items must outbid other potential buyers. Prices must get very high to determine the winning bidder for top quarterbacks, beach-front property in Malibu, or famous works of art.

The nature of sports contests boosts demand. Only one quarterback leads the final drive, only one pitcher starts the seventh game of the World Series, and only one player attempts a game-winning shot. And only one team wins the championship each year. Fans can value a season even if their favorite team doesn’t win the title but winning also matters. Having the best quarterback, pitcher, or shooter provides your team a huge advantage. Economist Sherwin Rosen found that the top performers in such “superstars” markets will earn substantially more than the next best players despite typically a small difference in skills.

This explains the why of athletes’ salaries. Fairness depends on values and not just economics. Economics shows that the revenues paying athletes’ salaries come (mostly) from voluntary transactions. Fans choose to buy tickets, TV packages, and team merchandise. Advertising spending, which enables TV networks to pay billions for broadcast rights, may appear less clear. But advertising enables modern commerce, businesses want their ads to reach viewers, and sports attract audiences. Ad revenues ultimately derive from fans’ decisions to watch the contests.

Taxpayer subsidies for stadiums provide the one arguably involuntary revenue source. Letting teams pay less for stadiums or arenas increases the revenue available to pay salaries. Whether an expenditure of taxes approved by politicians is involuntary is a topic for another day.

Still, it seems disturbing that athletes get paid tens of millions of dollars for playing games while police officers and firefighters earn far less doing perform dangerous and arguably more important jobs. And we cannot defend the salaries as necessary to get athletes to play; Aaron Rodgers would likely still suit up even if top quarterbacks made “only” $3 million per year.

The salaries of athletes, firefighters and teachers are not set based on anyone’s assessment of moral worth. The market determines salaries, which ultimately means the spending choices of millions of people like you and me. If we disapprove of some market salaries, we could let the government set earnings, either directly by capping compensation or indirectly through high-income taxes. Yet are the decisions of politicians necessarily fairer than the spending decisions of millions?

I will gladly watch the NFL this season and not be mad at Aaron Rodgers for how much he makes. I will reserve my anger for when he beats the Detroit Lions again.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.

Rep. Byrne: ‘I refuse’ to allow the midterm elections to stop Congress from addressing the priorities of Americans

(Jeff Poor / Yellowhammer News)

The House returns to session this week after the month-long August District Work Period, and there are many important legislative items that need our attention.

August was a busy time back in Southwest Alabama listening to the people I have the honor of representing. I appreciate all those who took time to visit my office, attend a town hall meeting, or host me at their business. I look forward to taking back all I learned to Washington as we address the range of issues before us.

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Midterm elections for every House seat and one-third of the Senate seats will occur in November, and elections traditionally slow down legislative action in Washington. That said, there are many priorities that require our attention, and I know many of us are committed to getting the job done.

Our biggest priority is passing government funding bills for the next fiscal year. Government funding expires on September 30th each year, so Congress needs to pass funding bills by the end of this month.

The good news is that we have finally reached a bit of a breakthrough in the Senate on passing smaller individual funding bills instead of a massive omnibus bill that no one likes. We must get away from these big omnibus bills and focus on passing smaller, targeted bills one at a time.

Thanks to Alabama’s own Senator, Richard Shelby, the Senate appropriations process is actually moving forward, unlike in years past. This is a big victory as we try to fix the broken process and pass responsible government funding bills on time. I’m optimistic we can pass many of the funding bills before the end of September. This is especially important for our military as years of delayed funding has deteriorated our readiness leaving our service members without the resources they need to defend our country.

There is also a lot of talk in the House about doing “Tax Reform 2.0.” I’m sure you remember last year when Congress passed and President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act into law. This year’s tax reform efforts will focus on making many of those tax cuts permanent to ensure taxes remain low for American families.

The House is also waiting for the Senate to act on a package of bills to address our nation’s opioid drug epidemic. The House has passed over 50 bills to help prevent and treat opioid addiction and abuse while ensuring our drug laws are effective in stopping the flow of illegal drugs. The Senate must act on these bills or pass their own. Far too many Americans are losing their lives to opioid addiction each year, and we must act to stop this alarming trend.

While the path forward is not quite as clear, I remain strongly committed to passing an immigration bill to secure our borders, allow for construction of President Trump’s border wall, crack down on so-called “sanctuary cities,” and close loopholes in our current system. Border security is national security, so I am going to keep pushing for the House to pass strong immigration reform.

At the committee level, I will continue working on the Armed Services Committee to advocate for full funding for our nation’s defense and provide critical oversight as we continue to rebuild our military. On the Education and the Workforce Committee, we remain focused on reauthorizing of the Higher Education Act and oversight hearings on Department of Labor policies.

So, despite what you might hear in the media, the remainder of 2018 will be busy for Congress. I refuse to allow the midterm elections to slow us down from our job: addressing the priorities of the American people.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

4 weeks ago

Rep. Martha Roby: Hearing from constituents ‘enables me to better represent your views’

(Martha Roby/Facebook)

Over the last month during the August district work period, I have had the opportunity to travel throughout Alabama’s Second District to meet with constituents, local leaders and business owners. Having this time to hear firsthand from the people I represent is tremendously important, and I believe it enables me to better represent your views in Washington.

I recently wrapped up my district travel for the month, and I would like to briefly share with you an update on some of my visits and meetings I had towards the end of August.

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I met with leaders from Ingram State Community College in Deatsville. We had a great conversation about our state’s excellent community college system and ways we can continue to improve higher education and opportunities for AL-02 students. I also sat down with some folks from the Alabama Association of School Boards, and they updated me on some of the issues our local school systems face. I appreciated hearing from them and learning more about their perspective.

One afternoon, I had the privilege of speaking to the Montgomery chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers during their monthly luncheon. We discussed a number of important topics, including efforts in Congress and the Trump Administration to reinvigorate our nation’s aging infrastructure. I appreciated this opportunity and everyone who took the time to visit with me.

I also visited the Army Aviation support facility in Hope Hull for a briefing and an overview of their facility. I enjoyed talking with General Gordon, Colonel Bass, and others during my time there.

I stopped by Sabel Steel to meet with company leadership, including owner Keith Sabel. As you may know, Sabel Steel recently announced that thanks to our historic tax overhaul, they will use their significant savings to provide pay increases to all employees, invest in new equipment, expand their existing facilities, and hire additional workers. I enjoyed visiting this outstanding company, and I wish them continued success as we work to implement even more pro-growth policies to assist job creators across the district.

In Dothan one afternoon, I visited the Dothan Behavioral Medicine Clinic where I talked with staff and received a briefing on the Clinicom technology that is used to diagnose mental illness. Mental health is an acute problem facing our country, and I was pleased to learn more about their work.

One morning, I had the opportunity to speak to the Squadron School at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base. We had a great conversation about leadership qualities and my role in Congress as an advocate for our military. I really appreciated the many thoughtful questions I received and am already looking forward to my next visit!

One day, I sat down with Jay Moseley, Teresa Collier, and John Hamm from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Fusion Center. They updated me on the status of the human trafficking problem in our state and their efforts to eradicate this horrendous plague on our communities. I appreciate these leaders and their work to combat this atrocious problem.

I also toured Common Ground Ministries’ Mercy House and helped serve lunch one afternoon. I really enjoyed meeting some wonderful people and having several deeply meaningful conversations. We are fortunate to have Common Ground and all its dedicated volunteers as a resource in the River Region.

These are just some of the many productive, informative meetings I had over the second half of this August district work period. Now that the month is behind us and fall is quickly approaching, I would like to extend a sincere “thank you” to all the individuals, businesses, local officials and others who hosted me and visited with me over the last several weeks. It is always a true joy to visit various communities in AL-02, and I look forward to more opportunities to learn from the people I represent.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

4 weeks ago

Prepare to vote on constitutional amendments, Alabama

(W.Miller/Pixabay)

The drought, as they say, is over. Football season is back in Alabama.

To no one’s surprise, the Alabama Crimson Tide was ranked number one in both the AP and Coaches preseason polls.

Almost simultaneously as the return of college football, however, is the beginning of another all-too-familiar season for Alabamians.

That season, of course, is election season. In this season, as in the college football season, Alabama earns a number one ranking. This ranking isn’t for being the state with the most elections, however. No, this additional number one ranking is for our massive state constitution, the longest constitution in America and, perhaps, the world.

Our constitution is well over 300,000 words–that’s forty times longer than the U.S. Constitution. The only governing document that rivals the size of Alabama’s is that of India, although it is still less than half as long.

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Our constitution’s depth, it seems, is due to the 928 amendments that have been added since the constitution’s inception in 1901.

Although some amendments are substantive and generally applicable to the entire state, a large portion of the amendments only deal with a singular county. This is because the Constitutional Convention of 1901, in an effort to regain control of the state after Reconstruction, concentrated power so heavily in Montgomery that many local decisions were, and still are, not legally permitted without an explicit change in the constitution, e.g. a constitutional amendment.

This means that anytime a county wants to, for example,  levy a minor tax, institute local term limits, or create a toll road, a constitutional amendment is required.

In November, Alabamians will have the opportunity to make the state constitution even longer. This year, residents will vote on four statewide constitutional amendments, a relatively small number in light of the fourteen voted on in 2016.

Included on the ballot will be constitutional amendments concerning the public display of the Ten Commandments, abortion, the University of Alabama’s Board of Trustees, and special elections for legislative vacancies.

Although it is easy to treat constitutional amendments as an afterthought (they are, in fact, at the end of the ballot), it is important to understand the potential impact of a change to the state’s most significant document.

Unfortunately, the language describing constitutional amendments on the ballot is often difficult to understand. Additionally, there is no description of the effects of a proposed amendment. This can be disheartening to voters taking their voice in the electoral process seriously while at the same time encouraging split-second decisions and absent-minded bubbling. Neither of these cases are desirable.

That’s why, in the upcoming weeks, the Alabama Policy Institute will release op-eds on the constitutional amendments in easy-to-understand language, including the possible effects, or lack thereof, on the state. We will also release a one-stop Guide to the Issues that will explain the amendments concisely and in a readable format that voters can take into the polling stations.

Stay tuned.

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.