2 years ago

Democrats united in opposition to lottery bill — Proposal not expected to get another vote

MONTGOMERY — Leadership of the Alabama House Democratic Caucus on Wednesday hosted a press conference to explain their opposition to SB 220, a constitutional amendment that would legalize a lottery in Alabama.

This came after the lottery legislation failed on a procedural vote on the House floor Tuesday afternoon, with only three Democrats voting for the lottery. Immediately before the Wednesday press conference began, State Rep. Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham) took issue with Yellowhammer News reporting that Democrats had blocked the lottery bill from advancing, with Coleman calling it “a bullshit article.”

However, House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) then said that after a meeting, the Democratic Caucus is now indeed unanimous in their opposition to SB 220, with Daniels saying that the three prior “yay” votes are prepared to revert to the caucus position and vote “nay” if the proposal comes back up this session.

Daniels later said he does not personally think the lottery bill will be voted on again this session, however.

Daniels and Coleman in the press conference both said that they are not opposing the lottery to simply oppose a lottery. Coleman outlined that she has supported a lottery for the state of Alabama for the last 17 years, though the Democratic Caucus believes there are “deliverables” or priorities of theirs that are more important than allowing the people of Alabama to vote on just any lottery proposal.

These priorities – the ones that the Democratic leaders advised were leading to their opposition – primarily include the belief that more of the lottery revenues should go to education and that essentially all of the lottery revenues should be earmarked.

The House minority leader said he needed these earmarks in writing in the legislation because that was the only way to guarantee the funding would go to where he wants it.

SB 220 as approved by the House Economic Development Committee would send 75% of revenue to the general fund and 25% to the Education Trust Fund. The only earmarked revenues would be 0.25% going to resources and treatment for gambling addicts.

The bill passed beforehand by the Senate did not allow for any revenue to benefit education.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has said that lottery money benefitting the general fund would protect the education fund.

The general fund has obligations that are expected to grow significantly in the coming years, including Medicaid and the corrections system.

The Democratic Caucus leaders on Wednesday emphasized that a higher percentage of the revenues need to go to education and proposed some earmarking ideas for that education revenue, including a capped scholarship fund for higher education and pre-k, increases for retired teacher compensation and setting money aside for greater active teacher incentives, pay and resources.

That same type of earmarking is a demand for any general fund revenue, too. Daniels multiple times mentioned that the “rumor” floating around is that the general fund lottery revenues currently under SB 220 would go towards prison construction and even funding lawsuits brought against the state regarding recently passed laws, including the HB 314 abortion ban.

Coleman called it “deeply troubling” that un-earmarked lottery revenues could fund prison construction. She said her father asked her to vote against SB 220 so as to not fund “Kay’s prisons,” speaking of the governor.

The House Democratic leadership wants to see general fund lottery revenues earmarked for healthcare. Coleman explicitly advocated for this earmark going to “Medicaid expansion.” Daniels earlier in the day on “The Dale Jackson Show” called this “a rural healthcare expansion program,” seemingly avoiding the Obamacare stigma that “Medicaid expansion” has in Alabama.

Yellowhammer News reported Tuesday that the Democrats’ best chance for Medicaid expansion was the lottery bolstering general fund revenues. This is the same article Coleman took issue with.

Daniels was asked at the press conference if the Democratic Caucus would require that the clean, paper-only lottery proposed by SB 220 be expanded to include other electronic gaming to win their support. He acknowledged that was probably not a realistic expectation for a lottery to be able to pass, saying, “I’ll take it how I can get it.” Daniels reiterated that he just wants the paper lottery revenue going more to education proportionally and that essentially all of the lottery revenue must be earmarked similar to how the Democrats are proposing.

Near the end of the press conference, Daniels emphasized he will not “move forward on a new deal” with Republicans until the commitments Daniels said they made to him during the Rebuild Alabama talks are met. Daniels specified that means “a number of issues,” not just Medicaid or healthcare. He named the higher education funding structure as one of these other outstanding issues, saying Auburn and Alabama State did not get a fair shake from the nonpartisan ACHE formula that was used for the governor’s budget recommendations this year.

The sponsor of the lottery legislation, State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), also appeared on “The Dale Jackson Show” on Wednesday and said he is not optimistic that SB 220 will pass out of the legislature and get to a vote of the people.

State Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), who is carrying the lottery bill in the House, reportedly told WSFA on Wednesday that the lottery will not come back up for a vote this session, meaning SB 220 is dead in his eyes.

Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) told reporters two hours after the Democratic press conference that the lottery bill is “probably” dead.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 mins ago

Raytheon holds event in Huntsville to encourage more girls to become engineers

Raytheon, a defense contractor with a large presence in Huntsville, held its annual “Introduce a Girl To Engineering Event” this week.

The company invited students from Alabama’s School of Cyber Technology and Engineering (ASCTE) to take part in an engineering challenge, followed by a panel discussion with accomplished female engineers and cyber professionals.

Yellowhammer News asked Teresa Shea, vice president of Cyber Offense and Defense at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, about the state of women in the cyber engineering and defense fields. Shea was one of the panelists that spoke with the students on Thursday.

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Shea joined the federal government’s National Security Agency shortly after earning her engineering degree and went on to have a distinguished career in the defense industry.

“What struck me then and inspires me to this day is the impact that intelligence has in saving lives and influencing policymakers. I’ve been in this field for over 40 years and would encourage all young women and men to consider intelligence and defense as a career choice. It is extremely rewarding and purposeful,” she told Yellowhammer.

Shea said that in recent years she has been thrilled to see more women joining fields based on science, math and engineering. She observed that many young people she meets in those fields “want to make the world a better place.”

“Many see cybersecurity as a way to do just that. With the increased amount of interconnectivity, cyber is underpinning everything we do. Protecting that foundation is critical. I’m excited that young women are recognizing that and taking on the challenge of becoming engineers and computer scientists to improve our security nation-wide,” Shea advised.

Yellowhammer asked Shea what kind of impact schools like the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering (ASCTE) are having on the engineering field.

“The Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering is the only high school in the nation for students seeking advanced engineering and cyber technology studies. It’s groundbreaking for our country,” she began.

“We know that, especially for girls, exposure to STEM at a young age is very important. If we can reach high school-aged students, we can show them not only how important cyber is, but also how much fun and rewarding a career in cyber can be, especially when working closely with others as a team to problem solve. If we can ‘hook’ them in high school, we’ll have a strong pipeline of engineering talent for life,” she added.

Two young women involved in the event told WZDX that they found having prominent women involved in engineering fields “inspiring.”

In speaking to the assembled young women, Shea started by saying, “I am so proud of each and every one of you for choosing to attend ASCTE.”

“There are endless opportunities for you to make the world a better place – and cybersecurity is not always the easiest of careers. Like every field, you face challenges every day. However, working in cybersecurity is extremely rewarding and is a choice I’m proud to have made. I give you lots of credit for making this choice early in your educational career and I know that your contributions to this field will help make the world a safer place,” Shea told the students.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

1 hour ago

Ainsworth opts against 2022 U.S. Senate run

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) on Friday announced he will not be a candidate in Alabama’s 2022 U.S. Senate contest.

The seat is being vacated by U.S. Senator Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) decision not to seek a seventh term.

Ainsworth, who is serving his first term as lieutenant governor, is the prohibitive favorite to be the Yellowhammer State’s next governor.

“After discussions with my wife, Kendall, and prayerful consideration, I have decided that I will not be a candidate for the U.S. Senate,” he wrote in a social media post. “Because our twin boys and daughter are young and need a father who is present and deeply involved in their lives, I feel strongly that God’s plan currently calls for me to continue leading on the state, not federal, level of government.”

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“The encouragement to run that I have received from every corner of the state is humbling, and the support of my fellow Alabamians is deeply appreciated,” Ainsworth continued. “Sen. Shelby has served Alabama well, and his shadow will loom large over all those who run to fill his seat. As lieutenant governor, I will continue seeking conservative solutions to the problems facing Alabama and will keep working each day to bring more jobs, hope, and opportunities to the citizens of our state.”

Lynda Blanchard is currently the only announced candidate in the 2022 U.S. Senate race.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

East Alabama’s Russel Medical receives ‘transformational’ $25M gift

Russell Medical, a hospital located in Alexander City that serves a large portion of East Alabama, announced a multi-facility expansion on Thursday that is being made possible by a $25 million gift.

Making the donation to the nonprofit hospital are Ben and Luanne Russell. Ben Russell is the CEO of Russell Lands, the company that has developed much of the area around Lake Martin. His grandfather, affectionately known as “Mr. Ben,” built the famous Russell clothing company.

The gift from the Russells is the largest in the history of Russell Medical. It will provide for the construction of a new large-scale project focused on providing care for the elderly.

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To be built on the hospital’s campus in Alexander City, the Russell Legacy Project will include 26 units of independent living single-family cottages, an assisted living facility with 32 units.

The Russells’ donation will also provide for the construction of the Benjamin Russell Center for Advanced Care, a new project for the hospital that will “provide comprehensive geriatric health care and specialty health care services,” per a release.

“Ben and Luanne’s extraordinary act of generosity reflects a caring family who are great supporters of Alexander City, the Lake Martin area, and the medical community in Alabama. The Russell Legacy Project allows us to grow services centered on the largest sector who are in need of healthcare services, those citizens 65 years and older,” stated Jim Peace, president and CEO of Russell Medical.

In addition to the new facility, the gift from the Russels will create the Benjamin Russell Endowed Chair in Geriatrics, pending approval by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees. Russel Medical is a member of the UAB Health System.

“Each day for the next 20+ years, approximately 10,000 adults will turn 65, and with this trend, the demand for Geriatricians is expected to skyrocket,” remarked Dr. Cynthia Brown, director for the Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics, and Palliative Care at UAB.

The advanced care facility will be constructed in front of the hospital’s cancer center and will look out onto Highway 280. In addition to its primary focus on elder care, the center will house Women’s Health and other specialty clinics.

“As lifelong residents of Alexander City, Luanne and I have supported the Lake Martin area and this hospital and are pleased to be able to make this gift, honoring my grandfather, Benjamin Russell. Mr. Ben did much for this state and its people. This gift is one way Luanne and I can recognize his contributions,” said Ben Rusell.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

6 hours ago

7 Things: Alabama State Health Officer says to take any coronavirus vaccine, Alabama Democrats think all protesters are rioters, U.S. Capitol still faces threats and more …

7. Joe Reed: Keep straight-ticket voting in Alabama

  • Democratic Party leader Joe Reed has come out against a piece of legislation that would get rid of straight-ticket voting throughout Alabama. Reed asked that the 24 Democratic members of the House of Representatives who have decided to co-sponsor the bill remove their support.
  • Reed asked the question, “What is wrong with a person voting the straight-ticket?” He added that he doesn’t know of any “harm” straight-ticket voting does to the “Democratic process,” and he focused on how removing straight-ticket voting would ultimately hurt the Democratic Party as it would remove support from candidates with less name ID.

6. $15 minimum wage is out of the coronavirus stimulus bill

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  • Congressional Democrats’ attempts to force a minimum wage hike into a completely unrelated coronavirus stimulus bill were stymied by Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian who declared the provision violated budgetary rules.
  • Democrats will now have to gain Republican support for the measure or do it by killing the filibuster, a move they probably can’t pull off. Democrats like U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) are not happy and expressed as such, saying, “I’m sorry — an unelected parliamentarian does not get to deprive 32 million Americans the raise they deserve. This is an advisory, not a ruling. VP Harris needs to disregard and rule a $15 minimum wage in order. We were elected to deliver for the people. It’s time we do our job.”

5. Equality Act passes in Congress, Alabama takes another path

  • With only three Republicans voting for the Equality Act, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill in a 224-206 vote. The bill provides protections for those in the LGBTQ+ community in a wide range, including allowing transgender people to participate in their chosen gender’s league for sports.
  • In Alabama, a bill was approved by a House committee that would forbid doctors from using puberty-blocking medications, hormones and surgeries on transgender minors.

4. Legislature taking their time with medical marijuana

  • Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) has said that in the House of Representatives, they’re going take their time with the medical marijuana bill by sending it through the Judiciary and Health Committees.
  • McCutcheon said, “We’re going to go through the bill page-by-page.” The medical marijuana bill has already passed the State Senate and has to be passed by the House before Governor Kay Ivey can sign it into law.

3. Threats against the U.S. Capitol ahead of State of the Union

  • It hasn’t been scheduled or announced when President Joe Biden will give his first State of the Union address, but acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman has said that there are credible threats to “blow up” the U.S. Capitol during the address. Pittman said this is why it’s necessary for security measures, like National Guardsman and the barbed wire fence, to stay in place.
  • Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) wants a fair and balanced investigation into the riots at the U.S. Capitol. He will even testify under oath during it, and he may get it after all.

2. Bill targeting rioters is somehow aimed at peaceful protesters

  • The legislation brought by State Representative Allen Treadaway (R-Morris) that would make rioting or inciting a riot a felony has received some backlash from State Senator Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), who claims that the bill will actually target peaceful protesters.
  • Smitherman said that this bill “seeks to take us back 60 years to where we were at that particular time,” referencing the 1960s and 1970s when protestors were arrested. He went on to assert that this bill would lead to those who are protesting being arrested, adding, “We can’t allow to go back 60 years in time to try to oppress people from being able to…speak out.”

1. State Health Officer: Take the coronavirus vaccine made available to you

  • State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris is advising that people in Alabama should simply take whichever coronavirus vaccine that’s available to them. This came into question as it’s anticipated that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be approved by the Food and Drug Administration soon.
  • Dr. Harris stated, “This is a vaccine that prevents deaths and prevents even serious illness and hospitalization at the exact same rate as the other vaccines,” which doesn’t seem to be true.

7 hours ago

PSC President Cavanaugh: Measures implemented to protect Alabama against Texas-like widespread electric utility failures

Last week, the nation watched as Texas suffered electricity outages during an unprecedented winter storm that wreaked havoc on the Lone Star State.

Could that happen here in Alabama? Public Service Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh said although no utility is completely invulnerable, measures have been taken to protect customers.

During an appearance on Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Cavanaugh elaborated on why Texas and Alabama are uniquely different and why Alabama may have fared differently under similar circumstances.

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“[I] did not know a whole lot about Texas until this started happening,” she said. “Since then, I have studied and tried to make sure we have covered all our bases here in Alabama, and that does not happen. Now, let me give this disclaimer — there is never 100% on any utility. Obviously, there are things utilities must do to be prepared. But there are things that can go wrong no matter how prepared you are. I always give that disclaimer.”

“However, Texas and Alabama are completely different in their setup,” Cavanaugh continued. “Alabama Power is the largest power utility in Alabama, and it is a regulated utility. The other utilities that produce electricity in Alabama are TVA, which is a federal-run utility — it is a quasi-government-run utility in North Alabama. We also have some cities that have their own system. They’re called municipals. And then, there are co-ops in some of your rural areas. In fact, I believe Baldwin County has some co-ops. And so, those are run by their members.”

“We regulate Alabama Power Company, which many of your listeners in Mobile have,” she added. “They are regulated. In Texas, 90% of their power is not regulated. In other words, they are deregulated, is what the industry calls it. And after reading this — I think the easiest way to put this is when you’re regulated, we look at everything as how do we protect the people, or how do we protect the customers. In a non-regulated arena, it is how do you protect the profits of these companies.”

According to Cavanaugh, the difference in governing utilities makes such a scenario that Texas faced less likely in Alabama.

“There’s just a completely different philosophy in the two,” she said. “And one of the things in a regulated environment like Alabama Power Company, we always want to weigh things on how it will affect customers. We do that through — is it reliable for consumers? And is it affordable? They have to present to us, I say, on a monthly basis, but it is actually a continual basis. They are audited. And we ensure they do what it takes to be able to handle the load, no matter what the load problems may be.”

Cavanaugh also explained how that given Texas is on its own grid, which covers 90% of that state, prevents it from bringing power in from other states, which is a protection that exists with Alabama’s electric utilities.

She added that there is also less of an incentive to undergo the expensive effort of winterizing in a deregulated environment like Texas.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.