3 months ago

Ivey announces ‘Rebuild Alabama’ plan to improve state’s roads, bridges

MAPLESVILLE — Next to a crumbling rural road and a deficient old bridge, Governor Kay Ivey on Wednesday began to make the case for her “Rebuild Alabama” plan.

With key legislative leaders, stakeholders and job creators firmly behind her, Ivey declared, “Y’all, this is an issue felt by every Alabamian. … The fact of the matter is that Alabama must – absolutely must – address this problem, and to be successful, we’ve got to tackle it together.”

The governor is proposing a 10 cents-per-gallon fuel tax in addition to the currently imposed flat excise tax of 18 cents-per-gallon on gas and 19 cents-per-gallon on diesel. The 10 cents would be phased in over three years — six cents immediately, two more cents in 2020 and the final two cents in 2021. After this phase-in, the tax would be indexed to coincide with the rising costs of building roads. The index would raise the tax no more than one cent every two years.

While 37 other states have increased their infrastructure revenue in the past five years alone, Alabama last adjusted its combined fuel tax – which generates 80 percent of Alabama’s transportation funding – way back in 1992. According to a report released Tuesday by a national research group, this has resulted in the buying power of the Yellowhammer State’s fuel tax being less than 50 percent of what it was originally. In Maplesville, this frightening statistic showed.

Located in Chilton County, Maplesville is a quiet agricultural community. However, it has the ability to do big business, with logging trucks constantly coming in and out with valuable Alabama timber.

There are stories just like this across the state, and Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell’s position squarely behind Ivey at the podium spoke volumes. Simply put, farm-to-market roads are big business in the state. And as logging trucks have to go miles out of the way to avoid a 55-year-old bridge that can no longer support their weight, hardworking Alabamians are losing time and money.

The same goes for school buses. After Ivey lamented that they also had to travel daily out of the way to avoid the bridge, burdening local families and costing the school district money that should be used in the classroom, one local resident chimed in, “Amen to that.”

To make matters worse, the road just beyond the bridge abruptly turned from being paved to dirt, and the entire route and bridge would flood over when the area got significant rain – which was not hard to believe looking at the high water levels feet away from the podium.

Legislative support

Ivey stressed that this is not just a rural issue or an urban one; not just a South Alabama project or a North Alabama one; and not just a Republican priority or a Democratic one.

She called it a “bipartisan issue” in the purest form.

“That means an issue we can all get behind,” Ivey explained.

This was affirmed by a united set of state legislative leaders who spoke after her, including Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston), Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) and Rep. Kelvin Lawrence (D-Hayneville).

“True leaders do not always do the easy thing, but they do the things that are necessary. Governor Ivey, you have stepped up with this initiative to help us here in Alabama,” McCutcheon said. “And I want to thank you for your leadership. We are supportive of you – the leadership in the House – we’re standing behind this transportation/infrastructure bill and this is truly … an investment in our state.”

He continued, “When it comes to the economy, this produces jobs, which produces a better quality of life for Alabamians.”

Marsh advised that the governor had tasked his office months ago with doing research on the state’s infrastructure needs, as well as possible solutions.

“We had some 31 meetings over the last year to talk about the needs of Alabama and how to craft an infrastructure plan that takes us into the next century,” he outlined.

“I want to thank the governor today for taking a proactive position on this,” Marsh added. “Because I want everyone that’s here today and everyone that’s watching today to understand this: we want to come in and address this issue in a proactive manner and not [have to] be called into a special session because a school bus has [fallen] through a bad bridge.”

Singleton, who represents a district in the Black Belt, quipped, “I represent a district of ‘po folk: P-O, can’t afford the other O-R.’ And when we look in our communities, roads and bridges are just important to us as they are to Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville. That’s why I stand here today with this governor, because this plan is a comprehensive plan to work for the state of Alabama.”

He emphasized that Ivey is committed to the people of rural west Alabama just as much as she is for people in more affluent urban and suburban areas.

“There are hundreds of miles of dirt roads that are in my district,” Singleton advised. “We could have easily found bridges in west Alabama that looked like this, or even wooden bridges that look like this. I know that the governor has the commitment and the heart to [solve this issue]. Because as the Speaker said, it is not the easiest thing to do… but it is an opportunity for us to make it right. It’s time.”

Lawrence, representing the House Minority Caucus, said, “We must do what we need to do to improve our roads and bridges so we can provide a better future not just for [us], but for [our] children and [our] grandchildren. So we thank Governor Ivey for her efforts on this.”

State Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) will sponsor the bill and State Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) will carry the legislation in the Senate.

Poole, who could not make it to the press conference due to a last-minute hearing that was called for one of his legal clients, released a statement saying, “Today’s announcement is a major step in the right direction to improving Alabama’s infrastructure. I appreciate Governor Ivey for leading the charge and allowing me to help develop this plan. A number of studies have concluded that Alabama’s aging infrastructure cannot continue to operate in its current state without severe consequences; these are simply facts we can’t ignore.”

At the press conference, Chambliss praised Poole’s diligence in studying the issue and listening meticulously to all the stakeholders involved before finalizing the bill corresponding to Ivey’s plan.

Chambliss added, “We are behind … [but] through Governor Kay Ivey’s leadership, Pro Tem Marsh’, Speaker McCutcheon’s, we’re going to solve this problem.”

McCutcheon told reporters after the press conference that he plans to have the bill get its first three readings and enter into debate by the end of the first legislative week. It must pass the House before being considered by the Senate. The regular session starts March 5, with Ivey noting that she is leaving the option of calling a special session on the table. This could even mean a special session within the beginning of the regular session.

Both Marsh and McCutcheon expressed high levels of optimism that the bill would pass their respective chambers, citing that their members were highly informed on the issue and had been expecting it to come up this year.

What the tax revenues would pay for

New revenue generated by the increase will be dispersed between state, county and municipal governments in Alabama.

McCutcheon said the full 10-cent increase is estimated to raise more than $300 million annually.

Ivey emphasized that the funds are to be used exclusively for roads, bridges and improving the Port of Mobile.

“I have worked personally with Representative Bill Poole as he crafted this bill [so] that we have strong, strong accountability in this bill and that the monies will go to asphalt and concrete, not on bureaucracy, not on pencils, not on personnel,” the governor explained. “[A]bsolute accountability – we can track [every cent of spending]… to protect our taxpayers.”

Ten million dollars of the plan’s annual revenues will go to pay a bond to be issued to finance improvements to the ship channel providing access to the facilities of the Alabama State Docks at the Port of Mobile. The port needs to deepen and widen the channel to accommodate more cargo vessels.

Ivey outlined that the port handles “approximately 64 million tons of cargo each year” and has “a total economic impact of $22.4 billion.”

“So addressing our port is also essential to our manufacturing, retail and agricultural businesses in every part of the state, particularly in North Alabama,” she said.

Ivey called her Rebuild Alabama plan “a direct investment in public safety, economic development, and the prosperity of our state.”

“Alabamians will be safer, and Alabama’s future will be prosperous,” the governor said. “Let’s remember that Alabama’s best days are ahead.”

Job creators react

After the press conference, the Business Council of Alabama released a statement commending the plan.

“The road to our future must be paved,” BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt said. “Alabama’s transportation system is the backbone of the state’s economy and is crucial to our economic growth, and I commend Governor Ivey for making this a priority of her Administration.”

“Alabama’s drivers are more likely to be killed in a traffic accident in Alabama than 44 other states. Last year, 282 people lost their lives in Alabama because of our road conditions,” she continued. “Alabama’s current infrastructure challenges create a serious safety concern for all those who travel our roadways while also hindering job creation and eroding our businesses’ bottom lines. An investment in our roads and bridges is an investment in the safety and quality of life of all Alabamians.”

“Economic development and infrastructure go hand in hand,” Britt concluded. “We are on an unsustainable course and can no longer afford to do nothing, and I urge the legislature to pass the governor’s package.”

The BCA also released a fact sheet outlining the dire need for additional investment in Alabama’s infrastructure system.

Watch the press conference:

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

37 mins ago

Tuberville backs Alabama legislator’s bill making murder of on-duty first responder a capital offense

Former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville is backing HB 59, the bill passed by the Alabama Senate on Thursday that would make killing an on-duty first responder a capital offense.

The bill as amended and passed by the Senate names the proposed law in honor of slain Auburn Police Department Officer William Buechner, who was shot and killed in the line of duty on Sunday night.

Sponsored by State Rep. Chris Sells (R-Greenville), HB 59 passed the House previously. The amended version goes back to the chamber for expected concurrence next week.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Tuberville applauded the legislature for the bill, especially thanking the Senate for the amendment in Buechner’s memory, which was put onto the legislation by State Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn).

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“I commend the Alabama Senate on their bill which makes the murder of an on-duty first responder a capital offense,” Tuberville said. “Murdering a first responder in Alabama should be classified as a capital offense. Not just police officers are covered in this bill all first responders are covered!”

The bill adds on-duty first responders to the list of murder victims that constitutes a capital offense. State law already makes the murder of an on-duty law enforcement officer or prison guard a capital offense.

Note the difference between a Class A felony murder charge and a capital murder charge: capital offenses in Alabama are punishable (unless the defendant was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime) by life in prison without the possibility of parole or death. Class A felonies are punishable by 10-99 years in prison, with stricter guidelines for offenders with prior criminal convictions.

Sells’ bill would also add on-duty law enforcement officers, prison guards and first responders as victims in the list of aggravating circumstances to a capital offense. This would make the death penalty more likely in the sentencing phase of this kind of capital offense.

In HB 59, first responders are defined as emergency medical services personnel licensed by the Alabama Department of Public Health and firefighters and volunteer firefighters as defined by existing state law.

Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes has said he will seek the death penalty if the man charged with Buechner’s death is convicted on a capital murder charge.

Tuberville’s vocal support for the bill came the same day as Buechner’s funeral.

“Today, as Officer William Buechner is laid to rest, we celebrate his heroic life and the ultimate sacrifice he made to protect our citizens,” Tuberville emphasized.

On Friday, Tuberville also visited Auburn Police Department Officer Webb Sistrunk, who was critically wounded in the shooting that killed Buechner.

(T. Tuberville/Facebook)

“It was such an honor for me to visit with Webb Sistrunk, one of the brave Auburn police officers who was shot earlier this week,” Tuberville shared.

Tuberville with Mark Sistrunk, the officer’s father (Contributed)

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

1 hour ago

‘Our hero’: Slain Auburn officer’s neighborhood lights up blue to honor him

Neighbors of murdered Auburn Police Department Officer William Buechner are backing the blue in a very visible way, honoring the fallen hero’s life of selfless service.

As reported by WSFA, the Opelika subdivision that Buechner and his family lived in is showing their solidarity en masse.

In a moving tribute, many of the neighborhood’s homes have replaced their regular porch lights with blue lights, shining proudly in Buechner’s memory.

Tracy McDaniel is among those neighbors paying tribute to the officer and beloved community member.

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Tracy McDaniel’s home, as contributed by her. (Sally Pitts/Facebook)

McDaniels’ home is far from the exception. One photo shows an entire street the neighborhood turned blue to honor the fallen officer.

Photo by Samantha Xaysombath Smith (WSFA/Twitter)

“William was a lot of great things. A great man, friend, husband, and father, police officer, neighbor, the list goes on,” Smith explained. “His son will grow up to learn that his daddy was a hero, and we will forever remember that he was our hero too.”

Another woman in the neighborhood, who asked to remain anonymous when speaking with WSFA, said she was aware of at least 15 homes participating in the special tribute but expected that number to increase.

“We all have rallied to find each other more lightbulbs,” the woman said, “and contact those who have been out of town or may need assistance reaching their fixtures. It’s been a true team effort.”

The lights are reportedly expected to remain on at least through Saturday, the day after Buechner’s funeral.

Buechner is survived by his wife of three years, Sara; son, Henry; and step-daughter, McKenna.

“This village we speak of, he knows we will take care of Sara and the family,” Smith added. “After all, it does take a village. We back the blue.”

There has been a GoFundMe set up for Buechner’s family.

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

2 hours ago

Palmer introduces bill to stop federal funding of anti-ICE ‘sanctuary airports’

Congressman Gary Palmer (AL-06) is taking a major stand against airports in liberal strongholds that try to subvert federal law.

Palmer’s office on Thursday announced that the Birmingham-area congressman has introduced the PLANE Act, the Prohibiting Local Airports from Neglecting Enforcement Act (H.R. 2955).

In April, an airport in Seattle, Washington, banned flights known collectively as “ICE Air,” which included flights that deported illegal immigrants or transported detainees to the appropriate detention center.

If passed, the PLANE Act would withhold federal grants from airports that violate grant agreements by attempting similar action, such as imposing unreasonable conditions or restrictions on airplanes operating under ICE or other contracted government agencies.

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“Airports that refuse to cooperate with ICE should not receive federal grants,” Palmer said in a statement.

“The rule of law must not be thwarted by so-called ‘sanctuary airports,’ especially when they potentially delay the removal of people accused of crimes like human trafficking and rape,” he added. “Political posturing cannot be permitted when an airport has agreed to cooperate with law enforcement in exchange for federal funds.”

Palmer is now serving as the chair the Republican Policy Committee, which is the fifth highest ranking leadership role amongst Republicans in the United States House of Representatives.

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

3 hours ago

Rumors and Rumblings, 2nd Ed. Vol. VIII

“Rumors and Rumblings” is a regular feature on Yellowhammer News. It is a compilation of the bits and pieces of information that we glean from conversations throughout the week.

Enjoy.

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1. Hey Arnold! State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) caused a bit of a stir this week when he introduced a request to censure State Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) for comments Rogers made during the chamber’s debate of the abortion bill. Numerous GOP House members were upset by the move, not so much for the substance of the request as much as for the timing — and the perceived motivation behind it.

The request came as the body was attempting to address a “ten-minute” calendar of bills. The aim of a ten-minute calendar is to quickly dispose of some of the more mundane pieces of legislation with the idea being that each member gets ten minutes to pass their bill or else the House moves on to the next item. As soon as Mooney introduced his letter of censure, the environment in the chamber became hostile, resulting in an adjournment and the end of the calendar. Dozens of members lost the opportunity, at that point at least, to pass their individual pieces of legislation, including an anti-human trafficking bill and legislation to help feed needy children in the state.

Some members wondered why Mooney waited nine days to introduce his letter. His letter was dated May 13 and not introduced until May 22. This event came on the heels of Mooney previously sending out a campaign letter to supporters questioning the ideological bearings of his fellow Republican legislators. When asked if Mooney had expressed any of these concerns to the GOP caucus at-large prior to his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, one member responded, “No. He had not.”

2. A tale of two cities. As Mooney spent the week trying to burnish the type of outsider credentials attractive to Club for Growth, another one of his colleagues spent his week in D.C. trying, presumably, to lay a similar foundation. State Rep. Will Dismukes (R-Prattville) was boots on the ground in the nation’s capital this week. Dismukes has let it be known that he was contemplating his own run for the U.S. Senate. He has done a fair job of keeping those cards close to the vest, although his trip to Washington would lend to the notion that he continues to have interest in a federal office.

The mathematical side effect of Dismukes’ absence nearly reached a heightened level of consequence. Consideration of any legislation prior to the passage of both budgets requires a 3/5 vote of those in the body voting. The lottery failed this week because it did not receive the required 3/5 threshold of those voting. In Dismukes’ absence from the state, someone voted his machine on his behalf as an abstention rather than simply not voting at all. He was the only legislator to vote to abstain. This still raises the threshold of required votes.

There were 90 total members that voted — which means the lottery needed 54 votes to proceed. It only received 53. Had someone not voted Dismukes’ machine and 89 members had voted, the lottery would still have needed 54 votes but by a much slimmer margin since 3/5 of 89 equals 53.4. That’s how close the lottery came to advancing to full consideration by the House.

3. Is broadband really a priority for members of the Alabama House? While the state legislature’s budget negotiations have been relatively smooth so far this session, there is one major issue that has seemingly popped up at the last minute.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and Senate Finance and Taxation Education Chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) put $30 million in the Senate-passed Education Trust Fund Budget for the state’s rural broadband grant program established last year by State Senator Clay Scofield’s (R-Guntersville) landmark legislation.

As the legislature continues to work on beefing up last year’s legislation through Scofield’s SB 90 this year, the House is now seemingly set to slash the broadband funding approved by the Senate. The House Ways and Means Education Committee this week approved an education budget that cut the broadband funding by 73%, dragging the total down from $30 million to only $8 million.

Proponents of the larger number have said that there is not a better use of one-time money than to expand broadband services across the state. Will Chairman Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) and the House at-large work with the Senate and restore the important broadband funding?

4. Art of the Deal. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) once again proved his master negotiating skills this week, securing a crucial disaster relief package deal against seemingly insurmountable differences between the increasingly polarized factions in Washington, D.C.

This package will provide much-needed aid to many in the Yellowhammer State, including those in southeast Alabama devastated by Hurricane Michael.

Shelby bridged the gap between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, while even managing to get President Donald Trump to drop his demands to include non-disaster related earmarks in the package — a concession that was key to getting enough votes in the Senate and House. The legislation quickly passed the Senate 85-8 Thursday before a lone House member objected to its unanimous passage on Friday. The House can take the legislation up after Memorial Day on Tuesday, when it is expected to overwhelmingly pass that chamber and then be signed into law.

One keen observer told Yellowhammer News that this type of achievement will not make nearly the number of headlines it should back at home, but once again Shelby has delivered for his state as he continues to cement his legacy as “Alabama’s greatest statesman.”

3 hours ago

Alabama legislature passes bill to ensure accuracy in meat labeling

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday took steps to ensure that the definition of “meat” when applied to food labeling should only apply to products sourced from livestock on farms and ranches and harvested through processing; the bill clarifies that laboratory-grown products may not be labeled as meat, protecting Yellowhammer State consumers from potentially misleading packaging.

In a unanimous vote, the Senators passed HB 518, sponsored by State Rep. Danny Crawford (R-Athens) and State Sen. David Sessions (R-Grand Bay). The bill was previously passed by the House 97-2 and now heads to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk.

“This is proactive legislation to ensure clarity in food labeling. Around the country, there are more and more companies trying to market lab-grown products as meat, which is misleading since they aren’t derived from actual livestock production,” Sessions said in a statement.

Sessions pointed out that the nutritional and safety risks of foods developed in labs from animal cell cultures are still unknown.

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“These new lab-produced foods are, at best, synthetic meats, and their nutritional effects are unknown right now. Let’s see how the science develops through further research, and make a clear distinction between meat that is farm-raised on the one hand, and lab-based products on the other,” he advised.

The beef cattle industry represents a $2.5 billion industry in Alabama and is the number two agricultural commodity in the Yellowhammer State, with over 20,000 cattle farms. Beef continues to be a favorite protein among consumers worldwide, with exports of American beef representing an $8 billion industry by itself.

“The Alabama Cattlemen’s Association represents over 10,000 members across the state. As alternative proteins enter the marketplace in coming years, we think it is imperative that the integrity of all meat labels are protected and clear for consumers when they go to the meat case,” Erin Beasley, executive vice president of the Alabama Cattleman’s Association, commented.

She concluded, “The passage of this bill is a win-win for the consumers who love to buy beef, and the cattlemen who work hard to produce a high-quality product. We would like to thank the Alabama Legislature for the support of this bill, and especially Senator David Sessions and Representative Danny Crawford for carrying the bill.”

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