3 months ago

Ivey in State of the State: ‘Now is the time to Rebuild Alabama’

MONTGOMERY — Governor Kay Ivey delivered her 2019 State of the State address Tuesday evening, highlighting the record successes of her administration and explaining her vision of taking the state to even greater heights in the future.

Ivey spent a good portion of the address speaking about her continued revamp of the state’s education system, including her trademark “Strong Start, Strong Finish” initiative. However, perhaps the biggest applause line of the night was for Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program, which has been ranked the nation’s best for 12 consecutive years. The governor is proposing an additional $25 million for expansion of the voluntary program in this year’s budget.

The speech was well received throughout by members of the state legislature, with a clear majority giving the governor a standing ovation after she proclaimed, “I say enough is enough. Now is the time to Rebuild Alabama!”

In addition to speaking about her infrastructure plan, Ivey announced a proposed four percent pay raise for all public teachers in the state and a proposed two percent pay raise for all other public employees.

The governor explained that the state Medicaid agency will require $40 million less in 2020 than compared to 2019, thanks to increased efficiency under her administration.

She is proposing additional state troopers and $7 million more in mental health funding.

Text of Ivey’s State of the State address, as prepared, as follows:

Lieutenant Governor Ainsworth, Pro Tempore Marsh, Speaker McCutcheon, Speaker Pro Tempore Gaston, members of the Alabama Legislature, Chief Justice Parker, justices of the Alabama Supreme Court, distinguished guests – and my fellow Alabamians:

Just over 48 hours ago, Mother Nature’s wrath – in the form of vicious and deadly tornados – ripped through our state, leaving behind significant devastation.

At least 23 innocent lives were lost.

Young children who had barely experienced life.

Mothers. Fathers. Friends and neighbors.

It is during times like these that we turn to the good Lord, asking for His continued comfort and healing hands.

We also give special thanks for the emergency responders and local law enforcement.

Please join me as we observe a moment of silence to remember all those who passed away, as well as many others who were injured.

While there is always uncertainty in what tomorrow may bring, there is absolute certainty in the resiliency of the people of Alabama.

After all, we’ve done it before, and we will do it again.

This is a time for all of Alabama – and our entire nation – to rally behind these good people. Together, we will bring Lee County back to its feet!

In our 200 years of statehood, the men and women of Alabama have always stepped forward when our nation called.

When our country needed defending, the legendary Tuskegee Airmen were born.

When our country was plagued with injustice, it was an Alabama woman that refused to give her seat up on a bus.

When our country sought to do the impossible and take man to the moon, it was Alabamians that built the rocket that successfully launched and returned them home.

The people of our state shaped the past. They are influencing the present, and without a doubt, they are at the forefront of defining our future.

Since this occasion last year, our story in Alabama has continued to evolve with one major accomplishment after another. At the same time, we are managing to fund state government, remaining conservative with the hard-earned dollars the men and women of this state send to us.

Ladies and gentlemen, this evening, I am proud to report that the state of our state is growing stronger each day. Our state’s recent history combined with the willing attitude I sense in the Chamber this evening, will aid in ourquest to overcome our long-neglected issues and will help us achieve even greater prosperity for the entire state.

We will accomplish this together, because we are Alabama, and this is our time.Alabama’s economy is breaking records some thought we would never see.

In 2018, alone, Alabama achieved a historic total of $8.8 billion dollars in new capital investments, which created more than 17,000 new and future jobs for our people!

Major technology companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Shipt are showing the rest of the country what it means to do business in our state.

Alabama is on track to be the number two auto-producing state in the nation, in less than five years. This is remarkable for a state that 25 years ago did not produce a single car, truck or SUV.

Our aerospace industry is, once again, redefining the futures of both our state and nation. With the recent groundbreaking for Airbus’s second assembly line, the City of Mobile is positioned to be one of the top four cities in the world for aerospace manufacturing. And up in Huntsville, construction began on Blue Origin’s$200 million-dollar rocket production facility, further solidifying Alabama’s critical role in putting the UnitedStates at the forefront of space exploration.

Now, just as Alabama has emerged as a powerhouse in the automotive and aerospace industries, our Department of Commerce, under the direction of Secretary Greg Canfield, is working hard to expand project activity in areas like technology, forestry and bioscience.

Members of the Legislature, companies from around the globe want to be part of the gold standard that isknown by the “Made in Alabama” brand.

And make no mistake. The upward trend in Alabama’s economy is a direct compliment to the men and women in Alabama’s workforce. These very men and women are regaining hope because of the good-paying jobs that are pouring into our state.

The Department of Labor, under the capable leadership of Secretary Fitzgerald Washington, is working hard to ensure we fulfill our vision of connecting every Alabamian who wants a job with a job.

Ladies and gentlemen, Alabama has seen a record-breaking year!

Last year, we recorded the lowest unemployment rate in our history: 3.7 percent. That’s a record for our state.

In December 2018, Alabama reported having the most people working in our state’s history. That means 49,000more Alabamians are working today than were a year ago. That’s a record for our state.

When economists predicted we would gain 27,000 jobs in 2018, in natural Alabama fashion, we exceeded that projection by supporting more than 44,000 additional jobs! That, too, is a record for our state!

Even so, there are still some 80,000 Alabamians seeking employment opportunities. And to those across our state who are still searching, I urge you to not lose faith, because we are not going to rest on our efforts, and we will not leave you behind.

Regardless of their own individual situation, every Alabamian must be given an opportunity to provide for themselves and their family, enabling them to climb the ladder to success.

For us to better provide for all of our citizens, it is vitally important that Alabama has maximum participation in the upcoming 2020 Census. We will be launching the Alabama Counts campaign next month, with the goal simply being to secure much-needed federal funds for our state. At the same time, we are ensuring that our representation in Congress remains unchanged, guaranteeing Alabamians a strong voice for the next decade.

As you would expect, the hardworking men and women of Alabama will always come first in the Ivey Administration.

Under Republican leadership, over the past few years, the people of Alabama have experienced major gains. We have seen significant growth in our economy. We have cut taxes on middle-class families, and we are shrinking government.

Sometimes people forget that during the past few years, we have repealed more than 300 obsolete laws and regulations. And since 2010, we have reduced the number of state employees by more than 6,000 people. That means we are operating leaner, smarter and stronger.

And because of the approach taken by Republican leadership since 2010, Alabama has saved literally hundreds of millions of dollars!

As we know, every dollar spent by the government belongs to the hardworking men and women of our state. Last year, I was very proud to sign into law the largest tax break for middle-class Alabamians in more than a decade! In turn, the total impact is projected to net $40 million dollars in savings for our taxpayers over the next decade. All of our efforts are centered on doing what is best and right for the people of our state – and that begins with protecting their hard-earned dollars whenever and however we can.

Doing what is best and right for our people also means giving every Alabamian the opportunity for a qualityeducation. Through ‘Strong Start, Strong Finish’, we are making important strides to improve Alabama’seducation system.

For a child to reach their fullest potential later in life, they must first build a strong educational foundation. Under the nationally-recognized leadership of Secretary Jeana Ross, the tremendous efforts of the Departmentof Early Childhood Education have enabled Alabama’s First Class Pre-K to be ranked as the nation’s highestquality program for the 12th consecutive year!

Most importantly, our efforts are giving more of Alabama’s children a strong start.

Last year, we increased funding by $18.5 million dollars, which was the largest, single-year increase ever approved. And because of that historic investment, 107 new First Class Pre-K classrooms were added last fall, which led Alabama to officially break the 1,000-classroom mark.

Additionally, our P-3 pilot program aimed at building upon the gains made in Pre-K, grew by 75 classrooms this school year.

As we anticipate the rising demand of the computer science field, we are continuing our efforts to enhance computer science education in Alabama.

Last year, I signed legislation establishing the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering. We also secured additional funding to create the Alabama Math and Science Teacher Education Program, which provides a better pathway to certify future computer science teachers.

Today in Alabama, women and minorities make up well over half of the population. Yet, they are underrepresented in the STEM professions.

Tonight, I am pleased to have with us a young woman who is the face of changing this disparity, specifically in the area of computer science. Arrington Harper is currently a senior at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham.

In her ninth-grade year, she had her very first computer science class.

Since then, Arrington has excelled. She is a recipient of the Aspirations in Computer Science Award for Alabama. She is an advocate for computer science education and girls in computer science. She wants to use her passion to help address the gender and race gaps that exist in computer science education. Arrington has spoken to numerous groups of parents and educators and was invited by the National Center for Women in IT to share her experiences at large. She plans to major in computer science in college.

Arrington represents my vision for education in our state. It was in a classroom where she discovered her niche, and through the guidance of her dedicated teachers and her own hard work, this young lady is headed into a very promising future. Arrington, could you please stand to be recognized?

Equipping our students with the proper skills and education to fill high-demand jobs is essential to ensure their strong finish.

Part of my mission for the state, is to carve a path for our students to enter the workforce, highly-skilled and well-equipped. To further our efforts, I am asking the Legislature to fund our new co-op program for Alabama’sHistorically Black Colleges and Universities.

It is geared specifically toward Alabama’s HBCU students interested in pursuing careers in the science,technology, engineering and mathematics fields. It is not only a win for these students; it’s a win for these colleges and universities. And it’s a win for our employers who are gaining qualified individuals to strengthen the work of their company.

Each year, uses for the internet grow more dynamic. Delivering high speed broadband access is absolutely necessary. Last year, through the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act, we connected broadband in seven counties.

One notable example is in Choctaw County. Within the next two years, more than 700 residences and businesses will have access to high-speed internet service.

Thanks to this grant program, living in rural Alabama does not mean being cut out! This is a major step forward for education, for economic prosperity and for the entire state of Alabama!

In our efforts to meet the current and future needs of business and industry, I have established the Governor’sOffice of Education and Workforce Transformation. The focus will be solely on aligning our workforce development funding streams to create the most effective workforce development programs for Alabamians across the state.

Since we met last year, we have been ambitious in our efforts to improve Alabama’s education system and are now on our way to providing all our students a quality education.

Each of us has our own story to tell.
My own story began in the public schools of rural Wilcox County, Alabama.

I graduated from high school in a class that had 35 students. My surroundings at Auburn University would look a whole lot different, though. Instead of a class of 35, I would be one in a college of more than 12,000. My Wilcox County upbringing would be put side by side with some of the smartest young people from bigger schools in larger cities.

However, I would not allow these challenges to hinder me from achieving success.

So, in the summer before my first semester, I spent a week on campus to walk the grounds to know exactly where my classes would be located and try out for the Auburn University Marching Band.

Benjamin Franklin said it best, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”I worked hard and planned for success.

My journey from Wilcox County also brought me to where I stand this evening. Despite the heavy challenges that lie ahead, we in Alabama must plan for success.

Part of planning for that success is ensuring that we have a robust economy and ample public safety. We can help tackle both of these issues with a reasonable increase in the investment we make in our state’sinfrastructure system.

Almost three decades have gone by, and Alabama has not made one change to our infrastructure funding. While our neighboring states are increasing their revenue for their transportation budgets, Alabama has not. We are dead last.

Certainly, motorists are experiencing firsthand the poor conditions of Alabama’s infrastructure.

Each year in Alabama, 69 billion miles are driven on our roadways.

We have urban roads in poor condition. Our drivers are experiencing major congestion on our freeways. County governments currently operate on a 56-year resurfacing schedule; when, in fact, we should be operating on a 15-year rate.

In Alabama, half of our more than 16,000 bridges are older than their 50-year life span.

Bridges should be replaced every 50 years. Yet, county governments are on schedule to replace their bridgesevery 186 years! Folks, that’s almost as long as Alabama has been a state.

From 2015 to 2017, Alabama saw nearly 3,000 traffic fatalities. One-third of those were due to deficiencies in our roadways.

Each year, $436 billion dollars in goods are shipped to and from businesses using our state’s roadways.

The Port of Mobile, Alabama’s only deep-water port, moves approximately 64 million tons of cargo each year. Deepening and widening the Port will increase Alabama’s economic capability. This will enhance our status asa primary industrial and agricultural hub in the Southeast.

Driving on rough roads costs the average Alabamian $507 dollars annually in additional vehicle maintenance –a total of $2 billion dollars statewide, each year!

That is why we are proposing a 10-cent increase in Alabama’s fuel tax. This increase would be implemented over the next three years.

And I want to be crystal clear – this money will be scrutinized and watched over – every single penny. There will be strong accountability measures to make certain these monies are spent solely on transportation infrastructure. Period.

Leading the charge in the Legislature on this issue is Representative Bill Poole. He along with Senator Clyde Chambliss, will guide this legislation over the coming weeks. I thank both of them for their leadership. Additionally, I have listened to leaders make good points about money being diverted from the Alabama Department of Transportation to supplement our court system and law enforcement agency every year.

I believe we should begin to unwind this outdated approach. And, in fact, the budgets I am presenting will cut this annual transfer in half without hurting the court system or our hardworking state law enforcement officers. A renewed investment in infrastructure will lead to safer roads, economic prosperity and an enhanced quality of life.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am willing to call you, the members of the Alabama Legislature, into a special session, if necessary, to focus solely on passing this critical legislation.

It’s time to make our crumbling infrastructure system a problem of the past.

This is a challenge that is felt by every Alabamian, clearly making it a bipartisan issue.

As governor, I say enough is enough. Now is the time to Rebuild Alabama.

Another problem that has gone unaddressed for years and years is that of the horrendous conditions of our prisons. Our next step, however, must be to address the issue of understaffing to improve our recruiting and retention efforts.

Alabama is currently under a federal court order requiring the state to roughly double the number of corrections officers over the next two years. If we fail to resolve the apparent issue of understaffing in our prisons, federal courts will dictate what needs to happen in our own state.

I am proposing we include an additional $31 million dollars in the General Fund budget. This will allow us to hire 500 new correctional officers and increase the pay scale for all prison security personnel to make their salary competitive. This is an Alabama problem that must have an Alabama solution.

As we move forward, we must continue to wisely use our funds. I am proud that the General Fund budget I am proposing will do just that.

As a positive sign of that progress, Medicaid, under the capable leadership of Commissioner Stephanie Azar, will require $40 million dollars less in 2020 than compared to 2019. The Medicaid program in Alabama is driving efficiency, while being prudent with our taxpayer dollars.

I am also proposing an additional $7 million dollars to fund important Mental Health programs in our state. As governor, I will do everything in my power to make Alabama safer, which is why my General Fund budget includes funding to hire and train 50 additional State Troopers.

I have also included in my budget a 2 percent pay raise for all state employees. These men and women went too long without merit raises, and with the increase last year and the additional increase this year, we are making it right.

Like my General Fund budget, my education budget is practical, while still helping more Alabamians receive the opportunity for a quality education.

My education budget will provide $25 million dollars to expand our nationally-recognized First Class Pre-K program. This significant increase will expand the program by 193 classrooms. It will be the largest investment in Alabama First Class Pre-K to date and takes us even closer to providing more of Alabama’s youngestlearners a strong start.

Alabama’s institutions of higher education are making major research contributions. They generate significantrevenue for our state. They serve as a major part of our identity in Alabama. Most importantly, they are preparing hundreds of thousands of students to enter the workforce.

Because of their significant contributions to our state, my budget provides an increased investment of $75 million dollars to our four-year public colleges and universities. These institutions are essential to the future of our state.

Alabama’s teachers are vital to our students throughout every step of their learning journeys, and they deserveto be the highest paid public employees in our state. That is why, tonight, I am proposing to the Legislature a four percent raise for all teachers: pre-k through community college! Without our teachers, our students cannot achieve success!

The foundation for a strong future for all Alabamians begins in the classroom.

Members, I remind you that our story in Alabama will go long past the time you and I are in office.

When we make improvements to our state’s infrastructure, to our prisons, and to our education system, we are planting a seed of opportunity for Alabama’s next 200 years.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am a governor looking beyond the next four, the next eight or even 10 years. I am a governor leading our state into the next century.

I am all in! And the people of our great state need you, legislators, all in as well.

Democrats, republicans, progressives and conservatives.

To achieve a better future in Alabama, all of us must be willing to build on our successes. We must be willing to overcome our long-neglected issues.

We must be willing to take the next step, because we are Alabama, and this is our time! May God continue to bless each of you and the great state of Alabama!

You can watch a replay of the address here.

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

2 hours 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

3 hours 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

3 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

4 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.”

4 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