1 year ago

Ivey officially forms gaming/lottery study group, appoints members

Governor Kay Ivey on Friday formally signed Executive Order 719, which formed her “Study Group for Gambling Policy.”

The study group, first previewed during Ivey’s 2020 State of the State Address last week, will be tasked with gathering detailed information to allow the governor, the Alabama legislature and the citizens of the state to make an informed decision on gaming expansion, according to a release from the governor’s office.

“I am committed to, once and for all, getting the facts so that the people of Alabama can make an informed decision on what has been a hotly debated topic for many years,” Ivey said in a statement.

“Without a doubt, there will be ramifications if we eventually expand gaming options in our state just as there are costs associated with doing nothing,” she continued.

“Every so often, this issue resurfaces through a new form of legislation. By my estimation, we’ve had more than 180 bills regarding a lottery or expanded gaming since the late 1990s,” the governor added.

Ivey on Friday also announced the 12 members of the study group, all appointed by her. Former Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange will chair the group.

According to the governor’s office, all of the members have agreed to sign a pledge adhering to the Alabama Ethics Law and shall serve without compensation or reimbursement for their expenses in this role. They will formally sign said pledge at their first public meeting, which has yet to be announced.

The membership of the Study Group on Gambling Policy is as follows:

Todd Strange (chair) of Montgomery is the former mayor of Montgomery. Prior to his tenure as mayor, he served as chairman of the Montgomery County Commission, former president, CEO and co-owner of Blount Strange Automotive group and former director of the Alabama Development Office (the Alabama Department of Commerce).

A.R. “Rey” Almodóvar of Huntsville is the co-founder and Chief Executive officer of INTUITIVE®. Mr. Almodóvar is a licensed professional engineer (P.E.) and holds a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico, M.S. in Engineering from the University of Arkansas, and M.S. in Business Administration from Texas A&M University. He is a graduate of Leadership Alabama Class XXVI.

Dr. Deborah Barnhart of Huntsville is the chief executive officer (CEO) emerita of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. Previously serving as the Center’s CEO and executive director, her career spans four decades of service in commercial industry, government, aerospace and defense. A retired Navy Captain, she was one of the first 10 women assigned to duty aboard ships and commanded five units in her 26-year career. She has received an undergraduate degree from University of Alabama at Huntsville and Master of Business Administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-Sloan School of Management and the University of Maryland College Park as well as a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University.

Walter Bell of Mobile is the past chairman of Swiss Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurers. Prior to his time in the private sector, he served as the Alabama Commissioner of Insurance. He launched the Mobile County Urban League in 1978 and is a member of the Alabama Academy of Honor for his achievement in civil rights, civic leadership and business.

Dr. Regina Benjamin of Mobile is a physician who served as the 18th Surgeon General of the United States. Prior to her service to our country, she was the former president of the Alabama Medical Association and provided health care to a medically underserved community by founding the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic. She received a B.S. from Xavier University of Louisiana and a M.D. from the University of Alabama.

Young Boozer of Montgomery currently serves as the assistant superintendent of banking at the Alabama State Banking Department. He is the former treasurer for the state of Alabama and has extensive experience with numerous banking institutions such as Citibank, Crocker National Bank and Colonial Bank. Boozer received his B.S. in Economics from Stanford University and a M.S. in Finance from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Sam Cochran of Mobile has been the Sheriff of Mobile County since 2006. He began his law enforcement career with the Mobile Police Department where he spent 31 years working his way through the ranks – serving his last 10 years as chief of police. Sheriff Cochran serves the community on numerous agency boards, including the Penelope House, Drug Education Council, Boy Scouts of America and the Child Advocacy Center.

Elizabeth “Liz” Huntley of Birmingham is a litigation attorney at Lightfoot, Franklin & White LLC. After rising from an unimaginable childhood, she has become a nationally recognized child advocate and serves on numerous boards including the Alabama School Readiness Alliance, the Children’s Village Board of Directors and the Auburn University Board of Trustees.

Carl Jamison of Tuscaloosa is a third-generation shareholder in JamisonMoneyFarmerPC, one of the largest and oldest public accounting firms in the state of Alabama. He primarily works in the areas of tax planning and audit services to clients in the manufacturing, medical, retail, construction, and professional services industries. He received a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from the University of Alabama and is a certified public accountant.

Justice James “Jim” Main of Montgomery is a former justice on the Supreme Court of Alabama as well as previously served as a judge on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. Along with his 30+ year in private legal practice, he served as finance director and policy advisor to Governor Bob Riley as well as legal advisor to Governor Fob James.

Phillip “Phil” Rawls of Pike Road currently serves as a lecturer of journalism for Auburn University. His spent over 35 years working for The Associated Press. His respected career in journalism spanned every Alabama governor from George Wallace to Robert Bentley where he extensively covered government and politics.

Bishop B. Mike Watson of Birmingham is the bishop in residence at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham and is currently serving as the ecumenical officer of the Council of Bishops. He has served as a minister in Dothan and Mobile. In addition to his work in the ministry, he is a past president of the Mobile County School Board, which is the largest school system in Alabama. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in finance and real estate from the University of Alabama, a Master of Divinity degree from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Vanderbilt University.

“I’m extremely grateful that some of our most distinguished citizens – from a diverse background including all regions of our state – have agreed to help gather this information,” Ivey remarked. “The specific data they gather will hopefully lead us all to making a better, more informed decision.”

The study group is mandated to submit a final report to the governor, the Legislature and the people of Alabama no later than December 31 of this year.

“Ultimately, I believe the final say belongs to the people of Alabama. As their governor, I want them to be fully informed of all the facts so that, together, we can make the best decision possible,” she concluded.

You can view a copy of Ivey’s executive order here.


The Poarch Band of Creek Indians have proposed a plan that would boost the state coffers by over a billion dollars initially and pave the way for a clean, state-run lottery to be instituted. In addition to the initial billion-dollar influx of money to the State coffers, the Poarch Creek plan would reportedly pay the State at least $350 million annually. That plan, along with an education lottery proposed by State Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), could still be on the legislature’s agenda for the ongoing 2020 regular session, the governor’s study group aside. Clouse estimates his lottery proposal would generate approximately $160 million per year for the State, completely separate from and in addition to the Poarch Creek gaming plan.

Polling has shown overwhelming support for a lottery in Alabama, as well as at least a plurality of support for other gaming expansion. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) on Thursday said it is “highly unlikely” a lottery can pass the legislature without a package deal that includes other gaming.

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

30 mins ago

‘Transformational’ broadband bill gets House committee hearing, still awaits action — ‘We need this’

MONTGOMERY — More than six weeks after unanimously passing the Alabama Senate, SB 215 finally got a hearing in the House Urban and Rural Development Committee on Thursday morning.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and carried in the House by Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville), is viewed as a “transformational” piece of legislation aimed at expanding the availability of affordable, high-speed broadband internet service to every Alabamian.

While the bill would benefit from historic levels of funding if the current legislative effort to legalize a lottery and gaming in Alabama succeeds, it has been emphasized by elected officials that SB 215 has paramount standalone importance, as well.

As underlined by multiple proponents in Thursday’s public hearing, SB 215 would create the type of cohesive planning that the state’s broadband expansion efforts currently lack. With funding and incentives coming from different directions at the local, state and federal levels, it is important to finally get one clear game plan of how money will be spent and resources prioritized. The bill would also act as a vehicle to draw down federal funds and would create a new state-entity with bonding authority for broadband expansion.


Garrett reiterated that Alabama is 47th in the nation in broadband connectivity, even lagging well behind Mississippi, as well as other neighboring states.

He said SB 215 is an “effort to develop a comprehensive, aggressive and robust strategy and process to expand broadband across the state.”

“Doing so will enhance Alabama’s education, health care system and economy,” added Garrett. “The state actually has no connectivity strategy or plan right now. All we really have is the ADECA (grant) program — which works very successfully, it’s a very good program. We like the way it operates. But $20 million a year is not going to solve the problem, which is to get internet access throughout this entire state.”

He explained that the endeavor to expand broadband access to all Alabamians carries a price tag between four and six billion dollars.

“So chipping away $20 million or so a year on a grant program is not going to do it,” Garrett added.

“This is a very serious issue for the state,” he stressed.

Proponents of the bill participating in the hearing included Blake Hardwich, speaking on behalf of the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition; Jeremy Walker, CEO of the Alabama Association of Realtors; and Sean Strickler, vice president of public affairs for the ‎Alabama Rural Electric Association. Other key industry leaders, such as NFIB Alabama State Director Rosemary Elebash, have also expressed their support for SB 215.

“We’re in full support of SB 215,” emphasized Hardwich. The Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition is comprised of a diverse membership across the business, education, health care and agriculture communities.

“We all believe that SB 215 will benefit the state of Alabama,” she added, speaking to the wide swath the coalition represents. “It is my belief, and our belief, if we continue down the current path that we’re on, Alabama will continue to fall further and further behind. We cannot afford to do that.”

Committee Chairman Randall Shedd (R-Cullman) noted that there is a draft of a substitute version of SB 215 that the committee members have; a final version of that sub is expected to be completed in time for a committee vote next week.

Some potential “tweaks” aside, multiple members of the committee expressed an urgency to bridge the digital divide.

Rep. Debbie Wood (R-Valley) said, “We cannot keep doing business in Alabama without proper internet services.”

She outlined an account of children in her district having to sit in cars parked near a bus with a hotspot during the pandemic to even do school work.

“That’s why we need this,” Wood underscored. “It’s vitally important.”

“We want a plan that’s best for the state, that utilizes all the tools in the toolbox,” Garrett reiterated. “We’re trying to do what’s best to provide internet access throughout the state.”

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

45 mins ago

Auburn’s Unique Thompson selected 19th overall in WNBA draft

Unique Thompson on Thursday evening became the ninth WNBA Draft pick in Auburn University history when she was selected by the Indiana Fever with the 19th overall selection.

Thompson, who attended high school at Mobile’s Faith Academy, was the seventh player taken in the second round.

“I’m excited, I’m happy,” Thompson commented. “The nerves aren’t there anymore. I’m just ready to go. I’m ready to get to work. (Representing Auburn in the WNBA) means so much to me. Auburn is where I started to build my legacy, this is where my hard work began, so it means everything to me.”


Thompson became the first Auburn Tiger drafted to the WNBA since DeWanna Bonner and Whitney Boddie were selected in 2009.

“I wasn’t even paying attention at first,” Thompson said of when her name was announced on the ESPN broadcast. “And then I heard everybody start screaming, and I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I kind of expected it (being selected by Indiana), I had a long conversation with them on Zoom the other day and I just got off the phone with Teaira (McCowan), Victoria (Vivians) and a few of my other new teammates. I’m looking forward to getting there and getting started.”

Thompson led the Tigers in 2020-21 with 17.8 points and 12.8 rebounds per game, averaging a double-double for the third straight season. Her 12.8 rebounds per game led the SEC, and her 5.4 offensive rebounds per game led the nation. She was one of two players nationwide to have two games this season with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds. For her efforts this season, she was named to the All-SEC Second Team and a WBCA Honorable Mention All-American.

The Theodore native finished her career Auburn’s all-time leading rebounder with 1,156 and all-time leader in double-doubles with 58.

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

59 mins ago

Montgomery native, Alabama star Jasmine Walker taken No. 7 overall in WNBA draft

Jasmine Walker on Thursday evening was selected by the Los Angeles Sparks with the seventh overall pick in the 2021 Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) Draft.

Walker becomes the seventh Crimson Tide player to be drafted in the WNBA’s 25-year history and just the first since 2005. She is only the second-ever Bama player to go in the first round, joining Tausha Mills, who went No. 2 overall to Washington in 2000.


This comes after a season for the record books for Walker, who set the program’s single-game scoring mark with 41 points and working her way into every three-point top 10 list. She earned several accolades along the way, including WBCA Honorable Mention All-America honors and SEC All-First Team recognition; Walker also was a finalist for the Katrina McClain Award, which is presented annually to the best power forward in women’s NCAA basketball.

Walker averaged a near double-double in 2020-21 with 19.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game and was the only player in the SEC to rank in the top five in points and rebounds for the season.

She is a Montgomery native who played her high school ball at Jeff Davis. Walker was named the 2016 Alabama Miss Basketball and the 2016 Gatorade Player of the Year for Alabama.

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

1 hour ago

Aniah’s Law heading to statewide referendum in 2022

The Alabama Legislature on Thursday gave final passage to legislation that would create “Aniah’s Law.”

The legislation, sponsored by State Rep. Chip Brown (R-Mobile), would allow prosecutors and judges broader discretion in requesting and denying bail to those accused of committing violent crimes.

HB 131 is a constitutional amendment and will be up for a statewide referendum of the people in November 2022; HB 130, the enabling bill that would implement the provisions of HB 131, now heads to the governor’s desk.


The Constitution of Alabama currently requires that “all persons shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, except for capital offenses, when the proof is evident or the presumption great; and that excessive bail shall not in any case be required.”

Brown’s legislation would amend the state constitution to allow judges to deny bail to individuals facing violent crime charges who would place the public at grave risk if released.

The proposed amendment is named after the late Aniah Blanchard, the 19-year-old college student who prosecutors allege was slain by Ibraheed Yazeed after he was released on bond for several violent offenses including kidnapping and attempted murder.

Yazeed, who is currently being held on capital murder charges, had been awarded bail despite more than a dozen priors, which included drug and robbery arrests.

“Too many of those who are accused of violent crimes are bonding out of jail and committing even more serious offenses, and it is time for law-abiding Alabamians to start fighting back,” Brown stated. “Denying bail to those accused of violent offenses is a commonsense answer to a dangerous societal problem, and following three years of hard work that was necessary to pass this amendment through the Legislature, I am confident the citizens of Alabama will vote to ratify it.”

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson was a major proponent of Brown’s legislation as it worked its way through the legislative process.

“I’d like to commend Representative Chip Brown and Senator David Sessions for supporting us in the three-year effort to see this legislation passed,” Stimpson said on Thursday. “We thank the Blanchard family as well as the entire Alabama Legislature for recognizing the need for this legislation that directly impacts the safety of Alabama citizens. It is now in the hands of Alabamians to vote in favor of this constitutional amendment on the ballot next year. Once passed, this will help significantly in our efforts to close the revolving door and prevent violent offenders from being released to commit more violent acts like the senseless murder of Aniah Blanchard.”

The late Tuscaloosa police officer Dornell Cousette is another example of a prominent case that could have been prevented if Aniah’s Law was in effect. Cousette was killed in the line of duty in 2018 — allegedly murdered by a suspect who was free on bail for robbery and assault charges at the time.

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

15 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers: ‘Shameful’ Pelosi blocking Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act — ‘Simply supporting infanticide’

Congressman Mike Rogers (AL-03) on Wednesday released a scathing statement regarding House Democrats blocking consideration of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

Rogers announced that he has signed onto a discharge petition that would force Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to bring this legislation — H.R. 619 — up for a vote in the House.

“As a father of three children and a Christian, this legislation is so important to me,” stated Rogers, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.


All six Alabama Republicans in the U.S. House are cosponsors of H.R. 619, which was was introduced by Reps. Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Steve Scalise (R-LA) in January. The bill would ensure any baby born that survives an abortion would receive the same standard of medical care as a baby born under normal circumstances.

“I will never understand how any human would not support caring for a tiny, living baby that survives an attempted abortion,” he continued. “Anyone who is okay with not helping these babies is simply supporting infanticide. I will always stand up for the rights of the most innocent among us, and it’s shameful that Nancy Pelosi will not even bring this critical legislation up for a vote.”

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