2 months ago

Maori Davenport rule? State Rep. Kyle South has bill drafted to bring oversight, accountability to AHSAA

While it may be too late to save USA Basketball star Maori Davenport’s senior season at Charles Henderson High School in Troy, one prominent state legislator has drafted a bill to bring public oversight and accountability to the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) moving forward.

As the AHSAA continues to get battered by criticism over its decision to rule Davenport ineligible because of a mistake the association admitted was the fault of others, state Rep. Kyle South (R-Fayette) is attempting to fix a problem that he views as much more than an isolated poor decision by the AHSAA.

In an interview with Yellowhammer News during the first day of the House organizational session on Tuesday, South explained that the AHSAA’s lack of accountability and transparency has been an issue – and prickly point of contention with state lawmakers and officials – going back for years.

While the Davenport situation has given the AHSAA a fresh black eye on the national stage, change has been a long time coming. And, seeing that South already has a whopping 87 House cosponsors, and counting, signed on after just one day back in Montgomery, 2019 might just be the year that change finally happens.

Per a copy of the draft bill obtained by Yellowhammer News, South’s legislation would do three main things.

First, it would mandate that any rules by the AHSAA regarding a student athlete’s eligibility be reviewed and approved by the State Board of Education. This is directly addressing the type of situation that Davenport now faces.

Second, South’s bill would codify that 25 percent of the AHSAA governing body be appointed by the State Board of Education or the State Superintendent of Education. This composition would need to be put into place by January 1, 2020, and would provide public accountability throughout all aspects of the AHSAA’s governance.

Which leads into the third change: the legislation would require that the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts audit the AHSAA in the same manner as it would a public agency.

While the AHSAA is a private organization and prides itself on the autonomy therein, South views these changes as reasonable, constructive measures of accountability seeing that the AHSAA boasts membership consisting mostly of public entities, relies on money sent to it by these public entities and holds the majority of its events on public properties.

In fact, South said “in a roundabout way,” the AHSAA subsists off of public funds.

“The majority of their revenues are from gates, during playoffs in every sport, where a third of that money has to be paid back to the AHSAA in the form of a check from the schools,” South explained. “And at the point that they cut a check from a [public] school, it’s public funds. So, for them to say that we don’t have any authority whatsoever over them, technically we could cut off their funding. And that’s not what I’m aiming to do, but if we need to we could go down that road.”

At the end of the day, if the legislature really wanted to, it could create a publicly run entity within or overseen by the State Department of Education to replace the AHSAA. That would possibly be the most extreme solution and one that South is not currently proposing. But he did advise that other states governed their high school athletics by doing just that.

The House of Representatives’ will to get involved and shake up the AHSAA did not happen overnight.

“I think this one situation [regarding Davenport] has highlighted some ongoing issues, and while it’s brought forth things to light for many people, we’re not doing this just because of this one incident. This is a cumulative thing, where there have been situations over the years that have led to this. And [Davenport’s] situation is the one that broke the camel’s back,” South outlined.

From South’s perspective, the AHSAA has general oversight and accountability problems that are leading to poor decisions by the association, which in turn produce poor outcomes for student-athletes and schools.

“My biggest problem with [the AHSAA] is that the schools make up the board members obviously … but for fear of retribution by their governing body, nobody ever brings up any issues and it becomes somewhat of a dictatorship at that point,” South advised. “If you’re scared to say your piece for fear of retribution, then you’ve got a big problem.”

Davenport and South at the Alabama State House on Tuesday
(Rep. South/Facebook)

While South has not moved onto finding a senator to carry the bill in that chamber or solicit Senate cosponsors quite yet, the representative did tell Yellowhammer News that both chambers received a special visit from Davenport herself on Tuesday. State Rep. Wes Allen (R-Troy) and the mayor of Troy helped introduce her around to share her story.

The basketball sensation spoke to the House majority caucus and even gave an address on the Senate floor.

South said that Davenport “obviously has a lot of talent, and unfortunately she’s just being kept from showing those talents right now.”

“That’s the unfortunate part,” South added.

But, like South believes, Davenport emphasized to the legislators Tuesday that even if they cannot resurrect the remainder of her senior season, they can prevent this type of situation happening to any more student athletes in Alabama moving forward.

“I don’t know if anything we can do can get her back on the court, but I would like to put as much pressure in place to see that happen as possible and prevent a similar thing happening in the future,” South stressed.

With 87 House cosponsors in one day (South believes that he will end up with over 90 representatives cosponsoring when all is said and done), he is certainly making waves.

“If that doesn’t get somebody’s attention, I don’t know what will,” South remarked.

He expects to prefile the bill when the House organizational session adjourns sine die. The last possible day of the organizational session is Thursday, January 17.

Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and Lieutenant Governor-elect Will Ainsworth have called on the AHSAA to reinstate Davenport’s eligibility immediately, as have additional state legislators from both parties, including state Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) and Allen.

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

29 mins ago

Marsh, McCutcheon talk lottery, ethics clarifications at Yellowhammer ‘News Shaper’ event

MONTGOMERY — Speaking Tuesday evening at Yellowhammer Multimedia’s first “News Shaper” event of 2019, Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) provided their insight on some of the hot-button topics expected to be debated during the legislature’s ongoing regular session.

Yellowhammer owner and editor Tim Howe, who moderated the discussion, outlined uncertainty in the state’s ethics laws brought on by recent court and ethics commission decisions. Howe then asked the two leaders how they think the legislature can provide certainty and codified clarification moving forward, especially when it comes to defining a “principal.”

“There is no doubt that there’s a lot of uncertainty in the ethics legislation,” Marsh said. “The [Alabama Code of Ethics Clarification and Reform Commission] was set up to look over this, but in addition to that, both the Senate and the House – in the Senate you have Greg Albritton and in the House [you have] Mike Jones – working throughout the entire break on how we address this.”

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“And remember,” Marsh continued, “it’s not about 140 legislators, there are 50,000 people in the state of Alabama affected by the ethics law. I’m going to make a plea to my colleagues, some of whom are in this room tonight: If it’s going to be fixed, we’ve got to fix it.”

He emphasized, “[I]t’s not going to get any easier. You’ve got to face the issues. You’ve got to address it and realize this is about much [more] than the legislature. So, I’m hopeful.

Marsh also noted that the uncertainty in the ethics law has “affected economic development.”

“There’s a section there where the economic developers are having problems keeping the [confidentiality] in the process of recruiting industries. We’ve got to address this,” he advised. “And I’m hopeful that we will address it this year.”

Marsh added, “I know that both Senator Albritton and Representative Jones have been in conversation with the attorney general and the ethics commission, as well. So we’re going down a path to try and get everybody on the same page. But we have got to -trust me, ladies and gentleman – we have best fix this. It’s got to be done.”

Howe then asked Marsh to articulate why certainty in the ethics law for economic development professionals is important not just for them, but for the entire state and each of its residents.

“[I]t’s important for the state, because we’re competing with all of the other states,” Marsh said.

He used the example of a piece of legislation passed out of committee that very day largely dealing with Polaris vehicles built in north Alabama and explained that the site selection process requires confidentiality, with most economic development recruitment projects being given code names.

“Because we’re competing against other states. And if we’re not able to keep that degree of secrecy at that stage of the game, we’re at a disadvantage to our neighbors,” Marsh explained.

He concluded, “So this is something that we have got to address. But I’m going to say this: that’s [only] a piece of it. And there’s going to be an attempt by the business community and economic developers to pass the piece. But I think it’s [incumbent] upon us to pass the big picture, solve all the problems, because you want as many people with you, supporting you, to make the changes. Every time you carve off a little piece, you lose some support. So, as I said, I want to help everybody, but I’m committed to the big picture.”

Lottery

Howe later asked the speaker if the time has come for a lottery proposal to pass the legislature and reach a referendum of the people.

“I think so,” McCutcheon responded. “I think it’s been coming for several years. I know that the districts, House districts, that are [bordering other states], most of those districts have seen a significant shift over the last seven or eight years because they see Alabamians driving across the state line to buy lottery tickets.”

He continued, “And people are starting to talk about it, and they’re starting to make it part of their discussion around the dinner table. … At the end of the day, there’s a good push from the people.”

McCutcheon did emphasize what he viewed as key to a successful lottery discussion.

“If we’re going to put this to a vote of the people, and I think it has a good chance of passing, we need to make sure that people understand what they’re voting on,” he outlined. “That’s very, very important. We don’t want to cloud the issue with the definition of a ‘lottery’ and try to sneak something in the back door. Let’s make sure the people understand in their minds what a lottery is and we define it in such a way that they know what they’re voting on.”

“Then, I think the next big debate will be, ‘Where’s the money [lottery revenue] going to go?’ And that will be something that we’ll have to contend with,” McCutcheon concluded.

This came the same day that Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) filed a lottery proposal that was soon after called not “clean” by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who said McClendon’s legislation would legalize slot machines in a select few places in the state.

Watch the entire discussion:

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

After 133 launches, Alabama built rockets boast 100% mission success

Thank you to the United Launch Alliance team and the entire workforce surrounding another successful launch.  Alabama’s Decatur based facility brings the utmost precision, passion and purpose to one of the most technically complex, critical American needs: affordable, reliable access to space.

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1 hour ago

Bipartisan bill to regulate vaping set for House committee hearing

MONTGOMERY — Alabama is currently one of only three states to not regulate vaping, but that could soon change.

HB 41, sponsored by Republican Rep. Shane Stringer and Democrat Rep. Barbara Drummond, both of Mobile County, is on the House Judiciary Committee’s agenda for Wednesday afternoon.

The bill would regulate the sale, use and advertisement of vaping – or “alternative nicotine products” – in the state.

In an interview with Yellowhammer News, both Drummond and Stringer emphasized that their bill is intended to protect the health and wellbeing of Alabama minors.

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“The motivation is simple,” Drummond emphasized. “We are trying to safeguard the teens in the state of Alabama.”

She outlined, “Vape shops, as it stands right now, are not regulated at all… And the bill came about because our drug education council locally brought it to our attention, but [Stringer and I] have both seen ourselves, as well as throughout the whole state, the rise of vape shops. They’re popping up everywhere in the state of Alabama.”

While it is too early to tell what vaping is directly doing to users’ health, Stringer and Drummond emphasized there is an objective gateway effect from vaping use and to smoking traditional cigarettes.

“Right now, there is no data that says what is the [direct] effect that these products are having on our young people. What we are seeing, and this is a national trend, is that you’re seeing smoking not going down, but increasing, among young people,” Drummond explained.

Stringer, a career law enforcement officer with stints as chief of multiple local police departments, said educators from every corner of Mobile County have voiced their concerns with the lack of state oversight on vape products and retailers “saying this is an epidemic and a problem what we need to address.”

“The products haven’t been out long enough to know the problems we could face in five, ten, 15 years from now,” he said. “It’s pretty similar to when smoking came out. There was basically no risk at that time, according to everyone. Now, look at all the data that we have to go with smoking… this is a new product we’re learning every day about.”

Stringer said statistics they were shown from the drug education council show an approximately 34 percent increase in children under 19-years-old that tried smoking after vaping.

“In Alabama, we don’t want to wake up one day and see the effects, negative effects on our kids,” Drummond added. “Right now, we’re trying to be responsible legislators to make sure that we look out for the welfare of our children.”

The two lawmakers also stressed that not only do vape shop operators have no restrictions on them, but the state has no way to even keep track of them currently.

Their bill would make it illegal to sell or give vape products to anyone under 19-years-old. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board would regulate retail sales of the products, just as they do tobacco products. Retailers would have to obtain an annual permit, which includes an application fee of $300. Retailers would also have to comply with relevant FDA regulations and post signage warning of the dangers of nicotine usage.

Using vape products in certain places, including schools and child care facilities, would be prohibited.

‘This is something that is nonpartisan, it’s not anything that is about Republican or Democrat. This is something about our young people,” Drummond said. “Because if you look at the amount of nicotine that is showing up in these products, when they first hit the market, the nicotine levels were very low – like five percent. Now, it’s gone up to about ten percent. They’ve got other chemicals in there, like formaldehyde. What is the effect of that upon the brains of our kids? So, this is more of a public wellbeing bill for us.”

Stringer advised that he foresees widespread support in the legislature for the bill.

“Everyone agrees that there has to be some checks and balances [oversight] in place,” he concluded.

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

2 hours ago

House Majority Leader Ledbetter predicts Alabama to ‘move to number one’ nationally in automotive production after Port of Mobile expansion

Tuesday on Huntsville’s WVNN radio, House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) said he did not think it would be very long before Alabamians started to see tangible benefits of the Rebuild Alabama Act.

The legislation that was recently signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey after she called a special session will raise the gasoline tax six cents in September, then add an additional two cents in 2020 and 2021.

According to the DeKalb County Republican, road projects could start as early as the summer given the bill will allow for counties to bond half of the revenue the additional tax will generate that is distributed to the counties.

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“I really think it will be this summer,” Ledbetter said. “I think we’ll see it immediately, and the reason I say that is inside that bill there is a mechanism that the counties can use half of their money to bond with. So, I know there’s mine – I talked to the president of my county commission, and we’re looking at bonding half of that money. So if that happens, you’re going to see a lot of paving going down, and I think it will be significant, especially on those roads we can’t get buses across, or you know, the transportation has been limited due to the fact of the road conditions.”

Ledbetter also predicted one of the aspects of the law, which is to expand the Port of Mobile, will generate a positive impact statewide, especially with regards to the automotive industry.

“I don’t think there is any question about that,” he said. “The thing I think we’ll see – Alabama rank third as far as automotive manufacturing in the country. I think we’ll move to number one. I really do. I think this is that big of a game changer. I think aerospace engineering, and some of those jobs going to the port, building airplanes and building the ships – we’re going to move up the ladder because we got availability in the port to bring the ships in and out, the post-Panamax ships we hadn’t seen.”

“You know, the sad part about it is we build all these automobiles in Alabama – a lot of those were being shipped out of Savannah because we can’t get them out of our port,” Ledbetter added. “I think once this happens, we’ll see the roll off-roll on where we’ll be carrying cars to Mobile from Huntsville, from Lincoln, from here in Montgomery to see them delivered, or shipped out from Mobile.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

2 hours ago

7 Things: ‘Clean lottery’ bill may not be clean, Trump says Democrats can’t ‘pack the court’ which they are saying they want to do, bills to ‘Build the Wall’ and end Common Core are introduced and more …

7. President Donald Trump and conservatives vs. social media giants

— Earlier this week, Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) sued Twitter and some users over harassment, shadow-banning, censorship and facilitating defamation. Part of his claim is that their content-based moderation makes them responsible for what is on their platform. President Trump has also jumped into the fray, saying Twitter and Facebook are targeting Republicans for censorship and Congress needs to get to the “bottom” of it.

6. A new potential candidate emerges in GOP primary race — She’s a former Miss America

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— The race to face Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) in the 2020 general election is on and former Miss Alabama, and Miss America, Heather Whitestone McCallum is reportedly polling the race, which most see as a potential prelude to entering the contest. The weak incumbent is already attracting big names like Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile), who is in the race. Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) and failed 2017 candidate Roy Moore are possible candidates as well.

5. The U.S. Supreme Court says crime-breaking illegal aliens can be held after their sentences are complete

— The Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could detain non-citizens who have committed crimes that would make them deportable. The law says the government must arrest these illegal immigrants when they are released from custody and then process them through an immigration court. The problem arose when the individuals were not held instantly and instead were picked up years later. Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority that “neither the statute’s text nor its structure” spoke in favor of the ACLU or illegal immigrants’ positions.

4. Information that led to the raid on Michael Cohen’s office was part of a long-term investigation

— The unsealed warrants and documents that have been released give everybody something to hang their hat on. We already know Cohen pleaded guilty to tax crimes, campaign finance violations, false statements to a bank and lying to Congress, but the search warrants show federal prosecutors also suspected that Cohen could have violated foreign lobbying laws and committed money laundering. He was not charged with those crimes. Nothing released shows any collusion, which is really what everyone really wants to hear about, yay or nay.

3. Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) is offering two pieces of  legislation conservatives will love 

— You may be able to help “Build the Wall” by checking a box on your tax return after the Senate leader proposed a bill that would allow a taxpayer to voluntarily send a portion to of their state income tax refund to an organization called We Build the Wall, Inc. Marsh is also offering a bill to repeal Common Core in Alabama. More interestingly, the bill would forbid the state board from taking on any national standards in any subject. As Senate pro tem, Marsh is in a good position to get his bills on the floor of the Alabama State Senate.

2. Democrats are advocating to expand the Supreme Court; President Donald Trump says it is not going to happen

— Multiple Democratic candidates for the presidency and one “conservative” talk show host have made it clear that they would like to fracture some of the norms that our society has held dear for centuries. They want to undo the Electoral College and “pack the Supreme Court.” The president has made it clear he is not interested in the game, saying, “I wouldn’t entertain that.” Trump added, “I can guarantee it won’t happen for six years. We have no interest in that whatsoever.” While the media pretends this isn’t what Democrats are saying, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), former Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) and South Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg have all suggested some form of it.

1. Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) has officially filed a lottery bill that he called a “clean bill”; The Poarch Band of Creek Indians don’t agree

— The next controversial bill for the Alabama legislature has finally been filed, and a lottery is going to get its day in the legislative body. There are two bills that really do one thing: One bill allocates the revenue from any lottery into a clean split with 50 percent for both budgets, and the other bill creates a constitutional amendment that would legalize a lottery that would put the amendment up for a vote of the people in the 2020 primary elections. McClendon says this is a “clean bill” that would keep casino card and table games illegal in Alabama. It would also protect facilities that are running questionable electronic bingo and allow them to run virtual lottery terminals, which is essentially a slot machine with extra steps.