2 weeks ago

Marsh: I wish the legislature would’ve let the people of Alabama vote on lottery

MONTGOMERY — In separate interviews immediately following the end of the Alabama legislature’s 2019 regular session, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) both discussed the lottery proposal that died in the lower chamber in recent weeks.

SB 220, sponsored by State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), was considered a “clean,” paper-only lottery proposal that political observers viewed as the best chance for a Yellowhammer State lottery in decades.

As a constitutional amendment, the proposal would have gone to a referendum on the state’s March 2020 primary election ballot. However, after passing the Senate with just the minimum threshold required, the lottery legislation was defeated in the House on a procedural vote.

While Marsh said the 2019 regular session was broadly one of the most productive in his time in the legislature, he expressed that the lottery failing to advance to a vote of the people was a significant disappointment.

Marsh advised that the legislature’s success started with passing the Rebuild Alabama Act in a special session and that this momentum continued into the regular session.

“I look at it as one of the best sessions I’ve ever seen,” he summarized.

However, not every priority was accomplished.

“The one thing I wish had happened: at the end of the day, I wish I could’ve gotten to the people, the voters of this state, the opportunity to vote on a straight lottery,” Marsh lamented.

“The Senate passed that bill,” he continued. “It went to the House. Unfortunately, it never got up for a [final] vote in the House. I wish the people would’ve had that opportunity. And, it would’ve, in my opinion, eased some pressure on the state General Fund going forward.”

Ultimately, while the state had a very good year for both budgets this time around, things do not look so rosy going forward, as major financial obligations like the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the corrections/prisons crisis are set to increase by huge amounts.

House Ways and Means General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) this week said there are “real thunderstorms” on the horizon for the General Fund.

One of these major issues could be addressed in another special session later this year. Rumors have persisted that Governor Kay Ivey is set to call a special session for the prison system in October, but McCutcheon on Friday said he is still hesitant to forecast exactly when that special session will be.

While much more needs to be overhauled at the Alabama Department of Corrections policy-wise, one big-ticket expenditure is expected to be the construction of new men’s prisons in the state. The logistics of that, and how the state pays for it, is a looming legislative battle — with a consensus seemingly far off still.

When asked by a reporter on Friday, Marsh said the lottery could play into this discussion on prisons, as the need for significant new revenue seems inevitable regardless of what the final corrections plan will look like.

“There’s no doubt there’s going to be financial requirements [for prisons]… I think the lottery is an option,” Marsh said.

‘The issue of politics’

McCutcheon called the 2019 session “very good,” saying the legislature did not run away from the “tough issues” this year.

He and Marsh both outlined that the legislature did take steps to improve the prison system during the regular session, including an important Board of Pardons and Paroles reform bill, funding for 500 new corrections officers in the General Fund budget and legislation to provide a two-step pay increase for DOC officers.

McCutcheon expressed optimism that giving legislators more time will ultimately lead to better outcomes for a comprehensive corrections reform package.

“The thing that I would hope as we move into the summer is that we get away from the political, legislative pressure of trying to promote legislation in a hurry,” the speaker said. “And we start looking at all of these areas — and we start looking at ways we can fix the problem.”

He added that a “cooperative effort” between the U.S. Department of Justice, the governor’s office and the legislature will be key.

“I think by the time we get into the fall and the end of this year, I think you’re going to see some significant pieces of legislation, as well as some plans moving forward that will help us,” McCutcheon advised.

He noted the legislature has already been “discussing ways that we can fund” corrections improvements.

“These issues are going to come with a price tag,” McCutcheon emphasized. “And we’re going to have to find out – or find out how – that we can address some of these issues with the funding that we need.”

He said this looming “price tag” was even discussed in this year’s General Fund conference committee, with legislative leaders talking about planning ahead for the “corrections cost that’s going to be coming.”

“So, it’s top priority,” McCutcheon continued, saying the General Fund will have a “very difficult” time next year between corrections and CHIP.

He did not single out any ideas for raising new revenue for corrections, but later in the interview McCutcheon discussed the lottery dying in the House.

Asked about the “major obstacles” that prevented the lottery from passing the chamber, the speaker said, “I think there were several issues out there.”

“Of course, you always have the issue of politics,” McCutcheon continued. “You’ve got the different governing bodies, between the Democrats and Republicans and different philosophies of how they think we should [raise] revenue. You had the issues of the rural healthcare, Medicaid expansion, food tax. There were all of these debates out there.”

One of these points of debate was allocating lottery revenue. The Senate-passed version of SB 220 gave all of the proceeds to the General Fund, while the supposed “compromise” substitute version approved by a House committee would have sent 25% to the Education Trust Fund. However, there were influential legislators who wanted a 50/50 split, or even more than half of the revenues going to education.

While McCutcheon extolled the “methodical” nature in which the House examined the lottery, it sounds like perfect may have been the enemy of good.

“Then you got into the discussion of, ‘If you’re going to put it into education, what’s it going to fund in the education budget?’ Then there was the scholarship program that was being discussed. And then there was, ‘Was there enough money being transferred over to education?’ Then you had the debate between, ‘Well, the General Fund is going to need money for the corrections [system],’ and that became a discussion. And I think through all of the discussions and the fact that the House was being methodical about each piece of legislation, I personally welcomed that – I didn’t want to try and push that bill or rush that bill through, and as you got into discussion, there were just not enough votes there,” McCutcheon explained, saying he did not have the “feeling like everybody was unified enough to pass a lottery bill the way it was proposed” and considering “the issues we were facing.”

When asked, he added that respective bills to legalize electronic bingo in Macon and Greene Counties popping up while the House considered the lottery did not help SB 220’s chances of passage.

‘Medicaid expansion is a component of having good rural healthcare’

McCutcheon also noted that Medicaid expansion became a major point of discussion in the House debate over where lottery revenues would go.

He emphasized a promise was never made during Rebuild Alabama Act consideration between House Republican leadership and the minority caucus to expand Medicaid.

However, McCutcheon explained that the discussion over rural healthcare and the potential of Medicaid expansion was an ongoing issue for the House.

“We’re going to continue to have those discussions, because I think Medicaid expansion is a component of having good rural healthcare,” the speaker said. “Not to say we have to have Medicaid expansion, but you can’t have discussions about rural hospitals and rural healthcare without at least talking about Medicaid. And, so in that, there’s a discussion that needs to be taking place.”

Marsh told House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) in a recent meeting (while SB 220 was still alive) that Medicaid expansion was not currently a financial possibility for the state’s General Fund but that lottery revenues could make Medicaid expansion a realistic option in Alabama.

McCutcheon on Friday acknowledged that cost was an obstacle right now to Medicaid expansion becoming a more “serious” discussion.

“There’s a cost involved,” he stressed.

Overall, McCutcheon graded the 2019 regular session as an “A minus.” Marsh gave it between a “B plus” and an “A minus.”

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

12 hours ago

Birmingham students awarded scholarships to fuel their studies in technical fields

The Birmingham chapter of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) recently awarded five students sholarships to further their studies.

The mission of the organization is to provide energy professionals, executives, entrepreneurs and students a pathway to learn more about the energy industry through education, mentoring, community service and business networking.

79

Phillip Coffey, Marketing specialist for Alabama Power, helped organize the annual scholarship luncheon. He says the organization gives greater exposure and representation of the energy industry to students and professionals.

The chapter awarded $10,000 in scholarship funds – Iva B. Williams Endowment Scholarships – to five students:

  • Grant Sims.
  • Alexander Washington.
  • Adetola Koiki.
  • Micah Pruitt.
  • Amira Gilford.

The Birmingham chapter of AABE is made up of employees from Alabama Power, Southern PowerSouthern Nuclear Company and Southern Company Services.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

14 hours ago

Tuberville’s warning on immigration: ‘We have more Middle Easterners coming across that border at times than we do people from Latin America’

As was the case with several of the past elections, immigration will be a significant issue in the 2020 campaign cycle, especially with President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.

The 2020 U.S. Senate GOP primary in Alabama will not be an exception, especially as many Republican base voters are growing restless with congressional Democrats stalling Trump’s effort to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.

During an interview with Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5, former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville, a candidate for the Republican nomination for the 2020 U.S. Senate race, decried the lax border security and added that in some cases Middle Easterners were exceeding the number of those from Latin America coming across the border.

250

“The problem that we’re having, and people don’t understand this, is we do need workers,” he said. “We need people over here to work. I’m big on immigration, but we got to get them in there the right way. And we’ve got to know who is here. We have more Middle Easterners coming across that border at times than we do people from Latin America. We do not have a clue who is coming across, and a lot of these people aren’t coming over here to help this country out. They’re coming over here to tear this country down. They are not for the Constitution. They are not for our laws. They are not for the people in this country. They want to tear it down, and we’re not going to let that happen.”

“That’s the reason I’m running because I want the people in this country to have safe neighborhoods, safe streets,” Tuberville continued. “It sounds like a politician, but all you got to do is open up your eyes and look. That’s one of my mottos in this campaign: Open your eyes and look at what’s going on, and let’s get these people out of Washington that won’t do anything and put people up there that will make a decision and don’t care if they go back and get reelected.”

@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.

16 hours ago

Roby: Honoring our symbol of freedom

On June 14th, 1777, our country’s flag was officially adopted by a resolution of the Second Continental Congress. Many years later, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that established June 14th as Flag Day, and on August 3, 1949, this day of observance was officially established by an Act of Congress.

Now, every year on June 14th, our country has a special opportunity to celebrate our flag and reflect upon what it symbolizes. The American flag displays 13 horizontal stripes alternating red and white with a blue rectangle, specifically referred to as the “union,” that bears 50 small, white, five-pointed stars arranged in nine horizontal rows. As you may know, the 50 stars on the American flag represent our 50 states. The 13 stripes represent the 13 original colonies that declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain and became the first states in the United States.

554

While the design of the American flag has been officially modified 26 times since its initial adoption in 1777, the symbolic meaning has remained the same. Whether flown on front lawns across Alabama, in front of schools, universities and businesses of all sizes, or proudly displayed at military installations across this great country, for centuries the American flag has been an inspiring emblem of pride, hope, and freedom for countless people throughout the world.

Whenever I see our flag, I am especially reminded of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have fought to defend it and all it represents. This year, Flag Day comes during an especially important time, as I recently was proud to announce my 2019 appointees to our United States service academies.

Each year, it is my distinct privilege and honor as a member of Congress to nominate students from the Second District to be considered for appointment to the United States Air Force, Naval, Military and Merchant Marine Academies.

This year, I am very pleased to announce that I nominated the following students who received official appointments to the service academies:

  • Daniel Brayden Banner is the son of Dan and Amanda Banner. He is a graduate of Providence Christian School in Dothan, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.Theodore Maxwell Dowd is the son of John and Donna Dowd. He is a graduate of Northview High School in Dothan, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
  • Amore Jacarra Hardy is the daughter of Regina Hardy. She is a graduate of Booker T. Washington Magnet High School in Montgomery, and she received an offer of appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.
  • Timothy Jurard McClendon is the son of Emma Lee McClendon. He is a graduate of Carroll High School in Ozark, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.
  • Johnny M. Montgomery, III, is the son of Johnny Montgomery. He is a graduate of Stanhope Elmore High School in Millbrook, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.
  • Jackson Scott Parker is the son of Scott and Hannah Parker. He is a graduate of Abbeville High School, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
  • Isaac Taylor Sherman is the son of Jeremy and Morgan Sherman. He is a graduate of Prattville High School, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.
  • Seth Cameron White is the son of Steve and Terri White. He is a graduate of Wicksburg High School, and he received an offer of appointment to the United States Naval Academy.

In the spirit of Flag Day, I believe these students from our communities are to be commended not only for their academic excellence, but more importantly, for their eagerness to serve our great country. I am incredibly proud to join their families, friends, teachers and hometowns in offering my sincerest congratulations and thanks. Our flag will continue to shine as a symbol of freedom because of young leaders like these men and women.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

18 hours ago

SEC Baseball Tournament at Hoover Met sees record crowds

Record crowds of more than 160,000 people attended the 2019 SEC Baseball Tournament.

The tournament, held annually at the Hoover Met Complex, had an estimated $15 million economic impact on the area.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said the conference three years ago looked for a host site that would enhance the tournament experience for fans. “After reviewing numerous proposals and visiting a number of potential sites, it turned out that Hoover, our longtime home, could provide everything necessary to make it the right venue for SEC Baseball,” Sankey said.

217

He said the city of Hoover stepped things up with the Finley Center to house the SEC Fan Fest, the construction of on-site practice fields and, this year, the addition of a new video board.

“We feel those changes in particular have been game-changers in providing the SEC with a ‘baseball campus’ that is unique to college post-season tournaments,” Sankey said.

From May 21-26, 12 teams competed in the double elimination tournament, which was won by Vanderbilt.

Throughout the week, 162,699 people attended the various baseball games and 32,000 of those attendees came through the SEC Fan Fest. The area included access to inflatables, arcade games, a zip line, climbing, miniature golf course, live entertainment, food and beverage options and more. Fans were able to watch the game from a giant flat-screen TV and couches in the large, air-conditioned facility.

“The 2019 SEC Baseball Tournament was a tremendous success at the Hoover Metropolitan Complex,” said Hoover Mayor Frank V. Brocato. “The city of Hoover was able to welcome a record-setting number of baseball fans throughout the week and attendees had many options for activities around the baseball tournament once they arrived at the complex. … It is certainly our privilege to have hosted this tournament for the past 22 years. We look forward to seeing everyone back in 2020.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

19 hours ago

State Sen. Cam Ward: ‘I don’t think you bring back a lottery’ in proposed prison special session

The Alabama legislature was not able to come to an agreement on a lottery this past general session, meaning the body will likely address it in the future.

Could that come as soon as later this year, when Gov. Kay Ivey will reportedly call a special session to address Alabama’s prison system? Given the state’s prisons are under the threat of a federal government takeover, some have suggested that a lottery could be used as a funding mechanism to fix the state’s ailing prisons.

During an appearance on WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), who has been out in front of the prison issue, downplayed the chances of lawmakers addressing the lottery as part of any prison solution.

313

“I just don’t see what has changed since the regular session until now that would make a lottery even feasible to bring up in a special session,” Ward said. “I mean, you look at our state. We’re one of four states that have two budgets. And the bulk of our money goes to the education budget, which has a $400 million growth fund this time, and that’s good. But at the same time, we had a lottery that we passed out of the Senate that money went to the general fund, which is constantly struggling with issues like prisons, Medicaid, and mental health. And it failed in the House because most people want to see it all go to education. I just can’t imagine why a lottery bill would come back during a special session because I’m not sure what has changed since it failed in the House this last time. I mean, unless something has changed that I’m not aware of, I don’t think you bring back a lottery in this special session.”

Ward said he did not see the need for increased revenue to solve the prison problem, noting the significant increase in funding for the Department of Corrections already.

“I think the money is already here,” Ward replied. “I really do. I don’t think you need any kind of increase in revenue. I mean, good gracious we gone from a $380 million budget for prisons just a few years ago. Today we’re at $560 million-$580 million. I don’t think you need to do any more revenue. I think it’s how you handle policy within the prison and how you handle the policy with sentencing.”

@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.