The Wire

  • Black Bear Sightings Continue to Increase in Alabama

    Excerpt from an Outdoor Alabama news release:

    Add Jackson, Limestone, Marshall, Morgan and St. Clair counties to the growing list of black bear sightings in Alabama in 2018. In recent years, bears have also been recorded in Chambers, Elmore, Jefferson, Lee, Macon and Tallapoosa counties. These recent sightings are more evidence of the state’s expanding black bear population.

    Biologists from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources say the increase in sightings may be due to a combination of factors including changes in bear distribution, habitat fragmentation, seasonal movement and the summer mating season. However, most spring and summer bear sightings are of juvenile males being pushed out of their previous ranges by their mothers and other adult males.

    Historically, a small population of black bears have remained rooted in Mobile and Washington counties. Baldwin, Covington and Escambia counties on the Florida border host yet another population of bears. In northeast Alabama, bears migrating from northwest Georgia have established a small but viable population.

    “While seeing a black bear in Alabama is uncommon and exciting, it is no cause for alarm,” said Marianne Hudson, Conservation Outreach Specialist for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF). “There has never been a black bear attack on a human in Alabama.”

    Black bears are typically secretive, shy animals that will avoid human interaction. Occasionally, a curious bear will explore a human-populated area in search of food.

    “If you are lucky enough to see a bear, simply leave it alone,” Hudson said.

  • Rep. Byrne Releases Statement on Russia

    From a Bradley Byrne news release:

    Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) issued the following statement regarding President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, this morning in Helsinki.

    Congressman Byrne said: “I applaud President Trump’s decision to start a dialogue with President Putin and I’m glad he is making it a priority. However, we must remember that Russia is not an ally – economically or militarily. They are an adversary. The United States should not tolerate actions by the Russians that intervene in our domestic affairs or pose a threat to our national security.”

  • Alabama Recreational Red Snapper Season Closes July 22

    Excerpt from an Outdoor Alabama news release:

    The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Marine Resources Division (MRD) announces the closure of Alabama state waters to the harvest of red snapper by private anglers and state-licensed commercial party boats at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, July 22, 2018. The quota of 984,291 pounds issued under NOAA Fisheries’ Alabama Recreational Red Snapper Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) is expected to be met by the closure date.

    “Alabama anglers fished extremely hard on the good weather days during the season,” said Marine Resources Director Scott Bannon. “That level of effort, coupled with larger average-sized fish harvested this year as compared to last year, resulted in a daily harvest rate two times higher than 2017, which prompted an earlier than anticipated closure.

    “The purpose of the EFP was to demonstrate Alabama’s ability to establish a season and monitor landings within a fixed quota and I think we have shown we can do that,” said Bannon.

    Anglers are reminded of the following:

    — Possession of red snapper in Alabama waters while state waters are closed is prohibited regardless of where the fish were harvested.
    — Alabama anglers may fish in federal waters off the coast of Alabama (outside of 9 nm) and land in a state that is open to the landing of red snapper, but they must adhere to the open state’s rules and not transit in Alabama state waters with red snapper on board.
    — The season for federally-permitted charter for-hire vessels will close at 12:01 a.m. July 22.

4 months ago

Alabama House delays vote on bill to track race in traffic stops

The Alabama House of Representatives did not vote Tuesday on anti-racial profiling legislation, ratcheting up the stakes on what could be the final day of the legislative session.

Lawmakers adjourned Tuesday to continue negotiations on the bill that would require police officers to record the race of stopped motorists and why they stopped the person. That sets up a potential vote Wednesday — what legislative leaders planned to be the final day of the session — with a number of other proposals potentially stuck behind a threatened filibuster.

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Republicans in the House of Representatives last week blocked a vote on the bill — that had passed the Senate unanimously — and been named a priority by the Legislative Black Caucus. In response, some African-American lawmakers, including the bill’s sponsor, have said they will filibuster, if needed, until the bill gets a vote.

“The bill passed up here 27 to zero,” Sen. Rodger Smitherman, the bill’s sponsor, said of the Senate vote.

A number of bills could be delayed, or blocked, in the standoff, including a final vote on the state education budget and an ethics law revision sought by the state’s top industry recruiter.

“All of this is about identifying bad actors. This is not about being punitive to those wonderful, great police officers that take that oath to protect and serve. This is just about trying to identify those folks who are using race as the only determining factor to make a stop,” Rep. Merika Coleman, a Democrat from Pleasant Grove, said.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, a former police officer, urged negotiations in the effort to ease tensions and prevent a legislative logjam.

“We’re working through it,” McCutcheon said after meetings on the bill.

Coleman said some opponents do not want to collect the data on race, but she said that is the heart of the bill.

Coleman said African Americans are not the only motorists who can be racially profiled, noting that white drivers might get stopped while driving through a minority neighborhood.

“We want to set up some type of deterrent for folks who are literally stopping people just because of the color of their skin or how they look. Because they have a baseball hat turned backward or have dreadlocks or have a long beard and a lot of tattoos,” Coleman said.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

4 months ago

Alabama House rejects bill to track race in traffic stops

(Pixabay)

Alabama lawmakers on Thursday refused to debate legislation that would have required police officers to collect data about race and traffic stops.

The bill sought to require police agencies to record data about the race and ethnicity of stopped motorists. The Alabama Senate had unanimously approved the measure, but it hit a roadblock in the Alabama House of Representatives.

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Representatives in the GOP-controlled House overwhelmingly voted down a procedural measure needed to bring the bill up for debate. The House vote was largely split along racial and party lines. Only five Republicans voted for the measure.

“After the vote, Democratic Rep. Merika Coleman from Pleasant Grove said lawmakers were sending a message that, “Bama is still backwards.”

Coleman said the bill collects data to determine if there are problems.

“When you vote against a bill that simply collects data, just data on who is being stopped, why they are being stopped and who is stopping them, there is something wrong with that,” Coleman said.

African-American lawmakers had shared stories of being stopped by police during debate on the bill as it moved through the Alabama Legislature.

The bill’s defeat sparked a filibuster by African-American legislators and threatened to cloud the remainder of the session. It eroded warm feelings that had filled the chamber moments earlier when lawmakers broke out in applause after voting to create a state holiday honoring civil rights icon honoring Rosa Parks.

The bill drew opposition from some law enforcement representatives who said departments already have policies against racial profiling and the bill would require additional paperwork.

Rep. Connie Rowe, a former police chief, said she was concerned that officers, assigned to work in mostly minority neighborhoods, could wrongly appear to be targeting minorities if the data was collected.

Rep. Allen Farley, a former assistant Jefferson County sheriff, was one of the Republicans who voted for the bill.

“This to me protects the good guys,” Farley, a Republican from McCalla, said. Farley said bad officers need to be identified.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, who voted against the bill, said he wanted to meet with lawmakers to see if they could work out a compromise plan.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

4 months ago

Alabama voters to face Ten Commandments ballot proposal

Alabama voters will face the choice of whether to allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed on state property such as at schools under a ballot proposal for the November election.

The Alabama House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment ballot provision 66-19 on Thursday. The proposal has already been approved by the Senate and does not need to be signed by the governor.

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If the proposal by state Sen. Gerald Dial, a Republican, is passed by voters, the Ten Commandments will not automatically be displayed in public buildings. No state funds could be used to erect the laws but individuals could use private money to display them.

Democratic critics said the proposal violates the separation of church and state and would incite federal lawsuits that cost the state money.

Roy Moore, who lost Alabama’s special U.S. Senate election in December, was sued and removed as chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court in 2003 because he refused a federal court’s order to take down a marble monument of the Ten Commandments.

“The Supreme Court and federal courts already ruled. We are going to get sued,” said Rep. Berry Forte, a Democrat.

“I’m opposed to the bill because it’s unconstitutional and I’m trying to be fiscally conservative to try to save the state and courts money if they put it up there and it gets struck down,” said Rep. Marcel Black, a Democrat.

Republicans said they supported the bill because the Founding Fathers expressed their Christian faith. The proposed amendment reaffirms religious liberty, which is already under law.

“I wish and pray that we get to a point where people would be free to express faith without fear of being sued,” said Rep. Danny Garrett, a Republican.

Dial, who is running for state agriculture commissioner, has introduced the bill for years. Democrats said attempts to pass such legislation constituted a political push by Republicans seeking conservative support during a state election year.

“This constitutional amendment is done for feel-good and political purposes,” Black added.

Other Democrats questioned whether people from other religions who displayed similar texts in public places would receive the same treatment.

“Public places belong to all people regardless of religion,” said Rep. Adline Clarke.

The final decision will be up to Alabama’s voters in November.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

4 months ago

Alabama House approves school security money

(YHN/Pixabay)

Schools could soon be able to tap a state technology fund for security measures such as paying for school resource officers or surveillance cameras.

The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday voted 96-4 for the bill. The Alabama Senate will now consider whether to go along with House changes to the proposal.

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The legislation by Republican Sen. Trip Pittman of Montrose is one of the few school security proposals nearing final passage in the Alabama Legislature.

According the Legislative Services Agency, schools received a total of $21.4 million from the fund in 2016, but no money in 2017. A separate bill would steer an additional $58.8 million to the fund.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has announced support for the legislation.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

4 months ago

Alabama Senate votes to track civil asset forfeiture cases

(W.Miller/YHN)

The Alabama Senate has voted to track how often law enforcement authorities use civil actions to seize a person’s property when the person hasn’t been convicted of a crime.

Senators on Wednesday voted 25-1 for the bill. It now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives.

Civil asset forfeiture is the practice of law enforcement seizing property through a civil action for suspected criminal activity. Republican Sen. Arthur Orr had originally sought to require a criminal conviction for property seizures.

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Advocates argued the practice was abused and government should not take a person’s property without a criminal conviction.

The revamped bill tracks cases instead of banning or altering the practice. Prosecutors and law enforcement authorities argued the civil seizures are a valuable crime-fighting tool and people had due process.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

4 months ago

Alabama lawmakers approve execution by nitrogen gas

(Wikicommons)

Alabama lawmakers voted Tuesday to allow the use of nitrogen gas to execute death row inmates, a method that has so far not been used to carry out a death sentence.

The Alabama House of Representatives approved the measure on a 75-23 vote. A spokesman for Gov. Kay Ivey said the governor will review the bill before making a decision whether to sign it into law.

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The bill would allow executions by asphyxiating inmates with nitrogen gas if lethal injection drugs are unavailable or lethal injection is ruled unconstitutional. Supporters argued the state needs another method of carrying out death sentences as drug companies become hesitant to supply chemicals for executions and lethal injection faces continued court challenges.

“It would simply put him to sleep. It’s humane. It’s quick, and it’s painless,” Republican Rep. Jim Hill of Moody said during debate.

Opponents of the bill questioned how lawmakers could assert it would be painless since the method hasn’t been tried.

“We had Yellow Mama. Now, we are going to bring back the gas chamber,” Rep. Thomas Jackson, a Democrat from Thomasville, said referencing the nickname for the state’s yellow-painted electric chair.

The Death Penalty Information Center said that no state has carried out an execution by nitrogen gas. Two states — Oklahoma and Mississippi — have voted to authorize execution by nitrogen gas as a backup method of execution, according to center.

Oklahoma announced last week that it will begin using nitrogen for executions, when the state resumes death sentences, because of difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said then that the execution procedure would likely involve the use of a mask placed over the inmate’s head, but he said the details would have to be worked out.

(Image: Wikicommons)

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

4 months ago

Prattville police crackdown after school shooting threats

Law enforcement criticized parents and students Wednesday after two 12-year-olds were charged with making school shooting threats on social media. A girl was detained last week and a boy Sunday for threatening Prattville public schools.

Prattville Police Chief Mark Thompson said any threat that “has already terrorized” is taken seriously.

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Juvenile Judge Joy Booth held parents accountable for not monitoring children and said parents and students could “lose their freedom.”

Chief Assistant District Attorney C.J. Robinson said police investigated 20 threats against county schools since the Parkland massacre. The department was under strain with three officers working overtime Sunday.

An Alabama House of Representatives committee held public hearings on Wednesday to debate proposals about arming teachers or security forces. Superintendent Spence Agee said Prattville has “no intention to arm teachers.”

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

10 months ago

Ginny Shaver Announces Candidacy for State House District 39

On Saturday, Ginny Shaver, a lifelong conservative Republican and community activist, announced her candidacy for the Alabama House of Representatives District 39. District 39 includes all of Cherokee County, the city of Piedmont in Calhoun County, and portions of Dekalb and Cleburne Counties. Shaver made the announcement in her hometown of Leesburg Day in front of friends and family.

In a news release from her campaign, Shaver stated:

“After devoting my life to supporting my husband, raising our children, and working in the public and private sector, I now feel the time has come for me to use my experience and leadership ability to represent the interests of the people of District 39.

I’m proud to be a 5th generation Alabamian, and District 39 has been our home for the past 34 years.  During that time our regional political landscape has transformed to a solid conservative majority and our representation should reflect that change.  President Trump was elected because people are tired of political insiders and special interests in all levels of government.  That is why I must step forward now and give the voters a clear choice and an opportunity to elect one of the people, for the people.”

Shaver states her belief that any representative should consider how every piece of legislation will affect the constituents in their district. Her top priorities are job creation and support for education.

Shaver points to her strong background in community service. She is president of the Cherokee County Republican Women and Vice-Chair of the Cherokee County Republican Executive Committee. She was also recently appointed to the Cherokee County Industrial Development Board and previously worked with the Gadsden Airport Authority. She is also a Certified Municipal Clerk and is currently working for the city of Gadsden.

Shaver has been married to her husband Jeff for 36 years. They have three adult children: Jake, Jennilee, and Harry. Ginny and Jeff are members of Tates Chapel Baptist Church.

For more information on Shaver’s platform and campaign, be sure to visit her Facebook page.

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1 year ago

President and CEO of Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama Launches State House Bid

PRATTVILLE, Ala. — Jeremy Arthur, the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama, announced his run for the Alabama House of Representatives yesterday. He will run as Republican in District 88, which represents parts of Autauga and Elmore Counties.

“The hardworking men and women of District 88 deserve a representative who looks out for their best interests at the State House. I pledge to work every day to ensure our conservative principles are heard and respected in Montgomery,” Arthur said in a press release. “I uniquely understand the needs facing our local area. I will work hard to guarantee that Autauga and Elmore counties have what they need to continue to lead, grow, and succeed.”

Arthur has an extensive background working in organizations that represent Alabama businesses. He currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Main Street Alabama Board of Directors, the Business Education Alliance, the Governor’s Small Business Council, and the Governor’s Board on Broadband Development.

A graduate of Auburn University, the Prattville resident has served in many state and local organizations that work to give back to the community. He has served as president of the Prattville Rotary Club, campaign chair for the River Region United Way- Autauga County, president of Leadership Autauga, and president of the Prattville Baptist Hospital Advisory Council.

The seat is currently held by Republican Paul Beckman, who announced he will not run for reelection. The Republican Party primary election will be held on June 5, 2018.

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1 year ago

Condoleezza Rice blasts efforts to ‘sanitize history’ by removing historic monuments

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (Photo: Fox News Screenshot)

The nation’s first black female Secretary of State is pushing back against liberal activists that are trying to remove historic monuments across the country.

During a Monday appearance on Fox News’s “Fox and Friends,” Condoleezza Rice, a Birmingham native, was asked if she felt embarrassed over statues that honored slave owners. She responded by saying that, rather than try to shield future generations from the flaws of our nation’s founders and former leaders, that such monuments should serve as a reminder of progress that has been made.

“I am a firm believer in ‘Keep your history before you,’” Rice responded. “I don’t actually want to rename things that were named for slave owners. I want us to have to look at those names and recognize what they did, and be able to tell our kids what they did and for them to be able to have a sense of their own history.”

“When you start wiping out your history, sanitizing your history to make you feel better, it’s a bad thing,” she added.

Rice often speaks frankly about the ways her family has witnessed the shaping of the country through the Civil Rights Movement, and later as she rose to become one of the nation’s most powerful political figures.

“The Constitution originally counted my ancestors as three-fifths of a man. In 1952 my father had trouble registering to vote in Birmingham, Alabama. And then, in 2005, I stood in the Ben Franklin room and took that same oath of office, and it was administered by a Jewish woman Supreme Court justice,” Rice said. “That’s the story of America.”

Last month, the City of New Orleans, Louisiana removed several confederate memorials from public grounds, leading to many protests and counter-protests at the sites. According to the mayor of New Orleans, the monuments were removed because they “failed to appropriately reflect the values of diversity and inclusion that make New Orleans strong today.”

In response, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill that would make it significantly harder to remove a designated monument from government property.

Dozens of cities across the state of Alabama contain their own Confederate monuments that were constructed post-reconstruction. Montgomery, for instance, has the Monument to Confederate Soldiers and Sailors on the grounds of the State Capitol. Partially funded with state grants, the monument has stood since 1886, and the person who laid the cornerstone was none other than CSA President Jefferson Davis.

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1 year ago

Alabama House unanimously approves largest education budget since 2008

(W.Miller/YHN)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — In a rare 100 to zero vote, the Alabama House of Representatives approved the Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget Wednesday night with a few minor changes to the Senate version. The budget authorizes $6.4 billion in education spending for the next fiscal year, which will pay for the hiring of approximately 150 new fourth through sixth grade teachers across the state.

In order to be signed into law, the Senate must now re-approve the budget with the changes or reconcile them with House members in a conference committee. It would become the state’s largest education budget since the $6.7 billion appropriation in 2008. It also represents a $90 million increase from the fiscal year 2017 ETF budget.

The proposed House version increases Pre-K funding by $13.5 million, keeps funding for the Public Education Employees Health Insurance Program (PEEHIP) flat, increases retirement funding by $7.4 million, but does not fund a teacher’s pay raise. The Senate bill budgets $15 million for Pre-K and increases the funding for PEEHIP by $9 per employee.

According to Education Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Poole (R- Tuscaloosa), the unanimous vote shows that the legislature is doing right by children, teachers, and taxpayers. “I think it validates that we hit the right priorities and right needs at every level, whether it’s rural or urban, west or north, all of the members voted for what I thought was a very positive education budget,” Poole told The Montgomery Advertiser.

Alabama’s four-year colleges would not receive funding boosts under either version. However, the state will increase the program for veterans scholarships by $35 million due to increasing popularity.

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1 year ago

Alabama House approves bill to protect historical monuments

Confederate memorial in Linn Park
Confederate memorial in Linn Park

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill late last week that will make it significantly harder to remove historical monuments from government property. The so-called Alabama Memorial Preservation Act was approved by a vote of 72-29 after intense opposition from Democrats.

Democrats openly called the bill racist, but bill sponsor Rep. Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) says that the purpose of the bill is to protect architecturally significant structures, such as the state capitol building.

Last week, the City of New Orleans, Louisiana removed several confederate memorials from public grounds, leading to many protests and counter-protests at the sites. According to the mayor of New Orleans, the monuments were removed because they “failed to appropriately reflect the values of diversity and inclusion that make New Orleans strong today.”

Dozens of cities across the state of Alabama contain their own Confederate monuments that were constructed post-reconstruction. Montgomery, for instance, has the Monument to Confederate Soldiers and Sailors on the grounds of the State Capitol. Partially funded with state grants, the monument has stood since 1886, and the person who laid the cornerstone was none other than CSA President Jefferson Davis.

Montgomery is also home to numerous civil rights movement monuments including the Civil Rights Memorial, located on Washington Avenue. The granite display contains the names of 41 people who died during the fight for civil rights.

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1 year ago

Alabama House passes bill to legalize midwifery

(Christine Szeto/Flickr)
(Flickr user Christine Szeto)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — After the Alabama House of Representatives approved HB 315 on Monday, the practice of midwifery became one step closer to legality in the state. The House passed the bill by a vote of 84-11, and it now heads to the state senate.

HB 315 would require that midwives receive certification from an accredited organization in order to avoid criminal prosecution.

Midwives are trained health professionals who assist women in the process of birthing children either in hospitals or in the home. Their care differs from doctors because they rely on more natural techniques and minimal medical intervention.

Under current Alabama law, the practice of midwifery is mostly illegal, and home birth is only legal without a midwife present.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ken Johnson (R-Moulton), noted that the bill’s passage is a victory for freedom of choice. “It was a milestone for these mothers who want this freedom and the choice to have natural home childbirth, where it’s not restricted by the government,” he told Al.com.

HB 315 had bipartisan support in the House, and marked the first time a pro-midwife bill has even made it to the floor for a vote.

However, praise has not been universal. The Medical Association of the State of Alabama remains critical of the practice and continues to lobby against it. “The decriminalization of the practice of midwifery will lead to more home births, and we have strong concerns about home birth in this state, regardless of who the provider of that service is,” Mark Jackson, executive director of the association, told Al.com.

Johnson also proposed HB 316, which focuses on the regulation of midwives if the practice is decriminalized. It would create a State Board of Midwifery to craft more specific regulations. That bill has not yet been passed.

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1 year ago

Rep. Ed Henry declares candidacy for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat

Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) declared on Tuesday that he intends to run for Alabama’s contested U.S. Senate seat in the upcoming special election. Originally scheduled by former Gov. Robert Bentley (R) to take place in 2018, Gov. Kay Ivey (R) moved the election up to this December in compliance with state law.

RELATED: Alabama special election for U.S. Senate seat moved up to this year

Henry led impeachment efforts against Bentley in Montgomery from the very beginning of the former governor’s scandals. He, along with Craig Ford (D-Gadsden), introduced the original articles of impeachment that alleged that Bentley was neglectful, corrupt, and incompetent.

While many backed down in their pursuit to hold Bentley accountable, Henry never backed down and constantly remained on the forefront of impeachment efforts. However, as a devout Christian, Henry has longed hoped that the governor will find reconciliation with God and his family.

RELATED: A Profile in Courage: Rep. Ed Henry’s Stand for Justice Fighting Bentley’s Corruption

On today’s edition of Yellowhammer Radio, Henry explained that he felt God is calling him to run for the Senate to represent the people of Alabama. “I don’t know about draining the swamp, but I have found out that if you throw some dynamite in the swamp, the bottom-dwellers tend to float belly-up,” he said.

However, he said he’s not getting into this race to make friends; especially with new campaign rival Sen. Luther Strange (R). In Henry’s eyes, Strange is not capable of helping President Trump drain the swamp, as he is a political lobbyist at heart.

Before resigning as part of a plea deal, Bentley appointed then-state Attorney General Luther Strange to fill the Senate seat vacated by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R). Strange has also declared his intention to run to keep his new seat.

Henry has served in the Alabama House of Representatives as one of its most outspokenly conservative members since winning his seat in 2010. In his six years in the legislature, Henry has sponsored numerous conservative bills, such as those protecting the right to life and the Second Amendment.

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1 year ago

Alabama House approves General Fund Budget without state employee raise

Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Flickr user Joel יוֹאֵל)
Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Flickr user Joel יוֹאֵל)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — After hours of debate, the Alabama House of Representatives passed the General Fund Budget without a pay increase for state employees. Approved by a vote of 72-28, the latest budget would spend $1.8 billion in the next Fiscal Year.

Alabama liberals and Gov. Robert Bentley (R-Ala.) called for a state employee pay raise at the beginning of the legislative session. In his State of the State address, Bentley called for a four percent raise, which conservatives worried about for cost reasons.

State employees last received a raise in Fiscal Year 2009, which raised their pay by 3.5 percent.

Rep. Napoleon Bracy (D-Prichard) told the Alabama News Network that state employees should not go ten years without a raise. Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said that such a move is unwise because future budgets will be tighter due to the exhaustion of the BP Oil Settlement money.

Since FY 2009, some state employees have gotten merit pay raises, and the state pays for the increases in the health insurance costs.

Alabama is one of only three states that maintains separate budgets. It also has the highest percentage in the country of earmarked revenue, with only approximately 15 percent of total state revenue available to be budgeted at the discretion of the legislature.

(h/t Alabama News Network)

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1 year ago

Alabama bill would specify which crimes trigger the removal of voting rights

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A new bill on its way to the Alabama Senate would provide clarity over which criminal convictions would remove the voting rights of Alabama residents. Sponsored by Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia), HB 282 unanimously passed in the House of Representatives thanks to the support of Republicans and Democrats.

Current Alabama law only states that those convicted of felonies involving “moral turpitude” lose the ability to vote. However, Alabama officials have had a hard time deciding what falls into that category.

The House bill specifically lists 42 different crimes that would disqualify a person from voting. Convictions for murder, forgery, crimes of moral terpitude, and several others are all included in the new definition.

Republicans have described the bill as compromise legislation. While Democrats ultimately supported the bill, Rep. John Knight (D-Montgomery) remains concerned about Alabamians losing their voting rights.

(h/t Alabama News Network)

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McCutcheon: My Vision for the Alabama House

Rep. Mac McCutcheon, House Rules Chairman
Rep. Mac McCutcheon
Rep. Mac McCutcheon, House Rules Chairman

As the newly-elected Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, I thought it important to take a moment and let readers here know something about my background, my philosophy, and my vision for how the legislative chamber should operate during the upcoming regular session and thereafter.

Though unorthodox, I will begin by letting you know the things I am not.

I am not a career politician. After 25 years in law enforcement, I was elected to the House in 2006 during my first run for office, and I serve solely to give back to the state, community, and neighbors that have been so good to me. My only priority is the office I currently hold I am not guided by a desire for riches, power or the other temptations that elected office sometimes offers. As a retired police officer living on a monthly pension, my future resources are already determined, and my wife and I are quite thankful for all that life has already provided us.

I am not beholden to any special interests groups. As a lawmaker and public servant, I am beholden to the 45,000 citizens in House District 25, to the people of Alabama, to my family, and to my Lord and Savior.

Now let me tell you the things that I am.

I am a man who is humbled by the confidence and trust that my colleagues have offered by electing me as Speaker of the House, especially following such difficult and often controversial times in our government.

I am determined to utilize the talents, ideas, and input of every member of the House whether man or woman, Republican or Democrat, conservative, moderate, or liberal. A legislator’s worth as a member should not be solely determined by whether a D or an R follows their name on the roster, but rather by their work ethic, their commitment to understanding important issues, and the soundness of the ideas and initiatives they have to offer.

Moving Alabama forward is going to require us to adjust the way the House has operated over the past several decades.

I plan to create a system that opens and embraces the legislative process and allows bills to sink or swim based upon their own merits and the sponsors’ ability to convince their colleagues to offer support. Taking a turn from the politics of the past will not be simple or easy because old habits die hard, but we must begin the effort anyway.

The motto of the Alabama House is “Vox Populi” which means “Voice of the People.” This statement serves as my driving force and rulebook for how the body will operate moving forward. We consist of 105 members, with 105 districts, and 105 different constituencies. It is important to me that our Representatives have every opportunity to be the voice of their district, and this will be the defining feature of our House.

I have discussed the ideas outlined above with members of House and Senate leadership, the lieutenant governor, and Gov. Robert Bentley, and all have indicated some level of support for them.

As a result, I am confident that if we work together, lawmakers can improve Alabama’s future by helping to create jobs for the jobless, offering hope to the hopeless, and providing a quality education to the children who are our future and will one day take our places in this Alabama State House.

Evidence of this fact was on display during the September special session when House members of both parties joined together in passing landmark legislation that pays down a significant portion of our state’s debt, provides needed funding for road and bridge projects related to economic development on the Gulf Coast, and shores up funding needs in the Medicaid agency’s budget. And, best of all, we were able to do all of this with no new taxes.

On the day my colleagues elected me Speaker, I stood in the well of the House and asked God’s blessings on every action, every decision, and every vote that takes place in the chamber so that we may fulfill the calling in Peter 4:10, which reads, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

I believe that if we simply follow that biblical admonition, House members will succeed in doing our jobs well.


Mac McCutcheon (R-Capshaw) serves as Alabama’s Speaker of the House and represents District 25 which encompasses the communities of Madison City, Huntsville, Capshaw, Monrovia and East Limestone. Follow Speaker McCutcheon on Twitter via @MacDistrict25 and Facebook at www.facebook.com/speakermccutcheon.

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2 years ago

South Alabama lawmakers fight rest of state over remaining BP Oil Spill money

A worker cleans up an Alabama beach in the wake of the BP Deewater Horizon Oil Spill.
A worker cleans up an Alabama beach in the wake of the BP Deewater Horizon Oil Spill.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Partisanship has taken a backseat to regional politics in the Alabama State House, with south Alabama lawmakers banding together to fight the rest of the state over the remaining BP Oil Spill money.

With Medicaid facing a perpetual funding shortfall, the House almost two weeks ago passed a bill that would use BP money to pay back $448.5 million in state debt, immediately free up about $35 million for Medicaid, and send the rest of the money — about $191 million — to the coast for road projects.

The bill sat on the legislative back-burner as the House and Senate wrestled with numerous lottery proposals, but re-emerged Tuesday as lawmakers faced the possibility of adjourning the Special Session without addressing the Medicaid issue.

The Senate passed a bill that would send $300 million of the BP money to Medicaid over the next three years — presumably buying the legislature time to work out a longer-term plan — then send the rest of the funds toward paying down debt, completely stripping out all funding for south Alabama road projects.

The House unanimously voted against the Senate plan, prompting legislative leaders to create a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the two chambers. The conference committee will consist of three House members and three Senate members, who will seek to come to an agreement that can pass both chambers.

It will be a tall order.

Sens. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose), Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) will be joined on the conference committee by Reps. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) and John Knight (D-Montgomery).

One lobbyist Yellowhammer spoke with Tuesday evening put the odds of a stalemate at about 50 percent, with the House dug in on earmarking money for coastal infrastructure projects and the Senate opposed.

Senator Slade Blackwell (R-Mountain Brook) seemed to sum up the perspective of many non-South Alabama legislators when he told ABC 33/40 he believes it’s “more important to help disable children verse sending more money to Mobile and Baldwin county after they have already received over $2.1 billion is BP settlement money.”

“The citizens of Mobile and Baldwin County suffered from that oil spill,” Sen. Vivian Davis Figure (D-Mobile) said on the other side. “They did the suffering.”

The conference committee will meet Wednesday morning at 9 a.m., with both chambers reconvening an hour later.

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2 years ago

DENIED: House panel rejects Bentley’s request to suspend impeachment proceedings

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley

Gov. Robert Bentley’s latest attempt to end his impeachment ordeal has failed.

State Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has denied the governor’s request to suspend the impeachment proceedings, as well as the request that certain committee members be recused from the hearings.

“After careful consideration and a close examination of constitutional law and other reference sources, the motions are denied,” said Rep. Jones.

Articles of impeachment were first filed on April 5 in the wake of revelations that the governor may have misused state resources to facilitate and cover up an affair with his top political advisor, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. House members levied four articles of impeachment against the governor: neglect of duty, corruption, incompetency, and offenses of moral terpitude.

Gov. Bentley’s attorneys in mid-August contended that the accusations of “willful neglect of duty” and “corruption in office” violated his right to due process because he did not have enough time to mount a defense. They also requested that three Judiciary Committee member recuse themselves from the impeachment proceedings, contending that Reps. Mike Ball (R-Madison), Allen Farley (R-McCalla) and Mike Holmes (R-Wetumpka) should recuse themselves because they signed the original articles of impeachment, along with twenty other House members.

In his eight page response to Gov. Bentley’s filings, Rep. Jones said those complaints are “premature and erroneous,” and that committee members are not required to recuse themselves since “the governor has no legal or political authority to dictate to the House of this Committee” which members can sit on the committee.

“It is entirely proper for a legislator both to sponsor a resolution and to sit on a committee to which it is referred,” he said.

Jones, who has earned a reputation for being extremely thorough in his role as House Judiciary Committee Chairman, also cited rules of the Alabama House of Representatives, reports from the U.S. House Judiciary Committee prepared during the impeachment of then-President Richard Nixon, and printed works by constitutional and impeachment scholars.

The committee has also asked for the governor to turn over information, including communication between Gov. Bentley and Mrs. Mason, transportation and calendar records, and more, and has warned that not complying with the committee’s requests could itself be an impeachable offense.

The committee investigation into the articles of impeachment continues and no date has been set for the next committee meeting.

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2 years ago

What they didn’t tell you: Alabama lawmakers were only presented with half a lottery plan

Signs advertise the lottery outside of a convenience store (Photo: Sivi Steys)
Signs advertise the lottery outside of a convenience store (Photo: Sivi Steys)
Signs advertise the lottery outside of a convenience store (Photo: Sivi Steys)

When Gov. Robert Bentley summoned lawmakers for a special session to consider the creation of a state lottery, I traveled to Montgomery with apprehension as what the Governor was up to. Soon after the debate began, however, it quickly became obvious that the real fiscal and systemic problems problems facing Alabama’s state government cannot be solved by a state lottery, and certainly not by the one that was presented to us.

As a result, I voted against placing the lottery on a referendum ballot and would like to outline just a few of the facts that led to my decision.

Creating a lottery requires two pieces of legislation, a constitutional amendment that allows that particular form of gambling to exist, and “enabling legislation” that spells out in vivid detail exactly how it would operate. The Legislature was provided only the constitutional amendment for consideration, and we were told that enabling legislation would be introduced sometime next year, after the referendum vote.

Passing an open-ended, blank-check constitutional amendment is dangerous and demands a level of trust that I, quite frankly, do not believe Montgomery has earned. Once the amendment is passed, the enabling legislation that followed could open the door to corruption, cronyism, and broken promises with absolutely no accountability to the citizens of our state.

You cannot bake a cake with just one ingredient – you must have all of them – and I do not believe that we can create a fair, honest, and well-run lottery with just one piece of the necessary legislation, we must have all of them, as well. The amendment and the enabling legislation must travel together.

The legislation submitted to us did not even have an accompanying fiscal note, which is usually required on measures we consider, so there is no way to determine how much it would cost to set up the lottery, the amount of the annual operating costs, or even a good barometer of how much it would add to state coffers each year. You cannot open any successful business without a detailed financial plan, and a lottery is no different.

But the few details that were provided to us cause even greater concern.

While most states dedicate most, if not all, of their lottery revenues to public education needs and programs, the Alabama lottery would send only 10% of its profit into our children’s classrooms. Instead, the dollars would be earmarked directly toward the state Medicaid program and other non-education agencies. The costs of providing Medicaid services in Alabama are already spiraling out-of-control, and funneling a dedicated stream of lottery revenues to the agency removes any incentive for spending to be reduced or efficiencies to be implemented.

In addition, this magic elixir for our financial problems that is being peddled to us like a bottle of snake oil will not have any effect for the next several years. Not one dime of revenue will be realized until 2018, and even then, the undetermined start up costs that I mentioned earlier could swallow any expected profits.

The experiences of other states provide even more evidence that the lottery is not a panacea for fiscal ills. Nine of the 10 states with the most insolvent budgets in the nation, for example, have lotteries. In Illinois, state lawmakers even had to borrow money in order to pay the winners of its lottery their promised awards.

Other questions about how the lottery would affect the overall economy and whether this amendment, as written, would allow forms of Las Vegas-style gambling to operate in Alabama remain unanswered.

I believe more than ever that Alabama can solve its financial problems only by implementing conservative principles, like un-earmarking the tax dollars we currently collect and reforming the way we draft the budget.

It is disappointing that we were summoned into special session with a desperate, eleventh hour deadline and presented with only half of a lottery plan that raised more questions than answers. Given time, I think the Legislature would be able to craft a lottery amendment worthy of consideration, but this one certainly did not meet that standard.
A constitutional amendment is difficult, if not impossible, to adjust once it is ratified, so we must be extremely careful before placing it on your ballot.

For these and other reasons, I voted against the lottery amendment, and I felt it important to let you know why.


Republican Barry Moore represents District 91 in the Alabama House of Representatives

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2 years ago

Here’s how each Alabama House member voted on the lottery

(Mark Ou/Flickr)
Mega Millions lottery tickets (Photo: Mark Ou)
Mega Millions lottery tickets (Photo: Mark Ou)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — After spending roughly eleven hours debating Gov. Robert Bentley’s lottery proposal and working late into the night on Thursday, pro-lottery House members finally rallied enough support for the legislation to pass.

The bill will send the first $100 million of lottery revenue to Medicaid, followed by a 90-10 split of the remaining revenue between the General Fund Budget and Education Budget. Additionally, 1 percent of the 90 percent General Fund allocation will be earmarked for rural fire departments.

RELATED: BY ONE VOTE: Alabama House passes lottery bill after marathon debate

The bill now moves back to the Senate, which must approve of the changes before a constitutional amendment enabling a state-sponsored lottery goes to a statewide vote.

Here’s how each member of the Alabama House voted on the lottery.

YES


Alexander
Baker
Bandy
Beckman
Beech
Black
Blackshear
Boothe
Boyd
Bracy
Brown
Buskey
Butler
Chesteen
Clarke
Clouse
Coleman
Daniels
Davis
Drummond
England
Faust
Fincher
Ford
Forte
Givan
Greer
Grimsley
Hall
Harbison
Harper
Hill
Howard
Hurst
Jackson
Ron Johnson
Knight
Lawrence
Ledbetter
Lindsey
Martin
McCampbell
McClammy
Speaker McCutcheon
Melton
Millican
Mary Moore
Morrow
Nordgren
Patterson
Pettus
Poole
Rich
Robinson
Rogers
Rowe
Scott
Sells
Sessions
Todd
Warren
Weaver
Wilcox
Wood

NO


Ainsworth
Ball
Carns
Collins
Crawford
Drake
Farley
Faulkner
Fridy
Garrett
Gaston
Hanes
Henry
Mike Holmes
Ingram
Ken Johnson
Jones
Lee
McMillan
Mooney
Barry Moore
Polizos
Pringle
Sanderford
Shedd
Standridge
Treadaway
Tuggle
Wadsworth
Isaac
Whorton
Ritchie
Whorton
Williams (JD)
Williams (JW)
Phil Williams
Wingo

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2 years ago

BY ONE VOTE: Alabama House passes lottery bill after marathon debate

Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Flickr user Joel יוֹאֵל)
Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Yellowhammer)
Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Yellowhammer)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — After spending roughly eleven hours debating Gov. Robert Bentley’s lottery proposal and working late into the night on Thursday, pro-lottery House members finally rallied enough support for the legislation to pass.

The bill will send the first $100 million of lottery revenue to Medicaid, followed by a 90-10 split of the remaining revenue between the General Fund Budget and Education Budget. Additionally, 1 percent of the 90 percent General Fund allocation will be earmarked for rural fire departments.

The bill now moves back to the Senate, which must approve of the changes before it goes to a statewide vote.

Lawmakers spent much of the day trying to amend the lottery bill for a multitude of reasons, sparking familiar criticism from conservative lawmakers who have characterized the lottery as little more than a way to grow the size of state government.

Around 10:30 p.m., the first House vote on the lottery actually fell two votes shy of the three-fifths support needed for the bill to pass.

Some procedural maneuvering revived the bill as pro-lottery lawmakers worked to round up more votes and wrangle colleagues who had left the chamber early.

In an example of how contentious the eleven-hour debate was at certain points, Democratic Rep. Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) took to the mic on the House floor at one point to declare, “I question the intelligence of those who voted ‘no.'”

A second vote finally took place around 11:30 p.m. and the bill was approved 64-35. It needed 63 votes to pass.

Secretary of State John Merrill reiterated Thursday that the lottery will not appear on the November General Election ballot because lawmakers missed the Wednesday deadline. Many pro-lottery lawmakers are still convinced the deadline is arbitrary and may be tossed aside. Otherwise the state will spend between $6 million and $8 million to organize a special lottery vote.

The Medicaid funding shortfall — which was the stated reason Gov. Bentley called a Special Session in the first place — will also be a focus in the coming days.

The House earlier this week passed a bill that would allocate money from the state’s BP oil spill settlement to pay down debt, cover the shortfall in Medicaid, and fund infrastructure projects on the gulf coast.

The bill, sponsored by General Fund Budget Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), would use BP money to pay back $448.5 million in state debt, free up about $35 million for Medicaid, and send the rest of the money — about $191 million — to the coast for road projects.

Governor Bentley is currently sitting on $35 million from BP’s Fiscal Year 2016 payment to the state, so combining that with Clouse’s bill would ultimately make about $70 million available for Medicaid.

The Senate has been waiting to consider the bill while the lottery debate played out in the House.

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2 years ago

Alabama House member: Lawmakers are already spending lottery money before it passes

Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise)
Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama House members are already angling to earmark lottery funds for certain projects although the lottery has multiple hurdles left to clear before it even exists in the Yellowhammer State.

The Secretary of State’s office confirmed Thursday that the legislature had missed the deadline to pass a lottery bill that would put it up for a vote on the General Election ballot in November. Lawmakers continued to debate the issue, though, possibly setting up a Special Election ballot that would include a Constitutional Amendment bringing the lottery to Alabama for the first time. Secretary of State John Merrill estimated such an election would cost the state $6-8 million.

The current lottery bill being debated in the House would send the first $100 million of lottery revenue to Medicaid, then it gets a little murky after that. Members seemed to be operating under the assumption that 90 percent would go toward the General Fund Budget and 10 percent to the Education Budget. But an avalanche of amendments have been proposed, and one was approved to send to rural fire departments 1 percent of the 90 percent General Fund allocation.

The process sparked familiar criticism from conservative lawmakers who have characterized the lottery as little more than a way to grow the size of state government.

“We’re spending money we haven’t raised from a lottery we haven’t passed,” State Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise), who opposes the lottery, said at the mic on the House floor.

Earmarks have been a longtime problem with Alabama’s budgeting process.

The state earmarks over 90 percent of its tax revenue, far more than any other state in the country, meaning that budgeters have very little flexibility when shortfalls emerge, as they have recently in the state’s exploding Medicaid program.

If the House passes a lottery bill that the Senate agrees to and the governor signs, a statewide vote of the people in a Special Election would determine whether Alabama would have a state sponsored lottery. If it clears all of those hurdles, it appears that whatever revenue it brings in will be spent long before it even enters state coffers.

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2 years ago

Alabama lottery will not be on November ballot after vote blocked in House

Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Flickr user Joel יוֹאֵל)
Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Yellowhammer)
Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Yellowhammer)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Procedural wrangling in the Alabama House of Representatives will keep a statewide lottery constitutional amendment from appearing on the ballot in November.

Wednesday, August 24, was the deadline for the legislature to authorize a constitutional amendment to appear on the General Election ballot on November 8th.

However, House rules stipulate that committee meetings must be advertised at least 24 hours in advance, unless four-fifths of the House votes to suspend the rules and allow a meeting to happen on shorter notice. Realizing that the committee meeting time on the lottery was not advertised in advance, a group of House members banded together and did not allow the rules to be suspended, thereby making it impossible for any proposal to pass by the Wednesday deadline.

Pro-lottery lawmakers blasted their colleagues for “delaying” throughout the day.

“You can call it a delay, I call it being deliberative,” quipped Rep. Ken Johnson (R-Moulton), who has expressed concerns about rushing through such a major constitutional amendment so quickly.

Republicans in Democratic-leaning areas of the state were pleased with the development, as they had voiced concerns that a lottery vote might increase Democratic turnout in November and jeopardize Republican officeholders.

The House last week passed a bill that would allocate money from the state’s BP oil spill settlement to pay down debt, cover the shortfall in Medicaid, and fund infrastructure projects on the gulf coast.

The bill, sponsored by General Fund Budget Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), would use BP money to pay back $448.5 million in state debt, free up about $35 million for Medicaid, and send the rest of the money — about $191 million — to the coast for road projects.

Governor Bentley is currently sitting on $35 million from BP’s Fiscal Year 2016 payment to the state, so combining that with Rep. Clouse’s bill would ultimately make about $70 million available for Medicaid.

The Senate is expected to consider the bill on Wednesday.

If it receives final passage, the stated reason for the current special session — to patch a hole in Medicaid funding — will have been accomplished, possibly leaving a lottery vote in doubt.

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