The Wire

  • Decatur doctor accused of sexual assault responds to lawsuit

    Excerpt from WHNT:

    A Decatur doctor accused of sexually assaulting several of his patients is disputing all claims of wrongdoing. Dr. Michael Dick of Alabama Medicine and Rheumatology Clinic responded to a lawsuit filed on behalf of six women who claim to be his former patients. The doctor also filed a protective order asking a judge to stop the victims from sharing their stories with the media.

    A Birmingham-based attorney responded on behalf of Dr. Dick saying there is “no basis to contend he preys on female patients as alleged in the complaint.” The lawsuit filed against Dr. Dick says female members of the nursing staff were present with him. He says no misconduct took place, as alleged in the lawsuit. The response also says employees who work at the medical practice deny any misconduct.

  • Bobby Bright says ‘D.C. powerbrokers’ pushed Trump to endorse Martha Roby

    Excerpt from AL.com:

    Bobby Bright says ‘D.C. powerbrokers’ pushed Trump to endorse Martha Roby in Alabama’s District 2 race.

    “I understand politics and how Washington works. It appears the D.C. powerbrokers have gotten to the President on this issue. It’s truly a swamp of insiders controlled by big money special interests, the same crowd who’s bankrolling Martha Roby’s campaign to the tune of over $1 million just this year,” Bright said in a statement. “It’s a place where loyalty doesn’t exist. When you take that much money from D.C., New York and California, you lose sight of Alabama.”

    Incumbent Roby will face Bobby Bright — a former congressman she defeated in 2010 — in a runoff next month. Bright served one term in Congress as a Democrat, but switched parties to run against Roby in this year’s Republican primary.

  • Man accused of trying to run over police officer, charged with attempted murder

    Excerpt from ABC 33/40:

    A man accused of trying to run over a police officer was charged with attempted murder Friday, Shelby County authorities confirm.

    Chief Assistant District Attorney Roger Hepburn says Issai Serrano is the suspect connected with a Wednesday afternoon shooting involving an Alabaster Police officer. The shooting occurred at Morgan Road and South Shades Crest Road, said Hoover Police officers, who were the first to respond to the scene.

It’s time for the BCA to hit the reset button

(YHN)

At a time when the business community in Alabama should be enjoying a tremendous amount of influence with Republican supermajorities in the Legislature, strong economic development support from the governor, and the state’s lowest unemployment rate in history, its largest association, the Business Council of Alabama, is in the middle of a leadership crisis of epic proportions.

The sun is shining for business in Alabama and its leadership should be making hay, but they are not.

Instead, some of the largest employers in the state are working overtime to push out the longtime head of the BCA, Billy Canary. Why? Well, if you listen to legislators in the State House, they feel a strong disconnect from the business community and it is beginning to show.

Legislation that should be a “chip shot” for business in Alabama is running into roadblocks because of personality conflicts, ego and a desire to settle old scores. There are usually more than one thousand bills filed in any given legislative session, making education, communication and advocacy critical functions for any entity wishing to advance their policy initiatives. And, yet, a consistent criticism of the BCA has been its inability to carry out these critical functions as part of its participation in the policy-making process.

The BCA’s diminished effectiveness and influence seem to demonstrate that criticism in these areas is warranted. In many cases, what’s best for business is being overshadowed by petty power struggles and political whims, which isn’t good for the people who show up to work every day trying to make payroll.

Something has to give.

The growing frustration boils down to Canary and his leadership style. Canary is a native New Yorker who has taken a street fighter approach during his time at BCA. For years, this served him well. Canary’s brash style played a vital role when the Democrats ruled the state and the Alabama Education Association dominated the flow of legislation. He had a boogeyman to go to battle with every day and his members loved it.

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No one questioned that he was the right man for the job in this environment.

In 2010, Canary and the BCA went “all-in” on a plan to wrestle control of state government from the Democrats and the AEA and won big. The Republicans picked up supermajorities in the House and Senate and, all of a sudden, the BCA was the king of the mountain. The Democrats and AEA were in shambles and continue to show no signs of making a meaningful recovery.

To the victor goes the spoils and the BCA had a nice run for a couple of sessions following the takeover, namely in the area of education reform. However, when you’re on top in Montgomery, even if you spent years fighting the boogeyman, you become the boogeyman by default. This sudden role reversal seemed difficult for Canary to navigate and his brash, sometimes arrogant style has begun to rub many in the Legislature, as well as corporate titans across the state, the wrong way.

As a result, the BCA is not nearly as effective as it could be. An entity that should be enjoying the type of influence the AEA had in Montgomery for many years is struggling to pass mundane bills.

Mr. Canary, you did a tremendous job taking the BCA to the top. You were the right man for that job and should be forever recognized for your efforts. However, it is time to pass the torch to someone with a different leadership style than yours. In “The Godfather”, Don Corleone understood the difference between a wartime and peacetime consigliere. The time for a wartime consigliere has passed. A peacetime consigliere is needed to make some hay while the sun is shining for Alabama businesses.

It’s time to hit the reset button at the BCA in the interest of its hardworking members who are providing jobs to the vast majority of the citizens of our great state.

The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board is comprised of the owners of the company.

2 months ago

Why the Alabama Legislature holds the power — and a breakdown of interesting open seats

(AL Legislature)

Our antiquated 1901 Constitution was designed to give inordinate power to the Legislature. During the Wallace years, the King of Alabama politics, George Wallace, usurped this power and controlled the Legislature from the Executive Branch of Government. Over the last couple of decades the Legislature has wrestled this power back and pretty much excluded the Governor from their bailiwick. Governors Bob Riley and Robert Bentley were ostracized and pretty much ignored. Their proposed budgets were instantaneously tossed into the nearest trashcan.

Legislative power is derived from controlling the state’s purse strings. Thus the old adage, “Those who have the gold set the rules.” The Legislature has gotten like Congress in that incumbents are difficult to defeat. Therefore, the interest will be on the open Senate and House seats. Most of the Montgomery Special Interest money will be focused on these Legislative races.

Speaking of Montgomery, two open and most interesting Senate seats in the state will be in the Montgomery/River Region. One is currently in progress. Montgomery City Councilman, David Burkette, Representative John Knight and Councilman Fred Bell are pursuing the Democratic seat vacated by Senator Quinton Ross when he left to become President of Alabama State University. Burkette has already bested Knight and Bell in a Special Election last month. A rebound race is set for June 5.

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The Republican Senate seat in the River Region held by Senator Dick Brewbaker is up for grabs. This seat was expected to attract numerous well-known aspirants. However, when the dust settled at the qualifying deadline two relatively unknown candidates were the only ones to qualify. Will Barfoot and Ronda Walker are pitted against each other in a race that is considered a tossup.

The Etowah County/Gadsden area was considered one of the most Democratic areas of the state for generations. However, in recent years it has become one of the most Republican. State Representative, Mack Butler, should be favored as a Republican. Although, polling indicates that veteran Democratic Representative, Craig Ford, could make this a competitive race in the Fall. He is running as an Independent.  

Veteran State Senator Harri Ann Smith has represented the Wiregrass/Dothan area admirably for over two decades. She has been elected several times as an Independent. However, she has decided not to seek reelection. Her exit leaves State Representative Donnie Chesteen in the catbird seat to capture the seat.

Republican State Senator Paul Bussman, who represents Cullman and northwest Alabama, is a maverick and very independent. This independence makes him powerful. He will be reelected easily.

State Representative David Sessions is predicted to win the seat of Senator Bill Hightower who is running for Governor.

Most of the state Senate’s most powerful members are unopposed or have token opposition. Included in this list of incumbent State Senators are veteran Senate leader and Rules Chairman, Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia, Senate President, Del Marsh, R-Calhoun, Senate Majority Leader, Greg Reed, R-Jasper, veteran Senator Jimmy Holley, R-Coffee, as well as Senate leaders Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, Clay Scofield, R-Marshall, Clyde Chambliss, R-Autauga, Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, Tom Whatley, R-Lee, and Shay Shelnutt, R-Gardendale. The Senate leadership will remain intact, as will the House leadership.

Almost all of the House leaders are unopposed or have token opposition. This prominent list includes: Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Madison, Budget Chairmen, Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, Speaker Pro-tem, Victor Gaston, R- Mobile, Rules Chairman, Mike Jones, R-Covington.

In addition, there are numerous Veteran lawmakers, who will be reelected, including Lynn Greer, Mike Ball, Jim Carnes, Howard Sanderford, Kerry Rich, and Jimmy Martin; as well as rising leaders: Nathaniel Ledbetter, Kyle South, Connie Rowe, Tim Wadsworth, April Weaver, Paul Lee, Terri Collins, Danny Garrett, Dickie Drake, Chris Pringle, Randall Shedd, Allen Farley, Becky Nordgren, Mike Holmes, David Standridge, Dimitri Polizos, Reed Ingram and Chris Sells.

Even though there are 22 open House seats and 10 open Senate Seats, the leadership of both Chambers will remain the same.

There are some competitive House seats that will be interesting. In the Pike/Dale County Seat 89, Pike Probate Judge Wes Allen is pitted against Troy City Council President Marcus Paramore. Tracy Estes is favored to replace retiring Mike Millican in Marion County. Alfa is going all out for Estes. David Wheeler is expected to capture the open House seat in Vestavia.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

 

3 months ago

REALTOR®-backed first-time homebuyer and second-chance savings account bill passes House & Senate

(Pixabay)

The First-Time Homebuyer and Second-Chance Savings Account (FHSA) bill, HB 248, passed the Senate last week with a vote of 22-2. The House unanimously concurred Thursday morning with a vote of 97–0. The bill now goes to Governor Ivey’s office for consideration.

“On behalf of our 14,000 members, thank you to the Alabama Legislature for supporting this bill and a special thank you to the bill’s sponsors and cosponsors. We appreciate the overwhelming bi-partisan support this bill has received from legislators across the state,” Alabama REALTORS® CEO Jeremy Walker said. “Our legislators understand the obstacles first-time homebuyers face and took action toward providing a resource to help those individuals accomplish their dream of homeownership.”

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REALTORS® advanced this program to help promote homeownership with potential first-time homebuyers in Alabama. This bill, if signed into law, would establish First-Time Homebuyer Savings Accounts to help first-time homebuyers save money toward the purchase of their first home. The FHSA bill creates tax-free savings accounts that a first-time buyer can use for the down payment and closing costs of a residence. These savings accounts will allow more Alabamians to experience the American dream of homeownership.

“Our members really rallied behind this bill and helped emphasize to legislators the positive impact this bill could have on Alabama’s housing market,” said Stacey Sanders, Alabama REALTORS® Public Policy Chair. “This bill not only benefits first-time buyers, but Alabama’s real estate industry as a whole. If signed into law, it would do a lot of good for a lot of people.”

The FHSA bill provides for a savings account for persons who have never owned a home or those that are re-entering the housing market, if they have not owned a home within 10 years. The savings from the account can be used to pay for a down payment and/or closing costs for a single-family dwelling. The bill states that deposits and earnings cannot exceed $50,000, and qualified expenditures must be made in five years from opening the account.

The Alabama Association of REALTORS® (AAR) is the largest statewide organization of real estate professionals comprised of over 14,000 members. United by adherence to a Code of Ethics, our members work as real estate professionals in the sale, lease, appraisal, management, and development of residential, commercial, rural, and resort properties throughout Alabama.

(Courtesy Alabama Realtors)

3 months ago

Alabama designates holiday to honor Rosa Parks

(U.S. Information Agency Record Group/ Instagram)

The Alabama legislature has designated a holiday to honor civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

In a 102-0 vote, the House passed a bill Thursday to establish Mrs. Rosa L. Parks Day. The day will not be a full-fledged state holiday, but counties and municipalities can elect to observe Dec. 1 as a holiday. The legislation was introduced by state Sen. Vivian Figures, a Democrat from Mobile.

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Rosa Parks, a black woman, was arrested after refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery on Dec. 1, 1955. Her action ignited the yearlong Montgomery bus boycott and helped usher in the civil rights movement.

Alabama has three state holidays related to Confederate history.

The bill moves to the governor to be signed into law.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

3 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)

6 months ago

3 changes to divorce law coming in 2018

(Pixabay)
(Pixabay)

 

 

 

The Alabama legislature passed two major pieces of legislation in the area of divorce law in 2017. Both laws will become effective on January 1, 2018. The US Congress also passed a bill regarding the treatment of alimony and federal taxes.

HB 257 regarding divorce and alimony

On April 13, 2017 Governor Ivey signed HB 257 into law. This new law substantially changes the alimony laws for the State of Alabama. The legislature’s new law gives trial courts a clear desire to avoid periodic alimony or what I like to call “forever alimony.”

What has changed? The Alabama legislature wrote a law that only rehabilitative alimony shall be awarded to a party and that rehabilitative alimony shall not exceed five years, unless the court expressly finds that rehabilitation is not feasible. This new rule is similar to the child support guidelines which provides a formula for how child support shall be calculated unless the court gives a written reason for a deviation from the guidelines.

Once the court finds a deviation, the court is limited to a period not to exceed the length of the marriage. However, there is an exception. If the parties have been married 20 years or longer, there is no time limit.

The courts can still give “forever alimony” but only for “extraordinary circumstances.” This law gives lawyers and those going through a divorce a better idea of what to expect if they go to trial.

HB 208 regarding divorce and retirement

On April 13, 2018 Governor Kay Ivey also signed HB 208 into law and the bill became ACT # 2017-162. This law eliminates the requirement that the parties must be married for 10 years before the court may award retirement benefits.

Folks that have been married for less than 10 years and have a retirement account might be upset with this bill at first glance. Up until this law was passed, in order to receive a spouse’s retirement the marriage must have lasted 10 years.

This law simply gives a judge more flexibility and more options upon divorce. Lawyers were making settlements frequently involving short term marriages and retirement accounts. This law gives the trial judge the ability to do the same.

Tax Cut and Jobs Act

Under current tax law, alimony and separate maintenance payments are deductible by the payor spouse and includible in income by the recipient spouse. On 12/22/2017 President Trump signed the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” Under the new law, alimony and separate maintenance payments are not deductible by the payor spouse. The new tax law repeals the Code provisions that specify that alimony and separate maintenance payments are included in income.

Sam Bone is a Gadsden divorce lawyer where he practices in the areas of divorce, custody, and criminal defense.

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Time to refocus on Montgomery issues like this little known fact about your taxes

Alabama State Capitol

 

Thinking back on the last year, a few things stick out in my mind: the words “fake news,” Alabama’s epic comeback to get a spot in the college football playoff (roll tide), and political ads from Alabama’s Senate election haunting me in my waking and sleeping hours.

With news cycle after news cycle over the last year dominated by this race, the memory of Alabama politics in 2017 is going to have me cringing for years to come.

But here we are, December 15, and we made it through the special election. I honestly never thought this day would come. In fact, at the beginning of this week, I started to panic a little bit about it all being over. What are the news outlets going to talk about now?

Here’s one thing: The Alabama legislature convenes on January 9 — only 25 days away. Now is the time for Alabamians — both lawmakers and voters — to refocus.

While keeping an eye on Montgomery might not be as interesting as D.C. politics, it’s no less important. Just like in D.C., your elected officials are deciding how to spend your tax dollars (well, around 7 percent of your tax dollars, but I’ll get to that). They’re making decisions that impact your life, your family, and your business. It’s our votes that elect them, and it’s our tax dollars that we allow them to appropriate each year to keep the lights on in Alabama. And we have some serious issues that our lawmakers should feel encouraged to tackle this year.

For example, did you know that ninety-three percent of Alabama’s budget is earmarked? That’s right: When lawmakers go to Montgomery to create the budget, they only have discretion over 7 percent of tax revenues that come in each year. Lawmakers should take a look at those earmarks, eliminate those that don’t directly align with Alabama’s needs and priorities, and shoot for trying to get that number down to 25 percent.

Or, how about this: Did you know that Alabama is the fourth most federally-dependent state? According to recent polling, an overwhelming majority of Alabama voters are concerned about this level of dependency and would like the legislature to hold a recorded up-or-down vote before accepting more federal funds. That’s not so difficult.

Going into an election year in 2018, it’s a given that legislators won’t want to do anything too controversial out of fear of losing their seat. But bringing responsibility back to budgeting, cutting a number of ties with the federal government, and restoring individual rights are goals that are far from controversial. In fact, if my representatives go to Montgomery on January 9 with those goals in mind, I cannot wait to vote for them in November.

When lawmakers return to Montgomery in less than a month, they ought to make it clear that they intend to protect their voters — Alabama taxpayers. And voters ought to shift our attention to Montgomery and hold them to that.

Taylor Dawson is Director of Communications for the Alabama Policy Institute. 

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7 months ago

Quin Hillyer: Why Governor Ivey must prove she’s a leader

(Governor Kay Ivey/Flickr)
(Governor Kay Ivey/Flickr)

 

Once Alabama’s horrendous special election for the U.S. Senate is finally settled, it will be time for Governor Kay Ivey to earn her keep.

So far, Ivey has been able to surf on a wave of warm fuzziness, with her representing apparent stability, honesty and decency in contrast to the tawdriness of her predecessor. But she hasn’t really had to do much of anything, because she took office when most legislative business for the year had been completed, and she largely punted all leadership opportunities as the state school board beclowned itself all summer by inventing grounds to fire the superintendent it had hired less than a year earlier.

Ivey helped create the election mess we face by improperly re-setting the date of an election that already had been duly called, and she showed moral blindness by saying she will vote for Roy Moore for senator even though she believes Moore’s accusers. (It may be reasonable to disbelieve some or all of the accusers, but if a governor truly believes the story of the then-14-year-old girl is true, then there is no decent moral universe where that governor should publicly say the perpetrator should be elected to the Senate.)

Yet Ivey’s missteps, or lack of steps, can be forgiven if she shows effective leadership in the next six months. Alabama faces numerous challenges, but a fractious Legislature shows little proclivity on its own to do anything more for the next year than to try to muddle through it all. A governor can, and in this case darn well ought to, step in and forcefully set an agenda of problem-solving and reform.

Alabama’s prisons are almost criminally overcrowded and its mental health care almost criminally underfunded. The state keeps losing rural hospitals, with yet another announcing a week ago that it will be closing. State budgets remain balanced only by extravagant use of financial duct tape and bailing wire. State courts and law enforcement, particularly for juvenile offenders, are woefully shorthanded.

And Alabama’s national reputation is in the outhouse, with the series of scandals in all three branches of state government now joined by the allegations against Judge Roy Moore.

For all these reasons and more — and because Ivey has now had more than seven months to get her ducks in a row — the governor should be ready, immediately after this Senate race is finished, to start laying out an ambitious, reformist agenda for the legislative sessions that begins January 9.

Yes, January 9. That’s early. And considering the Legislature’s habit of futzing away its early legislative calendar with organizational housekeeping (necessary) and significant amounts of mere gamesmanship and power-jockeying (inexcusable), it will take a forceful governor to crack the whip early enough to ensure the chance for important reforms or solutions to wend their way into law.

In effect, Gov. Ivey must grab the agenda and the legislators by their proverbial lapels and shake them into seriousness.

If she doesn’t, she will have failed as a leader — and she certainly won’t merit re-election.

Yellowhammer Contributing Editor Quin Hillyer, of Mobile, also is a Contributing Editor for National Review Online, and is the author of Mad Jones, Heretic, a satirical literary novel published in the fall of 2017.

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9 months ago

The Alabama Legislature: Looking for A Few Good Men and Women

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

With the Alabama legislature presently out of sessions, the lawmaking body for the Yellowhammer State has more vacancies than it’s had in some time, begging the question: is serving in Montgomery as attractive as it used to be?

While many will speculate about the answer to this question, out of the 105 seats in the Alabama House of Representatives, 19 are currently vacant, and of the 35 State Senate seats, nine are vacant.

As we recently reported, Senator Quinton Ross (District 26) is resigning because he was named President of Alabama State University, and Governor Ivey has set a special election for this seat on February 27, 2018, with a primary preceding December 12, 2017. John Knight has announced he will seek this seat.

Senator Bill Hightower (District 35) is running for Governor, and State Rep. Will Ainsworth (District 27) is running for Lt. Governor.  State Rep. David Sessions announced last week that he would seek Hightower’s seat. Meanwhile, Gerald Dial is vacating the District 13 seat, which is being sought by Alabama’s Director of Forensic Science, Mike Sparks on the Republican ticket.

Over in the House, former State Rep. Micky Hammon leaves a vacant seat in House District 4 following his guilty plea to felony campaign finance charges.

The tragic passing of Rep. Jim Patterson also leaves the seat in House District  21 vacant.

In total, some 20% of all state legislative seats open at present, which means that there will be as much turnover in the 2018 cycle as there was in 2010 when the Republican party swept the Alabama legislature.

By our best count, the open Alabama State House Districts are as follows: 3, 4, 9, 17, 18, 21, 27, 30, 47, 61, 77, 81, 88, 89, 91, 96, 99, 102, and 105. The open Senate districts are: 2, 7, 10, 13, 25, 26, 32, 34, and 35.

Therefore, if anyone who believes they have a positive contribution to make in the state legislature, now may be the best time in a long time to throw your hat in the ring.

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11 months ago

Violence Grips Alabama Prison’s—What’s Next?

As reported by ABC News, with the four fatalities since January 2017 has become a deadly year for the Alabama prison system.

Earlier this week at Elmore Correctional Facility, inmate Timothy Robertson, 47, was killed in the prison yard. Video evidence has led prison officials to believe that Robertson was attacked by fellow inmate Jason Lee Jackson, 28.

Since the beginning of the year, four inmates have been killed, and six officers have been attacked in Alabama prisons.

When asked about the recent string of violence and what can be done to prevent it, Prison Commissioner Jeff Dunn told ABC:

“ The safety of our officers and those in our custody is our utmost concern, and we will employ all available resources to prevent the escalation of violence in light of recent incidents.”

While many factors contribute to such violence, it speaks to Alabama’s ongoing need to reform its overcrowded and dilapidated prisons.

Related: Federal Judge Orders Alabama To Fix Prisons Now

In Elmore Correctional Facility alone, the population of inmates is 190% of its designed capacity, and 169 officers are needed to safely manage the inmate population, but the facility only has 72 officers. This lack of staffing can certainly contribute to violent events like this week’s murder.

Elmore’s spokesman Bob Horton said,

“The inmates are double-bunked, and an officer’s line of sight inside the dorms is limited, which can lead to a higher risk of violent activity.”

Currently, steps are being taken to address the trending violence. Prison Commissioner Dunn done said he is working to ensure that “critical staffing” needs are being filled. However, with the low wages offered at many correctional positions, this could be an uphill task.

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1 year ago

Conservative Alabama lawmaker to step away from public office: “No one owns the position of State Senator”

RAINBOW CITY, Ala. — After seven years in the Alabama State Senate, Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) is voluntarily stepping aside. Williams was first elected in 2010 as part of the successful Republican effort to retake control of the state house, and he won reelection in 2014.

Prior to his time in the Senate, Williams served as a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army Reserve, as an area director for YoungLife, and as the chief counsel for Tax Credit Processing Center LLC. He holds a B.S. from the University of South Alabama and a J.D. from the Birmingham School of Law.

“For the past seven years, one of the highest honors of my life has been to serve the people of this State, and especially my District, in the Alabama Senate,” Williams said. “My entire adult life has been devoted to service: whether in ministry, the military, or as an elected official, I have sought the means to serve others.”

Williams noted that he wanted to avoid becoming one of countless career politicians. With the next election coming in 2018, he wanted to make the decision now to allow a qualified, conservative candidate to emerge.

“No one owns the position of State Senator; elected office is a calling to serve and not an identity to cling to,” he said. “My wife, Charlene, and I have been praying for some time about what our next steps should be. One thing we have definitely come to is that it is time to let this position be taken on by another individual, one who will hopefully be of the same mind and views.”

During his time in the legislature, Williams has made his mark as one of the state’s most reliable conservative lawmakers. He shepherded numerous bills into law, including ones that limit abortion, promote economic growth, protect gun rights, streamline state government, and develop the state’s workforce. He was also one of only nine Alabama State Senators to vote against every tax increase proposed to solve the general fund crisis of 2015. “At a time when the economy is still recovering the people of Alabama sent more than enough of their hard earned dollars to Montgomery to cover all state expenses,” he told Yellowhammer in 2015. “I can see no reason to ask them to send more.”

RELATED: Williams: I was elected to slay Alabama’s fiscal giants, not raise taxes

As for the future, Williams sees himself continuing his lifelong mission of service, albeit in a different capacity. “There are things that I want to commit my time to with my family, church, and law practice,” he said. “I hope to be an asset to my local and state Republican Party organizations, and assist in growing the gains that we have made since 2010.”

However, he did leave the door open to a return to public office later in life. “I will not rule out serving in another elected office if that calling is determined,” Williams said. “But for now, I will finish this term with the utmost confidence that much of what I ran on as a platform, as principles, has been accomplished, and I trust that it will be continued.”

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1 year ago

Thousands of scholarships for Alabama children rest on House action

Last year, Donald Trump made school choice a hot button issue while rallying voters on the campaign trail. As a candidate, he promised he would work to enact a $20 billion dollar school choice program. Now he is attempting to deliver on that promise.

On Wednesday, President Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, asked Congress to work with him to expand school choice to serve more low- and middle-income students all across the nation.

“During my campaign for president, I promised to fight for school choice,” Trump said. “Every child has the right to fulfill their potential, and, if we do our jobs, then we will never have to tell young, striving Americans to defer their dreams for another day or for another decade.”

“This administration remains committed to serving all students, especially the most vulnerable,” said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. “These students particularly benefit from school choice programs.”

While they did not elaborate on any specific legislation, there have been discussions regarding the creation of a federal tax credit scholarship program, which would allow for businesses and individuals to donate to state-based nonprofit organizations in return for a dollar-for-dollar federal tax credit. The nonprofit would then give scholarships to low and middle-income families for their child to attend the private school of their choice. This type of federal program would expand current state programs that are already in place in seventeen states across the country.

One of those programs is already here in Alabama, and state legislators are currently debating a bill that would expand the types tax credits available for businesses, making raising money more consistent from year to year.

Senate Bill 123, sponsored by Senator Del Marsh, would allow for businesses to be able to receive a tax credit against their utility gross receipts tax payments in return for a donation to the Scholarship Granting Organization. According to Chad Mathis, Alabama State Chairman for the American Federation for Children, this is a minor change that could have a huge positive impact on an already successful program.

“Over the last couple years, it has become apparent that relying only on corporate and individual income tax can be problematic,” Mathis said. “The amount of income tax that individuals and corporations pay can be very volatile and dependent on many factors. Including the utility gross receipts tax allows for more consistent fundraising opportunities, which will in turn allow Scholarship Granting Organizations a better ability to plan ahead and serve more children.”

The scholarship program, which was created by the Alabama Accountability Act in 2013, is currently serving over 4,000 low-income students from all over Alabama, including many from failing public schools. A school is considering failing when it is in the bottom six percent of schools in test results in reading and math.

SB 123 passed in the Senate at the beginning of March and cleared House Committee at the end of April. It is currently only pending action on the House floor. Supporters hope the bill becomes law as soon as possible.

“The sooner this bill passes, the sooner we can start raising the money,” said Lesley Searcy, Executive Director of the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, one of the state’s largest scholarship granting organizations. “In turn, this will enable us to not only renew existing scholarships for next year, but also serve more students who desperately need another educational option.”

“I hope members of the Alabama House will follow the lead of President Trump and act now,” Mathis said. “There are so many children in Alabama that are stuck in an educational environment that isn’t working for them. They shouldn’t have to wait for the adults to figure out why it isn’t working. They just need another option. And this bill will give them that option.”

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1 year ago

Alabama fantasy sports legalization bill is popular and closer to becoming law

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Yellowhammer readers have spoken. In a poll asking “Should fantasy sports be legal in Alabama?” 93.7 percent of those participating answered “yes,” and only 6.3 percent voted “no.” While the Yellowhammer poll is by no means scientific, it does illustrate the large interest citizens in the state have in the return of fantasy sports to the state.

The Alabama State Government shut down Fantasy sports sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings within its borders last year under the orders of then-Attorney General Luther Strange (R-Ala.). Strange and other opponents of fantasy sports argue the games should be banned because they believe the games are gambling under state law.

RELATED: End Alabama’s nanny-state fantasy sports ban (opinion)

Prior to Strange’s action, over 700,000 Alabamians — roughly 20 percent of the state’s population over the age of 18 — played fantasy sports in 2015 alone, with the vast majority participating in various NFL and NASCAR fantasy leagues.

The debate over fantasy sports’ legality has centered around whether or not the games require significant amounts of skill, which would exempt them from state gambling laws. Opponents argue that they are games of chance, while supporters insist there is a high degree of skill and knowledge required to succeed.

State legislators that disagreed with Strange’s interpretation presented a bill to officially legalize fantasy sports and create basic regulations for the activity. Some of the regulations include requiring that players be at least 19 years of age and that the games be restricted to professional sports.

The bill narrowly passed in the Alabama House of Representatives last month by a vote of 43 to 38. Yesterday, it cleared another crucial hurdle by receiving approval from the Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee in a 6 to 2 vote. It now moves to the Senate floor for consideration from the general body. If it passed in an identical form in the Senate, it would have to be signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey (R-Ala.).

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1 year ago

Alabama bill protecting religious liberties of faith-based adoption agencies moves one step closer to law

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — In a 22-9 Tuesday vote, the Alabama Senate approved a bill that would allow faith-based adoption agencies to refuse placing children in homes with LGBTQ parents on religious freedom grounds. Specifically, the legislation prevents the state from refusing to license such organizations that turn away same-sex couples.

Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) sponsored the senate version of the bill, and he argues that the law would prevent religious adoption groups from having to make the choice between following their beliefs or staying in business. State Democrats claim that the bill legalizes discrimination.

Although the House of Representatives passed the bill, it must go back for re-approval after amendments were added in the senate.

Religious freedom has become a hot button issue across the nation, as several states have begun to add LGBTQ as a protected class in their civil rights laws. In Oregon, the owner of a cake shop was fined $135,000 and effectively shut down for refusing to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding that she disagreed with on religious grounds.

Currently, no such protected classification exists for LGBTQ individuals in Alabama.

At the federal level, private organizations are protected by the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In the famous Hobby Lobby case, the U.S. Supreme Court found that closely held companies can make internal policy decisions – like refusing to pay for birth control – based on their religious beliefs.

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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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1 year ago

Gov. Bentley faces renewed impeachment effort

Governor Robert Bentley (photo: Flickr of Governor Robert Bentley, March 21, 2016)
Governor Robert Bentley (photo: Flickr of Governor Robert Bentley, March 21, 2016)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Governor Robert Bentley (R-Ala.) is not out of the woods yet. After last year’s efforts to impeach the governor stalled out, a new impeachment resolution will be passed around the Alabama House of Representatives today accusing Bentley of, among other things, mismanaging campaign funds.

The resolution also contends that Bentley violated the public trust by failing to call a special election before 2018 to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions. Instead, the governor appointed former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, the man leading an investigation into his activities, and promptly named his replacement.

“I’m troubled by the appointment,” Rep. Randall Shedd (R-Cullman) told Al.com. “There may not be a deal cut but it sure seems like it.”

Rep. Corey Harbison (R-Good Hope) told Alabama News Network that the resolution may not come to a vote today; the timing will depend on the level of support. He also said that the legislature needs to address the “cloud” Bentley’s scandals have brought upon the state.

Last legislative session, Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) and House Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) introduced articles of impeachment against the governor, alleging neglect of duty, corruption, incompetency, and offenses of moral terpitude.

Articles of impeachment, which function as the charges against the accused, must be passed by a simple majority in the Alabama House of Representatives. If the House impeaches the governor, he then stands trial before the Alabama Senate in a trial presided over by the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court.

If the Governor is convicted by the Senate, he would be removed from office and replaced by the current Lieutenant Governor, Kay Ivey (R).

(h/t Alabama News Network)

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2 years ago

‘Alabama’s education system sucks’: Lawmakers blast Gov. Bentley over comments

Governor Robert Bentley (photo: Flickr of Governor Robert Bentley, March 21, 2016)
Governor Robert Bentley (photo: Flickr of Governor Robert Bentley, March 21, 2016)
Governor Robert Bentley (photo: Flickr of Governor Robert Bentley, March 21, 2016)

Governor Robert Bentley doesn’t have many allies in the Alabama Legislature these days, though he may have alienated himself further by throwing jabs at the state’s entire education system.

“Our education system in this state sucks,” Gov. Bentley told attendees of the annual Alabama Association of Regional Councils Conference on Wednesday.

“I don’t use that term very much but I want to tell you this, when we are 51st on our NAEP scores in 4th-grade math in this state, that’s pretty sad and it’s intolerable,” he went on to say.

While some in the audience reportedly laughed at the comments, other state officials haven’t found the remarks to be so funny. The governor is now receiving strong reactions from lawmakers, who say Bentley was out of line.

Representative Terry Collins (R- Decatur) chairs the House Education Policy Committee. She said in a statement that she believes there are “pockets of excellence” in schools across the state, while also acknowledging that some systems need improvement.

“To simply say everything sucks, to me, is not a good representation of the excellence that we have in some places,” she said.

Others, like State Rep. David Standridge (R- Hayden) were more harsh.

“Most of Alabama’s teachers love their students, work hard at their jobs, and are taking money out of their own pockets to better equip their classrooms,” Rep. Standridge said. “Many Alabama students want to work hard and do better for themselves and their families and they aspire to realize the American dream. For Governor Bentley to disrespect both teachers and students with foul language, language which would be unacceptable in the same schools he is demeaning, is unbecoming of the Office of the Governor of Alabama. Accordingly, I am calling on Governor Robert Bentley to immediately retract his statement and to apologize to the educators and students of this state.”

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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

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

As Alabama legislature debates lottery, VictoryLand brings back electronic bingo

VictoryLand in Shorter, Alabama (File photo)
VictoryLand in Shorter, Alabama (File photo)
VictoryLand in Shorter, Alabama (File photo)

SHORTER, Ala. — As the Alabama legislature wrestles with whether to approve a state-sponsored lottery, gambling boss Milton McGregor has announced plans to reopen his VictoryLand electronic bingo operation.

VictoryLand was shuttered in 2013 after state law enforcement officials seized the machines and a quarter-million dollars in cash, and has remained closed ever since.

But in November of last year, Gov. Robert Bentley issued an executive order stripping the state attorney general’s office of the authority to enforce gaming laws, paving the way for gambling to take place in local areas under the supervision of sheriffs and district attorneys.

“(T)he State of Alabama has expended immense resources for the enforcement of Alabama’s anti-gambling laws, to date, more than nine million dollars,” Gov. Bentley wrote. “(R)ecent judicial rulings have raised concern with the unequal enforcement of Alabama’s criminal laws, including gambling laws, against individuals and businesses.”

Some conservatives expressed dismay at the governor’s decision.

“Today’s action by the governor merely formalizes the breaking of a promise that began shortly after his reelection,” an Alabama Policy Institute spokesperson told Yellowhammer at the time. “Since that time, without an electorate to face in the future, the governor has busied himself breaking promises he made to the people of Alabama. He pledged ‘no new taxes,’ and then fought for historic tax increases. He vowed to reject Medicaid expansion, yet now seems set to embrace it. He repeatedly affirmed his opposition to gambling, but today has decided to actively encourage it by rescinding and repealing the very first executive order he made as governor.”

VictoryLand’s reopening has been expected since Gov. Bentley acquiesced, and on Monday Mr. McGregor set Sept. 13 as the date on which the lights would be turned back on.

“While it has taken longer than we hoped,” Mr. McGregor said in a release, “the time is now here and we are pleased that hundreds of our people will have a new job and VictoryLand will be generating a badly needed shot in the arm for Tuskegee and this entire region of Alabama.”

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2 years ago

Lottery ‘on life support’ in Alabama legislature, budget fix still up in the air

Alabama State House (Photo: Creative Commons/Jay Williams)
Alabama State House (Photo: Creative Commons/Jay Williams)

RELATED: Bentley’s lottery panic is a sham. Here’s how Alabama can pay its bills without it.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Lottery proposals in the Alabama legislature appear to be having a tough time gaining momentum, as lawmakers wrestle with how to patch an $85 million hole in Medicaid funding. The program provides healthcare to approximately 1 million Alabamians.

Competing lottery proposals have struggled to garner widespread support, but pro-lottery senators have threatened to hold up other budget-related bills if a lottery proposal is not given a vote, according to Yellowhammer sources.

“I plan on voting [a lottery] bill after lunch today,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) told reporters.

Multiple senators Yellowhammer spoke with Thursday morning said they do not envision any lottery proposal garnering the three-fifths vote (21 out of 35) needed to make it onto the November ballot as a Constitutional Amendment.

“The lottery is on life support,” said one senator, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to antagonize his pro-lottery colleagues. “I don’t see any scenario right now where a lottery passes. The reality is it just doesn’t have the votes.”

In the House, state representatives 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 State Medicaid Agency responded to cuts earlier this year by reducing reimbursements to doctors back to 2013 levels, which was before ObamaCare implemented a “fee bump.” That decision saved the state roughly $15 million, meaning that the $70 million made available in Clouse’s plan would cover the remaining shortfall.

The BP bill is on the back-burner in the senate, however, until a lottery proposal is given a vote.

A joint Republican caucus meeting on Wednesday also revived discussions about un-earmarking.

The state of Alabama earmarks an unprecedented 91 percent of its tax revenue, meaning state lawmakers are only in a position to allocate 9 percent of the state’s resources each year. As a result, an $85 million shortfall — about .003 percent of the state’s total budget — can be turned into a crisis.

There is very little support for diverting education dollars to patch the hole, but there is a growing sentiment that General Fund dollars should be freed up.

Alabama’s General Fund Budget is approximately $1.85 billion, but there is another approximately $3.6 billion that flows into General Fund agencies, but is earmarked to go to certain places and therefore cannot be utilized by lawmakers.

“There are a lot of agencies who don’t even have to justify their existence because they’re going to get their earmarked money no matter what,” one lawmaker explained on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss caucus conversations with the press. “It’s time for them to have to justify the millions of taxpayer dollars that they’re swimming in. There’s no incentive for these agencies to cut waste. That has to change.”

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2 years ago

Poll shows Alabama Republicans split on lottery, oppose expansion of casino gambling

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)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Republicans are almost evenly split when asked whether they believe the state should create a lottery, but remain overwhelmingly against the further expansion of casino gambling in the state, according to a recently-released.

The Alabama Forestry Association, one of the state’s most influential conservative groups, commissioned a survey of 600 likely Republican primary voters and found half of them either “strongly approve” or “somewhat approve” of a lottery. Cherry Communications, a Florida-based public opinion research firm, conducted the survey.

RELATED: Roy Moore tops crowded potential field in first 2018 Alabama gubernatorial poll

When asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of the creation of an Alabama State Lottery,” here’s how Alabama Republicans responded:

Strongly approve: 33%
Somewhat approve: 17%
Somewhat disapprove: 10%
Strongly disapprove: 32%
Undecided: 8%

But when Alabama Republicans were asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of expanding casino gambling in Alabama,” here’s how they responded:

Strongly approve: 22%
Somewhat approve: 16%
Somewhat disapprove: 12%
Strongly disapprove: 41%
Undecided: 9%

The Alabama legislature is preparing for a Special Session called by Gov. Robert Bentley to debate passing a bill that would give Alabamians the opportunity to vote up or down on a lottery in November’s General Election.

The last time the issue came up for a vote in 1999 it was voted down 54% to 46%.

Alabama is one of only six states that does not have a lottery, but a gambling expansion of any kind will face fierce opposition from the state’s large swath of evangelical voters.

Dr. Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP), an almost 80-year-old organization that describes itself as “Alabama’s moral compass,” earlier this year expressed concerns that “illegal gambling is taking over this state” and reiterated his group’s opposition to an expansion of any kind. Influential Christian conservative talk radio host Rick Burgess added that he believes the lottery is “a lazy plan” for politicians who cannot balance a budget.

“The states that do a lottery, you would think their streets would be paved with gold,” said Burgess. “You would think the teachers make all the money they’d ever want to make. You would think the children have the latest technology. You would think the children want for nothing. That’s not reality.”

But there are signs that some long-time gambling opponents are softening their stance.

“Historically, I’ve opposed them,” powerful state senator Jabo Waggoner (R- Vestavia Hills) told ABC 33/40. But he says he is now considering throwing his support behind a bill that would bring the issue up for a vote again because he views finding money for Medicaid as an “urgent issue.”

The Alabama legislature would have to pass a lottery bill by Aug. 24th for it to meet the scheduling deadline to make it on the ballot in November.

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2 years ago

IT’S OFFICIAL: Bentley urges legislature to approve lottery to fund Medicaid growth

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (Photo: (Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)


(Video above: Gov. Robert Bentley makes his pitch to the people of Alabama to approve a lottery)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has thrown in the towel on pushing for tax increases to fund the growth of the state’s Medicaid program, announcing Wednesday that he is instead calling a Special Session of the legislature for the specific task of approving a lottery to fund “essential services.”

“In order for our state to be the best that it can be, we must once and for all solve problems that have held our state back for decades,” said Gov. Bentley, alluding to Alabama’s perpetual General Fund Budget crisis. The state’s Medicaid program, which has almost doubled in size over the past decade, is the primary driver of the funding shortfall.

While speaking to doctors at Monroe County Hospital earlier this year, Gov. Bentley said he believes 70 percent of Alabamians would support a lottery proposal that is directly tied to funding Medicaid, a major source of revenue for rural hospitals.

“People think [rural doctors and hospitals] make a lot of money,” Gov. Bentley told reporters. “They don’t make a lot of money. And they serve because they’re called to serve and they love living in a rural area and they love taking care of people. But they have to make a living. And they have to pay their staff, and they have to pay their electric bill, and they have to pay all the things that everyone else has to pay to run a small business.”

Gov. Bentley asked the Legislature to include an additional $100 million appropriation for Medicaid this year, bringing the total request to $785 million. In 2007, Medicaid’s line in the General Fund Budget was only $400 million, and the program’s explosive growth is likely to continue in the years to come.

The legislature ultimately included $700 million in the budget for Medicaid, $85 million short of Gov. Bentley’s request, saying it would be difficult to go any higher than that without slashing other state services.

The State Medicaid Agency responded by reducing reimbursements to doctors back to 2013 levels, which was before ObamaCare implemented a “fee bump.”

“This is a difficult, but necessary cut due to the budget crisis the Medicaid Agency is facing at this time,” said Commissioner Stephanie Azar. The decision saved the state roughly $15 million.

Gov. Bentley believes the only tenable longterm solution is to approve a lottery that could bring in over $200 million annually.

Multiple lottery proposals were floated during this year’s Regular Legislative Session, but the pro-lottery bloc of lawmakers were divided on whether the money should go toward education or the General Fund.

Polling shows an “education lottery” would likely receive more support from the public, which will have to approve any lottery proposal at the ballot box in November, but it is the General Fund, not the Education Budget, that Gov. Bentley says is in need of cash.

Alabama is one of only six states that does not have a lottery, but a gambling expansion of any kind will face fierce opposition from the state’s large swath of evangelical voters.

Dr. Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP), an almost 80-year-old organization that describes itself as “Alabama’s moral compass,” earlier this year expressed concerns that “illegal gambling is taking over this state” and reiterated his group’s opposition to an expansion of any kind. Influential Christian conservative talk radio host Rick Burgess added that he believes the lottery is “a lazy plan” for politicians who cannot balance a budget.

“The states that do a lottery, you would think their streets would be paved with gold,” said Burgess. “You would think the teachers make all the money they’d ever want to make. You would think the children have the latest technology. You would think the children want for nothing. That’s not reality. Look at Mississippi. They were last in education… After they brought the casinos into the Gulf, they’re still last.”

The legislature would have to pass a lottery bill before August 24 for it to meet the deadline to be included on the statewide ballot in November.

In 1999, Alabamians voted down Gov. Don Siegelman’s proposed “education lottery” 54% to 46%. Since then, numerous statewide candidates — most of them Democrats — have run on a platform of letting the people vote again.

1
2 years ago

Conservative Alabama lawmakers weigh supporting lottery in exchange for term limits

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)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A Special Legislative Session is increasingly likely in the late summer or early fall and Alabama lawmakers are considering options to bring more money into the state’s beleaguered General Fund Budget. With Medicaid approximately $85 million underfunded and little appetite for tax increases, various lottery proposals are getting consideration as legislative leaders weigh their options.

Any lottery legislation must pass by August 24 to meet the deadline for it to be included on the statewide ballot in November. Such a scenario would also create uncertainty for the state’s budgets because the referendum may ultimately be defeated by popular vote, as it was in 1999.

The general idea of a lottery enjoys bi-partisan support in the legislature, and possibly enough votes to pass, but how the money would be used has been a sticking point for years.

Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) introduced a lottery bill at the beginning of the last legislative session, and said at the time it would raise $300 million in additional revenue for the state on an annual basis. However, McClendon’s bill did not stipulate how the funds would be used. House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) has repeatedly introduced legislation that would create a so-called “Education Lottery,” with the revenue earmarked to flow into the state’s Education Budget, but it is the General Fund that is in a perpetual state of crisis.

That has led some lawmakers to propose an Education Lottery, which is more likely to get approved at the ballot box in November, along with moving certain tax revenues currently earmarked for education over to the General Fund.

McClendon is once again working on a lottery proposal for the upcoming Special Session, but plans to iron out the details on how the money would be used prior to introducing a bill.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh has indicated that he is taking the pulse of his members before pushing forward with any lottery plan, but sources say he is considering a carrot that could entice at least one influential anti-gambling senator to support a lottery bill: term limits.

“We’d be looking at a three term limit going into effect after the 2018 cycle,” a senator told Yellowhammer on condition of anonymity. “I think if you package that up with strengthening and getting further clarification on the ethics laws, it makes sense.”

Alabama is one of only six states that does not have a lottery, but a gambling expansion of any kind will face fierce opposition from the state’s large swath of evangelical voters, even if it has a popular measure like term limits attached.

Dr. Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP), an almost 80-year-old organization that describes itself as “Alabama’s moral compass,” earlier this year expressed concerns that “illegal gambling is taking over this state” and reiterated his group’s opposition to an expansion of any kind. Influential Christian conservative talk radio host Rick Burgess added that he believes the lottery is “a lazy plan” for politicians who cannot balance a budget.

“The states that do a lottery, you would think their streets would be paved with gold,” said Burgess. “You would think the teachers make all the money they’d ever want to make. You would think the children have the latest technology. You would think the children want for nothing. That’s not reality. Look at Mississippi. They were last in education… After they brought the casinos into the Gulf, they’re still last.”

But there are signs that some long-time gambling opponents are softening their stance.

“Historically, I’ve opposed them,” powerful state senator Jabo Waggoner (R- Vestavia Hills) told ABC 33/40. But he says he is now considering throwing his support behind a bill that would bring the issue up for a vote again because he views finding money for Medicaid as an “urgent issue.”

In 1999, Alabamians voted down Gov. Don Siegelman’s proposed “education lottery” 54% to 46%. Since then, numerous statewide candidates — most of them Democrats — have run on a platform of letting the people vote again. Gov. Bentley has said he believes 70 percent of Alabamians would support a lottery to fund Medicaid growth.

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