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.

2 years ago

Pro-lottery Alabama politicians are lying, contributing to the breakdown of the family (Video)


(Video above: Terrell Kennedy discusses the prospect of an Alabama lottery.)

Terrell Kennedy is the founder of Fit for Life, an after-school tutoring program for adolescent men in Birmingham. Kennedy started Fit for Life in 2005 as a way to give back and bring hope to his community, in contrast to what he believes pro-lottery Alabama politicians are now offering Alabamians: false hope.

The Alabama Senate approved lottery legislation last week. The bill, which was approved by a margin of 21-12, would send $100 million of lottery revenue each year to Medicaid, which is facing a $70 million shortfall this year, and the rest to the General Fund. The House is set to debate the bill this week. If it passes, a Constitutional Amendment will appear on the November ballot for statewide approval by the voters.

“I grew up in the projects,” Mr. Kennedy says in a video produced by the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative think tank in Birmingham. “And I wanted to be to my family what I did not have. I wanted to be a good dad. And I’m just so concerned about the condition of the family today. We are already struggling. We’re going against headwinds. And, it’s unbelievable to me that our politicians, many of them who are of the same color as I am, who grew up just like I did, and now they have the power to make great decisions for our people—and [gambling] is what they’re offering them?”

“Who truly benefits from gambling?” He continues. “It’s not those at the bottom. We know that the rich will continue to get richer, those who are behind gambling. And we know that the politicians will continue to do well. They will be unaffected by all that takes place, all the destruction that takes place.”

Mr. Kennedy specifically mentioned the addictive nature of gambling that leads individuals to “put their hope in this activity” and ultimately “lose the money that is necessary to feed their kids, to feed their family.”

“Households break down,” he laments. “People do all kinds of things for addiction. It’s no different than being addicted to drugs. You do what’s necessary to get the money to try to make that big hit. With all of the issues that we’ve got in our society, we surely do not need to make decisions that will add to those problems.”

Mr. Kennedy also said the promise of a financial windfall for the state is unlikely, based on the experience of other states.

A Washington Post report published in 2012, for example, called into question whether so called education lotteries actually benefit public schools. According to the report, legislators in many states have concocted ways to keep the additional funds from ever making it into classrooms. In Texas, lottery funds paid for about two weeks of schooling for public school students in 1996. By 2010 it was down to three days.

“The evidence is bountiful,” concludes Mr. Kennedy. “Many states were told what we are being told by our politicians, and they were lied to—just like our politicians are lying to us.”

1
2 years ago

Here’s how each Alabama Senator voted on the lottery

Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)
Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)
Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Senate on Friday evening approved a lottery bill after spending most of the week debating and rejecting previous lottery proposals.

The bill, which was approved by a margin of 21-12 — with two senators voting “present,” would send $100 million of lottery revenue each year to Medicaid, which is facing a $70 million shortfall this year, followed by 10 percent of the revenue to the Education Budget and the rest to the General Fund.

Advocates of the bill called it the “cleanest” lottery proposal they had considered during the special session, but it still faces an uncertain future as it moves down to the House.

Here’s how each senator voted on the bill:

YES: 21 (15 Republicans + 6 Democrats)
Billy Beasley (D)
Slade Blackwell (R)
Linda Coleman-Madison (D)
Gerald Dial (R)
Priscilla Dunn (D)
Vivian Figures (D)
Jimmy Holley (R)
Bill Holtzclaw (R)
Steve Livingston (R)
Del Marsh (R)
Jim McClendon (R)
Tim Melson (R)
Greg Reed (R)
Quinton Ross (D)
Paul Sanford (R)
Clay Scofield (R)
Bobby Singleton (D)
Roger Smitherman (D)
Cam Ward (R)
Tom Whatley (R)
Phil Williams (R)

NO: 12 (10 Republicans + 1 Democrat + 1 Independent)
Greg Albritton (R)
Gerald Allen (R)
Dick Brewbacker (R)
Paul Bussman (R)
Clyde Chambliss (R)
Rusty Glover (R)
Bill Hightower (R)
Arthur Orr (R)
Trip Pittman (R)
Hank Sanders (D)
Harri Anne Smith (I)
Jabo Waggoner (R)

NOT PRESENT: 2 (2 Republicans)
Shay Shelnutt (R)
Larry Stutts (R)

RELATED: Alabama Senate approves lottery bill, action moves to the House next week

1
2 years ago

Alabama Senate approves lottery bill, action moves to the House next week

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

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Senate on Friday evening approved a lottery bill after spending most of the week debating and rejecting previous lottery proposals.

The bill, which was approved by a margin of 21-12, would send $100 million of lottery revenue each year to Medicaid, which is facing a $70 million shortfall this year, followed by 10 percent of the revenue to the Education Budget and the rest to the General Fund.

Advocates of the bill called it the “cleanest” lottery proposal they had considered this session, but it still faces an uncertain future as it moves down to the House.

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 will consider the bill next week.

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.”

1
2 years ago

Alabama’s DNC delegation starts Hillary coronation with embarrassing flub on TV (Video)


(Video above: Alabama’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention is short one vote)

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — With anticipation building for the Democratic Party to officially put forward Hillary Clinton as the first female presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party, Alabama led off the roll call vote with an embarrassing flub that quickly made the rounds on social media.

Alabama had a total of 60 Democratic delegates up for grabs when the presidential primary was held in March. 53 of them were “pledged delegates,” meaning they were awarded proportionally based on the statewide vote totals, and seven of them were “super delegates,” party insiders who some critics say have outsized influence over the nominating process.

Hillary Clinton won just under 78% of the vote in Alabama’s Democratic primary, giving her 44 pledged delegates to Bernie Sanders’ 9. Clinton also secured all 7 of Alabama’s super delegates.

So as Baltimore Mayor and Democratic National Committee Secretary Stephanie Rollings-Blake opened the roll call vote for Mrs. Clinton’s coronation Tuesday afternoon, she was expecting Alabama Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Worley to announce how Alabama’s 60 votes would be allocated.

That’s not exactly how it went down.

“Alabama, you have 60 votes,” Mayor Rollings-Blake began. “How do you cast your votes?

“Thank you, madam secretary,” Mrs. Worley replied. “The state of Alabama has champions, not only in football, but we have champions in civil rights, in voting rights. We have champions for equal pay. And we cast, proudly, 50 champion votes for Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, and we cast nine votes for Senator Bernie Sanders.”

A puzzled Rollings-Blake quickly did the math, along with everyone else in the arena and the millions watching on television, and realized Alabama had come up short.

“Don’t y’all have one more?” She sheepishly asked as the crowd laughed. “I’ll count it as an abstention.”

The ridicule came quickly on Twitter.

“Who abstains during a roll call at a national convention?” Tweeted political commentator Jon Ralston.

“Nobody abstained,” replied elections prognosticator Stuart Rothenberg. “It’s Alabama. They miscounted.”

“I am not a member of any organized party, I am a Democrat,” joked another commenter, referencing the famous Will Rogers quote, while another speculated that whoever it was may have just been stuck in the bathroom.

USA Today reporter Mary Orndorff Troyan did some digging and found out that one of Alabama’s delegates had somehow missed the roll call.

“Bama delegate who missed signing roll call sheet at the hotel this AM was Roger Bedford III,” she tweeted.

Bedford III is the son of longtime Democratic state senator and Hillary Clinton super delegate Roger Bedford, Jr., who was defeated in 2014 after serving seven terms in the Alabama Senate.

Unfortunately for the younger Bedford, his notable absence is likely getting a lot more attention than his presence ever would have. As Woody Allen once said, “80 percent of success is just showing up.”

To see the full roster for Alabama’s DNC delegation, click here.

1
2 years ago

Alabama legislature passes ‘Leni’s Law’ to decriminalize cannabis oil

Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)
Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)
Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama legislature passed “Leni’s Law” yesterday, which will allow people with seizure disorders or other debilitating medical conditions to use cannabidiol, a derivative of cannabis.

The bill passed the Senate yesterday with a vote of 29-3, and the House later concurred 95-4. The bill now goes to Governor Bentley to be signed into law.

Leni’s Law is named after Leni Young, a young Alabama girl who suffered a stroke before she was born which caused her to have dozens of seizures a day. Leni’s family moved to Oregon to receive treatment of cannabis oil, which is illegal in Alabama. Leni’s parents, Wayne and Amy, said that once Leni started the treatment, her seizures diminished from 20-30 a day to 5 over the past 10 months.

“I prayed and hoped that it would help. But I had no idea that the changes would be this profound. She’s doing things we were told beyond her realm…ever,” Amy said. “It has given our little girl her life. She is a happy, sweet, opinionated little girl.

“Every moment is just such a gift.”

Leni’s story inspired State Rep. Mike Ball, who first introduced Leni’s Law earlier this year. The original bill allowed patients to use oil with 3 percent THC – the part of marijuana that produces the high. The House amended Ball’s bill to only allow 1 percent THC, but the Senate brought the level back up to 3 percent. Proponents of cannabis oil say that 3 percent THC is necessary for the oil to work, but not nearly enough to give the user a high.

The Senate also expanded Ball’s bill to include anyone with a debilitating medical condition. The version passed by the House only allowed the oil to be used by individuals with seizure disorders.

Leni’s Law is also an expansion of Carly’s Law, which Ball introduced and passed two years ago. Carly’s Law allowed UAB to conduct a study using cannabidiol to treat seizure disorders. Almost half of the patients in the study have seen a 32-45% decline in seizures thanks to cannabidiol.

While Leni’s Law had plenty of opposition, including Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, the success that cannabis oil has had for Leni and others made a convincing argument. Senator Paul Sandford, the Senate sponsor of Leni’s Law, said access to cannabis oil in Alabama would give those suffering from seizures and other conditions and their families much needed hope.

“When you meet one of the families, and you see their children and you see the pain in the eyes of those parents and then put myself in their shoes and realize how blessed I am and how much strength that those families show for the situations that they have, how could I not help them?” he said.

1
2 years ago

Alabama senator makes one last push for lottery vote before end of legislative session

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. — As the 2016 Alabama legislative session rushes to the finish line, one legislator is pushing for a lottery vote one last time.

The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee on Thursday voted 4-2 for a constitutional amendment that would allow Alabamians to vote on a state lottery.

Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) introduced a lottery bill at the beginning of the 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 does not stipulate what the funds would be used for. The bill passed this week by the Tourism and Marketing Committee came with the understanding that McClendon would rework his bill to include more details on where the money would go before it comes up for a final vote in the Senate.

“I am sponsoring this because of constituent requests,” McClendon told ABC 33/40’s Lauren Walsh. “Throughout my district, people have said why don’t we have a lottery in Alabama? We’re driving to Georgia and Tennessee. We’re driving out of state and spending our money and we’d like to spend our money right here at home.”

McClendon hopes to figure out the details of his bill, like where lottery funds would be allocated, within the next few days. He says there’s “time enough” to get the bill passed before the end of session.

A gambling expansion of any kind will face fierce opposition from Alabama’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,” last month expressed concerns that “illegal gambling is taking over this state” and reiterated his group’s opposition to an expansion of any kind.

But there are signs that some longtime gambling opponents are considering 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.

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

Alabama Senate passes bill eliminating ‘excessive fees’ for concealed carry permits

Alabama guns

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Senate is getting praise from the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action for passing a bill that would even out gun permit fees across the state.

SB 304, which passed the Senate 27-0, eliminates the significant cost difference in concealed weapon license (CWL) fees between counties. Currently, a standard 5-year permit issued in Jefferson County costs $40, while the same permit in Baldwin, Coosa, DeKalb, Lowndes, and Macon Counties costs $125.

The NRA has said Alabama’s current system allows counties to charge excessive fees and generate revenue off of law-abiding citizens.

“This bill acknowledges the simple truth that law-abiding Alabamians should not be charged different amounts for the same permit,” said Catherine Mortensen, NRA spokesperson, in a press release. “The NRA believes that concealed carry permit fees should be limited to the actual cost of processing the permit and complying with all statutory obligations. Anything above that is a discriminatory tax on law-abiding gun owners and a revenue generator for the county.”

The current system states that gun owners must obtain a concealed carry permit from the county in which they live. SB 304 will allow them to get their permit in any county in the state, as long as they are not statutorily disqualified from doing so.

No matter what county a gun owner receives a license from, the sheriff of the individual’s county of residence would receive notification that the license was issued and would have full authority to revoke a license if he or she would have done so upon application.

The NRA also threw its support behind Alabama’s SB 14 earlier this month, which would extend the so-called Castle Doctrine into an individual’s car. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), passed the Senate with a 26-7 vote and brought praise from the NRA.

“On behalf of the NRA’s members across the state of Alabama, I want to thank Senator Gerald Allen for sponsoring this pro-freedom bill. Senator Allen is a true friend of the Second Amendment,” NRA spokesperson Catherine Mortensen said.

SB 14 and SB 304 are both working their way through the House of Representatives now.

1
2 years ago

Legislature overrides Governor’s budget veto; Bentley threatens tough Medicaid cuts

Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Yellowhammer)
Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Yellowhammer)
Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Yellowhammer)

MONTGOMERY – This week the Alabama Legislature sent a clear message to Governor Robert Bentley by overturning his veto of the state budget.

The House and Senate both voted to override the Governor’s veto on the General Fund budget on Tuesday. The Senate voted 22-11 and the House concurred 71-24.

Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), House budget chairman, said the approved budget was “adequate” for most state agencies, but Governor Bentley disagreed. He had asked the Legislature for a $100 million increase in appropriations for Medicaid, which would have brought their budget to $785 million. The Legislature’s budget approved $700 million for Medicaid – $85 million short of what the Governor asked.

Governor Bentley had proposed moving $181 million from education to the General Fund budget to help pay for Medicaid and other agencies, but the Legislature rejected that proposal.

Overall, the General Fund budget will spend $1.85 billion this upcoming fiscal year, which is an increase of 5 percent from this year.

Clouse did say that the House and Senate budget committees would hold joint meetings next week to discuss Medicaid and its rising costs.

“We want to give everybody on the committees and any other members of the Legislature a chance to zero in on Medicaid,” Clouse explained.

On Wednesday, Governor Bentley said that the Alabama Medicaid Agency would look at ways to cut costs and live within this new budget before he considers calling a special session over the state budget.

“If we have to live within our means, then we have to make some very tough decisions,” Bentley said.

The Governor and Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar came up with a number of programs that could be cut or downsized in order to stay within their budget. Eliminating prescription drug coverage for adults could potentially save $50 to $60 million alone.

Other programs being considered (and their potential savings) include:

• Eliminate eyeglasses for adults: $300,000
• Eliminate outpatient dialysis: $3.7 million
• Eliminate prosthetics and orthotics; $500,000
• Eliminate Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE): $2 million
• Eliminate Health Home and Physician case management fee: $16.6 million
• Eliminate primary care bump (pays doctors at Medicare levels): $14.7 million

In 2014, 1.2 million residents of Alabama – almost 25% of the state’s population – were eligible for Medicaid.

1
2 years ago

‘Guns in cars’ bill one step closer to law in Alabama

Gun on Flag
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — On Tuesday night, the Alabama Senate passed SB14, 26-7 which would allow law abiding residents to carry a pistol in their car without a permit.

Last year, Senator Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) shepherded the bill through the Alabama Senate, but it ultimately died in the House.

“No one is required to have a permit to keep a handgun in his or her house. The Castle Doctrine states vehicles are an extension of a person’s home,” Allen explained. “Therefore, adults should have the right to carry a pistol in their car without a permit.”

His argument was not enough to persuade the House to act in 2015.

The bill still needs to pass in the house and be signed by the governor, but Second Amendment activists believe that this year will yield a different result. They hope President Barack Obama’s executive actions on gun control could lead to Alabama lawmakers taking the opposite approach in the Yellowhammer State.

Sen. Allen contrasted his view on the Second Amendment with the approach taken by President Obama.

President Obama is shredding the Constitution. Obama’s executive order is squarely aimed at limiting the number of gun dealers in the United States with the underlying goal of reducing the number of places at which Americans can buy guns to protect their families.

President Obama realizes most Americans and their elected representatives in Congress oppose this anti-Second Amendment action. So once again, he resorts to a unilateral executive order to impose his will on the American people.

I will not stand idly by as this president gradually disarms Americans via executive fiat. I have introduced a bill for the 2016 legislative session that will extend Alabama’s existing Castle Doctrine to a person’s vehicle. You have a fundamental Second Amendment right to defend your family and home with a firearm. We shouldn’t require free citizens to get a gun permit to defend their person and property, and that should include your vehicle.

Supporters of Allen’s bill say it would ease restrictions on open-carriers and further ensure Alabamians’ ability to exercise their Second Amendment rights. The Alabama Sheriffs Association has opposed the bill in previous legislative sessions, saying it would make law enforcement officers’ jobs more difficult and could lead to more incidents of road rage. They also noted that sheriffs would lose some of the revenue they receive through pistol permits, which helps to fund their departments.

The bill now heads to the Alabama House of Representatives.

1
2 years ago

Alabama legislature considers bill to train teachers to not have sex with students

Shelley Dufresne, 32, was arrested in Louisiana on charges that she had a sexual encounter with a student.
Shelley Dufresne, 32, was arrested in Louisiana on charges that she had a sexual encounter with a student.
Shelley Dufresne, 32, was arrested in Louisiana on charges that she had a sexual encounter with a student.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A bill that would require Alabama public school teachers to go through training on inappropriate relationships with students cleared its first hurdle Tuesday morning.

The Educator-Student Interaction Training Act, sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) received approval from the Senate Education Policy Committee.

The bill would require teachers to receive one hour of training on a variety of topics, ranging from what type of physical contact is inappropriate to how they should interact with students on social media and outside of the classroom.

The bill comes just days after the Decatur Police Department arrested a 42-year-old teacher for having sex with students. Carrie Cabri Witt, a psychology and social studies teacher at Decatur High School, is accused have sexual relations with at least two students under the age of 19.

Two weeks ago a 37-year-old algebra teacher at Central High Freshman Academy in Phenix city was also charged with having sex with one of her students.

And earlier this year a former Alabama high school teacher avoided charges that she had sex with one of her students because she decided to marry him.

The Educator-Student Interaction Training Act references the recent incidents and calls for a mandatory seminar on appropriate and inappropriate teacher-student interaction.

“The overwhelming majority of educators in the public schools of the state are dedicated professionals who comport themselves accordingly,” the bill says. “However, an increasing number of incidents have been reported in recent years where educators have had inappropriate contact with students, both in person and through social media, and in the contexts of discipline and inappropriate relationships.

“Bringing together public education stakeholders to develop and disseminate additional training for educators on appropriate conduct should help reduce the number of such incidents and ensure the safety and well-being of public school students.”

The bill can be read in full on the legislature’s website.

1
2 years ago

Alabama Senate passes bill blocking local governments from imposing ‘gun user fees’

(Photo: Flickr user Nicole G)
(Photo: Flickr user Nicole G)
(Photo: Flickr user Nicole G)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama Senate on Thursday passed a bill to prevent local governments from implementing “gun user fees” and regulatory hurdles that are designed to make it harder for citizens to purchase guns and ammunition at fair market value.

The bill, which was sponsored by Senator Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City), was drafted after some city councils across the country passed local fees and taxes on gun purchases.

In December, Seattle’s city council passed a local tax of $25 per gun and 2 or 5 cents per round of ammunition, with the evident intent of discouraging gun purchases.

Williams’ bill also prohibits counties and municipalities from imposing additional restrictions on the issuance of gun permits other than those enumerated in Alabama’s current legal code.

The city of Lowell, Massachusetts recently passed a law that requires applicants for handgun licenses to complete an essay detailing why they should receive approval for the license.

“My legislation is designed to protect Alabama’s citizens from rogue action at the county and municipal level to push a liberal, anti-gun agenda by imposing local fees and obstacles,” said Williams. “St. Petersburg, Florida is considering a fee similar to Seattle’s and my goal is to stop in its tracks any coordinated national agenda to undermine our Second Amendment rights.”

The bill now moves to the Alabama House where it is expected to pass.

1
2 years ago

‘That’s amnesty’ — Shelby challenger Jonathan McConnell backs giving tax IDs to illegals

United States Senate candidate Jonathan McConnell (Photo: McConnell campaign)


(Audio above: Alabama Senate candidate supports giving illegal immigrants tax ID numbers)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — 33-year-old United States Senate candidate Jonathan McConnell told a local group of grassroots conservatives that plans to remove millions of illegal immigrants from the country are impractical, and he would instead propose giving them “tax ID numbers” so that companies employing them would have a higher tax burden.

A voter attending the monthly meeting of the Rainy Day Patriots Tea Party asked McConnell what he would do with the illegal immigrants already in the country.

“So you issue everybody a tax ID number today, right? And I know you’re not a fan of this,” McConnell said before being interrupted.

“I’m tired of politicians saying that (expelling illegal immigrants already in the country) can’t be done,” replied the questioner, Edward Bowman, who supports Shadrack McGill, another candidate in the race. “It can be done.”

“I’m all about trying,” McConnell interjected. “We’ll try that first, but if it doesn’t work. OK, so let’s try it. I’m all about it. And if we can deport 3 million, and then if that works, then hey…”

The audience member continued to press the issue, saying, “So we issue them a tax ID, so we’re going to give them amnesty is basically what you’re saying.”

“No, no, no,” McConnell insisted. “So you give them a tax ID number, and if anybody is caught paying one – you do it based off the corporations. So if a corporation is using someone illegally. So they’re paying taxes on one, but you also fine them – or not fine them – but you add pretty much double the taxes paid on that one person, you never give them a single benefit, right?”

McConnell’s proposal appears similar to one advanced by the Obama administration, which calls for giving illegal immigrants federal identification numbers.

The IRS said such a plan would allow illegal immigrants to retroactively file tax returns for the previous three years, which would cost American taxpayers roughly $1.7 billion over the next decade.

Senator Jeff Sessions has been a vocal opponent of giving illegal immigrants federal ID numbers, and sponsored legislation prohibiting such an arrangement from taking place under the President’s “executive amnesty” plan.

McConnell’s support for what many conservatives will view as amnesty also reintroduces questions about his maritime security firm’s partnership with a company called Blueseed.

Blueseed’s plan was to station a ship 12 miles off the coast of California and convert it into a tech incubator, providing Silicon Valley with the low-cost immigrant labor they have been lobbying for in Washington.

“If you are outside of the U.S., you’ll have to enter the U.S. first before boarding the Blueseed vessel,” the company explains. “The best way to do this, and to be allowed to legally come to mainland, is to obtain a B1 (business) or B2 (tourist) visa. These visas are easier to obtain because they don’t grant the right to work in the U.S., are usually valid for 10 years … and are often combined into a B1/B2 business/pleasure visa.”

McConnell told Alabama sports website and liberal political blog al.com that his company simply sought to provide Blueseed with security for their vessel, not necessarily support their business model.

“I’m not sure exactly what the purpose of that vessel was,” he said. “Our goal was to provide security for a vessel out in the ocean. We’re in the business of securing ships, so that’s what we end up doing. I stand by my policy on immigration.”

Alabama’s Republican primary is set to take place March 1st.


Update: The full audio of the exchange between Jonathan McConnell and the audience member can be heard in the video above, and the full transcript is below.

AUDIENCE: “It would be cheaper to throw the Mexicans out than keep them here.”

MCCONNELL: “Yes sir. If we could do it. Here’s the thing. I just don’t know anything the federal government does well. If you want to kick them all out, that’s fine. And I would be OK with that. But I don’t see a way. I cannot name anything the federal government does well, besides tax and spend a whole lot of money… So if someone came up with a good plan to kick everybody out, and locate 21 million, and that’s the biggest guess anybody has, 21 million illegal immigrants. If we had that many illegal aliens in the United States and we could locate them all and then kick them out, I’d be all about it. But listen, I’d be for a common sense approach.”

AUDIENCE: “So what are we going to do with the ones that are already here?

MCCONNELL: “OK. So you issue everybody a tax ID number today, right? And I know you’re not a fan of this, but all I’m saying is –”

AUDIENCE: President Eisenhower had a very good program, and it worked. It was Operation Wetback. He started deporting 3 million, and 8 million deported themselves. So it can be done. And I’m tired of politicians saying that it can’t be done. It can be done.

MCCONNELL: “I’m all about trying. We’ll try that first, but if it doesn’t work. OK, so let’s try it. I’m all about it. And if we can deport 3 million, and then if that works, then hey –”

AUDIENCE: So we issue them a tax ID, so we’re going to give them amnesty is basically what you’re saying.

MCCONNELL: “No, I don’t think you give them amnesty at all.”

AUDIENCE: “So we put them in a corner by themselves and say ‘Well, we got illegals here, we’ll just give them tax ID numbers, and that’s it.”

MCCONNELL: “No, no, no. So you give them a tax ID number, and if anybody is caught paying one – you do it based off the corporations. So if a corporation is using someone illegally. So they’re paying taxes on one, but you also fine them – or not fine them – but you add pretty much double the taxes paid on that one person, you never give them a single benefit, right? So let’s say it’s a roofer that normally would pay an illegal alien $15 an hour cash under the table. You issue them a tax ID number, and now they’re still going to pay the FICA that everybody else pays, so $15 an hour, plus 17 and a half percent, and then we’re going to tack another 50 percent on top of that. Because it’s an illegal alien, right? So they shouldn’t be here in the first place. They’re never going to be entitled to any benefits at all. And they’re not going to, ever, be entitled to any benefits or citizenship. So now you’ve disincentivized the use of that labor because now it’s not any cheaper to use that labor at all. But the other thing about it too, is now if someone is caught using someone and paying them under the table, then hey, $25,000 first time you get caught doing it, $50,000 the next time, $75,000 the next time.”

1
2 years ago

AL Dept. of Education lobbyist ridicules conservatives for effort to repeal Common Core

Tracey Meyer, lobbyist for the Alabama Department of Education, ridiculed conservative attempts to repeal Common Core. (Photo: Facebook)
Tracey Meyer, lobbyist for the Alabama Department of Education, ridiculed conservative attempts to repeal Common Core. (Photo: Facebook)
Tracey Meyer, lobbyist for the Alabama Department of Education, ridiculed conservative attempts to repeal Common Core. (Photo: Facebook)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A lobbyist for the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) took to Facebook this week to ridicule a Republican senator’s bill to repeal Alabama’s so called “College and Career Ready Standards,” the latest attempt in a years-long effort by conservatives to roll back the state’s version of Common Core.

Sen. Rusty Glover (R-Semmes) introduced a bill this week that would repeal the state’s current standards by the fall semester of 2017.

“I bring this back because of the need that my colleagues and I see to strengthen the standards for our school children,” Glover told Yellowhammer. “A brag sheet was distributed by the Department of Education in 2011 that revealed all of the progress our students were making. The state then adopted Common Core the next year. The complaints by teachers, students, and parents have been deafening ever since.”

As evidence that repeal efforts are not the radical conservative position that some in the education establishment have argued them to be, Glover noted that even Massachusetts, one of the country’s most liberal states, is moving toward abandoning Common Core.

“It’s hard to argue that (repeal efforts are) not main stream,” he said.

Glover held a public hearing on his bill on Wednesday, which prompted a frustrated reaction from Tracey Meyer, Governmental Relations & Public Affairs Coordinator for the ALSDE.

“Unbelievable,” she wrote of Glover’s bill, along with a graphic reading “Bang Head Here.”

Common Core

Mrs. Meyer also posted a link to a story about Governor Robert Bentley’s proposal to transfer funds from the Education Budget to shore up the General Fund. Another individual commented on that post asking, “What is going on in (Montgomery)?” To which Mrs. Meyer responded:

ALSDE post

According to the ALSDE’s website, the Office of Legislative Services, which Mrs. Meyer heads, “coordinates all legislative actions in order to effectively communicate the State Department of Education’s position on all legislative issues to members of the legislative and executive branches of government, as well as the general public.”

Her jobs essentially makes her the voice of State Superintendent Tommy Bice and the Board of Education to the legislature.

Yellowhammer asked Mrs. Meyer via email if she felt that her comments were appropriate, given her position.

“The statements posted on my personal Facebook page are just that,” she replied. “(They are) not reflective of the position of the State Board of Education, the State Superintendent of Education or the State Department of Education, nor were they directed at any specific individual or group of individuals.”

Senator Glover said it is too early to tell whether his bill will garner enough support to pass, but he plans to continue pushing.

“It’s hard to predict the chances of passage after last year when we had the votes lined up and it still failed to get a floor vote,” he said.

The legislature reconvenes Thursday for the third day of the 2016 Regular Legislative Session.

1
2 years ago

Meet Alabama’s most liberal lawmakers, including one Republican

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

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The American Conservative Union (ACU) this week is rolling out its annual list of Alabama’s most conservative and liberal lawmakers, and the organization’s scores may come as a surprise to some legislator’s constituents.

ACU was founded in 1964 and refers to itself as the “nation’s oldest and largest conservative grassroots organization.”

“For more than fifty years, ACU has served as an umbrella organization harnessing the collective strength of conservative organizations fighting for Americans who are concerned with liberty, personal responsibility, traditional values, and strong national defense,” the group says on its website. “As America’s premier conservative voice, ACU is the leading entity in providing conservative positions on issues to Congress, the Executive Branch, State Legislatures, the media, political candidates, and the public.”

The organization has for years released annual conservative ratings for members of the United States House and Senate, and more recently began doing the same at the state level.

Here’s how Alabama legislature stacked up:

In 2015, the average Alabama Senate Republican scored 62% on a scale of 1-100, while the average Senate Democrat scored a 35%.

In the House, the average Republican scored a 48% and the average Democrat scored 46%, leaving very little gap between the two parties.

Only four lawmakers received the ACU’s Award for Conservative Achievement for scoring over 80%.

After calculating last year’s votes, Senators Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham) and Priscilla Dunn (D-Bessemer) and Representatives Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) and Randall Shedd (R-Fairview) were rated the legislature’s most liberal members.

Senator Coleman-Madison, who received a 17% rating from the ACU, was first elected to the Senate in 2006 after serving in the House from 2003 to 2006. Before that she was a two-term member of the Birmingham City Council.

Senator Dunn (29%) was first elected in 2009 after her predecessor was convicted on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, bribery and money laundering.

On the House side, Rep. Todd is rated the Alabama legislature’s most liberal member with a 13% ACU score. She is the Alabama legislature’s only openly gay member and has been a vocal proponent of various liberal causes ranging from same-sex marriage to expanding government healthcare via Medicaid.

Rep. Shedd, whose 29% ACU rating makes him the legislature’s most liberal Republican and far more liberal than many Democrats, was elected to the House in a special election to succeed former Rep. Jeremy Oden, who was appointed to the Public Service Commission by Governor Robert Bentley.

The far-left Alabama Education Association pumped money and resources into Shedd’s race, successfully beating back more conservative challengers to get their chosen candidate elected.

Even with the AEA now in shambles, Rep. Shedd has continued to side with the most liberal elements of the legislature.

RELATED: Meet Alabama’s four most conservative lawmakers.

1
2 years ago

Alabama Legislature to State Agencies: Start at zero and prove you need all of this money

Alabama Capitol (Photo: Flickr, sunsurfr)
Alabama Capitol (Photo: Flickr, sunsurfr)
Alabama Capitol (Photo: Flickr, sunsurfr)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Senator Larry Stutts (R-Sheffield) says Alabama’s new “zero-based budgeting” method is forcing state agencies to “provide proof, line-by-line, supporting their budget requests.”

To this point, the State of Alabama, similar to the federal government, has used a form of “baseline budgeting.” This means that an agency’s budget appropriation for this year serves as the “baseline” — or starting point — for its appropriation next year, and it goes up from there. Zero-based budgeting, a frequent rallying cry for conservatives on both the state and federal levels, means agencies will start their budgets at $0, thereby forcing them to justify each dollar of their funding requests year after year.

“For decades, agencies have come before the legislature and used the previous year’s budget as a starting point,” Senator Stutts explained. “’Last year, our budget was $5 million, but this year we need $5.3 million because of X, Y, and Z,’ an agency head might say. But obviously, if the previous year’s budget is the baseline, agencies will always request additional tax dollars and voila! The growth of government is never halted or reversed.”

According to Senator Stutts, agency heads are now required to provide as justification for their requests:

1. A detailed description of the agency which includes number of employees and contractors, and its funding sources (state, local, federal, etc… as well as earmarked funds);
2. A breakdown of each program or service provided by the agency, including its source(s) of funding and a summary of citizens served;
3. A line-item breakdown of operational costs to run each office or location; salaries, benefits, contracts, and travel;
4. A list of the agency’s financial assets (including real estate) as well as their debts/liabilities; and
5. Both a funding reduction plan and a cost-savings/efficiency plan.

The new budgeting method was imposed by House and Senate General Fund Budget Chairmen Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) and Trip Pittman (R-Montrose).

“We have directed the Legislative Fiscal Office to request and obtain detailed budget-related information from certain agencies that is in addition to the data typically required each year,” they explained prior to pre-session budget hearings. “The information requested will be based on data that the agency should already have on hand or have access to, and will be used by our committee members and other legislative members during the preliminary budget hearings and during the legislative session in the development of the state budgets.”

In a followup email to House and Senate members, chairmen Clouse and Pittman further explained their intensions.

“This budget cycle will look and feel different from previous years, given the detailed information we will require and the zero-based budgeting method we will utilize,” they wrote. “In the past, agencies have simply requested the same amount of money they received the prior year, plus any additional funding they thought they might need. From this point forward, agencies will start from zero and provide a line-item, department-by-department breakdown of their budget in order to justify their total request.”

Senator Stutts added on Tuesday that moving to zero-based budgeting is an important step toward eliminating waste in state government.

“Zero-based budgeting isn’t meant to produce ‘gotcha’ moments of political theater,” he said. “But the tendency of government agencies is to seek growth and self-preservation. The Legislature has a responsibility to the people of Alabama to root out waste and push state agencies to operate more efficiently. Moving to a zero-based budgeting system is an important step toward that goal.”

2016 is shaping up to be another tumultuous year in Montgomery, coming off the divisive 2015 legislative sessions that fractured Republican lawmakers over tax increases, reforms and cuts.

The 2016 Regular Legislative Sessions is set to begin February 2.

1
2 years ago

The 15 events that defined Alabama politics in 2015

2015 Year in Review Alabama Politics

2015 was a wild year in Alabama politics.

A reality television star drew tens of thousands of Alabamians to his presidential campaign rallies.

A sitting governor got divorced. A sitting Speaker’s political career survived an entire year under indictment.

Same-sex weddings took place at courthouses around the state. Taxes were raised. The Confederate Battle Flag was lowered. Refugees were rejected. And a football program was resurrected.

Here are–in no particular order–the 15 events that defined a tumultuous year in Alabama politics.

Governor Bentley’s State of the State address

Gov. Robert Bentley delivers the 2015 State of the State Address, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in the Old House Chamber of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. (Photo: Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
Gov. Robert Bentley delivers the 2015 State of the State Address, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in the Old House Chamber of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. (Photo: Governor’s Office, Jamie Martin)

Whether it was politics or his personal life, 2015 was by far the most turbulent year of Dr. Robert Bentley’s tenure as Alabama governor.

After securing re-election in November of 2014, Bentley tacked left on a variety of issues, from taxes to government healthcare, and ruffled some feathers by ordering the Confederate battle flag removed from the Capitol grounds. In August, his wife announced she was leaving him after 50 years of marriage.

The moment that telegraphed what Alabamians could expect from their chief executive in 2015 came in early March when Bentley delivered his annual State of the State Address.

He demanded companies “pay their fair share” and gave a full throated defense of his plan to raise taxes by $541 million. He also hinted at expanding Medicaid, a move that many on Goat Hill expect to come in 2016.

Same-sex marriage comes to Alabama

Flickr User wenzday01
Flickr User wenzday01

A federal judge in January issued a ruling striking down Alabama’s constitutional ban on gay marriage on the grounds that it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

The ruling was put on hold while the United States Supreme Court debated same-sex marriage. The High Court ultimately struck down same-sex marriage bans across the country, effectively creating a constitutional right to marriage and prompting several Alabama counties to exit the marriage business all together.

The religious liberty implications of the ruling are still a hot-button issue that won’t be resolved for years to come.

Hubbard survives another year on top

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn)
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn)

It is a testament to Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s (R-Auburn) sheer tenacity that he remains the Speaker 14 months after being indicted on 23 counts of felony public corruption.

His power, once unrivaled in state government, is somewhat diminished. He is no longer able to bend the legislature to his will. But in spite of being openly challenged for the gavel for the first time, his position appears to be secure for now.

Hubbard’s long-anticipated trial is scheduled to take place next year. The outcome will shape Alabama’s political landscape for years — perhaps decades — to come.

Trumpapalooza

Senator Jeff Sessions dons a "Make America Great Again" hat at Donald Trump's Mobile rally.
Senator Jeff Sessions dons a “Make America Great Again” hat at Donald Trump’s Mobile rally.

In what the Washington Post described as “something between a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert and the Daytona 500,” Alabama became the center of the political universe for one night in August when Donald Trump’s Boeing 757 touched down in Mobile.

Tens of thousands of Trump supporters flocked to Ladd-Peebles Stadium for what many believe was the largest event to that point in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

The event had national significance, signaling that Trump’s unexpected rise in the polls could be buttressed by legitimate support on the ground. It also elevated Senator Jeff Sessions’ national profile. Alabama’s junior senator appeared on stage with Trump, and the billionaire real estate mogul adopted his immigration and trade positions just days later.

But the event was about more than a single night — or even a single candidate. Trumpapalooza established Alabama as a must-visit state for serious presidential contenders, thanks to the SEC Primary.

Since then, Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Ted Cruz, famed neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and others have all made a serious play to compete and win in Alabama.

Syrian refugees refused

Hundreds of Syrian refugees waiting for the next train in Vienna, Austria (Photo: Josh Zakary)
Hundreds of Syrian refugees waiting for the next train in Vienna, Austria (Photo: Josh Zakary)

Governor Bentley in mid-November became the second governor in America to announce his administration would refuse to accept Syrian refugees.

He later signed an executive order directing state agencies to utilize “all lawful means necessary” to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state.

The Bentley administration and the White House have been at odds over whether Bentley — or any governor — has the authority to issue such an order. But to this point, no refugees have been sent to Alabama.

Confederate flag toppled

Confederate Battle Flag
Governor Bentley ordered the Confederate Battle Flag removed from the Capitol grounds the morning of June 24th, sparking a backlash among many Alabamians who consider the flag to be a part of the state’s history that should not be erased.

Bentley said his order was partially in response to the Charleston church shooting, but more about doing the “right thing.” It also undoubtedly had a lot to do with Alabama’s economic development efforts, which some state leaders worried could be damaged if they resisted the national push to eradicate the flag in a symbolic gesture after the Charleston tragedy.

Bentley breaths life back into the gambling industry

(Photo: Flickr user Dallas1200am)
(Photo: Flickr user Dallas1200am)

Alabama’s anti-gambling movement, propelled by the state’s large swath of evangelical Christians, considered Governor Bentley an ally until last month when he stripped the Attorney General’s office of the power to enforce gambling laws and paved the way for VictoryLand to reopen.

It had been a rough year for pro-gambling interests prior to that moment. A push to expand casino gambling in the state failed along with the annual push for a lottery, and Senator Del Marsh (R-Anniston), the state’s most powerful lawmaker and a gambling supporter, said he would not reintroduce gaming legislation in 2016.

It is still hard to imagine casino gambling legislation passing, but with another budget crunch on the horizon, the lottery could once again get serious consideration.

The leader of an interdenominational organization that lobbies the Alabama legislature on behalf of the Christian community issued a stern warning earlier this month: “Illegal gambling is taking over this state.”

Gang of Nine emerges in Alabama Senate

TOP (from left): Sens. Rusty Glober, Bill Holtzclaw, Clay Scofield, Paul Bussman and Paul Sanford. BOTTOM (fromt left): Sens. Bill Hightower, Shay Shelnutt, Slade Blackwell and Phil Williams.
TOP (from left): Sens. Rusty Glober, Bill Holtzclaw, Clay Scofield, Paul Bussman and Paul Sanford. BOTTOM (fromt left): Sens. Bill Hightower, Shay Shelnutt, Slade Blackwell and Phil Williams.

The Alabama Legislature raised taxes by roughly $100 million in 2015, far less than Governor Bentley pushed for, but enough that it sparked contentious debates over three grueling legislative sessions.

The majority of the Legislature ultimately supported a package that combined three tax increases with two measures aimed at reforming the state’s dysfunctional budgeting process. But while the majority of lawmakers viewed combining reforms with tax increases as a palatable compromise, a group of nine staunchly conservative senators refused to bend, consistently voting “no” and sometimes launching into filibusters of tax bills backed by their own party.

The “Gang of Nine,” as they became known, probably did not win a lot of friends on Goat Hill, but they undoubtedly kept the tax burden on Alabamians from increasing much further than it did. If they continue to stick together, they will continue to be a powerful bloc in the Senate.

PSC drops energy rates in spite of increased federal regulations

Public Service Commission Jeremy Oden, Commissioner President Twinkle Cavanaugh and Commissioner Chris "Chip" Beeker
Public Service Commission Jeremy Oden, Commissioner President Twinkle Cavanaugh and Commissioner Chris “Chip” Beeker

The Alabama Public Service Commission led by PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh in early December secured a rate reduction for Alabama Power and Alagasco customers, in spite of increasing costs the companies continue to incur due to federal environmental mandates.

A drop in the price of coal and natural gas made it possible for Alabama Power to offset some of their regulatory costs this year, compelling the PSC to push for a 2 percent reduction in the retail cost of electricity through 2016. Alabama Power expects to return an estimated $120 million to customers through the end of next year.

The move was a crippling blow the state’s environmentalist movement, which had previously cloaked its anti-coal agenda in pro-consumer rhetoric. The environmentalist’s “favorite Republican” is running for a slot on the PSC again in 2016, nonetheless.

Jeff Sessions endorses Richard Shelby

Sen. Richard Shelby (left) and Jeff Sessions (right)
Sen. Richard Shelby (left) and Jeff Sessions (right)

With the anti-incumbent sentiment at an all-time high, longtime U.S. Senator Richard Shelby drew four primary challengers in his bid for a sixth term.

But as quick as the campaign started, Shelby got a boost from his colleague Jeff Sessions, whose credibility among grassroots conservatives is unmatched.

Sessions’ endorsement effectively chopped the legs off of rival campaigns, who were yet to even have the opportunity to make their case that conservatives should rally behind an alternative. Conservative columnist Quin Hillyer told liberal political blog al.com he believes Sessions is so popular in Alabama that an endorsement from him would mean a six-point bump in the Yellowhammer State for a presidential candidate.

The race will undoubtedly heat up in January as voters start paying attention and ad dollars start to fly, but the state’s most trusted conservative has already weighed in, and there’s no amount of money that could buy that kind of street cred.

AUE quietly enters the scene

University of Alabama System Chancellor Dr. Robert Witt
University of Alabama System Chancellor Dr. Robert Witt

A coalition of education leaders in early December announced the formation of Alabama Unites for Education (AUE), an advocacy group that appears poised to fill the void left by the precipitous decline of the Alabama Education Association (AEA).

The most significant policy debates in the coming years will likely center around what to do about the state’s ever-expanding General Fund Budget, which threatens to devour more and more education funding.

With AUE, the education community will have a powerful voice in the debate, without all of the baggage and nefarious tactics of the AEA.

The photo voter ID battle rages on

A woman prepares to vote in 2006. (Photo: Nathaniel Shepard)
A woman prepares to vote in 2006. (Photo: Nathaniel Shepard)

After the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency announced it would close down 31 rural drivers license offices due to budget cuts, voting rights activists cried foul and accused Alabama of trying to limit minority citizens’ access to photo ID, which is required to vote.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund sued the state, insisting that requiring voters to show photo ID is “discriminatory” and would disenfranchise over 250,000 Alabamians, many of them black and latino, in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Even Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders weighed in on the issue, while Republicans dismissed the claims and noted that all 67 Alabama counties have a Board of Registrars that issues photo voter I.D. cards for free.

UAB football returns

UAB Football Team celebrates early in the 2014 season (Photo: Shanna Lockwood)
UAB Football Team celebrates early in the 2014 season (Photo: Shanna Lockwood)

In December of 2014, the University of Alabama-Birmingham announced it was shuttering its football program, becoming the first Division 1 school to make that decision since Pacific did so in 1995.

Six months later, in a stunning reversal, the school announced the program was coming back. Five months after that, the University of Alabama Board of Trustees announced its support for UAB to build a $12-15 million football operations facility. This month the school released a list of the first 19 players it has committed to play in 2017.

The UAB football revival has been viewed as an enormous positive for the university and the local community, but the political implications are significant as well.

Had the UA Board of Trustees and the UAB football advocates not found common ground, the effects would have rippled throughout the coming year’s legislative session.

BP settlement finalized

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange in October announced the state’s final settlement with BP concerning the damages caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The agreement is set to bring approximately $2 billion dollars to Alabama in reparation for the economic and environmental damages resulting from the spill.

But not everyone was happy with the deal. Some Gulf Coast lawmakers expressed their frustration at how that money will be appropriated.

“The settlement is severely flawed because it puts too much money under control of the federal and state governments,” said Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL1). “A better settlement would have directed more money into the RESTORE Act process and allowed our coastal communities to decide how the money should be spent.”

“We need the state Legislature to remember two facts,” added Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson. “One is that there were real economic and environmental consequences from the oil spill which continue to this day. The second is that our region is a tremendous economic engine for the entire state. Returning more of the settlement to coastal Alabama is not only the right thing to do, but it is also good common sense.”

Public pension reform picks up steam

Retirement Systems of Alabama CEO David Bronner (Photo: Wikicommons)
Retirement Systems of Alabama CEO David Bronner (Photo: Wikicommons)

Public pension reforms have received off-and-on interest from the Alabama legislature over the years, but momentum for reform picked up significant speed in 2015.

The renewed interest is thanks in part to math — the pension system is underfunded and taxpayers are sending to it almost $1 billion per year — and partly because Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) CEO David Bronner has infuriated conservatives in the Republican-controlled legislature.

Bronner was caught on camera in October reciting a lengthy list of foul-mouthed grievances with the citizens of Alabama and their elected representatives. His most stinging criticisms were reserved for conservative Alabamians, who he believes are irrationally opposed to higher taxes and expanding government healthcare programs.

Bronner has enjoyed a four-decade run as one of the most powerful men in state politics. But if major RSA reforms are advanced in 2016, 2015 may be remembered as the year his ego finally caught up to him.

1
3 years ago

Alabama lawmaker pushes Convention of States to pass balanced budget amendment

United States Capitol (Photo: Eric B. Walker)
United States Capitol (Photo: Eric B. Walker)
United States Capitol (Photo: Eric B. Walker)

A state senator is pushing to renew Alabama’s call for a Convention of States to amend the U.S. Constitution.

Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) has pre-filed a bill for the 2016 Legislative Session that would compel Alabama to join the “Compact for a Balanced Budget,” a group of states “uniting to fix the debt” through a federal Balanced Budget Amendment

The idea of a Convention of States gained steam in 2013 after conservative talk show host Mark Levin advocated for a states-led convention in his book The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution says that a convention of the states can be convened if two-thirds of the state legislatures (34) approve an application for the convention to occur.

By design, that’s a high bar to clear. And the bar gets even higher when it comes to actually passing a constitutional amendment.

Each state would then choose delegates to represent them at the convention, but each state would only get one vote on proposed amendments. It takes an affirmative vote from three-fourths (38) of the states to actually amend the constitution.

In short, the convention of the states is widely viewed as a last-ditch effort to push back against an overreaching federal government. 27 states have so far passed resolutions calling for a convention to pass a federal balanced budget amendment.

The Alabama Legislature passed a resolution earlier this year strictly limiting the purpose of a proposed convention to three areas:

1) Imposing fiscal restraints on the federal government through a balanced budget amendment;
2) limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government; and
3) implementing term limits on federal elected officials.

Members of the Alabama House and Senate who supported the effort say it was necessary because “the federal government has created a crushing national debt” and “invaded the legitimate roles of the states through the manipulative power of federal mandates.”

The resolution Sen. Allen is now proposing is even more narrowly defined. It would limit the convention to only addressing the question of a balanced budget amendment.

“Even if we don’t get enough states behind it, we’ll send a clear message to Congress,” Allen told the Anniston Star. “Get your house in order.”

The possibility of a “runaway convention” is the most often cited concern with convening such a meeting of the states.

“In the course of our work advising state and federal lawmakers and conservative allies across the country, we have been giving this issue close attention and study,” said Dr. Matthew Spalding of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “The lack of precedent, extensive unknowns, and considerable risks of an Article V amendments convention should bring sober pause to advocates of legitimate constitutional reform contemplating this avenue.”

But Rep. Ken Johnson (R-Moulton), who has sponsored a resolution calling for a Convention of States during the last couple of legislative sessions, said those concerns are overblown.

“Because we’ve never done it, the idea that there could be a ‘runaway convention’ is always brought up as a concern,” Johnson told Yellowhammer earlier this year. “The convention would be limited to a small set of issues. But on top of that, the safeguard is that it only takes 13 states to kill any runaway convention. If there aren’t 13 conservatives states left, we’re in trouble, period. And Washington is a runaway train right now anyway. How much more damage could be done?”

Alabama’s two Senate Budget Chairmen have also been actively involved in the rule-making process for a possible convention. Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) and Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) traveled to Mt. Vernon, Virginia to discuss the ground rules of a potential convention.

“We discussed the reality that the biggest threat to America is an irresponsible Federal Government,” said Pittman. “Checks that need to be put on the Federal Government have not been accomplished and based on current activity appear not to be likely… 32 (states) participated in the Mount Vernon Assembly, to prepare rules and form committees within a strict framework… to discuss and build support for a possible amendment convention of the States.”

Sen. Allen’s latest bill calls for a 24-hour, one-issue convention to convene in Dallas, Texas, the Wednesday after Congress receives the petition from the required number of states.


RELATED:
1. Two Alabama senators discuss potential constitutional convention at Mt. Vernon Assembly
2. Two top Ala. Senators propose bills laying out guidelines for Convention of States
3. Alabama officially applies to Congress for Convention of States


1
3 years ago

Alabama moving toward zero-based budgeting, requiring agencies to justify spending

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

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama House and Senate budget chairmen signaled Monday they are preparing to move the state toward zero-based budgeting, which would ratchet up scrutiny on state agencies and require them justify their budget requests each year.

To this point, the State of Alabama, similar to the federal government, has used a form of “baseline budgeting.” This means that an agency’s budget appropriation for this year serves as the “baseline” — or starting point — for its appropriation next year, and it goes up from there. Zero-based budgeting, a frequent rallying cry for conservatives on both the state and federal levels, means agencies will start their budgets at $0, thereby forcing them to justify each dollar of their funding requests year after year.

House General Fund Budget Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) and incoming Senate General Fund Budget Chairman Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) wrote a letter to state General Fund agencies, commissions and departments alerting them that pre-legislative session budget hearings will begin on Jan. 12th, roughly a month before the 2016 Regular Legislative Session.

In the letter, chairmen Clouse and Pittman also notified agency and department heads that the legislature will be asking them for more detailed information than they have in years past.

“We have directed the Legislative Fiscal Office to request and obtain detailed budget-related information from certain agencies that is in addition to the data typically required each year,” they explained. “The information requested will be based on data that the agency should already have on hand or have access to, and will be used by our committee members and other legislative members during the preliminary budget hearings and during the legislative session in the development of the state budgets.”

In a followup email to House and Senate members, chairmen Clouse and Pittman further explained their intensions.

“This budget cycle will look and feel different from previous years, given the detailed information we will require and the zero-based budgeting method we will utilize,” they wrote. “In the past, agencies have simply requested the same amount of money they received the prior year, plus any additional funding they thought they might need. From this point forward, agencies will start from zero and provide a line-item, department-by-department breakdown of their budget in order to justify their total request.”

The requests being made of various state agencies include:

• A detailed description of the agency which includes number of employees and contractors, and its funding sources (state, local, federal, etc… as well as earmarked funds);
• A detailed breakdown of each program or service provided by the agency, including its source(s) of funding and a summary of clients served;
• A line-item breakdown of all FY15 expenditures and FY16 budgeted expenses including operational costs to run each office or location; salaries, benefits, contracts, and travel;
• A list of the agency’s financial assets (including real estate) as well as their debts/liabilities;
• A line-item breakdown of the anticipated FY17 budget requests, starting from zero and culminating in the total anticipated request, providing justification for each item;
• Both a funding reduction plan and a cost-savings/efficiency plan.

2016 is shaping up to be another tumultuous year in Montgomery, coming off the divisive 2015 legislative sessions that fractured Republican lawmakers over tax increases, reforms and cuts.

Governor Robert Bentley has indicated he may pursue more tax increase proposals, as well as a controversial Medicaid expansion plan. But the latest moves from the top budget makers could indicate a renewed commitment to belt-tightening in the legislature.


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3 years ago

Everything you need to know about Alabama’s new budget and what it means for you

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, Governor Robert Bentley, and House Speaker Mike Hubbard
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, Governor Robert Bentley, and House Speaker Mike Hubbard
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, Governor Robert Bentley, and House Speaker Mike Hubbard

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — After months of contentious debate, the Alabama Legislature on Wednesday passed a budget and sent it across the street for the governor to sign.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. The new General Fund includes some cuts

The final tally on the Fiscal Year 2016 General Fund is $1.75 billion, down from $1.83 billion in FY2015. The roughly $100 million decrease is not as large as it may seem, though. About half of that number is the result of the federal government picking up the tab for a children’s health insurance program that was previously funded by the state.

Medicaid, prisons, Mental Health, Human Resources and the court system were essentially untouched. Most other General Fund agencies will be trimmed by around 5 or 6 percent.

In an effort to limit the cuts made to areas lawmakers deemed to be essential services, they passed a 25-cent per pack tax increase on cigarettes, which will bring in an estimated $70 million annually. They also increased taxes on nursing homes by $400 per bed and on pharmacies by adding a new 15-cent tax per prescription. Both taxes were supported by groups representing the impacted industries. The two taxes will each raise $8 million in revenue for Medicaid.

2. Gov. Bentley did not get what he wanted, but appears willing to live with it

The governor’s initial call for $700 million in new revenue was cut by about two-thirds by the time the second Special Session rolled around. But although Bentley did not get anywhere near the amount of tax increases he wanted, he commended legislators who had the “courage” to back the $86 million in new taxes that did go through.

“We have made tremendous progress to fundamentally change the way our state budgets,” he said. “Tonight is an important step forward in that process. I commend House and Senate members, including Speaker Hubbard, Pro Tem Marsh and Budget Chairmen Clouse and Orr, for prioritizing people over politics. I also want to thank members of the House and Senate who courageously voted to increase revenue for the General Fund. I will carefully review the budget once it is received by my office, and I expect to sign it.”

3. Your life pretty much won’t be impacted at all

There does not appear to be any reason for parks to close, driver’s license offices to be shuttered, prisoners to be released, seniors services to be disrupted, or for any other dire prediction to actually come to fruition.

Even the executive branch agencies that will be expected to make relatively small cuts should not have much trouble carrying on business as usual after the trim.

4. The Republican-controlled Legislature may never be the same

The tax battle turned ugly in the last week, as the deadline to pass a budget loomed and legislative leaders battled it out with a bloc of hardline conservatives, particularly in the House. The final budget won passage easily, 23-9 in the Senate and 70-21 in the House, but tempers were flaring right up until adjournment.

A House member who supported the numerous tax increase proposals went to the mic on the House floor to harshly criticize his conservative colleagues for their unwillingness to compromise. Even after the gavel came down to end the session, heated discussions continued among members.

The first four years of Republican control in Montgomery (2010-2014) were largely defined by a close working relationship between House and Senate leadership and by overall consensus among GOP lawmakers. With rare exceptions, Republicans were pretty much singing from the same sheet of music.

That changed in a big way in 2015, and it could have huge implications for the GOP’s ability to govern moving forward. Republican leadership’s biggest challenge will be to keep their caucuses from permanently fracturing into the kind of establishment vs. conservatives in-fighting that dominates Congress. It may be too late.

5. The biggest winners and losers are…

Prison reform won.

The Alabama Legislature earlier this passed sweeping prison reform, culminating several years of work by a broad coalition seeking to ease overcrowding in the system while maintaining public safety. The reforms received praise nationally, including from The Heritage Foundation. After a period of uncertainty during which it was not clear if the reforms would get funded, the Legislature’s final budget included an allocation to implement the plan.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management lost.

ADEM, basically Alabama’s state-level version of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), saw its budget slashed by 83 percent. The agency lost $1 million of its previous $1.2 million allocation. Ouch. They’ll be fine though. They still manage to get $154 million in earmarked funds.

6. Gambling interests are licking their chops

The vast majority of Alabama’s structural budgeting issues remain. Will Republicans use the window of time they’ve bought themselves with tax increases and incremental reforms to build consensus around major structural changes? It’s too early to tell.

What is definitely happening, though, is gambling interests who failed to gain traction this year are preparing for another push in 2016. They will be well funded and already have a group of legislators — albeit a relatively small one — who have bought into the possibility of increasing revenue by expanding gambling, rather than taking on the monumental task of reforms.


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3 years ago

GANG OF NINE: Meet the Alabama senators who voted against every single tax increase

TOP (from left): Sens. Rusty Glober, Bill Holtzclaw, Clay Scofield, Paul Bussman and Paul Sanford. BOTTOM (fromt left): Sens. Bill Hightower, Shay Shelnutt, Slade Blackwell and Phil Williams.
TOP (from left): Sens. Rusty Glober, Bill Holtzclaw, Clay Scofield, Paul Bussman and Paul Sanford. BOTTOM (fromt left): Sens. Bill Hightower, Shay Shelnutt, Slade Blackwell and Phil Williams.
TOP (from left): Sens. Rusty Glober, Bill Holtzclaw, Clay Scofield, Paul Bussman and Paul Sanford. BOTTOM (fromt left): Sens. Bill Hightower, Shay Shelnutt, Slade Blackwell and Phil Williams.

The Alabama Senate on Tuesday approved $86 million in tax increases to go along with two measures aimed at reforming the state’s dysfunctional budgeting process.

The three tax increases passed by the Senate promise to bring in far less revenue than the proposals pushed by Governor Robert Bentley and House leaders. But while the majority of Republican senators viewed combining reforms with tax increases as a palatable compromise, a group of nine staunchly conservative lawmakers refused to bend, consistently voting “no” and sometimes launching into filibusters of tax bills backed by their own party.

Meet those nine senators:

Slade Blackwell (R-Mountain Brook): Blackwell is a second-term senator from Alabama’s most affluent city. He defeated a longtime incumbent to win his seat in 2010, and is frequently mentioned as a potential statewide candidate.

Paul Bussman (R-Cullman): Bussman has been one of the most vocal opponents of tax increases this year, but that’s nothing new for the conservative dentist. Bussman was one of the few GOP legislators who was openly opposed to borrowing money from the Alabama Trust Fund in 2012, a move that many proponents said was meant to head off the kind of tax increases passed this week.

Rusty Glover (R-Semmes): Glover is a retired school teacher in his third term in the senate after serving one term in the House. He is widely expected to run for Lt. Governor in 2018.

Bill Hightower (R-Mobile): Hightower is serving in his first full term in the senate after winning a special election in 2013. He made waves earlier this year by proposing a simplified 2.75 percent flat tax. He has a business background and résumé a mile long, including stints at multiple Fortune 100 companies.

Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison): The Marine and former NASA employee became the face of the anti-tax movement this year when he put up a massive billboard in his senate district promising he would not let Governor Bentley raise taxes on his constituents. The Bentley administration retaliated by eliminating roughly $100 million in road projects from Holtzclaw’s district. He didn’t back down.

Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville): Sanford took to affectionately referring to this group of senators as the “Gang of Nine” on Facebook. The north Alabama senator with a libertarian streak has frequently shown himself to be an independent thinker whose not afraid to buck leaders from both parties. He carried a major budget reform bill during the special session that could have helped avoid tax hikes, but it did not gain enough momentum to pass.

Clay Scofield (R-Arab): Scofield is the youngest member of the Senate and perhaps the most ideologically conservative. “Without serious structural reforms to the way we budget in our state, I couldn’t support taxing our people more,” he told Yellowhammer Tuesday evening. “Even with these increases, I believe we will be back in the same situation as early as 2017. We need real reform.”

Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville): Shelnutt picked a heckuva session to start his Senate career. After being elected in November of 2014, he has immediately endured one of the most tumultuous periods in the five-year tenure of the Republican supermajority. His willingness to hold the line on taxes in the midst of intense pressure shows his mild-mannered, quiet personality should never be mistaken for weakness.

Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City): Williams is an Army Airborne Ranger and currently holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve. He served two combat tours in the Global War on Terror, one each in Afghanistan and Iraq, before being elected to the Senate in 2010. “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 on Tuesday. “I can see no reason to ask them to send more.”


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3 years ago

Alabama Senate approves budget reforms, raises taxes $86 million

Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)
Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)
Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The word of the night was “compromise” in the Alabama Senate, where Republican lawmakers pushed through two budget reform measures before also raising taxes by roughly $86 million annually.

The Senate approved the transfer of $80 million in use tax revenue from the Education Budget to the General Fund Budget.

The use tax, which is a tax on goods and equipment purchased by Alabamians outside of the state, brings in roughly $225 million annually and increases by a few million dollars each year. It is one of numerous “growth taxes” — revenue streams that increase as the economy grows — that are earmarked to flow into the Education Budget.

Advocates of transferring a portion of the use tax argued that the state’s beleaguered General Fund does not receive enough growth revenue to keep up with the booming costs of Medicaid and prisons. The Education Budget, meanwhile, is enjoying a surplus thanks to the GOP-backed Rolling Reserve Act, which caps the growth of education spending to help the state avoid proration in lean years.

The Senate also approved tweaks to the Rolling Reserve Act that will immediately free up money to make up for the lost use tax revenue in the Education Budget.

On the tax front, legislators passed a 25-cent per pack tax increase on cigarettes, which will bring in an estimated $70 million annually, at least in the short term. Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison), who opposed all of the proposed tax increases, noted that cigarette tax revenue is expected to drop off precipitously in the coming years as smoking declines. The cigarette tax revenue will go toward funding Medicaid, by far the largest driver of increased spending in the General Fund.

Lawmakers also increased taxes on nursing homes by $400 per bed and on pharmacies by adding a new 15-cent tax per prescription. Both taxes were supported by groups representing the impacted industries. The two taxes will each raise $8 million in revenue for Medicaid.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) told Yellowhammer the reform measures were important to solving the budget shortfall without additional tax increases.

“There was no appetite in the Senate to generate new revenue without structural changes to the budgeting process,” he said. “I believe the use tax transfer does just that. The General Fund will get much needed revenue growth and the backfill bills we passed will ensure that there is very little impact on the Education Trust Fund. In this special session we were able to create sensible solutions that will benefit hardworking Alabamians for years to come.”

The senate rejected two other tax increases passed by the House — one that would have almost doubled the cost of getting a car title and a second that would have increased taxes on car rentals.

The legislature will reconvene on Wednesday to work toward a finalized budget. The reforms and tax increases are expected to allow appropriators to level fund Medicaid, prisons, Mental Health, Human Resources and the court system. Most other General Fund agencies will be trimmed by roughly 5 percent.

Governor Bentley has indicated that he will likely sign the budget, giving the state a finalized spending plan just days before the Fiscal Year deadline October 1.


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3 years ago

Alabama legislature inches toward budget reform that could avoid significant tax hikes

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (left) and Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (right)
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (left) and Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (right)
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (left) and Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (right)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Senate on Monday evening passed a bill to move $100 million in use tax revenue from the state’s Education Budget to its General Fund Budget, potentially alleviating some of the pressure to pass major tax increases.

The use tax, which is a tax on goods and equipment purchased by Alabamians outside of the state, brings in roughly $225 million annually and increases by a few million dollars each year. It is one of numerous “growth taxes” — revenue streams that increase as the economy grows — that are earmarked to flow into the Education Budget.

Advocates of transferring a portion of the use tax argue that the state’s beleaguered General Fund does not receive enough growth revenue to keep up with the booming costs of Medicaid and prisons. The Education Budget, meanwhile, is enjoying a surplus thanks to the GOP-backed Rolling Reserve Act, which caps the growth of education spending to help the state avoid proration in lean years.

Democrats loudly objected to the use tax transfer, characterizing it as “taking money” from schools.

The legislature passed a Fiscal Year 2016 Education Budget almost unanimously earlier this year, spending $5.9 billion to fund Alabama’s public educational programs. The almost $6 billion appropriation represented a 1 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.

House Education Budget Chairman Bill Poole said on the House floor Monday that transferring $100 million of the use tax revenue into the General Fund would not require the legislature to make any changes to the Education Budget.

Poole is now expected to play a key role in negotiations between the House and Senate over the amount of the use tax transfer. Poole supported and the House passed a $50 million transfer last week. The Senate doubled that number on Monday. A conference committee made up of House and Senate members will meet Tuesday morning to hammer out the difference.

The small but significant budget reform is only the beginning in what promises to be a contentious few days in the Alabama legislature. Numerous tax increases proposals that passed the House last week could be up in the Senate Tuesday.

Several lawmakers Yellowhammer spoke with Monday said the proposed cigarette tax increase is the most likely of the tax bills to pass, although any tax increase will face obstacles in the Senate. A group of staunchly anti-tax conservatives have threatened to filibuster any tax hikes that come to the floor for debate, and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh has said the Senate will not consider any revenue measures until the use tax issue is addressed.

“Reform must come before revenue,” the Alabama Senate Republican caucus tweeted out Monday night.

The conference committee will meet at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. The House and Senate will then reconvene at 2 p.m.


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3 years ago

Alabama Senate OKs law requiring legislative approval before agencies can close facilities

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Senate Thursday gave their approval to a bill which would require state agencies to justify closures of vital services through a public review process before any office, state park, or facility is shuttered.

As the Alabama Legislature has debated how to best handle a projected $200+ million shortfall in the state’s General fund, several executive branch agencies have revealed they would halt some of their services if budgets are cut.

To date, the Alabama Law Enforcement Association has said they will close all but four Drivers’ License offices across the state, State Parks said they could close many or all state parks, and coroner services in some parts of the state would be reduced unless tax increases are approved.

If the legislation is approved by both houses and signed by Governor Bentley, any state agency considering closure of a facility would have to give notice to the Legislative Council, an existing body that provides advice to executive agencies, at least 45 days ahead of time.

The Council would then hold a public hearing on the proposed action, to analyze the agency’s budget and determine whether “closure is in the best interest of the people of Alabama.”

“Taxpayers expect us to protect our state parks, or any other state facility and office, from being shut down overnight, without any warning or out of spite,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison). “The head of a state agency shouldn’t be able to unilaterally close a state park or facility without an appropriate public review process.”

The Alabama Legislature convened this week for a second Special Session in a third attempt to find a compromise between budget cuts and reforms, and tax increases to balance the constitutionally mandated General Fund. The House passed approximately $107 million in tax increases Thursday, which were originally slated to begin the committee process in the Senate Friday, but were pulled from the schedule at the last minute.

Senate General Fund Committee chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) said they were pulled “pending stronger confidence of floor support.”

The Legislature can meet for the second Special Session a total of 12 legislative days over 30 calendar days, but the new fiscal year begins October 1st.


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3 years ago

Dear Alabama Republican legislators: Are you kittens, or lions? We’re about to find out

lions

Dear Alabama Republican legislators,

I, like many conservatives around the state, watched in exasperation Wednesday as a committee dominated by Republican lawmakers approved tax hike after tax hike over the objections of Democrats.

After pushing through $130 million in tax increases, House General Fund Budget Chairman Steve Clouse was clearly pleased. He has one of the toughest jobs in state government trying to navigate Alabama’s dysfunctional budgeting process. And the last several months have been particularly frustrating for him as he and other legislative leaders have pursued tax increases with reckless abandon.

After months of bludgeoning conservatives into submission, they now sense that victory may be within their grasp.

Here is how Rep. Clouse described his efforts in an interview with reporters Wednesday afternoon:

This whole process has been like herding kittens. Every time you think you’ve got them all in the basket, one jumps out. Right now the kittens are all in the basket, but who knows when they might start jumping out later this afternoon.

Of all the commentary I have heard surrounding this week’s action at the State House, Rep. Clouse’s metaphor stuck out to me the most. I believe it is a vivid illustration of what has already taken place, and what is still yet to come.

On Thursday, House leadership’s enormous package of tax increases will come before the full House for a vote. Depending on how that plays out, the bills could ultimately make their way up to the Senate where the process will repeat itself.

In light of Rep. Clouse’s comments, I believe the question each Republican — each conservative — in the Legislature should ask themselves is, “Am I a kitten, or am I a lion?”

Will you be “herded” into the basket of go-along-to-get-along tax raisers? Or will you stand firm and continue being the Lions of reform you have shown yourselves to be in years past?

Some of the Lions are already making plans to roar onto the floor of the House and Senate, providing their constituents with the conservative voice they elected Republicans to be.

And do you know what they call a group of lions? A pride. Could any title be more fitting?

The average pride of lions in the wild consists of about 15 individuals. If that is enough for a pride to fend off attacks in Sub-Saharan Africa, surely that number — and I believe there are many more of you than that — is plenty to beat back unnecessary tax hikes being pushed by defenders of the status quo in the Alabama Legislature.

So, kitten, or Lion? The choice is yours, at least until the next election day.


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