2 weeks ago

Text of Ivey infrastructure bill released as support for the plan grows

MONTGOMERY — Shortly after a Friday afternoon press conference in which prominent city and county leaders from across the state spoke in support of Governor Kay Ivey’s Rebuild Alabama plan, the governor’s office released the text of the bill to the public.

The just-finalized bill, which was made available to state legislators earlier in the day, has been released in time to be studied before the start of the 2019 regular Alabama legislative session, which convenes Tuesday at noon. State Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) will be filing the bill.

A wide cross-section of Rebuild Alabama proponents was on display at the press conference, including Ivey’s top opponents from the 2018 election cycle: Mayor Tommy Battle (R-Huntsville) and Mayor Walt Maddox (D-Tuscaloosa).

Battle said, “The whole process of this is to add to the economy of the state of Alabama. Governor, thank you for taking this up – it’s not an easy thing to take on, but we know what’s good for Huntsville is good for Mobile is good for Jasper is good for Auburn/Opelika. As we take care of this infrastructure, we add to the economy of the state, and we make the state stronger.”

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s firm support of the governor’s plan is also especially significant, considering his and his family’s longtime leadership in the state’s forestry industry.

At the press conference, Stimpson joined Battle, Maddox and Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange in thanking Ivey, emphasizing, “This is a generational opportunity to do something that’s desperately needed.”

Paraphrasing something Ivey has previously said, Strange said, “We need to do the right thing – this is it – we need to do it the right way – and this is it – and we need to do it right now. Time is of the essence to get this done.”

Strange’s emphasis on addressing the state’s infrastructure needs now was a key focus of representatives of the Association of County Commissioners of Alabama (ACCA) at the press conference, too.

ACCA President Tony Cherry, who is a commissioner in Choctaw County, remarked, “It’s going to take all 67 counties to get this done.”

ACCA President-elect David Money, who is a Republican, the probate judge and the county commission chair in Henry County, presented the association’s report entitled, “The Cost of Doing Nothing.” The new report was released to the public during the press conference.

Money outlined that the state’s infrastructure has correspondingly declined as the state gas tax’s buying power has plummeted since it was last adjusted in 1992.

“Doing nothing is no longer an option,” he said.

Blount County Commission Chairman and Probate Judge Chris Green also spoke in favor of the Rebuild Alabama plan, highlighting the benefits it would have for rural farm-to-market roads.

This came after the Alabama Farmers Federation on Wednesday released a statement supporting Ivey’s plan.

“We commend Gov. Ivey for her courage and foresight to tackle some of Alabama’s biggest challenges,” Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell said. “The Federation supports increased and equitable funding for farm-to-market roads, and the governor’s plan addresses this need. Our members rely on roads and bridges to receive supplies; get their crops, livestock and poultry to market; and travel for work and school. Poor and inadequate infrastructure is one of the greatest barriers to rural Alabama enjoying the same economic growth as larger cities. We appreciate the governor putting forth a plan that is reasonable, accountable and benefits all Alabama residents.”

To conclude the press conference, representatives from the Alabama League of Municipalities (ALM) also spoke.

Bessemer City Council and ALM President Jesse Matthews gave his strong support for Rebuild Alabama, stating, “We look forward to working hand-in-hand with Governor Ivey and the state legislature to make this dream become a reality.”

Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller wrapped up the statements from local leaders, again thanking the governor and offering his endorsement of the plan.

Important details become clear with bill’s release

The release of the exact bill will answer lingering questions some residents have about Rebuild Alabama.

The revenues raised from the new proposed fuel tax will not be able to be put towards salaries or other compensation that are not direct project costs; purchase or maintenance of equipment; or building structures or buildings that are not installed as part of a road or bridge project.

ALDOT’s portion of the revenues from the tax will be put in the new “Rebuild Alabama Fund,” which will be annually audited and reported to the Joint Transportation Committee with a mandatory itemization of specific projects.

This is part of why Ivey stressed that the bill has “strong accountability” measures to ensure the new revenues are being spent correctly and transparently.

In the press conference, the governor also confirmed that she is moving to stop the recent annual diversion of money from the Road and Bridge Fund to pay for shortages in Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA, which includes state troopers) and the court system funding. In her budget she will propose to the legislature this year, what has been a yearly diversion of approximately $63 million will be cut in half. Ivey hopes to bring that number down to zero in the coming years.

“I’m still protecting the courts and ALEA will be protected,” she explained, noting that the diversion needed to be phased out to accomplish this.

Ivey will ask the legislature to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) out of the education trust fund so the general fund can accommodate the approximately $30 million not being diverted from ALDOT in the coming budget.

The Alabama Transportation Institute has estimated the fuel tax increase will cost the average Alabama driver $55 per year.

A report released earlier this week by a nonprofit transportation research group concluded that Alabama drivers are losing between approximately $1,300-$1,800 annually due to deficient infrastructure.

Hybrid and electric vehicle fees are included in the bill. A large portion of the registration fees for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids will be used to fund the electric transportation infrastructure grant program.

The purpose of this grant program will be to help alleviate the lack of charging infrastructure in the state and to help drivers have access to adequate infrastructure for electric transportation.

You can read a one-page summary of the Rebuild Alabama bill here.

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

3 hours ago

Watch: Doug Jones refuses to answer question on Trump impeachment

Senator Doug Jones (D-AL), cognizant that he was being recorded at the time, would not answer a question about the merits of impeaching President Donald Trump.

During a book tour event in Birmingham on Saturday, Jones was addressing questions that the audience submitted on notecards, but when he came to one question, he flat-out refused to answer.

The incumbent from Mountain Brook burst out laughing when he saw the question, and then read it aloud to the crowd: “Would the country be better off if Trump is impeached or beaten in 2020?”

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“Well, I think I’m just going to hold that one for a little bit,” Jones said to laughter and applause. “I’m sure there’s a tracker here recording this.”

Watch:

RELATED: Jones: ‘Doesn’t matter to me who the opponent is,’ ‘I’ll be back here for another term’

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

4 hours ago

Marshall focused on ensuring public safety, defending state law in first full term

MONTGOMERY — Now that Attorney General Steve Marshall has begun a full term of his own, his personal vision and policy priorities are more distinctly evident in driving the office’s work.

At the Montgomery Rotary Club’s weekly luncheon Monday, Marshall explained that since winning election in November, he finally had the chance to implement a long-term, big-picture plan for the attorney general’s office instead of being more “reactionary,” as he had to be after his 2017 appointment to serve the remainder of former Attorney General Luther Strange’s term. Just a few months into a four-year term now, Marshall and his team are already hard at work executing this plan and making his vision come to fruition.

“I’m a prosecutor — it’s how I’m wired,” Marshall explained. “And there really is no greater honor than to be the attorney general [given what I am passionate about].”

He summarized how he sees the role of attorney general into two relatively broad concepts: ensuring public safety and enforcing the constitutionally-enacted laws of the state.

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“My job is to make sure we keep our people safe,” Marshall said, adding this was “one of the fundamental aspects of what we believe in this country.”

The second concept pertains to fulfilling his role in our democratic republic. Legislators enact laws, the executive branch (chiefly through the attorney general’s office) enforces these laws and the courts play their role by interpreting laws when settling challenges or disputes.

“My role is to defend the law of the state,” Marshall emphasized.

He then shared some of the ways his office has recently “embraced” these core duties.

‘I’m an unabashed fan of Jeff Sessions’

First, speaking on public safety, Marshall reflected on the state’s violent crime initiative that he announced last year, which led him to add, “I don’t mind telling you, I’m an unabashed fan of Jeff Sessions. To the extent I have a disagreement with the president, it’s probably chief among them.”

“One of the things Jeff Sessions did was to refocus this country on the issue of violent crime,” Marshall advised.

He reiterated a point that Sessions has also made in speeches over the last six months, including a few in Alabama — violent crime in the United States had dropped steadily starting with the Reagan Administration in the 1980’s, but sharply started to tick up again after President Barack Obama took office.

However, this trend was reversed under Session’s tenure as United States attorney general, with the violent crime rate in America dropping significantly.

“General Sessions really released our federal partners to be working with us,” Marshall outlined. “Particularly ATF, DEA and FBI. [He] told our U.S. attorney offices to start working gun cases again, because that had not been going on during periods of the Obama Administration. And for us to be able to bring people together at the state and local level to be able to work with [federal partners] collectively… Montgomery is one of those places in which we’ve seen successes from this initiative… violent crime was reduced by over 16 percent. And that matters.”

He continued, “Sometimes when we talk about those percentages, we get sort of locked into numbers. Well, y’all, that’s people. That’s lives. And that’s families that are safer today as a result of much of the work that we’re doing.”

Marshall explained that a large part of the recent violent crime focus in Alabama has been on areas in the Black Belt, especially Selma.

“People in this room who may say, ‘Why does this matter to us here?’ Well it matters because what we’re doing is tracing many of the guns that are showing up in Montgomery violent crime cases to Dallas County. We see people that are moving from Dallas County up this way to be able to commit many of their crimes. So, our efforts to be multi-jurisdictional, bringing people from throughout this region and area together, makes an impact throughout many, many communities,” Marshall said.

The attorney general said over 300 people have been incarcerated due to the state’s violent crime efforts in the last year.

Marshall, after more praise for Sessions, then transitioned into talking about digital forensics analysis. This is an area that he has emphasized as a critical focus moving forward, as there are not enough trained analysts in this field, which is one that continues to grow in importance and prevalence as technology advances. This is another field where federal, state and local collaboration is key when it comes to the sharing of resources.

Some priorities this legislative session

When it comes to the 2019 regular session of the Alabama legislature, which reconvenes Tuesday, Marshall mentioned the “right to life” as a matter of both faith and policy he was focused on and would be advocating for.

“[W]e saw our young ladies were showing up to abortion clinics, who were otherwise the victims of a crime that we know as rape second [statutory rape], but law enforcement never knew anything about it,” Marshall advised. “And I’m going to stop that.”

He said the attorney general’s office will be offering legislation to address this issue, which Marshall stressed is tied to human trafficking in many instances.

“It’s an issue of which I’m very passionate about,” he explained.

Marshall also circled overhauling the Board of Pardons and Paroles as a primary concern of his that he would be asking the legislature to address. This is something he has been working with Governor Kay Ivey on, after the board last year was discovered to have been letting violent offenders free too early and too often.

“We saw some things that were simply unacceptable,” Marshall said. “When somebody is doing a life sentence for murder, they’re not supposed to come up for parole after five years. Especially when people like me have sat down with victims’ families to say, ‘Nobody’s going to show up on offenses like that until the expiration of 15 years or 85 percent of their sentence.’ But, yet suddenly they’re getting a notice from the parole board – they’ve been convicted and sentenced for murder for life –  and showing up after five years.”

“I don’t think you believe that’s acceptable,” he told the crowd. “I don’t think you see that as something that enhances public safety.”

“[O]ne of the things that you’ll see coming from us this legislative session would be ways to make sure that never happens again,” the attorney general said. “Because, although I believe there are appropriate paroles that take place, I believe there is a role for pardons in our system, it needs to be done responsibly.”

He added that if the members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles believe it is their responsibility to address prison overcrowding, “they are greatly misunderstanding their role on that body.”

“They are a public safety body,” Marshall advised. “They need to be making decisions that are appropriate for community safety, and then making those for valid reasons.”

Opioids, mental health

Answering questions from the crowd after his remarks, Marshall identified the opioid crisis and mental health care as two key areas that are not only intertwined with themselves and public safety, but with crime, too.

After touching on his personal experience with the issues, he explained that life expectancy in America has gone down the last three years largely due to the suicide and overdose rates.

“We’re the greatest country in the world, with the best access to healthcare, and yet our life expectancy has gone down,” Marshall lamented.

He said when he became attorney general, the state had no strategic plan on dealing with opioids. He made that a priority from the start, formed a task force with the blessing of Ivey, presented her a plan in December 2017 and is now executing that plan through his office and various partnerships.

The plan “has been recognized nationally as one of the most comprehensive” plans out there, Marshall said. And, most importantly, the plan does not just exist, but it is being diligently worked.

“We’re making progress… and I’m encouraged by where we are,” Marshall concluded.

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

4 hours ago

Join Us: Yellowhammer ‘News Shaper’ series kicks off with its 2019 legislative edition

Join the Yellowhammer News team Tuesday, March 19th for a “Yellowhammer News Shaper” event in Montgomery. The gathering will offer a reception as well as a live interview with Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia).

The discussion will be moderated by Yellowhammer News editor and owner Tim Howe and will cover issues surrounding this year’s legislative session.

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The event will take place at the Alabama Association of Realtors, 522 Washington Avenue, and will begin at 5:00 p.m. with a networking opportunity followed by the moderated interview and questions from the audience.

Several more Yellowhammer News Shaper events will take place across the state this year. The series is non-partisan, on-the-record and designed to localize issues and highlight thought leaders.

Continue to visit Yellowhammernews.com for announcements during the 2019 calendar year.

4 hours ago

Groups across US take in dogs, cats after Alabama tornado

People across the nation are helping to find homes for animals evacuated from shelters in an Alabama community that was devastated by a tornado.

The twister left 23 dead and dozens of people injured as it roared across the community of Beauregard on March 3.

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The Humane Society of the United States contacted several humane societies across the nation to ask for help, Al.com reported.

The Oregon Humane Society says it was asked by the national organization if it could take any of the 150 pets that were being evacuated from Lee County shelters.

In Tennessee, the Nashville Humane Association says it received 21 cats and dogs affected by the tornado. It said those animals will be up for adoption soon.

“They have been through a lot,” said Laura Charvarria , executive director of the Nashville Humane Association.

“One of the shelters, Southern Souls, the tornado touched down actually in their backyard, so they experienced that, on top of, they just went through a 6-hour drive from Alabama to Tennessee, so that is extremely stressful on the animals,” Charvarria said.

Many of the animals from Alabama were flown on a jet to Oregon about a week after the tornado.

Staffers from animal shelters in that region met the dogs and cats when they touched down.

“There was a great camaraderie among the group 7/8— a wonderful testament to the collective compassion in the Northwest.

As the plane touched down the group erupted in applause,” the Oregon Humane Society said in a news release.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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5 hours ago

Failed state House candidate wants to challenge gas tax in court

Former candidate for state House and Republican Executive Committee anti-tax resolution sponsor, Tom Fredricks, is preparing a legal challenge on the Rebuild Alabama Act based on the perceived unconstitutional nature of the Port of Mobile dredging.

When the Rebuild Alabama gas tax increase was being debated, for all of five days, opponents were throwing everything they could at the gas tax.

All of this was for naught as the bill passed both chambers of the legislature and was signed by the governor. Your gas tax will go up over the next three years.

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The state Republican Party Executive Committee went as far as opposing the gas tax with a resolution at their winter meeting. The committee rightly argued very few politicians ran on raising taxes. In fact, many opposed tax increases or ran on keeping taxes low.

Foes of the tax, yours truly included, felt the use of the special session was a nefarious work-around the legislative process.

Lastly, a small group of insurgents pushed the ingenious argument that the portion of the law spending millions of dollars every year on dredging for the Port of Mobile was unconstitutional.

And now, the opponents of this gas tax are moving on to the next level of the battle: the courts

Fredricks appeared Monday on “The Dale Jackson Show” on WVNN in Huntsville to lay out his legal strategy.

“It appears that it’s in direct violation of Amendment 354 … the constitution says that that money shall be used on the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges,” he outlined.

Fredricks has even launched a GoFundMe page to fund this endeavor after one lawyer told him he would need $25,000 to pursue this challenge.

But, former Senator Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville), an anti-tax advocate, believes this is a non-starter after initially thinking there would be an issue in battling the tax increase.

Sanford posted his findings on Facebook.

Fredricks himself believes this is a long-shot, but stated that he believes the people of this state need to continue having a voice on this issue.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN