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7 months ago

Alabama State Legislature Update: Tax cuts, Medicaid reform, ride-sharing and more

State House/State of Alabama

 

The Alabama Legislature on Thursday moved closer to cutting taxes, saving money for Medicaid and approving rules for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Here are the major developments in Montgomery.

The big story: The Alabama Senate approved a modest tax break, one of the centerpieces of the Republican agenda for the 2018 session.

The bill, sponsored by Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) sailed through the upper chamber on a 28-0 vote.

The tax cut would be nothing of the magnitude of the federal tax cut passed last month. But it would give a small tax break to almost 200,000 low-to-middle-income families.

The bill would raise the standard deduction for families with incomes up to $33,000.

“It is a testament to the Republican Legislature that through smart, conservative management we have been able to guide the state through tough financial times and are now in a place where we can bring tax cuts to the hard-working people of Alabama,” Marsh said in a statement.

Marsh said in the statement that he will continue to work for “responsible ways to give people a tax cut” until the bill reaches Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Legislature to look for ways to reform the tax code that are fair to all of the people of this state,” he said.

Kimble Forrister, executive director of Arise Citizens’ Policy Project, told AL.com that his advoacy group for the poor would have preferred the Legislature act on its longtime priority of eliminating the sales tax on groceries. But he said the tax bill would be a “very modest improvement” for families.

“It’s not as much as they would get from taking the sales tax off groceries,” he told the website. “But it’s still a few dollars every week and every little bit helps when you’re trying to make ends meet.”

The bill now moves to the state House of Representatives.

Medicaid reform: The Alabama Senate unanimously approved a Medicaid reform that supporters say will save the state $5 million to $6 million.

Alabama is the only state without a law allowing for its Medicaid agency to collect money from a dead Medicaid recipient’s estate. Under federal law, the state has the right to collect from a dead recipient’s estate an amount of money equal to Medicaid expenditures.

“Federal law requires the states to seek reimbursement from the estates of deceased recipients — otherwise, taxpayers are going to eat millions of dollars each year in unrecovered costs,” the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) said in a statement. “Alabama doesn’t have an option under federal law, and we do have an obligation to protect taxpayers’ dollars.”

The recovery law does not apply when the deceased has a living spouse, a child younger than 21, or a child who is blind or disabled.

The bill now goes to the state House of Representatives.

The gig economy: The Senate approved a bill to set up uniform, statewide rules governing the operation of ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro), passed unanimously.

“This is important to the state of Alabama because ride-sharing is the new trend across the United States … It’s important for us as a state to keep up with trends,” he said in a statement. “If we pass this legislation, we will be the 45th state in the U.S.,” Singleton said in a statement. “This will allow citizens in the state of Alabama to be employed and it will allow people who don’t have transportation to be able to move around in their cities.”

Supporters argue that the uniform rules would promote the growth of such services by wiping away the confusing patchwork of regulations that vary from city to city. Uber and Lyft operate now in only 15 cities — Auburn, Birmingham, Daphne, Gardendale, Gulf Shores, Homewood, Hoover, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, Mountain Brook, Pelham, Tuscaloosa, Trussville and Vestavia Hills.

Currently, only five other states lack uniform regulations. The legislation would task the Public Service Commission with issuing permits that would allow drivers to operate statewide.

“This is a perfect example of a bipartisan bill that works for all Alabamians,” Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) said in a statement. “Installing this regulatory framework is going to provide folks all over the state another choice in transportation, ensure safe operation for both drivers and riders, and pave the way for more jobs in the state.”

The bill now goes to the House.

Get a job faster: Under a bill passed by the Alabama Senate, unemployed workers would have less time to find a job but would receive slightly more generous benefits while they look.

The bill, sponsored by Orr, would cut the maximum time on unemployment from 26 weeks. Instead, people would have from 14 to 20 weeks – depending on the unemployment rate — to find a new job. The maximum weekly benefit would rise from $265 to $275.

According to AL.com, Orr said the move would put Alabama in line with other states in the Southeast that have adopted similar policies.

“Some people will take the full 26 weeks and not look for a job until that 26 weeks is about to run out,” he said. “This, hopefully, will encourage them to perhaps look a little bit earlier.”

Unemployed people enrolled in a state job training program would get an extra five weeks of benefits.

Despite passing an amendment by Sen. Roger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) to use the county unemployment rate instead of the statewide figure, he still voted against the legislation.

“Even if it was 3 percent, those people who are the 3 percent need the full benefits,” he said. “All the low rate is saying is that we have a lower number that needs benefits than we would otherwise. It doesn’t eliminate the need of benefits.”

Not so fast: A state representative who has proposed making it a crime to disrupt a political speech in public places got a lukewarm reception for his bill, the Montgomery Advertiser reports.

The bill would make it a misdemeanor to “prevent or attempt to prevent another person from making a public speech on public property because of the content of the speech.” Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia, said the proposal was a response to a wave of protests shutting down speakers across the country.

“This would make it unlawful to prevent someone from going into a public facility they’ve been invited to make an address,” he said, according to the Advertiser.

But the Advertiser reported that lawmakers of both parties expressed concerns that the bill was too vague and questioned how it might affect free speech. Legislators referred it to a subcommittee.

Tweet of the day:

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at LifeZette.com and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.

10 mins ago

ALGOP Chair Terry Lathan: ‘If Dr. Bentley truly cares for Alabama, as he says he does, he would consider letting us go’

With speculation swirling around former Gov. Robert Bentley, Alabama Republican Party Chair Terry Lathan hopes he decides against running for another public office.

Lathan told Yellowhammer News, “I hope that if Dr. Bentley truly cares for Alabama, as he says he does, he would consider letting us go.” However, Lathan could not rule his return out at this time.

Two days after Yellowhammer News published an exclusive interview last week with Bentley, in which he left the door open on returning to public office.

While several media outlets, including the Associated Press, have unquestioningly submitted that Bentley’s plea agreement bars him from running for public office, a former Montgomery County Deputy District Attorney advised Yellowhammer News that it appears the former governor is actually eligible to run again after serving out his sentence.

“Based strictly on the plea agreement, what I’ve read, he would be able to [run for public office again],” Richard White, the attorney, opined.

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“Until qualifying opens for the 2020 election cycle, I cannot comment on a hypothetical situation,” Lathan stated.

This summer, Twitter and Facebook accounts representing the former Alabama governor were reactivated to coincide with the unveiling of Bentley for Alabama.

This new site, launched on Memorial Day, examines Bentley’s time serving as Alabama’s 53rd governor and provides contemporary updates on his life since leaving office.

In the original interview with Yellowhammer News, Bentley discussed his new project, his post-public life and specifically left the door open on a 2020 U.S. Senate run.

Wednesday, Bentley’s Twitter account hailed his status as a veteran and small-business owner, along with his work when governor to establish a program with the NFIB that benefits veterans.

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

29 mins ago

Alabama native Tim Cook dines with Trump at Bedminster but the Apple CEO still has his back turned on his home state

Alabama native and Apple CEO Tim Cook does not appear to have a problem currying favor with President Donald Trump.

Last Friday, Cook dined with the president and first lady at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, NJ, marking Cook’s sixth private meeting with POTUS or his family in the nineteen months he has been in office.

Cook’s coziness with the Trump administration is particularly baffling and insulting for some Alabamians, given the Apple chief turned his nose up on his home state long ago for the same reasons he has criticized the president.

Cook has piled on Trump over social issues, not to mention the likes of the Paris climate accords, immigration and tariffs.

One cannot help but remember the Auburn graduate’s infamous and public 2014 spit-in-the-face of his home state – that time when he was being so graciously inducted into the Alabama Hall of Honor and decided to mark the occasion by belittling its citizens and lecturing them on how to live.

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Yellowhammer News founder Cliff Sims unloaded on Cook at the time. Sims was right then, and Cook’s latest hypocrisy regarding Trump just further cements his point.

“[Tim Cook] can get pub[licity] anytime, but chose a ceremony where he’s being honored to lecture the state he left on how we should live. Low class,” Sims said on Twitter.

He continued, “How about opening up an Apple factory in AL? Actually help some folks, instead of just swooping in to lecture us, then leaving.”

At one point, Apple was talking about bringing some jobs to Cook’s home state but the move was contingent on the Alabama legislature passing an LGBTQ-rights bill — at least that was the hot rumor floating around Montgomery at the time.

Almost four full years later, Alabama is home to Google and is adding a major Amazon distribution center in Bessemer while Cook still has his back squarely turned on the place he was born and raised.

If he can look past the president’s perceived faults in the name of business, why will Cook not do the same with Alabama?

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

1 hour ago

Former Governor Robert Bentley deposition filed in court this week

Former Gov. Robert Bentley provided new details of his view of the scandal that helped topple his administration, according to a deposition filed this week in circuit court.

Bentley resigned last year as he faced an ethics investigation and impeachment proceedings in the wake of an alleged affair with a top aide, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.

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Bentley answered questions about the relationship and other matters in the June 23 deposition in a civil lawsuit brought by his former Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier.

Collier contends he was wrongfully fired by Bentley.

Here are some of the highlights of the deposition filed Monday in circuit court:

AN ‘AFFECTIONATE FRIENDSHIP’

Responding to questions about his relationship with Mason, Bentley called it an “affectionate friendship” but said the relationship did not involve sex and he did not consider it an affair.

Bentley said it did “involve touching and kissing, and I would hold her hand the times that I was with her.”

“So we didn’t have what a lot of people think we had.

Now did I really care about her? Did I really love her? I did, and she did me, and we still do.

It’s a very close affectionate friendship so that’s how I describe it,” Bentley testified.

He testified however that his relationship with Mason was a reason for his divorce.

Mason works as the office manager for his dermatology practice, he testified.

WON’T CONFIRM MASON ON TAPES

Bentley’s relationship with Mason was exposed after the release of recordings made by the governor’s then wife, Dianne Bentley.

In the recordings, Bentley is heard talking on the phone.

He was speaking affectionately to a woman he calls “Rebekah” and talking about touching her breasts, although her side of the conversation is not heard.

Under questioning, Bentley did not say he was speaking to Mason but acknowledged it was “likely” her.

“I’m not denying that it was her.

I’m just saying, there’s no concrete evidence that it was her but most likely it was but I don’t think you can prove that with the tapes,” Bentley testified.

Bentley said his wife was able to view his text messages to Mason on an iPad because he did not know his state cellphone was synced to the iPad.

PRESSURED TO INTERVENE IN CORRUPTION CASE

Bentley testified that he was getting pressured to intervene in the Alabama attorney general’s office’s investigation of then-House Speaker Mike Hubbard.

Bentley said some people wanted state prosecutor Matt Hart off the case.

“A lot of people were pressuring me to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the attorney general’s office,” Bentley testified.

He said businessman and GOP political donor Jimmy Rane and Rob Riley, the son of former Gov. Bob Riley, were among those that approached his office.

So too did three legislators and Hubbard’s attorney, he said.

Rane said Wednesday that he did call Bentley’s office, but was not asking Bentley to take any specific action.

Rane, who has known Hubbard for decades, said he was asking for assurances, “that this is a fair and real investigation and not based on a political agenda.”

Riley did not immediately return a text message seeking comment.

Hubbard was later convicted on multiple ethics charges in a case largely led by Hart.

DONORS TO NONPROFIT

Bentley said he raised money for a nonprofit organization, called the Alabama Council for Excellent Government, which was created to promote his agenda.

He said donors to the group included Franklin Haney, a Tennessee businessman who purchased the unfinished Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in north Alabama.

He did not disclose other donors or say how much Haney gave.

Collier’s attorney is trying to force the disclosure of other donors to the group, court filings show.

Tax forms filed with the IRS show that the organization raised $90,600 in 2015 and $32,500 in 2016.

Bentley resigned in April 2017.

BLAMES DOWNFALL ON SPECIAL INTERESTS

The former governor said “special interests” wanted rid of him in Montgomery, but he would not name them.

“I’m not going to name them, but there are special interests in Montgomery that never liked me, and they used much of this — they used Spencer, they used my family, they used a lot of people to get rid of me.”
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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2 hours ago

7 Things: Trump pulls former CIA Director’s clearance, former Governor Robert Bentley wants us to believe the unbelievable, Trump supporters slammed for something that didn’t happen and more …

7. In a story that surprises no one, former White House staffer Omarosa lies about being interviewed by Robert Muller’s investigators

— Omarosa already has some credibility issues but there is no evidence she has ever been interviewed in any capacity by the Mueller team. She claims she has and that she has new information for him.

— Sources at the White House say that Omarosa was never requested by investigator and ABC News’ John Santucci tweeted, “We’ve been reporting on the Special Counsel’s interviews from day one – I have never heard her name.”

6. Masterpiece Cakes was targeted again the day they won the right to have their case heard at the Supreme Court

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— After losing on a technicality, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission is targeting the business again, this time arguing they wouldn’t make a cake for a transgender attorney.

—  A lawyer called the cakeshop asking for a birthday cake that was pink on the inside and blue on the outside in order to honor the seventh anniversary of her transition. When the cakeshop refused she filed a complaint.

5. The monolithic mainstream media decided to prove their critics right by publishing similar editorials all over the country attacking Trump

— 350+ newspapers have joined in the effort to assert their First Amendment privileges that they clearly have been expressing for the entire Trump administration with absolutely no repercussions, except some mean words from the president.

— The face of these heroic warriors is none other than CNN’s Jim Acosta who stormed out of a White House press briefing in a huff when Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wouldn’t repeat what he wanted her to.

4. AL.com is starting to telegraph how Democrats will attempt to use recent coal corruption trial in attacks this election season

— The sports blog with a liberal bias posted a graphic that included every Republican member of Congress in Alabama implying inappropriate behavior when there is absolutely nothing to substantiate that claim.

— The only thing most of these men did was sign a letter to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), asking for a 60-day public comment period — a request that was granted by an EPA ran by Obama appointees.

3. The media is now using a non-existent Trump tape to beat up Trump supporters. Even the media’s favorite conservatives are jumping in

— The tape, which almost certainly doesn’t exist, has set liberal commentators off into a tizzy of condemnation over an event that hasn’t taken place. The New York Times’ Charles Blow argued the tape “might actually increase his support among the people who support him.”

— S.E. Cupp, who recently received a Saturday talk show on CNN, declared without any evidence that “plenty of Trump supporters voted for him because they saw him as a protector of white America, whether through rhetoric or policy. They won’t mind.”

2. Former Governor Robert Bentley continues to talk about his alleged extra-marital affair with Rebekah Mason

— Bentley is claiming that the obvious adulterous relationship that ended his marriage and cost him his position as governor was not adulterous, claiming it was just “affectionate friendship” with kissing but no sex.

— The absurd lie, or pathetic truth, was part of a deposition in an ongoing civil lawsuit.

1. President Trump revokes former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance and put the clearances of others under review 

— One of the president’s loudest critics, Brennan claims the revoking of his security clearances is a violation of his free speech rights, which he ironically said during interviews with multiple news outlets after the clearance was revoked.

— Brennan is so in fear of losing his right to free speech that he wrote a column for the New York Times making the same silly claims that got his clearance yanked. He claims there is collusion, he gets the headline and then he doesn’t deliver.

2 hours ago

Calera kindergarten teacher accused of possessing child porn

A kindergarten teacher in Alabama has been charged with 40 counts of child porn possession.

News outlets report 26-year-old Daniel Prentice “Danny” Donaldson was arrested Wednesday.

Calera Elementary School officials say the teacher has been placed on administrative leave as the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office continues its investigation.

Sheriff’s Maj. Ken Burchfield says the investigation started with a tip, and that there is no evidence yet that any students were involved in the child porn case.

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Donaldson has worked with the county school district since 2015, starting as a paraprofessional under the guidance of another teacher.

District officials say he passed a criminal background check in 2014 and has no prior incidents of misconduct.

This school year would have been his second teaching kindergarten.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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