3 years 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.

2 hours ago

Alabama Democrats are shambling towards a bloodbath, and they will learn nothing… again

Let me jump forward about two weeks for you: U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) loses his Senate seat to former Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville by 10+ points, incumbent Republican Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh beats Democrat Laura Casey for Public Service Commission president and every Republican running a Congressional race blows out their opponent, as U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham) does not have a general election opponent.

We will then be told that some random Democratic mayor is the next major threat to a statewide Republican sweep in 2022.

This, of course, is not true.

The same was said for Ron Sparks (rural voters totally coming out), Parker Griffith (moderate enough to be a Democrat, then a Republican, then an independent, and then a Democrat again) and Walt Maddox (a “cool” young mayor), and we all know what happened with them.

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Democrats in Alabama had no business winning the Senate seat that Jones will lose in less than two weeks and their behavior, which mirrors national Democrats, only marginalizes them further.

Look at Macon County Democrats: They are placing signs telling voters that “Racism is on the ballot.” It’s not, and this divisive messaging doesn’t stay in Macon County anymore.

All over the state, voters were told that Alabama Democrats can’t stop calling everyone “racist.”

This isn’t 1965 or even 1995. This kind of inflammatory nonsense gets spread to suburbs and rural areas via the internet.

Non-racists don’t like this.

Witness the completely asinine push for a debate by Senator Jones with Tommy Tuberville. This does nothing but scream, “I am going to lose.” We are 12 days out, and all we are getting from Jones is that Tuberville was a bad coach (he wasn’t), swindled people (it appears that is untrue) or that he’s a “coward” for not debating.

Now email me at dale@yellowhammernews.com, and tell me a single candidate that lost a race because he refused to debate. I’ll wait.

Oh, and a Joe Biden endorsement? That’ll really help in Alabama. Was Hunter not available?

You know what Jones, the state’s highest-profile Democrat, can’t do? Explain how he is in touch with the politics and culture of Alabama.

His campaign is one long explanation about how the way he feels is different than what we have all seen with our own eyes.

On guns, he believes Alabamians are ready for gun control. Alabamians aren’t.

On abortion, he has said he is pro-choice until birth, but now he isn’t — and the media is going right along. Alabamians aren’t.

One of two things has to happen for Democrats to be more than a party of Birmingham, the Black Belt and a shrinking media-PR arm that can’t move the needle outside of their congratulatory tweets to each other:

  1. The state has to change.
  2. They have to convince people they are something they are not.

I don’t think the state is going to become a liberal hotspot anytime soon, so it might be time to just start attempting to change people’s minds by being honest about what you want as Alabama Democrats.

Run people that will tell you what they actually believe and not require an untrusted media to repackage your positions.

Yes, Democrats in other states will send you money, but they can’t vote for you.

Go all in. Stop trying to be Republican-lite. No one believes you and November 3’s election results in Alabama will make that point again.

Learn nothing.

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

3 hours ago

Drug discovered, tested at UAB becomes first fully FDA-approved treatment for COVID-19

Remdesivir on Thursday became the first drug to be fully approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating the coronavirus.

The antiviral produced by the pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences received an emergency use authorization from the FDA in May; Thursday’s announcement will likely expand its usage across the nation. The drug has been approved for the treatment of patients requiring hospitalization.

Remdesivir showed promising results for treating COVID-19 in a much-discussed clinical trial conducted in the spring and early summer. After this trial, White House health advisor and NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci proclaimed to the nation that remdesivir “will be the standard of care” moving forward for coronavirus-positive inpatients. He called the trial results “quite good news.”

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) was a participating clinical site in the now-famous study and administered the drug to participating patients. However, UAB’s involvement goes significantly farther.

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As reported by Yellowhammer News in February, a drug discovery program housed at UAB led to the development of remdesivir. This discovery came from a public-private partnership that also included Birmingham-based Southern Research and Gilead Sciences.

The drug discovery was funded by federal monies awarded to the Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center at UAB after U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) became chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations.

Remdesivir was taken by President Donald J. Trump in his recovery from COVID-19, along with Regeneron’s experimental polyclonal antibody cocktail. That cocktail is currently being tested at UAB.

In a Thursday release, Gilead explained the treatment guidelines for remdesivir and reacted to the FDA approval.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gilead has worked relentlessly to help find solutions to this global health crisis. It is incredible to be in the position today, less than one year since the earliest case reports of the disease now known as COVID-19, of having an FDA-approved treatment in the U.S. that is available for all appropriate patients in need,” stated Daniel O’Day, chairman and CEO of Gilead Sciences. “The speed and rigor with which [remdesivir] has been developed and approved in the U.S. reflect the shared commitment of Gilead, government agencies and clinical trial investigators to advance well-tolerated, effective treatment options for the fight against COVID-19. We will continue to work at speed with the aim of enhancing patient outcomes with [remdesivir] to ensure all patients with COVID-19 have the best chance at recovery.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer: Joe Biden ‘highly, highly compromised’ by China

U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer (AL-06) on Wednesday interviewed on Talk 99.5’s “Matt & Aunie Show,” discussing the recent bombshell stories that have come out indicating that former Vice President Joe Biden was potentially involved in certain lucrative foreign business dealings of his son, Hunter.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe this week announced the assessment that Hunter Biden’s laptop and the emails on it “is not part of some Russian disinformation campaign.” The FBI has said that it has “nothing to add” to this assessment.

Palmer, speaking to radio host Matt Murphy, emphasized that the questions raised involving the Bidens are serious and “real.”

“This is a real story. The FBI has the laptop. This is not a Russian hoax. This is real,” the central Alabama congressman said.

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“And the most concerning thing is, it’s not what Hunter Biden did — we’ve known about Hunter Biden’s corrupt activities with Russia, with the money he got from the widow of the mayor of Moscow, we’ve known about the corrupt deal he had with Burisma, and there are other people that I think at some point we will be able to talk about that may have been involved, and we’ve known about what he did in China. What is new about this is the possibility, the allegation, that Joe Biden himself benefited personally, that he was taking money off the top for himself,” Palmer continued. “And I think that’s what’s got to be investigated.”

He lamented that “the mainstream media is ignoring this” and that “they think they can keep people from finding out about it.”

On Thursday, a business partner of Hunter Biden told Fox News that Joe Biden was indeed involved in his son’s foreign business dealings and profiting monetarily. The business partner also confirmed the authenticity of emails previously publicized by The New York Post and has provided outlets on Thursday with further electronic communications involving the Bidens not found on Hunter’s laptop.

Palmer in a subsequent part of Wednesday’s interview commented on what would be the consequence of Joe Biden becoming president while potentially compromised by China.

“You are in danger of being held hostage,” the congressman warned. “The whole world would suffer if Biden gets elected president. Because the Chinese have the goods on him.”

“Now think about that,” Palmer continued, “how it would impact nations like Australia and Japan and South Korea and Vietnam, who’s becoming an ally of ours because they fear the hegemony of China. It’s going to spread across the world. This is a critical moment for this country. And you literally have left-wing media that are part of a conspiracy to defeat a president. They tried to remove him from office, now they’re trying to defeat him and put somebody in office that is highly, highly compromised.”

He also raised the specter of what could happen if Biden is elected on November 3 and then investigations subsequently reveal that he is compromised by a foreign power.

“[I]t doesn’t give me any comfort whatsoever to think that Biden would be removed from office and replaced with … Senator [Kamala] Harris,” Palmer decried. “Communist Kamala.”

RELATED: Director of National Intelligence: Iran attempting to damage Trump’s reelection

In stark contrast to recent revelations and Palmer’s Wednesday remarks come the past statements of U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) about the Bidens’ foreign endeavors. Jones, an earlier endorser of Biden’s 2020 presidential bid, recently explained that he has considered Biden a friend and mentor since 1978. Jones recently had Biden campaign for him virtually in Alabama, and the former vice president also campaigned for Jones in his 2017 special election bid.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) last year called for an investigation into Joe Biden’s China ties.

“Do you think everything about these ties between the vice-president’s son and China are OK? Don’t you think we ought to ask some important questions like we spent all this time and money doing with President Trump? I’d like to hear what he has to say about that,” Byrne asked of Jones at the time.

When Byrne subsequently filed a bill to investigate the Bidens over foreign dealings, Jones then went into defense mode for his old friend.

“We should all want the same things – the facts, the truth, and the rule of law – not pandering partisanship trying to be relevant,” Jones asserted at the time, while not supporting an investigation.

His campaign spokesperson at the time also claimed, “Information about Joe Biden and his son has been around for a long time and all alleged improprieties have been debunked by numerous sources.”

RELATED: Jones on Biden investigation: ‘We cannot go around trying to investigate every perceived enemy of the president, especially this president’

Overall, Jones has been quick to come to Biden’s defense this election cycle. Alabama’s junior senator defended Biden last year when he came under fire for remarks about former segregationist Democratic senators, as well as deeming past sexual misconduct allegations against Joe Biden as distractions from beating Trump in 2020.

Additionally, Jones earlier this year attacked the “credibility” of Tara Reade, the former Biden Senate staffer who has accused Biden of sexually assaulting her in 1993. She recently interviewed with “60 Minutes” in Australia about the alleged assault.

RELATED: Doug Jones: Biden does not have ‘senior moments’ — Just ‘Joe Biden moments’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

After staying flat for weeks, Alabama’s coronavirus numbers are going up again

Alabama’s coronavirus statistics have climbed steadily over the last week after spending more than a month on a plateau.

Over the last seven days, the state has averaged 898 new cases per day, a rate not experienced since the first few days of September.

Especially troubling to experts, 16.06% of coronavirus tests administered in the last 14 days have come back positive, the highest rate the state has ever experienced.

Yellowhammer News used numbers from the website BamaTracker for this report. BamaTracker collects and charts the information gathered by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH).

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The disease has reached Alabama’s halls of power; Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth and at least five state senators have come down with the virus. Ainsworth reports being asymptomatic, but State. Sen Randy Price (R-Opelika) was hospitalized earlier this year during an endured an extended battle with COVID-19.

Between 6,300 and 7,000 coronavirus tests have been reported each day in Alabama during October, a rate that has remained consistent as the totals of new positive results have risen.

Yellowhammer News is referencing new cases as those testing positive via a molecular-based PCR test and confirmed by ADPH. When including positive results from rapid test devices, the average new cases per day for the last week rises to 1,129.

Ninety-nine Alabamians have been admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 each day over the last week, a tick up from the mid-80s average seen for most of the last six weeks, but not as pronounced as the rise in the new case count.

Clicking image opens interactive new cases chart in new tab. (BamaTracker)
Clicking image opens BamaTracker in new tab. (BamaTracker)

Public health experts have reported on numerous occasions that a rise in hospitalizations usually follows a rise in new cases by around two weeks, and increased deaths follow hospitalization surges by two to five weeks.

Sixty-five of Alabama’s 67 counties reported a new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday, indicating continued widespread transmission throughout the state.

Rural counties like Dekalb, Covington and Jackson have all had pronounced outbreaks in the last two weeks.

For the last seven days, Alabama has averaged 10 deaths among people with a confirmed case of the coronavirus. The state’s total death toll from the virus is now 2,843, with another 183 that are listed as probable but not yet confirmed by ADPH.

Alabama’s new cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all down from their mid to late summer peaks.

Dr. Don Williamson, head of the Alabama Hospital Association, told WSFA this week that he does not expect Alabama to be exempt “from what looks like it’s going to be a second wave” of the coronavirus.

Williamson further surmised to the Associated Press in recent days that Alabamians were suffering from “COVID fatigue” and not observing precautions like wearing masks or socially distancing as much as citizens did earlier in the fall.

Health officials are urging every citizen to go get a flu shot, saying that a bad flu outbreak on top of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic could be disastrous for the state and nation’s health care system.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

3 hours ago

Ainsworth stands by opposition to mandatory masks, vaccines — ‘Everybody needs personal responsibility,’ ‘Gov’t mandate is a dangerous precedent’

Late Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth’s office revealed he had tested positive for COVID-19, noting the diagnosis despite having followed CDC health and safety protocols.

Ainsworth had been a critic of the mask mandate and other restrictions implemented by Gov. Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris done in the name of preventing the spread of coronavirus in the past.

During an interview with Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5 on Thursday, Ainsworth said he still felt the mandates were a “dangerous precedent” and suggested emphasizing personal responsibility.

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“It doesn’t at all,” he said. “I think everybody needs personal responsibility. I think the government mandate is a dangerous precedent. I stand by that. Here’s what I want you to understand, Jeff — I had a mask on in Sunday school and was the only person on the row I was sitting on. Maybe I got it somewhere else. Maybe I didn’t. But I guess my point is you can still do all these things, and I exercise caution. The virus — maybe it was on a doorknob. Who knows? But I still got it. So, I don’t think the mask is the cure-all that everybody necessarily thinks it is.”

“My thing is this: I think it is smart to wear a mask,” Ainsworth continued. “It’s going to be an extra layer of protection if you’ve got health issues. You need more than a mask. You probably don’t need to be out and about. You really need to be careful. But most people — they’ll be fine. They’ll get over it. We just need to utilize common sense and, you know, I think we’ll get through this. When a vaccine gets here, it’s going to help a lot.”

Ainsworth added that he was concerned about the possibility of mandatory vaccinations, as well.

“To me, Jeff, that’s just a policy issue,” he said. “I don’t think we need to be mandating masks.  I don’t think we need to be mandating vaccines. I don’t think that’s government’s role. I think that’s each individual’s role to decide what’s best for his or her family and that government should not be involved with that. That’s been my issue with this. Jeff Poor should decide whether or not he wants to wear a mask, or whether or not he should get a vaccine, not the government.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.