1 week ago

What to expect at the Alabama State House Friday

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives is set to enter debate before taking a final vote Friday on HB 2, the Rebuild Alabama bill.

The House will gavel in at 10:30 a.m. after HB 1, HB 2 and HB 3 unanimously advanced from the Transportation, Utilities and Infrastructure Committee and received their second readings Thursday afternoon.

HB 2 is the only one of the three infrastructure bills that has been met with controversy. However, Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) told reporters that he is optimistic the bill will pass. The latest vote count the speaker had received from his whips on Wednesday saw a majority in favor of passage – 55 “yes” votes between the majority and minority caucuses. Thursday afternoon, McCutcheon said that number had grown and was continuing to trend upward for passage.

“The way the bill’s moving right now, according to a meeting I had yesterday with the minority caucus, it’s going to be a joint effort,” McCutcheon said, indicating that he expected a number of Democrats to vote in favor of the legislation.

The speaker said he is not just welcoming but “hoping” for “a lot of debate” on HB 2 when it comes to the floor.

“I would hope we’d be here through the day, all day,” McCutcheon added about the amount of debate and discussion he wants on the floor.

McCutcheon advised that State Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) is “working with some of the people that have some amendments [to HB 2].” The speaker lavished praise on Poole’s leadership at multiple moments in his Thursday press gaggle, calling Poole’s opening statement at the Transportation, Utilities and Infrastructure Committee meeting earlier that day the best he had ever seen.

“I was very proud to be a state legislator when I heard him give his opening remarks to that committee,” McCutcheon said. “They were very professional, they were to the point, they were factual, and for a person living in Alabama to hear that statement that was made to that committee, he left no stone unturned. And he really addressed how important this is for us to do something when it comes to our infrastructure.”

“When people pay for their fuel at the pump, they are making the most important investment in the state they can make, bar none,” he added.

McCutcheon said the value of lives saved by investing in Alabama’s infrastructure cannot be stated in numerical terms.

“What’s one child’s life [worth]? Is it worth ten cents a gallon at a pump fill-up to save a child? Well, of course, we’d all say, ‘Well sure, that’s worth that,'” he stressed. “And then you look at the other issue, and that’s keeping us competitive with our neighboring states for jobs and the economy. And that’s important.”

Senate

On Thursday, the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee approved SB 2, which is a companion bill to HB 1. Sponsored by Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville), the bill would put in place new oversight of the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) and increase accountability and transparency.

“This bill dramatically increases oversight and accountability for the Department of Transportation,” Chambliss said in a statement. “Governor Ivey has put forward her Rebuild Alabama plan for modernizing Alabama’s infrastructure, and I support her proposal. At the same time, the Legislature is tasked with making sure tax dollars are being spent in a transparent, efficient, and accountable manner.”

The bill requires that the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), ALDOT’s long-range plan of road and bridge projects, be constantly available on ALDOT’s website, along with any updates of the STIP plan.

Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) spoke about this and other accountability mechanisms in the legislation during an interview on “The Dale Jackson Show” Thursday morning.

SB 2 also overhauls the Joint Transportation Committee, which has responsibility for reviewing the long-term plans and budget for ALDOT.

“Accountability is an important piece of Governor Ivey’s Rebuild Alabama plan. We still have work to do but I believe that at the end of the day we will have a piece of legislation that holds ALDOT accountable for the work they do and the money they spend,” Marsh said in a press release. “This measure of oversight must be approved to show the taxpayers how money is been used to improve roads and bridges in Alabama. I want to thank the Transportation Committee for their work on this important piece of legislation.”

The Senate will convene Friday at 1:00 p.m., at which time they could enter debate and then vote on SB 2. The bill has broad, bipartisan support and is expected to easily pass the chamber.

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

8 mins 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

34 mins 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.

50 mins 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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2 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

Byrne: Supporting state and local government

Last week, I was honored to host some of our local mayors, city council members and city officials from Southwest Alabama in Washington to hear about what they do every day for our communities.

I am a firm believer that the best people to run our towns and our communities are not the bureaucrats in Washington or the federal government. The best people to do that are the people who live, work, and play in the same place as the neighbors they represent. That is why I come home to Southwest Alabama every weekend, to be in touch with the people I serve in Washington.

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Everyone wants a great quality of life. Part of that comes down to having good roads and bridges, having high-quality schools, knowing that the fire department, police, EMS and other first responders will be there when we call, and countless other things that happen on a local level.

The federal government is not the best place to regulate those things. Heavy-handed government mandates and rules that impose “we know best” policies on our local communities don’t work. What works in Robertsdale, Brewton or Chatom might not work in Nashville, Boston or Anchorage.

One of the things that has always worked best is to have a strong partnership between our local, state and federal officials. My mission has always been to assist our local leaders on projects when they need our help, but it is not my place to tell our local mayors how to do their job or what will be best for their community. I want to be a part of their team.

This teamwork approach has worked incredibly well when it comes to bringing new jobs to our area. When a prospective business is looking at locating in a new place, they want to know that officials at every level of government are willing to work with them to support their business and their employees.

A good example of this is saving our rural hospitals. In most places, these hospitals are the bedrock of a community. No major business will locate in a town that doesn’t have a hospital. So, that’s why I have been working with our local and state officials to do everything in my power to save our rural hospitals from closing. But, this requires a total team approach from all levels of government.

Another prime example of giving more power back to the local level is Alabama’s Red Snapper recreational fishing season.

In years past, the federal government has put stringent regulations on Gulf Coast fishing that has ended up hurting local fishermen. Those of us in Alabama best understand Alabama issues, and after years of continuous advocating, this year we received great news that the 2019 Red Snapper season for recreational fishermen will take place on three-day weekends (Friday-Sunday) from June 1st through July 28th, including July 4th.

As I have said repeatedly, this issue is about more than just fishing. A full Red Snapper season helps boost our coastal economies due to everything from fuel sales to hotel and condo rentals. We must continue pushing for greater state control over our fisheries.

Fixing our Red Snapper season wasn’t done by just one person. From the city councils to the state Department of Conservation to the halls of Congress, it took a total team effort to make a positive impact for our residents.

As long as I have the honor of representing Alabama, I promise to always be a part of the team to make life better for people in our communities. I am dedicated to doing what is best for Alabama through policies that give back to, not take from, our communities.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.