Connect with us

News

Commission continues work on rewriting 1901 Constitution

Bill Britt

Published

on

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—The commission to rewrite Alabama’s 1901 Constitution is at steady work toward an uncertain end because voters will have the ultimate say.

On Monday, December 3, 2012, the commission will reconvene to continue its work on constitutional reform. In the next legislative session, the commission led by former Governor Albert Brewer will offer revisions of Articles III (Distribution of Powers), IV (Legislative Department) and IX (Representation).

“Addressing the constitution as it applies to the legislative branch is the focus of this year’s attempt to rewrite Alabama’s 1901 Constitution,” said Senator Cam Ward, (R-Alabaster), a member of the Constitutional Revision Commission.

Recently, the commission had cause to celebrate as the approval of two amendments written by the commission passed with overwhelming voter support. The revised Corporations Article and the Banking Article moved smoothly from the committee to the legislature and then passed during the general election in November. However, an amendment purportedly to remove racist language from the constitution was soundly defeated. The defeat can be credited to the work of the Alabama Education Association who saw the Amendment as a backdoor removing a child’s guaranteed right to an education in the state.

Advertisement

The commission according to Ward has a good bi-partisan mix including a Tea Party Activist and a democratic pollster.

“It is a healthy debate we are trying to have” said Ward, who is known for his ability to build consensus as a legislator.

Alabama’s constitution has been criticized as a relic of the post-reconstruction era–document designed to keep agriculture and big business prosperous at the expense of the common citizen. One of the concerns that has arisen about the rewrites has been the influence of special interests.

“You are always going to have special interest try to determine the outcome,” Ward said. “But I think the only way we have real reform is by the article-by-article approach.” Ward says, his primary goal is to “make the constitution more functional.”

The Alabama 1901 is considered the world longest constitution it has been a desire of many to see it streamlined into a more coherent document.

“Much of the constitution was written in such away to ensure that it never changes,” said Ward. “This has also led to a constitution that is overly bloated.” Ward thinks that many of the items contained in the constitution should be “under statutes and not a part of the constitution, so that 20 years from now, if they become out dated they can be changed.”

One important area that Ward and the commission needs to be addressed, is when legislators actually take office. Under existing law a legislator takes office at midnight and the votes are not certified until a month later “this can cause all kinds of problems,” Ward says.

Some have said that the 2010 Special Session at which lame duck Governor Bob Riley proceeded over the newly-elected GOP supermajority was such an occasion for problems. In what was suppose to be a epic occasion for ethics reform, the legislature passed campaign finance reform that was not even a part of “the call” only to later find that the so-called reforms were, in fact, a hindrance to prosecution.

At the time then-Governor Bob Riley described the session by saying, “Alabama’s political system underwent more historic change and more reform during the seven-day special session that just concluded than we’ve ever seen before. Because of these landmark reforms, state and local governments in Alabama will operate more honestly, more openly and with more accountability.”

Yet, just a few months after the Riley’s proclamation of sweeping changes in ethics laws, Riley and Mike Hubbard, as well as Democrats would be caught up in a grand jury investigation that would test the new laws. The eight month grand jury investigation that followed did not return a single bill of indictment. However, a summary of the grand jury report delivered to Attorney General Luther Strange found that there was no means by which to prosecute anyone under the newly-enacted Republican-sponsored laws.

Ellen Brooks, Montgomery County District Attorney is the court officer that wrote the grand jury report and her findings saying in part, “there is very little accountability in the law. There is not even a clear definition of who can be prosecuted under the law.”
According to Brooks under current law concerning PACs, there are no clear definitions of who can be prosecuted if a crime is suspected, “We don’t know who that is, the chairman, the secretary, the person who signs the form, we don’t know, the law is unclear.”

With no one to hold accountable it is impossible to take action against law breakers. This is especially true concerning out of state PACs, which seem to have unlimited powers under the new laws. It is this kind of mischief that has the commission working to make sure that the governor and legislator are sworn in within a similar timeframe. Ward, who did not make any comparison with the 2010 special session sited, “mischief that occurred during the transition of lieutenant governors from Don Siegelman to Steve Windom. According to a New York Times report in 1999, “Democrats backed by Governor Siegelman voted to strip the Lieutenant Governor of the power to make committee assignments and direct the flow of legislation.”
Windom, elected as the first Republican in that office in this century, then threatened to hold up some of Siegelman’s legislative agenda.

According to the account at the time, the move was intended to leave the Lt. Governor powerless as long as it was a republican. According to the Times “Siegelman called a special session of the Legislature to solve the dispute, but tension ran so high that Mr. Windom refused to leave the chamber even for a bathroom break during the round-the-clock session, lest Democrats find a way to replace him.” In the end, Windom and the Lieutenant Governor’s office was left as mainly ceremonial.
“It is this type of mischief we want to avoid in the future,” said Ward.

Ward says that personally he hope to make “ the constitution more workable.”
He says as for political ideology, “The people of Alabama are for limited government, we have always been that way, there are ways to make government more libertarian minded in a manner that limits government but it still has to function and operate properly. There are areas in our constitution that do not allow for that.”

Ward says he is confident in the leadership of Governor Brewer and the Commission’s co-chair, Representative Paul DeMarco (R-Homewood), to continue toward a successful article-by-article rewrite of the state’s constitution.

Commission members are as follows:  Governor Albert Brewer, Chair; Represenative Paul DeMarco, Vice-Chair; Governor Robert Bentley; Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh; Speaker Mike Hubbard; John Anzalone; Greg Butrus; Vicki Drummond; Becky Gerritson; Matt Lembke; Carolyn McKinstry; Jim Pratt; and Representative Patricia Todd.

Continue Reading

News

ADOC could be held in contempt for failing to meet mental health staffing requirements

Chip Brownlee

Published

on

The Alabama Department of Corrections could be held in more legal peril for failing to meet multiple deadlines for required mental health staffing in Alabama prisons.

ADOC officials are appearing Tuesday at a contempt hearing before U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson. The hearing, which comes nearly 10 months after Thompson ordered ADOC to increase mental health staffing numbers, is the latest development in an ongoing lawsuit over health care in prisons.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which brought the lawsuit, is asking the court to rule on whether ADOC should be held in contempt for failing to fill mental health care staff positions and failing to inform the court of their inability to meet its requirements.

“Prisoners with mental illness in the ADOC continue to receive constitutionally inadequate care,” SPLC attorneys said in a notice of non-compliance when they asked for a hearing earlier this year. “Increasing the amount of mental-health staff is a necessary part of bringing an end to the constitutional violations found a year ago.”

The contempt hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. in Montgomery. An initial hearing was held in September but was delayed for mediation after ADOC requested clarification over what the order requires for staffing. The SPLC is again asking that ADOC be held in contempt.

Advertisement

Federal Judge Myron Thompson said in his ruling last year that ADOC’s mental health care system was “horrendously inadequate” and ordered broad changes. The ruling said ADOC failed to provide constitutional health care.

The contempt hearing comes months after Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a $360 million contract between the Alabama Department of Corrections and the Pittsburgh-based prison health care provider Wexford Health on March 9 of this year.

The health care provider was hired, in large part, to fulfill the state’s requirements under Thompson’s order, but since their hiring, the number of full-time mental health staff has not increased.

Before the contract was finalized, the Legislature approved a $30 million supplement to the Department of Corrections’ funding for last fiscal year — an increase legislators said at the time was needed to comply with the court decision that mandated changes to medical and mental health care in Alabam’s prisons.

ADOC received more than a 20 percent increase to its budget over the next year with the $30 million in additional emergency funding to ADOC’s budget last fiscal year combined with this year’s General Fund.

In its ruling last year, the court found that “persistent and severe shortages” of mental health care staff contributed to the prison system’s constitutional violations.

In February, the court ordered ADOC to fulfill the required level of mental health staffing, which means 263.2 full-time equivalents, or FTEs, by July 1. So far, ADOC has only reached 76 percent of the required levels, or 201 FTEs, according to court filings. Thompson cited that number, which was included in the request-for-proposals that led to ADOC contracting with Wexford Health.

The number of current full-time mental health staff working in Alabama prisons is no higher than March of this year, when ADOC reported 202.6 full-time mental health staff, and far below the 263 full-time equivalents the court ordered the state to hire.

If the court rules ADOC should be held in contempt, parties could face fines and, in some cases, jail time. The SPLC asked that a monitor be appointed to oversee how ADOC is progressing and to keep the Court and the Plaintiffs informed.

ADOC, in a motion filed last month, asked the court to clarify the order requiring that the department hire at least 263.2 full-time equivalents through alterations or amendments because it cannot comply with the order as written.

The department has also asked for a different way to count the number of staff it has.

The contract between ADOC and Wexford defines staffing requirement in terms of hours of service, not full-time positions filled, which is how the court’s order defines it.

“In short, the State cannot practically ensure staffing ‘consistent’ with the Agreement while at the same time insisting that Wexford fulfill the different terms of the Court’s Modified Staffing Remedial Order,” the state said.

The state requested in their motion that the definition of compliance be changed to FTEs hours of service provided instead of defining it in terms of FTE positions filled.

“This revision would permit Wexford to cover the hours of ‘unfilled positions’ with locums, PRN, or overtime work and still be in compliance with the Agreement and the Court’s order,” the state wrote.

In their filing, ADOC said it isn’t clear whether the order would permit the state and Wexford to receive credit for individuals working overtime, individuals working on a temporary or as-needed basis or FTEs taking paid or unpaid leave, which could lead to discrepancies between “FTEs filled” and “FTEs provided.”

“These fundamental inconsistencies between the Court’s Modified Staffing Remedial Order and the Agreement render the State and Wexford unable to comply with the Modified Staffing Remedial Order,” the state said in their motion.

“The State and Wexford, however, remain committed to complying with this Court’s orders and fulfilling their constitutional obligations to provide adequate mental-health services to inmates in ADOC’s custody,” the motion reads.

 

Continue Reading

National

Jones introduces bipartisan legislation forbidding mailed unsolicited “live” loan checks

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

Monday U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) joined Senators Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), and Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) in introduced legislation that would end the practice of mailing high-interest loans to consumers in the form of “live” checks.

When consumers receive these loan checks, many unknowingly believe they have received money from their bank or financial institution, not realizing that the check is often a high-interest loan.

The Unsolicited Loan Act of 2018 would prohibit this practice and ensure that consumers access loans only when they proactively apply for them. This legislation mirrors the decades-old prohibition on the mailing of live credit cards.

“As working Americans look to make ends meet, lenders will often target cash-strapped families with these mailings,” Senator Jones said. “It is unconscionable that someone would take advantage of another person’s dire financial situation to make a quick buck for themselves. We need to end this predatory lending tactic and pass this legislation to protect consumers and their pocketbooks.”

“People should understand clearly when they are taking on debt,” Senator Cotton said. “But because ‘live’ checks mailed directly to consumers don’t require an application or any previous relationship with the consumer, many individuals don’t realize that these checks are actually high-interest loans until it’s too late. Just like Congress ended the practice of mailing ‘live’ credit cards nearly 50 years ago, Congress should pass our bill now to stop this underhanded practice.”

Advertisement

“When you receive a check in the mail, it’s natural to assume that depositing it will help—not hurt—your bottom line,” Sen. Merkley said. “But these checks don’t pad consumers’ pocketbooks; instead, they send them into a vortex of debt. The practice of mailing high-interest loans disguised as checks is unconscionable and clearly predatory. Today, we’re sending a bipartisan message that this unacceptable practice must end.”

The sponsors said that it has been long recognized by Congress that consumer loans should require an application by a customer. In fact, Congress banned the mailing of unsolicited live credit cards nearly 50 years ago. In modern lending, a formal loan application can often take just minutes. The bill does not prohibit the direct marketing or mailing of a loan application. The sponsors say that this legislation would provide common-sense consumer protections without limiting access to credit for consumers who willingly apply and seek lending products.

The bill would also ensure that companies cannot shift from the mailing of live checks to other forms of transfer, such as a gift card or an “e-check.” In addition, it would ensure that customers are not liable for debt incurred from an illegal, unsolicited live check loan. The National Consumer Law Center has endorsed this legislation on behalf of its low-income clients.

According to usdebtclock.org the average American is carrying $58,849 in debt. American families owe over $19,371,000,000. Almost $15,374,000,000 of this is mortgage debt; but Americans also carry nearly $1,580,000,000 in student loan debt and almost $1,050,000,000 in credit card debt. According to the American Bankruptcy Institute, through November 703,130 Americans have already filed for bankruptcy in 2018, including 24,676 in Alabama.

Senator Jones was elected a year ago in a special election for the seat vacated by Senator Jeff Sessions (R) when he accepted President Donald J. Trump’s (R) nomination to be U.S. Attorney General. Jones is the only Democratic candidate to win a statewide election in Alabama since 2008.

Continue Reading

National

Byrne applauds NOAA’s increased Red Snapper catch limit under new rule

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, applauded a new NOAA Fisheries rule to increase the annual catch limits and annual catch targets for the Red Snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This increase from NOAA shows exactly what those of us on the Gulf Coast have known for years: the health of the Red Snapper fishery is incredibly strong,” Representative Byrne said. “These latest numbers will further drive us to continue fighting for greater state control over the Red Snapper fishery and a full and adequate Red Snapper fishing season.”

The commercial annual catch limit would increase from 7.007 million pounds to 7.701 million pounds. The annual recreational charter boat catch limit would increase from 2.848 million pounds to 3.13 million pounds. The annual recreational private boat limit would increase from 3.885 million pounds to 4.269 million pounds.

The catch limits for Red Snapper are being increased because assessment of Gulf red snapper was completed in 2018 and indicated that red snapper was not overfished or experiencing overfishing, but the stock is still in a rebuilding plan. Based on the assessment, catch limits can be increased. The commercial, recreational, and component ACLs could also be increased.

The proposed rule would also decrease the annual catch limit of West Florida Hogfish from 219,000 pounds to just 129,500 pounds in 2019. It would increase to 141,300 pounds in 2020, and 150,400 pounds in 2021 and beyond.

Advertisement

The current Red Snapper total ACL is 13.74 million pounds whole weight. Of that, 51 percent is allocated to the commercial sector and 49 percent to the recreational sector. The recreational sector’s annual catch limit is further divided into the private angling component (57.7 percent) and federal for-hire component (42.3 percent). These components were implemented in 2015 and are currently set to expire in 2022.

This is just a proposed rule. NOAA is seeking public comments. The comment period is open now through January 3, 2019. You may submit comments by electronic submission or by postal mail. Comments sent by any other method (such as e-mail), to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NOAA Fisheries.

Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal.

Step 1) Go to:
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2018-0130

Step 2) Click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields.

Step 3) Enter or attach your comments.

Submit written comments to Peter Hood, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

Alabama federal and state officials have been troubled by federal red snapper rules for years. Last year, Congressman Byrne worked with Senator Richard Shelby and other Gulf Coast congressmen to secure a full Red Snapper season for Alabama’s recreational fishermen.

Continue Reading

News

Shelby announces $14.2 million highway infrastructure grant for Decatur

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation will award the city of Decatur a highway infrastructure improvement grant totaling $14,222,671 in federal funding.

The grant is made available as part of the DOT Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development (BUILD) Grant program, which focuses on economic development and infrastructure improvements.

“This $14 million BUILD grant is great news for the city of Decatur and the surrounding region. The funding will allow for much-needed improvements and enhancements to the current infrastructure in Decatur,” said Senator Shelby. “As Alabama’s transportation needs evolve, it is important that we find ways to support rapid growth, especially in rural areas. I am looking forward to working with my colleagues and the DOT as we continue to prioritize the infrastructure needs of the state and the nation.”

The grant will aid in the construction of an overpass bridge at the intersection of State Route 20 and Bibb Garrett Road. The project also includes ramps, a new access road, improved highway lighting, and accommodations for safe pedestrian access.

According to the city, there has been a significant lack of resources to develop and maintain major rural highway infrastructure. This funding will help bridge the gap between Decatur and other main employment areas in the state, providing necessary funding for these much-needed transportation resources.

Advertisement

“The creation of a Highway 20 overpass and exchange is the catalyst of growth and change our city has been striving to achieve,” said Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling. “Through the keen oversight of Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, the generosity of Sen. Richard Shelby’s office, and the ever-diligent work of the City of Decatur’s grant team and Director of Development Wally Terry, our collaborative efforts have culminated in a regional development that will benefit North Alabamians for generations to come.”

President Donald J. Trump (R) has urged the Congress to pass a $trillion infrastructure bill to allow for more modernization and repairs to America’s infrastructure system.

Senator Richard Shelby has been elected to six terms to the U.S. Senate and is the Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Prior to his Senate service he was elected to four terms in the United States House of Representatives and two terms in the Alabama state Senate representing Tuscaloosa.

Continue Reading

Authors

Advertisement

Facebook

Advertisement

Trending

Commission continues work on rewriting 1901 Constitution

by Bill Britt Read Time: 6 min
0