Connect with us

News

Open Meetings Act Passes Out of Committee

Susan Britt

Published

on

By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Open Meetings Act SB191, out of committee. A substitute was passed, including some language that was of concern to the Alabama Press Association (APA). This bill, if passed, will reverse that rulings by the Alabama Supreme Court last year from 2012 and 2013.

“A ruling from the Supreme Court dealing with public bodies meeting with less than a quorum to reach a decision. That is the big issue for us,” said Felicia Mason, executive director of the APA.

According to the bill, the 2012 court ruling stated that the “Open Meetings Act did not apply to a series of committee or subcommittee gatherings at which discussions were conducted on matters that would later come before the full governmental body.”

The 1901 Alabama Constitution, Section 57 states that, “The doors of each house shall be opened except on such occasions as, in the opinion of the house, may require secrecy…”

Advertisement

“I believe that means we have to be open to the public in all of our deliberations,” said Sen. Cam Ward R-Alabaster. “The only way you can change what the constitution says about the meetings is to have a constitutional amendment.”

A 2013 Supreme Court ruling changed the requirements for filing a suit against violators saying, “…citizens do not have standing to bring suits under the Open Meetings Act if the civil penalty is paid to the state and there is no allegation of a likelihood of future violations

SB11 redefines the rules under which the doors should be open to the public, defines what meetings should fall under the open door requirement. It defines many of the terms that could be loosely interpreted as well as re-establishes that any private citizen may bring a civil action against a violation of the act. The bill points out that “serial meetings” will not be acceptable and that meetings can not take place in private before an “open meeting” is conducted.

Initially, polling of votes before a meeting was a concern of the Alabama Press Association, but those concerns were addressed by the sponsor. Ward said, “If I call you and ask if you are going to vote with me on a bill, that is not polling. If you say, ‘No,’ and I try to sway your vote, that is considered deliberation and is unacceptable.” Ward added to the bill that deliberation of any kind between members of a committee before an open meeting takes place is a violation of the law. Discussions are limited only to the background information.

At the urging of the APA, the committee added a request that committees meeting to decide on an executive position can meet in advance privately to reduce the number of applicants to three before being required to have an open meeting. Mason said, “That’s just reasonable.”

A concern to many has been the addition of many bills this session regarding the use of electronic communications to attend meetings. The bill points out that “electronic communications may not be used to circumvent this chapter.” An in person quorum is still required.

“It is a very good solid bill. We have had every association from the cities to the counties and the schools. We got them involved to make sure it is very tight,” said Ward. Ward said he hasn’t had any push back regarding the issue. He said that if anything people have said to him that they want to make sure that they know where the line is so that if they cross it, they are not in violation.

“People deserve to know how and why you are spending their money,” said Mason.

Dennis Bailey, attorney for APA, said that they are comfortable with the bill and hopes that it passes.

Ward said, “It is my top priority this session…it will be scheduled to come to the floor next week.”

Continue Reading

National

Shelby discusses disaster assistance for the Wiregrass with Trump

Chip Brownlee

Published

on

Alabama’s senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby said Thursday that President Donald Trump “agreed to help” with assistance for those affected by Hurricane Michael in Alabama’s Wiregrass region.

Shelby tweeted Thursday that he spoke with Trump about the need for assistance after Michael devastated portions of Southeast Alabama in early October.

“During my meeting with @POTUS, I brought up the need for disaster relief in the #Wiregrass following #HurricaneMichael,” Shelby tweeted. “President Trump agreed to help.”

While Trump approved a Major Disaster Declaration last week for four affected counties, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Mobile, it only provides public assistance grants, which reimburse local governments and community organizations for certain expenses incurred because of the disaster but can’t be disbursed to individuals recovering from a disaster.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also not yet approved the state of Alabama’s application for an agricultural disaster declaration.

Advertisement

The Alabama Emergency Management Agency has requested IA grants, and the agency has also provided additional evidence to demonstrate that certain Alabama counties qualify for the individual assistance.

Individual assistance, where it to be approved in the coming days by the Trump administration, would include financial assistance, direct aid and disaster loans. The assistance could be used for losses that were not covered by insurance, are of critical need and couldn’t be covered in other ways. It’s not intended to restore damaged property to its condition before the disaster, according to FEMA.

Most disaster assistance is provided in the form of loans administered by the Small Business Administration.

Shelby’s discussion with Trump comes after U.S. Sen. Doug Jones urged President Donald Trump last week to push for approval of the individual assistance grants for Alabamians impacted by Hurricane Michael. Jones also supported agriculture assistance in a separate letter to the Department of Agriculture.

Neighboring counties in Florida and Georgia have already received IA grants.

Hurricane Michael was one of the most powerful hurricanes to make landfall in the continental United States, causing more than $204 million in estimated agriculture losses and $307 million in estimated economic losses in Alabama, according to a report from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University.

Continue Reading

National

Jones co-sponsors bipartisan bill to address growing chronic wasting disease problem

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, joined Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, in introducing legislation to authorizes a special resource study to determine how chronic wasting disease (CWD) spreads and could be prevented in deer and elk.

CWD can affect both wild and domestic herds of deer and elk in 25 states. However, state recommendations for preventing the spread of the disease vary. This bill would give state wildlife agencies and wildlife experts information to conduct targeted research on how the disease is transmitted, determine which areas are most at risk, and develop consistent advice for hunters to prevent further spread.

“As an avid outdoorsman and hunter, I am deeply troubled by the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease,” said Senator Jones. “This disease is threatening to impact the wildlife population in Alabama just as it has in a number of other states throughout the country. That’s why it is so vital for the Senate to pass legislation that will ultimately give state and local wildlife officials the tools they need to contain the spread of CWD.”

“Chronic wasting disease has negatively affected white-tailed and mule deer in Wyoming for decades,” said Senator Barrasso. “To protect our wildlife populations and our hunters, we need to know more about how this disease is spread and which areas are most at risk. Our bill gives wildlife managers the tools they need to research and identify exactly where chronic wasting disease is most prominent and how we can better prevent it. It’s a critical first step to addressing this debilitating disease and keeping our wildlife herds healthy.”

“The deer and elk herds affected by Chronic Wasting Disease are a critical part of Colorado’s wildlife heritage and economy,” said Senator Bennet. “We need to learn more about containing CWD, and this bipartisan legislation will provide the information state wildlife professionals need to align their work and prevent further spread.”

Advertisement

Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), John Thune (R-South Dakota), Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), and Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) cosponsored the legislation.

The “Chronic Wasting Disease Transmission in Cervidae Study Act” addresses the needs identified by state wildlife agencies. The bill requires the USDA secretary to enter into an arrangement with the National Academies of Sciences to review current data and best management practices (BMPs) from the CWD Herd Certification Program and state agencies regarding: the pathways and mechanisms for CWD transmission; the areas at risk and geographical patterns of CWD transmission; and gaps in current scientific knowledge regarding transmission to prioritize research to address gaps.

In October the second confirmed case of CWD positive deer was found in Mississippi. The most recent deer was in Pontotoc County. CWD is the most devastating disease facing the deer population today. Alabama has 1.75 million deer. Currently the state is CWD free; Mississippi was CWD free until this summer.

Mississippi Wildlife officials report that an emaciated 1.5-year-old, free-ranging male white-tailed deer was euthanized on October 8, 2018. The deer’s behavior appeared abnormal. The sample was confirmed CWD-positive by the National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames, Iowa, on October 30, 2018. This is the second case of CWD documented in Mississippi.
Alabama’s WFF has tested nearly 8,000 deer since 2002 and has not detected CWD within Alabama.

As part of WFF’s CWD Strategic Surveillance and Response Plan, WFF will increase its CWD surveillance sampling efforts beyond typical surveillance rates in those counties within the 50-mile radius of the Pontotoc County CWD-positive white-tailed deer. These counties include Franklin, Lamar, and Marion counties.

Additional samples for these counties including, but not limited to, voluntary samples from hunter-harvested deer as well as focused efforts on road kills and abnormally behaving deer.

CWD is a neurodegenerative disease found in most deer species, including moose, elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer. It is infectious and always fatal. It is part of a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies and is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep. These diseases cause irreversible damage to brain tissue that leads to neurological symptoms, emaciation and death of the animal.

Deer infected with CWD can become emaciated, lethargic, have abnormal behavior, and show gradual loss of bodily functions. Other signs include excessive salivation, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, excessive thirst and urination, and drooping head/ears.

Because it is a prion disease, contact with the spinal and brain tissue of a deer carcass can spread the disease to uninfected deer. To prevent the spread of the disease into Alabama it is now forbidden to import the complete carcasses from members of the cervid family (deer, elk, moose, caribou, etc.) from any other state and Canada.

The rules requires that hunters should completely debone the animal and remove and dispose of any brain or spinal tissue from skull plates, raw capes and hides before returning to Alabama. Those skull plates must be free of any brain or spinal cord material. Velvet-covered antlers are also included in the prohibited materials. Root structures and other soft tissue should also be removed from all teeth. Finished taxidermy products and tanned hides are not affected by the ban.

Overhunting resulted in the near extinction of deer in Alabama by 1905, when there were less than 2,000 deer living in the state, until the state of Alabama and a collection of private landowners in south Alabama stepped in to protect the species. The wolf, bison, elk, cougar, passenger pigeon were all wiped out in Alabama by overhunting. From those humble beginnings, the Alabama Conservation Department, restocked the rest of the state, with most of the restocking done in the 1950s and 1960s.

Gun season for deer in Alabama begins on Saturday and continues until February 10.

Continue Reading

Elections

Secretary Merrill orders election workers not to count write-in votes

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

The Secretary of State’s office announced Thursday that no county needs to count the write-in ballots for the general election.

In a statement the Secretary of State’s office wrote: “State law requires the Secretary of State’s Office to review county vote totals and compare those totals to the number of write-in votes cast in each statewide race involving a Federal or State office. Following the completion of that review, the Secretary of State’s Office is tasked with determining whether the total number of write in votes is less than the difference in votes between the candidates receiving the greatest number of votes for that office.”

“Secretary Merrill and his team have completed a review of the offices and it has been determined that no county is required by law to count and report write-in votes for any State or Federal office as provided in Alabama Code Section 17-6-28.”

County election officials must still make this determination for any county offices not included in the Secretary of State’s review.

The final vote totals as certified by the County Canvassing Board are due to the Secretary of State’s Office by Friday, November 16, 2018.

Advertisement

Chad “Chig” Martin and Chris Countryman both ran write-in campaigns for governor.

Allowing write-in votes slows the process of counting the votes down considerably as those ballots would have to be pulled out and counted manually.

Continue Reading

News

DA Greg Griggers shot in Demopolis

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

The District Attorney for Marengo, Greene and Sumter Counties, Greg Griggers, was ambushed outside of his Demopolis office by a suspect Thursday. The attempted assassin was killed by law enforcement according to Demopolis Police Chief Tommie Reese.

Griggers is the DA for Judicial Circuit 17 District Attorney. Authorities are reporting that Griggers was ambushed as he sat in his vehicle outside of his Demopolis office Thursday afternoon. Griggers has been rushed to the hospital where he in stable condition and is expected to survive.

Griggers has served as the elected prosecutor for Alabama Judicial Circuit 17 since 2003.

The Alabama Political Reporter spoke with Barry Matson, the Executive Director of the Alabama District Attorney’s Association.

“We are very concerned for Greg,” Matson said. “All the district attorneys are. There are prayer chains in every office in the state.”

Advertisement

Matson said that he was en route to the hospital where Griggers is being treated.

Matson said that he talked with Griggers after he got out of surgery and the DAs Association has promised that his office will “Have everything they need to pursue justice and fulfill his oath of office.”

“Greg is a good guy and a great prosecutor,” Matson said. “Our Association is proud to have him as part of our group.”

Michael Jackson, the district attorney for Alabama’s 4th Judicial Circuit, had identified the shooter as a former state trooper. Matson confirmed that to APR, but did not know further details.

“Griggers got shot in the face and they killed the ex-state trooper who shot him,” Jackson told AL.com Thursday afternoon.

Jackson said that Griggers should live: “They say he’s going to recover.”

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said on Twitter, “Praying for the recovery of Greg Griggers, District Attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit, a who suffered a gunshot wound today. Greg is both a friend and a tremendous public servant. Keeping him and his family in our thoughts.”

U.S. Attorney Jay Town said in a statement, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Greg and his family. District Attorney Griggers is a dedicated public servant and an honorable man. This serves as yet another reminder of the perils and dangers that law enforcement at every level face daily.”

Original reporting by the Alabama Media Group’s Connor Sheets, Channel 23 TV’s Chelsea Barton, and the Tuscaloosa News contributed to this report.

Continue Reading

Authors

Advertisement

Facebook

Advertisement

Trending

Open Meetings Act Passes Out of Committee

by Susan Britt Read Time: 3 min
0