Connect with us

Guest Columnists

Byrne: Year in Review

Bradley Byrne



Bradley Byrne

By U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (AL-1) 

When I was elected to Congress last December, I vowed to hit the ground running from day one to make Southwest Alabama a better place to live, work and raise a family. In honor of the New Year, I wanted to take this opportunity to look back at some of the highlights from my first year in Congress.

My first legislative action was to cosponsor H.R. 3121, the American Health Care Reform Act, which repeals ObamaCare and replaces it with common-sense, market based reforms. Throughout the past year, I have repeatedly supported legislation designed to repeal and reform ObamaCare and actually make health care more affordable and accessible for middle class families.

I received positions on two committees vitally important to our area: the Armed Services Committee and the Natural Resources Committee. These assignments were a victory for South Alabama jobs. After speaking with friends and neighbors in our community, we concluded that these were the two avenues where we could do the most good for our home.


In March, I voted in support of H.R. 3370, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act. This bill slowed down the pace of rate hikes for coastal Alabama residents, allowing time to ensure that sound science is being used to create federal flood maps.

A few weeks later, I accepted a position on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Education is an issue that is a passion of mine, and I have seen firsthand how the federal government’s intrusions can hamper student success. The Committee also put me on a strong position to promote job training programs and fight back against the activist National Labor Relations Board.

In April, after it was announced the Red Snapper season in federal waters would only last nine days, I introduced my first standalone piece of legislation: the SNAPR Act. The legislation would repeal Section 407(d) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which mandates inflexible quotas on recreational and commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico.

In May, following the heartbreaking scandal at VA medical facilities around the country, I joined many of my colleagues in calling on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. Weeks later, Secretary Shinseki resigned and was replaced by Robert McDonald. Around the same time, Congress passed the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act. Most importantly, the bill included reforms to increase veteran access to private care, but more work is certainly needed.

In June, I held my 25th town hall meeting in Lillian. Since then, we have held even more town hall meetings brining to the total number to over 30. In addition to holding the in-person town hall meetings, I also held telephone town halls and answered questions from constituents during a Facebook town hall.

In response to many outrageous executive overreaches by President Obama and his administration, I supported a lawsuit against the President in July. Everywhere I go, I hear the same thing over and over again: This President will not stay within the bounds of the Constitution of the United States or the laws passed by this body and the Senate. I wish a lawsuit wasn’t necessary, but I believed it was one of the best ways to rein in the out-of-control executive.

Also in July, the Federal Highway Administration finally released the draft Environmental Impact Statement on the I-10 Mobile River bridge project. This step was almost ten years in the making, and it represented a significant breakthrough in the process of getting a bridge built. I will continue pushing for this project which is critically important to our entire region.

In August, in response to a dangerous influx of illegal immigrants crossing our southern border, I voted for legislation that would boost border security and end one of President Obama’s amnesty programs. President Obama’s continued threat of executive action has only exacerbated the problem of illegal immigration, and I look forward to a serious debate early next year on the immigration issue.

This fall, I traveled to the Middle East to meet with United States military personnel and visit with foreign leaders. During the trip, I made stops in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Morocco. One common theme I picked up on during the trip was the lack of United States leadership and a clear strategy in the region. Whether it is ISIS in Iraq, Hamas in Gaza, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Boko Haram in Africa, or al-Qaeda throughout the Middle East, Islamic extremists are on the rise.

Most recently, we were able to secure funding for the construction of four new Littoral Combat Ships, which are built in part by Austal in Mobile. The same week, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the current LCS variants will be modified instead of creating a new ship design. This means the Navy will continue building ships in Mobile for a long time.

There is no doubt many challenges remain, but I am proud of the many accomplishments from my first year in Congress. As we head into the New Year, I will continue advocating for our shared conservative values and fighting for Alabama jobs. It is an honor to represent you in Congress.

Continue Reading

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Licensing away economic prosperity

Allen Mendenhall



By Allen Mendenhall
Executive Director of the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty

Do you want to alleviate poverty in Alabama? Do you want to curb the power of special interest groups over government agencies? Do you want more affordable goods and services in basic industries?  Do you want to help disadvantaged groups find good jobs and become productive citizens? Do you want to reduce the population of our overcrowded prisons?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should read a new report published by the Alabama Policy Institute titled “The Costs of Occupational Licensing in Alabama.” Coauthored by Daniel Smith (Troy University), Courtney Michaluk (Troy University), David Hall (Troy University), and Alex Kanode (George Mason University), the report details the effects of occupational licensure on our state.

What is occupational licensure? In short, it’s governmental regulation requiring people to obtain a license before entering into certain trades or fields. Sounds harmless, right? Aren’t these regulations in place to protect consumers from exploitation and inexpert practices? Such reasoning led to the rise in occupational licensure, which today extends to several zones of economic activity.


However well-meaning, occupational licensure has had unintended consequences on the people it’s designed to protect. Instead of helping average consumers, it lines the pockets of industries that have lobbied to regulate away entrepreneurial forces that drive down costs.

If you’re poor and trying to find low-skilled work as a barber, manicurist, eyebrow threader, hair stylist, school bus driver, or shampoo assistant, you must obtain a license first. This license may be prohibitively expensive because of renewal fees, coursework, continuing education, and so forth.

“Alabama licenses a total of 151 occupations,” according to the report, “covering over 432,000 Alabama workers, which represents over 21 percent of the labor force.” Think about that: more than two of every 10 people working in Alabama need a license to do what they do for a living. Licensing boards governing admission standards and prerequisites can mandate expensive training and dues that don’t affect the quality of industry services.

Economists refer to occupational licensure as a barrier to entry. Barriers to entry ensure that those already within a profession or trade can raise prices to artificially high levels, in effect squeezing out competition by using the mechanisms of government to control the market.

Inflated prices harm low-income families who cannot afford to buy what they could have bought if the market had set prices based on natural supply and demand. Spouses of military service members often suffer from occupational licensure because, when they move from state to state, they must jump through hoops to enter the licensed profession in which they practiced in other jurisdictions.

Occupational licensure is, in short, a net burden on the economy, escalating prices, limiting consumer choice, and restricting economic mobility.  The API report estimates that the overall costs of occupational licensure in Alabama exceed $122 million. That’s a lot of money. What can be done to keep some of it in the hands of the ordinary people who need it most?

The report proposes five reforms for Alabama policymakers:

  1. “[T]hey can reform current procedures for extending occupational licensing to new occupations and mandate thorough review processes to ensure that licensing is not extended to new occupations without a demonstrable and severe threat to consumer safety that cannot be overcome with the market mechanisms, such as consumer or expert reviews, reputation, guarantees, or private certification, or the already existing government laws, such as those dealing with liability, fraud, misrepresentation, and false advertising.”
  2. “[T]hey can establish procedures to systematically review all licensure requirements for currently licensed occupations to ensure that they do not require unnecessary or excessive requirements or costs for licensure.
  3. “[T]hey can systematically review all currently licensed occupations to determine, individually, whether a demonstrable severe threat to consumer safety exists. If not, they can remove occupation licensing entirely for those occupations.”
  4. “[They] can explore licensure reforms that specifically target ex-offenders” to reduce the prison population and criminal recidivism.
  5. “[They] can … explore occupational licensing reform with military members and their families in mind.”

A short article cannot capture the nuance and particulars of the entire report; readers should view the report for themselves to make up their own minds.

During this time of partisan divide and political rancor, people of good faith on both the left and the right can agree that something needs to be done about occupational licensure. The problem cannot continue to grow. It presents a unique opportunity for Republican and Democratic lawmakers to come together to ease economic burdens on the people of Alabama. Let’s hope they seize it.

Allen Mendenhall is associate dean at Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and executive director of the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty. Visit his website at

Continue Reading

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Quail Forever, Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association come together with one conservation goal

Howard K. Vincent



I have been working with Pheasants Forever, Inc., & Quail Forever for more than three decades with one goal in mind: the conservation and restoration of pheasants, quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management policies and programs.

Our Minnesota-based organization was formed in 1982 and now has locally based volunteer chapters in 42 states, including our newest chapter formed during an eventful visit the last week of February to the Alabama Black Belt. The Black Belt chapter will be the sixth Quail Forever group in the state.

We were fortunate to be invited to visit the Black Belt for the first time by the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association (ALBBAA), an organization that holds the same values as Quail Forever. The ALBBAA is dedicated to wildlife habitat conservation and economic development of the beautiful rural areas in the 23 counties that make up the Black Belt. The marketing organization, founded in 2009, relies on the plentiful opportunities for hunting, fishing, camping and many other outdoors attractions to spur tourism. Thanks to the major role Raycom Media plays in supporting this effort by providing advertising on its many television stations across the country, visitors are increasingly finding their outdoor adventures in the Black Belt – and quail hunting is a growing pursuit.

We came to the Black Belt with modest goals, hoping to capture some fresh photography, videography and content for our Quail Forever Journal, Quail Forever website and social media platforms. We also brought along friends from Realtree, Browning firearms and apparel, The Flush television program on Outdoor Channel, LandLeader TV on RFD, Covey Rise magazine and Shooting Sportsman magazine. These partners were also on the trip to learn about southern Alabama quail culture and to generate content for their own media entities. Our goals were certainly surpassed.


In Alabama, we learned that Southern hospitality is no cliché – it’s the absolute truth. We enjoyed a sunset dinner at Shenandoah Plantation in Union Springs hosted by Tom and Sue Ellen Lanier. We savored breakfast at Rex and Jacque Clark’s High Log Creek Farm and Hunting Preserve near Hurtsboro. At High Log Creek, we saddled up horses and wagons to explore the habitat in search of quail behind the preserve’s fine array of pointing dogs. Acclaimed chef and Food Network Iron Chef winner David Bancroft of Auburn’s Acre restaurant prepared a dinnertime offering of Alabama seafood and wild game at Rex Pritchett’s Great Southern Outdoors Plantation back in Union Springs. And speaking of quality Southern food, Chris Hastings of Birmingham’s Hot and Hot Fish Club prepared a lunch featuring quail on Thursday at host Thomas Harris’ Gusto plantation in Lowndes County that showed why he is a nationally renowned chef. We also had the pleasure of enjoying a magnificent final quail hunt at Gusto that allowed participants to not only enjoy the work of gorgeous pointers that weaved through the loblolly and longleaf pines, but also to see the kind of habitat that should be the goal of all quail lovers. Internationally known trainer Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels of Oxford, Miss., wrapped up the day by sharing some of his expertise with four of his British Labradors working with unbelievable precision.

Other sponsors who helped make our incredible visit happen were the Alabama Power Company, Yeti, Jon Kohler & Associates, National Land Realty, Tutt Land & Company and John Hall and Company.

Perhaps the highlight of our Alabama adventure occurred at a gathering sponsored by Caliber at the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s NaturePlex in Millbrook where Dr. Bill Palmer of Tall Timbers Research Station in Tallahassee, Fla., addressed a crowd of 100, excited to hear his quail expertise. I was energized by the group’s enthusiasm for quail and quail habitat. It was at that event that the Black Belt Quail Forever chapter was announced.

Unique among conservation organizations, Quail Forever chapters retain 100 percent decision-making control over the funds they raise locally. The group represents 140,000 bird-hunting conservationists who have been responsible for 15 million acres of habitat accomplishments while also earning Charity Navigator’s top rating for six consecutive years. Lovers of quail in the entire state have already been partners with ALBBAA through the Alabama Quail Trail, which can only be enhanced by more Quail Forever chapters.

The newly created Quail Forever chapter will work with the local community and landowners to improve the area’s habitat for quail. Ultimately, these habitat efforts will benefit all wildlife in the Black Belt, water quality, and the area’s recreational-based economy. We were proud to witness the many ways ALBBAA is already promoting quail hunting adventures in the region through media channels of Quail Forever, the country’s largest collection of bird-hunting conservationists. This an exciting new direction for Alabama, its Black Belt region and its people.

Howard K. Vincent is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Pheasants Forever, Inc., & Quail Forever

Continue Reading

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Superintendents say A-F report cards “basically worthless”

Larry Lee



My jaw dropped recently when I heard someone from the Alabama State Department of Education say that local school systems are using  the A-F school report cards to identify strengths and weaknesses.

Wow.  I have just surveyed dozens of school system superintendents from one end of the state to the other–and THAT is not what they told me.

Among the questions I asked was: At  the end of the day, have these report cards been of benefit to your system in any way?

Here is a sampling of what they told me:  “I see no benefit to our school system.”   “Not in the least.”  “Zero.”   “No benefit.”   “Not even slightly.”  “I can’t see much benefit.”  “No benefit at all.”  “The report card has further tainted our public perception and has not been helpful.”  “Little to none.”  “Absolutely none at all.”  “Considering the demoralizing effect on individuals who have done a yeoman’s job in the past, this report card is not good for our system or the state.”


I also wanted to know, What was reaction in your community?  Or  did anyone pay any attention?

The consensus was that hardly anyone noticed.  Here are some responses: “Had no reaction.”  “Parents and those who support  public education were concerned that report cards did not truly depict their schools and their achievements. However, those who oppose public schools used these scores in a negative way.”  “Very little attention.”  “I had two people ask me about a school grade.  One lady at church and one phone call from a local business owner.”  “Outside of principals and central office staff, not one single person mentioned the report cards.”

What was reaction from principals and staff in schools that got C, D or F?

“School staffs were dismayed because all work extremely hard.  Students were also deeply concerned about lower grades. Even though all recognize that this is an extremely flawed process, everyone wants their school represented with a good grade.  The reality is there is no test, no sound measure of progress or anyone at the state department of education who can substantiate this process.”  “Our elementary school had a 79 and the principal and staff were heartbroken.  Growth and attendance were great, but when you have 200 students who don’t speak English fluently, achievement is nearly achieve at the same level of schools without this situation.”

“Most principals and staff were very upset with a C because most of what happens at school is not even considered when the report card grade is issued.”  “Principals and staff felt very overwhelmed and disappointed.”   “Frustration because of the way the score was calculated and because they see every day what is taking place in their school and what kids are dealing with”  “The principal whose school got a D was very disappointed.  Her school is in a community with very high poverty, but it is a good school and a negative grade like this does nothing but drive people away”

“Many principals feel they are being portrayed as incompetent.  They know they are doing the best they can with the resources they have.  One said that if he had 25 years of service, he would retire and leave education.”

I also asked, Should this law be repealed?

As you can imagine, this got a resounding “YES.”  Only one superintendent suggested that the process be amended to be more comprehensive.

Some samples:  “This law is intended to privatize public education and further segregate our society.”   “ABSOLUTELY, it should have never been passed.”  “This report card is a very shortsighted attempt to label schools, not improve them.”

A-F was terrible legislation when passed in 2012.  Everyone in education knew it.  But as is too often the case, no one listened to people who actually understand what is taking places in our schools.

Now we have proof it was terrible.

So do we do what is best for our students and all who work diligently to guide them each day, admit our mistake, and correct it?  Or do we cling desperately to false assumptions simply because some politicians put their own pride above the welfare of our children?

That choice is so clear there is no need for debate.

Continue Reading






Byrne: Year in Review

by Bradley Byrne Read Time: 4 min