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House Passes Accountability Act Reforms

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Thursday, May 28, the Alabama House of Representatives passed SB71 which reforms the controversial Alabama Accountability Act of 2013.  The bill was sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and was carried in the House by Representative Ken Johnson (R-Moulton).

The Alabama Accountability Act allows taxpayers to divert a portion of their income taxes from the Education Trust Fund (ETF) to privately managed non-profit Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs) so the SGOs can use that money to award scholarships to students trapped in Alabama’s poorest performing schools. The scholarships allow the student to attend either another public school or a private school that is taking AAA scholarship students.

Representative Johnson said that the bill drops the annual income to qualify down to 185 percent of the Federal poverty level…..the same as for reduced lunch.

Rep. Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) said, “I want to thank you for bringing more accountability to the Accountability act.”

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Rep. Johnson added two amendments to the bill on the floor that were recommended by the House Ways & Means Education Committee. One excludes special education from being responsible for a school being on the failing to perform list.  Johns said that it is not fair to hold them to the same standards. This wording was in an earlier version of the bill but got excluded. Johnson said this narrows it down to those schools that are truly underperforming.

The House rejected an amendment that will lower the scholarship amount by $1000 each to make the scholarships closer to the amount that the state spends on public school students. Families would have had to make up the difference.

Rep. Christopher John England (D-Tuscaloosa) opposed the measure on the grounds that the families could be responsible for up to $1000 per child per year. The people you were actually trying to help will be responsible for and many won’t be able to afford it. They will not be able to afford to take advantage of it anymore and undermines the purpose of it.

State Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) said, “I think this bill (SB71) makes it better. It closes up some loopholes.”

Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville) proposed an amendment to make sure that the State Department of Education keeps data from the schools so that they can know how the students leaving the underperforming schools perform academically in their new schools.

Rep. Merika Coleman-Evans (D-Fairfield) said, “When we pass these bills we want to make sure that there is a positive net impact. This is the responsible thing to do given the amount of money being poured into this program.”

Rep. Ken Johnson accepted the amendment.

Rep. Hall said the Department of education will maintain a database and will annually make reports to the education policy committees of both the House and the Senate.

The legislation passed 68 to 26.

The bill clarifies and confirms that the intent of the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 is educational choice. It also amends certain current definitions and add new definitions. The reporting period for scholarship granting organizations from a calendar year to an academic year; to clarify and confirm that educational scholarships are provided to eligible students, not to particular schools. The bill requires that scholarship granting organizations determine the income eligibility of a scholarship recipient every other year and requires that all participating private schools to be accredited by one of the six regional accrediting agencies, the National Council for Private School Accreditation, AdvancEd, the American Association of Christian Schools, or one of their partner accrediting agencies, within three years from the date their notice of intent to participate in the scholarship program is filed with the Department of Revenue.

The legislation also allow certain pass-through entities, such as Subchapter S corporations and limited liability companies, to make contributions to scholarship granting organizations and to allow the credit earned by the entity to pass through to and be claimed by its owners, and to expand the definition of “individual taxpayer” to include the individual owners of these pass-through entities. The legislation clarifies and confirms that donors making contributions to scholarship granting organizations cannot earmark their contribution for a particular school or to fund scholarships for a particular student or group of students. The legislation prohibit scholarship granting organizations from making lump sum, block grants, or other similar payments to otherwise qualifying schools. The bill removes the current $7,500 annual limitation on contributions made to scholarship granting organizations by individual taxpayers and increases the cumulative amount of tax credits available in a calendar year to $30,000,000. The bill also allows taxpayers to make contributions to scholarship granting organizations before the due date, with extensions, of a timely filed 2014 tax return but reserve tax credits against the remaining balance of the 2014 cumulative amount of tax credits available. The SGOs may use up to five percent of their revenues from donations for administrative or operating expenses in the year of donation or any subsequent year.

The bill has already been passed by the Senate.

 

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with six and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook.

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Rep. Randy Davis claims prosecutor misconduct, seeks dismissal of charges

Chip Brownlee

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Samuel Mattison / APR

State Rep. Randy Davis, a Republican from Daphne, and former state Republican Party Chairman Marty Connors are seeking to have their indictments dismissed by the federal courts on claims that prosecutors engaged in misconduct during the grand jury hearings.

Davis and Connors were indicted on federal bribery charges in July. In a filing Tuesday, Davis’ attorney asked the court to dismiss an indictment against Davis, Connors and G. Ford Gilbert, another man indicted in the same case related to charges that the three conspired to force insurers to cover treatments at health clinics in which they had a financial stake.

Davis’ attorney claims that federal prosecutors made up prejudicial statements to the grand jury and altered a transcript of grand jury proceedings in order to cover up the alleged prejudicial statements.

“[A]ll available evidence supports a conclusion that the indictment was procured through multiple instances of flagrant, unconscionable, and prejudicial prosecutorial misconduct before the grand jury in which AUSA’s Jonathan Ross and Josh Wendell took advantage of their special position of trust thereby impairing the grand jury’s integrity as an independent body,” the motion reads.

The alleged “prejudicial statements” the defense points to are found in an unedited transcript delivered to the defense counsel in August that filled in previously unfilled gaps in an edited transcript that listed two “off-the-record” discussions.

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In those “off-the-record” discussions that were later filled in in the unedited transcript produced after defense requests, prosecutors refer to Trina Health — the health clinics in which Davis and the other defendants had a financial interest — as “not a legitimate enterprise.”

“Our position is that Trina Health is not a legitimate enterprise, period. Okay. They’re not — I don’t know if that’s come across yet. They are snake it’s snake oil. Does that make sense?” the unedited transcript reads.

The defense claims those statements were “improper, derogatory, and prejudicial statements” that could have improperly influenced the grand jury.

Davis’ defense attorneys say that is only part of the problem. What’s worse, they say, is that there is no reference in the transcript to prosecutors requesting an off-the-record conversation. If that were the case, they say it likely would have been recorded.

“What appears to be the case is that the government falsely represented that there was an off-the-record discussion on March 14, 2018, when, in fact, the discussion was on-the-record all along and only later, after the transcript was produced on March 30, 2018, by the court reporter and reviewed by the government, was the transcript edited to cover up the improper, derogatory, and prejudicial statements made to the grand jury about the defendants by the AUSA’s involved,” the motion reads.

“The inappropriate statements made by the AUSA’s to the grand jury prejudiced each of the defendants because all of them are accused of conspiring together to commit offenses against the United States,” it continues.

His attorneys say the prosecutors’ alleged actions violate the defendants’ constitutional rights under the 5th Amendment and the 14th Amendment and their due process clauses.

A federal grand jury originally indicted Davis, Gilbert and Connors on charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and bribery in connection with a program receiving federal funds.

The grand jury heard testimony in March of 2018, returned an initial indictment in June and returned another superseding indictment adding Davis in July. All of the defendants have denied the charges.

There is a trial scheduled for January.

Gilbert, who lives in California, is the founder of Trina Health, which began opening clinics in Alabama in 2014 and 2015.

Davis, who is 66, is accused of having worked with former House Majority Leader Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, an investor in the diabetes clinics, to get the clinics’ treatments covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, the state’s largest insurer.

The prosecution said in the indictment that Davis participated in an improbable attempt to pressure Blue Cross Blue Shield to cover insulin therapies offered at Trina’s health clinics while he had a financial interest in those clinics and stood to gain from seeing their treatments covered.

Hammon pleaded guilty to a mail fraud charge last year related to misusing campaign funds and has already served a three-month sentence in federal prison.

The clinics offered an intravenous insulin treatment, OIVIT, for those with diabetes. The Centers for Disease Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a decision in 2009 stopping coverage of the treatment.

Davis, who was elected in 2002 and is not seeking re-election, is accused of lobbying BCBS on behalf of Trina and working with Hammon to recruit new investors for Trina Health in return for finders’ fees. In 2016, Davis and Hammon worked to push a bill through the Legislature that would force coverage of the treatment, prosecutors said, and he met with then-Gov. Robert Bentley.

Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills, was also indicted in April and was accused of being part of scheme but wasn’t named in the July superseding indictment. He is expected to enter a pretrial diversion program, and isn’t seeking re-election.

Hammon was removed from office upon his plea deal.

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Speaker: Only lottery proposal that could pass is traditional paper ticket lottery

Brandon Moseley

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Speaker of House Mac McCutcheon presides over the House in the 2018 Legislative Session. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Monday. Various news outlets released reports that Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R – Monrovia) anticipates that the Alabama Legislature will likely deal with lottery legislation in the upcoming 2019 regular session.

Later that day, Speaker McCutcheon released a statement clarifying his position, because some stories have taken the comments he originally made to television station WHNT out of context.

“A reporter from station WHNT in Huntsville asked me last week to comment about the efforts that surrounding states are undertaking to implement lotteries, sports betting, and other forms of gambling,” said Speaker McCutcheon. “I said the Legislature will likely see a lottery bill introduced in the first session of the quadrennium, but that response was based on a general feeling and no concrete knowledge on my part.”

“As far as I am aware, no lottery bills have been drafted, pre-filed, or even discussed in any detail among members,” McCutcheon continued. “And any effort to come forward with a lottery bill in the House would not be led by the leadership, which obviously includes me.”

“I do feel that if any lottery bill were to have a chance of success, it should be defined as a traditional paper ticket lottery rather than an electronic lottery that could open the door to slot machines an other gambling devices,” McCutcheon concluded.

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In 2016 then Governor Robert Bentley (R) called a special session to pass a lottery bill. Gambling proponents pushed a bill through the state Senate that also included provisions for electronic lottery games played by certain bingo magnates. The state House of Representatives stripped the bill of the provisions that created electronic bingo monopolies for certain well connected politicos. Gambling proponents joined with conservative gambling opponents to kill the paper lottery bill in the Senate because the gambling advocates in the Senate would not support a paper ticket only lottery. Few in Montgomery really believes that the next lottery bill would not run into the same impasse.

Critics of the lottery argue that lotteries tend to be regressive taxes.  Only the people who lack the ability to comprehend basic mathematical concepts like probabilities actually play the lottery. A lottery is government promoting a fantasy that almost none of the players will ever actually achieve in order to get them to play that games. A lottery becomes addictive because to stop playing the state sponsored games would be to finally give up the dreams of sudden riches that lotteries promote to lure people in to the games.

Lottery proponents, including Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter “Walt” Maddox (D), claim that a lottery would generate as much as $300 million in new revenues to the state. Critics dispute those rosy projections and point out that the state of Alabama already spends over $21 billion a year and that would only amount to a 1.4 percent increase in state revenues, without accounting for corresponding decreases in sales tax collections as, typically poor, lottery players spend their money on lottery tickets instead of in stores and restaurants.  Economic growth in both the education trust fund and general fund will likely exceed that in the current tax year.

There is also considerable disagreement in Montgomery on what the money would be used for. The Bentley lottery would have propped up Alabama Medicaid. The Siegelman lottery bill was based on the Georgia lottery and would have spent the money on college scholarships. Other lottery proposals would use the money to prop up the general fund or K-12 schools or technology in schools. There are normally several lottery bills introduced each session. The Bentley lottery was the only one to get a vote in both Houses of the Alabama legislature in recent years. State Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) sponsored the Bentley lottery bill.
Any expansion of gambling in Alabama would have to pass as an amendment, thus it would have to pass both Houses of the legislature and then still pass a vote of the people, whether in a special referendum (like Gov. Don Siegelman’s lottery) or on the ballot in the 2020 election.

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Young Republicans support Jeff Sessions

Brandon Moseley

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Monday, the Young Republican Federation of Alabama released a statement in support of embattled U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Jefferson “Jeff” Beauregard Sessions, III, is a former U.S. Senator from Alabama.

The Young Republicans cited as a basis for their support that Jeff Sessions was born and raised in Alabama, attended Huntingdon College and the University of Alabama School of Law; served his Country in the U.S. Army Reserves for 13 years ultimately attaining the rank of Captain; was nominated by President Ronald W. Reagan (R) to serve as US District Attorney for Southern District of Alabama in 1981; served in that position for 12 years; was elected Alabama’s Attorney General in 1995; served in United States Senate from 1996 until 2017; and was a leading voice for Republican causes and a champion of conservative values; is a loving husband, father, and grandfather.

“Jeff Sessions was nominated by President Donald Trump to serve as the United States Attorney General in November 2016 and sworn in as Attorney General in February 2017,” the Young Republicans wrote. “And whereas, Jeff Sessions has restored honesty, integrity, and impartiality in the office of the Attorney General; And whereas, Jeff Sessions has vigorously advanced President Trump’s agenda, especially in the areas of immigration and violent crime, And whereas, Jeff Sessions is a man of strong character who has honorably served the people of Alabama for decades. Be it resolved, as Republicans, we adamantly support those who follow the rule of law and those who enforce it. As Alabamians, we have seen the dangers of elected officials choosing political convenience over integrity. We trust America’s centuries old justice system and its ability to protect the innocent and bring truth to light.”

“The officers of the Young Republican Federation of Alabama offer our full support to a former YRFA Chairman and the current US Attorney General Jeff Sessions,” the YRs concluded.

Jackie Curtiss is the Chair of the YRFA.

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On Monday, AG Sessions was in Hoover, Alabama speaking to law enforcement officers at the Department of Justice National Public Safety Partnership Symposium. Meanwhile in Washington, a national firestorm was happening at the highest levels of the Administration. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was at the White House meeting with Chief of Staff John Kelly. Anonymously sourced media reports claimed that Rosenstein offered to resign after media reports surfaced that he had in 2017 suggested wearing a wire to expose Donald Trump as unfit for office. Rosenstein denies the original reporting by Axios; but reportedly some in the White House believe the report of extreme disloyalty by Rosenstein.

AG Sessions supports Rosenstein, and has reportedly threatened to quit of Rosenstein is fired. The President was in New York City Monday preparing to welcome the United Nations. Rosenstein reportedly will meet with the President on Thursday to discuss his future with the Administration.

Rosenstein oversees the Robert Mueller investigation into allegations of the 2016 Trump campaign colluding with Russian intelligence. Critics of the President have suggested that firing Rosenstein or Mueller could lead to Mueller advancing a charge of obstruction of justice against the President.

Sessions did not take questions from the media on Monday.

Original reporting by Fox News and CNN contributed to this report.

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Elections

Parker: If leftists “take over our courts. All is lost”

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, Associate Justice Tom Parker (R) denounced the attacks on Judge Brett Kavanaugh as a “smear mob.” Parker also denounced Senator Doug Jones (D) for his efforts to stop the imminent confirmation of Kavanaugh.

“If they take over our courts, all is lost,” Justice Parker said. “That’s why I have been outspoken about efforts by billionaire George Soros and groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center to remove and defeat conservative judges and stack the courts with leftist judges.”

Parker is the Republican nominee for Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice in November’s general election.

Parker described Jones and other Democrats trying to delay this justice’s confirmation as a “smear mob” trying to bring down a distinguished jurist. Parker denounced Jones’ calls for a delay in the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings because of allegations of sexual abuse while Kavanaugh was a teenager.

Parker pointed out that there are no witnesses supporting the accusers stories from the 1980s and that none of this ever came up during Kavanaugh’s FBI background check or the hearing process.

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“This is nothing more than a brazen last-ditch attempt by a left-wing smear mob to stop the President’s nomination through the politics of personal destruction, and people see right through what they’re trying to do,” Justice Parker said. “And to no one’s surprise, Doug Jones is right there with the rest of that mob. It’s sad.”

“Once there was a time when Alabama sent honorable Democrats to the Senate like Jim Allen, for whom I interned in college, who put principle ahead of party and did the right thing for Alabama and America,” Parker said. “But that Democratic Party exists no more.”

“Sadly, today’s Democratic Party has been taken over by radical extremists with masks on their faces and fists in the air — an angry bunch whose only agenda is to resist, delay and obstruct everything our president is doing to turn our nation around,” Parker continued. “Senator Jones’s partisan call for delaying a hearing that has already gone on long enough is just one more example of their obstructionism and gridlock.”

Parker said that Democrats are dividing America to advance their radical left “progressive” agenda.

On Thursday, Brett Kavanaugh will get to defend himself against the allegations before the Senate Judiciary Committee. His first accuser, Christine Blausey Ford, is expected to also testify. Republicans hope to have a vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation as soon as next week.

In 2016 Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) was suspended for the remainder of his term. Associate Justice Lyn Stuart (R) assumed the role of interim Chief Justice. When Moore retired to run for U.S. Senate in 2017, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) appointed Stuart as Chief Justice. Parker defeated Stuart in the June Republican primary despite being outspent.

Parker faces Jefferson County Judge Robert Vance III in the November general election.

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House Passes Accountability Act Reforms

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