In Case You Missed It Attorney General’s comments sow confusion over reported Bentley investigation Published 2 years ago on December 30, 2016 By Bill Britt Share Tweet By Bill Britt Alabama Political Reporter An exchange of letters between Attorney General Luther Strange and House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Rep. Mike Jones, along with a subsequent press release announcing the suspension of hearings into the Articles of Impeachment against Governor Robert Bentley, seemed straight forward back in November. It is a fact that Jones’ committee was investigating Bentley, and the November letter from Strange seemed to confirm the Attorney General’s office was doing the same and Strange was concerned about the dual probes interfering with each other. On December 22, however, Strange told reporters, in advance of his meeting with Bentley regarding the possibility of an appointment to the US Senate, that he never said his office was investigating the Governor (and that is technically accurate). Did Jones, a smart and very thorough attorney, misunderstand Strange’s intentions? Advertisement Was Strange’s letter to Jones ill-conceived and vague? Subscribe to our daily newsletter Did Bentley’s alleged dangerous liaison with Rebekah Caldwell Mason not rise to an indictable offense? Was Bentley’s campaign to defame the State’s former top law enforcement officer, Spencer Collier, an abuse of power that could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt? Did Jones jump the gun with his press release? Strange, on November 3rd, nearly five months after the fact, responded to a June 7 letter from Jones stating, “In your letter of June 7, 2016, you informed me that the work of the House Judiciary Committee and the investigative work of my office might intersect with certain issues and witnesses. I appreciate your willingness to efficiently and effectively communicate with my office.” Here in the first paragraph, Strange implies he understands Jones’ concern that his committee’s work and that of the Attorney General’s may overlap with certain issues and witnesses. In the next paragraph, Strange writes, “At this time, I believe it would be prudent and beneficial to delay the work of the House Judiciary Committee.” Why delay the work of the committee if Bentley is not in the Attorney General’s crosshairs? Strange continues, “I respectfully request that the Committee cease active interviews and investigation until I am able to report to you that the necessary related work of my office has been completed.” This implies the “necessary related work,” has to do with the subject of the Judiciary Committee, which is Bentley. Strange, it appears, asks for the committee to stand down until he can report on the findings or activities of his office’s investigation. In July, Gov. Bentley and others testified before a Montgomery County Special Grand Jury impaneled at the request of Special Prosecutions Division Chief Matt Hart. On October 20th, that Grand Jury found that the investigation into former ALEA Chief Collier and Bentley’s public comments had ‘no credible basis for the initiation of a criminal inquiry in the first place,’ according to a statement from Strange. Two weeks later, Strange sent the letter to Jones asking the committee to cease its work until he could report more on what his office was doing. Approximately one month later, on December 22nd, Strange responded to a reporter’s question saying he never said there was an investigation into Bentley. Many of the witnesses that appeared before the Montgomery Special Grand Jury were directly linked to the accusations made against Collier. Others, however, including former staffers and Bentley’s former body man, Ray Lewis, were not. All indicators at the time seemed to point to Bentley being under investigation. But being under investigation and being indicted are worlds apart, as any prosecutor knows. A former prosecutor, speaking on background, said, “Bentley may have abused his power, but can you prove that to a jury?” Ferrying an alleged mistress in a State airplane or spending an evening in Vegas with her while making Canadian singer Celine Dion an honorary Alabamian may be tacky, but it may not be a crime, according to the former prosecutor. Likewise, he believes Hart may simply not yet have a strong enough case to seek probable cause before a grand jury. The Special Grand Juries in Montgomery, Jefferson, and Lee County remain impaneled. And while they do, politicos can keep themselves busy with one of their favorite guessing games: connecting the dots. Print this piece Related Topics:ALEAHouse Judiciary CommitteeimpeachmentLuther StrangeMatt HartMike JonesRay LewisRebekah Caldwell MasonRobert BentleySpecial Grand JurySpecial Prosecutions DivisionSpencer Collier Up Next Happy New Year: What will you do with your second? Don't Miss Driver’s license committee continues work as USDOT reaches settlement Bill Britt Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter. In Case You Missed It House passes General Fund Budget Published 10 months ago on March 14, 2018 By Brandon Moseley By Brandon Moseley Alabama Political Reporter The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday. The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee. Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.” Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons. Advertisement The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections. Subscribe to our daily newsletter Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County. Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million. The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference. Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need. The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1. Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives. The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018. In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House. SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money. Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.” State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.” The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1. The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009. The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham. The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery. Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise. SB185 passed 101-0. Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville. Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1 for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420. SB215 passed the House 87-0. The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette. State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit. SB231 passed 87-2. The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around. The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes. The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets. Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation. Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020. Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session. Print this piece Continue Reading In Case You Missed It Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday Published 10 months ago on March 14, 2018 By Sam Mattison By Samuel Mattison Alabama Political Reporter The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information. Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors. Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda. The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature. Advertisement Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed. Subscribe to our daily newsletter Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session. Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups. Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC. Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House. Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress. The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago. Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber. It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks. Print this piece Continue Reading In Case You Missed It Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor Published 10 months ago on March 14, 2018 By Sam Mattison By Samuel Mattison Alabama Political Reporter Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday. The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling. Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate. Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats. Advertisement Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling. Subscribe to our daily newsletter The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously. Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR) Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal. Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election. The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session. Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor. Print this piece Continue Reading In Case You Missed It House OKs bill to clarify consulting contracts by state legislators Published 10 months ago on March 14, 2018 By Brandon Moseley By Brandon Moseley Alabama Political Reporter Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill to try to clarify how legislators accept consulting contracts under Alabama’s 2010 ethics law. Some pundits have suggested that House Bill 387 is actually designed to weaken the existing ethics law. Sponsor state Rep. Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa, argues that the legislation is merely a clarification and is intended to prevent legislators from inadvertently crossing the line into illegality. Wingo said that his bill would require legislators to notify the Alabama Ethics Commission that they have entered into a consulting agreement in an area outside of their normal scope of work. State Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville, said, “I have never understood why members of this body were allowed to take contracts as consultants or counselors.” Advertisement Wingo said, “Never do I use the word counselor in my bill; it is consulting.” Subscribe to our daily newsletter Beckman asked, “Are we going to be getting into an area where every time we turn around we create a bureaucratic nightmare where we have to go get an opinion. These opinions whether it is orally or written don’t hold up in a court of law.” Beckman said, “We are serving the people here but we get this admonition that we can still be a consultant if we get an opinion.” Wingo said, “This does not apply to professions where a member is currently licensed.” Beckman said, “I would like to see more opinions coming out of the Ethics Commission. Right now we have the Ethics Commission competing with the Attorney General’s office over who has more authority.” State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said,”This happened to a friend of mine. He just got out of prison. He was a state senator and had a written letter from the Ethics Commission which his lawyer read at trial and the jury convicted him anyway.” Rogers never named his friend, but reporters think he was talking about former state Sen. Edward Browning ‘E. B.’ McClain who spent over 22 years in the legislature until he was convicted on 47 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, bribery, and money laundry in 2009. A federal jury found that McClain and the Rev. Samuel Pettagrue were guilty in a scheme where McClain would secure public funds for Pettagrue’s community programs and then receive a kickback once the funds were in hand. McClain was sentenced to five years and ten months in prison. McClain was not prosecuted under the Alabama ethics law as the state has a much weaker ethics statute then. The current ethics law was passed in 2010. Rogers said, “If they offer me a consulting contract for a field like aerospace engineering that I know nothing about they are trying to pay me off. If you can already be a consultant for something you know about why would you seek a consulting contract for something you don’t know about. Rogers this is how they can pay you off for your vote.” State Rep. Artis “A.J.” McCampbell said, “I don’t like making changes to things like this because we get into things called unintended consequences.” McCampbell was reading from the bill and Wingo said, “You are reading from the original version it has completely changed.” “We worked tirelessly on this bill with the Ethics Commission this is not a fly by night bill.” “If a member of the legislature enters into a contract to do a consulting contract outside of their normal field of work this bill requires that they consult with the Ethics Commission first,” Wingo said. “It is up to the member to notify the Ethics Commission not to the company or person offering them the money.” State Representative Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said, “Everybody but legislators are allowed to do contract work up to $30,000.” Rep. Wingo said, “This is not intended to be a roadblock.” State Representative Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, said, “The whole purpose of this is not to prevent members from doing work in your field.” “What you are doing is offering to protect me.” State Representative John Knight, D-Montgomery, asked Wingo what the Alabama Attorney General said about this legislation. Wingo replied, “I have not contacted the Attorney General.” Knight responded, “Something from the Ethics Commission does not carry a lot of protection from the Attorney General. We have seen that in the past. I think the Attorney General and the Ethics Commission should be in agreement in the working on this.” Wingo answered, “Maybe this is a first step.” Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, asked, “Do we have anybody doing work outside of their regular scope of work?” Wingo answered, “Yes I think so.” Wingo said, “If we had had this bill four or five years ago maybe we could have been spared the embarrassment that this body experienced with the former Speaker.” Wingo was referring to former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard who was convicted of 12 counts of felony ethics violations in June 2016. Ironically, Hubbard is largely responsible for creating the ethics law that he was found guilty of violating 11 times in his relentless pursuit of outside contracts and personal wealth. Unlike McClain, however, Hubbard has not yet served any of this sentence. House Bill 387 passed 67-0 with 26 legislators abstaining. The bill now moves to the Senate for its consideration. (Original reporting by the Alabama Media Group’s Lisa Osborn in 2009 was consulted in this report.) Print this piece Continue Reading Authors Bill Britt Brandon Moseley Charlie Walker Chip Brownlee Joey Kennedy Josh Moon Steve Flowers Susan Britt Advertisement Latest Popular Governor9 hours ago Ivey: Pelham to resign, Bonner to take over as chief of staff Governor13 hours ago Sources: Ivey chief of staff set to resign News13 hours ago Sheriff resigns sentencing commission in protest Featured Columnists13 hours ago Opinion | Why do Alabama governors insist on taking the unpopular path? Governor13 hours ago Ainsworth pushes better education, more ethical government in inaugural speech News13 hours ago Constitutional officers sworn in on inauguration day News13 hours ago Alabama Appleseed selects Carla Crowder as new executive director News13 hours ago Court of Criminal Appeals upholds Butler County murder conviction Corruption1 week ago Sexual misconduct allegations at Department of Corrections kept from public by bureaucracy News1 week ago Documents, sources indicate AHSAA had no choice in Maori Davenport suspension Featured Columnists1 week ago Opinion | ALGOP House rule changes eliminate democracy Guest Columnists2 weeks ago Opinion | Corps’ announcement good for Dauphin Island, all of coastal Alabama Elections3 weeks ago Moore: “It’s about time” the 2017 special election is investigated Governor2 weeks ago Alabama Real Estate Commission once again appears to side-step Gov. Ivey’s directive Courts6 days ago Macon judge dismisses state lawsuit against VictoryLand Education2 weeks ago Opinion | Montgomery’s struggles will be Alabama’s future if public education funding isn’t addressed Facebook Advertisement Trending Crime2 days ago Opinion | Slain Birmingham officer needed our help Governor3 days ago Former Gov. Bentley to attend Ivey inauguration and gala Governor13 hours ago Sources: Ivey chief of staff set to resign Featured Columnists13 hours ago Opinion | Why do Alabama governors insist on taking the unpopular path?