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State Leaders angered over three-day Snapper season

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Alabama fishermen can only catch and keep Red Snapper for three days this year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that the 2017 Gulf of Mexico Federal Red Snapper Recreational Seasons open for the private angling and Federally permitted for-hire components on June 1, 2017, at 12:01 a.m. local time. The private angler component season will be three days and the Federally permitted for-hire component season will be 49 days in Federal waters. Private Anglers must not take any red snapper after June 4, 2017, at 12:01 a.m.

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The Red Snapper total recreational quota is allocated 57.7 percent to the private angling component and 42.3 percent to the for-hire component. NOAA claims that in 2016, the total recreational quota was exceeded by 129,906 pounds. The private angling quota was also exceeded. NOAA has ordered that that overage of the total recreational quota must be paid back by the private angling component because that component exceeded its quota.

After adjustment for the 2016 overage, the 2017 annual catch target for the private angling component is 3,004,075 pounds whole weight.

The 2017 annual catch target for the for-hire component is 2,278,000 pounds whole weight. Catches in both State and Federal waters are counted against the quota. The number of days for each component to harvest its annual catch target was calculated using 2016 catch rates and accounting for the expected red snapper harvest during State seasons outside the Federal season.

US Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) called this decision “ridiculous.” Rep. Byrne said in a statement, “My office has learned that this year’s Red Snapper season for recreational fishermen will be only three days. This is absolutely ridiculous. A three-day Red Snapper season for recreational fishermen is not only illogical, but it is also dangerous. Reliable State and University data continues to show a plentiful stock of Red Snapper in the Gulf, but Federal bureaucrats and their outdated methods continue to totally miss the mark. Today’s announcement only further emboldens my efforts to give the Gulf States more control over setting the Red Snapper season. It has become crystal clear that the Federal government has no clue what they are doing while the states have put in place programs that actually work.”

State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) also called the new Federal rules “ridiculous.” Zeigler lives in Mobile and is himself an angler. Auditor Zeigler said, “This is the most ridiculous regulatory decision ever made by the Federal government. It is so unreasonable that it should cause a backlash. Alabama needs to get completely away from Federal regulation of our fishery and have State regulation.” Zeigler is exploring running for Governor in 2018.

US Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) said in a statement, “I am deeply troubled and disappointed with NOAA’s decision to considerably shorten the federal recreational fishing season for Red Snapper in the Gulf. NOAA’s announcement today is unacceptable.”

The Snapper season will run June 1-3.

The State of Alabama has disputed the NOAA fish census estimates.

Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Gunter Guy said in a statement, “We are greatly disappointed at the extremely limited Federal Red Snapper season. The red snapper fishery off the coast of Alabama is phenomenal. For NOAA Fisheries to allow our anglers only three days to harvest Red Snapper from Federal waters is ridiculous and unjustifiable. Alabama has built a great fishery and has worked diligently to rebuild this once overfished species. Now that the fishery is rebuilding, we are catching larger fish, and they are so plentiful that we are being penalized for our success. We need a radical change on Federal Red Snapper management. Alabama will continue to work with Senator Shelby, Senator Strange and Congressman Byrne to pass legislation that will make real changes to how NOAA manages this fishery.”

Commissioner Guy said, “The Red Snapper fishery means so much to Alabama’s economy. Every day the Federal season is open helps businesses in Coastal Alabama. I am hopeful that once President Trump’s appointees are in place we will be able to discuss with them how the Federal overregulation on this, and other fisheries, is hurting the livelihood of so many people.”

Deputy Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship said, “Alabama appreciates Senator Shelby’s work to provide funding for a new Red Snapper assessment, permanent extension of State waters to 9 miles and other initiatives in the 2016 budget and the proposed 2017 budget that will be voted on later this week. Congressman Byrne also championed the need for State management of the Red Snapper fishery at a House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform meeting today in Washington, D.C.”

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Marine Resources Division (MRD), announced last month that Alabama’s waters will open for the recreational harvest of Red Snapper from Friday, May 26, through Monday, July 31, 2017. Alabama State waters extend 9 nautical miles from shore. Beyond that is Federal jurisdiction.

Fishermen are reminded that they still are required to report their Red Snapper harvest through Snapper Check to the MRD during the Federal and Alabama State seasons as well as any other time Red Snapper are landed in Alabama.

Blankemship said, “The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will monitor the catch this year using Alabama Snapper Check. We will evaluate the Memorial Day-July season and decide on additional state water fishing days after reviewing the landings data.”

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House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

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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.

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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.

The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.

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.

 

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Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

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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.

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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.

Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.

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.

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State Leaders angered over three-day Snapper season

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 4 min
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