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Conservative groups discuss issues facing Legislative Session

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Tuesday, leaders of various conservative and Tea Party groups held a planning meeting at the Alabama State House an hour before the 2018 Regular Legislative Session began.

Dr. Lou Campomenosi with the Common Sense Campaign of Alabama emceed the event.  Campomenosi said, “I think it is important for people like us to meet to set the tone for the Legislature.”

Pastor John Killian praised the efforts of the Tea Party. “You folks, your work has paid off. Things are not perfect, but things are better than they were before 2010. Over a billion dollars has been cut, pro-life bills have passed, they sent us a constitutional amendment on pro-life that we should pass or they will never listen to us again.” Killian also praised the rolling reserve act and warned against legislation doing away with an elected school board. He also warned about a National Constitutional convention.

“We spend a lot of time in the building,” Ann Eubank, president of the Rainy Day Patriots and head of Alabama Legislative Watchdogs, said, “This year and we are back again.”

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Eubank praised the Legislature for the work being done by the economic reform committee under Danny Garrison.

“All we hear is we need more revenue,” Eubank said. “Common core has put us at 48th to 50th in the nation [in education].”

Eubank said that she has looked at the pre-filed bills and said that there is a bill that says you can not smoke in a car if a child is present. “I don’t smoke; but the government is going to tell you when you can smoke? If you allow them to take that freedom, what is the next freedom they are going to take away? The daycare licensing bill is back. It is not about children.”

“The Republicans have controlled Alabama for eight years and we are back to where we started – WHY,” Eubank asked. Eubanks said that the Watchdogs were going to reintroduce the watchdog corruption platform. “I think the Ethics Commission and its funding should be taken out from under an appointed commission and be given to the Attorney General’s office.”

Former state Sen. John Rice said, “I was only here for eight years. I served one term in the State House and one term in the Senate.”

“The statement of economic interests is ridiculous it tells you nothing,” Rice said. “It has been so disappointing to watch education fall from 25 and 26 to essentially dead last in the country.”

Rice said that they had fought the power of the big mules in Birmingham to control Alabama through corporate donations for years while the Democrats had control. Instead of reforming campaign finances, the Republicans passed a law allowing unlimited corporate contributions.

Retired Colonel Mike Parsons denounced Common Core as an attempt to transform the country into a socialist model. Parsons warned that it will transform education to a socialist model that will place our kids where the numbers say that they fit. Common Core is the standards, the assessments and the data collection.

“Sentance he was on track to repeal the Common core standards,” Parsons said. “He was on a path to do it because they were not good standards.”

Republican candidate for Attorney General Alice Martin said that as a U.S. attorney, she got over 140 federal convictions of elected and appointed public officials. As Deputy Alabama Attorney General, she was a part of over 20 state public corruption convictions. Martin said that while she was state deputy attorney general, they tried to pass ethics reform through the Alabama Legislature but could not because of then Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard. Martin said that the three bills the AG wanted, “Passed quickly out of the Senate but in the House we could not even get a committee meeting. We learned that the Committee Chairmen were told by Hubbard if they even had a hearing, they would be stripped of their committee chair.”

Dr. Lou Campomenosi with the Common Sense Campaign of Alabama said that it is important that the legislators realize that someone is watching.

Campomenosi said that they have had a mixed bag of results to this point. Common Core has not been repealed and ethics reform has not passed. “We beat Matt Brown, the BCA candidate for school board even though he had the money. The legislature has not repealed Common Core. Our one chance was Michael Sentance and Stephanie Bell sabotaged those efforts. I like Stephanie Bell, but I don’t know what she was doing with that one.”

Sean Grehalva spoke in favor of term limits legislation.

Shanna Marie Chamblee with Alabama Gun Rights spoke in favor of constitutional carry. Presently, Alabama requires citizens to carry their guns concealed, even though no permit is necessary to carry your guns openly. AGR and the National Rifle Association support Sen. Gerald Allen’s constitutional carry bill.

The 2018 Legislative Session is now underway and is expected to be unusually short.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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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Conservative groups discuss issues facing Legislative Session

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 4 min
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