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Proponents argue that juvenile justice reform will reduce youth crime

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Tuesday, Americans for Tax Reform hosted a presentation on Juvenile Justice Reform. ATR’s Jorge Marin argues that out-of-home placements for youth in the juvenile justice system cost taxpayers up to $162,000 per youth per year. Jorge Marin and ATR argue that these kinds of expenditures could be better applied to situations that will keep communities safe and help kids avoid becoming career criminals.

After the 2017 legislative session, the Juvenile Justice Task Force, chaired by State Senator Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, and State Representative Jim Hill, R-Odenville, studied how to best reform the state’s juvenile justice system. Hill and Ward are the chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.

House Bill 225, introduced by Chairman Hill in December, aims to codify the recommendations of the Alabama Juvenile Justice Task Force. Proponents claim that if enacted, Alabama would save $34 million by 2023 to reinvest in community-based juvenile programming shown to reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

Sen. Ward said that as an advocate for smaller government one of our foremost concerns should be public safety.  How to solve crime problems with youthful offenders before they get to the adult side was the focus of the Juvenile Justice Task Force.

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“Texas and Georgia have seen their juvenile crime drop,” after implementing reform, said Sen. Ward. “If a 14 year old is in a bad home, address that. If a child is drug or alcohol addicted, get them into a drug treatment program before they become hardened criminals.”

Chairman Hill said one thing that is easy to lose sight of is that after a juvenile is locked up for 15 months, “where is he going to live? He is coming back home. Is he coming back home to the same problems that he left?”

“What is the easiest way to deal with a juvenile?” Chairman Hill asked. “In a local environment, where hopefully you are interacting with the adults in the home and the younger children in the home. We have 67 counties and 67 different approaches.”

Chairman Ward said that this bill, “Is an ongoing negotiation in process because all of the stakeholders. Two thirds of the folks at DYS (Department of Youth Services are in there for non-violent offenses. Statistics show that if you lock up a juvenile, they are going to be an adult in the prison system.”

Dealing with youth offenders in a local program, “Is a lot cheaper than the $140,000 a year to lock up a juvenile,” said Ward. He also said that they want to prepare a risk assessment tool to give to a judge for every child that provides guidance to the juvenile court judge on what is the best approach to take with each child. “That guidance would be good from one end of the state to another. We do need to makes sure that we are treating the child in Madison County and the child in Mobile county. The first thing we have to deal with is to deal with their drug assessment.”

“The real problem is that Madison County and Shelby county they have the local resources for treatment Bibb and Chilton are also in my district, and they don’t have the local resources to offer alternative treatment,” Ward said. “We need to add money for that in the DYS budget.” This bill would shift money from the incarceration side to the local side to offer programs including: family therapy, mentoring and substance abuse treatment.

“Every one of your counties have juvenile probation officers,” Ward said. “They are doing things to keep up with these kids. We have drug treatment in our county; we have early warning in our county to identify students with problems with truancy or probation. Two things that are important: Education, we must educate our children. The second is we need to do our best to keep our children off of alcohol and substance abuse. Those are the things that we have to deal with. When a child graduates from high school, we hope that he will: enroll, employ, or enlist. If they enroll in school, they are bettering themselves, if they go to work, they are bettering themselves, if they enlist in the armed forces, they are learning new skills and are bettering themselves.”

“Locally is the place to deal with juveniles,” Ward said. “18 or 19 states have enacted juvenile justice reform. Three states would be the guide are: Texas, Georgia and North Carolina.”

On why red states are more likely to introduce juvenile justice reform than blue states, Ward said, “We bludgeoned the other side so bad that they were soft on crime, that they are relocating to take that up.”

Chairman Hill said that he was a district court judge when we got the sentencing guidelines for adults with a recommendation for prison or not for prison: probation or not for probation, and the numbers that we were sending to prisons dropped noticeably. It has has dropped 20 percent.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked: “This was before your time; but earlier generations of Alabamians dealt with the mentally ill by locking them up in sanitariums. Then there was a movement to stop locking up the mentally ill. Instead, we would treat them in community centers offering out patient mental health services. That might actually be a good thing; but then we cut the funding for those services. Now we have crazy people all over the place in our communities running around and getting in trouble, until they commit some offense so serious that they get sent to the prison system. Are you sure that the same thing won’t happen with this?”

Sen. Ward answered, “You have got to pay for it. The key is having treatment programs, but you have got to invest in it. My brother is bipolar. He has been in and out of jail, costing taxpayers no telling how much money. He did not take his medication. If we had gotten him the treatment he needed, he probably would be a productive member of society. If we invest is these services, there will be better outcomes for young people and it will be a whole lot cheaper than what we are doing now.”

Rep. Hill said that he introduced the original bill in December, and that is not going to be the final draft. “It has to be looked at the various entities: the Das, the judges, the sheriffs, the Governor’s office. Will we get it through this year? We will try. If we don’t, I am committed to try again next year. I am committed to moving this forward whether it takes a year or two years. I would rather do it right than do it and get it wrong.”

Ward said, “I don’t want to see us pass something called reform and then have to spend the next three years going back and fixing things with it because of unintended consequences.”

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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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Proponents argue that juvenile justice reform will reduce youth crime

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 6 min
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