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House concurs on Education Budget, passes bonus money for education retirees

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives voted to concur with the conference committee version of the Education Trust Fund budget. The House also passed legislation giving Alabama’s Education retirees a one-time bonus check.

House Bill 175, the Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget, had already passed both Houses of the Alabama Legislature; but each House had passed a different version of the ETF. A conference committee had been appointed to iron out the mostly minor differences between the two versions of HB175.

HB175 was sponsored by State Representative Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, who chairs the House Ways and Means Education Committee that is tasked with writing the ETF each year. Alabama is unique in that it has two budgets: one dealing with education, the ETF, and one dealing with non-education spending the state General Fund budget.

Alabama also has billions of dollars in other revenues that are earmarked for specific purposes that do not show up in the budgeting process. Fuel taxes for example go to the Department of Transportation and a portion goes to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency for patrolling the highways.

The Secretary of State’s office does not even get an appropriation from either budget as Secretary John Merrell has been able to operate his department off of the corporate filing fees and other revenues that the Department collects.

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The Public Service Commission (PSC) is funded entirely through utility taxes and then sends the surplus back to the SGF. Other agencies like the Department of Public Health, Alabama Medicaid, and the Department of Human Resources take their SGF appropriation and uses it as matching dollars to draw down $billions in federal dollars.

Poole recommended that the House adopt the conference committee version of HB175. There are some differences in the amount appropriated to a number of agencies in this version of HB175 versus the version that had originally passed the House. There are also differences in wording.

The biggest of these perhaps is wording over what happens when a new school system is formed. Poole said that this states that, “The money follows the child.” This was not written for any specific future school system and Poole did not know if any new school system would break away in fiscal year 2019 or not though did acknowledge that Gulf Shores was talking about possibly starting a new system to break away from the Baldwin County School System. Gardendale had tried to form its own school system; but was blocked from breaking away from Jefferson County by the federal courts.

State Rep. Phil Williams, R-Huntsville, praised Poole for the work that he does on the education budget. Williams said that this was the best education budget ever.

The ETF is $6.63 billion for FY2019. Education employees receive a 2.5 percent pay increase.

State Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, complained that Alabama A&M did not get enough state funding in the version of HB175 that originally passed the House.

Poole said that the Senate added another $175,000 for Alabama A&M.  The conference committee kept that extra funding in HB175.  Rep. Hall said that she was still not satisfied with that.

The House voted 98 to 0 to concur with the conference committee report on HB175.

The House also passed Senate Bill 21 which gave Alabama’s education retirees a one-time bonus check. SB21 is sponsored by State Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried in the House by State Representative Connie Rowe, R-Jasper.

SB21 gives the retirees a $1 a month bonus for every month that they worked. A teacher who retired after 25 years of service would get a $300 check. A thirty year employee would get a $360 bonus check.

The bill was universally popular with legislators; but Rep. Rowe faced some heavy questioning from State Representative Merika Coleman, D-Midfield, who was angry because Rowe, a former Jasper police chief, had help worked to defeat Coleman’s politically correct racial profiling bill, Senate Bill 84.

SB84 is sponsored by State Senator Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, and is being carried in the House by Coleman. Law enforcement strongly opposes SB84 because of the onerous reporting requirements and fears that the bill is just a vehicle to generate law suits against police departments. The House rejected SB84 on Thursday on the Budget Isolation Resolution (BIR) vote.

Coleman and Smitherman negotiated a compromise version of SB84 with House leadership before the business day began on Tuesday. The leadership put SB84 back on the special order calendar for Tuesday, but the House adjourned at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday night because they still did not have the votes to pass SB84. The Alabama Political Reporter was told that several sheriffs still strongly oppose the latest version of SB84. Smitherman is threatening to hold the session hostage, filibustering everything, unless he gets his SB84 passed.

SB21 passed the House 86-0. The bonus will cost the ETF budget $26 million. However, Rowe amended SB21 to pay the bonus in June instead of in October like the original version had called for. This change means that SB21 still has to go back to the Senate, which is tied up with House Bill 317 by Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton, exempting economic developers from having to register as lobbyists.

The Senate still has to act on concurring with HB175, the ETF budget.

Some members had been hoping that Wednesday would be the last day of the 2018 Legislative Session; but the lack of progress on Tuesday may have made that goal unattainable.

 

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Elections

Opinion | Walt Maddox has lost his mind

Josh Moon

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Walt Maddox is nuts.

That’s the only explanation I have for what the man’s doing — going around the state and trying to engage voters on the issues. Holding press conferences talking about health care and offering plans for increasing Medicaid coverage.

The guy’s got an infrastructure plan. He’s got an education plan.

He’s got details and costs and information on how we can do it all and actually pay for it.

And this nonsense is what he believes will get him elected governor.

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See? Nutty as a fruitcake, that Walt Maddox.

Because Alabama voters do not care about such trivial things as an improved quality of life, better education for their kids and increased job opportunities that actually pay you enough to live and eat.

They don’t care.

Trust me on this. I’ve been banging my head against this particular wall for all of my life.

I screamed and screamed and screamed some more over Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. I pointed out the benefits and the zero costs. And I pointed out the meticulous studies done that showed massive increases in jobs, revenue and health services if that expansion occurred.

You know what people cared about?

That it was named after the black president.

That’s right. This bunch of hillbillies would rather drive across two counties while suffering a heart attack than give the “libs” the pleasure of knowing that their health care plan wasn’t terrible.

Oh, but that’s not even the most mind-boggling conversation I’ve had with Alabama voters.

That honor goes to anyone opposing gambling.

This is inevitably the dumbest debate. Because it starts with a flawed premise — that any lottery or gambling bill passed in the state — like the one Maddox is proposing — would “bring gambling to Alabama.”

I was in one of the three legally operating casinos in this state a month ago. I’ve known people who place bets with bookies or on online gambling sites. I’ve attended cash bingo games where thousands of dollars changed hands. I’ve bet on both dogs and horses, legally. And I’ve stood in line just across the borders in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida to buy lottery tickets.

Gambling has been here for decades now. The only thing we don’t have are the tax revenues that are paying for other states’ kids to attend colleges, eliminating other states’ food taxes and helping fund thousands of classrooms in other states.

But the voters here, they don’t care.

That’s why they keep electing goobers who vote against even allowing Alabama citizens to vote on the issue. Because democracy is great unless the majority is going to agree on something you don’t like.

This is the reality facing Walt Maddox, as he travels around the state on a bus, trying to pretend that Alabama voters know that a governor can’t influence either abortion laws or gun laws, but can ensure their children get to see a doctor this year.

The voters in this state are so unconcerned with the issues that they don’t really care if Kay Ivey ever debates Maddox. Because, honestly, they’d rather not know that she has no ideas, can’t think on her feet and can’t lead in a crisis.

It’s much easier to not know. To just vote blindly for the GOP candidate, convinced that it’ll all work out eventually (even though it never, ever has).

Walt Maddox foolishly believes that he can reason with these people, that at some point their sense of self-preservation will kick in, that they’ll grow tired of remaining stuck living paycheck to paycheck, that the GOP corruption will finally chase them to at least consider another option.

Basically, what I’m saying, is that Walt Maddox is nuts.

 

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Fact check: Yes, Alabama pays Nebraska to manage an Alabama savings plan

Josh Moon

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Why is Alabama’s Treasury Department paying Nebraska’s Treasurer to manage a Medicaid-related savings plan in Alabama?

That question came to APR from a reader who had been told an outrageous tale of apparently misspent tax dollars: Alabama’s Treasurer, Young Boozer, was paying the Nebraska Treasurer an annual sum to manage the ABLE Savings Plan in Alabama.

Could this be true?

Turns out, yes.

That is 100 percent true. But it’s not clear yet why it’s true.

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First, let’s lay out what we know.

Each year, Alabama’s Treasury Department sends the State of Nebraska a check for $20,000. According to Brittany Matthews in the Alabama Treasury office, that money pays the Nebraska Treasurer who is the trustee of the Alabama ABLE Program.

That program, implemented in 2014, allows for disabled people in Alabama to open tax-free savings accounts that can be used to make disability-related purchases. The accounts don’t affect the person’s maximum threshold limits for receiving benefits through Medicaid and other programs.

Each state is required to offer an ABLE program through its treasury department. Alabama’s program, as odd as it might sound, is completely operated by Nebraska.

“(The $20,000 annual payments are) for the administration, operation and maintenance of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (Enable Alabama) program that the State of Alabama offers,” Matthews wrote in an email. “This includes marketing, investment management, site visits and other services. They manage the entire program for Alabama.”

Why this is the case isn’t clear.

A follow-up email from APR to Matthews, asking why Nebraska manages Alabama’s plan, was not answered on Monday afternoon.

However, it’s possible the decision is simple math. It might cost more than $20,000 annually for the state to manage its own ABLE program.

On the other hand, it could be yet another example of how the state’s failure to properly fund government offices has yet again cost taxpayers even more money.

But one thing is certain: The Nebraska Treasurer is being paid by Alabama’s government to manage a government program in Alabama.

 

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Elections

Alabama Hospital Association pushes for Medicaid expansion, backs candidates who do not

Bill Britt

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According to a recent AP report, the Alabama Hospital Association has launched a campaign to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. However, the organization is supporting Republican candidates who are either trying to kill the law altogether or refuse to expand its coverage in the state.

The association has so far this election cycle given nearly $20,000 each to appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall and Gov. Kay Ivey. Marshall and Ivy, both Republicans, owe their current offices to disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley.

Marshall is actively using his office to abolish the law that provides health care for low-income Alabamians and is currently suing to overturn provisions that allow individuals with pre-existing conditions to not be denied health coverage.

Ivey for her part falls back on the standard line that the state can’t afford to expand Medicaid and has also signaled that she will not support the expansion sought by the Hospital Association.

Danne Howard, executive vice president and chief policy officer for the Alabama Hospital Association, told AP’s Kim Chandler, “One in every ten people who walk into a hospital doesn’t have insurance. At some point, those providers, those hospitals, are not going to be able to maintain operation. They are not going to be there, either closing their doors or cutting back services.”

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Howard expressed the need to expand Medicaid to AP but has failed to answer APR‘s question as to why the organization is supporting candidates who oppose expansion.

Democrat gubernatorial candidate Walt Maddox has promised to expand Medicaid if elected governor, likewise, Democrat attorney general nominee Joseph Siegelman vows to protect Alabamians with pre-existing conditions should he win in November. The Hospital Association isn’t supporting either candidate even though their campaign platforms align with the association’s stated goals.

Since Howard refuses to answer APR‘s request for information, there is no way to understand why the Hospital Association would back Ivey, who has said she would not support expanding Medicaid and Marshall who is actively working to end guaranteed coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

According to The American Journal of Managed Care, “Medicaid expansion… was associated with increases in coverage, service use, quality of care, and Medicaid spending. Among those who benefitted the most are adults without a college degree, patients with cancer, and patients with diabetes.”

If Marshall prevails with his current lawsuit, Alabamians with cancer, diabetes and other pre-existing conditions would no longer have guaranteed access to health insurance.

Current law allows states to expand Medicaid eligibility to non-elderly adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Howard says that there is a real possibility that doctors and hospital care will not be available if Medicaid does not expand, yet, her association is financing candidates whose goals are to stop expansion and cut options for those who have persistent medical problems.

 

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Jeff Sessions addresses law enforcement symposium in Hoover

Brandon Moseley

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Monday, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R) was in Hoover to address a Department of Justice National Public Safety Partnership Symposium. Sessions told the members of law enforcement gathered there, “We have your back and you have ours.”

U.S. Attorney Jay Town, Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale (R-Jefferson County), Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R), Birmingham Police Chief Patrick Smith, Hoover Police Chief Nicholas Derzis, and the Department of Justice’s Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance John Adler were also present at the Symposium.

“It is good to be back in Alabama,” AG Sessions said. “I had a good weekend.”

Sessions said that U.S. Attorneys Jay Town and Louis V. Franklin, “Are already doing a great job fighting crime,” and that Richard Moore will do an excellent job in the Southern District.

“The people in this room represent the finest in American law enforcement,” Sessions said. American law enforcement is unsurpassed, but “When you have 800,000 law officers somebody is going to make a mistake every now and then.”

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“We have had some very confused thinking in recent years and we are working to put an end to that,” Sessions said. The U.S. Attorneys that President Donald J. Trump (R) has appointed, “Felt to me like 1981 when President Reagan put together his team of U.S. Attorneys. This is a good bunch. I am proud of them I think they will make a difference.”

“President Donald Trump is a law and order President,” Session stated. “During the last two years of the previous administration violent crime increased. Murder went up more than 20 percent in 2015 and 2016.”

Sessions said that from 1964 to 1980 crime tripled in America and then from 1991 to 2014 violent crime had dropped by half. Murder had dropped by half and rape by a third. Violent crime has dropped steadily for the last 30 years, then ticked up in 2015 and 2016.

“We are not going to let the progress that we worked so hard for be lost,” Sessions said. “We are going to work to reduce crime rates.”

“We are on your side,” the AG told law enforcement. “We are not confused. We are on law enforcement’s side not the criminals’ side. We have no intention to preside over rising crime rates in America.”

Sessions said that just yesterday we had three police officers shot in this country: in Boston, in Baltimore, and in Selma a police office was shot several times in his vehicle.

“Some people think the crime rates do up and down like the tide,” Sessions said. “That is not the President’s view and that is not this Attorney General’s view.”

Sessions praised Project Safe Neighborhoods, “I am confident that it works.”

“We send our diagnostic teams to find out where crimes are rising,” AG Sessions said. “We want to help you find the most violent criminals and help you put them behind bars.” Sessions said that their focus will be on what New York City calls alpha criminals.

Sessions praised the National Public Safety Partnership which he said, “Is already leading to successes in your cities.”
Session said that the DOJ has identified a crime hotspot in Memphis, thanks to the Public Safety Partnership (PSP) and here in Birmingham the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) arrested more than 20 violent crime members who are charged with more than 800 crimes and took 70 illegal weapons off the streets. The 800 crimes is just the ones we know about that they committed.

“Last month I announced that we are expanding PSP,” to other cities, Sessions said. “Our goal is not just how many people we can arrest, but making communities safer. We are going to keep supporting PSP because it is supporting you and your communities. The Department of Justice will provide funding for gun crime intelligence centers.

Sessions said that there will be grants announced to fund training for 230 school resource officers. “We are firming up some really good ideas to make our schools safer.”

“In 2017 the Department of Justice brought more cases against violent criminals than in the 25 years we have been keeping records,” Sessions said. “We have charged the most federal firearms crimes in a decade.”

Sessions said that the overall violent crime rate has dropped in the thirty biggest cities by five percent from this point last year and murder in our 30 biggest cities is down six percent.

Sessions said that you get more crime when you let the ACLU run the Justice Department. “If you want less crime let professional law enforcement run the program.”

“One thing each of you can be certain of is: We have you back you have ours,” Sessions concluded.

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House concurs on Education Budget, passes bonus money for education retirees

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 5 min
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