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Mark Tuggle hired as speaker’s chief of staff

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) announced that he has hired former State Representative Mark Tuggle (R-Alexander City) to serve as his Chief of Staff.

“As a member of the Alabama House, Mark set himself apart as a leader and proved a valuable source of wise counsel, so I’m pleased to continue utilizing his talents as my chief of staff,” McCutcheon said in a statement. “Alabama faces many challenges that the Legislature must resolve, and Mark will play a large role in developing and passing needed solutions to those important issues.”

Tuggle said that he appreciates the confidence that McCutcheon has placed in him and looks forward to continue working with the members of the Alabama House.

“When I decided against seeking another term in the House, I assumed my work in state government had ended, but Speaker McCutcheon convinced me to continue serving the citizens of Alabama in this new role,” Tuggle said. “As a former member, I’ll be able to advise the new House members with the perspective of someone who has once held the same responsibilities, and I will work with the returning members as someone they already know and trust.”

Some critics of the move had suggested that such a hire would violate the “revolving door” clause in the state ethics law.

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To clear up these concerns, McCutcheon asked for pre-approval of the hire from the Alabama Ethics Commission. The Ethics Commission issued an opinion saying that a retiring member of the House can take the job as the speaker’s chief of staff provided that he does not engage in lobbying. The commission approved the opinion in a 4 to 0 vote.

Tuggle’s predecessor was attorney Jimmy Entrekin. In July Entrekin accepted a new position within the state legislature as general counsel for the Legislative Services Agency.

Entrekin was hired by then Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard after former Chief of Staff Josh Blades left the position to pursue other opportunities in the private sector. Blades’ testimony later was used by prosecutors to argue that Hubbard voted on legislation that benefitted a company which Hubbard had a consulting contract with. Hubbard was convicted on 12 counts of violating the Alabama ethics law in 2016. Hubbard has not served a day in prison even though he was sentenced 28 months ago. Blades is now a senior advisor for government affairs and economic development with the Birmingham law firm of Bradley, Arant, Boult & Cummings.

Tuggle was twice elected to represent House District 81. He was the chairman of the House State Government Committee.

Tuggle is a professional forester and is retired from the Alabama Power Company. He has a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University and a master’s degree from Faulkner University. He and his wife, Michelle, have one daughter, Dee.

(Original reporting by Alabama Today’s Elizabeth Patton contributed to this report)

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House Democrats say new rules will subvert democracy, transparency

Chip Brownlee

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House Democrats say new rules passed during an organization session earlier this week will subvert Democracy and limit the small Democratic minority’s ability to have any say or influence on legislation.

“The New Procedural Rule Changes by House Republicans will silence the voices of citizens and minimize legislators ability to fully vet key legislation,” Minority Leader Anthony Daniels said. “This is a democracy, built upon openness and transparency. These rule changes not only hamper that, but also create discord and division among House leaders.”

Democrats say the new rules passed by the Republican majority in the House, which limit debate to one hour instead of two, will limit transparency and hamper their ability to debate legislation. That, they say, will have a long-term, negative impact on the legislative process in the House.

“As legislators, we have one job,” said Rep. Merika Coleman, the House assistant minority leader. “We were elected to discuss and weigh legislation and decide whether it is in the best interest of our constituents and the state. The rules passed will drastically curtail our ability to do that. I hope the majority reconsiders this effort.”

The House spent much of the day on Tuesday in an intense debate over changes to the House rules, which would have limited Democrats’ ability to extend debate on legislation as a method of delaying votes on bills.

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The proposed bills would have allowed Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, the ability to determine the length of debate on the special order calendar. That’s the agenda set on a daily basis during session to determine what bills will be debated on the floor.

Old rules allowed representatives to speak for up to two hours on each bill.

On top of that, the speaker would have been able to limit the time for readings of bills at length, and he could have had wide discretion to remove members for the chambers for a “breach of peace,” a term that has not been specifically defined.

“You already have a supermajority,” said State Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville. “Now you are making it harder for the minority to represent our districts.”

House Rules Committee Chairman Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, said the new rules were needed so the House could spend more time debating actual issues instead of getting stuck on just a few controversial pieces of legislation.

Democrats pushed back against the changes. A compromise was reached that would allow one hour of debate on a bill. It passed by a 92–5 vote.

But Democrats still seem to be upset about the outcome of the negotiations. They say the two-hour rule, which was put in place in 2003, gives the minority an ability to provide input and voice their opinions with a degree of leverage.

Prior to 2003, debate was unlimited.

During the last few sessions, Democrats have been able to negotiate on big pieces of legislation — such as redistricting and ethics bills — largely because of the rule. Conservative Republicans have also employed the rules to delay votes on other pieces of legislation where more moderate Republicans had reached compromise with Democrats.

“Our citizens expect and deserve better,” said Caucus Vice Chair Rep. Barbara Drummond. “We will continue to fight for transparency and accountability in state government.”

In the Senate, where Republicans have been more likely to extend debate to delay legislation, old rules will remain in place.

Legislators are expected to spend a lot of time during the upcoming session, which is set to begin in March, on issues like infrastructure, a gas tax, ethics legislation and education.

Democrats’ will start the session with a small minority — 28 seats in a chamber of 105. Republicans hold 77 seats. In the Senate, Republicans hold 27 out of 35 seats.

 

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House Republican Caucus unanimously approves resolution urging AHSAA to reinstate Maori Davenport

Brandon Moseley

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via USA Basketball

The 77-member Alabama House Republican Caucus this week unanimously approved a resolution urging the Alabama High School Athletic Association to immediately reinstate the eligibility of Charles Henderson High School standout basketball player Maori Davenport of Troy.

The AHSAA rescinded Davenport’s eligibility due to a clerical error involving her play with the Team USA basketball program. USA Basketball compensated the Davenport family $875 for incidental expenses associated with Davenport representing the United States at a basketball tournament in Mexico. Davenport led the under-18 year old women’s team to the gold medal. The payment does not violate NCAA rules; but does violate the standards of the AHSAA, which do not align with NCAA standards. AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese revoked the girl’s amateur status so that she can not play basketball during her senior season.

According to the AHSAA any player who receives more than $250 is a professional player and loses their amateur status. The Davenport family returned the money and the head of USA Basketball took full blame for the clerical error and personally travelled to Alabama to beg the AHSAA to reinstate Davenport at the appeals hearing. Savarese and the AHSAA were unmoved and denied the appeal.

The controversial decision prompted several influential sportswriters, television personalities, and professional athletes to speak out on the high school student’s behalf.

“What the Alabama High School Athletic Association has done to Maori Davenport is wrong on so many levels that I don’t know where to start. I know what this feels like because I was treated like shit by them too. Being a kid from Alabama, I’m with Maori Davenport. Fix this now!” wrote NBA star Demarcus “Boogie” Cousins.

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“Maori hadn’t done a doggone thing except receive the check from USA Basketball,” Rutgers Women’s Head Basketball Coach Vivian Stringer told New Jersey Advance Media. “It was grown-ups’ fault. And grown-ups did not lay claim to that. Maori sent the money back the next day. She’s a great kid, great student. She tried to do the right thing. And then the Alabama association … are you kidding me? This girl was up for player of the year, All-American. How can you do that?”

Maori has signed a scholarship offer to play at Rutgers. Her college eligibility is unaffected by this as the payment by USA Basketball is not an NCAA violation,

USA Basketball and South Carolina Gamecocks Women’s basketball head coach Dawn Staley said, “As I prepare & the excitement builds for our conference game today I can only imagine the emptiness Maori Davenport feels every time her team suits up to play. AL state officials if you all have heart in your chest or a daughter, sister or niece…do right by them if not Maori!”

On Tuesday, Maori and her parents addressed the Alabama Republican House Caucus and asked for their help.

“After Maori Davenport appeared before our Caucus and very eloquently explained her situation, the 77 Republican members of the Alabama House stand ready to help her regain her eligibility in any way that we can,” House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R – Rainsville, said. “Without exception, our legislators urge the AHSAA to immediately reinstate this impressive young woman who simply wanted to represent our country on an international level.”

The resolution was sponsored by State Rep. Wes Allen, R – Troy, who has championed Davenport’s cause since the AHSAA decision and arranged for her appearance at the Alabama State House during the Legislature’s organizational session.

“I am proud to stand alongside Maori Davenport as we work to rectify a situation that should have never occurred,” Allen said. “Rather than being treated with the callous disregard shown by the AHSAA, young athletes like Maori should be encouraged, supported, and praised.”

State Representative Kyle South, R-Fayette, announced on Tuesday that he is introducing legislation to reform the AHSAA after the state has become embroiled in this national controversy.

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House passes controversial new rules

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama House of Representatives voted for a series of rule changes in the inner workings of the house. Passing the rules for the next four years is one of the duties of the legislature during the organizational session; but since Republicans have an overwhelming 77 to 28 supermajority the Republicans essentially got to write the rules, while Democrats complained.

House Rules Committee Chairman Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) sponsored the new rules, H.R. 7.

After Republican gains in the 2018 election, Democrats only 28 seats in the House of Representatives. 27 of the 28 House Democrats are Black.

State Representative Thomas Jackson (D-Thomasville) said, “You already have a supermajority. Now you are making it harder for the minority to represent our districts.”

One of the proposed rule changes decreased the amount of time that can be spent debating on adoption of the special order calendar from two hours to just forty minutes.

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“We don’t have nothing, but a voice,” Rep. Jackson said. “27 minority members of the House and you want to take that way. All I can do is talk and you want to limit the time. Are we moving away from Democracy and moving to authoritative dictatorship?”

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Montgomery) said that the rule change was, “Taking away a tool by the minority party.”

Chairman Jones said that the rule which they were referring to is rule number eleven. This was passed in 2003 under Seth Hammett (D) when Democrats were in the majority. Prior to that the debate on the special order calendar had been unlimited. It was felt then that there needed to be some reasonable point of cutoff. Right now it is two hours. We would like to spend more time debating those actual issues. Right now we are burning two hours without much being accomplished in the process.

Daniels said that relations between the two parties, “Has gotten better under our current Speaker. This is not necessary.”

Jackson said, “I was in the body when that passed in 2003 and I didn’t like it then. Some of us Democrats felt that we should have unlimited debate. We were in the minority even then.”

State Representative Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) said, “These rules are sickening.” Givan objected to rules making it easier to remove a legislator from the room.

Rep. Jones said that that the reason for stating that rules was to make it clear and very specific. A legislator can be removed for just one day on order of the presiding officer for a decorum violation. The Speaker of the House is the presiding officer of the House chamber; but even the speaker is subject to overrule by the entire body.
State Representative Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) said, “We are setting up an authoritarian rule in the House. I think there is an effort from the Governor’s mansion to the White House to destroy the democratic way of life.”

State Representative Merika Coleman Madison (D-Pleasant Grove) said, “This is a rule that members of your own caucus has used to get bills on the calendar particularly in the end of the session.”

Jackson objected to Rule 66 that says that only the chairman of the Rules committee can ask to take leave of the House while the House is in session. “Every chairman should object to that.”

Rep. Coleman Madison said, “If you shut us up, you shut up the 26 percent of Alabamians who are African Americans. I could see a federal lawsuit.”

“The Republicans already have the Democrats hanging on the cross. Are you the one to drive the nails in even further?” Rep. Artis J. McCampbell (D-Livingston) said.
State Representative John Rogers (D-Birmingham) said, “These rules changes are for the birds. These rules are terrible.”

“I have been here 32 years,” Rogers said. “Don’t cut me to ribbons and call me your friend. I stand on my own. No Caucus represents me. I might as well be a third world country. I don’t give a damn what you call it, it is a cloture.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) interrupted and said, “Watch your language.”

“Can I say darned,” Rogers asked.

“That would be preferable,” McCutcheon said.

“When I was in Vietnam, I was outnumbered but I had to use guerilla warfare,” Rogers said. “I am feeling an ill will in this House and the trickery is so broad that I can’t feel good about this House.”

Several legislators objected to the new rule limiting pages to no younger than ten and no older than eighteen,

Jones said that that was the change that the most legislators had questions about and that the House has an intern program for college age students.

Rep. J. Givan presented a compromise proposal on Rule 11 that set the limit on special order calendar debate at one hour rather than forty minutes.

Chairman Jones accepted Givan’s amendment, “in the spirit of compromise.”
The new rules were passed along partisan lines 74 to 27.

The House also passed SJR7 changing the organization of the legislature. SJR7 consolidated a number of legislative agencies under the Legislative Services Agency (LSA) which is headed by Jimmy Entrekin. The Alabama Law Institute (ALI), Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO), and Examiner of Public Accounts are now all under the Legislative Services Agency (LSA). SJR7 passed 85 to 0 and had already passed the Senate.

On Wednesday, the House and Senate met in a joint session and canvassed the election results. The organizational session has ended. The 2019 regular session will begin in March.

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Rep. Victor Gaston elected House speaker pro tem

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama House of Representatives was in session for the first time in 2019 for its organizational session Tuesday, and State Rep. Victor Gaston, R-Mobile, was elected as the Speaker Pro Tem, a position he has held for the last eight years.

State Representative Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) nominated Victor Gaston for another term as Speaker Pro Tem. State Rep. April Weaver seconded the nomination.
State Representative Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) nominated herself for the position of Speaker Pro Tem.

State Rep. Thomas Jackson (D-Thomasville) seconded Moore’s nomination.

“I was trying to do that incognito,” Rep. Jackson said. “I don’t know why Mary nominated herself but Democracy works best when all of us participate. Mary would do a good job.

The House voted 84-to-13 in favor of Gaston. There was one abstention.

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Gaston was sworn in as Speaker Pro Tem for another four years. If the Speaker of the House dies, is away, is incapacitated, steps out of his chair, or is convicted of a felony (as Mike Hubbard was in 2016) the House Pro Tem assumes the authority and function of the Speaker. Gaston was actually elevated to Speaker after Hubbard’s conviction; though eventually the House Republican Caucus chose Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) as Speaker. The House Pro Tem also has a lot of responsibilities in the day to day running of the House

Gaston, surrounded by grandchildren, thanked the legislators for electing him again.

“Jean (Mrs. Gaston) is fighting a very serious health condition but we are fighting it.” Gaston said. “In 1982 when people of my party did not get elected and I was just going to make a good show of it; but Jean said no we are going to work hard and win it and we did.”

Gaston said that he could never have won that first election without all of the work that his wife, and his parents and her parents did. Gaston said that his mother, age 97 is still living.

“The speaker has outlined some thing that we need to do to move our state forward not just for my grandchildren and your grandchildren; but for all of the children in this state,” Gaston said. “We need to move this state forward. We need roads and bridges to be improved. We need troopers on the highway. We need mental health services. I hope that we will all bear in mind and do what is best for the state.”

Gaston also announced that Rep. “Harry Shiver is recovering from surgery.”

Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) was elected as Speaker of the House in a 98 to 1 vote.

Jeff Woodard was elected the Clerk of the House in a 99-to-0 vote.

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Mark Tuggle hired as speaker’s chief of staff

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