10 Jun 2013
- Published Date
By Senator Quinton Ross
The citizens of Alabama stand to miss out on billions of federal dollars and preventive healthcare if the Governor continues to refuse to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This week, Governor Bentley signed two documents that dealt with Medicaid but neither expanded the program to provide approximately 300,000 more Alabamians with health coverage.
First, the Governor signed into law bi-partisan supported reforms to Medicaid that will restructure the delivery model of the agency’s services. The Governor has said time and time again that he would not expand Medicaid while the system is “broken” and exists in its current structure. Now, as of this week, the reforms are on their way to being implemented and the excuse of a “broken system” is no longer an issue.
Second, the Governor signed an Executive Order creating the Alabama Medicaid Pharmacy Study Commission. No one will dispute that study commissions and research are extremely important to making informed legislative decisions. However, the people of Alabama in need of healthcare should not have to wait for yet another study commission. In regards to expanding Medicaid, the research has already been done.
Numerous studies have been published over the past year, including one from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and all tout the health benefits and huge economic impact that expanding Medicaid would have on our state.
The UAB study estimates that Medicaid expansion would generate nearly $20 billion in economic activity in Alabama from 2014 to 2020 and approximately 300,000 Alabamians would be covered. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion for three years starting in 2014 and gradually decrease support to 90 percent by 2020. Medicaid expansion stands to be one of the largest economic development projects the state has ever landed with the federal government completely footing the bill for the first three years.
In addition, just this past week, a new study by RAND Corp. estimates that Alabama and 13 other states not expanding Medicaid will lose a combined $8.4 billion and leave 3.6 million Americans out of Medicaid coverage. If Governor Bentley chooses not to expand Medicaid, our state and localities not only lose billions of federal dollars but also, stand to spend more for uncompensated medical care for those left uninsured.
Finally, the study estimates that 19,000 lives will be saved should all fourteen states holding out choose to expand Medicaid. This truly is an issue of life and death.
My hope continues to be that the Governor will have a change of heart and make providing Alabamians in need of healthcare his number one priority.
Governor, we must make it our main focus to provide health coverage to 300,000 of our citizens and improve their health and their lives. Governor, we cannot afford to reject the economic impact of recouping billions of Alabamians’ federal tax dollars and allow that money to go towards other states’ healthcare.
Governor, we cannot wait until after the 2014 elections to expand Medicaid because we lose out on millions and millions of federal dollars that could go to improving the quality of life for our citizens.
Therefore, I call on you, Governor Bentley, to do the right thing. We have studied the system, and we have reformed the system. Now, we must expand the system. I pray that you as our Governor and as a doctor will make the right choice for ALL Alabamians to expand Medicaid immediately so that we do not miss out on benefiting from even one federal dollar starting January 1, 2014.
Senator Quinton Ross is a Democrat from Montgomery. He has served in the Alabama State Senate since 2002.
30 May 2013
- Published Date
By Senator Cam Ward
I will be the first to admit that this has been one of the hardest legislative sessions I have had. But meaningful reform can only be achieved with hard work. In the end, I am proud of my accomplishments for the people in my district during this session.
My agenda for Senate District 14, and as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, included laws defining Elder Abuse as a crime in our state, a law defining the fee schedules for attorneys contracted with the state which was recognized by The American Tort Reform Association and The Wall Street Journal as a big step forward for transparency, and The Alabama Commercial Aviation Business Improvement Act, designed to help create as many as 4,000 jobs in our state. All of these passed with wide bi-partisan support and were signed into law by the Governor.
We also passed a series of bills sponsored and written by The Alabama Law Institute that clarify and update outdated laws – laws written at the turn of last century can use tweaking to make them apply to the turn of this century. As Chairman of The Alabama Law Institute, I am proud to say that these bills were crafted with the help of 1000s of hours of volunteer, or pro bono, work by attorneys throughout the state. It is always heartening to see people working hard to give back to their profession and the state.
Another landmark piece of legislation to help get our state budgets under control and get more out of less created The Office of Fleet Management. Before this, state agencies had carte blanche to contract with whomever they saw fit to provide vehicles. Now there is oversight and economies of scale when purchasing automobiles for our state fleet. There is also life cycle costing - taking into account gas mileage and other factors instead of going with the cheapest base price, to ensure that we’re not penny-wise and pound-foolish.
There were hundreds of other bills sponsored and passed this session, including those to update our National Guard Armories, provide safety officers for schools, update school curriculum for a 21st Century workforce, repay The Alabama Trust Fund, and of course The Alabama Accountability Act which will ensure no child is stuck in a failing school with no options to transfer to get a better education.
While I will always believe that less government leads to more freedom, sometimes you have to deal with government to create these choices – and I believe every bill I sponsored and every bill I voted in favor of has that goal in mind. I work hard every day for the people of Senate District 14 and the people of our state as a whole. Even if we disagree on policy or funding priorities, my door is always open to speak to anyone who wants to help Alabama be the best we can be.
28 May 2013
- Published Date
By Larry Lee
“Dad, why is it always 1963 in Alabama?”
That question has haunted me since my son asked it weeks ago. So I went in search of an answer. But first I re-visited 1963. What a year it was.
A year that stamped Alabama into the psyche of the rest of the nation in too many wrong ways. Though it probably more fitting to say we were pounded, rather than stamped.
In May of that year, black and white television sets across the country watched as NBC’s Chet Huntley and David Brinkley broadcast pictures from Birmingham of police dogs, fire hoses and billy clubs turned loose on civil rights demonstrations. In June, 43-year old, first term Governor George Wallace stood at the University of Alabama and declared that the Federal government was oppressing the “rights, privileges and sovereignty” of the state.
And on a Sunday morning in September an explosion ripped through a church in Birmingham and claimed four young girls as its victims.
So surely my son, Kevin, is wrong. Surely we’ve long since turned our back on intolerance. Surely we’ve now rejected those voices that dwell more on our fears than our hopes.
But have we really?
When I see our state Senate vote 24-6 for a bill that would declare Federal gun control laws null and void in the state if they were in “violation of the Second Amendment;” I again hear the voice of George Wallace. (One Republican Senator called this bill “political pandering” but his colleagues paid no attention.)
When I read a press release that falsely accuses education leaders with mis-spending millions of dollars I wonder again why children are so often the weapons of choice in a political skirmish.
When I hear Tea Party leaders say that if we adopt Common Core education standards it is the same as having President Obama as our children’s classroom teacher; I hear ancient voices once again reminding us that someone “ain’t one of our own.”
When I hear our Chief Justice say that instead of spending money on pre-kindergarten programs we should give it to the court system; I think about all the research he is ignoring about the role early childhood education plays in reducing crime and again wonder why we can’t see the forests for the trees.
But wait; while we may still harbor some of the attitudes of 1963, certainly we’ve come a long way in economic measures such as median family income.
Yes, we have advanced. Fifty years ago we were no. 47 in the nation, now we’re no. 45. However, while Alabama was basically running in place, other southern states were running faster.
For example, Georgia went from no. 43 to no. 37. North Carolina went from no. 45 to no. 38 and South Carolina from no. 48 to no. 44.
And in spite of all the incentives used to lure car plants and their suppliers, we still have five of the 50 poorest counties in the country. Only Mississippi and Kentucky have more than we do.
So what happened? If we could roll back the clock 50 years what should we do differently?
Instead of worrying about who was going to school, we should have worried about the quality of education they were receiving. Apparently that’s what some other southern states did. For example, if you look at data from 4th grade math scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress comparisons, you find that Alabama trails South Carolina by ten places, Georgia by 14 and North Carolina by 36.
And when you look at the top five states in this category, they all rank in the top ten nationally in median family income. So there appears to be linkage between prosperity and education.
But what have we just done? In probably the most radical piece of education legislation every passed by the state legislature, one that politician after politician has hailed as the chance to get students out of failing schools, we made sure that the 11,000 kids in failing schools in Birmingham could only go to non-failing schools in neighboring systems if they are invited.
So Kevin, while I pray it is not still 1963 in Alabama, I’m not sure 50 years have passed since it was.
30 May 2013
- Published Date
By House Minority Leader Craig Ford
Earlier this week, we took a day to remember our veterans and fallen heroes who have sacrificed their lives for our country.
We have all heard the famous quote: “Freedom is not free.” And it is good that we take time to remember those who have given their lives so that we can be safe and free.
Since the Civil War, Americans have taken a day each year to recognize our veterans, and Memorial Day became an official federal holiday in 1971.
Americans have always done a good job of showing our appreciation for our county and those who have fought and died to preserve our freedom. We have set aside Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day, and the 4th of July in honor of our country and our veterans.
But when these holidays come, I can’t help but also think about the families who have lost their loved ones fighting for America. For these families, every day is Memorial Day.
For these families, those names etched in a wall on a monument are not just a list of fallen heroes. Those names are a son or daughter, a mother or father, a brother or sister.
And for many veterans, they carry the weight of having lost a friend in combat. Like those families, these veterans feel the loss of their fallen brothers and sisters each and every day.
For these veterans and families, Memorial Day is not just a holiday. It is a sacred time to honor the sacrifice that their loved ones made so that we could all enjoy the freedom and security that we enjoy.
So when we celebrate holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day, I think it is important that we consider the full price we have paid for our freedom. It is not just the fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who have paid for our freedom. Their families and friends have also paid the price.
The children who grow up without their mother or father have paid the price.
The parents who had to bury their children have paid the price.
The wives who have buried their husbands and the husbands who have buried their wives have paid the price.
And I hope that, as a country, we will not limit ourselves to only remembering these fallen heroes on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. I hope we will honor all of our veterans and their families each and every day.
I hope you will set aside a moment each day to remember our fallen heroes and their families. You can say a prayer or just sit in silence for a minute and consider the price that has been paid. If you do, I think you will find that days like Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Independence Day will take on a new and special meaning.
Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2000. In 2010, Representative Ford was elected House Minority Leader by the House Democratic Caucus. He was re-elected Minority Leader in 2012.
28 May 2013
- Published Date
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The Republican Super-Majority functioned with much more party discipline than it has in the previous two sessions and that allowed them to dictate terms on the budgets and numerous pieces of legislation, some of them like the Alabama Accountability Act were controversial. Senator Bill Holtzclaw (R) from Madison commented on the historic session which ended a week ago.
Sen. Holtzclaw said in his blog, “This was a rough and tumble legislative session. For a rookie legislator, it is refreshing to hear from the veterans – fellow legislators, staff members and lobbyist with decades of experience and service – who call this one of the most difficult sessions they remember.”
Sen. Holtzclaw said, “I was the Senate sponsor of the Flex Bill and had championed the bill with others for two years. Early opposition to the flex bill had nothing to do with the proposed flexibility that would be afforded to schools across the state. The real back story here was that the AEA had blocked efforts to establish charter schools in the 2012 session and they wanted another “win” for 2013. They attempted to broadly paint the flex bill as a back door to charter schools and were successful in dividing the Senate Republicans supporting the bill. Thus was born the tax credit section – championed by Pro Temp Senator Marsh to win over the holdouts, and the scholarship section – championed by Governor Bentley. In a matter of days the Flex Bill became the Alabama Accountability Act.”
On the education budget and the teacher pay raise, Sen. Holtzclaw said, “Education Trust Fund Budget – The $5.7 billion dollar budget included a 2 percent pay raise for Alabama teachers and support personnel and protects funding for K-12 education programs – no increase in class sizes – and increases funding for the state’s Pre-K program. This conservative budget also includes a $35 million payment toward money borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund under the previous majority, along with a conditional appropriation that would send an additional $65 million toward repayment if revenues exceed expectations.”
On the General Fund Budget Sen. Holtzclaw said, “The $1.7 billion dollar budget provides level funding for most state agencies and includes the first installment toward repaying money borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund last September. Leading by example, this fiscally-responsible budget also reduces funding for the Legislature and Senate leadership office by roughly $1.7 million from last year.”
Sen Holtzclaw continued, “As promised, the Alabama Trust Fund Repayment legislation was the first bill passed and signed into law by Governor Bentley, guaranteeing automatic annual payment toward paying off money borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund through the September 18th referendum.”
Sen. Holtzclaw also praised the 21st Century Workforce Act: “I served as the Senate sponsor of this legislation strengthening the state’s investment in career technical education. We worked on this bill throughout the off season, making sure high school students across the state have access to updated technology and equipment.” “The 21st Century Workforce Act will help prepare tomorrow’s workforce with the skills needed for a successful career in whatever field they choose. This also ensures that Alabama businesses have the tools, and employees, they need to succeed in the 21st century.”
On the Omnibus Gun Bill Holtzclaw said, “The omnibus gun bill was contentious to a point but after a majority of the stakeholders came to the table a pretty good bill emerged. I’ll put it this way – there were a lot of cooks in kitchen, some adding sugar and some adding salt. I would’ve preferred a saltier version but support what was accomplished.”
Sen, Holtzclaw also praised the Elder Abuse Law. Sen. Holtzclaw said, “We passed an elder abuse law last year dealing with abuse in a nursing home of other facility but this bill address elder abuse from a financial perspective. Whether it is a family member or someone from the financial industry, exploitation of someone’s finances is now against the law in Alabama.”
Sen. Holtzclaw said of the passage of the Veterans Hunting License, “Most readers know of my involvement with several veterans organizations. I’m proud to have been able to sponsor this law, working with the Department of Conservation and fellow legislators. This law provides for a special, physically disabled military veteran's appreciation three-day event hunting license for groups to purchase one hunting license allowing up to 10 Wounded Warriors to hunt on that license. I’ve seen firsthand the sheer joy of a physically disabled veteran who is able to once again do something they once enjoyed before sustaining their injury in service to our nation – enjoy the great outdoors and hunt! A special thanks to everyone who is helped make this legislation possible and to the many volunteers that work to take these Wounded Warriors back into the great outdoors!”
On Governor Robert Bentley's (R) surprise executive amendment to the controversial Alabama Accountability Act the Senator said, “I think Governor Bentley was ill-advised in submitting his Executive Amendment, he thinks the legislature was ill-advised – time will tell.”
30 May 2013
- Published Date
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (D) from Sewell joined President Barack Obama at the White House for a bill signing ceremony for the Congressional Gold Medal Bill honoring the “Four Little Girls.”
The bill, H.R. 360, to award the posthumous Congressional Gold Medals to the four little girls killed in a bombing of their Church by domestic terrorists in Birmingham passed unanimously in the House of Representatives on April 24. The bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congresswoman Sewell and Congressman Spencer Bachus (R) from Vestavia together with the entire Alabama delegation and Alabama natives Rep. John Lewis (D) from GA and Rep. Sanford Bishop (R) from GA.
Representative Sewell said,“I applaud President Obama for signing the Congressional Gold Medal Bill to honor the lives of Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. I am pleased that this nation has finally honored the sacrifices of these four little girls that ignited the spark which led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And though we will never be able to replace the lives lost or the injuries suffered, this medal will serve as a compelling reminder of the sacrifices so many freedom fighters made to help us achieve equality and social change.”
Representative Bachus said, “This Congressional Gold Medal will commemorate the legacy of four beautiful little girls whose lives, while far too short, led to permanent change in our society and who are part of the honor roll of the civil rights movement. The fact that this moved from being a legislative proposal to a law signed by the President in such a relatively short period of time is a recognition of the historic significance of 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and its aftermath. It was a pleasure to work with Congresswoman Sewell and our entire Alabama delegation in the House and Senate on this deserved honor.”
H.R. 360 was carried in the U.S. Senate by U.S. Senators Richard Shelby (R) and Jeff Sessions where it was approved unanimously on May 9. Over two-thirds of the Senate were co-sponsors of the legislation.
The bill signing ceremony was also attended by: Alabama native, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin; Birmingham Mayor William Bell; the Pastor of the 16th Street Baptist Church, Reverend Arthur Price Jr.; the sister of Carole Robertson, Dianne Braddock; the sister of Denise McNair, Lisa McNair, and Denise McNair, the sister of Maxine McNair.
Dianne Braddock said, “Thanks to Congresswoman Sewell and Congressman Bachus along with the entire Alabama delegation for wanting to have this recognition and for pursuing it in Congress as well as ensuring that the bill was passed by the house and Senate. I’m very grateful. I’m sure the country will be grateful for their vision and diligence in awarding this honor to the four little girls.”
Lisa McNair said, “What a glorious day. This makes us feel so good. We are so grateful to Congresswoman Sewell and Congressman Bachus for their continued efforts to pass this bill. It has also been such a pleasure to meet the first African-American President. I look forward to the ceremony in the fall.”
Hash Tags: Lisa McNair, Denise McNair, Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony, President Barack Obama, Rep. Spencer Bachus, Rep. Terri Sewell
13 May 2013
- Published Date
By Larry Lee
We all remember as kids looking at a sheet of paper with what seemed to be random numbers on it. Then we would take a crayon and draw a line from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 and so on.
Suddenly, to our delight, the outline of a house or a boat or a horse or a doll would appear. It was our first experience at “connecting the dots,” at seeing “the big picture.” Unfortunately, this process seems to have eluded policy makers in Montgomery recently and we end up with too many decisions with unintended consequences.
The Alabama Accountability Act is a prime example.
We have been told repeatedly by those who concocted this bill making major policy changes in education that it is all about helping children and schools that are considered “failing.”
On May 10, 2013, Senator Del Marsh, who engineered the accountability act told AL.com, “This is about helping parents and children in the state of Alabama. That’s exactly what this is about. It’s about those failing systems finally having a chance.”
But is it really? Time to connect some dots and see. Let’s look first at these failing schools.
There were 180 schools on the original failing list. (But since the definition of failing has been a moving target, who knows how many will be on the final list.)
Of these, 156 of them have at least 70 percent of their kids on free-reduced lunch. That’s 87 percent that are high poverty schools. This concurs with the long determined reality that poverty is a great indicator of school performance.
So one of the dots is poverty.
Where are we most likely to find these failing schools?
If we look at the ten counties with the highest rate of unemployment in March 2013, we see they have a total of 80 schools with 31 percent of them failing. Free-reduced lunch rate for all 80 schools in 82.9 percent. (Since March 2010, these counties have only gained 1,133 new employees, a 2.2 percent increase.)
By comparison, there are 330 schools in the ten counties with the lowest unemployment rates in March. Only eight percent are failing and only 42.4 percent of all students receive free-reduced lunches. (In the last three years, these counties have gained 47,085 new employees, an increase of 8.3 percent.)
So poverty plays a huge role in how well the students in a school do. And the rate of poverty is much, much greater in smaller, more rural counties with a stagnant economy.
So another dot is a struggling local economy. Our poorest counties with the least resources to support education are the ones most likely to need the most help.
But what does the Alabama Accountability Act do? It tells failing schools in poor counties that the answer to their problem is less resources. The state department of education believes that the tax credits set aside by this act will cost school systems $94.27 per student. This means the 80 schools (with 28,346 students) in the 10 counties with highest unemployment will lose $2,684,933.12.
That’s $2,684,933.12 less to use to buy textbooks and diesel fuel, pay the electric bill, hire reading coaches, etc.
In other words, while our legislators wring their hands about the plight of failing schools and their students, they ignore the realities that connecting some dots would show them.
They have twisted the old adage, “When you’re in a hole, stop digging,” to mean “When you’re in a hole, get a bigger shovel.”
Somehow, the declaration that, “This is about helping parents and children in the state of Alabama. That’s exactly what this is about. It’s about those failing systems finally having a chance,” just doesn’t sound sincere.