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Rep. Martha Roby on Honest Budget Act and Keystone XL Pipeline

Martha Roby

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Honest Budget Act:

Americans are disappointed with the dysfunction in Washington—the people see politicians talking about budget savings and future spending cuts that never seem to materialize. Their frustration is justified, and many Members of Congress, including myself, share it.

My freshman class came to Washington to cut wasteful spending and bring more transparency and accountability to the legislative process. Over the past year, we have consistently pushed for deeper spending cuts, less regulation, and a harder line against efforts to raise taxes and expand government power. But during a year of budget battles, we have discovered that the nuances of the budget process can be exploited to hide federal spending.

Congress, as an institution, is a sick patient.

My colleagues and I have learned that the House and Senate are plagued by budget loopholes and gimmicks that are deeply engrained in the rules of the two chambers. Exploiting those gimmicks is widely accepted and has become commonplace in both parties.

Honesty, accountability, and transparency are the cure—and implementing legislation to rid the budget process of gimmicks is one way to deliver that medicine.

In a rare bi-cameral event this week, more than 25 Senate and House colleagues stood in support as Sen. Jeff Sessions and I announced the introduction of my bill, the Honest Budget Act of 2012.

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My legislation would put an end to the procedural trickery that Washington too often uses to hide federal spending and run up the debt. It is companion legislation to a bill introduced last year by Senator Sessions in the Senate. The legislation takes his commonsense approach to the problem and extends it to the House of Representatives, where revenue and spending bills are first considered.

The Honest Budget Act would give rank-and-file House members greater authority to challenge the nine most commonly used budget gimmicks found in the budget and appropriations process. Experts estimate that these gimmicks have accounted for more than $420 billion in new spending since 2005—including $73 billion last year.

The legislation is a direct response to the problems that my freshmen colleagues and I have witnessed over the last year. It is a first step toward holding the Congress and the President accountable through an honest and transparent budget process.

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As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.” The American people deserve a government that shoots straight, and they are looking to Congress for a budget that is reliable, genuine, and accountable. The Honest Budget Act would help Congress meet those expectations.

Keystone XL Pipeline: On the House floor this week, I delivered a speech expressing my disappointment over the President’s recent decision to block the Keystone XL Pipeline by rejecting an application to build and operate the oil pipeline across the U.S.-Canadian border. Click to watch The Keystone Pipeline represents an opportunity to increase supply of much-needed natural resources in our country. If built, it would have the capacity to deliver up to 900,000 barrels of crude oil per day over 1,700 miles of pipeline. In terms of job growth, tens of thousands American jobs would be created over the life of the project.America’s energy policy is vitally important to our national security and our economic security. Oil, for example, accounts for more than a third of total U.S. energy consumed, with 94 percent of all transportation in the U.S. powered by petroleum products. We need to implement ways to increase domestic energy production here at home. Therefore, I support an “all of the above” approach to energy, which includes opening up new areas for American energy exploration, transitioning to renewable and alternative energy, and using more clean and reliable nuclear power. The President made a major decision to deny the Keystone Pipeline, and every American should be aware of the consequences.I consider his choice a grave mistake, and I am pleased that Congress is now considering ways to allow construction of the Keystone Pipeline through legislation. The Impact of Medicaid Expansion: This week, I participated in an Education and the Workforce Committee hearing to discuss various federal policies that affect the states. During the hearing, I addressed the negative impact Medicaid expansion would have on state government. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, as a result of President Obama’s health care reform law, Medicaid will expand to cover an additional 25.6 million enrollees in the next decade, increasing the cost on states by more than $118 billion through 2023. Medicaid is jointly funded by state and federal government, therefore, the expansion would place a burden not just on the federal government, but on the states as well. As Medicaid is already significantly underfunded, many states are unsure they can devote even more resources to cover this expansion. The Medicaid provision is just one of many included in Obama’s health care law, which would create more government while increasing taxes—directly and indirectly—on Americans. I was sent to Congress to root-out unnecessary federal spending and shrink the size of government. One of the first actions I took after being elected to Congress was vote to repeal the President’s health care law. It is important to find ways to encourage affordable health care for citizens without placing additional burdens on state budgets. I look forward to implementing market-based reforms that actually lower cost, increase access, and maintain high quality of care.

Contact Me: Keeping close contact with you is my top priority as I am traveling between Alabama and Washington, D.C. As the 112thCongress continues, I hope you will stay updated on my activities by joining me at:

Web site http://roby.house.gov/

Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/Representative.Martha.Roby

Twitter page @ RepMarthaRoby

Flicker page at Martha Roby

Sign up to receive Congressman Martha Roby’s Weekly Column at http://roby.house.gov/contact-me/newsletter.

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Legislature

Medical marijuana bill “is not about getting high” — it’s “about getting well.”

Bill Britt

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More than half of U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana in some form. Last week, the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee passed SB165 on an 8 to 1 vote. If the measure becomes law, it will allow Alabama residents to obtain medical marijuana under rigorously imposed conditions.

Known as the Compassion Act, SB165 would authorize certain individuals to access medical marijuana only after a comprehensive evaluation process performed by a medical doctor who has received specific training.

“I care for people who are ill, and I try to reduce their suffering to the best of my ability, using the tools at my disposal that are the safest and most effective,” said Dr. Alan Shackleford, a Colorado physician who spoke before the Judiciary Committee. “Cannabis is one of those tools.”

Shackleford, a Harvard trained physician, has treated more than 25,000 patients at his medical practice over the last ten years, he says a large number of his patients have benefited from medical cannabis.

While there are detractors, the Compassion Act is not a hastily composed bill but is, in fact, the result of a year-long study by the Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission that voted to approve the legislation by an overwhelming majority.

“It’s a strong showing that two-thirds [of the commission] thought the legislation was reasonable and well-thought-out,” said Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, after the commission vote.

Melson, who chaired the commission, is a medical researcher and is the lead sponsor of SB165.

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Two-thirds of Americans say that the use of marijuana should be legal, according to a Pew Research Center survey. “The share of U.S. adults who oppose legalization has fallen from 52 percent in 2010 to 32 percent today” according to Pew. The study also shows that an overwhelming majority of U.S. adults (91 percent) say marijuana should be legal either for medical and recreational use (59 percent) or that it should be licensed just for medical use (32 percent).

These numbers are also reflected in surveys conducted by Fox News, Gallup, Investor’s Business Daily and others.

“This bill is not about getting high. This bill is about getting well,” says Shackleford.

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Cristi Cain, the mother of a young boy with epilepsy that suffers hundreds of seizures a day, pleaded with lawmakers to make medical cannabis legal.

“This body has said so many times that your zip code should not affect your education,” Cain told the committee. “Well, I don’t believe that your area code should affect your doctor’s ability to prescribe you medication. If we were in another state, my son could be seizure-free.”

SB165 will strictly regulate a network of state-licensed marijuana growers, dispensaries, transporters, and processors.

There will be no smokable products permitted under the legislation and consumer possession of marijuana in its raw form would remain illegal.

“The people of Alabama deserve the same access to treatment as people in 33 other states,” said Shackelford.

 

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Education

Opinion | Instead of fixing a school for military kids, how about just fixing the schools for all kids?

Josh Moon

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The education of police officers’ kids isn’t worth any extra effort. 

Same for the kids of nurses and firefighters. Ditto for the kids of preachers and social workers. 

No, in the eyes of the Republican-led Alabama Legislature, the children of this state get what they get and lawmakers aren’t going to go out of their way to make sure any of them get a particularly good public education. 

Except, that is, for the kids of active duty military members stationed at bases in this state. 

They matter more. 

So much so that the Alabama Senate last week passed a bill that would create a special school to serve those kids — and only those kids. To provide those kids — and only those kids — with a quality education. 

An education better than the one available right now to the thousands of children who attend troubled school systems, such as the one in Montgomery. 

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The charter school bill pushed by Sen. Will Barfoot at the request of Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth carves out a narrow exception in the Alabama Charter School law, and it gives the right to start a charter school located at or near a military base — a school that will be populated almost exclusively (and in some cases, absolutely exclusively) by the kids of military members. 

The explanation for this bill from Barfoot was surprisingly straightforward. On Tuesday, Ainsworth’s office sent information packets around to House members to explain the necessity of the bill. 

In each case, the explanation was essentially this: the Maxwell Air Force Base folks don’t like the schools in Montgomery and it’s costing the state additional federal dollars because top-level personnel and programs don’t want to be in Montgomery. 

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And in what has to be the most Alabama response to a public education problem, the solution our lawmakers came up with was to suck millions of dollars out of the budget of the State Education Department budget and hundreds of thousands out of the budget of a struggling district and use it to build a special school that will provide a better level of education to a small group of kids simply because it might generate more federal tax dollars. 

And because having your name attached to a bill that supposedly aids the military looks good, so long as no one thinks about it too hard. 

But in the meantime, as this special school is being built, the hardworking, good people of Montgomery — some of them veterans and Reservists themselves — are left with a school district that is so recognizably bad that the Legislature is about to build a special school to accommodate these kids. 

Seriously, wrap your head around that. 

Look, this will come as a shock to many people, but I like Will Ainsworth. While we disagree on many, many things, I think he’s a genuine person who believes he’s helping people. 

The problem is that he is too often surrounded by conservatives who think every issue can be solved with a bumper sticker slogan and screaming “free market!” And who too often worry too much about the political optics and too little about the real life effects. 

And Montgomery Public Schools is as real life as it gets.

Right now, there are nearly 30,000 kids in that system. And they need some real, actual help — not the window dressing, money pit BS they’ve been handed so far through LEAD Academy and the other destined-for-doom charters. And they sure as hell don’t need a special charter for military kids to remind them that the school system they attend isn’t good enough for the out-of-towners. 

Stop with the facade and fix the school system. 

You people literally have the power and the money to do this. Given the rollbacks of tenure laws and the passage of charter school laws and the Accountability Act, there is nothing that can’t be done. 

Listen to your colleagues on the other side, who took tours recently of charter schools in other states — charters that work with underprivileged students and that have remarkable success rates. Hell, visit those charters yourself. Or, even better, visit some states that have high performing public schools in high poverty areas, and steal their ideas. 

But the one thing you cannot do is leave children behind. Whatever your solution, it cannot exclude some segment of the population. It cannot sacrifice this many to save that many. 

That sort of illogical thinking is what landed Montgomery — and many other areas of the state — in their current predicaments. Carving out narrow pathways for a handful of students has never, ever worked. 

Let’s stop trying it.

 

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Crime

ADOC investigating possible suicide at Easterling Correctional Facility

Eddie Burkhalter

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The death of a man serving in the Easterling Correctional Facility in Barbour County on Sunday is being investigated as a possible suicide. 

Marquell Underwood

Marquell Underwood, 22, was found in his cell unresponsive at approximately 4 p.m. on Sunday, according to a statement by the Alabama Department of Corrections. 

Underwood was being held in solitary confinement, known as “segregation” cells in Alabama prisons. Suicides in such isolated cells is central to an ongoing lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections. 

“He was not on suicide watch. All attempts at life saving measures were unsuccessful,” The statement reads. “ADOC cannot release additional details of the incident at this time, pending an ongoing investigation and an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death.” 

Underwood pleaded guilty of murder in the 2015 shooting death of Gregorie Somerville in Tuscaloosa and was sentenced to life in prison. 

Underwood’s death is at least the second preventable death inside state prisons this year. 

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Antonio Bell’s death on Jan. 9 at Holman prison is being investigated as a possible drug overdose. 

Last year at least 6 people serving in Alabama prisons died as a result of suicide, according to news accounts. During 2019 there were 13 homicides in state prisons, and as many as 7 overdose deaths, according to news accounts and ADOC statements. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2014 lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections over access to mental health care for incarcerated people is ongoing. 

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“The risk of suicide is so severe and imminent that the court must redress it immediately,” U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson wrote in a May 4, 2019, ruling. 

Judge Thompson in a 2017 ordered required ADOC to check on incarcerated people being held in segregation cells every 30 minutes, to increase mental health staffing and numerous other remedies to reduce the number of preventable deaths. 

“The skyrocketing number of suicides within ADOC, the majority of which occurred in segregation, reflects the combined effect of the lack of screening, monitoring, and treatment in segregation units and the dangerous conditions in segregation cells,” Thompson wrote in his order. “Because prisoners often remain in segregation for weeks, months, or even years at a time, their decompensation may not become evident until it is too late—after an actual or attempted suicide.” 

The SPLC in a Jan. 2019 filing wrote to the court that “the situation has become worse, not better, since the Liability Opinion. There have been twelve completed suicides since December 30, 2017…Defendants fail to provide the most basic monitoring of people in segregation. Defendants fail to do anything to learn from past suicides to prevent additional suicides.”

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Crime

Early morning contraband raid at Easterling Correctional Facility

Eddie Burkhalter

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The Alabama Department of Corrections on Tuesday raided the Easterling Correctional Facility in Barbour County to collect contraband. 

More than 200 officials from ADOC, state Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, Department of Natural Resources, Game Warden Division, and Russel and Coffee County Sheriff’s departments conducted the early morning search, according to an ADOC press release. 

“Operation Restore Order is a critical initiative designed to create safer living and working conditions across Alabama’s correctional system,” ADOC commissioner Jeff Dunn said in a statement. “The presence of Illegal contraband including drugs, which undoubtedly is perpetuated by the presence of illegal cell phones, is a very real threat we must continue to address.” 

“Additionally, our aging and severely dilapidated facilities are constructed of increasingly breakable materials that ill-intentioned inmates can obtain and fashion into dangerous weapons. The presence of illegal contraband puts everyone at risk, and action – including Operation Restore Order raids – must regularly be taken to eliminate it,” Dunn’s statement reads. “We remain committed to doing everything in our power to root out the sources of contraband entry into our facilities, and will punish those who promote its presence to the full extent of the law.”

ADOC is developing plans to conduct more of these larger raids, in addition to smaller, unannounced searches, which prison officials hope will help the department “develop intelligence-based programs to identify contraband trends and provide necessary intelligence to identify corruption indicators.” 

“The public should contact ADOC’s Law Enforcement Service Division at 1-866-293-7799 with information that may lead to the arrest of anyone attempting to introduce illegal contraband into state prisons. The public may also report suspicious activity by going to the ADOC Website at http://www.doc.alabama.gov/investigationrequest.”

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