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Governor Bentley Details Pension Reform Proposals

Governor Robert Bentley

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From the Office of Governor Robert Bentley

MONTGOMERY – Governor Robert Bentley on Wednesday detailed pension reform legislation that will ensure the viability of the state’s retirement system while also saving taxpayers more than five billion dollars over the next 30 years.

“The economic realities of recent years have made it clear that steps need to be taken now to ensure the long-term solvency of Alabama’s retirement system,” Governor Bentley said.  “The measures we are proposing will protect the retirements of hard-working Alabamians who are depending on the system.”

“I want to make it clear, these changes would only affect new hires who begin their employment in the year 2013 or later,” Governor Bentley added.  “Under these proposals, current employees and retirees will not see any changes in their benefit structure.”

At a news conference in Montgomery, Governor Bentley was joined by House Speaker Mike Hubbard, Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, Retirement Systems of Alabama Chief Executive Officer Dr. David Bronner, and bill sponsors Senator Arthur Orr and Representative Mac McCutcheon.

“I commend Governor Bentley for his foresight in crafting these reasonable changes to Alabama’s public pension benefits,” Dr. Bronner said.  “By proposing these modest changes to the system and applying them only to new hires, Governor Bentley’s legislation will help secure the financial viability of the retirement system and, most importantly, uphold the promises made to one of Alabama’s most valuable assets: our public employees and teachers.”

Proposed changes include:

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  • A minimum retirement age of 62 for most state employees.

Currently, anyone may retire once vested (10 years of service) at age 60 or with 25 years of service at any age.  The reform proposals set a minimum retirement age of 62.

 

  • Law Enforcement – Minimum retirement age of 56.
  • Adjust pension payments from an average of the highest-paid 3 years out of the last 10 years of service to an average of the highest 5 years.
  • In exchange for the restructuring of benefits, new hires would see their employee contribution rate changed from 7.5% to 6.0%.  This will increase their take-home pay.
  • Total estimated savings over 30 years: $5.03 Billion
  • Average annual savings over 30 years: $162 Million

 

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The proposed changes will bring the state’s retirement system more in line with the private sector.  Many other states across the country have adopted similar measures.  The changes honor Alabama’s commitments to current employees while still providing a solid retirement for future employees as well.

“A pension isn’t just a number on a piece of paper.  It’s a person’s livelihood – what families count on as they plan for the future,” House Speaker Mike Hubbard said.  “We have an obligation to make sure the state delivers on the promises it has made in terms of retirement benefits. That’s why we are working together to put forward a reasonable plan that will shore up the system going forward and protect the retirement savings of so many beneficiaries.”

“It has become increasingly clear that ignoring pension reform is no longer an option for the sake of Alabama teachers and state employees,” added Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh.  “This is not a partisan issue, nor is it unique to the state of Alabama. Since 2007, nearly every state in the nation has been forced to deal with the financial burdens public pension funds are placing on state budgets. Governor Bentley, Dr. Bronner and members of the House and Senate have shown great leadership in working together on a solution that will make sure the state keeps its promise to our hard-working teachers and state employees.”

Senator Arthur Orr is the Senate sponsor of the legislation to be introduced.

“We made a long-term commitment to our hard-working teachers and state employees through their participation in state retirement programs, and it is our responsibility to ensure this promise is kept,” Senator Orr said.  “By enacting these common-sense reforms, we are ensuring the long-term solvency of our retirement system and that taxpayer resources are spent responsibly.  I especially want to thank Dr. Bronner for his commitment to the long-term solvency of the retirement programs and Governor Bentley for his leadership in making sure this problem is solved in a sensible way.”

Representatives Mac McCutcheon and Jamie Ison are House sponsors of the legislation.

“Like most states, Alabama is taking necessary steps to change the way retirement benefits are calculated for new hires,” Representative Ison said. “While some might try to play politics and demagogue this issue, I expect this plan to be well-received in the House.  Everyone understands that we have to get our fiscal house in order, and pension reform is a big step in that direction.”

“Public employees deserve to have peace of mind, knowing that they can take the promises we’ve made them to the bank,” Representative McCutcheon said.  “I appreciate the Governor and Dr. Bronner working with the House and Senate to come up with a plan that ensures we’ll have the resources to fund needed retirement benefits in the future.”

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Corruption

Prosecution accepts misdemeanor plea in high-profile environmental administrator’s case 

The plea deal came shortly before Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Stephen C. Wallace was to hear arguments on selective and vindictive prosecution.

Bill Britt

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Almost two years ago, Trump administration EPA Region 4 Administrator Onis “Trey” Glenn III was charged with more than a dozen state felony ethics violations. On Monday, he pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges after reaching a plea agreement with the prosecution.

The plea deal came shortly before Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Stephen C. Wallace was to hear arguments on selective and vindictive prosecution.

According to a statement from the Ethics Commission at the time, Glenn, along with former Alabama Environmental Management Commissioner Scott Phillips, was charged after a Jefferson County grand jury returned indictments against the two on Nov. 9, 2018, according to a statement from the Ethics Commission.

Rather than moving forward with the case, prosecutors dropped the felony charges against Glenn. They opted to reach an agreement to accept a plea on three counts of “unintentional” violations of the ethics code. Glenn received a two-year suspended sentence for his actions.

“In the interest of efficiency, we were pleased to take advantage of the opportunity to resolve this matter,” Glenn’s attorney Matt Hart told APR when reached for comment. “My client pleaded to unintentional, misdemeanor violations of the ethics law, and the matter is concluded.”

Questions surround the prosecution’s decision to settle the case for a confession to minor offensives in such a high profile case. Still, from the beginning, the case was marred by allegations that the Alabama Ethics Commission’s lawyers had mishandled the investigation and indictments.

Indictments against Glenn and Phillips were reported by AL.com even before the pair was arrested or served with the indictments. In AL.com’s report, Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton said that then-Jefferson County District Attorney Mike Anderton had requested the Ethics Commission help indict the two men.

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As first reported by APR, shortly after Glenn and Phillips’ indictments, Albritton and his team’s actions raised serious questions about the process that led to charges against the two men. APR reported that Albritton and Ethics Commission lawyer Cynthia Propst Raulston approached Anderton, and he did not request help with the case from the commission, as was reported in AL.com.

Later, APR confirmed that the Ethics Commission approached Anderton, contradicting Albritton’s public statement. In a sworn statement given on Feb. 9, 2019, Anderton said it was Ethics Commission lawyers who approached him, as first reported by APR in November of last year.

According to Anderton, in the fall of 2018, Propst Raulston approached him because “she had a case she wanted to present to the Jefferson County Grand Jury.”

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He further states, “I told Ms. Raulston that I would facilitate her appearance before the grand jury but that my office did not have the resources to support her case. I also told her that she would have to prosecute the case herself.”

These and other aberrations came into sharper focus when Hart — the state’s most famous prosecutor of his generation turned defense attorney — began diving into the particulars of the prosecution’s case.

Glenn’s defense argued from the start that procedural process was circumvented when Albritton and Propst Raulston took the complaint directly to a grand jury rather than the Ethics Commission as prescribed by the Legislature.

An ethics commissioner told APR privately that the commission was never informed about a complaint against the two men, nor was the investigation.

According to internal sources, actions taken by Albritton and Propst Raulston created turmoil at the commission and raised a question about who would prosecute the case on the state’s behalf.

During the process, Albritton, Propst Raulston, and other attorneys for the commission asked the attorney general’s office to take over the case; however, according to sources within the office, the AG turned them down after a review found “statutory problems” with how the case against Glenn and Phillips was handled.

In a motion to dismiss, the defense said, “In sum, the Ethics Commission Staff trampled Mr. Glenn’s rights in obtaining the indictment without giving him his required notice and an opportunity to be heard as required by the Alabama Ethics Act, and then after indictment denied him notice as guaranteed by the Grand Jury Secrecy Act and failed to protect his presumption of innocence as required by the Rules of Professional Conduct.”

While not explicitly noted in the motion to dismiss, the relationship between environmental group GASP and the prosecution was a subject that would have been heard in the hearing on selective and vindictive prosecution.

Immediately following Glenn and Phillips’ indictment, GASP posted a celebratory tweet, even taking credit for the indictment.

Former GASP director Stacie Propst is the sister of Ethics Commission lawyer Propst Raulston who presented the case to the Jefferson County grand jury.

While many in the environmental community celebrated Glenn’s indictment, the defense argued the prosecution took an illegal short cut to indict him, which denied Glenn due process and amounted to selective and vindictive prosecution.

Monday’s plea agreement ended the two-year drama without further exposure as to what happened behind the scene. Phillips’s case is still pending.

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Crime

Alabama Constable Association: Amendment 2 could defund constables statewide

Amendment 2, if approved, would delete language protecting how constables are funded statewide.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

If Amendment 2 on the Nov. 3 ballot is approved by Alabama voters, it could pave the way for an end to an office in Alabama with a history in the U.S. that dates back to the 17th century, according to the Alabama Constable Association. 

Chauncey Wood III, president of the Alabama Constables Association, reached by phone Monday, referred a reporter to a pending press release from the association. Jonathan Barbee, constable for Jefferson County and the association’s spokesman, said in the statement Monday that the association is concerned with several aspects of Amendment 2. 

If approved, the amendment would process numerous changes to the state’s judicial system, including a change that would allow Alabama Supreme Court, rather than the chief justice, to appoint the administrative director of courts.

It would also increase the Judicial Inquiry Commission from nine members to 11 and would allow the governor, rather than the lieutenant governor, to appoint a member of the Court of the Judiciary. The amendment would also prevent automatic disqualification from holding public offices for a judge solely because a complaint was filed with the Judiciary Inquiry Commission. Additionally, it would provide that a judge can be removed from office only by the Court of the Judiciary.

Amendment 2 would also “delete certain language relating to the position of constable holding more than one state office,” and Barbee, in his statement, explained that the amendment could defund Constables statewide if counties chose to do so. 

“Constables are not taxpayer-funded, they are largely voluntary Peace Officers,” Barbee said. “The fees they collect from their duties as Officers of the Courts allow them to support the expenses of the office such as vehicles, uniforms, and equipment. Amendment 2 also deletes the language protecting how Constables are paid by private court fees, leaving it in question for the appointed Administrator to decide.”

In Alabama, constables are elected peace officers and act in many of the same ways as do sheriff’s deputies. They’re able to make arrests, serve court papers and provide security for parades, funerals and the like. 

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Amendment 2 was sponsored by Alabama Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur. Orr, in a message to APR on Monday, said that the portion of the amendment dealing with constables was drafted by an Alabama Law Institute committee, headed at the time by the institute’s deputy director at the time, Clay Hornsby. Orr referred questions about the matter to Hornsby. 

David Kimberley, acting deputy director of the Alabama Legislative Services Agency’s Law Institute, told APR that he took over as acting deputy director since Hornsby’s departure on Aug. 1. 

If the amendment is approved by voters, Kimberley said that a county that wants to keep their constable can do so, but that the amendment is an acknowledgement that there are few constables left in the state and it’s approaching becoming “an archaic position or office.” 

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“It was noted that only 24 out of the 67 counties currently have constables. Most of all the services of constables are duplicated sheriff’s deputies,” Kimberley said. “And it was essentially just an acknowledgement of what seemed to be a gradual phase out of this office in the state of Alabama.” 

Read Barbee’s full statement below: 

The Alabama Constables Association has joined other law enforcement and conservative groups in urging voters to vote “NO” on Amendment 2 in the general election on November 3rd.

Constable Jonathan Barbee, the Association’s Public Information Officer, said in a statement:

“We’re very concerned about several of the parts of Amendment 2, starting with the overall size and complexity of the Amendment. Typically, proposed constitutional amendments deal with only one or at most a few issues. Amendment 2 proposes SIX different changes to the State Judicial System, some of which drastically change the way we do things in Alabama.

“Amendment 2 could harm small communities by allowing county district courts to discontinue having municipal courts in cities with populations of less than 1,000.  Municipal courts are typically held at night, making it easier for working people to attend.  Without these small municipal courts, residents would have to spend most of a day at the county seat, losing a day of work or being forced to burn a vacation day for something that now is usually settled in an evening. It also indirectly attacks and defunds the Police departments of these towns, because their city courts are a significant source of revenue to help keep Officers on patrol. This part of Amendment 2 strikes at our small communities, drawing power to the larger county seats.

“Amendment 2 also removes the ability of the Legislature to impeach Judges, making the unelected, unaccountable to the people, Court of the Judiciary as the only body that can remove a Judge from the bench. Every citizen in Alabama should be concerned about this, because it effectively takes away their ability, acting through their elected representatives in the Legislature, to remove a bad Judge from their position.

“Amendment 2 allows Judges to continue working when complaints are filed against them with the Judicial Inquiry Commission.  We understand that automatically removing a Judge just because a complaint has been filed can lead to problems and abuses of the system, but these can be settled in a timely manner by the JIC. The alternative, which Amendment 2 will create, would allow Judges who need to be removed to continue hearing cases, and give them a legal basis for fighting their removal. We believe this has the potential for much more serious problems to arise within our courts.

“Amendment 2 could also defund Constables by removing our ability to serve as Constables while also working in another position with the State or County. Constables are not taxpayer-funded, they are largely voluntary Peace Officers. The fees they collect from their duties as Officers of the Courts allow them to support the expenses of the office such as vehicles, uniforms, and equipment. Amendment 2 also deletes the language protecting how Constables are paid by private court fees, leaving it in question for the appointed Administrator to decide. This could effectively defund the Office of Constable statewide, which removes the protection and services Constables provide in their communities at no cost to the taxpayers of Alabama. Over the last year, at least two Constables were responsible for saving several lives during medical emergencies, Constables in Jefferson County have been helping with traffic control and schools, and one Constable assisted with a large drug interdiction arrest. We feel this is an unnecessary and unwarranted attack on the oldest elected law enforcement position in the nation.

“There are other problems with this Amendment. Amendment 2 mandates that the entire Alabama Supreme Court, instead of the Chief Justice, appoint the Administrative Director of Courts. It would be a change from having a single elected, accountable official being responsible for this appointment to having it done by committee. Once the Administrator is appointed they could, in fact, serve a lifetime appointment.  Amendment #2 would also remove the ability of Alabama’s elected Lieutenant Governor to appoint one member of the Court of the Judiciary, giving that ability and more control to the Governor, who already appoints two members.  

“Many of these points are not easy to find, because the forces behind this Amendment have purposefully omitted them from the official documentation provided to the Alabama Secretary of State’s office. If for no other reason than this deliberate obfuscation of the true contents of this Amendment, it should be voted down. The people of Alabama deserve better than this attempt by special interests to radically change how our state’s Judicial system works, mostly as a smokescreen to hide how they will use it to protect bad Judges, inconvenience small-town residents, and make citizens across the state less safe.

“We urge the voters of Alabama to vote ‘NO’ on Amendment 2.”

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News

Tropical Storm Zeta keeps tracking toward the Gulf Coast

Its present forecast track takes it into the northern Gulf of Mexico to impact the Louisiana gulf coast as a category one hurricane.

Brandon Moseley

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Tropical Storm Zeta is currently in the Gulf after impacting the Yucatán Peninsula. It is currently forecast to impact the Gulf Coast on Wednesday. Currently, the maximum sustained winds are 70 miles per hour.

Zeta is moving to the northwest at 14 miles per hour. Its present forecasted track takes it into the northern Gulf of Mexico and impacts the Louisiana gulf coast near Grand Isle, Louisiana, as a category one hurricane. It will continue on to Mississippi and Alabama, bringing rainfall and isolated severe weather to much of the state.

While Zeta is not currently forecast to come ashore on the Alabama Gulf Coast, hurricanes do move and take different routes, and that is not completely out of the realm of possibility. Residents of Baldwin and Mobile Counties are advised to watch the weather very closely and have their hurricane plan updated and handy.

ABC 33/40 meteorologist James Spann said, “Most of the rain is displaced to the north and east of the center once inland, and the risk of isolated tornadoes is south of the track.”

Mobile and Baldwin counties are under a tropical storm watch. The tropical storm watch extends east to the Walton-Okaloosa county line in the Florida Panhandle.

Spann warned that winds could gust to 50 miles per hour along the Alabama coast on Wednesday and Wednesday night, and to 45 miles per hour at places like Pensacola and Navarre Beach. Inland, winds up to 45 miles per hour are possible across parts of Southwest and Central Alabama Wednesday night.

Spann said that a few trees could be blown down, but major tree and power line damage is not expected. A few isolated tornadoes are possible over the southern half of Alabama Wednesday night. A “marginal risk” has been defined.

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Stay away from the water, because dangerous rip currents are likely along the coast from Gulf Shores to Panama City Beach on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The rain amounts will be the heaviest across Southwest Alabama, where three to four inches are expected. Most other parts of Alabama will see one to three inches. Major flooding issues are not expected since Zeta is expected to move along quickly out of the state.

Spann said that for most of Alabama, the significant rain will be over by mid-morning Thursday. The Alabama Gulf Coast is still recovering from Hurricane Sally, which came ashore near Gulf Shores in September.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Want to reduce abortions? Vote for Democrats

As Republicans scream about abortions, the thing they always fail to mention is that an abortion ban in America will not reduce the number of abortions performed. But better health care can.

Josh Moon

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(STOCK PHOTO)

With polls last week showing the race between incumbent Sen. Doug Jones and Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville tightening a bit, and with continued long lines outside voting precincts in heavily Democratic areas, the Alabama GOP, and its paid mouthpieces, have turned to their favorite talking point: abortion. 

By the end of last week, to hear them tell it, Jones would be sacrificing live babies on Nancy Pelosi’s gold-plated kitchen table as Chuck Schumer looked on and AOC sharpened the knives. 

In ad after ad and planted story after planted story and social media post after social media post, they went on and on about “live birth abortions” — as if there is such a thing — and accusations that Jones supports abortion “up to the point of birth.” 

It’s so silly and childish that it’s hard to envision such gibberish actually affecting the way any sane adult would vote, but then, that’s the beauty of the abortion issue — sanity, reason and facts took a hike a long, long time ago, and we’re now left with only raw emotion. 

The fact is the Alabama GOP — and the national Republican Party — has been responsible for millions more abortions and baby deaths than any Democrat or any Democratic policy. 

Jones, and his policies, would prevent hundreds of thousands of abortions in this state going forward. 

No, that’s not an opinion. That’s a fact that I can support with actual data. 

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As Republicans scream about abortions, the thing they always fail to mention is that an abortion ban in America will not reduce the number of abortions performed. This has been proven over and over again in country after country, where full bans have been implemented. 

Instead, when bans are implemented, desperate women turn to unsafe, back-alley abortions that often lead to the deaths of both mother and fetus. Findings from a 30-year Guttmacher Institute, released in July, show that abortion rates remain steady in countries where the procedures are legal and in the countries where they are banned or partially banned. 

In fact, the rates were often higher in countries with a ban in place. 

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But you know where the rates aren’t steady? America. 

You know why? Obamacare. 

Over the last 10 years, abortion rates have dipped to historic lows. That decline can be traced directly to Obamacare, which allows women to receive covered contraceptive care, which prevent pregnancies in the first place.

A study from the University of Michigan in 2017 found that abortion rates dropped more than 10 percent among college-aged women following the passage of Obamacare, which, in addition to the contraceptive coverage, also allowed young people to remain on their parents’ health insurance longer. 

Overall, across the county, abortions decreased by more than 200,000 between 2010 and 2017. The abortion rate plummeted to its lowest level since the procedure was legalized in 1973. 

Actually, that’s not entirely true. They decreased across the country except for four states — North Carolina, Mississippi, Wyoming and Georgia. Care to guess what happened in those states? They each implemented some level of an abortion ban during that time period. 

But Obamacare isn’t the only Democratic policy that has reduced abortions.  

In Colorado, where state officials began a push to market free contraceptive care and also allowed pharmacists in the state to write prescriptions for birth control, abortion rate declines have exceeded the national average. 

Teen birth rates in Colorado are down a whopping 59 percent over the last 10 years. And teen abortion rates are down more than 60 percent in that span. 

Know where else they’re not down? Alabama. 

We’re top five in teen pregnancy and teen birth rates in the country. We’re also top five for births by unwed mothers, low birth weights, pre-term births and infant mortality.  

Yet, these same Republicans who line up to talk about the sanctity of life have resisted both Obamacare implementation — refusing to participate in the marketplace and make care more affordable for citizens — and Medicaid expansion, which would provide coverage for about 200,000 poor, working Alabamians. 

They have resisted better sex education programs in schools — we still require abstinence-only programs — and refused to fund programs that would make contraceptives free and widely available. 

These programs and policies have proven to reduce abortions and save lives. They’ve proven to provide women with decent care and support, instead of shame and ridicule. 

These are the policies that Jones and Alabama Democrats support. They’re the policies that the GOP have tried repeatedly to kill or block. Which means, if it’s the reduction of abortions and saving human lives that you care about, there’s one obvious choice to make. Vote for Democrats.

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