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PACT Bill Passes out of House committee

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

On Tuesday discussion of HB603 was heard in the House Ways and Means Education committee to determine a fix to the Alabama PACT settlement.

In Mid-March the Alabama Supreme Court overturned the settlement of the class action lawsuit brought by PACT owners because of wording in the original statute that prevents benefit changes.

Representatives Jay Love (R-Montgomery) and Mary Sue McClurkin (R-Indian Springs) introduced the bill in an attempt to change Alabama law so that the PACT class action settlement could by reinstated.

Love who serves as Chair of the House Ways and Means Education committee told the committee members that the substitute bill would address the concerns of the Supreme Court and allow the settlement to go forward.

“The PACT trustees and many of the parents I have spoken with want to ratify the settlement,” said Love.

One of the main contentions was that the original appropriations said it would, “…Make the PACT plan 100 percent funded.”

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Love said this was never the intention of the Legislative body and that portion had to be  stricken from the substitute to meet the courts requirements.

House Minority Leader Rep. Graig Ford (D-Gadsden) said after the committee meeting,

“The Republican Supermajority has once again turned their backs on Alabama’s families. Senator Bedford and I offered a solution that would fully fund the PACT program, but the Republican leadership chose to sponsor a bill that changes the law and allows them to back out of the state’s obligation to the PACT families. If the Republican Supermajority worked half as hard to keep the state’s promises as they do to break the state’s promises, we wouldn’t have a PACT problem.”

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Love said that he had worked closely with the State Treasurer, The Governor’s office, the AG’s office and the House and Senate leadership on the PACT bill.

Alabama State Treasurer Young Boozer III spoke before the committee and said that he believed the substitute legislation identified and corrected all the problems that the court had cited.

The substitute bill’s amended and repealed sections are retroactive back to 2010 which was one of the court problems according to Boozer.

Boozer said, that the court had said the settlement could not be adverse to the enactment of the Legislature and that is one main reasons for the substitute.

HB603 passed out of committee on Tuesday primarily on party lines with nine to five in favor.

Love said he hopes to have the bill before the full Senate by Thursday of this week.

The PACT (Prepaid Affordable College Tuition) Program was a Section 529 pre-paid college tuition program run by the Alabama Treasurer’s office. “Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 authorizes states to create two types of college savings programs, prepaid tuition plans and college savings plans. As college costs climbed faster than the global economy was growing in the 2000s the PACT board invested the funds in riskier and riskier investments.  When the Great Recession hit in 2008 a large portion of the principal was lost in those risky investments.

Critics of the PACT Program argue that the Program was just another risky investment vehicle like mutual funds, hedge funds, or wealth management accounts and that the parents were simply speculating in the equities market like so many other investors and that they should have known that there was a possibility that they might have losses.

In 2010 the state informed the parents that they might not be able to honor the contracts.  The parents then filed a class action lawsuit arguing that they had purchased “Prepaid Affordable College Tuition” as the PACT program is titled and were not investors in some sort of failed mutual fund.  The state settled with the PACT parents out of court; but that agreement was thrown out by the court bringing this issue up again.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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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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