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US Supreme Court might accept or reject ex-Gov. Don Siegelman’s appeal as early as Monday

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Staff Report

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court might decide as early as Monday whether to accept or reject former Gov. Don Siegelman’s request that the justices hear his appeal.

If they accept, Siegelman and his at­torneys could be standing before the justices later this year arguing that prosecutors incorrectly twisted a regu­lar political contribution into a bribery scheme, posing a criminal threat to all elected officials and their donors.

If they deny, Siegelman is likely headed back to court in Alabama, where his re-sentencing has been de­layed while his appeal has been pend­ing.

Siegelman’s request, along with one by HealthSouth found Richard Scru­shy, was reviewed by the justices Thursday, according to the court’s re­cord, which means Monday is the ear­liest possible day for them to an­nounce whether they want to hear the case. Either way, the outcome could have a far-reaching impact on how public corruption is investigated and prosecuted across the country.

Siegelman and Scrushy were convicted in 2006 by a jury in Montgomery for exchanging $500,000 in contributions to Siegelman’s lottery campaign for an appointment to a state health board.

In their appeals, Siegelman and Scrushy say the justices need to limit prosecutors who might pursue cases of corruption and bribery without strong enough evidence that a specific deal was cut between the donor and the elected official.

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“By granting review, this court would have the opportunity to right an injustice, to exonerate a man who has committed no crime, and to clarify the law in a manner that will be important to all candidates, elected officials and politically engaged citizens,” his lawyers wrote in their February petition to the Supreme Court. Their argument has gained support from election law professors and 113 former state attorneys general — Republican and Democratic — who say there needs to be a higher standard of proof that a public official’s action was directly linked to a political donation.

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The Alabama Political Reporter is a daily political news site devoted to Alabama politics. We provide accurate, reliable coverage of policy, elections and government.

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There may be one more red snapper weekend coming

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced Thursday that their preliminary 2020 red snapper numbers show that Alabama fisherman may have not reached their quota on the pounds of red snapper taken this year. This opens the possibility that the state may add a fall opportunity to catch the fish, which is highly prized by saltwater anglers.

Scott Bannon, the director of the Alabama Marine Resources Division, said that the preliminary harvest numbers for the private recreational sector indicate about 100,000 pounds remain in the quota of 1,122,622 pounds.

The red snapper season for private recreational anglers, which includes state charter vessels, was supposed to have originally lasted 35 days, beginning the Friday of Memorial Day weekend; however, state regulators cut the season to just 25 days when they noticed an uptick in the number of boats on the water this year compared to previous years.

It now appears that the state did not reach quota.

Bannon said he and Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Chris Blankenship are discussing options that would give Alabama anglers another option to catch Alabama’s most prized reef fish species.

“The private recreational angler season went really well even though we closed a little earlier than we anticipated,” Bannon said. “The data showed a tremendous number of people took advantage of the season, especially with the opening earlier on May 22.”

Bannon said that the MRD detected a significant uptick in angler participation this year when they analyzed the data.

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“The average vessel trips for the season were 713 trips per day,” Bannon said. “That means a lot of people went fishing compared to the last two years, which had an average of about 530 vessel trips per day.”

Bannon believes that the coronavirus crisis was a major factor in more Alabamians going fishing this year.

“I think people took advantage to go snapper fishing when they could not participate in other activities,” Bannon said. “They could not get on cruise ships. They couldn’t go to Disney. People were not playing travel sports. Boating was considered a safe outdoor activity, so I do think the COVID-19 pandemic affected the snapper season. I think it prompted more people to go snapper fishing than we had in the past.”

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Bannon said that they might have shortened the snapper season even further than they did without Tropical Storm Cristobal, which significantly limited fishing on the third weekend of snapper season.

“Even after the second weekend, I had people tell me about the high number of boats they were seeing offshore,” Bannon said. “They said there’s no way we’re going to make it to July 19. My thoughts were that as the season progresses the fervor dies down in July, and fishing gets a little tougher. Again, with not having other activities available, the weather outside that Cristobal weekend was really good and people went fishing.”

“The Cristobal weekend slowed down the catch effort,” Bannon explained. “You can also see the weekend days had much higher catch effort.”

The five Gulf states were granted control of red snapper management in 2018. Alabama added Mondays to the weekend to try to spread out the effort and provide more opportunities to fish.

“I think adding Mondays was a success,” Bannon said. “Some people felt that had a negative impact and reduced season length because of the Monday fishing. But if you add up all of the Monday effort, it is barely more than our peak Saturday. Mondays did exactly what we hoped it would do. It provided opportunities to avoid the Saturday chaos, allow people who work weekends an opportunity to go, and allow people who were on vacation who had to travel on Saturday to have an extra opportunity. And, if you were local, the feedback I got was they took advantage of Mondays instead of trying to fish on Saturdays when the effort was so high. They didn’t fish any more because it was open on Mondays; they just fished a different day.”

Red snapper season closed down after July 3.

“I know there was disappointment that we didn’t have red snapper for the Alabama Deep Sea Rodeo, being the nation’s largest fishing tournament,” Bannon said. “With all of the other challenges the rodeo had with the COVID-19 issues and all the events that were canceled, I think they had the best event they could under the circumstances.”

Alabama charter boat fleet still operates under federal management through NOAA Fisheries. The charter season opened on June 1 and ran straight through August 1.

“I think the charter season went really well, especially considering that, when the coronavirus first hit, a lot of people were canceling trips early in the year,” Bannon said. “As boating was considered a safe activity, many of the boats adjusted their capacity so people felt comfortable and safe. They lost the Cristobal weekend just like everyone else, but they got to fish pretty consistently for the 62 days they were open. From my discussions with the captains, they considered it a very good season considering the COVID circumstances. And I think they’ll have a good fall season as people still have limited outdoor activities. The charters will target other fish, like amberjack, which is scheduled to be open until October 31. They can also catch vermilion snapper (beeliners) and other reef fish species as well as king mackerel.”

Bannon said that he was encouraged by the variety of sizes of red snapper.

“We had a large number of smaller fish, which we attribute to a strong year-class of fish,” Bannon said. “Those younger fish will crowd those reefs. What you should see in the next year or two, those fish will be growing up around those reefs and then dispersing. We should be able to follow the year-class and see how it works out over the next few years.”

What state regulators will do to allow more fishing opportunities for red snapper, or even if there will be another red snapper weekend, has not yet been determined.

August is the month to renew your hunting and fishing licenses.

Alabama has an enormous variety of outdoor opportunities for hunters and fishermen. You can literally hunt and fish year-round in Alabama. Unlike youth sports or attending sporting events, concerts, movies, shows or shopping, the whole family can participate in both hunting and fishing while still socially distancing and protecting themselves from catching and spreading the coronavirus.

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Alabama Legislative Black Caucus holds meetings on racism in wake of George Floyd death

Eddie Burkhalter

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State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, is the chair of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus.

Members of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus in recent months have been meeting with Gov. Kay Ivey, state law enforcement officials and others to voice their concern over systemic racism in Alabama, the group said in a statement Friday. 

Alabama Legislative Black Caucus members in June met with Ivey, and in follow-up meetings with other state officials and leaders of higher education, members discussed what they believe needs changing to battle racism in Alabama, according to the press release. 

“We are very appreciative of Governor Ivey and all of the officials with whom we have met thus far,” said State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, chairwoman of the ALBC, in a statement. “Our dialogues have been very substantive and productive as the Caucus presented our concerns and recommendations. Our goal is to get to the root of and eradicate racism and anything that communicates hatred, bigotry or divisiveness within the State of Alabama. The tragic and senseless death of George Floyd caused us all to take a closer look at the systemic racism at work here in Alabama.”

ALBC members met with officials from Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Sheriffs Association, the Alabama Association of Police Chiefs and Katie Britt, president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama along with BCA’s Executive Leadership Committee.

Members also met with The University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis St. John, and Jay Gogue, president of Auburn University. 

In the statement, ALBC members applauded the University of Alabama’s Board of Trustees for voting unanimously to rename Nott Hall — named for Josiah Nott, a doctor who believed in white superiority — Honors Hall. 

“The University of Alabama had already started this endeavor before our meeting with them this past Tuesday,” said State Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Gallion, vice chairman of ALBC, in a statement. “That was a great first step and strong leadership was shown. We are looking forward to the other institutions of higher learning in Alabama to do the same as well. The Caucus also hopes that all members of the Alabama Legislature have been inspired to adopt and make meaningful changes in legislation that governs our state.”

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Figures said the group of elected senators and representatives are holding these talks, with plans for others, “so that people will stop focusing on Alabama’s sordid past, and instead see a beautiful Alabama present, and the makings of a bright future for all Alabamians.” 

“During each of these meetings, our members have had the opportunity to voice what we feel the necessary changes should be. I just hope this openness to positive change continues throughout the upcoming 2021 Alabama Legislative Session,” said State Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, in a statement. 

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Congress

Jones: Trump executive orders are “more for show than actual help for the Americans people”

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones during a livestreamed press briefing. (OFFICE OF SEN. DOUG JONES/FACEBOOK)

Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones had harsh words for recent executive orders that President Donald Trump signed in lieu of continuing to pursue a bipartisan legislative COVID relief package. Jones said that Trump’s executive orders extending coronavirus relief are “more for show than actual help for the American people.”

“While the President is attempting to give the appearance that he is leading the cavalry coming to the rescue of the American people, these executive orders are anything but that,” Jones said. “The executive order to extend the now-lapsed emergency unemployment assistance will cut benefits by $200 a week or more for Alabamians and asks states, whose budgets have already been burdened by the pandemic, to foot part of the bill. The payroll tax collection moratorium is a way for President Trump to follow through with his promise to defund Medicare and privatize social security by putting the solvency of these programs at risk while still leaving open the possibility that those taxes may need to be paid in a lump sum next year.”

“By signing these executive orders that are more for show than actual help for the American people, President Trump has confirmed that his administration has not acted in good faith and had no intention of reaching bipartisan agreement on legislation that would benefit all Americans,” Jones said. “The Senate, which absolutely should not have recessed without passing a relief package, needs to immediately return to Washington to pass legislation that provides adequate support for the Americans who are suffering as a result of this virus as well as our economy. We need to come to a bipartisan compromise that deals with the full slate of urgent issues facing our country: we need a national strategy for COVID testing and contact tracing, to extend federal eviction moratoriums, to provide much-needed funding for state and local governments, and to ensure schools have the resources they need to reopen safely — among so many other needs.”

Both parties wanted a fifth coronavirus aid package passed before Congress broke for August recess, but negotiations broke down between Democrats and the White House over the size of the aid package.

“It’s completely inexcusable that Mitch McConnell waited over two months after the House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act to begin negotiations on this relief package, knowing full well that many of the programs that Americans have relied on during this crisis would expire at the end of July,” Jones continued. “The failure to negotiate an adequate bipartisan deal speaks to a broader breakdown in leadership in Washington, and I strongly urge my colleagues to put partisanship aside to come together to pass a relief bill as soon as possible. Lives and livelihoods are at stake, and each day we spend arguing over politics is another day that our institution fails the American people.”

Some Democrats have threatened to challenge the president’s executive actions in court. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that Democrats would have a lot of explaining to do if they challenged the White House’s efforts to get enhanced unemployment benefits to Americans.

“We’ve cleared with the Office of Legal Counsel all these actions,” Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.” “If the Democrats want to challenge us in court and hold up unemployment benefits to those hardworking Americans that are out of a job because of COVID, they’re going to have a lot of explaining to do.”

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The president’s executive actions would provide $400 in increased federal unemployment benefits, which is down $200 from the $600 enhancement that they were getting.

“We thought $400 was a fair compromise. We offered to continue to pay $600 while we negotiate, and the Democrats turned that down,” Mnuchin said.

The Democratic proposal that passed the House, the HEROES Act, would have added $3.4 trillion to the national debt.

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Jones is trailing Republican candidate Tommy Tuberville in the race for U.S. Senate according to a poll released last week.

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Congress

Brooks: Democratic relief proposals would make Americans more dependent on government

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks

Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, on Thursday said on social media that Democrats believe that redistributing wealth and expanding government handouts will help them in the 2020 elections.

“Socialist Democrats want as many Americans as possible dependent on the government,” Brooks said. “They perceive that redistributing wealth and expanding government handouts will help Democrats tremendously in the 2020 elections. The more Americans voting for a living rather than working for a living, the better the Socialist Democrats’ election chances.”

Fox Business Channel commentator Stuart Varney shared similar views to Brooks.

“The left doesn’t want you to work for your money, they want you to be dependent on a government handout which they control,” Varney said. “This is economic fantasy land, wealth confiscation, trashes the constitution. Money printing on a massive scale invites inflation. Socialism really is dangerous to your financial health.”

“You can see where the left is headed: tax the rich, print money, make us all dependent on the government,” said Varney. “They want to salvage political power from a government-ordered shutdown.”

In 1980, the entire national debt was just $903 billion. Since then, federal spending, much of it mandatory spending, has ballooned the size of government and the national debt. The debt has now grown to $26.6 trillion.

This year’s budget deficit is nearly triple what the whole debt was back then and Congress is debating another coronavirus aid package that would be paid by deficit spending.

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One issue that Congress has been grappling with is how much money should the government give to people impacted by the coronavirus crisis.

Conservatives are concerned that borrowing more money for more and more aid will grow the debt while discouraging people from working.

“A possible consequence of a poorly targeted, expansive government stimulus package?” said Heritage Foundation Research Fellow in Economics, Budget and Entitlements Rachel Greszler. “If you continue excessively high payments, then you end up just trading a global health pandemic for a fiscal crisis.”

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“It’s neither fair nor helpful to tantalize unemployed workers with unemployment benefits equal to 150% or 200% of their usual earnings, because long-term unemployment leads to lower incomes and opportunities, as well as a decline in physical and mental health,” Greszler explained. “Policymakers should be focused on helping Americans get safely back to work, including granting new flexibilities to allow workplaces to adjust to the conditions of COVID-19.”

“Humans are hard-wired to be productive,” Greszler concluded. “They will be far better off if policymakers focus on enabling work opportunities—such as removing barriers to working, trading, innovating, and investing—than on incentivizing unemployment.”

Brooks is in his fifth term representing Alabama’s 5th Congressional District. He has no Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 general election. Brooks previously served in the Alabama House of Representatives, the Madison County Commission and as a prosecutor.

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