By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY – On Monday, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley sent a letter to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services saying he did not like Obamacare and would not comply with requested information.
Falling far short of all out defiance in the press release Bentley said, “Due to a lack of proper options and very little guidance from the federal government, Governor Robert Bentley chose not to confine Alabama to an ‘essential health benefits’ plan under the Affordable Care Act.”
According to federal time lines all states are to notify the federal government by November 16 when states are required to submit a blueprint for how their exchanges will operate. If the state does not make a choice then the feds will determine the type of exchange to be implemented.
Monday’s refusal was only to a request that states submit a lists of essential benefits that would be models for plans offered on the exchanges.
In the rambling letter, Bentley said “As you are aware, I am a staunch opponent of the Affordable Care Act. As both a physician and a governor, I have determined that it is irresponsible and short-sighted to make a decision on essential health benefits by confining the decision to a select few plans and without having been offered clear guidance from the federal government.”
But these are the only options the federal government is allowing the states, so it would seem Bentley does not like the choice that he has been given.
While the Governor has publicly declared his distain for he Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare his actions over the last several years appears contradictory.
What some are heralding as a stand against Obamacare, actually appears to be short of complete denunciation and more like refusing to complete a homework assignment.
In the letter Bentley says he needs more information, wants a different option, but his actions all point to building a health exchange for Alabama anyway.
In running for governor Bentley made it clear that he had an idea and a plan for an Alabama healthcare exchange. It was a statement on his website.
As Fovernor, he has reiterated this idea and plan many times. In a question posed by Publisher and Editor Steve Spencer of the “Birmingham Medical News” in May 2011 about the way to reduce health care costs in Alabama, Bentley said, “There are a lot of things we can do. For example, before the Affordable Healthcare bill was even considered, I talked about creating an insurance exchange for the state of Alabama. And we’re looking at that now. We’re trying to set up the framework, crafting it a way that it would fit the Affordable Healthcare Act if it’s implemented. But our exchange will include so many other things, like health savings accounts.”
In 2011, Bentley created a commission to recommend a plan for a health insurance exchange, but he successfully opposed efforts by some legislators to enact one during the 2012 legislative session.
On June 2, 2011, Governor Bentley signed Executive Order 17 creating the Alabama Healthcare Insurance Exchange. It reads: “WHEREAS, creation of a Health Insurance Exchange (the ‘Exchange’) for Alabama citizens is a paramount priority of this administration; WHEREAS, upon its creation, the Exchange will facilitate the purchase and sale of health plans in the individual markets and the small employer market; and, WHEREAS, the Exchange will present consumers with broader choices and more individualized options for fulfilling their health care needs by fostering a consumer-centric health insurance market in the State of Alabama.”
Yet, time and again, Bentley has been an outspoken opponent of ACA while building the essential elements within the state without public acknowledgment from the Governor or his staff. The Governor has for over a year had the Alabama Healthcare Insurance Exchange operating out of the Department of Insurance.
The office is headed by Richard Fiore who formerly worked for retired democrat Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb. Fiore was paid $101,726.40 as director of the healthcare exchange in 2012.
In July of this year, the Governor called a high-level secret meeting to discuss spending $50 million dollars to build the Alabama Healthcare Exchange.
The big question that Governor Bentley put before the high-powered council, was should he move forward with building out the federally-mandated healthcare exchange or not. But behind all the talk was the nagging question of now to keep it from the Tea Party if the administration moved forward.
One insider at the meeting said, “I was shocked and really irritated when several of the governor’s people kept referring to $50 million dollars as free money,” said one attendee. “These may be federal dollars but they are not free, they are taxpayer dollars.”
Others were shocked that the governor’s office has already sent out RFPs and received bids from three companies to build out the exchange. Legislators where not provided with the names of these companies even though they were informed that the governor’s office had already decided who had won the contract.
After the Alabama Political Reporter broke the story about the secret meeting, the governor’s office called in many Tea Party leaders to assure them that the administration opposed Obamacare.
Kathleen Healey, who works for the Alabama Insurance Exchange, was said to be the major proponent of quick implementation of Obamacare. Even going so far as to say that there is a federal timeline in which the $50 million plus dollars must be spent. However, experts on the ACA law said that Ms. Healey is not accurate and there is no “gun to the head” timeline for spending the money.
Healey is paid $87,136.38 annually for her work on the Alabama Insurance exchange.
So, while the Governor tells the federal government, “It would be irresponsible for him to commit Alabama to a specific benefits plan,” all logic points to the fact that Bentley has a plan.
In his letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Bentley wrote, “I truly believe that in order to control costs, consumers themselves must be a part of any equation. As such, I am a strong supporter of health savings accounts, health savings accounts empower the consumer in all aspects of health care decision making. The Affordable Care Act includes many provisions, all supposedly geared toward making health insurance affordable, yet it does not include any significant mention of health savings accounts. I contend that the law does not make health insurance affordable and negatively affects consumer choice.”
If this is an opt-out of Obamacare as some are suggesting, then somewhere in the Governor’s imagination there is another plan called, Bentleycare.
Agriculture Department providing shelters for livestock evacuating due to Zeta
The Alabama A&M Agribition Center will open effective immediately for livestock that is being evacuated.
In response to Tropical Storm Zeta, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries has been in contact with partners to provide a temporary sheltering facility for evacuated livestock including horses and cattle.
Animals moving in response to Tropical Storm Zeta will be exempt from a certificate of veterinary inspection.
The Alabama A&M Agribition Center (4925 Moore’s Mill Rd, Huntsville, AL 35811) will open effective immediately for livestock that is being evacuated. The shelter is only equipped to shelter livestock, not pets or companion animals such as dogs or cats.
This facility will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. To contact the A&M Agribition Center call 256-689-0274. Evacuees will need to bring their own shavings, water buckets, feed, etc.
When evacuating, it is important for livestock owners to be prepared to care for their animals while they are away. Please be sure to bring the following items with you: a current list of all animals, including their records of feeding, vaccinations and tests.
Make sure that you have proof of ownership for all animals. Supplies for temporary identification of your animals, such as plastic neckbands and permanent markers to label your animals with your name, address and telephone number. Handling equipment such as halters and appropriate tools for each kind of animal. Water, feed and buckets as well as tools and supplies needed for sanitation.
For questions or concerns about sheltering livestock during a tropical storm evacuation, please contact ADAI Emergency Programs at 334-240-7279 or by email. The Alabama Cooperative Extension Service has also prepared an article on how to prepare to evacuate a farm.
There are more than 1.3 million head of cattle and calves on Alabama farms, according to figures released by the Alabama Agriculture Statistics Service. The cattle herd represents an enormous investment for Alabama farm families and is valued at approximately $2.4 billion.
Alabama has nearly 100,000 horses with a total value of over $500 million. Alabama has 57,000 hogs with annual production of $21.4 million a year. Alabama has more than 40,000 sheep and goats.
Farms in Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties were hit hard by Hurricane Sally and repairs to barns and fences from that storm are still ongoing.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Just so y’all know, Gasp made this possible. We were the ones whose presentation was shared by Glenn and Phillips. We paid for the exhibits in PACER so we could piece this story together. We did the leg work and the organizing. We need your support to keep doing it! https://t.co/5ubmIMciEQ
— GASP (@gaspgroup) November 13, 2018
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.
Alabama Constable Association: Amendment 2 could defund constables statewide
Amendment 2, if approved, would delete language protecting how constables are funded statewide.
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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.