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SB122 opens the door for corruption

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt 
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Under the guise of streamlining government, SB122 is a grand scheme by the republican-controlled legislature to abolish independence and accountability as it applies to public corruption.

If SB122 is signed into law, the Department of Public Examiners will be robbed of its independent powers and the fight against public corruption will be determined by a the whims of political figures within the state. By State law “the Department has the authority to perform audits of the accounts of all entities receiving or disbursing public funds.” They are a part of the Legislative branch of state government, and are independent of the Executive and Judicial branches of state government, as well as all local governments in the State. In other words if someone is cooking the books at any level of state government, these are the people who are going to find it.

SB122, along with its companion SB112, is an audacious takeover of the checks and balances in state government..

SB 122, is designed to consolidate power largely in the hands of the 12 voting members of the newly created Joint Committee on Legislative Operations.

The 12-member junta will be created with the House Committee consisting of the Speaker of the House and five House members, two of whom are minority party members or independents, who are elected by the House. The Senate Committee will consists of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and five Senate members, two of whom are minority party members or independents, who are elected by the Senate.

This will supplant decade-long checks and balances within the state government and form a top-down ruling regime based on the strict hierarchy of power within the House and Senate.

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What should be frightening to anyone who cares about honest government is that SB122 eliminates the autonomy and independence of the Chief Examiner office and places it under the legislators, who can manipulate the process. This is a case of passing a law that would allow the foxes to guard the hen house. In the right hands, SB122 would allow a particular party to decide who is investigated, or what information would see the light of day. The bill would also strip the  employees of the Examiners of Public Accounts of their merit system status making them vulnerable to firings at the whim legislators.

Without the audits performed by the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Jefferson County sewer debacle would have never been prosecuted, also Roy Johnson and the criminal activities within Alabama’s two-year college system would have never been revealed.

SB122, opens the door for corruption while closing the door on how the government uncovers public corruption.

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As of this writing, the Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Hubbard is being looked at by the Attorney General’s office in part because of an independent audit conducted at the request of the ALGOP. Imagine a government in which one elected official or a group of elected officials—who are controlled by one individual or party—were given the power to determine the fate of an audit into possible criminal activities by their cronies.

The result would be a carnival of lies, law breaking, coercion, threats, bribes, misappropriations of tax dollars and more. But this is exactly what could happen if SB122 passes.

Currently, the Chief Examiner and the auditors are free from fear of retaliation from legislators, if SB122 is signed into law, no auditor would come forward with evidence of a crime because he or she would be afraid of being fired.

The Attorney General’s Office, District Attorneys around the state and the Governor should come forward and put a stop to this egregious power grab.

The bill is sponsored by Senator Jimmy Holley (R-Elba). I do not believe that the good Senator understands fully what this bill seeks to accomplish. I spoke with several senators that are cosponsors of this bill but they seemed to be ignorant of what it contains.

SB122 is a part of President Pro Temp Del Marsh’s plan to streamline government, however, this is little more than an attempt to gain control over all aspects of state government and place it into the hands of a very few legislators.

If this is now the Republicans’ plan to defend our rights, then they are taking a page not from the founder of the United States but from the Lenin’s USSR.

If this bill passes, it would take away perhaps the most powerful tool used by the Attorney General’s office and District Attorneys around the state to uncover and prosecute crime  committed by officeholder and government employees.

It is a power grab beyond decent voters comprehension.

The bill also allows the Joint Committee to assume the powers of the following currently existing committees:

  • the Legislative Council
  • the Joint Committee on Administrative Review
  • the Legislative Committee on Public Accounts
  • the Joint Fiscal Committee
  • the Joint Permanent Committee on Reapportionment

SB122 creates a new entity called the Legislative Services Agency.  The Legislative Services Agency will be run by a Director of Legislative Services, who will be appointed by the Joint Committee of Legislative Operations.  The Legislative Services Agency replaces the following entities and assumes their duties:

  • the Legislative Reference Service (LRS)
  • the Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO)
  • the Joint Permanent Committee of Reapportionment
  • the Legislative Building Authority
  • the Chief Clerk of the House (in part)
  • the Secretary of the Senate (in part)

The Legislative Services Agency consists of three divisions: the legal division, which replaces the LRS; the fiscal division, which replaces the LFO; and the administrative division, which replaces the remaining above-listed entities.

SB122 also eliminates the provisions that state that the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House could be removed only for cause if they served in their respective office for at least nine consecutive years.

SB122  would also makes changes to the Alabama Law Institute (ALI). Currently the ALI is run by the Board of Commissioners of the Alabama State Bar. SB122 makes the ALI part of the Legislative Department. The bill also makes significant changes to the council that oversees the ALI, including eliminating the state court judges and the federal judge that currently sit on the council. The Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore are added to the council.

The bill is cosponsored by Senators Del Marsh (R-Anniston), Jabo Waggoner (R-Birmingham), Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery), Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), Greg Reed (R-Jasper), Gerald Dial (R-Lineville), Paul Sanford (R-Madison), Clay Scofield (R-Arab), Harri Anne Smith (I-Slocomb), Bryan Taylor (R-Prattville), Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City), Quinton Ross (D-Montgomery), Jerry Fielding (R-Sylacauga), Slade Blackwell (R-Pelham), Paul Bussman (R-Cullman), Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), Rusty Glover (R-Semmes), Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) and Scott Beason (R-Gardendale).

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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Elections

Opinion | For Coach Tub, no thinking required

Joey Kennedy

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Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

Has Tommy Tuberville ever had an original thought? It doesn’t sound like it. Coach Tub basically spews Republican talking points and keeps his mouth firmly locked onto Donald Trump. He disrespects Alabama voters so much that he thinks that’s all he needs to do to win a place in the U.S. Senate.

Tuberville recently addressed the St. Clair County Republican Party at its September meeting. As reported by APR, Tuberville is quoted as saying the following, and I’ll offer a short rebuttal. I’m doing this because Tuberville is clearly afraid to death to debate his opponent, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones.

So here goes:

Tuberville: America is about capitalism, not socialism. I think we are going to decide which direction we are going to go in the next few years.”

Me: We decided which way we were going to go years ago, when the federal government started subsidies for oil and gas companies, farmers and other big industry and business. That, coach, is your so-called “socialism.”

I’m not necessarily opposed to subsidies to boost business, depending on the cause, but I’m not going to let a dimwitted, know-nothing, mediocre, former football coach pretend we don’t already have “socialism” in this country.  

What Tuberville really means is that he’s against “socialism” like Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security or food assistance or health insurance. He’s a millionaire already, so there’s no need for him have empathy for or support a safety net for people who are less fortunate socially and economically. That’s Tuberville’s “socialism,” and the Republican Party’s “socialism,” and Trump’s “socialism.

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That’s a cruel, mean perspective that would cast aside the great majority of Americans for the rich (Tuberville, Trump) and connected and, where Trump is concerned, the fawning.

Tuberville: “I am not a Common Core guy. I believe in regular math. We need to get back to teaching history.”

Me: I would love to ask Coach Tubby, one-on-one, exactly what he thinks “Common Core” is. I’ll guarantee you he can’t explain more than he already has. “I believe in regular math?” There is no other math. It’s math. Does he think there’s a math where 1+1=3? There isn’t one. There are a variety of ways to teach math, but there’s only math, not a “fake” math or a “Republican” math or a “Democratic” math or, God forbid, a “Socialist” math.

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And when Coach Tommy said, “We need to get back to teaching history,” one wonders if he’s ever been into a classroom. We know more than a few of his former players weren’t in many classrooms, if reports are correct. But they always played the game under his uninspired coaching.

Of course schools teach history.

The history Coach T. is talking about is Donald Trump’s “white” history, the one we’ve been teaching in our schools forever. Not real history; you know, the one where the United States was founded as a slave-holding nation, where Native Americans were massacred and starved by the hundreds of thousands, where white supremacy was codified within our laws, where any color but white was subjugated. That history. The history that is finally fading away, so we can really see where we’ve been as a nation—so we know where, as a nation, we need to go.

Tuberville: Tuberville said he supports following the Constitution and appointing a replacement for Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday.

Me: Well, of course he does. Tuberville doesn’t have an independent thought in his body, and Donnie told him this is what he’s supposed to think. The big question: How much will a Senator Tuberville be able to function as a member of a minority party in the Senate — with no Papa Trump in the White House to tell him what to do?

Both scenarios are real possibilities, if not likelihoods.

There is no question that Doug Jones is far more qualified than Tuberville. Jones can work across the aisle, which will be vitally important if Democrats take control of the Senate. Jones has his own thoughts, which sometimes go against the Democratic Party’s wishes. Jones is independent, smart and represents Alabama well.

Tuberville is a failed football coach who lives in Florida. That’s about it.

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Economy

Alabama Farmer’s Federation starts a relief fund for farmers impacted by Sally

Brandon Moseley

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A satellite image of Hurricane Sally. (VIA NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE)

The Alabama Farmers Federation said Monday that it has established a relief fund to help farmers from across the state whose farms were damaged by Hurricane Sally.

“When disaster strikes, I am always impressed by the people of Alabama and their giving spirits,” said Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell. “As we started receiving photos of damaged crops, barns and equipment, we also started getting questions from people about what they could do to help our farmers, and that’s why we’ve established this fund.”

All the donations to the relief fund are tax-deductible and may be made online or by check payable to Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation at P.O. Box 11000, Montgomery, AL 36191. Please include “hurricane relief fund” in the check memo line.

“Most of our farmers had as good a crop as we’ve ever seen, and it was so close to harvest for cotton, soybeans, peanuts and pecans,” Parnell said. “It’s devastating to lose a crop that had so much promise. Our farmers are great people who are assisting each other with cleaning up the damage, and we’re so grateful to everyone across the state who is helping in some way, like donating to the relief fund.”

Hurricane Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores as a category two storm Sept. 16 with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph. Official reports from the National Weather Service show more than 20 inches of rain in Baldwin County.

The combination of heavy rains and high winds damaged crops, structures and equipment from Mobile and Baldwin Counties in the southwest through Russell County in the east.

It has been a difficult few years for farmers.

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While the general economy had been doing well prior to the coronavirus global pandemic, the farmers were caught in the middle of an international trade dispute over tariffs and fair competition.

Chinese retaliation against Americans farm products depressed commodity markets from 2018 through early this year.

When it appeared that the U.S. and China had come to a trade accord in January, the coronavirus hit along with massive disruptions in the supply chain.

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Farm bankruptcies were already up pre-COVID-19. The loss of the 2020 crop could push some already struggling agribusinesses over the brink.

The Alabama Farmers Federation is Alabama’s largest and most influential farmers’ organization.

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National

Poll: 24 percent say that they will definitely not get a new COVID-19 vaccine

Brandon Moseley

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A new poll by the Pew Research Center shows that the percentage of American adults who will get the new coronavirus vaccine has dropped to just 51 percent. At least 24 percent were adamant that they will definitely not get the new vaccine, while another 25 percent answered that they will probably not take the new vaccine if and when it is approved.

Just about half of U.S. adults, some 51 percent, now say they would definitely or probably get a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 if it were available today.

The percentage who would get the vaccine if it was available has fallen dramatically from the 72 percent who answered that they would take it back in May.

The share who say that they would definitely get a coronavirus vaccine has now dropped to just 21 percent — down from 42 percent in May. Some 30 percent answered that they would probably take the vaccine.

The vaccine is more popular with Democrats than Republicans, but those willing to get vaccinated has dropped among all demographics. Just 17 percent of those who identify as being Republican or leaning Republican say that they will definitely get the vaccine versus 24 percent for Democrats or lean Democrat.

Some 30 percent of Republicans and 18 percent of Democrats answered that they will definitely not get the vaccine if it were available — up from 15 percent and 8 percent in May.

Fifty-six percent of men answered that they will definitely or probably get vaccinated while just 49 percent of women said the same. Some 52 percent of whites will definitely or probably get vaccinated, while just 32 percent of Black people — the demographic which generally has the worst COVID-19 outcomes — responded that they will get the vaccine.

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Seventy-one percent of Asians and 56 percent of Hispanics say that they will definitely or probably get the vaccine.

Some 57 percent of those who are planning to get a vaccine say that they would be a little (36 percent) or a lot (21 percent) less likely to do so if they had to pay for it themselves, and 42 percent said that out-of-pocket costs would not change their likelihood of getting the vaccine.

Public health officials worry that if less than half of the population even gets vaccinated then herd health immunity will not be achieved through vaccination and the coronavirus could continue to spread.

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The new national survey by the Pew Research Center was conducted between Sept. 8 to 13 among 10,093 U.S. adults.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Johnson & Johnson announced that they have begun the third and final phase of vaccination trials. Sixty thousand people age 18 and over are participating in five countries including the U.S.

Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have been in phase 3 trials for weeks now and have suggested they may have enough data to know whether their vaccines are safe and effective by October or November of this year.

AstraZeneca suspended their trials in the U.S. after the early results showed some side effect issues, though those trials have since resumed.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a one shot vaccine while the other three require a second booster shot, doubling the logistical issues associated with mass vaccination.

President Donald Trump has said that the vaccine could be available at that time, but CDC Director Robert Redfield has scoffed at that optimistic timelines, saying he anticipates a vaccine not being ready until the middle of next year.

White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Anthony Fauci testified to Congress on Wednesday that vaccine production is already underway so that if one of the four companies in trials now receive FDA approval, ramp up time to full production will be minimal.

Redfield told Congress this week that the CDC urgently needs $6 billion for COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts.

Globally 982,513 people, including 206,598 Americans, have died from COVID-19 and more than 32 million people globally have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including 7,140,137 Americans.

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Congress

Sewell votes to keep government open, extend programs

Brandon Moseley

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Congresswoman Terri Sewell (VIA CSPAN)

Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, this week voted for a measure to continue funding for the programs contained in the 12 annual appropriation acts for FY2020. The bill, HR8337, passed the House in a final vote of 359 to 57 and 1.

“I voted for today’s legislation to avert a catastrophic government shutdown and fund the critical programs that my constituents depend on,” Sewell said.

“At a time when our country is in the middle of a pandemic and millions of Americans are losing their homes and livelihoods to natural disasters, including hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, our government needs to be fully funded and operational so that the American people can get the resources they need,” Sewell said. “I am particularly proud of the provisions Democrats secured to save our seniors from a Medicare Part B premium hike, protect health, housing, and other programs for Veterans, and to provide repayment relief for our health care providers at the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The resolution provides funding for critical government programs through Dec. 11 and extends vital health, surface transportation and veterans’ programs.

“While I’m disappointed that Senate Republicans and White House didn’t come to the table to agree to pass the long-term FY2021 funding bills that the House passed earlier this year, I look forward to working with my colleagues to make sure a long-term funding bill is passed before this CR expires in December,” Sewell said. “Additionally, an agreement on further Coronavirus relief legislation is desperately needed. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs and as the pandemic continues, municipalities, health care providers, essential workers, and small businesses are running out of resources from the CARES Act and relief is needed now.”

HR8337 included a list of programs that Sewell worked directly with House appropriators to secure in the FY2020 funding bill, which are extended in Tuesday’s continuing resolution. These include:

  • Rural Water and Waste Disposal Program Loans
  • Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (Summer EBT) program
  • Commodity Supplemental Food program
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program
  • 2020 Decennial Census Program
  • Community Health Centers
  • Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education Program
  • Special Diabetes Program
  • Grants for transportation to VA medical facilities for Veterans living in “highly rural” areas
  • Childcare assistance for Veterans while they receive health care at a VA facility
  • An initiative to assess the feasibility of paying for veterans in highly rural areas to travel to the nearest Vet Center, a community-based facility that provides readjustment counseling and other services

The bill also funded the Department of Labor’s homeless veteran reintegration programs, such as job training, counseling and placement services.

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Additionally, the legislation:

  • Ensures USDA can fully meet the demand for Direct and Guaranteed Farm Ownership loans, especially for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers
  • Allows increased flexibility for the Small Business Administration to process certain small business loans and SBA Disaster Loans
  • Provides a one-year extension for surface transportation programs, including federal highway, transit, and road safety programs
  • Reauthorizes the Appalachian Regional Commission for one year
  • Delays a scheduled $4 billion reduction in funding for disproportionate share hospital (DSH), which are hospitals that serve large numbers of low-income and uninsured patients
  • Protects Medicare beneficiaries from the expected increase in Part B premiums for 2021 that is likely to result from the COVID-19 public health emergency
  • Provides repayment relief to health care providers by extending the time in which they must repay advances and reducing the interest rate under the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payment program until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Allows Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to use the full amount available in the Disaster Relief Fund to respond to declared disasters
  • Increases accountability in the Commodity Credit Corporation, preventing funds for farmers from being misused for large oil companies
  • Ensures schoolchildren receive meals despite the pandemic’s disruption of their usual schedules, whether virtual or in-person, and expands Pandemic EBT access for young children in childcare

It has been 20 years since Congress has passed a balanced budget.

Sewell is running for her sixth term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional District. Sewell has no Republican opponent in the Nov. 3 General Election.

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