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Chief Moore Raises Alarm on Court Funding

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Chief Justice Roy Moore says a lot has changed at the Alabama court system since he first took office as Chief Justice in 2001.
According to Justice Moore, the courts were underfunded then but they are funded 38 million less today. ”Anyone who has used the county courthouse in the last few years as seen a dramatic loss of services. Skeleton staffs, half empty clerks offices all due to budget cuts. One of the principle jobs of the Chief Justice is to ensure that all the courts throughout the state are operationally funded. Justice Moore is finding that this is a challenge. One of the big question on the Chief’s mind is, why have the court been suffering severe budget cuts while “the other branches have increased their budgets?”
According to the Chief the courts have lost more funding proportionately than the executive or the legislative branches. “The executive branch has grown by 48 percent while the courts have lost 28 percent,” Moore said.
Last session, the State Legislature passed a bill that raised court fees and cost, yet this tax increase has not had the monetary effect that lawmakers had predicted.
Some $25 million in funding was taken from the Unified Justice System for fiscal year 2013. It had been projected that Judicial Administration Fund with the new fees and cost would produce the needed $25 million outset the cuts. However, it appears the fund will fall short of projections by $13 million.
Judge Moore says that, “If we don’t get the funding we need, we will have to cut more services.” The system is now functioning with historically low staffing numbers. Without proper funding it is estimated that 366 jobs will be lost out of 1,807 currently employed.
This would represent an additional 20 percent cut over the already understaffed courthouses.
Two years ago the Judicial branch was receiving 11.32 percent of the General Fund Budget, for 2013 it received just 5.91 percent and in 2014 it is projected to receive a further cut to 5.8 percent.
“Regarding civil government and society, we can operate without many executive branch services of today; however, society cannot survive without the courts,” was a statement from the Chief Justice’s Office.
“Cutting jobs, depleting the workforce of the court is a blow to the justice system and the people of the State,” said Moore.
If the courts are not sufficiently funded, the Chief’s office projects that more offices will close for more hours and weeks. There will be further delays in court action, which will result in criminals left on street awaiting trial and more crime. Alabama’s already overcrowded jails will increase in population which will mean more cost to operate the correctional system.
“People should be alarmed when the basic institutions are being undermined,” said Justice Moore. The Chief believes that the underlying cause of the problem is political.

“Over 80 percent of the money [collected in taxes] goes into the ETF [Education Trust Fund],” said Moore. “Running a government on 20 percent or less doesn’t make sense.”
Moore says, while education is important, that police protection, the prosecution of criminal and the courts are instrumental to a healthy and free society.
“Education is important but does it takes over 80 percent of our entire funding and now more when the state keeps creating more programs,” said Moore.
He further states, “The only answer is politics and that is not a good answer to anything.”
Moore says he thinks that many of the state budget woes could begin to be better addressed if the state would combine the ETF and the General Fund budgets. Something that has been proposed many times but so far no one has had the political courage to actually try.
The Chief Justice is not a man anyone could accuse of not having the courage of his convictions.
Moore said that last week he met with the Governor as well as the President Pro Temp, the Speaker and members of the budget committee. He says that he believes they are wanting to be helpful.
No one should doubt that Chief Justice Moore is a force unlike any Justice before him. He is not one to wait idly by. He moves things in the direction he believes they should go.

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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Education

Exposure notification app for college students launches pilot phase

Micah Danney

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Screen captures of the GuideSafe application. (UAB)

College students across Alabama and anyone with a .edu email address are being invited to participate in an anonymous Exposure Notification System app for iPhone and Android users. The app launched in a closed pilot phase on Monday that will allow up to 10,000 downloads for each phone type.

The app is part of the GuideSafe platform, a suite of tools designed to help people reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. It features a tool called HealthCheck, which allows users to report COVID-19 symptoms, and another called Event Passport, which uses an algorithm to assess whether a person is safe to attend a gathering of 10 or more people or not based on the responses they log in HealthCheck. 

The GuideSafe platform encompasses the Stay Safe Together and Testing for Alabama initiatives. Participation is voluntary and designed to protect users’ privacy while anonymously alerting each user to potential exposure to someone who has tested positive in the last 14 days. The exposure notification system assigns random numbers to each user to keep them anonymous to each other and to the system.

The app will be made available for mass public download later this month after the pilot phase ends and the app’s performance is assessed.

GuideSafe is the largest-scale testing initiative for higher education in the nation. It uses exposure notification technology developed jointly by Google and Apple.

Alabama is one of the first states to launch the technology, which is part of the state’s program for safe entry to campuses of higher education. Gov. Kay Ivey allocated more than $30 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for the plan.

The pilot app was built by the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Birmingham-based MotionMobs, in partnership with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

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“We have worked extremely hard to leverage research and innovation, community service, patient care and education to make a positive difference in this pandemic,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “This new app – using Google- and Apple-led technology and created by UAB faculty, staff and MotionMobs for the people of Alabama – is a necessary tool in our effort to return to college campuses safely this fall.”

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Humane Alabama prisons would be a real surprise

Just some Christlike compassion and decent management. Getting either in Alabama’s prisons would be a huge surprise.

Josh Moon

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Nearly every day, there is a notification on my phone announcing that APR reporter Eddie Burkhalter has submitted yet another story on some new horror that has occurred within Alabama’s God-awful prison system. 

A beating. A death. A suicide. Guards arrested. Guards accused of essentially murder. The Alabama Department of Corrections offering a lame-ass excuse for this death or that “suicide” or this drug overdose or that outright murder. 

Every single day. 

How he deals with it — listening to the pain and anguish of the prisoners and their family members — is simply unimaginable to me. 

But because of his stories, and the work done by the ACLU’s Beth Shelburne, I know — and the readers of APR know — all too well of the violence and all around horrors that exist daily within Alabama’s prison system. 

So, it was quite absurd to hear a few days ago that both the Alabama Department of Corrections and Attorney General Steve Marshall were “surprised” by a Department of Justice report that found the state’s prisons to be an absolute horror show, where beatings, suicides, murders and drug use are rampant. 

The only people in those positions who would be “surprised” by such a report are idiots and liars. Marshall and Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn can decide where they fall. 

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The report from the Donald Trump DOJ, which is led by Bill Barr, was produced following a near-four year investigation into the prison system in the state, and it came on the heels of other federal reports that found similar issues. 

The state is currently tied up in federal litigation over ADOC’s lack of health care and mental health care for prisoners. Testimony in that trial, highlighted by media, has brought damning details of the state’s prisons and the cruel and unusual punishment doled out within their walls. 

At this point, the only people who don’t know that Alabama’s prisons are dark holes where violence, death and disease run rampant are those who don’t want to know. 

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You would think that such despicable stories of death and misery, in a state where Christian values reign and we profess a deep and unbreakable respect for the sanctity of life, would prompt public outrage. You would think our prisons would be governed by the Christian ideals of forgiveness and salvation. 

You would be wrong. 

Now, we could get into the many reasons — or, really, the one reason — why that is, but let’s not get bogged down in race or in why Christian repentance seems far less available the darker your skin. 

Just know the prisons are awful and that their awfulness has never been a secret to anyone with a working brain and the ability to read. 

That didn’t stop Marshall from grandstanding, however. 

In a ridiculous press release, he declared that the state would not “be bullied” by the federal government into entering into a consent decree. 

(I’d like to take a moment here to give proper respect to the federal bullying of Alabama over the years. Without it, we’d still have slavery, Jim Crow and Roy Moore-approved same-sex marriage laws.)

Marshall also, for some weird reason, tied the release of the report to the 2020 election, saying the state won’t be pressured into an agreement “conspicuously, 53 days before a presidential election.”

Yes, how dare the feds force us to treat humans like humans just 53 days before … other humans … go vote? 

Hard to believe these guys aren’t getting the job done, isn’t it?

And they’re not. It doesn’t matter what happens — bad press, lawsuits, DOJ reports, threats from federal agencies — Alabama officials are NOT going to clean up our prisons. They’re not going to reduce overcrowding or provide proper care or hire and properly train enough corrections officers. 

Not unless Alabama citizens hold them accountable. 

And you should. Because the environment of any prison or detention center is set by the people who run it, not the inmates within it. 

Instead of cesspools of violence and death, the prisons could be models of reform and humanity — where men and women are rehabilitated and provided life skills that reduce recidivism rates. 

Isn’t it weird how such goals are not part of a $2 billion plan to build new prisons? 

Over the weekend, a group of activists rallied in front of the governor’s mansion in Montgomery to protest that new prison plan. The Alabamians Who Care group wants massive reforms and a plan for better prisons that treat people more humanely. 

That’s not impossible. Other countries and other states have done it. And it didn’t cost them $2 billion and federal intervention. 

Just some Christlike compassion and decent management. 

Getting either in Alabama’s prisons would be a huge surprise.

 

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Elections

ALGOP rejects change that would have stripped voters of power to elect convention delegates

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The 435-member Alabama Republican Executive Committee on Saturday voted to reject a proposed bylaws change that would have taken away the ability of Alabama Republican primary voters to elect the delegates to the Republican National Convention every four years. Under the proposal, the Executive Committee themselves would have picked all of the delegates.

The controversial measure was voted down 51 percent to 49 percent. This was a bylaws change so it required a two-thirds majority to pass. The vote was not even close.

The full Alabama Republican Executive Committee was holding its summer meeting at the Trussville Civic Center. Executive Committee members from every county in the state travel to the two Executive Committee meetings each year.

Claire Austin, who represents the Bullock County GOP, said that the committee would be taking away the people’s right to vote.

Joseph Fuller, who chairs the Bylaws Committee and represents the 3rd Congressional District on the ALGOP Steering Committee, argued for the change saying that having all of those delegate races on the ballot confuses primary voters and that 34 other states do not elect their convention delegates.

Fuller said the change was proposed by Elbert Peters of Madison County, who could not attend because of his health. One delegate from Jefferson County accused proponents of the change of trying to take away democracy. This same bylaw change was proposed at last year’s summer meeting and rejected by the Executive Committee then as well.

Republican primary voters on March 3 elected 47 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Charlotte. The Alabama Republican Executive Committee elected 47 alternate delegates in May. This year’s GOP convention has been canceled by President Donald Trump because of the growing danger of contracting COVID-19 by mixing so many people across the country into a packed convention hall.

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The Executive Committee did approve a bylaws change allowing that in a declared state of emergency that a meeting of the Executive Committee could be done online.

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan said that she had talked to some members who were afraid to attend Saturday’s meeting because of the coronavirus threat.

There was a live feed so that members who did not attend the summer meeting in person could watch online, but because there was no provision in the bylaws for remote participation, they did not count toward achieving a quorum and could not vote on the proposed bylaws changes, resolutions or on selecting delegates to the electoral college.

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Due to so many members fearing exposing themselves to the coronavirus and wrecks on I-65 slowing traffic, it was over 30 minutes into the event before the Executive Committee had a quorum and could conduct business. The traditional fundraising luncheon was canceled this year due to COVID-19 fears. Lathan said that there may be a virtual fundraiser later in the year to address the shortfall.

The Alabama Republican Executive Committee meets two times a year. The 21-member Republican Steering Committee conducts regular business for the party and meets much more frequently.

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Congress

Jones calls for McConnell to bring the Senate back to work on bipartisan aid package

Brandon Moseley

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

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and two of his Democratic Senate colleagues — Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen and New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan — led 10 other senators in a letter asking Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to bring the Senate back into session and work through the weekend until Congress reaches a bipartisan deal to address the public health and economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. has been relentless, bringing about a public health crisis and an economy teetering on the edge of catastrophe,” Jones and the other senators wrote. “Across the country, Americans are fearful and anxious as loved ones get sick, families go hungry, small businesses go under, and workers continue to go without pay. State and local coffers have run dry, tenants can’t afford the rent, state unemployment systems are overwhelmed, and over 150,000 Americans have died. Despite this, it has been over four months since the Senate passed a comprehensive relief package, and the relief we provided is running out.”

“In the circumstances we find ourselves, it is imperative that the Senate be in session through the remainder of this weekend and all of next week — working not on partisan nominations, but on bipartisan coronavirus relief for the American people,” the letter continues.

“With this in mind and with federal unemployment benefits having expired last night, we implore you to bring the Senate back into session this weekend and pass bipartisan legislation to help working Americans and families,” concluded the letter.

The House passed their Heroes Act in early May with little Republican input. Senate Republicans have proposed a $1 trillion coronavirus aid bill on top of the CARES Act and the other relief packages. Senate Democrats have criticized the Republican plan for not going far enough. Their proposal was for a $3 trillion aid bill.

Jones has been a vocal critic of McConnell’s delays in bringing a strong, bipartisan relief bill up for a vote. The original CARES Act had a costly provision that increased the amount of money that the unemployed could collect during the coronavirus economic shutdown. That bump up in benefits expired on Friday.

Millions of Americans, however, are still unemployed and are having to make mortgage and rent payments with dramatically less to spend. Senator Jones has called for a renewal of emergency unemployment benefits, as well as more relief for health care providers, small businesses and workers, schools, state departments of labor, and incentives for states to expand Medicaid.

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He has also called for an extension of the federal eviction moratorium, and for the state of Alabama to renew its own eviction moratorium, which was lifted on June 1.

The federal government has enacted four pieces of legislation that provide relief to individuals, state and local governments and corporations that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic meltdown. These cost more than $2 trillion. To pay for all of this, the Treasury Department has ramped up borrowing.

According to a report by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, since March 1, the United States Treasury has borrowed more than $3 trillion. Most of that increase has occurred since March 30, when the CARES Act was enacted.

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Most of the new debt has been issued in the form of Treasury bills. T-bills mature in one year or less and account for 80 percent of the increase in debt since March 1. Treasury notes, which mature in 2 to 10 years, are 15 percent of the increase. Treasury bonds, which mature after more than 10 years, Treasury inflation-protected securities, and floating-rate notes, combine for the remaining five percent of the increase.

Fortunately, the government is paying very little interest on those new Treasury bills because interest rates dropped when the extent of the pandemic became clear and money fled risky investments like stocks and real estate trusts for security. For the 4-week bills that were issued on July 21, the government paid investors an interest rate of 0.11 percent. That is a considerable drop from the 1.60 percent interest rate that the government paid on the 4-week bills that were issued on Feb. 25 before the pandemic hit the U.S.

Treasury projects that they will borrow $677 billion in the third quarter.

The U.S. national debt is nearly $26.6 trillion — an all-time high — and the budget deficit is $3.8 trillion. Interest on the debt is costing taxpayers $337 billion annually, the fourth costliest federal program trailing Medicare and Medicaid at $1.3 trillion, Social Security at $1.08 trillion and national defense at $695 billion.

Jones is in a difficult re-election race with former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville.

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