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Constitutional Commission Seeks to Eliminate Judicial Review from Public School Language

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

On August 8, the Alabama Constitutional Revision Commission adopted a proposal to change the constitutional language addressing the right of Alabama’s children to a public school education.

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What has caused great alarm among educators and those who have worked for honest constitutional reform is the fact that the commission has eliminated the right of judicial review from this section of code.

The adopted proposal of Section 256 now reads,

“The Legislature shall establish, organize and maintain a system of public schools throughout the State for the benefit of the children, thereof, provided that nothing in this section shall create any judicially enforceable right or obligation and nothing in this section shall in any way affect the provisions of Amendment 582.”

Widespread apprehension as to the meaning of the new terms caused the Alabama Association of School Boards to write the commission to ask that they do further legal study into the, “impact of this language and, particularly, likely consequences, evident and potential.”

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See letter.

The Association of School Boards was joined by a host of other groups including the School Superintendents of Alabama in stressing, “The potential for unforeseen and unintended consequences.”

The operative sentence in Section 256 currently reads,

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“The legislature shall establish, organize and maintain a liberal system of public schools throughout the state, for the benefit of the children, thereof, between the ages of seven and twenty-one years.”

Last year, a Constitutional Amendment was placed on the statewide bailout to abolish that sentence and provide another diametrically opposed phrase saying,

“…but nothing in this Constitution shall be construed as creating or recognizing any right to education or training at public expense.”

The call for the change was said to remove “racist language” from the State Constitution, but many, including the Alabama Education Association, saw something much different and the measure was defeated at the polls.

After the ballot defeat of the proposed constitutional amendment, the AEA agreed to work with the State Legislature to remove the racist language from the text while leaving the meaning for the children’s education intact. However, this new proposal from the commission has met with resistance from the from the Educator’s Association.

In a letter to the commission, Dr. Henry Mabry, Executive Secretary / Treasurer of the Association wrote, [The] “AEA has been monitoring your work toward the goal of eliminating racist language from the sections of Alabama’s Constitution relating to public education. While the replacement language for Section 256 was not as broad and comprehensive as we had hoped, we were prepared to support the language that had emerged from your deliberations which kept intact the right of Alabama’s children to a public school education. At this point, though, we will be forced to part ways if the amendment brought by Mr. Matt Lembke is allowed to remain part of your proposal.”

Lempke is a commissioner on the Constitutional Revision Commission who added the language that removed Section 256 from judicial review.

During discussions at the August 8th meeting, Lembke said that he was concerned about the vagueness of the language, comparing it to an “impressionist’s painting; it means whatever you want it to mean.”

He said that he was “fearful that that would give rise to a new wave of litigation.”

Lembke said he was especially concerned about “equity funding litigation.”

However, Othni Lathram of the Commission staff reminded Lembke and the others that,

“Amendment 582 was ratified in the late ’90s and arguably in direct response, I think, to the school equity funding litigation. The gist of it, is that the Courts cannot impose an appropriation type funding change, without it being approved by the Legislature. And this provision is actually cited in Judge Linwood Smith’s opinion in the Lynch v. State case for the proposition that as a matter of separations of power under the Alabama Constitution.”

Lembke said that wanted to preserve the meaning as to what type of education system the state would provide in the hands of “the 140 elected members of the legislature and the elected Governor.”

Lembke said he wanted the question kept away from “a single, unelected Federal judge… or some small group of state judges.”

To this, Mabry responded in writing saying, “A right without a remedy is not a right. Without the ability to enforce a right through the courts, such language would be meaningless. We are aware of no other constitutional right that is subject solely to the good will of elected officials, as public education would be if your proposal were to be adopted in the present form.”

Mabry further states, “Surely Mr. Lembke and those of you who supported his amendment would not appreciate an amendment to the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which said that citizens have the right to bear arms, but cannot go to court if that right is infringed upon. The same protection should be afforded Alabama’s school children.”

The letter from the Association of School Boards echoes the same sentiment saying, “The language you approved imposes a serious and important obligation on the Legislative and Executive Branches of our government that cannot be enforced by the Judicial.”

Sally Howell of the Alabama Association of School Boards said, while she respects the concerns over litigation, she still believes that the people are best served when the checks and balances of our system of government are preserved.

The Constitutional Commission voted to approve the changes to Section 256 with Lembke’s amendment by a seven to ten vote.

Lembke was appointed to the Commission by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston).

Lembke is a partner at Bradley Arant Rose & White LLP.

In the fall of 2002, Lembke served as counsel to the Riley for Governor campaign.

Lembke and his firm have received millions in state contracts under the Riley administration.

Lembke has served on the Commission since it inception.

Other who participated in the letters of concern over the new language added to Section 256 were Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, Inc., Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform Foundation, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice Inc., Alabama Arise, Greater Birmingham Ministries, School Superintendents of Alabama, and Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools.

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Governor announces auto supplier IAC plans Alabama expansion

IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday that International Automotive Components Group North America Inc. plans to invest over $55.9 million in expansion projects that will create 182 jobs at two Alabama facilities.

“International Automotive Components is a leading global auto supplier, and I am pleased that this world-class company is growing significantly in Alabama and creating good jobs in Cottondale and Anniston,” Ivey said. “IAC’s growth plans show that Alabama’s dynamic auto industry continues to expand despite today’s challenging environment.”

Nick Skwiat is the executive vice president and president of IAC North America.

“Alabama was the logical choice due to its skilled workforce and proximity to the customer,” Skwiat said. “We are excited to see the continued growth of the automotive industry in Alabama and we plan to grow right along with it. We thank the Governor and Secretary Canfield for their leadership in this sector.”

IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County. This facility will produce door panels and overhead systems for original equipment manufacturers. That project will create 119 jobs at the production site in Cottondale.

IAC also plans to invest $21.6 million at its manufacturing facility located in the former Fort McClellan in Anniston. That East Alabama project will create another 63 jobs.

This project builds on a milestone 2014 expansion that doubled the size of the Calhoun County facility. There IAC manufactures automotive interior components and systems. Key components produced at the Anniston plant include door panels, trim systems and instrument panels for original equipment manufacturers.

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IAC Group is a leading global supplier of innovative and sustainable instrument panels, consoles, door panels, overhead systems, bumper fascias and exterior ornamentation for original equipment manufacturers.

IAC is headquartered in Luxembourg and has more than 18,000 employees at 67 locations in 17 countries. The company operates manufacturing facilities in eight U.S. states.

“With operations around the globe, IAC is the kind of high-performance company that we want in Alabama’s auto supply chain to help fuel sustainable growth,” said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield. “We look forward to working with IAC and facilitating its future growth in this strategic industrial sector.”

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Danielle Winningham is the executive director of the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority.

“International Automotive Components is a valued part of Tuscaloosa County’s automotive sector,” Winningham said. “We are grateful for IAC’s investment in our community and the career opportunities available to our area workforce as a result of their investment.”

“The City of Anniston is excited that IAC has made the decision to expand here. I have enjoyed working with the leadership at IAC, the Calhoun County EDC, and the state of Alabama to get this project finalized,” said Anniston Mayor Jack Draper. “This is even further evidence that Anniston is indeed open for business.”

Only Michigan has more automobile manufacturing jobs than the state of Alabama. Honda, Mercedes, Hyundai, Polaris, Toyota and soon Mazda all have major automobile assembly plants in the state of Alabama.

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National

AUM poll suggests Alabamians divided on prison reform proposals

90 percent of Alabamians favor some type of reform to the state’s prison systems, but there is little agreement on what efforts should be pursued.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Last week, a poll by Auburn University at Montgomery’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration found that approximately 90 percent of Alabamians favor some type of reform to the state’s prison systems, but there is little agreement on which reform efforts should be pursued.

  • 36.6 percent: “Reduce or eliminate criminal sentences for non-violent crimes.”
  • 30.3 percent: “Parole inmates convicted of non-violent crimes.”
  • 25.9 percent: “Increase funding to improve existing prison facilities.”
  • 21.4 percent: “Construct new prisons to be operated by the state.”
  • 14.5 percent: “Contract with private firms to construct new prisons the state would then lease to operate.”
  • 27.5 percent: “Increase funding for prison staff such as correctional officers, healthcare providers, educators, etc.”
  • 15.2 percent: “Increase funding for probation officers.”
  • 9.9 percent: “I support none of these options.”

The totals do not add up to 100 because it was a “select all that apply” poll.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan of signing a decades-long lease with private prison contractors was the least popular idea. Repairing the existing prisons 25.9 percent support while constructing new prisons had just 21.4 percent support.

The most popular prison reform measures, according to AUM poll director David Hughes, address prison overcrowding through criminal sentencing reforms.

“Approximately 37 percent of respondents support policies to reduce or eliminate sentences for non-violent offenders, and another 30 percent support paroling inmates convicted of non-violent crimes,” Hughes said.

The governor has included justice reform proposals in her all-encompassing plan. Those proposals were going to be considered by the Legislature in the 2020 legislative session but because of the coronavirus, the 2020 legislative session was cut short and the Legislature went home without addressing that or many other issues.

Much less popular is Ivey’s plan to build three new mega-prisons in Escambia, Elmore and Bibb counties.

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“Only 21 percent of respondents supported a proposal to build new prisons the state would then directly operate,” Hughes said. “The least popular proposal we polled involved the state contracting with private firms to construct new prisons the state would then lease. Only 14 percent of respondents approved of this reform measure.”

The state has grossly underfunded its prison system for decades and the Alabama Department of Corrections is still dangerously overcrowded and understaffed, despite recent efforts by the Legislature to deal with its chronic underfunding of the system.

A U.S. Justice Department investigation begun by the Obama administration and concluded by the Trump administration declared that the state has the most dangerous prison system in the country. The prisons are plagued by rampant drug use, extreme violence, and the prisons have not done a good job at preparing prisoners to return to society.

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The poor track record of rehabilitating prisoners means that inmates are released without job skills, education and still battling mental health issues and drug dependency. Too many inevitably reoffend and get sent back to prison exacerbating the overcrowding situation.

The U.S. Department of Justice warned the state in July that it was violating prisoners’ constitutional rights and that the attorney general may file or join lawsuits to intervene. A federal court has already found that the prisons were understaffed by a thousand guards and that inmates were not receiving necessary mental health care.

The AUM Poll was conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 3. It solicited online participation from 1,072 registered voters in Alabama. Respondents were weighted according demographic factors such as age, gender, race, education and income to produce a more representative sample of Alabama’s voting age population.

The survey has a 4-point margin of error.

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News

Federal assistance following Sally tops $100 million, one month remains to apply

The deadline to register for assistance from FEMA and the SBA is Nov. 19, 2020.

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Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

About a month after the federal disaster declaration for Hurricane Sally, over $100 million in federal disaster assistance has been approved for survivors.

The funds include grants from FEMA, the National Flood Insurance Program and low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration to help with uninsured or underinsured losses.

“Alabamians, particularly in our coastal communities are still working to get back on their feet following the impacts from Hurricane Sally. I remain grateful to the Trump Administration and the team at FEMA for helping provide this immediate relief for Alabamians,” Gov. Kay Ivey said. “I encourage folks in the eligible counties to take advantage of any of this assistance as we work to recover from Hurricane Sally.”

FEMA disaster assistance can help you start on your road to recovery. Alabama homeowners, renters and businesses who had property damage or loss related to Hurricane Sally have one month left to register and apply for federal disaster assistance.

The deadline to register for assistance from FEMA and the SBA is Nov. 19, 2020.

“FEMA is here with our state and federal partners to help Alabama communities and survivors recover from the devastating storm and flooding,” said Allan Jarvis, federal coordinating officer for the Hurricane Sally disaster in Alabama. “Register for assistance if you have uninsured disaster losses.”

Survivors should register even if they have insurance. FEMA cannot duplicate insurance payments, but eligible homeowners and renters may be able to receive FEMA grants or SBA low interest loans for losses not covered by insurance to help pay for basic home repairs, temporary rental assistance and other needs such as replacing personal property.

Public Service Announcement

Survivors in Baldwin, Escambia and Mobile counties have until Thursday, Nov. 19, to apply for federal disaster help.

Register for assistance in one of three ways:

  • Online by logging onto DisasterAssistance.gov
  • The FEMA app: Visit fema.gov/mobile-app or your phone’s app store
  • Call 800-621-3362 or TTY 800-462-7585. Language translators also are available. Toll-free numbers are open daily from 6 a.m. to midnight CST, seven days a week. Multilingual operators are available.

Survivors who have questions about SBA low-interest disaster loans may contact the Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center by calling 800-659-2955 (TTY 800-877-8339), email at [email protected] or visit SBA’s website at DisasterLoanAssistance.sba.gov.

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Courts

Aderholt fully supports Barrett’s confirmation process

Confirmation hearings began last week and a vote on her confirmation is expected in the next week just days before the general election.

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Robert Aderholt

Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, updated his constituents on the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Aderholt said, “I do support her fully and I know she will defend life, protect the Constitution, and uphold our freedoms.”

Confirmation hearings began last week and a vote on her confirmation is expected in the next week just days before the general election.

“Senate Democrats are not seriously questioning Judge Barrett on her credentials, instead they have decided to attack her character and her beliefs,” Aderholt said. “I am disappointed to see this unfold on the national stage, but I think Judge Barrett stood strong and did well during this first week of hearings.”

“While I do not have a vote in her confirmation process, I do support her fully and I know she will defend life, protect the Constitution, and uphold our freedoms when she is officially sworn in as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court,” Aderholt said.

Barrett is a Notre Dame graduate, has served on the U.S. Seventh Court of Appeals and is a former clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

“I clerked for Justice Scalia more than 20 years ago, but the lessons I learned still resonate,” Barrett said. “His judicial philosophy is mine, too: A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.”

Barrett vowed to keep an open mind on any matter that comes before the court, though Democrats fear she is prepared to overturn Supreme Court precedent on abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act.

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That the Republican controlled committee will recommend that Barrett be confirmed appears certain. A vote to confirm Barrett to the nation’s highest court by the full Senate could occur just days ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

President Donald Trump has been the president of the United States for less than four years but if Barrett is confirmed, then he will have selected one third of the U.S. Supreme Court. Barrett fills a place created by the death of the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September.

Aderholt is in his 12th term representing Alabama’s 4th Congressional District. He faces Democratic nominee Rick Neighbors in the Nov. 3 general election.

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