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SB11 Gives Legislative Council Ultimate Control of State House

Susan Britt

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By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—SB11, referred to as one of “the consolidation bills,” is an exhaustive re-organization of the legislative services pertaining to the State House by amending multiple sections of the Code of Alabama 1975. The bill is a mere 45 pages, but contains some substantial shifts in responsibilities and powers. It proposes to disband five committees and consolidate them under a newly-titled committee, the Legislative Council of the State of Alabama. All aspects of the State House are proposed to be controlled by a 20-member group of Senate and House legislators, with the Speaker and the President Pro Tem at the helm.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Jimmy Holley (R-Elba), is similar to HB122 that passed the House but failed in the Senate in the 2013 Legislative Session.

Currently, SB11 has passed the Senate and is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Internal Affairs Committee on Wednesday at 11:00am in Room 420.

In short, the proposed bill, SB11:

1. Abolish five committees and brings there “powers” and resources under a House and Senate Committee of 20 legislators

2. Will take charge of all Statehouse staff including “the Legislative Reference Service (LRO), the Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO), the Alabama Law Institute, the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore” offices

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3. Create three new executive/director positions with six digit salaries

4. Shift the ALI under the new council and remove the powers of the Alabama State Bar Association from that entity

5. Restructure the Commission on Uniform State Laws and reduce them to an “advisory” function

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6. Delete legislative automatic appropriation

7. Provide continuance of the position of President Pro Tempore of the Senate

8. Reroute presentation of annual budgets and statements of expenditures and projections to the council

9. Assume the power of the Building Authority including “title and control” of the Statehouse, all parking areas and any areas adjoined.”

10. Change the position and function of the Secretary of the Senate and Clerk of the House

11.Set salaries and compensation for the LRO, LFO, ALI, Speaker’s office and Senate President Pro Tem’s office

12. Institute annual reviews for directors of the LRO, LFO, ALI, Speaker’s office, Senate President Pro Tem’s office, the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House

13. Change the creation responsibilities for ALI’s governing council from the Board of Commissioners of the Alabama Bar to the Legislative Council.

14. Restructure the members of the governing council of ALI

15. Restrict recommendations concerning “defects and anachronism” in state law given to the ALI Governing Council to the members of the Alabama Legislature and the public

The first paragraph states that it will “abolish” the House and Senate Legislative Councils, the Joint Fiscal Committee, the Legislative Building Authority and the Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment “and transfer their responsibilities to a newly reconstructed Legislative Council, the Senate Legislative Council and the House Legislative Council.”

It further states that the Legislative Council will be in charge of recommending personnel working with the Legislative Reference Service (LRO), the Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO), the Alabama Law Institute, the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore. The Council will also assume the responsibilities for determining salaries, compensations, budgeting, accounting and general administrative functions for all of the Legislative Departments including departments reporting to the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate.

The Council will create three new positions: Executive Secretary of the Legislative Council, Director of Technology and a Director of Human Resources. All three expected to be six-figure salaries. The Executive Secretary will act as liaison for the Council and perform the administrative duties. These position of the Director of Technology will oversee and manage all electronic information and documentation pertaining to the State House and its functions. Director of Human Resources will oversee all personnel and in all departments.
The Legislative Council of the State of Alabama Structure

The proposed Legislative Council of the State of Alabama will be comprised of a newly-created House Legislative Council and a Senate Legislative Council, 10 members from the House and 10 members from the Senate for a total of 20 members.

The council membership will consist of:

House Legislative Council

Speaker of the House
House Majority Leader
House Minority Leader
Chair of the House Ways and Means General Fund
Chair of the House Ways and Means Education Committees
Two members of the House appointed by the Speaker
Two members of the House, elected by the House
One member of the House elected by the minority parties
Senate Legislative Council

President Pro Tempore of the Senate
Senate Majority Leader
Senate Minority Leader
Chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund
Chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committees
Two Senators appointed by the President Pro Tempore
Two members of the Senate, elected by the Senate
One member of the Senate elected by the minority parties
The President of the Senate (Lt. Governor) may be a non-voting member of the Council, only voting in case of a tie.
Annual Budgets to Go to Executive Secretary of the Legislative Council

The Annual Budget is at present given to the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House. SB11 reroutes it to be presented to the Executive Secretary of the Legislative Council. The statement of expenditures and projected costs will be shifted from interim committee on finances and budgets to the Legislative Council.

Building Authority Will Give Over Control of State House

The Legislative Council would assume the powers and authority of the Building Authority previously consisting of three members of the Senate and three members of the House who were changed at the beginning of each legislative term.
If this bill is passed, beginning on October 1, 2014, the Legislative Council would accept title to the State House property and as a result “management and supervision, administration, improvement, equipping, operation, and maintenance” of the property.

The bill specifies this property to be “bordered by Union Street, McDowell Lee Lane, Ripley Street, and Washington Avenue and the building, parking deck, and improvements located thereon.” The Legislative Council will take immediate control of oversight over daily functions of the State House, including the allocation of space and security.

Changes to the Position and Function of the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate

Changes to Section 29-4-20 readjusts the chain of command in both the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate positions.

Currently, the Secretary of the Senate and the Assistant Secretary of the Senate are the subordinates of the Senate. As well, the Clerk of the House and the Assistant Clerk of the House are subordinates of the House. Compensation for the Secretary of the Senate is determined by only the elected members of Senate Legislative Council at their organizational session. Compensation for the Clerk of the House is determined by all members of the House Legislative Council.

Under the new law, the offices’ compensations will be reviewed and determined by their respective Legislative Councils, consisting of both elected and appointed members.

Under current law, both the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House, after serving for nine successive years, attain “continuing service status” and can only be removed from office by a majority vote of their respective legislative bodies. This language is proposed to be deleted and replaced by language stating that both offices “may be removed for cause by their respective councils.”

While employees of both houses will still be under the control of that body’s office, their regulation will be controlled by the Legislative Councils.

First Orders of Business

The Legislative Council will assume the responsibility for personnel, accounting and purchasing.

Working with the directors, the Legislative Council will “establish the salary schedules and other issues related to compensation for employees of the LRO, LFO, ALI, Speaker’s office and Senate President Pro Tem’s office.”

Employees will still be under the immediate direction and control of the department directors but the Council will be the final authority on all matters concerning the employees.

Changes in the Alabama Law Institute

Possibly, the department most drastically changed would be The Alabama Law Institute. It is proposed to become a “part of the Legislative Department,” and “would transfer powers previously granted to the Alabama State Bar to the department.”

It will direct the members, officers and committees. Members will serve four-year terms. The director will be a Legislative Council appointee.

Changes to the Governing Council of the Alabama Law Institute are as follows:

The members to be removed are:

One judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals
One judge of the Court of Civil Appeals
One federal judge residing in Alabama
Dean of the University of Alabama School of Law
Dean of the Cumberland School of Law of Samford University
Dean of each privately operated law school in the state whose students are admitted to the state bar
Dean of the Miles College Law School
President and Secretary of the Alabama Law Institute
Director of the Continuing Legal Education Program
All elected members of the American Law Institute

Members Remaining:

One justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, selected by the justices
One circuit court judge, selected by the Association of Circuit Court Judges
The Attorney General
The legal advisor to the Governor
The Chairs of the Judiciary Committees of both houses.
The President of the State Bar
Secretary of the Alabama State Bar
The chair of the junior bar
The attorney members of the Legislative Council of Alabama
Secretary of the Legislative Council
Not less than three or more than six attorneys appointed by the Governor
Two members elected from the members of the faculty of the University of Alabama, Cumberland, Thomas Goode Jones at Faulkner University schools of law and six practicing attorneys elected from each congressional district in the state.

New Members:

1. The Code Commissioner
2. The Speaker of the House
3. The President Pro Tem
4. Two members of the faculty of the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law at Faulkner University

Allows for designees to:

The Attorney General
The legal advisor to the Governor
The Speaker of the House
The President Pro Tem

No longer will the Governing Council receive and consider “defects and anachronisms” in the law from judges, justices, public officials and lawyers but only from the members of the Alabama Legislature and the general public.

Under current law, the studies and reports of the ALI are printed and distributed by the Secretary of State “in the same manner as acts of the Legislature.” This bill proposes to delete that language and direct that those studies and reports be submitted “to the Legislature through the president.”

Continuance of the Office of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate

Currently, there are concerns about the term of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate that the code does not address. There is a gap at the end of a quadrennium between the November election and the beginning of the next legislative session.

Right now, should a President Pro Temp be reelected to office they do not technically hold this position until the election at the beginning of the next quadrennium. Under SB11, a sitting President Pro Tempore who is reelected shall continue until a successor can be elected.

If a sitting President Pro Temp is defeated in an election, who takes on the responsibilities of the office until a new member can be elected? Another concern is should a sitting President Pro Temp need to leave office prematurely who would fulfill the duties of the office? Under the proposed bill, with the approval of the Senate Legislative Council, the Secretary of the Senate will fulfill those duties until a successor can be elected.

Commission on Uniform State Laws

The Commission will remain but only in as “an advisory commission to the Legislature.”
The proposed commission would be made up of:
Three members of the bar appointed by the Governor
A member of the Senate appointed by the President of the Senate
A member of the House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker
Director of the Alabama Law Institute
Director of the Legislative Reference Service

Removed from the Commission would be:

Any resident of this State who, because of long service in the cause of the uniformity of State legislation, has been elected a life member of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
Any person who while a member attended 10 or more annual meetings of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
Any resident of the State who is serving or has served as Executive Director of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.

Possible Ramifications of SB11

Council will be able to:

  • Institute salary decreases/increases for all directors and employees who work at the State House
  • Control over who can access the State House, who can use the parking lots and who can have access to the State House lawn including who is granted press credentials and lobbying credentials
  • Control over who is hired and who is fired among State House staff and directors
  • Control over all contracts pertaining to the maintenance of the State House
  • Control over the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House possibility removing their autonomy
  • Control over budgets both Statewide and internal to the State House
  • Dramatically reconstructs membership in both the Alabama Law Institute and the Uniform State Law commission

 

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Health

Alabama’s hospitalized COVID-19 patients Sunday at highest number since Sept. 2.

It’s a trend that has public health officials and hospital staff concerned that the state may be headed for another surge.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama hospitals on Sunday were caring for 920 COVID-19 inpatients, the highest number of patients since Sept. 2 and a 23 percent increase from a month ago. 

It’s a trend that has public health officials and hospital staff concerned that the state may be headed for another  surge just as the regular flu season begins to fill up hospital beds. 

Alabama state health officer Dr. Scott Harris by phone Friday called the rising new cases and hospitalizations “worrisome.”

Alabama’s seven-day average of daily hospitalized COVID-19 patients was 864 on Sunday, the highest it’s been since Sept. 8. State hospitals saw a peak of COVID-19 inpatients on Aug. 6, when 1,613 patients were being cared for. 

The state added 1,079 new confirmed and probable cases on Sunday, and Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily cases hit 1,358 Sunday, the highest it’s been since Aug. 13. Two “data dumps” to the Alabama Department of Public Health of older confirmed cases Thursday and Friday elevated the daily counts on those days, but after weeks of daily cases hovering around 700 and 800, the state now regularly sees more than 1,000 cases a day. 

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The older test results skew the state’s percent positivity, but Alabama’s 14-day average of percent positivity on Sunday was 20 percent. Just prior to the addition of those older cases, the 14-day average was 15 percent. Public health officials say it should be at or below five percent or cases are going undetected.

As cases continue to rise, the number of tests being performed statewide continue to decline, which is increasing Alabama’s percent positivity rate. The 14-day average of daily tests was 6,619 on Sunday — a 5 percent decrease from two weeks ago. 

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There have been 2,866 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths statewide. The state’s 14-day average of daily confirmed deaths was 14 on Sunday, up from 12 two weeks ago. 

The United States on Saturday recorded its second highest day of new cases since the start of the pandemic, with 83,718 new cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. Saturday’s peak was just 39 cases fewer than the country’s all-time daily high, set on Friday. As of Sunday, 225,061 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S.

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Elections

Trump Truck and boat parades this weekend

Brandon Moseley

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Trump boat parade

As Election Day draws near, Alabama Republicans are excited about promoting the re-election of Donald J. Trump as President and the election of Tommy Tuberville for U.S. Senate. This weekend two pro-President Trump events are happening in the state. There will be a truck parade from Ashland to Phenix City on Saturday sponsored by the Clay County Republican Party, while there will also be a boat parade on Wilson Lake in the Shoals sponsored by the Colbert County Republican Party on Sunday.

The pickup trucks will assemble at the Ashland Industrial Park in Clay County, 8240 Hwy 9, Ashland. There is a pre-departure rally at 10:00 a.m. central standard time. The trucks will depart at 11:00 a.m. and then proceed on a parade route that will take them into the bitterly contested swing state of Georgia. The Trump Pickup Parade will wind through east Alabama and West Georgia traveling through LaGrange and Columbus before concluding near the Alabama/Georgia line in Phenix City, 332 Woodland Drive, Phenix City at approximately 2:00 p.m. central time. Speakers will begin at 3:00. Trump flags will be on sale at the event.

The Phenix Motorsports Park will be hosting what sponsor hope could possibly the world’s largest Pickup Tuck parade in U.S. history that is routing over 50 mile through Georgia in effort to “pickup” President Trump’s numbers in GA.

A number dignitaries have been invited to address the Phenix City rally, including Coach Tuberville. Former State Sen. Shadrack McGill, Trump Victory Finance Committee member former State Rep. Perry O. Hooper Jr., and Paul Wellborn, the President and CEO of the largest Family owned Kitchen Cabinet manufacture in the USA are among the featured speakers who have committed to speak at the event.

Entertainment will be provided by: Charity Bowden, an up and coming country music singer who was the runner up on “The Voice”. Charity will sing ‘I am Proud to be an American’ as well as songs from her Voice performances. The McGill Girls will also perform. The three beautiful and talented sisters will be singing patriotic songs in three part harmony. Geoff Carlisle, a professional DJ will be keeping the crowd pumped with music and entertainment.

Following the speakers and the entertainment there will Trump truck-vs- Joe Bidden truck races down the drag strip for the finale.

The Northwest Alabama boat parade will be on Sunday. The boats will gather at 2:00 p.m. near Turtle Point and then the flotilla will parade around the open waters of Wilson Lake til 3_00 p.m.. There will be a contest for best decorated Trump boats.

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Trump supporters have held a number of large boat parades across the state to show their support for the re-election of Pres. Trump.

Boat parade sponsors say that this parade will be: pro-American, pro-law enforcement, pro-military.

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Health

COVID-19 hospitalizations, new cases continue to rise

Eddie Burkhalter

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COVID-19 Corona Influenza Virus Molecules Image Stock Photo

The number of rising hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama is a concerning sign of a possible coming surge of the disease, state health experts said Friday. Alabama hospitals were caring for 888 coronavirus patients Friday, the highest number since Sept 9. 

UAB Hospital was caring for around 80 COVID-19 inpatients Friday afternoon, said Dr. Rachael Lee, an infectious disease specialist at UAB, speaking to reporters Friday. UAB Hospital hasn’t had that many coronavirus inpatients since Aug. 18, when the disease was surging statewide.

“We have been dealing with this since March, and I think it’s easy for us to drop our guard,” Lee said. 

Alabama added 3,852 new coronavirus cases on Friday, but 1,287 of them were older positive antigen tests, conducted in June through October and submitted to ADPH by a facility in Mobile, according to the department. Still, Alabama’s daily case count has been increasing, concerning health officials already worried that as the weather turns colder and the flu season ramps up, Alabama could see a surge like the state had in July.

Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily cases was 1,247 on Friday, the highest it’s been since Sept 4. Over the last 14 days, Alabama has added 17,451 new COVID-19 cases.

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Friday’s inclusion of those older positive test results throws off the day’s percent positivity, by Thursday the state’s percent of tests that were positive was nearly 16 percent. Public health officials say it should be at or below five percent or cases are going undetected.

The state added 16 COVID-19 deaths on Friday, bringing to total confirmed deaths statewide to 2,859. Over the last two weeks, 206 deaths were reported in the state. Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily deaths on Friday was 15.

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Alabama state health officer Dr. Scott Harris told APR by phone Friday called the rising new cases and hospitalizations “worrisome.”

Harris noted the data dump of older confirmed cases in Friday’s data, but said “but nevertheless, I think it’s clear our numbers are going up.”

Harris said it’s not yet clear what’s causing the continued spread, but said it may be due at least in part to larger private gatherings. ADPH staff has mentioned a few outbreaks association with such gatherings, but Harris said it’s hard to know for certain if that’s the major driver in the state’s rising numbers.

“It’s football season and the holidays are coming up and school is back in session,” Harris said. “I think people are just not being as safe as they were.”

Harris noted that on ADPH’s color-coded, risk indicator dashboard, red counties, which denotes counties with rising cases and percent positivity, the 17 red counties on Friday were distributed across the state.

“So there’s not one event, or even a handful of events. It seems like there’s just a lot of things happening in a lot of places,” Harris said.

Alabama’s rising numbers are mirrored in many states. The U.S. reported more than 71,600 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, nearing the country’s record highs, set in July.

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News

Birmingham approves $1.3 million contract for real-time crime center technology

Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.

John H. Glenn

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Birmingham City Council approved a five-year, $1.3 million contract with Motorola this week to provide new technology for the police department’s real-time crime center amid unease and public concern over the potential use of facial recognition software within the new systems.

Mayor Randall Woodfin insisted in his remarks made before the council that the new technology is meant to integrate existing hardware and technology inside the real-time crime center. “You’re not buying any additional new equipment,” he said, “You’re buying something to integrate all those systems.”

The software suite includes Motorola Solutions’s CommandCentral Aware, a system that aggregates video, image and other data information into one interface, and BriefCam, a “video synopsis” system that will further integrate and analyze information from Birmingham’s ShotSpotter systems, public cameras and police body cameras.

Briefcam offers facial recognition capabilities, which was the main concern of community members speaking before the council, and the risk that use of the technology could disproportionately affect Black people. Facial recognition technology has a record of racial bias and misidentifies Black people at rates five to 10 times higher than white people.

“Despite assurances that there will not be facial recognition implemented at this phase that does not prevent it from being implemented in the future,” said Joseph Baker, Founder of I Believe in Birmingham and one of the Birmingham residents voicing concern on the proposal. “I believe that this software, if fully implemented, can easily lead to violations of unreasonable searches.”

Another resident who spoke against the resolution was Byron Lagrone, director of engineering at medical software solutions company Abel Healthcare Enterprises. Lagrone pointed to IBM and Amazon as examples of companies that have halted or abandoned facial recognition and object tracking software altogether over racial bias concerns.

“The prevailing attitude, among technical people is this technology is not effective, and it causes high amounts of harm for next to no gain,” Lagrone said.

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Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.

“It’s explicit in this contract that facial recognition will not be used,” Woodfin said, “[If] facial recognition wants to be used in the future of this city. It would have to be approved by this body. … The mayor’s office or the police department doesn’t have unilateral power to use facial recognition. That is not part of what our contractual relationship is with Motorola.”

Woodfin also clarified that the total $1.3 million price of the contract will not be paid as a lump sum but spread out over the five-year commitment.

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The city council voted 8 to 1 to approve the contract, with District 8 Councilman Steven Hoyt speaking in favor of the use of facial recognition capabilities.

“You can’t say, ‘I’m going to build a house but I’m not going to use the restroom,’” Hoyt said. “If it’s in the house, you’re going to use the restroom. … If it has the capability of facial recognition, guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to use it. I’m going to vote for it because I know we’ve got to have every tool we can garner to fight crime, because it’s out of hand.”

Hoyt also suggested a review of the information collected by the new system apparatus.

“I do think, for the public’s sake, we need to have some way we review that and see how it’s being used,” Hoyt said. “We need that to go along with this.”

District 3 Councilwoman Valerie A. Abbott — who said she was the victim of a burglary the day before the vote — echoed the mayor’s insistence that the facial recognition capabilities would not be deployed unless authorized by the city council, reading a letter from Motorola stating “in order to enable facial recognition, Motorola will require an addendum or change order to the contract,” which would have to come before a public meeting of the city council.

“I too would not want facial recognition,” Abbot said, “I’m voting in favor of this because the majority of my constituents are telling me they want more and better policing, capture of criminals, prevention of crime.”

District 5 Councilman Darrell O’Quinn was the lone no vote among the near-unanimous city council, stating that he had “some reservations about how we’re doing this and will vote my conscience.” 
Later, O’Quinn was quoted in BirminghamWatch, saying his vote reflected his concerns about “taking on a new debt obligation in the midst of a projected $63 million shortfall in revenue.”

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