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Bills to Rewrite State Constitution Carried Over Amidst Questions Over Constitutionality

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Wednesday, March 5, the Alabama Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee voted to carry over controversial bills that would have rewritten parts of Alabama’s 1901 Constitution.

Last week, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) was asked to review the legality and constitutionality of revisions to the state Constitution largely written behind closed doors by an unelected committee. Chief Justice Moore wrote that the process is illegal, unconstitutional and a “usurpation” of the people’s rights:

“Stretching out the constitutional-revision process over a number of years by submitting to the people two, three, or five revised articles per general election under the amendment procedure of § 284 does not change the reality that a nearly total revision of the Alabama Constitution is occurring.” Chief Justice Moore wrote, “The Alabama Constitution states that ‘all political power is inherent in the people,’ who are the rightful engineers in the constitutional locomotive. Any branch of government that wrongfully seeks to hijack the process of constitutional revision must be stopped before the train runs out of control. For the reasons stated above, I would provide the advisory opinion requested and hold that the proposed amendments are constitutionally invalid because, taken as a group and also as a part of the Act No. 2011-197 revision train, they violate the exclusive prerogative of the people to revise their constitution through a constitutional convention held pursuant to § 286.”

The Legislative Director of the Rainy Day Patriots, Ann Eubanks, told ‘The Alabama Political Reporter,’ “The opinion of the AL Supreme Court Justices was absolutely correct when they opined that the Alabama Constitution Revision is unconstitutional. Del Marsh’s bill setting up a Revision Committee to change the AL Constitution instead of amending it, was inconsistent with the law.”

Eubanks continued, “The unelected members of this Committee do not have the right to do a wholesale “large-scale simultaneous revision,” according to the Justices. A Constitutional Convention is needed to amend 41% of the AL Constitution, not a Revision Committee.”

An angry Alabama State Senator Cam Ward (R) from Alabaster told the Committee, “I have a lot of respect for Judge Moore,” but the court is telling the state legislature how to act. Ward said, “We are totally against judicial activism,” until it is activism that Judge Moore does.

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Senator Ward was also angry with Alabama Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Bryan Taylor (R) from Prattville for not informing him before the meeting that he and Senator Dick Brewbaker (R) were both offering amendments to the bill that Ward was sponsoring, SB 258. Ward said that he found out about the amendments from some lobbyists in the hall. Ward said that as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that he does not handle other members’ legislation like that and that he expected the same courtesy from other Senators.

Chairman Bryan Taylor said there were also two other amendments to the bill that other Senators had brought to him before the Committee meeting, not on the agenda.

Senator Dick Brewbaker said, “I am perfectly content to vote no,” on the legislation.

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One issue that troubled some Senators was the abolishment of the BIR (Budget Isolation Resolution) which has to pass on a bill before a bill can be considered for final passage.

Senator Trip Pittman (R) said that he opposes abolishing the BIR. “I know of several instances where bills are stopped or stalled.” Pittman said that the BIR is a, “Healthy mechanism that has helped slow things down.”

Sen. Paul Bussman (R) from Cullman was concerned that the bill had no provision to prevent a lame duck legislature from having a special session to strip power from certain offices prior to the new legislature meeting. Bussman warned that the wording in the amendment could be a double edged sword.

Chairman Bryan Taylor said that the amendment that he was proposing to Senator Ward’s amendment would propose adding term limits for members of the legislature to this bill. Taylor said that that would require a separate vote on the floor of the House and the Senate.

Senator Trip Pittman said that he supported Taylor’s amendment, but “Questions have been raised about the reform commission.”

Chairman Taylor said that Ward’s amendment, ‘Takes care of some technical issues that have arisen over the years,” including the timing of taking office.

Sen. Brewbaker introduced a motion to carry over SB 258 until next week. The carry over motion passed by a vote of 3 to 2

As he was leaving Sen. Ward said, “We eat lunch together every day. Surely some of you could say something to me.”

The committee also carried over bills putting state school board members under the impeachment statute, rewriting the executive department article in the state constitution, and a bill weakening the homestead exemption.

The Alabama Association For Judeo-Christian Values will be holding a press conference on the Alabama Statehouse Steps on Thursday March 6, 2014 at 10:30 AM . The group is expected to make an announcement concerning the lawsuit Bell vs Strange appealed to The Alabama Supreme Court to stop the unconstitutional re-write of the Alabama Constitution through the Constitution Revision Committee (CRC).

They are arguing that the Alabama Constitution can only be rewritten through the convention method which is reserved to a convention of the people which may only be called by popular vote according to the Section 286 of the Alabama Constitution.

The lawsuit claims the Constitution Revision Committee is a committee comprised of legislators and special interest groups such as the ACCR and the Alabama Law institute and is acting as an in-house constitutional convention, therefore, circumventing the requirements of Section 286 of the Alabama Constitution which first submits the question: Convention or No Convention to the people of Alabama.

They argue that this action takes away the people’s source of power according to Article 1, Section 2 of the Alabama Constitution.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Economy

Alabama unemployment rate drops more than 2 points to 5.6 percent

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased to 5.6 percent in August, down from 7.9 percent in July, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. 

The figure represents 127,186 unemployed people, compared to 176,556 in July. It compares to an August 2019 rate of 2.8 percent, or 62,149 unemployed people.

“August showed a larger drop in the unemployment rate than we’ve seen for a few months,” said Alabama Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. “We are continuing to see our initial claims drop, staying under 10,000 for the past several weeks. We regained another 22,200 jobs this month but are still down more than 86,000 from this time last year.”

Washington said that the number of people who are working or actively looking for work is at its highest level ever, which he described as a sign that people are confident that there are jobs to be found. 

Gov. Kay Ivey said the numbers are good news for Alabama. 

“We have worked extremely hard to open Alabama’s businesses safely, and to put our hard-working families back to work,” Ivey said in a statement. “We know that challenges remain, and we will endeavor to meet them so that we can get back to our previous, pre-pandemic record-setting employment numbers.”

All the state’s counties and metro areas experienced a decrease in unemployment rates from July to August. The most gains were seen in the government sector, the professional and business services sector and the trade, transportation and utilities sector.

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Counties with the lowest unemployment rates were:

  • Clay County – 3.4 percent
  • Randolph, Franklin, Marshall, Cullman, Cleburne and Cherokee Counties – 3.6 percent
  • Blount County – 3.7 percent

Counties with the highest unemployment rates were:

  • Wilcox County – 14.8 percent
  • Lowndes County – 13.8 percent
  • Greene County – 10.9 percent

Major cities with the lowest unemployment rates are:

  • Vestavia Hills – 3 percent
  • Homewood  – 3.2 percent
  • Madison – 3.3 percent

Major cities with the highest unemployment rates are:

  • Prichard – 15.4 percent
  • Selma – 12.9 percent
  • Bessemer – 10.7 percent

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Corruption

Former State Sen. David Burkette pleads guilty, avoids jail

Josh Moon

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Former Alabama Sen. David Burkette

Former State Sen. David Burkette will avoid jail time and be sentenced to a 30-day suspended sentence as part of a plea deal reached on Monday. 

Burkette, who pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act, will also have to pay a $3,000 fine and serve 12 months of probation as part of the deal. He was sentenced in Montgomery Circuit Court on Monday after being charged two weeks ago with failing to deposit more than $3,600 in contributions into campaign accounts — a misdemeanor.

He also resigned his seat in the Alabama Senate as part of the plea deal. 

“I’m just happy to still be here,” Burkette told the court following his sentencing, according to multiple media reports. 

The former senator suffered a stroke in 2018 and has been confined to a wheelchair since. His current health status played a role in his sentence considerations. 

The charges against Burkette stem from a series of complaints filed against him with the Alabama Ethics Commission — all of them related to various issues during his time on the Montgomery City Council. The charge for which he pleaded guilty occurred in 2015.

The Ethics Commission referred numerous charges to the Alabama attorney general’s office, according to sources familiar with the investigation of Burkette, but the attorney general’s office elected to charge Burkette with only the misdemeanor as part of the deal that saw him resign. 

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“Candidates for public office at the state, county and municipal levels must comply with the State’s Fair Campaign Practices Act,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall. “Personally profiting from campaign funds erodes public confidence in the system and will not be tolerated.”

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National

Governor surveys damage from Hurricane Sally

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey held press conferences in Gulf Shores and Dauphin Island after touring the storm damaged Alabama Gulf Coast, which was battered by Hurricane Sally last week.

Three Alabama counties have been approved for individual and public assistance from FEMA. Baldwin, Mobile and Escambia counties were approved for both IA and PA.

“When I was on the coast Friday, it was clear that there has been significant damage, and people are in need of relief,” Ivey said in a statement. “My Office has been working on putting in the request for individual and public assistance to help bring the needed aid, and I appreciate FEMA for quickly delivering to the people of Alabama. Being approved for individual and public assistance is an important step in the recovery process. Coastal Alabama, we are with you the whole way!”

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)

FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne and Sen. Doug Jones also toured the damaged areas.

“I appreciate FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor for quickly getting down to Alabama to check out the damage from #Sally,” Byrne said. ”President Trump has already approved Alabama’s request for Public Assistance and Individual Assistance, so I encourage everyone to register for help from FEMA online at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling the registration phone number at 1-800-621-3362. Residents of Baldwin, Escambia, and Mobile counties are currently eligible.”

“President Trump and his team have been outstanding to work with in making sure Alabama gets the help we need and deserve,” Byrne continued.

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Ivey toured the area by helicopter to survey the damage.

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)

 

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“I’m sure it could be worse, but from what I’ve seen this morning in the flyover it is really, really bad,” Ivey said.

Over 200,000 people lost electric power due to Hurricane Sally. Alabama Power said Sunday that more than 99 percent of those people have had their power restored.

“Our electric companies are making progress every hour to restore power,” Byrne said. “A lot more work remains, but know that crews are working hard to get all the power back online. Hurricane Sally caused major damage to our electric infrastructure, and I appreciate all those working to get our lights turned back on.”


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)

Alabama Power said that it may take into early this week to restore power to some portions of downtown Mobile, Bayou La Batre and Dauphin Island.

“With the Major Disaster Declaration, individuals may apply for disaster aid from FEMA,” Byrne explained.

You can apply online at disasterassistance.gov or by calling the registration phone number at 1-800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585).

Even though electric power has been restored, many homes have been severely damaged. Some are a total loss. Most homeowners are still waiting on insurance adjusters to complete their work. There was a lot of roof damage, not just in Gulf Shores, Dauphin Island, Fort Morgan and Orange Beach, but also in Foley, Robertsdale, Loxley, Bayou La Batre, Bay Minette and beyond — both from the winds and from the trees that fell.

Some homes near the coast were impacted by the storm surge, but many more well into Baldwin County as well as in Pensacola, Florida, were impacted by flooding. Many people are still in need of supplies for the cleanup as well as daily essentials.

“There are a number of food, water and supply distribution sites across Baldwin County,” Byrne said. “According to Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency, these locations have MREs, tarps, bottled water, ice, and other supplies.”

  • Baldwin County Coliseum (Robertsdale)
    19477 Fairground Road Robertsdale, AL
  • Seminole Fire Department
    32268 Highway 90 Seminole, AL
  • Lillian Community Club
    34148 Widell Avenue; Lillian, AL
  • Lana Park (Fairhope)
    523 Volanta Avenue; Fairhope, AL
  • Foley Soccer Complex
    18507 US Highway 98; Foley, AL
  • Orange Beach Community Center
    27235 Canal Road; Orange Beach, AL
  • Gulf Shores SportsPlex
    19025 Oak Road W; Gulf Shores, AL

On Saturday, literally hundreds of cars lined up to pick up supplies from the Robertstale Church of God in Robertsdale.

Hurricane Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores before dawn on Wednesday as a category two storm. Forecasters on Saturday had expected the storm to impact Louisiana but the hurricane turned to the northeast and made landfall in Alabama instead, gaining strength before coming ashore.

“No one expected this storm to be that strong,” Ivey said.

Ivey said most of the piers have been destroyed. Alabama’s State Fishing Pier had just finished a $2.5 million renovation. Now a large portion of the pier is missing. Most of the Gulf State Park campground went underwater. A few campers actually weathered the hurricane in their campers.

Debris removal is ongoing.

The Mobile County Commission announced that it will manage Hurricane Sally debris removal from all areas of Mobile County, located outside the 10 municipalities, except for the Town of Dauphin Island. Dauphin Island will be the only municipality to receive hurricane debris removal managed by the county.

To ensure pick-up removal, residents are asked to adhere to the following guidelines: Only Hurricane Sally-related vegetative and construction and demolition (C&D) debris will be collected. That excludes removal of normal household trash, appliances, electronics and household hazardous waste. Debris must be placed curbside or in right-of-way areas that do not block roadways or storm drains. Do not place material in drainage ditches. Vegetative debris should be piled separately from C&D debris material. Vegetative debris includes tree branches, limbs and non-bagged leaves. C&D debris includes building materials, fencing and bagged materials.

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Corruption

Mike Hubbard’s attorney asks court to reconsider prison sentence

Eddie Burkhalter

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Mike Hubbard reported to the Lee County Jail on Sept. 11, 2020. (VIA LEE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE)

One week after he began serving his prison sentence, the attorney for former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard has asked the court to reconsider his four-year sentence.

Hubbard, 57, began serving his sentence on Sept. 11 after being free on an appeals bond for four years. He was ultimately convicted on six felony charges of using his office for personal gain.

“Mike Hubbard is not a danger to society, nor a threat to the public and a revised sentence will better serve the State’s interest in rehabilitation and the ends of justice,” Hubbard’s Birmingham attorney, David McKnight, wrote to the Lee County Circuit Court on Friday.

Hubbard had originally been convicted by a Lee County jury on 12 ethics violations, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld 11 of those convictions, but the Alabama Supreme Court later reversed five of those convictions and upheld six.

McKnight, in his motion to the court, argues that due process compels the court to reconsider Hubbard’s sentence, and that his removal from office, loss of the right to vote and “divestment of business interests” have already punished the former House speaker.

The state’s attorney general at the time of his conviction determined that Hubbard had bilked Alabama out of more than $2 million.

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