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Controversial Constitutional Rewrite Bills Carried Over Another Week in Committee

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Lost in the vigorous debates about Medicaid expansion, teacher pay raises, guns in motor vehicles, and the questionable merits of the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards, a committee working in relative obscurity was preparing massive alterations to how the state of Alabama’s government functioned.

The Constitution Revision Committee has been working quietly away from the prying eyes of the media and the citizens of the State of Alabama.  In 2012, Alabama voters went to the polls and ratified their first rewrites of several parts of Alabama’s 1901 Constitution.  In 2014 the Committee returned with even more rewrites.  This time the Committee rewrote entire sections of the Alabama code including the sections on the Executive and Legislative Departments of Alabama government.

Some legislators told the Alabama Political Reporter that they were unhappy with both the process and the finished product that the lawyers at the CRC were dumping on the legislature, then the legislature asked the court for its legal opinion.

Alabama Chief Justice Moore wrote that the process used to change Alabama’s Constitution is illegal, unconstitutional and a “usurpation” of the people’s rights.  This opinion validated all the criticisms that have been leveled at the controversial Constitution Revision Committee and put into question all of their work.  A conservative group announced plans to sue the state over the constitutionality of the rewrite.

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

On Wednesday, March 12, the bills returned to the Alabama Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee, but so did the controversy.

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Only Senators: Paul Bussman (R) from Cullman, Dick Brewbaker (R) from Montgomery, Billy Beasely (D) from Clayton, and Shadrack McGill (R) from Woodville were present at the start of the Committee meeting.  The four agreed that they could not carry over all the bills without a quorum present.  After 20 minutes, Chairman Bryan Taylor arrived from a tense Senate Judiciary Committee meeting so a quorum was achieved and the meeting could begin.

The first bill on the calendar was a constitutional review article SB 253, sponsored by Sen. President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R) from Anniston.  Sen. Brewbaker introduced a motion that the bill be carried over. Senator McGill seconded that.  The motion to carry over passed.

Chairman Taylor said that all of President Marsh’s remaining bills would be carried over to the end of the meeting, in hopes that he could be there.

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The next bill that the committee addressed was House Bill 500, sponsored by Representative John Merrill (R) from Tuscaloosa.  Rep. Merrill said that his bill came out of the Fair Campaign Practices Study Commission and deals with outdated language in Alabama’s election laws, Merrill said, “It is a nonpartisan bill,” that passed unanimously in the House.

Sen. Bussman said, “We have heard a lot about whether the changes to the Constitution are constitutional or not.”  Is this bill affected by this?

Rep. Merrill said, “No this bill should not be affected.”

Chairman Taylor said that this was a different commission than the constitutional commission.

Senator Brewbaker made the motion that HB 500 be passed out of committee with a favorable report.  The Committee agreed unanimously.

Next another of the controversial Constitution rewrite bills, SB 259, appeared on the agenda.  Sen. Brewbaker made a motion that it be carried over.  Sen. McGill seconded the motion.  Bussman voted with McGill and Brewbaker and the motion to carry over the bill another week in committee passed.

Next was SB 276.

Chairman Taylor said that SB 276 was also a recommendation by the Constitutional Commission. He is the sponsor of the legislation.

Chairman Taylor said that this, “Deals with a very small part of the constitution.” Certain exemptions in the tax code are carved into stone by the constitution.  The Commission recommended doing away with the exemptions.  Senator ward has a bill that would raise the statutory homestead exemption to $30,000.  I have an amendment that would raise that to $12,500.

Chairman Taylor said that some people want a larger homestead exemption but he is trying to do a base level guarantee.  “Would prevent a future legislature from trying to completely do away with the homestead exemption.”

Sen. McGill asked, “Is SB 276 constitutional?”

Chairman Taylor said that this article is only a couple of sections long and is not like the other amendments which rewrite the executive and legislative departments.  “I think it is a different category.”

Chairman Taylor made a motion that the bill receive a favorable report.  The motion failed because none of the other senators would second the motion so SB 276 is carried over to next week’s committee meeting.

Senator Beasely then left the committee meeting to go to a meeting of the Senate Agriculture, Forestry, and Conservation Committee.  The nine member committee then had just four senators present.

Chairman Taylor announced that they have lost a quorum.  All the remaining bills including the controversial rewrites of the sections of the Alabama Constitution dealing with the executive and legislative departments (we think of there being three branches of government, but the 1901 Constitution uses the term “departments” instead) are automatically carried over.

Senator Brewbaker told gathered journalists that he did not believe that the constitutional rewrite amendments could be passed because of the problems that would be caused later if they were ratified by the people of Alabama and then the process was ruled to be unconstitutional.  Brewbaker felt that Wednesday’s decision to carry over the controversial legislation effectively ended the prospect of any constitutional rewrites passing in this legislative session.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) stated: “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.”

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Aerospace and Defense

Jones criticized for voting to limit Trump’s war powers authority

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) voted in favor of S.J.Res.68, a resolution which directs the removal of United States military from hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran that have not been authorized by Congress. Jones has been criticized by Republicans for voting to limit President Donald J. Trump’s war powers on Iran.

“Before a President can lead us into war, he or she must first earn the support of the American people and also fulfill their solemn constitutional obligation to seek approval from Congress,” Sen. Jones said in a statement. “While the President has the power to protect Americans in the case of an imminent attack, that authority does not extend to committing our service members to long-term hostilities unilaterally. This resolution sends a strong message that we will follow the Constitution and we will not send our troops into harm’s way without the serious consideration and consent of the Congress.”

Trump Victory National Finance Committee member Perry O. Hooper Jr. released a statement in response.

“Senator Jones once again turned his back on Alabama and voted as the leftwing Democrats commanded. He has no regard for the values, opinions or views of Alabamians,” Hooper said. “He sees us as deplorables just like the elites of the Democratic party who have funded 80 percent of his doomed campaign for re-election.:

Hooper stated, “I whole heartily support the President who stated ‘We are doing very well with Iran and this is not the time to show weakness… If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day. Sends a very bad signal. The Democrats are only doing this as an attempt to embarrass the Republican Party.’”

“The Commander-in-chief must be free to work with his staff and his military leaders to conduct covert operations like the one that eliminated Iran’s terrorist-in-chief General Soleimani,” Hooper added. “You can’t micromanage the war on terrorism. The Democrats in Congress are so filled with Trump Derangement Syndrome that no matter how much it would benefit our country and the world; they would never give Trump a “victory”. If it came down to it, they would leak everything to the media no matter what the consequences.”

Senator Jones is a cosponsor of the legislation and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Eight moderate Republicans voted with the Democrats on the resolution.

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Senator Jones has also been criticized by Republicans for his comments that he was “appalled” by Pres. Trump’s actions following his acquittal on both Articles of Impeachment.

“Newsflash for Senator Doug Jones: Most Alabamians have been appalled by his actions his entire time in office,” former Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “It’s about time we send Doug home, and replace him with someone who understands our values. Alabamians deserve a Senator they can be proud of again.”

Sessions is a candidate for the Republican nomination for Jones’ Senate seat.

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The Republican primary will be on March 3.

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News

Moore says the Constitution is under God’s laws

Brandon Moseley

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Saturday, Senate candidate former Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) presented his views on the Constitution and the sovereignty of God to attendees of the Conservative Leadership Conference in Florence.

“The form of government is both the Declaration and the Constitution,” Judge Moore said.

Moore argued that the rights granted to the citizens in the Bill of Rights do not come from the Constitution itself; but rather from God and the Constitution is there to protect those rights that God has ordained.

“The Constitution is the supreme law of the land; but the Constitution is under the rule of God,” Moore stated. “We as Americans, as Republicans as Democrats should go back to the Constitution.”

“Democrats are trying to move us toward a socialist government,” Moore warned. “The same people who want to take our guns away want to take prayer out of schools.”

“Most Christians do not understand the Ten Commandments,” Moore said. The first four are the duties that we owe to God and the last six are the duties that we owe to each other.

Moore quoted from Washington, Blackstone, and the 1954 legislation that inserted “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance.

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Moore said that Project Birmingham used Russian style tactics to undermine the support for Roy Moore and build up support for Doug Jones. Moore also blamed Richard Shelby for his defeat.

Moore said that Democrats have used similar smears liked the ones used against him in 2017 against Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas.

“When you vote is stolen from you by tactics that is wrong,” Moore said/

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Moore warned that the greatest threat to this nation is the decline in morality. “We are at a critical point in our history.”

Moore warned that no nation could take us down from without; but that we could fall from within and warned of the growing agenda of the LGBTQ community.

“We are starting to recognize transgender rights above the right of your rights,” Moore warned.

“We are five votes (in the Senate) away from overturning everything our country is founded upon,” Moore warned if the Equality Act is passed. The Equality Act, “Which sounds good is about to take away the most precious thing our country is founded upon: our freedom of conscious.”

Moore warned that the legislation would lead to men in girls’ bathrooms and in girls’ sports.

Moore said that when man invents rights that are not from God it leads to problems. The right to privacy was invented and from that came the right to abortion, which has resulted in the deaths of millions, the right to sodomy, and the right to gay marriage. Now we are about to create a right of transgenderism.

Moore said that marriage was ordained by God as between one man and one woman. “If you can make it between two men you could make it between five men and between a man and a horse.”

“How do you correct it?” Moore asked rhetorically. “You recognize the sovereignty of God.”

“I have been mocked and removed from office twice,” Moore said.

“I am sick of seeing politicians carrying Bibles and doing nothing,” Moore said. The national debt was $5 trillion in 2005 now it is $23 trillion. They say they are Pro-Life and yet Planned Parenthood continues to get taxpayer dollars.

“We keep quiet because we are afraid it is going to offend anybody,” Moore said. “I couldn’t keep quiet about Obergefell. I wrote an opinion in API.”

Moore is a candidate for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in the Republican primary on March 3.

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House

McCutcheon is in “wait and see mode” on medical marijuana bill

Brandon Moseley

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Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) last Thursday was asked by reporters where he stood on pending medical marijuana legislation.

“I am in a wait and see mode,” McCutcheon told reporters. “The sponsor of the bill has done a lot of work.”

On Tuesday, State Senator Tim Melson (R-Florence) introduced a bill to legalize tightly controlled medical cannabis. The Medical cannabis bill introduced on Tuesday is Senate Bill 165.

“We have a letter from the Attorney General,” recommending that the legislature reject the bill.

Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) is arguing that while marijuana remains a federally controlled substance the legislature should not pass a state law that would be noncompliant with federal law. Marshall believes that if medical marijuana has any medical benefit then the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be the appropriate authority to approve such legislation and the state should wait for FDA to act.

33 states already have legalized medical marijuana.

“It brings up a legal question when you get a legal opinion from the attorney general office,” McCutcheon explained. “It answers some of my questions and also on the pro and the con there were some questions raised in the legal community.”

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McCutcheon said, “That is why we are in the mode that we are in.”

Melson introduced a medical marijuana bill last year during the 2019 regular session. That bill passed the Senate; but had difficulty getting out of committee in the Alabama House of Representatives. Instead of passing medical marijuana legislation the legislature passed a bill extending Leni’s Law and Carly’s law and establishing the Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission tasked with making a recommendation to the legislature.

The Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission was chaired by Sen. Melson and met monthly from August to November. In December, the commission voted in favor of a draft proposal recommending that the state allow licensed medical providers to prescribe marijuana based medications to patients with a demonstrated need. The state would create the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to regulate medical cannabis in the state. Farmers, processors, transporters, and dispensaries would have to get a license from the Commission and product would be strictly regulated.

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Despite the Commission’s recommendation, SB165 remains highly controversial in the legislature and there is expected to be considerable opposition to the bill. SB165 is 82 pages long.

SB165 has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Judiciary Committee Chairman Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) told the Alabama Political Reporter that there will be a public hearing on SB165 on Wednesday, at 8:30 a.m. in the Alabama Statehouse room 825. Opponents and proponents will both be given the opportunity to voice their opinions.

Thursday was the fourth day of the 2020 legislative session.

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Elections

Congressional candidates call on Sessions, Byrne to stand up for South Alabama

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At a rare joint press conference, the Democratic Candidates for the First Congressional District called on Rep. Bradley Byrne and former Sen. Jeff Sessions to stand up for South Alabama following the Trump Administration’s proposal to cut nearly $300 million slated for projects awarded to Austal.

“The current administration’s decision to divert that funding from Austal to build the border wall is harmful to our community and will potentially put good jobs at risk,” said Dr. James Averhart, CW05, USMC retired. “This is nothing more than a political stunt on the backs of the hard-working men and women of South Alabama.”

Over the years, South Alabama has become a hub for shipbuilding and defense projects developing ships and planes for the United States military.

“While the President may be comfortable playing political games with our communities, our representatives must stand strong against this disastrous decision,” said Dr. Kiani Gardner, a scientist and professor. “We are grateful Senator Jones is speaking out against it and the devastating impacts it could have on our communities.”

This matter transcends partisan politics, our Republican representatives must stand with Senator Jones and tell President Trump to find a better way to protect our Southern border,” said Rick Collins, a longtime Mobile businessman.

This is only the latest Trump Administration proposals that could have devastating impacts for the local economy. Recently, the administration proposed new tariffs that would have a significant impact on Airbus’ local operation.

 

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