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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.”

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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