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Constitutionality of Alabama Accountability Act Upheld by Alabama Supreme Court

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Monday, March 2, the Alabama Republican Party announced in a statement that the Alabama Supreme Court has announced its decision to uphold the constitutionality of the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA).

Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R from Auburn) said on Facebook, “Great news from the Alabama Supreme Court tonight. I issued the following statement upon learning the Alabama Accountability Act was upheld: The Supreme Court Ruling on the Alabama Accountability Act is a win for parents, a win for students, and a win for school choice in the state of Alabama. I look forward to hearing even more success stories as this law continues to work in our state. We are committed to expanding school choice in Alabama until every child has the chance at a quality education regardless of their income or zip code.”

The all Republican Alabama Supreme Court overturned a ruling by Montgomery County Circuit Judge Gene Reese. Reese ruled in May, 2014 that the AAA violated the Alabama constitutional due to improper legislative procedures.

Alabama Republican Party Chairwoman Terry Lathan issued a written statement following the court’s decision. Chairwoman Lathan said, “The Alabama Republican Party has been supportive of school choice for families and is pleased to see the Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that the Alabama Accountability Act did not violate our state constitution or any of our state laws. Giving parents the choice to choose a good school for their children that are zoned in failing school districts was a historic and monumental move in the right direction for education in Alabama.”

Lathan continued, “As a former public elementary school teacher, I strongly support the classroom teachers and can identify with the daily challenges they face. As a parent, I also know that education decisions should start in the home with a student’s family. The partnership between the two can have wonderful outcomes, but in the end, a parent’s decision should go to the head of the class. I applaud the decision by the Alabama Supreme Court and we look forward to more innovative ideas from the Republican legislature and Governor Bentley on the topic of education.”

In February 2013 legislative sessions both Houses of the Alabama Legislature passed the Alabama School Flexibility Act (H.B. 84) with bipartisan support to give school systems the ability to ask the state for some flexibility in following state rules. The bill was amended slightly in the Senate. The House non-concurred so a conference committee was called to resolve the difference. After a recess, the Republican majority on the committee returned with a bill that was 21 pages longer than the bill they went to recess with. They passed what was now the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) which allowed taxpayers to divert their income tax dollars from the Education Trust Fund (ETF) to private Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs). Students who are zoned to Alabama’s worst performing schools are allowed to transfer to another public or a private school and the SGO awards them a scholarship to pay for that opportunity. The AAA was wildly unpopular with Democrats and the Alabama Education Association (AEA).

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AEA President Anita Gibson, State Senator Quinton Ross (D), and Daniel Boyd challenging the AAA and the validity of its passage. Judge Reese agreed and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs striking down the AAA. Monday’s Alabama Supreme Court decision struck down the lower court ruling and upheld the validity and constitutionality of the Accountability Act.

During the 2014 elections, GOP incumbents were challenged both in Republican Primaries and in the General Election by opponents claiming that the Accountability Act hurt public schools. A lot of money was spent on political ads but the issue never gained traction with voters who returned the GOP to power with even bigger super-majorities in both Houses of the Alabama Legislature.

Monday’s ruling clears the path for the Alabama GOP to pass even more school choice legislation in this session.

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Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has already introduced a charter school bill. Senator Marsh said in a recent statement, “We are learning how other states operate charter schools and we have taken the high points from those states in terms of accountability, transparency and performance. Because we are so late to the game, we can ensure Alabama’s charter schools are the best in the nation.”

A public hearing will be held in the Senate on The School Choice and Student Opportunity Act will be held on Wednesday, March 4.

Alabama Republican Party Chairwoman Terry Lathan recently was elected last month to succeed popular ALGOP Chairman Bill Armistead who elected not to pursue a third term as Chairman.

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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Elections

Breaking down the six amendments on Alabama’s November ballot

What do the six proposed amendments on Alabama’s November ballot do? We answer your questions here.

Eddie Burkhalter

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The Alabama Constitution is believed to be the longest in the world. (STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama voters in the Nov. 3 election will have to decide on whether to add six constitutional amendments to what is already believed to be the longest constitution in the world. 

If approved, three of the amendments won’t actually make substantive changes to state law, however.

To be added to the constitution, the amendments must receive support from a majority of voters.

Amendment 1

Amendment 1 — sponsored by State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston — would “grant the right to vote to ‘only’ those U.S. citizens who meet the requirements.” 

If approved, the change in the state’s constitution would be to replace wording that the constitution grants the right to vote for “every” U.S. citizen who meets the requirements, to it grants the right to vote for “only” those U.S. citizens who meet the requirements. 

The amendment makes no changes to state voting requirements, and it’s already a federal requirement to be a U.S. citizen to vote. Marsh told WBRC that the amendment “sends a message to Washington.” Opponents to Amendment 1 say it could make it easier for the GOP-controlled Legislature to restrict voting rights.

Amendment 2

Amendment 2 processes numerous changes to the state’s judicial system, including a change that would allow Alabama Supreme Court, rather than the Chief Justice, to appoint the Administrative Director of Courts. 

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The amendment would also increase the Judicial Inquiry Commission from nine members to 11 and would  allow Governor, rather than the Lieutenant Governor, to appoint a member of the Court of the Judiciary. 

If approved, it would also prevent automatic disqualification from holding public offices for a judge solely because a complaint was filed with the Judiciary Inquiry Commission. Additionally, it would provide that a judge can be removed from office only by the Court of the Judiciary.

Amendment 3

Amendment 3 would extend the time appointed district and circuit court judges serve. State law now mandates appointed judges serve one year, or until the end of the term of the judge whom they were appointed to replace, whichever is longer.  

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The amendment would allow the appointed judge to serve two years before running to keep their judgeship in an election. 

Amendment 4

Amendment 4 would allow “a rearranged version of the state constitution” to be drafted to “remove racist language,” “remove language that is repeated or no longer applies,”  “combine language related to economic development”  and “combine language that relates to the same county.”

 The rearranged version of the state constitution would have to be drafted by the state Legislature in 2022, according to the amendment, and the new draft wouldn’t become law until approved by a majority of voters.

Amendments 5 and 6

Amendments 5 and 6 relate to Franklin and Lauderdale counties only, and if approved, would add to the state constitution that “a person is not liable for using deadly physical force in self-defense or in the defense of another person on the premises of a church under certain conditions” in both of those counties. 

Alabama already has a “stand your ground” that applies to the use of deadly force in churches, however. 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall in a Jan. 2 statement, following the West Freeway Church of Christ shooting in White Settlement, Texas, wrote that Alabama law “does not impose a duty to retreat from an attacker in any place in which one is lawfully present.”

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Gov. Kay Ivey didn’t cave

Ivey stood her ground on Wednesday, refusing to cave to those who want to end the mask order.

Bill Britt

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Gov. Kay Ivey held a Coronavirus update Press Conference Wednesday September 30, 2020 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Gov. Kay Ivey extended the statewide mandatory mask ordinance on Wednesday despite pressure from her party’s right-wing. Nationally and here in Alabama, many Republicans have complained that any restrictions on their behavior during the COVID-19 outbreak is a violation of their individual liberty.

Ivey stood her ground on Wednesday, refusing to cave to those who want to end the mask order. For most of the COVID-19 pandemic here in the state, Ivey has followed health experts’ advice rather than politicos. Standing up to the Republican Party’s right-wing is not an easy task even in the best of times, but these days, with the party more radicalized than ever, Ivey is taking a huge political risk.

But like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, she hasn’t bowed, she hasn’t bent, and she hasn’t burned.

These are divisive times when even the best of people seem to be at war over the nation’s direction.

“Give me liberty or give me death” may have been a great rallying cry in 1776; it’s less persuasive as a public health policy.

Lately, some Alabama conservatives sound more like the John Birch Society members than the Republican Party of just a few years ago.

“In the name of fighting the coronavirus, more and more state governors are ruling by decree, curtailing freedoms and ordering residents to stay at home,” says the Birch website.

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The Republican Party in the 1960s deemed Birchers dangerous and severed ties with the group. But like 60s racism, Red-baiting and a fear that socialist are lurking behind every corner, all that’s old is new again.

Not surprisingly, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is one of the leading voices in the fight to discredit the Ivey administration’s COVID orders.

Senate President Pro Tem Republican Del Marsh is part of the anti-masker movement and has suggested he’d like to see more people become infected to build the state’s overall immunity to the virus.

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Marsh is certainly not alone; there is a motivated mop of miscreants who sees any restriction as an affront to them doing anything they please. Perhaps they can refuse to wear a seatbelt or maybe light up a cigar the next time they are dinning at the county club and show some real radical resistance.

The truth is many of those who condemn masks as an intrusion on personal freedom would happily compel their fellow citizens to pray at school and stand for the national anthem. They are more than willing to regulate liberties when it contradicts their opinion of what is good and wholesome. But heaven forbid they wear a mask to protect others—that is one regulation too far.

Like a pubescent boy, they live in a fantasy world; without consequences.

Anti-maskers are given to a form of herd mentality, which is part of a broader movement to discredit science for political purposes.

Perhaps the most critical job of a governor or lawmaker is the heath and safety of the public.

Masks protect others more than the wearer, and where the “Golden rule” should apply, it is trampled on just like Jesus’ admonition to love our neighbors as ourselves.

But I suspect that many of those who continuously espouse conspiracies, apocalyptic nightmares, and end time prophecies actually don’t like themselves very much and therefore don’t really care about the shared responsibilities we have toward others.

Writing for Business Insider, George Pearkes explains the four different types of liberty, according to David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed to explain mandatory mask orders.

“Efforts to require masks are a straightforward expression of ordered liberty,” writes Pearkes. “The concept of ordered liberty argues that without structure and a set of rules which are enforced for the common good, society would devolve into chaos.” He further concludes that “Mask orders are quite literally saving society from itself, so that we can be more free than we would if COVID spread even further and faster.”

Ordered liberty can be seen at the heart of Ivey’s policies during the coronavirus plague.

But for anti-maskers, “Live Free or Die” means they are free to do what they want, even if it kills you.

Ivey is putting people ahead of politics. We should wish more would follow her example.

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Black Voters Matter isn’t giving up on Black voters in Alabama

“When you don’t vote, you give away your power,” said Arnee Odoms, Alabama state coordinator for Black Voters Matter.

John H. Glenn

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Black Voters Matter Fund isn’t giving up on Black voters having their say in the November election in Alabama. In fact, the group is working to ensure that Black voters can and do turn out to vote in greater numbers than ever before in the 2020 general election.

“When you don’t vote, you give away your power,” said Arnee Odoms, Alabama state coordinator for Black Voters Matter. “And your vote is a sense of agency. You’re giving someone agency over your everyday life.”

This month, the group launched radio advertisements and voter outreach caravans to engage Black voters and drive voter turnout. The ads will air across multiple states through Nov. 2, the group says, and will encourage Black voters to “reclaim your power, use your voice, and vote … because we matter.”

The outreach effort is taking place across a dozen states, including Alabama, and the group is leading a van caravan that will stop in Alabama and a number of other Southern states as part of the organization’s ”We Got The Power” campaign. It will come through several cities in the Black Belt, leading an in-person absentee voting parade to increase registration and voter turnout.

Half of voters already believe it will be difficult to vote in this year’s election, and voter I.D. laws, strategic closing of polling locations in predominantly Black communities, disenfranchisement of those with felony convictions among other voting restrictions in a post-Shelby Co. v. Holder election landscape add little confidence.

Alabama — described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a microcosm of the multi-pronged assault on the right to vote in this country” — was recently sued by civil liberties groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU over a “de facto ban” of curbside voting and photo ID and witness requirements for absentee ballots, requirements that disproportionately affect older voters, voters with disabilities and Black voters.

A federal judge on Wednesday ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit, ordering Alabama to make changes to its strict voter requirements ahead of the election because of COVID-19 concerns.

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One of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit is Black Voters Matter, a nonprofit created by two Alabama natives, political strategist Cliff Albright and community organizer LaTosha Brown. The fund’s most significant work deals directly with voter disfranchisement in predominately Black communities in Alabama’s Black Belt.

“Black Voters Matter was created to fund grassroots organizations, mostly Black, who would not normally receive funding to address issues of voting and other things in their own community,” Odoms said. “We do a lot of work around just organizing everyone and anything: COVID-19 responses, disaster relief in Mobile. It’s really a multi-faceted fund.”

Black Voters Matter operates in 10 states throughout the country, including Alabama and neighboring Georgia and Florida. Hundreds of thousands of grant dollars go to smaller local non-profits and grassroots organizations in Black communities in Alabama, primarily in the Black Belt, that lack the funding to continue their work.

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“They are not equipped with the resources to complete the strenuous process of a grant,” Odom said. “We try and make the process as simple as possible for them, so we can get the funds out to them, and they can do work in their community.”

A city that Black Voters Matter impacted during the last election cycle is Tuskegee, where Black Voters Matter has been present on the ground for two election cycles.

“[During] the last election cycle they were very helpful in terms of getting financial resources to us,“ said Norma Jackson, councilwoman-elect in Tuskegee’s 1st district and a spokeswoman for the fund. “So that we could put young people on the ground to do door-to-door canvassing and voter registration.”

Black Voters Matter continues to help turnout efforts in Tuskegee, providing funds that directly aid canvassing, phone banking and voter registration in the Black community even amid COVID-19.“ We realize it is COVID-19 season, [and we] can’t do things in the traditional way that we’ve done them, but they will be knocking on doors with their masks and gloves and finding out who needs to get registered,” Jackson said.

Jackson also pointed to the social media visibility of Black Voters Matter, which has helped connect younger voters in the community.

“The [Black Voters Matter] T-shirts and armbands — those kinds of visibility have been impactful especially with younger voters,” Jackson said. “Having the volunteers wear those shirts when they go out into the community to canvass has been helpful.”

Although much of its work revolves around funding organizations that mobilize voters, Black Voters Matter emphatically denies solely being an electoral organization.

“We are first and foremost a power building organization,” reads a statement from their website. “And while we firmly believe that voting and electoral organizing is one way to build power, it is by no means the only way.”

One of the multiple organizations that Black Voters Matter financially partners with is The Ordinary People Society, whose work ranges from incarcerated voter registration to operating a soup kitchen and halfway home in Dothan.

“In the South particularly, the funding apparatus is very difficult because a lot of philanthropists don’t like to fund the South,” said Rodreshia Russaw, executive director of The Ordinary People Society. “We have funding gaps —anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 that [we] need to mobilize the community.”

Black Voters Matter grants help TOPS employ poll watchers, afford gas and support for transportation to the polls. Along with being a first round winner of the $500,000 SPLC “Vote Your Voice” grant, Black Voters Matter works in conjunction with other partners like the ACLU to support election protection work across the state.

“Black Voters Matter has been effective in their role of building, elevating, and funding grassroots organizing initiatives to build power in the South, particularly in historically disenfranchised Black communities,” said JaTaune Bosby, executive director of the Alabama ACLU.

“It is their work that allows organizations like the ACLU to make strategic decisions on programmatic work to help advocate for better access for voters and build support for election protection across the state,” Bosby said.

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Elections

State is prepared for heavy increase in mail-in absentee ballots, Merrill says

The final tally of absentee ballots returned is expected to be between 150,000 and 175,000, Merrill said.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said the state is on track to far exceed its record for highest number of absentee ballots in an election, but he’s confident that his office is prepared for it.

“There’s no reason to be worried about it because, see, I don’t wait ‘til the last minute to make sure that we’re prepared,” Merrill said. 

As of Tuesday, there were 101,092 absentee ballots requested. Of those, 35,184 have been successfully returned. The final tally of absentee ballots returned is expected to be between 150,000 and 175,000, Merrill said.

The highest number on record was roughly 89,000 in the 2012 general election, when President Barack Obama was re-elected, but Republican nominee Mitt Romney won Alabama. The second-highest was about 88,000 in 2016, when President Donald Trump was elected, winning Alabama.

Additional election workers have been hired and more are available should they be needed, Merrill said. His office has provided extra ballot tabulators to ensure that the state’s 68 jurisdictions are able to do a full count on Election Day. Merrill said that all ballots in the state’s possession on Nov. 3 will be counted that day.

He didn’t say whether there are indications that slowdowns in the operations of the U.S. Postal Service might affect voters, but he encouraged anyone planning to vote absentee to request their ballot as soon as possible to avoid last-minute problems.

Voters who plan to cast absentee ballots or who have started that process can check the status of their ballot online

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“Through using our online portal, Alabama voters can check when their absentee ballot was sent out by the county, when their absentee ballot was returned to the county, and whether the ballot was accepted or rejected,” Merrill said.

He stressed that his office is the only authoritative source for accurate and current information about the election. His office has identified issues with mailers from both conservative and liberal groups that include information about voting by mail, Merrill said. In the case of one distributed by the national Democratic Party, he said his office reached out to the Alabama Democratic Party to address erroneous information it had on it.

All voters should be cautious about third-party information, he said, and carefully follow instructions issued by his office.

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For those voting absentee, it’s especially important that they check the boxes on both the ballot application and the ballot that indicates they are voting by mail because they are “ill or infirmed” and can’t make it to their polling place. That option is available to anyone who wants to vote absentee due to concerns about COVID-19.

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