By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
For over three months, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) has been lobbying the State legislature to raise taxes on the people of Alabama.
On Tuesday, May 5, the House Republican Caucus voted in favor of a much more modest package of tax increases along with a Rep. Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) backed plan to give the Poarch Creek Band of Indians a gambling monopoly in the State of Alabama. The tax increase proposals were debated by supporters and opponents in a rare Tuesday public hearing in the House Finance and Taxation Committee chaired by Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark).
Mental health advocates spoke in favor of raising taxes. They said that 1 in 4 adult Alabamians suffer from some form of mental illness and the Department of mental health, “Can not have less money than we have now.”
State Representative John Knight (R-Montgomery) said that the State’s General Fund budget has a shortfall of $270 million to level fund State agencies at last year’s levels.
Roger Serveline with Enterprise Rental cars. He said that Enterprise employs 1100 Alabama residents: “We oppose the 33 percent tax increase.”
It is a myth that rental car customers are mostly rich travelers from out of state. 66 percent of rental car customers are Alabama residents. A 2010 study showed that 25 percent make less than $40,000. The rental tax also would apply to leasing vehicles. The share of new cars that are leased has doubled. Many businesses lease or rent vehicles particularly trucks as needed rather than have dollars tied up in the capital expense of owning. Serveline warned that raising the rental tax would have a negative ripple effect across the economy. Alabama already has much higher rental car taxes than neighboring states because unlike those states Alabama lets local governments apply their own taxes to leasing vehicles. This would bring the taxes to10 percent in some jurisdictions.
“Where is it going to stop?”
Mr. Sizemore spoke on behalf of the Alabama Trucking Association. Sizemore said that 20 percent of large truck purchases are lease agreements. This tax increase will have enormous gravitational pull to other states where leasing a new truck tractor will be much less.
Wanda Laird with the National alliance for mental illnesses said that not passing taxes and instead cutting the Department of Mental Health budget would have a devastating effect on the mentally ill.
Tom Holmes, who is the Chairman of Government Affairs Committee for ARK of Alabama said that they support any legislation that brings revenue to the General fund. We serve 6000 individuals each day and would lose some of those people with budget cuts.
State Representative Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) spoke on behalf of her bill HB572 which raises the tax on cigarettes by 25 cents a pack, down from her previous bill which raised 42 cents a pack and the Governor’s proposal which would have raised the tax by an incredible 85 cents per pack.
Christy Cain, the Chair of Alabama Healthy Changes and Executive Director of Alabama Children First said that raising tobacco taxes would be a beneficial step for Alabama. The average Alabama does not recognize the dire straits that Alabama is in. She however was concerned that the tax increase was too small. Children First and Healthy Change are worried that this would only generate $55 million a year and a 25 cents is not a deterrent to encourage smokers to quit and teens not to start. If we could reduce the number of smokers it would make Alabama a better place to live.
Kimble Forester with Alabama Arise said that the group has changed our position. We were opposed to it because it is a regressive tax; but have changed our position because of the health benefits. While the tax will hit the poor the hardest they will benefit the most from the lowered mortality by not smoking. They do prefer a 55 cent tax increase because it would give adults another reason to quit and prevent teens from starting. The increase, “Needs to be big enough for sticker shock.”
Economist Patrick Fleenor said that he has done an enormous amount of research on cigarette taxes. Recent state cigarette tax increase didn’t get the revenue they expect. New Jersey and Hawaii have both lost revenue from cigarette tax increases. This is due to an increase in ross border shopping and smuggling. Consumers move their shopping habits across the border to the state with the lowest taxes.
Ricky Jones a wholesale distributor from Andalusia representing the Wholesale Distributors Association said that Alabama is the only state in the region to allow local taxes to be levied on top of the state tax. There are 399 tax jurisdictions on cigarettes in Alabama. That is not like any other state. Ozark adds 20 cents to every pack. If you add another 25 cents consumers will drive to Georgia and Mississippi. Florida has higher cigarette taxes now and tons of people come into Alabama from Florida because it is $10 a carton less here. We will lose that if we raise the taxes. “86 percent of the people who smoke in Alabama make less than $15,000 a year.” There might be a health benefit from raising taxes but a penny tax on Coca Cola and Frito Lay would do more good by decreasing diabetes. It is foolish to rely on taxes from a source that will go down in revenue every year from now on as fewer people smoke.
A representative of the Petroleum and Convenience stores Association said the 250 different companies we represent run 4000 stores in Alabama and cigarettes are the largest product we sell. Cigarettes were 36.4 percent of sales in 2010 that has dropped to 32.5 percent of sales in 2014. That business is very price competitive. They will drive across town to save money. Many stores will not be able to survive if this passes.
New unemployment claims continued dropping last week
There were 8,679 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, slightly fewer than the 8,848 filed the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.
Of the claims filed between Sept. 13 and Sept. 19, 4,465, or 51 percent, were related to COVID-19. That’s the same percentage as the previous week.
Unemployment benefits could change for some Alabamians
ADOL will begin the review when the current quarter ends on Oct. 3.
Some Alabamians receiving unemployment benefits could see changes in those benefits after the Alabama Department of Labor conducts a required quarterly review and redetermines eligibility, the department said Friday.
The Alabama Department of Labor said in a press release Friday that no action is required by those receiving regular unemployment, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.
ADOL will begin the review when the current quarter ends on Oct. 3.
“Some may remain eligible for PUA or PEUC, OR they may be required to change to regular unemployment compensation. Weekly benefit amounts may also change. This depends on eligibility requirements,” ADOL said in the release. “Those claimants whose benefit year ends prior to October 3, 2020, will have their claims reevaluated.”
After the review, if the claimant is determined not to be eligible for regular unemployment compensation, those who qualify may still be able to be paid under PUA or PEUC, and that determination will be made automatically and payment will be issued, the department said in the release.
Claimants must also continue to certify their weeks.
Many claimants are not receiving benefits because they fail to file their weekly certifications, i.e. requests for payment. ADOL cannot pay benefits for weeks that have not been properly certified. Certifications can be done online at labor.alabama.gov or by calling the appropriate number:
- Montgomery – (334) 954-4094
- Birmingham – (205) 458-2282
- Not in Local Area – (800) 752-7389
PUA recipients must file their weekly certifications either by telephone or on the PUA app, at pua.labor.alabama.gov.
Alabama Republicans praise President Trump’s SCOTUS nomination
“The confirmation process is already proving to be another brutal fight, but I am certain that this is the job for a strong, conservative woman,” Ivey said.
President Donald Trump on Saturday nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court, and, if confirmed, Barrett would fill the vacancy created by the death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Trump’s nomination of Barrett was met with near universal praise among Alabama Republicans including Gov. Kay Ivey and a number of other elected officials.
“I commend President Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Judge Barrett will be focused on interpreting the law, being an arbiter and not a lawmaker, as the Supreme Court demands of its justices,” Ivey said. “Based on her proven career and background, I am confident that Judge Barrett will be articulate and a fair supporter of issues important to Alabamians such as protecting the unborn and our Second Amendment rights, while applying the law impartially.”
Barrett has served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit since 2017. Before becoming a judge, she was a law professor at Notre Dame Law School and previously clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Ivey said Barrett will embody the precedent established by Ginsburg and further prove that a woman can be a wife, a mother, a person of faith and hold strong personal convictions while still effectively performing the duties required of a justice.
“The confirmation process is already proving to be another brutal fight, but I am certain that this is the job for a strong, conservative woman,” Ivey said. “The people of Alabama overwhelmingly supported President Trump in 2016, and I commend him for performing his constitutional duty of nominating to the Supreme Court and getting the job done that we elected him to do. The late Justice Ginsburg herself noted that even in an election year, ‘a president doesn’t stop being president.’”
Before her death, Ginsburg reportedly made a request that her replacement not be nominated or confirmed until a “new president is installed.” Last week, Ginsburg became the first woman and the first Jewish person to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.
“I eagerly anticipate Judge Barrett’s confirmation, and I look forward to continuing to forge a strong relationship between President Trump and the state of Alabama during his next term,” said Ivey.
Democratic Senators, though they do not appear to have the votes to stop Barrett’s nomination, are vociferously opposed to confirming a new justice before the Nov. 3 election determines whether Trump will serve as second term.
Democrats point to what they say is the hypocritical position of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who refused to hold hearings or a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, in 2016.
All but two Republican senators appear prepared to vote for Barrett’s confirmation, all but assuring her a seat on the court and solidifying a 6-3 conservative majority.
“I am extremely pleased with President Trump’s selection in nominating Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama. “From her clerkship for the late Justice Scalia to her tenure on the 7th Circuit, Judge Barrett has had a distinguished career and has proven her commitment to the rule of law. Our next Supreme Court Justice must be a steadfast supporter of upholding our nation’s Constitution. I have no doubt in Judge Barrett’s qualifications, and I look forward to supporting her nomination.”
Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat, has said he will not vote for any nominee until the results of the Nov. 3 election are decided.
Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan:
“President Trump has nominated a superior candidate for our nation’s highest court. Judge Amy Coney Barrett is a solid constitutional jurist who has distinguished herself both on the bench during her time on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, in academia as a law professor at the University Notre Dame and as a clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia,” Lathan said. “Judge Barrett’s focus on following the Constitution is apparent in her opinions, in cases ranging from the 2nd Amendment to immigration. Even three Democrat Senators – Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Joe Donnelly crossed party lines in 2017 to support her first nomination to the bench.”
“A mother of seven, including two adopted children from Haiti, Supreme Court nominee Barrett has been called a ‘powerhouse’ constitutionalist,” Lathan continued. “Her consistent rulings on applying laws to the words of our U.S. Constitution is the exact example of what the justices are tasked with in implementing their rulings. Based on qualifications and experience alone, Judge Barrett’s nomination merits a vote by the full United States Senate.”
Congressman Gary Palmer:
“President Trump has made an excellent choice in nominating Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court, and I extend my heartfelt congratulations to her and her family,” Congressman Gary Palmer, R-Alabama, said. “Judge Barrett has a stellar record of faithfully interpreting the law, training young lawyers, producing brilliant scholarship, and upholding the Constitution. Her devotion to her family, and her dedication to her students during her years as a law professor, are also commendable. There is no question that she is highly qualified and will make a fantastic Justice. I urge the Senate to confirm her quickly.”
Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville:
“I am so excited about President Trump’s nomination today of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville. “She understands that’s it’s her job to interpret the Constitution as it’s written and not to manufacture new law from the bench. Her nomination opens the door to protecting unborn life, preserving our Second Amendment gun rights, and securing the religious freedoms guaranteed to us by the Constitution.”
“My opponent, Democrat Doug Jones has a very different opinion,” Tuberville continued. “He’s already announced his opposition to any candidate offered by President Donald J. Trump, and he said even meeting and listening to Judge Barrett would be useless. When it comes to giving fair consideration to President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Doug Jones is a lost ball in high cotton. But that comes as no surprise. He voted against Brett Kavanaugh and said he would have opposed Neil Gorsuch if he’d been in the Senate at the time. Democrat Doug even voted twice to remove Donald J. Trump from office. Since becoming our placeholder senator, Doug Jones has opposed everything most Alabamians support and supported everything most Alabamians oppose. Instead of representing our conservative Alabama values, he’s represented the Hollywood and New York values of his high-dollar, out-of-state campaign donors.”
“There’s no telling what kind of dishonest tactics Doug Jones, Chuck Schumer, Kamala Harris and the other Senate liberals will use against a woman who is imminently qualified to sit on our nation’s highest court,” Tuberville warned. “So I’ll close by asking you to join me in praying for Judge Barrett and her family as she faces what promises to be a tough and partisan confirmation hearing. With your prayers and support, America will soon have a strongly conservative Supreme Court, and Alabama will have a new senator who actually represents the citizens of this great state. May God bless Judge Barrett. May God bless President Donald Trump. And may God continue to bless the greatest nation mankind has ever known.”
Congressional candidate Barry Moore:
“I applaud the President for making this nomination now, as the Constitution mandates,” said Congressional candidate Barry Moore. “I’m confident that the Senate will also take up Judge Barrett’s nomination in a timely fashion and not delay the process until after the election. The Constitution doesn’t state anything about waiting until after an election to fill Supreme Court vacancies, despite what the Democrats want us to think.”
“I’m pleased that President Trump has chosen a strong pro-life woman for the Supreme Court,” Moore continued. “I’m also impressed by Judge Barrett’s credentials and experience. I am certain she’ll make an exceptional addition to the Supreme Court, and will serve us well for many years to come.”
“We, as a nation, must act now by praying for President Trump, Judge Barrett and their families,” Moore concluded. “They need to have a shield of favor and protection prayed over them. I truly believe we are in a spiritual battle for our nation and the Democrats will stop at nothing to destroy the character of Judge Barrett, as they’ve done for the last 4 years with President Trump.”
Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter
“I join the members of the Alabama House Republican Caucus in praising President Trump’s decision to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville.
“Judge Barrett clerked for one of the court’s greatest conservative jurists, Judge Antonin Scalia, and she understands that her job is to interpret the Constitution as the founding fathers wrote it, not to invent new law out of thin air,” Ledbetter said. “The suit against Alabama’s strongest-in-the-nation pro-life law is currently working its way through the federal courts, and it could be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in the near future. Having a conservative majority on the nation’s highest court will be essential to the Alabama Legislature’s efforts to protect unborn life from harm. We encourage the Senate to hold confirmation hearings as soon as possible and to hold an up-or-down vote on Judge Barrett’s nomination immediately after they conclude.”
23rd Alabama inmate dies with COVID-19
There have been 409 total positive COVID-19 cases among inmates and 392 total among employees as of Sept. 26.
The Alabama Department of Corrections on Friday reported the 23rd COVID-19 death among inmates in the state’s prisons.
Christopher Nalls, a 59-year-old inmate serving a 15-year sentence, died Sept. 10 at a local hospital in Hamilton, Alabama.
Nalls was moved to the local hospital on Aug. 31 to receive treatment for pre-existing health conditions unrelated to COVID-19.
His admission test upon entering the hospital was negative, and after treatment, Nalls was discharged Sept. 4.
Upon return, Nalls’s condition worsened, and he was readmitted Sept. 10. He died later that same day. A postmortem COVID-19 test showed Nalls died with COVID-19.
ADOC did not report any other positive COVID-19 cases among inmates in correctional facilities. But in the same report Friday, ADOC reported six new positive cases among staff, bringing the staff total to 28 active cases.
ADOC’s Office of Health Services initiated investigations into possible prolonged exposures between positive staff members and inmates or employees.
There have been 409 total positive COVID-19 cases among inmates and 392 total among employees as of Sept. 26.