By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, May 28, the Alabama House of Representatives passed SB71 which reforms the controversial Alabama Accountability Act of 2013. The bill was sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and was carried in the House by Representative Ken Johnson (R-Moulton).
The Alabama Accountability Act allows taxpayers to divert a portion of their income taxes from the Education Trust Fund (ETF) to privately managed non-profit Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs) so the SGOs can use that money to award scholarships to students trapped in Alabama’s poorest performing schools. The scholarships allow the student to attend either another public school or a private school that is taking AAA scholarship students.
Representative Johnson said that the bill drops the annual income to qualify down to 185 percent of the Federal poverty level…..the same as for reduced lunch.
Rep. Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) said, “I want to thank you for bringing more accountability to the Accountability act.”
Rep. Johnson added two amendments to the bill on the floor that were recommended by the House Ways & Means Education Committee. One excludes special education from being responsible for a school being on the failing to perform list. Johns said that it is not fair to hold them to the same standards. This wording was in an earlier version of the bill but got excluded. Johnson said this narrows it down to those schools that are truly underperforming.
The House rejected an amendment that will lower the scholarship amount by $1000 each to make the scholarships closer to the amount that the state spends on public school students. Families would have had to make up the difference.
Rep. Christopher John England (D-Tuscaloosa) opposed the measure on the grounds that the families could be responsible for up to $1000 per child per year. The people you were actually trying to help will be responsible for and many won’t be able to afford it. They will not be able to afford to take advantage of it anymore and undermines the purpose of it.
State Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) said, “I think this bill (SB71) makes it better. It closes up some loopholes.”
Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville) proposed an amendment to make sure that the State Department of Education keeps data from the schools so that they can know how the students leaving the underperforming schools perform academically in their new schools.
Rep. Merika Coleman-Evans (D-Fairfield) said, “When we pass these bills we want to make sure that there is a positive net impact. This is the responsible thing to do given the amount of money being poured into this program.”
Rep. Ken Johnson accepted the amendment.
Rep. Hall said the Department of education will maintain a database and will annually make reports to the education policy committees of both the House and the Senate.
The legislation passed 68 to 26.
The bill clarifies and confirms that the intent of the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 is educational choice. It also amends certain current definitions and add new definitions. The reporting period for scholarship granting organizations from a calendar year to an academic year; to clarify and confirm that educational scholarships are provided to eligible students, not to particular schools. The bill requires that scholarship granting organizations determine the income eligibility of a scholarship recipient every other year and requires that all participating private schools to be accredited by one of the six regional accrediting agencies, the National Council for Private School Accreditation, AdvancEd, the American Association of Christian Schools, or one of their partner accrediting agencies, within three years from the date their notice of intent to participate in the scholarship program is filed with the Department of Revenue.
The legislation also allow certain pass-through entities, such as Subchapter S corporations and limited liability companies, to make contributions to scholarship granting organizations and to allow the credit earned by the entity to pass through to and be claimed by its owners, and to expand the definition of “individual taxpayer” to include the individual owners of these pass-through entities. The legislation clarifies and confirms that donors making contributions to scholarship granting organizations cannot earmark their contribution for a particular school or to fund scholarships for a particular student or group of students. The legislation prohibit scholarship granting organizations from making lump sum, block grants, or other similar payments to otherwise qualifying schools. The bill removes the current $7,500 annual limitation on contributions made to scholarship granting organizations by individual taxpayers and increases the cumulative amount of tax credits available in a calendar year to $30,000,000. The bill also allows taxpayers to make contributions to scholarship granting organizations before the due date, with extensions, of a timely filed 2014 tax return but reserve tax credits against the remaining balance of the 2014 cumulative amount of tax credits available. The SGOs may use up to five percent of their revenues from donations for administrative or operating expenses in the year of donation or any subsequent year.
The bill has already been passed by the Senate.
Judge finds Alabama drivers license policy for trans people unconstitutional
Judge Myron Thompson found that the state’s law did not meet the requirements of the Equal Protection Clause.
A federal judge on Friday ruled that Alabama’s driver’s license policy with respect to transgender people was unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson on Friday ruled in favor of the three transgender plaintiffs. The three sued the state over its requirements that transgender people get surgery — or a court order that typically requires proof of surgery — to receive a driver’s license with their correct gender.
Plaintiffs Darcy Corbitt, Destiny Clark and an unnamed third individual sued the state after being denied driver’s licenses. They were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama.
“Nearly 50 years ago, the Supreme Court recognized that the Equal Protection Clause demands special skepticism of state actions that impose sex-based classifications,” Thompson wrote in his order. The Court soon settled on the standard of scrutiny that this court applies today, instructing that “classifications by gender must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to achievement of those objectives.”
“Neither ‘benign justifications’ nor an absence of discriminatory intent prevents a sex-based law from being subject to this scrutiny,” Thompson continued in his order, finding that the state’s interest in upholding the law did not meet the obligation that the Equal Protection Clause imposes.
“I know who I am, and finally the state of Alabama will be required to respect me and provide an accurate driver’s license,” Corbitt said in a statement provided by the ACLU of Alabama. “Since my out-of-state license expired, I have had to rely on friends and family to help me pick up groceries, get to church, and get to my job. I missed a family member’s funeral because I just had no way to get there. But the alternative — lying about who I am to get an Alabama license that endangered and humiliated me every time I used it — was not an option. I’m relieved that I will be able to drive again. While much work remains, this decision will make Alabama a safer place for me and other transgender people.”
“I’m thrilled the court found that Alabama’s surgery requirement was unconstitutional, and I hope other states that still have similar rules will change them without being taken to court,” said Gabriel Arkles, senior counsel for the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, in a statement. “Trans people are the experts on our own genders, and we have the right to equal access to ID we can safely use. We will keep fighting dangerous and discriminatory policies like these until none remain.”
Tish Gotell Faulks, legal director for the ACLU of Alabama, said the court rightfully saw that the state does not have a right to determine which medical procedures a person has, nor can they force surgery on an entire class of people.
“A growing number of states have realized that providing accurate driver’s licenses is the right, and lawful, thing to do. The ACLU will monitor what this decision looks like in practice to ensure that transgender people are treated fairly at offices around the state of Alabama,” Faulks said.
Alabama officials watching for possible armed protests
The Montgomery Police Department will have officers at the Capitol on Sunday, girding for potentially violent demonstrations.
It wasn’t clear Friday whether armed protestors would show up at Alabama’s Capitol building this weekend after an FBI internal report this week warned that there were plans for armed demonstrations in state capitals across the country until Inauguration Day.
First reported by ABC News and corroborated by numerous other news outlets, the FBI’s memo warns that continued violence targeting state capitols remains possible between now and President-elect-Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
“Armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols from 16 January through at least 20 January, and at the U.S. Capitol from 17 January through 20 January,” the bulletin said, according to the Associated Press.
Alabama Law Enforcement Agency spokeswoman Robyn Bryan, in a message to APR on Friday, said the agency continues to monitor activity for public safety concerns “and possible threats related to the ongoing protests across the nation.”
“ALEA recognizes that United States Citizens have constitutionally protected rights to assemble, speak, and petition the government. ALEA safeguards these first amendment rights, and reports on only those activities where the potential use of rhetoric and/or propaganda could be used to carry out acts of violence,” Bryan continued. “Additionally, potential criminality exhibited by certain members of a group does not negate the constitutional rights of the group itself or its law-abiding participants to exercise their individual liberties under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
The Montgomery Police Department on Friday issued a warning in a tweet to anyone who might plan to bring a firearm to a demonstration.
“Be mindful that it shall be unlawful for any person, other than a law enforcement officer, to have a firearm in his or her possession or in any vehicle at a point within 1,000 feet of a demonstration at a public place,” the department said in the tweet, citing a portion of Alabama’s state law.
Montgomery Police will have officers at the Capitol on Sunday, Capt. Saba Coleman of the Montgomery Police Department said in a message to APR on Friday.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that Trump’s army of domestic terrorists came close to mounting the first successful coup in American history,” said Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center, speaking to reporters Friday during a briefing on a report the group released on right-wing extremists attempting to overshadow Biden’s inauguration.
“Now our nation stands at the edge of the abyss. Threats of violence are steadily escalating, with some of Trump’s followers talking openly of civil war. Law enforcement personnel are bracing for potential violence this weekend at the armed protests planned for Washington D.C. and all 50 state capitals,” Huang said.
Michael Hayden, lead investigative reporter at the SPLC, told reporters during the briefing that the odds for violence “are a lot higher than I’ve seen in a long time.”
“And that’s largely to do with the rhetoric that we’re seeing,” Hayden said.
The chances of far-right extreme groups coming together for another large event in Washington D.C. in the coming days is less likely because of the additional security measures in place since the Capitol attack, Hayden said, adding that leaders of some of the larger extremist groups have urged followers not to go to Washington D.C.
“I’m not saying it’s impossible to generate a large crowd in Washington D.C. I’m just saying that there are huge obstacles that they did not face on January 6, and it’s missing that sort of galvanizing moment of the Trump rally,” Hayden said.
Demonstrations at state capitols are far more likely to galvanize crowds, Hayden said. In his work monitoring extremists online he has seen the sharing of maps of state capitols, dotted with pinpoints where groups want people to go, he said.
Some states have publicized bolstered security around their capitols, a sign that perhaps those state officials have more information about possible threats than SPLC has access to, Hayden said.
New unemployment claims increased again last week
It is the highest number of new claims recorded in a single week since July.
There were 14,084 new unemployment claims filed last week, up from 10,986 new claims the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.
The number of new claims was the highest in a single week since July.
Of last week’s claims, 11,124 were related to COVID-19, representing 79 percent. Of the previous week’s claims, 80 percent were related to COVID-19.
SPLC responds to arrest of man carrying Confederate flag inside U.S. Capitol
Kevin Seefried and his son, Hunter, face multiple charges connected with their alleged part in the deadly Capitol riot.
Widely shared images of a white man carrying a Confederate flag across the floor of the U.S. Capitol during last week’s deadly attempted insurrection is a jarring reminder of the treasonous acts that killed more than 750,000 Americans during the Civil War, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Just as defeated Confederate soldiers were forced to surrender the Civil War and end their inhumane treatment of Black people, the rioter who brazenly carried a Confederate flag into the Capitol has been forced to surrender to federal authorities,” said Lecia Brooks, chief of staff at the Southern Poverty Law Center, in a statement Friday following the arrests of Kevin Seefried, 51, and his 23-year-old son Hunter.
FBI Baltimore: Man carrying Confederate flag in Capitol last week turned himself in today in Wilmington. Name is Kevin Seefried. Son Hunter also arrested. pic.twitter.com/ZTSGzbesDF
— Jayne Miller (@jemillerwbal) January 14, 2021
Seefried, the Baltimore man allegedly seen in those photographs carrying the Confederate flag, and his son are charged with entering a restricted building and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. Hunter is also charged with destroying government property.
“Incited by the President’s disinformation campaign, the rioter’s decision to brazenly roam the halls of Congress clinging to this painful symbol of white supremacy was a jarring display of boundless white privilege,” Brooks’s statement reads. “Despite the revisionist history promoted by enthusiasts, his disgraceful display is proof that the Confederate flag clearly represents hate, not heritage.”
“Over 750,000 American lives were lost because of the Confederacy’s treasonous acts. We cannot allow more blood to be shed for efforts to split our Union. January’s immoral coup attempt is an embarrassment to the United States, and we call on the federal government to prosecute these insurrectionists to the fullest extent of the law.”
An affidavit detailing the charges states that videos taken during the riot show both Seefrieds enter the Capitol building through a broken window, that Hunter helped break, at about 2:13 p.m.
Both men on Jan. 12 voluntarily talked with FBI agents and admitted to their part in the riots, according to court records.
The elder Seefreid told the FBI agent that he traveled to the rally to hear Trump speak and that he and his son joined the march and were “led by an individual with a bull horn.”
There were numerous pro-Trump attendees at the rally and march to the Capitol who had bull horns, according to multiple videos taken that day, but at the front of one of the largest groups of marchers with a bull horn was far-right radio personality Alex Jones, who was walking next to Ali Alexander, organizer of the Stop the Steal movement.
Alexander in three separate videos has said he planned the rally, meant to put pressure on Congress voting inside the Capitol that day, with Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, and Arizona U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs. Alexander is now in hiding, according to The Daily Beast.
Congressman Brooks’s spokesman told APR on Tuesday that Brooks does not remember communicating with Alexander.
“Congressman Brooks has no recollection of ever communicating in any way with whoever Ali Alexander is. Congressman Brooks has not in any way, shape or form coordinated with Ali Alexander on the January 6th ‘Save America’ rally,” the statement from the congressman’s spokesman reads.
Jones and Alexander can be seen leading the march in a video taken and posted to Twitter by freelance journalist Raven Geary.
“This is history happening. We’re not giving into globalists. We’ll never surrender,” Jones yells into his bullhorn as they marched toward the Capitol.