By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday June 25, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a 6-3 ruling to uphold the nationwide tax subsidies included in the Affordable Care Act, even in states like Alabama that elected not to implement the costly state insurance exchanges. The subsidies are a core component of the Affordable Care Act and allow persons of limited means, but not low income enough to qualify for expanded Medicaid (in states that agreed to expand Medicaid). A number of Alabama officials have commented on the decision.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley released a statement on the King v. Burwell Supreme Court decision:
“Today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court is disappointing. As the law is clearly written, subsidies do not apply to states that did not establish a state-based health insurance exchange. With today’s decision, the Supreme Court became an activist court by rewriting the law, clearly overstepping the role of the Judicial Branch to interpret the law.”
US Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) wrote, “Today’s Supreme Court decision does not change the fact that Obamacare is an unworkable, deeply flawed, and damaging law. The problems with Obamacare go far beyond the issue debated in King v. Burwell and continue to harm American families and small businesses. Obamacare’s long list of broken promises has already caused Americans to struggle with higher premiums, to lose their preferred health insurance and doctors, and to be left with fewer choices. Despite this ruling, I remain committed to working with my colleagues to put an end to the negative impacts of this disastrous law.”
US Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) released this statement:
“The Supreme Court’s Obamacare acrobatics should dispel for good the comforting illusion that we can rely on judges to save us. Whether on socialized medicine, executive amnesty, or any other action which erodes our Constitution and the authority of Congress, conservatives will have to rally the everyday voting citizen. There is no greater power than winning the trust and loyalty of the American people. We will need to put down the donor agenda, pick up the banner of the American worker, and carry it to victory.”
Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) issued the following statement regarding today’s King v. Burwell Supreme Court decision:
“Today’s ruling does not change the fact that Obamacare is an unworkable law that is hurting far too many families across Southwest Alabama and the United States. I will continue to push for a full repeal of the law and work toward patient-centered health care solutions that aren’t run by the federal government.”
Congressman Byrne has introduced legislation that would repeal Obamacare in its entirety. Byrne’s legislation passed the House and is now pending action in the Senate.
Alabama Republican Party Chair Terry Lathan wrote, “The nightmare continues for America with the United States Supreme Court upholding parts of the wildly unpopular Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.” This destructive legislation forced upon Americans pertaining to their health care and health insurance is an abomination and a plight on our nation. America is the most loving country in the world and our citizens should have access to superb health care, but this legislation is an albatross of government intervention and bureaucracy. It has little to do with care and mostly to do with more legislative strangleholds and controlling our daily lives.”
Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-Selma) said the decision was, “A victory for access to quality and affordable healthcare. Millions of Americans can finally breathe a sigh of relief. An estimated 6.4 million Americans will be able to keep their health insurance, including 17,000 people in my district.”
Congressman Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) commented, “I’ve long been an advocate for repealing this unworkable and unaffordable law. Today’s decision by SCOTUS makes it even more imperative that Congress work to fully repeal it. As far as the opinion is concerned, I agree with Justice Scalia when he writes in dissent, ‘The Court holds that when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act says, ‘Exchange established by the State’ it means, ‘Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government.’ That is of course quite absurd, and the Court’s 21 pages of explanation make it no less so …. This Court, however, concludes that this limitation would prevent the rest of the Act from working as well as hoped. So it rewrites the law to make tax credits available everywhere. We should start calling this law SCOTUScare.”
Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) said, “I am extremely disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today concerning Obamacare subsidies. The Supreme Court continues to see gray when it comes to the black letter of the law as written in Obamacare’s base text in the Affordable Care Act. If you look at the way the Democrats actually wrote the law, it seems to be very clear that subsidies were not available for those in the federal exchanges. This was not a typo. The language was written as it was written.”
Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Saks) wrote, “Obamacare may have passed the legal test but it still fails East Alabama families and job creators. This flawed law increases costs and limits choices in healthcare. I will continue to fight for its full repeal and to replace it with common sense solutions.”
Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) wrote, “So many people across the nation and throughout Alabama have been negatively affected by this law. Under Obamacare, many lost the health plans they liked. Many were forced to go to different doctors, to say nothing of the doctors who stopped practicing altogether. Premiums skyrocketed, and many middle class families are now impacted by new taxes, fees and penalties.”
Republican presidential candidate and former US Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania) said: “Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court is yet another reminder that if we are to rid our nation of Obamacare once and for all, we need to elected a conservative President prepared to lead on day one. As President, I will be committed to repealing the monstrosity of Obamacare and replacing it with a patient-centered program that puts people first, not the government.”
Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said, “I am disappointed in the Burwell decision, but this is not the end of the fight against ObamaCare.”
State Representative Tim Wadsworth (R-Winston County) said, “Alabamians will continue to receive Federal subsidiaries even though Alabama has Federal exchange as opposed to State exchange.”
State Representative Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) said, “Supreme Court upholds Obamacare subsides. Our Founding Fathers are rolling over in their graves.”
Gov. Bentley said, “The Supreme Court had an opportunity to repair what I, as a physician, have always believed, that the Affordable Care Act is deeply flawed and does little to help improve the health of our citizens. As a physician and Governor of one of the 34 states that did not establish a state-based healthcare exchange, I agree with Justice Scalia in his dissent that states are clearly not the federal government and that definition of a state shouldn’t be rewritten for the purpose of this law. I believe the ACA is, at its core, enormously expensive for families and businesses and does little to address the health care issues we face in our State and Nation.”
Chair Lathan said, “No American should be forced to sign up or buy health insurance that is not their choice. This alone is enough to remind us all how important the elections of 2016 will be to America. We must reverse this course, starting by removing Democrats from the White House all the way down to our county courthouses. Let us never forget the words of Barack Obama when he and the Democrats forced their will on all of America: ‘If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.’ America now knows this was a prescription for disaster and a blatant falsehood.”
Rep. Roby said, “I have repeatedly voted to repeal Obamacare and replace it with patient-centered health care that isn’t run by the government. This ruling does not change my commitment to working to replace the president’s health care law with policies that make sense. It does show how important it is for us to elect a president who will uphold the rule of law and appoint Supreme Court justices who will do the same.”
Santorum continued, “I am the one candidate in this race who has taken on the Clinton Machine on the issue of healthcare and won. In my first race for the United States Senate, I defeated the author of HillaryCare in a campaign that was led by Paul Begala and James Carville. I am not afraid to debate Hillary Clinton on the issue of healthcare because I know that when the American people are given the choice, they will choose freedom and opportunity over a government-knows-best approach to the most personal decision in their lives.”
Jeb Bush said, “The idea that Washington, DC knows best, has been proven wrong over and over and over again. And ObamaCare is the best example of it in modern times.”
Chairwoman Lathan said, “The Affordable Care Act is neither affordable nor about care and today’s ruling by the United States Supreme Court ensures that this bureaucratic overreach will continue to inflict harm to the free market and keep the federal government between you and your doctor.”
Bush concluded, “I don’t believe we should have employer mandates, employee mandates, or health care mandates that make health care insurance so extraordinarily expensive. Any family will tell you that the premiums have gone up. What we need to have is more choices for people, empowering them to make decisions; rewarding better health care outcomes; more flexibility; less mandates – where they’re empowered to make more decisions for themselves. So fixing this is a huge, huge challenge. And we have a duty to begin to solve these problems.”
Lathan stated, “Obamacare can, and will, be removed from our health care system and a market-based solution to reform skyrocketing costs and focus on the individual can heal the broken system if we elect a Republican President in 2016. That is why, as Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, I will continue to work tirelessly with all Republicans in Alabama and America towards that goal.”
Following the decision from the Supreme Court, American Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) Interim CEO Dan Durham issued a statement: “With the certainty provided by the Supreme Court’s decision, now is the time to focus on what matters most to consumers – ensuring access to affordable coverage and high-quality health care. Health plans will continue to lead in advancing this goal.”
House passes General Fund Budget
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.
The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.
Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”
Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.
The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.
Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.
Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.
The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.
Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.
The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.
Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.
The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.
In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.
SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.
Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”
State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”
The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.
The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.
The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.
The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.
Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.
SB185 passed 101-0.
Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.
Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1 for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.
SB215 passed the House 87-0.
The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.
State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.
SB231 passed 87-2.
The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.
The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.
The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.
Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.
Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.
Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.
Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday
By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter
The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.
Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.
Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.
The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.
Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.
Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.
Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.
Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.
Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.
Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.
The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.
Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.
It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.
Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor
By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter
Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.
The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.
Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.
Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.
Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.
The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.
- Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)
Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.
Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.
The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.
Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.
House OKs bill to clarify consulting contracts by state legislators
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill to try to clarify how legislators accept consulting contracts under Alabama’s 2010 ethics law. Some pundits have suggested that House Bill 387 is actually designed to weaken the existing ethics law.
Sponsor state Rep. Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa, argues that the legislation is merely a clarification and is intended to prevent legislators from inadvertently crossing the line into illegality.
Wingo said that his bill would require legislators to notify the Alabama Ethics Commission that they have entered into a consulting agreement in an area outside of their normal scope of work.
State Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville, said, “I have never understood why members of this body were allowed to take contracts as consultants or counselors.”
Wingo said, “Never do I use the word counselor in my bill; it is consulting.”
Beckman asked, “Are we going to be getting into an area where every time we turn around we create a bureaucratic nightmare where we have to go get an opinion. These opinions whether it is orally or written don’t hold up in a court of law.” Beckman said, “We are serving the people here but we get this admonition that we can still be a consultant if we get an opinion.”
Wingo said, “This does not apply to professions where a member is currently licensed.”
Beckman said, “I would like to see more opinions coming out of the Ethics Commission. Right now we have the Ethics Commission competing with the Attorney General’s office over who has more authority.”
State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said,”This happened to a friend of mine. He just got out of prison. He was a state senator and had a written letter from the Ethics Commission which his lawyer read at trial and the jury convicted him anyway.”
Rogers never named his friend, but reporters think he was talking about former state Sen. Edward Browning ‘E. B.’ McClain who spent over 22 years in the legislature until he was convicted on 47 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, bribery, and money laundry in 2009.
A federal jury found that McClain and the Rev. Samuel Pettagrue were guilty in a scheme where McClain would secure public funds for Pettagrue’s community programs and then receive a kickback once the funds were in hand. McClain was sentenced to five years and ten months in prison. McClain was not prosecuted under the Alabama ethics law as the state has a much weaker ethics statute then. The current ethics law was passed in 2010.
Rogers said, “If they offer me a consulting contract for a field like aerospace engineering that I know nothing about they are trying to pay me off. If you can already be a consultant for something you know about why would you seek a consulting contract for something you don’t know about.
Rogers this is how they can pay you off for your vote.”
State Rep. Artis “A.J.” McCampbell said, “I don’t like making changes to things like this because we get into things called unintended consequences.”
McCampbell was reading from the bill and Wingo said, “You are reading from the original version it has completely changed.” “We worked tirelessly on this bill with the Ethics Commission this is not a fly by night bill.”
“If a member of the legislature enters into a contract to do a consulting contract outside of their normal field of work this bill requires that they consult with the Ethics Commission first,” Wingo said. “It is up to the member to notify the Ethics Commission not to the company or person offering them the money.”
State Representative Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said, “Everybody but legislators are allowed to do contract work up to $30,000.”
Rep. Wingo said, “This is not intended to be a roadblock.”
State Representative Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, said, “The whole purpose of this is not to prevent members from doing work in your field.” “What you are doing is offering to protect me.”
State Representative John Knight, D-Montgomery, asked Wingo what the Alabama Attorney General said about this legislation.
Wingo replied, “I have not contacted the Attorney General.”
Knight responded, “Something from the Ethics Commission does not carry a lot of protection from the Attorney General. We have seen that in the past. I think the Attorney General and the Ethics Commission should be in agreement in the working on this.”
Wingo answered, “Maybe this is a first step.”
Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, asked, “Do we have anybody doing work outside of their regular scope of work?”
Wingo answered, “Yes I think so.”
Wingo said, “If we had had this bill four or five years ago maybe we could have been spared the embarrassment that this body experienced with the former Speaker.”
Wingo was referring to former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard who was convicted of 12 counts of felony ethics violations in June 2016. Ironically, Hubbard is largely responsible for creating the ethics law that he was found guilty of violating 11 times in his relentless pursuit of outside contracts and personal wealth.
Unlike McClain, however, Hubbard has not yet served any of this sentence.
House Bill 387 passed 67-0 with 26 legislators abstaining.
The bill now moves to the Senate for its consideration.
(Original reporting by the Alabama Media Group’s Lisa Osborn in 2009 was consulted in this report.)