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Zeigler Critical of United Nations Investigation

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Monday, December 14, Alabama Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) released a statement critical of a UN Report which was lammed Alabama after a visit to the State.

According to Zeigler, the three-member UN investigative team calling themselves “rapporteurs” conducted investigations in Alabama, Texas, and Oregon earlier this month. The group released a preliminary report last Friday, Dec. 11, critical of Alabama laws and called for making the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “binding” on all states. The report also criticized teaching abstinence in sex education, restrictions on access to abortions, and prosecution of prostitutes.

jim-zieglerAuditor Zeigler said, “the UN has no business in Alabama”, and “the UN’s Alabama investigation is the next step of an agenda to impose UN standards in every state that does not resist this intrusion.”

Zeigler warned, “The UN is preparing to try to dictate to Alabama what we must do on abortion, contraceptives given to youth, sex education in schools, tolerance of alternative sexual orientation and other ‘progressive’ issues.”

Zeigler expressed his disappointment that no other officials in Alabama objected to the UN involvement here.

The “UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice” is finalizing its ten day country mission to the United States.  The expert group’s delegation was comprised of Eleonora Zielinska (Poland), Frances Raday (Israel/United Kingdom) and Alda Facio (Costa Rica) held meetings in Washington D.C. and visited the states of Alabama, Oregon and Texas.

Frances Raday said in a statement, “We want to express our sincere appreciation to the Government of the United States for having invited us to conduct this country visit. We are grateful to all our interlocutors, officials at the Federal and state levels and members of civil society, including women’s organisations, practitioners and individual women who shared their experiences with us.”

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According to the group’s report, “The United States opened the door to a frank interchange regarding both good practices and gaps in US women’s enjoyment of international human rights. We acknowledge the United States’ commitment to liberty, so well represented by the Statue of Liberty which symbolizes both womanhood and freedom.  Nevertheless, in global context, US women do not take their rightful place as citizens of the world’s leading economy, which has one of the highest rates of per capita income. In the US, women fall behind international standards as regards their public and political representation, their economic and social rights and their health and safety protections.”

According to the report, “In 2010 and 2015, in the framework of its Universal Periodic Review, the US government committed to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All of Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) but this commitment has not yet been implemented.  Resistance to ratification of CEDAW reflects the opposition of a powerful sector of society to the Convention’s formulation of women’s international human right to equality. This political resistance has also consistently blocked efforts to pass an Equal Rights Amendment, which would entrench women’s right to equality in the US Constitution.”

The report slammed, “The political rhetoric of some of the candidates for the Presidency in the upcoming elections has included unprecedented hostile stereotyping of women; when there are increasingly restrictive legislative  measures in some states and violent attacks to prevent women’s access to exercise of their reproductive rights; and when there is an increase in the rate of women living in poverty, a persistent wage gap and increasingly precarious employment.”

Even though women hold four out of 15 members of the cabinet, 19.4 percent of Congressional seats, and 24.9 percent of State legislature seats the group rates the United States only 72 in legislative representation.

The group blamed the difficulty women face in fundraising for campaigns for the disparity.  “The role of money in political campaigns has grown significantly in the last decades and has drastically altered the landscape for elections and political participation. Women’s difficulty in fundraising is considered to result from complex causes. In particular, it is a result of exclusion from the predominantly male political networks that promote funding.  It also results from underlying factors, such as negative stereotypes and biased presentation of women in the media, which adversely affect both women’s fundraising ability and their political candidacy…Our group regards the objective difficulties women face in raising campaign funding as a serious limitation on women’s opportunities for political representation and is deeply concerned that the removal of limits on campaign funding by the Supreme Court threatens to exacerbate this situation.”

The report said, “Our group  is concerned that changes in voter identification laws, such as those in Alabama, which increase bureaucratic requirements for voter identification, in particular problematic for women who change their name in marriage and reduce the number of voting centers, can make registration and voting less accessible for the poor, of whom a majority are women.”

The group recommended that, “Adequate legal representation, be regarded as a civil right which, where necessary, should be publically funded.”

The group reported, “We are shocked by the lack of mandatory standards for workplace accommodation for pregnant women, post-natal mothers and persons with care responsibilities, which are required in international human rights law.”

The group also expressed concern that, “Women’s earnings differ considerably by ethnicity: Afro-American, Native American and Hispanic women have the lowest earnings. Despite the existence of the 1963 Equal Pay Act and Title VII, federal law does not require equal pay for work of equal value.”  The Group called for the US to ratify the ILO Domestic Workers Convention.

The report also cited the United States for being, “One of only two countries in the world without a mandatory paid maternity leave for all women workers.  As of 2014, paid maternity leave is provided by legislation in 3 states and in Federal government employment but it is only for six weeks, which is beneath the international minimum of 14 weeks.  The Group regards it as vital that 14 weeks paid maternity leave for pregnancy birth and post natal related needs be guaranteed for all women workers in public and private employment and advises that best practice is payment from a social security fund which does not impose the direct burden on employers.”  “The percentage of women in poverty has increased over the past decade, from 12.1 percent to 14.5 percent, with a higher rate of poverty than men, affecting predominantly ethnic minorities, single parent families and older women.”  The group urged raising the minimum wage, promoting employment for women, eliminating the wage gap, and addressing residual poverty through the social security system.

The groups said that in the US, “Poverty may result in homelessness which exposes women to higher levels of violence and vulnerability. Furthermore, interlocutors pointed out that victims of domestic violence are often numbered amongst the homeless, either because they have been evicted as a result of the violence or because they have fled from their violent partner. Solutions should include effective protection orders, increased availability of shelters, housing support, prioritizing eligibility particularly for single mother households and those facing heavy unpaid care burdens.”

The report said that women business owners, “Face greater barriers in obtaining low cost capital from sources such as the Small Business Administration and clearly need support in order to achieve equal economic potential. However, the Small Businesses Administration has a stated goal of awarding only 5 percent of federal contracts to women-owned businesses. Furthermore, it is reported that this goal has never been reached in practice.”

The group stated that, “International human rights law requires the establishment of social protection floors for core economic and social needs, provision for paid maternity leave, and the taking of all appropriate measures to produce de facto equality between all women and men in the labour market and in women-owned businesses. It is not for our group to suggest how these minimum standards should be achieved but only to point out how the United States, as economic leader of the world, lags behind in providing a safety net and a decent life for those of its women who do not have access to independent wealth, high salaries or economic support from a partner or family.”

The group praised the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the expansion of Medicaid, but lamented that there is still no universal health coverage in the country.  The group cited Texas and Alabama for allegedly not allowing lawfully residing immigrants to enroll in Medicaid even after completion of the federal waiting period of five years.

The group supports, “The ACA’s requirement that new private health plans cover contraceptive counselling, without out-of-pocket costs. However, we are concerned that the Supreme Court’s recognition, in Hobby Lobby, of an exemption on grounds of freedom of religion to opt out of contraceptive insurance for employees, will deprive some women of the possibility of accessing contraceptives. The Group would like to recall that, under international human rights law, states must take all appropriate measures to ensure women’s equal right to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children which includes women’s right to access contraceptives.”

The group wrote that. “Adequate and quality sex education in schools was lacking in many curricula. We learned that in many schools, only abstinence was taught instead of providing objective and scientifically based sex education which is a key element of health policy.”

While the group supported, “The constitutional guarantee under Roe v. Wade for a woman to be able to choose to terminate a pregnancy in the first trimester prior to viability” it cited the United States for placing ever increasing barriers to prevent women’s access to abortions specifically: the 1976 Hyde Amendment preventing federal Medicaid and Medicare coverage for abortions except in cases where the life of the woman is in danger, or in cases of rape and incest; compelling women to undergo ultrasounds; waiting periods; withholding of early pregnancy abortion medications; and imposing burdens on the licensing of clinics.

The group cited the US for constant threats, harassment and vandalizing of abortion clinics, specifically citing Alabama. “Alabama has a history of severe violence against abortion providers including the killing of Dr. David Gunn, in 1993, the first doctor to be murdered for performing abortions in the United States…The recent massacre in the Colorado family planning centre, which occurred just before the start of our visit, once again demonstrated the extreme hostility and danger faced by family planning providers and patients.  We encourage the adoption of the Woman’s Health Protection Act, which would prohibit states from enacting restrictions on reproductive health care providers that interfere with women’s personal decision making and block access to safe and legal abortion services; and to require all hospitals to provide these services and insurance schemes to provide coverage for abortions to which women have a right under US law.”

The group’s preliminary findings and conclusions will be developed and presented in a more comprehensive report to the Human Rights Council in June 2016.

The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice was created by the Human Rights Council in 2011. The Working Group is composed of five independent experts: the Current Chair-Rapporteur Eleonora Zielinska (Poland), the Vice-Chair Alda Facio (Costa Rica) and the other members Emna Aouij (Tunisia), Kamala Chandrakirana (Indonesia), and Frances Raday (Israel/United Kingdom).

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House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

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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.

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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.

 

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Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

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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.

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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.

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Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

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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.

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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.

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House OKs bill to clarify consulting contracts by state legislators

Brandon Moseley

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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.”

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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.)

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