By Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey
When I struck the gavel for the Senate to adjourn Sine Die at midnight on Wednesday, May 4, 2016, the Senate completed its 30th and final legislative day of the 2016 Regular Session. Sine Die is a Latin phrase meaning “without day” that is, without designating the next day the legislature will meet; it is the final adjournment of a legislative session.
On the last day of the Session, my day began at 8:30 a.m. when I participated in a Legislative Council meeting. Nearly 16 hours later, “with all deliberate speed,” the Legislature had completed its statutory requirement to meet 30 legislative days during 105 calendar days.
During this year’s session only 93 calendar days were used, with some legislative days lasting 2-3 hours, while others were 10-12 hour days. This may not sound practical, but it’s the way the Legislature operates and much of their schedule is dictated by the legislative process, as well as actions in the other body or committees.
When the 2016 Regular Session convened on Groundhog Day, February 2, many challenges again faced state government. Governor Robert Bentley, during his State of the State Address, launched his “Alabama’s Great State 2019 Plan” along with an aggressive legislative agenda. Three months later, the Legislature had adopted roughly half of the Governor’s legislative priorities. Even though Senate and House Republican Caucuses offered a less aggressive agenda, they successfully adopted most of their legislative priorities targeting a pay raise for educators, continued efforts to generate new job creation incentives, and new protections for the unborn.
For those of you who like to review the box score and may be interested in the “inside baseball” nuances of how productive the Legislature was during the 2016 Session, I will share a few statistics. Legislators introduced 1,005 bills, with the House introducing 574 and the Senate 431.
The Senate gave third reading to 440 bills to be placed on the calendar for consideration. Overall 281 bills were passed by both bodies and enrolled. The Legislature slightly improved its efficiency this session with a 28 percent passage rate compared to a 26 percent average for 2011-2015 although fewer bills were introduced compared to recent years.
The major highlight of the Session was passage of both budgets ahead of schedule. The General Fund Budget (GF) totaling $1.85 billion was passed in March, with the Legislature overriding the Governor’s veto on a 22-11 vote the first week in April. The FY17GF Budget, which goes into effect October 1, 2016, is 5.2 percent larger than the current GF Budget and does not include any new taxes. The GF Budget increased funding for Medicaid and continues to provide protection against cuts for major state agencies including: Corrections, Law Enforcement, Human Resources, Medicaid, Mental Health and the Courts.
Alabama’s other budget, the Education Trust Fund Budget (ETF), was passed on the 25th legislative day on a 32-0 vote and quickly signed by the Governor. The FY17 ETF Budget totals $6.3 billion and is 5.6 percent more than the current education budget and the largest since 2008. The ETF Budget includes a pay raise for teachers, the first in nearly a decade, and includes increased funding for Pre-K, transportation and classrooms while providing for 475 new teachers.
Just as important as what passed is what did not pass and how it impacted the Legislature. A proposed gas tax, efforts to redefine bingo, renewal of historic building tax credits, prison construction and use of future BP settlement proceeds all failed, but had a great deal to do regarding the legislative process and its impact on other bills. It appears two separate bills, a proposed gas tax and the distribution of the BP settlement proceeds, became intertwined in the House. With marginal support in the House for a gas tax, an alternative proposal to the Senate-passed proposal to utilize BP funds was crafted in the House to help garner support from Members to support a gas tax. Once the House BP settlement alternative proposal was assigned to the Senate General Fund Budget Committee, where it died, Gulf Coast region House members filibustered actions in the final days of the session. There never was substantial support in the Senate for a gas tax, which resulted in the House not bringing it for a vote, leading to the eventual demise of additional funding for roads and bridges.
The prison construction bill met a similar fate. Even though there were concerns about the plan proposed by the Governor which would address overcrowding, growing demands on correction officers, and increased costs of operating the Department of Corrections, the Senate passed a bill providing for the construction of four new prisons with the proceeds of a $800 million bond issue on a 22-11 vote. The House amended the Senate prison bill, which resulted in a Conference Committee to resolve any differences, while concerns continued to grow over the lack of transparency. After lengthy negotiations with the Administration, the Conference Committee produced an alternative plan to build three new prisons utilizing a $550 million bond issue that was adopted by the Senate on a 23-12 vote. Due to procedural delays by Democrats in the Senate to kill the prison bill, the Conference Committee report was not transmitted to the House until the final hour of the Session, where it died.
Separately, the never-ending gambling issue continues to impact the legislative process. Several bills were introduced to redefine bingo in certain counties so they could operate games similar to those offered by the Poarch Creek Indians at various venues around the State. Although these bills were not successful, some Senators chose to exercise procedural delays to reinforce their position and slow the legislative process during the final days.
The last two days of the Session were a culmination of actions in both Houses which killed key legislation. In the Senate on Tuesday, the 29th legislative day, a five-hour logjam was created by a filibuster. In the House, Gulf Coast members filibustered actions due to Senate Committee actions on the BP settlement bill. On Wednesday, the last day, from Noon to 8:00 p.m. the Senate recessed and returned five times to allow for caucus discussions and conference committee deliberations. At 11:40 p.m., during the last twenty minutes in the Senate, nearly three dozen local bills were quickly passed ranging from Sunday liquor sales in certain communities, to distributing taxes and increasing lodging taxes.
In the end, it all came down to the wire where tactical delays resulted in there not being enough time to act on key legislation – the clock ran out. The challenges looming over the State at the beginning of the last session such as prison overcrowding, pension reform, Medicaid, continued education reform, as well as others, will be key legislative agenda items to be reconsidered when the Legislature convenes the 2017 Regular Session on February 7, 2017.
I am encouraged that the Joint Medicaid Study Group is continuing to meet throughout the year to help educate members on Medicaid and develop possible solutions. I am hopeful this same model will be considered for prisons and other key issues. In the meantime, the alternative is for the Governor to call a Special Session later this year to address some of these issues. Regardless, as President of the Alabama Senate, I stand ready to serve and preside. I continue to be committed to helping make Alabama a better place to live, raise a family, and educate your children, our best days are ahead of us – I believe in Alabama and her people.
Opinion | “Just Mercy” and Justice do not exist in Alabama
The chance of there being “just mercy” for Nathaniel Woods—facing lethal injection on March 5 for the killing of three Birmingham police officers—is as good as the chance Alabama will ever reform its dismal, no-justice-to-be-found-anywhere legal system; it ain’t gonna happen.
A Hollywood movie and best-selling book about a legendary lawyer getting an innocent man off of death row can’t change a culture of condemnation on its own. It can’t, by itself, defeat deep-seated hatred and crass corruption that feeds off, subjugates, and disenfranchises the poor in Alabama.
And so I hate to tell my progressive, abolitionist friends: But it is unreasonable and naive to think the undeniably decent call for “just mercy” can push the needle from out of the veins of flesh-and-blood human beings—even old, dying ones—condemned to death in Alabama.
The righteous cry for “just mercy” can’t cool the hot, facile, and feral appeal of vengeance in a state soaked in the blood of slavery and segregation, where hatred for common humanity thrived, and, where it remains, having long ago seeped into its criminal code, its policies of mass incarceration, its entrenched and inescapable poverty for so many, its abysmal prison conditions, and its terrible, twisted addiction to capital punishment.
“Just mercy” doesn’t exist in Alabama, because truth be told, justice doesn’t exist in the state either.
Elsewhere I’ve written how Alabama has been torturing poor people for a long time, how it’s been ducking and dodging death penalty accountability, and, how its sick and shrouded plan to exterminate a substantial portion of its death row population with nitrogen gas is an abomination. But this time let me offer a new, concrete, more personal anecdote to illustrate how unfair and unjust Alabama’s so-called “justice” system is.
Over five years ago, as a “capital habeas” or “post-conviction” attorney, I was involved in litigating a capital case in Alabama; the end result of our Herculean effort was that a man named Christopher Revis had his death sentenced vacated and a new trial ordered—by Marion County Circuit Court Judge John H. Bentley—because of juror misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel.
Over five years have passed since that magical, momentous, Hollywood movie-like day when Bentley ruled. But, guess what? Christopher Revis still has not had his new trial.
That’s right: Even though Revis was ordered to have a new trial on capital murder charges over five years ago, he hasn’t had it. Nor has his case otherwise been resolved. Instead, the only thing that has happened to Revis during all this time is he has remained in Holman prison—locked down in a place that is otherwise known as “hell on earth”—where he had already been incarcerated for nearly a decade before I met him.
Last year, after more than four years had passed since Revis was ordered by Judge Bentley to have his new trial, I re-activated my Alabama bar card and traveled to Alabama for a few days to see if I could suss out—as a freelance writer who still cares about my former client, his family, and the rule of law—what the heck is happening. I failed.
But I am not alone. Because does anyone in the legal community, press, or the public know why Christopher Revis has not had his new—constitutionally mandated—trial yet? Has any competent, conscientious journalist anywhere ever looked into Christopher Revis’s case and this question before?
Nope and nope.
Have I, as Revis’s former lawyer, and after having been contacted and asked to do so at various times by Revis’s desperate family—over the years since I left law practice—done everything possible to alert members of the legal community and the press (both local and national) of the unconscionable passage of time in Revis’s case? Yup. But you can google for yourself to find out just how little that has accomplished.
And so, although I don’t relish being in the role of spoiler and bearer of bad news: In my opinion, based on my own personal experience, before “just mercy” can be anything but a wishful and fleeting slogan on highway billboards in Alabama, the state must first be able to competently and fairly provide justice to its citizens. Citizens like Christopher Revis. So far it hasn’t.
Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter at @SteveCooperEsq
Opinion | A lesson in civility
As already mentioned here, Sunday afternoon Feb. 9, I participated in a League of Women Voters forum in Dothan to debate the pros and cons of Amendment One. I opposed the measure. Senator Greg Albritton from Atmore supported it.
I had done my homework and so had he. We both spoke with passion and conviction. There was no doubt we were on opposite sides.
However, we were friends when we got there and we were friends when we left.
I respect Greg and the fact that he was duly elected by the majority of voters in his senate district. He certainly has a right to his viewpoint and his opinions. I have no doubt he feels the same about me.
Our exchanges were lively and even interspersed with moments of laughter and good will.
In other words, we were civil.
And as I drove back home to Montgomery, I couldn’t help but think of how what had just played out was in such stark contrast to what we see far too often in politics these days, especially in Washington. Both civility and respect have become four letter words in the nation’s capital where if someone disagrees with you they are usually ridiculed, berated and the object of insults.
We are destroying what is most dear to this republic. The presumption that as a whole we are better than the sum of all our parts. That all citizens should be treated with dignity, not chastised because they don’t think like we do.
I understand better than most that 2020 is an election year and that in such times, passion often replaces common sense. But even so, even that does not condone so much of the junk we see on TV and Facebook right now.
It is shameful.
Of course, I will vote NO on amendment one. And Greg will vote YES.
But to me, the larger lesson of this forum was not so much about the pros and cons of this legislation as it was that civil discourse and disagreement can–and should–be conducted with civility.
When it is not, we are all diminished.
Opinion | President Trump has the best week of his Administration
Last week was President Trump’s best since moving into the White House. After giving a well-received State of the Union address, the President was acquitted by the United States Senate, announced the killing of a major terrorist, and received a great jobs report. On the other hand, Democrats suffered several significant embarrassments.
It began Monday at the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. Despite months of work to manufacture enthusiasm, Democrats experienced extremely low turnout across the state. Things went from bad to worse as a host of errors prevented the counting and reporting of votes! Of course, it isn’t hard to see why the people of Iowa were not eager to support Democrat priorities. Socialist policies like the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and confiscation of firearms are radical and dangerous, and most Americans reject them.
In contrast, the very next day, President Trump presented a clear vision for keeping America great in a rousing State of the Union speech. I left my seat many times to applaud the President and his many guests, each of whom had inspiring stories. Two of hi s guests were Stephanie Davis and her daughter Janiyah from Pennsylvania. Janiyah had been on a waitlist of over half a million students to receive a scholarship to go to a better school. President Trump shocked the crowd by awarding her a scholarship right then and there!
The story of Janiyah was especially important to me because the President called on Congress to pass my bill, the Education Freedom Scholarship and Opportunity Act, so that one million American children could have the same opportunity for a scholarship! I developed this bill with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Senator Ted Cruz. President Trump is right that no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school, and I am proud to lead this important Trump administration priority.
The State of the Union ended on an embarrassing note for Democrats as Speaker Pelosi ripped up her copy of the President’s speech. This petty, undignified tantrum plainly displayed the level of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” that she and her cohorts suffer from. They simply cannot stand to see President Trump succeed. They are in crisis after their impeachment plan failed. In fact, it backfired and lost support as their rigged process was exposed. Realizing her mistake, Speaker Pelosi appealed to Facebook and Twitter to have videos of her ripping the speech taken down!
I was proud to be a leader in that fight against the sham impeachment. Thursday, a day after the President was exonerated, I was among a handful of House members invited to the White House to celebrate. It was an amazing honor and surprise to receive President Trump’s personal thanks for fighting by his side throughout this process.
Later Thursday, the President announced that an American airstrike had killed Qassim al-Rimi, a terrorist and the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. AQAP claimed credit for the December 2019 shooting at the Pensacola Naval Air Station that took the lives of three servicemembers, including Ensign Joshua Watson from Coffee, Alabama. President Trump has made clear that our enemies will pay for taking American lives, and terrorists across the globe now know that he isn’t messing around.
Finally, an excellent January jobs report was released. Employers added 225,000 jobs as the economy continues to strengthen. Importantly, wages for working Americans are rising.
Put it all together and its obvious why the President’s approval rating is at the highest levels of his administration. Clearly the Democrats’ misguided prioritization of an unpopular impeachment scheme has them in dire straits. I vow to keep fighting with the President against radical socialism and to support his America First agenda.
Opinion | Positive results from the Alabama Department of Labor
With the closing of the past decade, and at the beginning of a new one, economic conditions in Alabama couldn’t be much better. We at the Alabama Department of Labor have been busy wrapping up statistics and facts for 2019, and we’re happy to share those positive results with everyone.
If you’ve noticed the news reports over the last year, you’ll know that Alabama is currently experiencing a period of record growth and success. In 2019, we announced brand new economic records nearly every single month. We closed out 2019 with the lowest unemployment rate on record – 2.7 percent! In fact, until last year, Alabama had NEVER experienced an unemployment rate below 3.0 percent. We hit that mark three times last year. Nationally, our unemployment rate decreased more than any other state (over the year).
With that record low unemployment rate, it’s no surprise that we also have record high employment – meaning more people are working today in the state of Alabama than EVER BEFORE. In December, more than 2.2 million Alabamians were counted as having a job, representing a yearly increase of nearly 84,000 people. Every single month in 2019 saw a brand-new record high level of employment. So did our labor force. That means that more people were in the workforce than ever before. That’s significant because it shows that people believe there are jobs to be had. And, #wehavejobs. We have a lot of jobs.
Last year, our economy supported more jobs than it ever has at any point in time in our history. Employers reported more than 2.1 million jobs in November and December. Over-the-year job growth reached record highs, and we met or surpassed the national job growth rate for 11 out of the last 12 months. Alabama employers continue to post jobs on the state’s online jobs database, www.joblink.alabama.gov. More than 210,000 jobs were posted on the site last year, and nearly 800,000 people visited it.
For four years in a row now, we’ve soundly beaten economists’ job growth projections. In 2019, economists projected Alabama would gain 22,000 jobs. We gained 75,000. (Based on year to date growth, January 2019 – December 2019.) For 2020, they’ve projected a gain of 29,000 jobs. We’re hopeful we can beat those projections for yet another year. By the way, the jobs we’re gaining aren’t just any jobs. The majority of the growth was in the professional and business services sector, which includes professions like engineers, architects, and computer systems designers. Wages in this sector reached a record high last year, notching a more than $20 weekly wage increase (over the year). At least seven sectors and subsectors saw record high weekly wages last year, and overall wages, also at a record high, experienced a nearly $9 increase.
Despite all these positive indicators, we know we still have plenty of work to do. Even with record low unemployment rates, there are still some 60,000 Alabamians who are unemployed. Our mission is to connect every Alabamian who wants a job, with an employer who needs a worker. We won’t slack on that mission now. We know our job will never get easier. In fact, as the economy improves, our job in some ways becomes harder. We still have companies locating in Alabama that need workers, and we have an obligation to provide a qualified and trained workforce. With that in mind, we’re working on the following goals:
- First, we are committed to helping Governor Kay Ivey realize her goal of adding 500,000 highly-skilled employees to the workforce by 2025.
In order to meet the needs of our employers, we must continue to work hard every day to train and equip our workforce to respond to today’s challenges. Through the Success Plus initiative, Alabama’s workforce community is committed to add 500,000 credentialed workers by 2025. This can be accomplished in many ways; either through accreditation programs via Alabama’s Community College System, training from the state’s workforce development agency, AIDT, On-the-Job Training and Apprenticeship programs, and more. Our 50 Career Centers, located throughout the state, provide access to all of these programs and more. We are committed to doing our part to ensure the continued success of the state.
- We want to increase awareness of the services available to both employers and jobseekers throughout the state.
Through targeted outreach efforts over the past several years, more and more Alabamians are aware of the free, valuable services available to them through our Career Centers. Not only for the unemployed who are looking for work, we also provide services to those who are looking for a new career. We can help you get the right training, or the right education, to make those dreams a reality. For employers, we can help you narrow your search to find the perfect candidates, and even help with wage costs. There’s truly something for everyone at your local Career Center. Please take a moment and check us out, we’d love to help you! Find out more at www.labor.alabama.gov.
Likely Republican primary voters reject Poarch Creeks “winning” plan
Opinion | It’s time for Alabama Democrats to learn from Alabama Republicans
McCutcheon not optimistic about passage of “constitutional carry” legislation
Maggie’s List endorses Jessica Taylor in 2nd Congressional District
Star-studded gala in Birmingham Friday to help wounded vets, former players
Sessions responds to negative attacks from Tuberville, Byrne
Conservative Leadership Conference panel discusses prison reform
Realtors endorse Pringle and Coleman
Ivey urges legislators to address prison system problems
Ivey seizes gaming issue
Gov. Kay Ivey’s 2020 State of the State Address
Marsh holds meeting with gaming interests day after Ivey calls for the Legislature to stand down on gaming
Private prison company eyes Elmore County land for one of state’s new prisons
Opinion | Deception, subtlety and the wholesale destruction of current ethics laws mark proposed rewrite
Developer Tim James proposes privately-funded toll road as “catalyst for economic growth”
Alabama Democratic Conference endorses Michael Bloomberg for president
National4 days ago
Mexico isn’t paying for Trump’s border wall. Alabama is.
Courts4 days ago
New marshal installed at Alabama Supreme Court
Elections4 days ago
Buttigieg’s campaign announces Dixon, Rice will lead on the ground efforts in Alabama
Guest Columnists1 day ago
Opinion | “Just Mercy” and Justice do not exist in Alabama