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Sine Die! – “with all deliberate speed”

Gov. Kay Ivey

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Opinion | The enduring legacy of Margaret Thatcher

“In the winter of British discontent, Thatcher emerged to lead the minority Conservative Party into the majority.”

Will Sellers

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Margaret Thatcher was Britain's longest-serving prime minister. (WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Thirty years ago, this week, the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century resigned. Margaret Thatcher, having governed since 1979, saw her leadership challenged, but rather than continue to fight, she was gaslighted into believing she was losing her grip on her party and would lose her office in an embarrassing vote.

None of that was true.

In fact, the very men who rode to leadership positions on her coattails and hid behind her skirts during controversy allowed their greed for power to debase their loyalty to the Iron Lady. Dejected, she resigned and thus, quietly exited British politics.

Prior to Thatcher’s leadership, Britain was in decline and, by all economic measures, sliding into second rate status. Rather than control its financial destiny, the International Monetary Fund was needed to help the Empire shore up her accounts. Socialism dominated with anti-capitalist trade unions and nationalized industries weighing down any real economic growth.

But in the winter of British discontent, Thatcher emerged to lead the minority Conservative Party into the majority. For more than a decade thereafter, she was the face of the party, and even when she left the scene, the imprint of “Thatcherism” would remain a dominate political ideology.

Thatcher’s political program relied upon a simple appeal to the British sensibilities. She believed in limited government, liberty of the individual, and the rule of law. But rather than relying solely on rhetoric, she acted on her beliefs and ushered in a golden age that changed not only Britain, but the entire world. Indeed, the world she inherited in 1979 stood in stark contrast to the world in 1990. She caused the contrast.

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Unlike many political leaders who espouse high minded principles, she pursued hers with what some considered reckless abandon. Thatcher took significant steps to push back the suffocating hand of state control and return the economy to a true free market. Government intervention was replaced with individual responsibility and human action.

There are five significant events revealing what Thatcher believed by how she acted. And the impact of her actions had ramifications that still affect both British and international politics.

Thatcher organized her government to firmly oppose state-sponsored terrorism and declined to allow the cloak of diplomatic immunity to cover subversive activities. When the Libyan Embassy in London was used to harbor snipers to shoot protestors and ended up killing British policewoman Yvonne Fletcher, the prime minister terminated diplomatic relations and used special forces to clear the embassy and send the terrorists masquerading as diplomats packing.

She would similarly send a large contingent of Russians home when it was clear their embassy was a cover for supporting domestic terrorists and spying on military and industrial targets. These actions rankled some in the diplomatic community who wanted her to be more deferential, but by sending a message of British resolve, she earned the respect of the world community.

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Perhaps the one thing cementing Britain‘s return to power was the Falkland Island campaign. While it was only a small British outpost near Argentina, Thatcher recognized that the Argentine invasion was not simply a threat to the islanders but also a challenge to international British interests. Unwilling to concede anything, she ordered the unequivocal liberation of the islands and effectively threw down a marker that she would defend and protect British subjects and interests anywhere at any cost.

Accepting the Argentine invasion would have been the easy course, but while some in Britain were embarrassed at her saber-rattling and projection of military power, the vast majority saw her actions as patriotic and a reminder of the former greatness of the empire. After the Falkland’s victory, Thatcher’s popularity soared, and when a general election was called, she achieved a landslide victory establishing a conservative majority that lasted until 1997.

On the domestic front, Thatcher knew from the beginning of her administration that she had a dead reckoning with trade unionism, whose power had grown so strong and influential that strikes could paralyze the country. But rather than take them on directly, the wily strategist first worked to pass laws that prevented union corruption and inappropriate strikes.

Once those laws were in place, she realized that the first challenge would be with the coal miners’ union. At that time, coal miners in Britain were a larger part of a socialist network that had grown in influence because coal was so critical to energy and the economy. But a minority of the unions were not part of this network and Thatcher allied herself with them, stockpiling coal to outlast the socialists.

So, when the coal miners decided to strike, she was prepared. First with lawsuits that prevented sympathy strikes from other unions by exacting fines and then with resources to close unprofitable mines and wait until the unions were unable to hold out. The coal miners were the first step, but gradually she reduced the unions’ economic stranglehold and began to privatize state-owned industries, which made the British economy more dynamic and competitive.

With an established Church, the parameters for separation of church and state are not debated in Parliament. In fact, the prime minister was involved in approving ecclesiastical promotion. Unlike other politicians who rarely addressed religious issues directly, Thatcher had no such reticence. When she became alarmed at the liberal bent of the established Church, she found an opportunity to explain to the professional clergy exactly how she viewed their role in society.

Addressing the General Assembly of Scotland, she boldly stated, “Christianity is about spiritual redemption, not social reform.” She chastised church leaders for failing to appreciate capitalism and the spiritual benefits it provided. It is hard to imagine a political leader who would have the intestinal fortitude to attend a denominational gathering, articulate a theology and take ministers to task for in essence failing in their mission.

Her speech, known derisively as “The Epistle to the Caledonians” is readily available on the internet. Some Sunday when virtual church is off, watch Thatcher explain her version of Christianity and see her sense of faith boldly defended and publicly exhibited.

Perhaps the one thing that both defined Thatcher and also led to her resignation was her idea of Britain’s place in the European community. Her view of Europe was with an eye toward free trade and removing regulations and restrictions on the free flow of goods and services. She saw Europe not as a melting pot where states and people lose their currency and cultural identity, but, rather, as a mosaic where nations and people maintained their unique culture within a framework of collaboration centered on trade.

As the idea of a united Europe moved toward a common currency, democratic socialism and a heightened regulatory environment, Thatcher stood her ground and refused to participate. Her speech to the College of Europe at Bruges explained succinctly her concerns and her vision of developing a strong capitalist Europe. Like her speech to the Church of Scotland, this speech, too, is worth a listen as it is prescient considering the current status of Europe, Brexit and NATO.

Lady Thatcher’s political demise was ushered in by disloyal cabinet members who were willing to subjugate British hegemony to an amalgamated Europe. Nothing they would say or do could detract from her legacy. In her retirement, as she traveled to the former Warsaw Pact countries, throngs of people venerated her as the force that helped liberate them from Soviet domination.

If Thatcher was not honored in her own country, the voices of the children freed from totalitarianism offered honor enough to the Iron Lady who held to her principles, saved her country from irrelevance, and ushered in a new world order based on liberty of the individual and the rule of law.

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Opinion | Giving thanks and staying safe

“As we’ve learned to adjust our daily routines and activities throughout the course of this pandemic, we know this Thanksgiving will not look like those of the past.”

Martha Roby

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(APR GRAPHIC)

Thanksgiving is a special holiday because it provides us an entire day each year to pause and give thanks for the many blessings we have received. Particularly amid a global pandemic, the stress and craziness of life often make it easy to lose sight of just how much we have to be thankful for.

Although this holiday season will look different for us all due to the current health pandemic, we must remember the countless ways in which we are blessed.

Whether you are gathering with loved ones or remaining in the comfort of your own home, I hope we all take time to celebrate gratitude — something we may not do enough of these days.

This year, it is especially important we remember those who have been impacted by the coronavirus. This horrific virus we continue to battle has stolen the lives of over 250,000 Americans and 3,400 Alabamians.

During this season of Thanksgiving, I hope you will join me in prayerfully remembering those who have lost a loved one to this virus as well as those who are suffering from it. My prayers are with those who are missing a family member or friend this holiday season.

As we’ve learned to adjust our daily routines and activities throughout the course of this pandemic, we know this Thanksgiving will not look like those of the past. Please be mindful of any safety measures and precautions that have been put in place to help protect your family and those around you.

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The Alabama Department of Public Health released guidance that includes a list of low, moderate and high-risk activities in order to help Alabamians have a safer holiday season. ADPH suggests a few lower-risk activities such as having a small dinner with members of your household, preparing and safely delivering meals to family and neighbors who are at high-risk or hosting a virtual dinner with friends.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends hosting an outdoor gathering and limiting the number of guests.

While the road to recovery is not always easy, I am confident that we will get through this health crisis together, and we will be better because of it. The American people are resilient, and we will not let this virus knock us down.

In the spirit of the holiday, I want to take this opportunity to tell you that I am thankful for the responsibility to serve our state and country in the United States Congress.

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I am honored to be in a position to make a difference on behalf of Alabama’s 2nd District, so thank you for allowing me to serve you. From the Roby family to yours, we hope you have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

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Opinion | 400 years later, the Pilgrim story is more relevant than ever

“I think that giving thanks for the land that we call home is especially important this year.”

Robert Aderholt

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(APR GRAPHIC)

This Thanksgiving will be different from any other we have had in our lifetimes.  This past year has been a struggle, as every single one of us has had their normal lives disrupted.  Many of us have also lost friends and family as the Coronavirus has swept through our communities. To say 2020 has been a trying time would be an understatement.

This year has not been unlike that first year the Pilgrims spent after landing at Plymouth Rock; their crossing of the Atlantic, their year of loss and struggle and their ultimate triumph.

Four hundred years ago, a group of 102 passengers set sail from England on a ship known as the Mayflower. They left their homeland with eyes set on the New World, where hopes of religious freedom and entrepreneurial opportunities awaited. Today, four centuries later, the New World that these pilgrims found is now the greatest country in the world, the United States of America.

As we look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving in a few days with our loved ones, (as best we can under the current situation) I think that giving thanks for the land that we call home is especially important this year. With the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing, we can look back and admire those brave men and women who embarked on a dangerous journey across the Atlantic Ocean. Many of the passengers aboard that ship sought religious freedom that would only be possible here in the New World. That religious freedom they risked their lives for remains a value we treasure and must continue to defend today.  Sadly, it’s a freedom we too often take for granted each and every day.

And when rough weather forced the Mayflower to land in Massachusetts rather than Virginia, the seeds of democracy were sewn. It was the Mayflower Compact that gave way to the Pilgrims establishing a colony that created its own laws and abided by them. This incredible feat of getting consensus among a diverse group is what led to the first self-governing document in the New World. The Mayflower Compact established something that had never been done before but was soon to be replicated on a larger scale when the nation’s Founding Father’s put pen to parchment and drafted the Constitution. 

It was the brave passengers of the Mayflower who started the tradition of a day of giving thanks in the year 1621. That first year, especially the winter of 1620-21 was harsh and deadly.  Of the 102 original passengers, 45 died the first year. Many died from exposure to the cold, from diseases and from malnutrition. Four entire Mayflower families also died that first winter in Massachusetts.

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But those who survived persevered.  While it wasn’t called Thanksgiving back then, it was a joyous celebration of the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest that they invited nearby Native Americans to join. Some two hundred and forty years later, President Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday to be observed on the final Thursday of each November. 

While we are still struggling through the season of COVID, we can look to those 102 brave souls from four centuries ago who also struggled.  But they trusted that brighter days and the prospect of freedom were on the horizon.   Not only that, but they looked to God for their guidance and thank him for bringing them to the place we are today.  

So, on this Thanksgiving, while we still struggle, we can take comfort from those who came before us.  We owe so much to the Pilgrims, as God put it in their hearts to travel to the New World.  Furthermore, they set before us a spirit of Thanksgiving to the all-knowing God.  And that is an example for us today, perhaps even more so than ever.

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Opinion | Record voter turnout in Alabama shows need for voting legislation

“When Alabamians had reasonable and secure options to access the ballot, they exercised their right to vote in the highest numbers in state history.”

JaTaune Bosby

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(STOCK PHOTO)

More than 140 million voters took part in the historic 2020 election. Alabamians cast 2.3 million ballots, and cast absentee ballots in record numbers. More than 300,000 absentee votes were requested in-person or by mail.

Headlines have lauded the level of participation; however, we must be careful in allowing a narrative to capture a moment while erasing the history and evolution of voter suppression in this state and across the Deep South.

That is why now more than ever, we must expand voting in Alabama.

The full enfranchisement of voters based on race has only been in place for 55 years since the passing of the Voting Rights Act, but that has since been undermined with the Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder decision, which removed federal oversight from state voting regulations and allowed for burdensome requirements like voter ID to become the standard.

Alabama, the very battleground for voting rights in this country, once again backslid and since then has remained even behind many of our neighbors as far as options for voting.

However, this year, when Alabama emerged as a hotspot for COVID-19, state leaders ensured voters would have more choices when casting their ballot this year by permitting use of the absentee and in-person absentee voting for all registered voters.

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This opportunity energized voters, as we saw long lines outside of courthouses across Alabama, from Mobile and Montgomery to Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. Voter turnout exceeded 66 percent nationwide and 61 percent in the state.

When Alabamians had reasonable and secure options to access the ballot, they exercised their right to vote in the highest numbers in state history.

These numbers show that Alabama voters want more voting options prior to Election Day, and it is now up to lawmakers in this state to take a stance for the citizens of Alabama. In the upcoming legislative session, the Alabama legislature must ensure we make voting expansion a priority.

The right to the ballot box should not depend on signatory requirements or excuses to be able to vote safely by mail, as millions of Americans did this past election. Passing legislation can give working parents, caregivers, people with disabilities, and all voters more choices so that voting is made simple and accessible for all Alabamians.

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This historic fight of Civil Rights activists in this very state sent a message to not only the rest of the U.S., but to the world, that democracy and the right to vote is one of our most powerful tools to make our voices heard.

This year, our collective voices have been resounding, and despite our circumstances — a global pandemic, an international social movement, and major political shifts that have impacted our families and our communities for decades to come — we ensured that our voices were heard at the ballot box.

Today, we must aim to be a shining example once again of democracy’s promise and demonstrate that free, fair and accessible elections drive civic engagement at every level and give the people of Alabama the voice in our government that we deserve.

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