By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, August 10, Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) released a statement in which he disagreed with recent statements by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s (R) attorney that say that only the most serious offenses warrant impeachment. Auditor Zeigler says that interpretation of the 1901 Constitution is wrong
Attorneys for Gov. Robert Bentley filed a brief on impeachment standards to the House Judiciary Committee, in which they argued that only the most serious charges are grounds for impeachment.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler is also an attorney as well as a vocal critic of Bentley. Zeigler said that the Bentley lawyers are wrong and, “should re-read the State Constitution.”
Zeigler cited section 173 of the constitution, which sets out grounds for impeachment: “Willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or intemperance in the use of intoxicating liquors or narcotics …, or for any offense involving moral turpitude while in office.”
Zeigler said, “This constitutional list of impeachment grounds is what governs — not the arguments of the Bentley lawyers.” “Look at the actual list of the five grounds for impeachment. Gov. Bentley may well be guilty of four impeachment grounds — all except intemperance in the use of intoxicating liquors or narcotics.”
During the 2016 Regular Session, 23 legislators led by State Representative Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) introduced articles of impeachment against Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) over allegations swirling around the Governor stemming from an alleged affair with former top political advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
There are allegations that the married Mrs. Mason may have improperly have benefitted from her “inappropriate relationship” with the then married 74 year Gov. Bentley. There are questions about if State resources were improperly used to facilitate or cover up the affair. There are also questions about whether Bentley campaign dollars that went to Mrs. Mason may have violated State election laws. Similarly there are questions about whether or not donations to Bentley’s non-profit group were improperly used to compensate Mrs. Mason for her, “services.” Did entities, including lobbyists and corporations, donate to pay Mason in order to influence legislation? Did that make Mrs. Mason an unregistered lobbyist? Were State employees including Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Director Spencer Collier improperly fired on the orders of Mrs. Mason? Were the Governor and Mrs. Mason conspiring to try to get the ethics trial of then Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard thrown out of court and prosecutor Matt Hart removed from the case? Did the Governor and Mrs/ Mason orchestrate the mass firings of ALEA investigators in order to close down several investigations into possible corruption by public officials including members of the legislature?
All of this and more is already being investigated by the US Department of Justice (who has appointed their own special prosecutor), the Alabama Attorney General’s office, and the Alabama Ethics Commission. While some legislators have urged that the body wait on those investigations to conclude, Zeigler has urged the House Judiciary Committee to pass at least one article of impeachment.
Auditor Zeigler wrote, “I ask that you schedule a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee before or during the early stage of the August 15th special session. The purpose would be to consider at least one article of impeachment against Gov. Bentley. This would allow the full House to take up impeachment in the special session.”
Gov. Bentley has acknowledged having an “inappropriate relationship” with Mrs. Mason, only after Director Collier released an audiotape, originally recorded by First Lady Diane Bentley, that sounded as if the elderly Governor and his top political aide were having romantic rendezvous in the Governor’s office. Mrs. Bentley divorced the sitting Governor in 2015. The Governor and Mrs. Mason both deny that they were engaged in any actual sex acts or that they broke any laws. Mrs. Mason has since resigned from her post with Bentley’s Alabama Council for Excellent Government.
Bentley’s behavior has been widely reported both nationally and internationally where he is sometime’s referred to as, “The luv guv.”
The House Judiciary Committee is chaired by Rep. Mike Jones, (R-Andalusia). Other members are Republicans: Jim Hill, Mike Ball, Paul Beckman, Dickie Drake, Allen Farley, David Faulkner, Matt Fridy, Mike Holmes and Phillip Pettus, as well as Democrats Thad McClammy, Marcel Black, Merika Coleman‑Evans, Chris England and Juandalynn Givan.
While the Alabama 1901 Constitution allows the legislature to impeach the Governor for crimes of moral turpitude, most legislators are reluctant to remove Bentley solely for adultery.
If the Judiciary Committee decides there is enough evidence of misconduct on the part of Gov. Bentley to proceed, they will make a recommendation to impeach to the full body of the Alabama House of Representatives.
The full House would then vote on whether or not to impeach Gov. Bentley. The House functions like a Grand Jury would in a court setting. If the House votes that Bentley probably did something wrong, the State Senate would then hold a trial.
The trial in the Senate would be presided over by the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Chief Justice Moore however is facing his own trial in the Court of the Judiciary on September 28.
Associate Justice Lyn Stuart (R) is the acting Chief Justice while the Court of the Judiciary decides whether or not they want to remove Roy Moore, and presumably would preside over the trial if it were held before the end of September. If Moore were removed as Chief Justice, Gov. Bentley will appoint a new Chief Justice to finish out Moore’s term and that new Bentley appointee would preside over Bentley’s trial in the Senate if impeachment goes that far.
If the Senate finds that Gov. Bentley is guilty of acting improperly, they can choose to remove him as Governor or they could just censor him.
The Alabama Legislature has not actually impeached any office holder since 1915 and the then Secretary of State was never actually found guilty and removed.
Tuberville calls for term limits, balanced budget and lobbying reform
Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.
Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville’s campaign began emphasizing key structural reforms that the Republican nominee hopes to advance if elected to the U.S. Senate including congressional term limits, withholding lawmakers’ paychecks unless a balanced budget is passed and a ban on former officials becoming lobbyists.
“Only an outsider like me can help President Trump drain the Swamp, and any of the proposals outlined in this ad will begin the process of pulling the plug,” Tuberville said in a statement. “Doug Jones has had his chance, and he failed our state, so now it’s time to elect a senator who will work to fundamentally change the way that Washington operates.”
Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.
“You know Washington politicians could learn a lot from the folks in small town Alabama, but Doug Jones … he’s too liberal to teach them,” Tuberville added.
Polls consistently show that term limits are popular with people across both political parties, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that imposing term limits would be adding a qualification to be a member of Congress and that can only be done by constitutional amendment.
It is an unspoken truth that when Americans send someone to Congress they never come back. They either keep getting re-elected like Alabama’s own Sen. Richard Shelby, who is in his sixth term in the Senate after four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. On the other hand, they may become lobbyists getting paid to influence their colleagues on behalf of corporations, foreign governments or some well funded non-government organization.
Tuberville said he would ban that practice.
A balanced budget amendment almost passed in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.
Since that failure, Congress has increasingly passed bigger and bigger budget deficits. The U.S. government borrowed more money during the eight years of President George W. Bush’s presidency than the government had borrowed in the first 224 years of the country combined.
President Barack Obama followed and the TARP program propped up the post-Great Recession economy. Rather than cutting the deficit, President Donald Trump invested billions in the military and a tax cut without cutting domestic spending. The 2020 coronavirus crisis has further grown the budget.
The government has borrowed trillions to prop up the economy and provide stimulus while investing billions into medical research and treating the virus victims. Congress is currently debating a fifth stimulus package that would add more to the deficit.
Both a balanced budget amendment and a term limits amendment would have to be ratified by the states if passed by Congress. Tuberville is challenging incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.
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.