By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Politcal Reporter
For months, Alabamians have been focused on who they are going to vote for President of the United States. On Tuesday, they go to the polls and vote, where they face the hard stuff: voting on another fourteen amendments to the Alabama Constitution. A number of state legislators have expressed their opinions on the various amendments.
State Representative Christopher John England (D-Tuscaloosa) said that Amendment 1, “Expands the Auburn Board of Trustees to promote and encourage diversity. It also staggers the member’s terms so that they don’t all expire at the same time. I am voting yes.”
State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow (D-Red Bay) said that it changes when some of the board members’ terms expire, and adds two additional members to the board. On this amendment, I recommend either voting “yes” or not voting at all.
State Senator Paul Bussman (R-Cullman) said, “The Auburn Board of Trustees needs more diversity. They also do not need a large number of members terming out at the same time. Continuity and corporate knowledge is very important. I will vote yes.”
State Senator Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) wrote, “The primary goal of Amendment 2 is to ensure that park guest fees stay in the system to maintain our beautiful state parks. Amendment 2 also allows all parks the option to enter into concession agreements with businesses, which many of the parks already have the ability to do and will level the playing field by allowing that option to other parks. These private business partnerships benefit our park system. At no time does the park system lose ownership of a park or park facility if they enter into these “concessionaire” agreements. It simply gives them another option if they can’t afford to run a particular park or park facility rather than being forced to shut it down.”
Rep. England said, that Amendment 2, “Prohibits the Alabama Legislature from transferring money designated for or generated by the State Park System to other purposes. The amendment would also allow the State Park System to contract with private entities for operation and management of certain state owned facilities and land. If this were just about keeping the Legislature from transferring money out of the state park budget, then I would be okay with it. However, I do not like privatizing state owned facilities and land. I especially don’t like it in the Constitution so it can not be stopped if something goes wrong. I am voting no.”
Sen. Bussman wrote, “To my knowledge, there are no other departments or agencies that are constitutionally allowed to keep all of their revenue for their own operations. Court system certainly does not get to keep all of their revenue for their operations, etc. All revenues go to the general operations for the State services. The legislature then decides priorities through the budget process. I think this sets a bad precedence. Not against state parks but this is not the solution for our funding issues. I will vote no.”
Rep. Morrow said, “The second amendment is meant to protect funding for state parks by earmarking the funds currently going to the parks. In recent years, the Legislature has transferred some funds out of the parks’ budget to help shore up shortfalls in other parts of the budget. If you want to prevent the Legislature from dipping into the park funds then you will want to vote “yes.” If you would rather risk cutting park funding to avoid other cuts or tax increases, then you would want to vote “no.””
State Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) urged voters to vote NO on Amendment 2. McClendon said that Alabama. “Has the highest earmarks in the nation – 90 percent. Next closest- 40 percent. US average 20 percent. Prevents legislature from putting money where needed. Earmarks are reason General Fund in big trouble. (Yes on 14).”
Rep. England wrote that Amendment three, “Attempts to make sure that local constitutional amendments that only apply to one county actually stay local and off of the statewide ballot. Although I am not a fan of the extra procedural hurdle this amendment creates, in my opinion it is a needed and necessary amendment. I am voting yes.”
Rep. Morrow said, “Right now, our state constitution requires some local amendments to appear on statewide ballots. Amendment three addresses this problem by allowing local amendments to appear only on local ballots as long as all legislators agree that the amendment applies to only one county or one political subdivisions (such as a city) that lies within multiple counties. I recommend voting “yes” on this amendment, because local voters should decide local issues.”
Sen. Bussman said that Amendment Three, “Simplifies local constitutional amendments that affect only one county. I will vote yes.
Rep. Morrow said that, “Amendment four gives more autonomy to the local county commissions and how they manage programs like their personnel system and emergency assistance programs. I recommend voting “yes.””
Rep. England wrote that Amendment Four, “Creates limited home rule so counties can create policies and procedures relating to county personnel, litter, public transportation, emergency assistance, and public safety. It does not, however, allow counties to raise taxes or fees or infringe upon a citizen’s property rights. More home rule and less Montgomery rule is always a good thing. I am voting yes.”
Sen. Bussman said that Amendment Four, “Provides more local rule for counties. Still cannot raises taxes or fees under this amendment without legislature approving. I will vote yes.”
Rep. England wrote, “Amendment 5 – Repeals and revises sections of the Constitution dealing with the separation of powers between the 3 branches of government to combine them into one section without making any substantive changes to the law. I am voting yes.”
Sen. Bussman said that Amendment five, “Just cleans up the constitution a little bit. I will vote yes.”
Rep. Morrow said, “Amendment five modernizes language in our state’s constitution relating to the separation of powers, but makes no substantive changes. I plan to vote “yes.”
Rep. Morrow wrote that, “Amendment six replaces impeachment language in the state constitution with a new version that provides more details about the process, including how many votes are needed in the Senate to impeach an elected statewide officeholder. I support this amendment.”
Sen. Bussman wrote, “Impeachment is a very serious process. It should require 2/3 vote. The State school board should also be included in this process. I will vote yes.”
Rep. England wrote that, “Amendment 6 deals with Impeachment. It increases the voting threshold in the Senate to two-thirds majority vote to remove an elected official from office without changing the reasons why an elected official can be impeached. It also removes the state superintendent from the list of officials that can be impeached and adds the entire state school board to the list. To be clear, this amendment was passed prior to the current impeachment investigation of Governor Bentley. I currently serve on the House Judiciary Committee that has been charged with investigating whether or not Governor Bentley should be impeached. Therefore, I will not offer an opinion on Amendment 6 at this time.”
State Representative Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) who represents Etowah County said that Amendment Seven separates the Etowah County Sheriff Department employees from the rest of the county employees. Butler said, “The way it was previously required every county employee to get a raise if you gave a deputy a raise. That’s why many left as soon as they graduated the academy because a small city paid much more. There is not an employee retention issue in the other departments like the Sheriff’s Office.”
Rep. England said that Amendment Seven, “Only applies to Etowah County, so please don’t vote on this amendment unless you live in that county.”
Rep. Morrow said, “Amendment seven is a local amendment relating to the Sheriff’s office in Etowah County, and whose authority the office’s employees are under. I ask that you vote “yes” on this amendment.”
Sen. Bussman wrote, “Affects the citizens of Etowah Co only. I will not vote on this amendment.”
State Representative Art Mooney (R-Indian Springs) wrote for the Alabama Media Group that Amendment Eight is a “Reasonable ballot measure will ensure that union and non-union workers and businesses may peacefully coexist in a calm workplace environment, while, at the same time, helping to attract new investments, grow existing industries, and create additional jobs. It also provides you with a plain-spoken, air-tight constitutional right to hold a job and earn a living for yourself and your loved ones.”
Rep. England said that Amendment 8, “Enshrines Alabama’s right-to-work laws in our Constitution. We already have right-to-work laws so this amendment is absolutely unnecessary. I am voting no and I hope you will as well.”
Rep. Morrow wrote that, “Amendment eight makes “Right to Work,” which has been state law since the early1950s, a part of the constitution. This amendment changes nothing in state law and does nothing to help business, but makes limits on the rights of working people permanent. I plan to vote “no.””
Sen. Bussman wrote that Amendment 8, “Declares constitutionally that AL is a right to work state. I will vote yes.”
Rep. Morrow said, “Amendments nine and ten are local amendments affecting only Pickens and Calhoun counties. I ask that you do not vote on these amendments, and let their fate be decided by the people in those counties.”
Amendment 9 would allow a person who is under the age of 75 to be elected or appointed Probate Judge in Pickens County. Under the current law, the age limit is 70 for the Probate Judge in Pickens County. Amendment 9 would provide that a person’s age would be considered at the beginning of the time to qualify, or at the time of appointment.
The Pickens County Probate Judge is John Earl Paluzzi (D).
Sen. Bussman said that Amendment 9, “Affects the citizens of Pickens Co only. I will not vote on this amendment. ”
Rep. England said, Amendment 9 – Only applies to Pickens County so please don’t vote on this amendment unless you live in that county.
Amendment 10 would prevent any city or town that is not located completely or partially within Calhoun County from exercising police jurisdiction or planning jurisdiction over any territory in Calhoun County.
Sen. Bussman said that Amendment Ten. “Affects the citizens of Calhoun Co only. I will not vote on this amendment.”
Rep. England wrote, “Amendment 10 – Only applies to Calhoun County, so please do not vote on this amendment unless you in that county.”
Rep. Morrow said, “Amendment eleven creates “Tax Increment Districts.” Basically, the idea is that local county and city governments spend/borrow money to develop land for recruiting large businesses, and offer tax credits to recruit businesses to their areas. Then, once the business comes, the property tax on the developed land will incrementally increase over time to repay what was spent/borrowed to recruit them. Vote “yes” if you believe the risk of local governments incurring millions of dollars in debt is worth it to try to recruit business; Vote “no” if you think the risk is too high, and that counties and cities may end up borrowing money then not successfully recruiting a businesses to pay back what gets borrowed.”
Sen. Bussman wrote, “This amendment (11) would give cities the power to create Tax Increment Financing Zones. Essentially this allows cities to borrow money against expected property tax increases within the zone to pay for incentives to lure industries. I am voting no.
Rep. England wrote, “Amendment 11 – This amendment would give cities the power to create Tax Increment Financing Zones. Essentially this allows cities to borrow money against expected property tax increases within the zone to pay for incentives to lure industries. I am voting no.”
Rep. Morrow said, “Amendment twelve is a local amendment but could affect voters statewide. This amendment allows cities in Baldwin County to set up a toll road authority to build and operate more toll roads. Voting “yes” would help Baldwin finance its roadways, but could also mean you pay more when you go to the beach.
Rep. England, and Sen. Bussman both agreed that Amendment 12, “Only applies to Baldwin County, so do not vote on this amendment unless you live in that county.”
Rep. England wrote on Amendment thirteen, “Amendment 13 – This amendment would repeal any existing age restriction on the appointment, election, or service of an appointed or elected official with the exception of judgeships. I am voting yes.”
Sen. Bussman said that Amendment 13, “Removes age restriction on members of state boards, etc. Does not include judges. I will vote yes.”
Rep. Morrow said, “Amendment thirteen repeals age restrictions on appointed or elected office holders except for judges. Vote “yes” if you want to remove the limits; Vote “no” if you think the limits should stay.”
Rep. Morrow said, “Amendment 14 is complicated. This amendment fixes a hole between state law and legislative rules concerning a common procedural vote. The constitution requires one number of votes for this procedural vote to pass, but the rules of the House of Representatives require a smaller number of votes. This became an issue because most legislators abstain from voting on local bills, and a court recently overturned one such bill because it did not get the constitutionally required votes needed. This amendment retroactively fixes this hole by bringing the constitution in line with the House’s rules. I recommend voting “yes” only because, if this amendment fails, it could cause chaos and proration in cities and counties across the state, including taking away pay raises for law enforcement and stripping millions of dollars from local schools.”
Rep. England wrote on Amendment 14, “This amendment would ratify all local bills passed prior to November 8th, 2016 that received less than 32 affirmative votes on the Budget Isolation Resolution (referred to as the BIR). There is a lot of misinformation out there about this particular amendment. However, trust me on this one, if this amendment fails, the entire state, almost every county, could potentially suffer significant consequences including jeopardizing funding for schools, court systems, and many other vital local programs. So please vote yes!”
Sen. Bussman said that Amendment 14, “Fixes a glitch in the local legislation process. I will vote yes.”
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) told the Anniston Star that Amendment 14 was the most important amendment on the ballot. Marsh wrote in the ‘Anniston Star’, “All across Alabama, these bills include local support for education, health care, public safety, jobs and many other worthwhile local projects and protections. As you can see, if this happens, the impact would be disastrous. To cure this, the Legislature passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would correct this problem and leave in place the local laws that would otherwise be subject to being set aside.” “I strongly urge all registered voters to vote on Nov. and don’t forget to vote “yes” on Amendment 14.”
Many counties will also have local amendments on the ballot that only they get to vote on.
The general election is on Tuesday, November 8. The amendments will be on the back of your ballot. Polls open at 7:00 am and close at 7:00 pm. To vote you must bring a valid photo ID.
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.