By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
Week No. 2 has come and gone in the Alabama Legislature’s 2017 Regular Session, and we’re left with only the memories.
And the awful legislation.
Let’s get to the recap….
If the first real day of debate on the House floor sets the tone for the rest of the session, we’re in trouble. Because Tuesday’s opening was as bad as it gets without a fire involved.
The first matter out of the gate, a resolution encouraging Congress to work with President Donald Trump on his agenda, was classic Alabama Legislature: useless pandering that served no one.
Rep. Marcel Black summed this up as well as anyone: “Has Congress ever done anything that we’ve passed a resolution asking them to do?” The answer, of course, is no.
Out of spite, or as retribution for all of the similarly stupid resolutions against President Obama, House Democrats filibustered the resolution for more than four hours, forcing Rep. Barry Moore, the sponsor, to answer question after question. If you’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Rep. Moore, you know that was quite the treat.
The Failing AAA
You’re not going to believe this: The Accountability Act needs another adjustment. I know, it’s only the third time in three years that lawmakers have returned with critical changes for the illegally-passed legislation.
During a heated public hearing on Wednesday, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh pushed changes that would alter where the tax breaks for companies making donations could come from and also redefined the schools from which students are eligible transfer and receive the credits.
Marsh was unusually angry, and his hostility was exceeded by several Democrats in the room who took issue with the amount of State money being devoted to students who transfer from public to private schools. In some cases, the private school students’ parents could receive tax breaks equal to nearly double what the State would pay in funding for the students to attend public schools.
There are also other issues, such as many of the students receiving private school scholarships are not zoned for a failing school and that nearly a third of the private schools to receive funding weren’t accredited.
That there are problems with the AAA should come as no surprise, since in order to believe that this might solve the state’s education issues, you would have to believe that the problem is the actual brick-and-mortar school building. All the AAA does is allow students with means to transfer out of an underperforming school, leaving behind a school that’s still underperforming and still serving students.
It was like catching a glimpse of Bigfoot. At first, you didn’t really understand what was happening – was that a Republican agreeing with a Democrat? – and you had to lean in to be sure you weren’t hallucinating.
But yes, on Wednesday afternoon, there was bipartisan agreement among Alabama legislators on a bill dealing with a usually-controversial topic – the death penalty. Not only are lawmakers from both sides seemingly prepared to pass a bill that kills judicial override in death penalty cases, the House Judiciary Committee also rejected attempts that would have removed language requiring a unanimous jury vote for a death sentence.
A pessimist might point out that this bipartisan effort comes only after Alabama is the last state in the country to allow a judge to override a jury’s decision on the death penalty. But no pessimism here.
The House was the Week 2 winner of our weekly Not The Worst contest. It won by doing nothing.
In two days, it managed to pass a bunch of sunset law reviews that took less than a half-day on Thursday and two of the most worthless bills we’ll see. One was Moore’s Trump bill that clogged up the first day, and the other was a bill entitled “Americans First.”
With a name like that, you know it’s going to be dumb. And it didn’t disappoint.
At a public hearing on the bill last week, Rep. Phil Williams could barely describe what the purpose of the bill was, outside of being an outright pander for votes. On its face, it prevents college campuses from becoming sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants. But at that hearing, Williams admitted that no college in Alabama has such an issue and that Federal law already prevents it.
The loser of our Week 2 award, the Senate, got there through maximum effort to continue the State’s legacy of poor and hypocritical governance.
A Senate filled with conservatives who decry government overreach took up a bill that would limit cities and counties from renaming and moving monuments and also passed a bill that restricts the oh-so-dangerous over-the-counter eyeglass market.
So, to recap: We support whatever it is Trump is doing until he’s impeached, we’re preventing colleges from doing stuff they weren’t doing, don’t you dare rename that street that’s honoring a traitor to the country and we’ve decided you’re getting off way too cheap on those reading glasses.
It’s going great!
Opinion | With liberty and justice for all
As peaceful protests over the last week have been marred by violence and looting, the nation should be asking what kind of country we are and what we are to become?
Are we to be the shining city on a hill or a lord of the flies kingdom of warring factions?
Most of the protesters who have taken to the streets across the nation are only asking for those things promised in The Declaration of Independence and quoted in the nation’s Pledge of Allegiance.
They want the promise of “all men are created equal,” with “liberty and justice for all,” to be fulfilled.
Amidst the chaos, we hear calls for “law and order” and chants of “No justice, no peace.”
A nation can have law and order without justice, but when justice is denied or meted out unequally, people will only remain silent or peaceful for so long.
Law, justice, and peace should flow from the same fountain but rarely ever do in equal measure.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi before him, showed the world the power of nonviolent resistance. From the Salt March, which took place from March to April 1930, in India, to the Selma-to-Montgomery March in 1965, a small band of individuals has shown that peaceful protests can overcome even institutional wrongs.
But laws passed in the 1960s, while changing what was legal, didn’t answer inequities or alter everyone’s hearts and minds.
Even today, the dog whistles of racism and bullhorns of hate compete against calls for change.
Only when bigotry is shown in bright relief against the suffering of a nation’s citizens, do the powerful lose their stranglehold.
The murder of George Floyd is further evidence of a long-festering problem, and the ensuing rage is simply the manifestation of years of systematic mistreatment of black citizens. The laws may have changed in the 1960s, but the mindset of those who fought against that progress has been reborn.
As a nation, we cannot stand with a Bible in one hand and a club in the other and claim equal protection under the law.
Perhaps opening the Scriptures and letting the voice of Jesus speak, rather than holding his words as a prop, would be a good first step. Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Are these not the values we should hold dear?
I do not condone violence or property destruction, but I do understand the grievances that lead to both. We, as a state, and nation, can’t address the one without offering to answer the other.
President Trump’s failed attorney general Jeff Sessions has appointed himself as the spokesman for law and order. In a recent press release, Sessions said, “All over the country we have seen the results of ‘politically correct’ and completely ineffective leadership.”
Sessions blames, “Antifa, far-left radicals, and criminal thugs,” and many agree with him.
During George Wallace’s political rally at Madison Square Garden in 1968, he blamed anarchists, activists, militants, revolutionaries and communists for the nation’s ills.
Wallace also said, “The Supreme Court of our country has hand-cuffed the police, and tonight if you walk out of this building and are knocked in the head, the person who knocks you in the head is out of jail before you get in the hospital, and on Monday morning, they’ll try a policeman about it.”
Today, Wallace, like Sessions, would say that political correctness was the problem, not a culture that targets certain citizens.
Wallace expressed his disdain for demonstrators who tried to block President Lyndon B. Johnson’s limousine saying, “I tell you when November comes, the first time they lie down in front of my limousine, it’ll be the last one they ever lay down in front of; their day is over.”
On Facebook, some Alabamians have suggested protesters be shot in the head if they resist arrest. And so it goes that the ugliness of human nature stands ready to repeat the sins of the past over and over again.
In an Op-Ed, Alabama State University President Quinton T. Ross, Jr., invoked the past in a very different way.
“Our nonviolent stand proved successful in the past, and I believe it could be the catalyst for real and impactful change. Let peace be at the core of all of our actions,” wrote Ross.
“While it seems as though remaining calm in the midst of a racist storm is a signal to be disrespected, disregarded and endangered, remember the lives that were lost to get us to this day. Remember the examples of those who were brutally beaten and rose up from that brutality to walk the halls of Congress, to become mayors, governors, state legislators and community leaders.”
Our nation was born out of public defiance in the face of political oppression. Our nation was to be a port for those seeking hope and justice in a world of tyrants.
President Ronald Reagan called the United States “the shining city upon a hill.”
“In my mind, it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace,” said Reagan in his 1989 Farewell Address to the Nation. He further said he saw the nation as, “A city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”
Reagan saw a nation where everyone was allowed to live with peace and prosperity. A place where all were equal, deserved freedom and justice. Is that not what we all want, including the protesters?
America has always been a land of promise, and many times, promises are not kept.
But today, our nation may very well be at a turning point.
Will the moral imperative of fairness break over the dam’s edge, or will some just add more sandbags to the top?
Will we decide liberty and justice for all are more than words we repeat by rote, and that everyone deserves the promise of America?
That is the question before us, and now what we choose will show who we are and what we will become.
Opinion | Racism has broken America. We can fix it
The happiest day of my life was March 9, 2018 — the day my daughter was born.
People who know my wife and me, or who follow either of us on social media, can likely tell that we’re crazy, helicopter parents who think our little Andi Lou is perfect. Because, well, she is.
We also worry — A LOT. About everything. As we try to keep this little live wire safe and happy. It’s like a never-ending stream of what-ifs and what-abouts and should-we’s.
Honestly, it’s exhausting. And there are times when I think it’s overwhelming.
And then someone like Devin Adams gives me a glimpse into a world that I know nothing about. A world that I will never walk in. A world that will forever remain foreign to me.
That’s the world navigated by the parent of a black child.
Adams, a senior on the Auburn University football team, on Tuesday tweeted about using his football gear to stay safe in everyday life. Not the pads and helmet, but the jersey and other clothing that identifies him to cops as an Auburn football player.
“I’ve been asked so many times why I wear Auburn gear all the time…,” Adams tweeted. “then they hit you with ‘YoU MuSt wAnT pPl tO kNoW YoU PlAy FOoTbAlL oR SoMEthINg’…. Lol not even knowing sometimes it’s a protection mechanism to just make it home safe.”
Other black players responded that they do the same thing.
Think about that.
You can dismiss it as an exaggeration if you like — and maybe in some cases, it could be — but this is how a young, college educated guy in one of the safer cities in America feels every single day.
He fears for his life to the point that he has altered what he wears every day to make OTHER PEOPLE more comfortable with him. To make cops not automatically assume he’s a criminal. To lessen the likelihood of a deadly encounter.
Now, imagine sending your child out into that world every day. Imagine how Adams’ parents must feel — both knowing that he carries that fear and that the danger he faces is very real.
Look, we can throw rocks back and forth at each other forever, and place blame on this person or that group, but at the end of the day, we know this is wrong. That young men feel this scared on a daily basis in our country, in our states, in our communities is simply wrong.
And it is something that every single one of us should want to correct.
We certainly want that safety for our white kids. We’ve moved mountains and rewrote laws to make sure they’re safe and protected. We’ve built new cities and schools. We’ve put fences and regulations up around our neighborhoods.
But along the way, we vilified black citizens in the process.
For far too long (and even today in some spots), especially in the South, a “safe neighborhood” meant a neighborhood without black families in it. A “safe school” meant a school without many black students enrolled. Keeping your community safe meant isolating the black citizens to one specific area, dubbing it “n– town,” and telling your children to steer clear of it.
These things are what led us to today. To the fires and the protests. To the anger and anguish. And to Devin Adams’ heartbreaking fear.
We have to do better.
And yeah, I know that’s a common sentence these days. One that’s tossed around without much thought. But I actually mean it. And I have an idea of how to make it happen.
Affect those around you.
Racism grows and spreads because it is not challenged. Racism flourishes out of fear — usually of the unknown.
Don’t allow that with the people you can affect. Don’t stay quiet when friends and family members say ignorant things or pass along ignorant, clearly wrong information. After all, if they’re bold enough to say something stupid out loud, why shouldn’t we be bold enough to say something right?
But most importantly: Teach your children — and anyone else who will listen to you — that the color of a person’s skin is as meaningless as the color of their shoes, and that skin color should never, ever be a barrier to friendship and love.
Racism is learned. And it’s just as easy to teach kindness and inclusion.
My daughter will never hear her parents use racist rhetoric or see us discriminate against anyone. She will play with kids of all races, and it will be as normal as a summer bike ride. She will watch animated shows with black and brown characters and will never know that there was a time when such a thing was incredibly odd. She will one day learn that she is named after a Civil Rights heroine, and she’ll learn that real history too.
These are not grand gestures. They’re literally the least we can do.
But I have to believe that if all of us focus on being decent people and changing and molding those we can, it will matter eventually. At least enough that Devin Adams’ children won’t have to wear football gear to feel safe in their own communities.
Opinion | Stellar group studying gambling in the state
Another legislation session has passed, and Alabama still has no lottery. Actually, the Legislature does not in itself have the authority to pass a state lottery, they can only authorize a ballot initiative to let you vote on a lottery. It takes a constitutional amendment.
The lottery would pass in a vote in Alabama simply because Alabamians are tired of their money going out of state to Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee. All our surrounding Southern sister states have lotteries and Alabamians are buying lottery tickets in those states, paving their roads, and educating their students. It would pass In Alabama in a unified bipartisan vote. Alabamians who would not or never have bought a lottery ticket would vote for it, and those that must trek to our bordering states to buy them definitely would vote in favor. It is well known that the locations that sell the highest numbers of lottery tickets in Florida and Georgia are on the Alabama border.
The lottery proposal this year was doomed from the beginning because Governor Kay Ivey in her State-of-the-State address announced that she was taking an interest in the issue and announced a study group to study gambling policy for the state.Governor Ivey had never taken a position for or against gambling as Lt. Governor or during her campaign for governor or as Governor. Therefore, when she took to the stage in the State-of-the-State, it was apparent that she was finally weighing in on the issue.
Well, folks, she did not just appoint any old study group, she quickly named a panel of Alabamians that are blue chip, top of the chart, super Alabama leaders. This distinguished group is above reproach and have no ties or for that matter no real interest in gambling. Most of them have probably never even bought a lottery ticket or pulled a slot machine lever. However, you can bet that this group will come up with a wise and prudent approach to how Alabama should address the gambling solution for our state.
Kay Ivey has been able to get the best citizens in Alabama to participate in major decisions and initiatives. However, it would be difficult to find a bluer ribbon, stellar accomplished group of Alabamians as she has selected and garnered to serve on this panel to study gambling.
It will be chaired by former Montgomery Mayor, Todd Strange. He has been successful in business and government and is above reproach and well respected. Other members of this impressive group include Rey Almodovar of Huntsville, who founded and runs a major engineering firm in the Rocket City; Deborah Barnhart of Huntsville, who is the Chief Executive Officer emerita of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville; Walter Bell of Mobile is the past chairman of the world’s largest reinsurance companies and a former Alabama Commissioner of Insurance; Dr. Regina Benjamin of Mobile, who is a physician who served as the 18th Surgeon General of the United States and before that was President of the Medical Association of Alabama; former State Treasurer and retired banker, Young Boozer, who is universally respected; Sam Cochran, who has been Mobile County’s Sheriff since 2006; Liz Huntly, a widely respected attorney and child advocate in Birmingham; Carl Jamison of Tuscaloosa, a third–generation shareholder of one of Alabama’s largest and oldest public accounting firms; former Alabama Supreme Court Justice and Court of Appeals Judge, Jim Main; and the legendary journalist, Phil Rawls, who recently retired as Alabama’s leading and most respected reporter – he covered Alabama government for the Associated Press for 35 years.
Perhaps the most respected and accomplished member of this elite panel is Bishop Dr. Mike Watson. He is the Bishop in Residence at Canterbury Methodist Church in Birmingham and is serving as the Ecumenical Chairman of the Council of Bishops. He has served and founded major Methodist Churches in Dothan and Mobile. He is also the past president of the Mobile School Board. I have known Mike Watson since our college days at the University of Alabama. I have never known a better man.
You will probably see this study group’s recommendations on the top of Governor Ivey’s agenda when she gives the 2021 State-of-the-State address next February.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the State legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.
Opinion | Dodge the Economic Impact Payment card fees
My wife received her $1,200 stimulus payment as a direct deposit several weeks ago. I did not get one, even though we file a joint income tax return, she makes more money than I, and our money is deposited into the same bank account.
I just figured there was some kind of mix-up. That’s fine; mostly I’m patient when I’m getting “free” money. I’m not teaching this summer, so the money will come in handy when it comes.
Then this week, a lawyer friend and his wife received their stimulus money on a prepaid debit card. Luckily, my lawyer friend is a lawyer. He always reads the fine print.
More than likely, I would have thrown the fine print part of the stimulus in the trash, and maybe the debit card, too, because the whole thing looks like some sort of scam. And my friend says that in some ways, it is.
About 4 million of the debit cards were sent out by “Money Network Cardholder Services,” with a return address in Omaha, Neb. They are issued by MetaBank, N.A. There is no indication on the envelope that this is indeed the stimulus money approved by Congress. There is a flier inside that says “Enclosed is your Economic Impact Payment Card.” According to reports, the debit cards have been tossed into the garbage by people who think they are some elaborate scam or a solicitation for one of those high-interest credit cards.
They are valid, and your money is loaded onto them for you to spend like any Visa card. Except there are some catches, and this is what my friend is miffed about. He believes unsophisticated folks (that could be me) and marginalized people who receive the cards will succumb to the various fees that an unaware card user can incur.
Most services have no cost. Buy what you want, call for a balance inquiry, transfer the funds to your personal bank account, and use in-network ATMs that carry the AllPoint brand and you won’t be charged.
However, there are fees for using out-of-network, domestic ATMs ($2 after the first withdrawal), $3 for ATM withdrawals in another country, even getting a balance from your ATM, either in-network, out-of-network, domestic and international (25 cents a pop).
If your card is lost or stolen, you’ll pay for that as well. It’ll cost $7.50 for a new card, and if you want it expedited, that’ll be $17. If I lose my bank’s debit card, or if the card is stolen (both of which have happened to me), my bank replaces the card for free in about five days. If you lose your “economic impact payment card,” it could cost you $24.50 to have it replaced in a timely manner.
And here’s where you can really run up charges: If you use a bank teller for a cash withdrawal on the card, there’s no charge for the first withdrawal, but $5 for subsequent withdrawals using a teller.
If only a small percentage of users end up paying fees because they used the wrong ATM or prefer to get their cash from a human teller, that could add up to millions of dollars for somebody up the line, and that somebody is not going to be you or me.
I’m not complaining. I’m just urging caution if you’re one of the millions of people who received one of these debit cards. Be aware they are coming and don’t fall into the fee-trap that comes with them.
I’m no financial wiz – my family and friends can attest to that – but if I get one of those debit cards, I’m just going to transfer the whole amount into our checking account. If you don’t have a bank account, and many people don’t, I would just cash it out then cut up the card.
But be aware these cards are going out, and if you’re waiting on your stimulus check, you might get a debit card instead. Don’t throw it away. Buy something. It’s what they want you to do.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]
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