By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Saturday, February 25, 2017, US Representative Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) addressed the people of the Sixth Congressional District and beyond in a town hall meeting in Hoover.
Over a thousand people attempted to attend the town hall meeting with the congressman though only 160 were able to go inside the venue. Many of those, who were camped out for hours prior to the 9:00 am event, expressed fears of the changes that President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress may
implement. Many were not supporters of the Congressman.
Despite the largely liberal/progressive views of the crowd, Rep. Palmer felt the event was necessary.
Congressman Palmer told reporters, “I think we have to make ourselves available to our constituents even when they disagree.”
When asked by reporters why they moved the event from the larger Hoover Tactical Firearms facility, Rep. Palmer said that his office had gotten some emails from people who said they felt uncomfortable there.
Palmer said, “I just want to hear their concerns and answer their questions. At the end of the day we are all Americans we are in this together. They know they are not going to get the answers they want to hear. It is important to have a dialogue.”
Rep. Palmer said he was concerned about the fiscal situation of the country. “We have got to get the economy right. We have the lowest labor force participation rate in over 40 years.” Palmer said that he was interested in reforming healthcare and was deeply concerned about recent bomb threats that had been called in to Jewish community centers. The threats are organized and coordinated and the terroristic threats were the purview of the Homeland Security Department and the FBI and promised that once he is back in Washington his office would make sure that those agencies were devoting their efforts into investigating the threats, which he felt they were already doing.
On the anti-Trump hysteria, Rep. Palmer said, “He (Donald Trump) is the President. They can protest Trump but I can’t do anything about it.”
On the immigration issue, Palmer said, “I think we need to reform our immigration laws they are antiquated. At the same time we have to secure our borders. A nation without borders is not a nation.” Palmer denied that there was any mass deportations of undocumented workers and said that recent immigration enforcement actions were focused on trying to round up the felons.
Rep. Palmer said that in hearings about the crime rampant on both sides of the border, Palmer said that it was a rough day (in a congressional hearing) to hear a mom tell about her daughter being killed. She got killed by a drunk driver who was here illegally and who had been deported more than once.
Rep. Palmer said that Obamacare was in the process of collapsing from its own weight. There are over a 1000 counties with just one health insurer and six counties in Mississippi with no insurance company. Humana is just the latest company to pull out of the exchanges. There are 20 million people without insurance.
Palmer said that Pelosi and the Democrats made a mistake when they passed a bill that nobody read and he did not want Republicans repeating that same mistake. “I think we need to phase this out.” Health savings accounts will be part of it. Health care insurance need to be portable so that you can take it with you when you leave one job for another and you need to be able to purchase insurance cross state lines. “If we can land a man on the moon. If we can launch a mission to mars we are smart enough to fix healthcare.”
Addressing the obvious despair many in the crowd displayed over the recent Trump election victory, Palmer said, “I know how you feel. I felt the same way when Bill Clinton was election. When Barack Obama was elected.”
Carol Griffin said, “Thank you for developing such a healthy culture with your staff. They love you. They respect you. You can feel it.” Griffin asked Palmer to go outside and acknowledge the crowd outside. Palmer agreed and spent five minutes with the 200 plus citizens where not able to get in to the building.
In response to questions about statements that Palmer made about Donald Trump in the Republican Primary season, Rep. Palmer said, “I reserve the right to be wrong. I don’t know whether he is a megalomaniac or not but he is the President.” Palmer said of Trump’s treatment of the press, “Some of it is warranted. I have great relationships with the local press. They have been very respectful.”
On tax reform Palmer said, “I am for a consumption tax: the fair tax.” Palmer said, “We have got the lowest labor participation rate among able bodied Americans in 40 years.” Palmer said that even with that the government has record revenue last year $3.3 trillion. Only $300 billion is corporate income taxes; but because we have the highest corporate tax rate in the world many companies are keeping their profits overseas to avoid those taxes. There is $2 to 2.5 trillion in offshore profits. There are more businesses are closing than are starting up. Two things we are dealing with are taxes and over regulations. The IRS reported last year that they failed to collect $406 billion in taxes. If we have a system that is so screwed up that we can’t collect the taxes we are owed then we need a new system. I grew up in Hackleburg. “I understand what it means to struggle and basically come up through the ranks.” “We need a tax system that is fair and that promotes investment.”
On creating a skilled work force Rep. Palmer said, “We have got to train a workforce that fits a 21st century economy. You have got people graduating from high school in Blount County getting a job welding making $50,000 a year.” Not everybody needs to go to college.
A number of Planned Parenthood activists were upset about recent efforts in Congress to defund the nation’s largest abortion provider. Congressman Palmer replied, “I totally support defunding Planned Parenthood. We have over 3000 community health centers. Planned Parenthood is not doing the cancer screenings, they refer them to the community health centers. I don’t think the taxpayers should be required to fund this.
One participant asked Palmer to sign Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-New York)’s resolution to ask for a congressional investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia.
Rep. Palmer replied, “I will not sign Nadler’s resolution because I haven’t read it for one thing. I will look into it but I think the best thing to do is for the intelligence briefings to look into it. They don’t care whether you are a Republican or a Democrat or who you voted for. When they come back and gives us their report we will act on it.”
When one participant who was concerned about anti-Muslim backlash in the country and the ban on refugees from countries where there is a terror concern, asked Congressman Palmer to come to Sunday’s open house at the Islamic Community Center, Rep. Palmer said, “I don’t mind swing by for a few minutes. One thing you will find out about me. I am not afraid to meet with you.”
Palmer said that he is not afraid to have dialogue with anyone, but added, “I am not afraid to disagree with you.”
On mass deportations, Palmer said, “We are not going to deport 11 million people. It would be a humanitarian disaster, but we have to secure our borders.”
On sanctuary cities, Palmer said, “I don’t support any government that defies federal law. I am opposed to sanctuary cities. We have let this issue go on to long and it has festered. We have got to do it where people fill a part of a community. Not just a Hispanic community. Not just am immigrant community, not just a Black community, not just a refugee community but an American Community.”
One cancer patient expressed his support for President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (Obamacare) and said that he will still be alive to vote in the next election but may have to go to Canada for healthcare.
Rep. Palmer replied, “I assure you that if you move to Canada and need treatment you will be in a long line waiting for treatment.”
Palmer said, “I will do what I can to make a healthcare system that works.”
Rep. Palmer said, “One of the biggest crises we face is a loss of constitutional government, Barack Obama exceeded his authority through executive orders, George W Bush exceeded his authority through executive orders, Bill Clinton exceeded his authority through executive orders. We need to make sure that we restore the separation of powers.”
On calls to impeach President Trump, Palmer said, “Trump has not been in office for 30 days.” He has not done anything. He is still getting his team in place.
On charges that Trump has violated the first amendment by his treatment of the press, Palmer said, “He has not taken away their free speech.”
When some school choice opponents spoke, Palmer answered, “I will continue to fund programs that work.” Palmer said that as many as 148 schools in Alabama’s are dropout factories. At one point Woodlawn was graduating one third of their students. Palmer said that he has supported Corner Stone Community school for over 25 years and that it and Banks Academy are outstanding examples.
On stopping overreach by regulatory agencies like EPA, Palmer said, “What EPA has done is usurp legislative authority.” Nobody is elected there, so nobody is accountable. Over the years, EPA has served a good role; but we can’t have individual agencies making law. “If they (greenhouse gases) are regulated it should be by an act of Congress not by administrative fiat.”
Palmer said that American industry has made tremendous progress on reducing pollution. “The key is to get other nations like China to invest in the same technology, not only are they dumping their steel they are dumping their pollutions. Regulations cost the economy $1.9 trillion a year.
Palmer told the town hall participants, “My number one priority as a member of Congress is our national security.”
Congressman Gary Palmer represents Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District, one of the most conservative in the nation.
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.
House OKs bill to clarify consulting contracts by state legislators
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill to try to clarify how legislators accept consulting contracts under Alabama’s 2010 ethics law. Some pundits have suggested that House Bill 387 is actually designed to weaken the existing ethics law.
Sponsor state Rep. Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa, argues that the legislation is merely a clarification and is intended to prevent legislators from inadvertently crossing the line into illegality.
Wingo said that his bill would require legislators to notify the Alabama Ethics Commission that they have entered into a consulting agreement in an area outside of their normal scope of work.
State Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville, said, “I have never understood why members of this body were allowed to take contracts as consultants or counselors.”
Wingo said, “Never do I use the word counselor in my bill; it is consulting.”
Beckman asked, “Are we going to be getting into an area where every time we turn around we create a bureaucratic nightmare where we have to go get an opinion. These opinions whether it is orally or written don’t hold up in a court of law.” Beckman said, “We are serving the people here but we get this admonition that we can still be a consultant if we get an opinion.”
Wingo said, “This does not apply to professions where a member is currently licensed.”
Beckman said, “I would like to see more opinions coming out of the Ethics Commission. Right now we have the Ethics Commission competing with the Attorney General’s office over who has more authority.”
State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said,”This happened to a friend of mine. He just got out of prison. He was a state senator and had a written letter from the Ethics Commission which his lawyer read at trial and the jury convicted him anyway.”
Rogers never named his friend, but reporters think he was talking about former state Sen. Edward Browning ‘E. B.’ McClain who spent over 22 years in the legislature until he was convicted on 47 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, bribery, and money laundry in 2009.
A federal jury found that McClain and the Rev. Samuel Pettagrue were guilty in a scheme where McClain would secure public funds for Pettagrue’s community programs and then receive a kickback once the funds were in hand. McClain was sentenced to five years and ten months in prison. McClain was not prosecuted under the Alabama ethics law as the state has a much weaker ethics statute then. The current ethics law was passed in 2010.
Rogers said, “If they offer me a consulting contract for a field like aerospace engineering that I know nothing about they are trying to pay me off. If you can already be a consultant for something you know about why would you seek a consulting contract for something you don’t know about.
Rogers this is how they can pay you off for your vote.”
State Rep. Artis “A.J.” McCampbell said, “I don’t like making changes to things like this because we get into things called unintended consequences.”
McCampbell was reading from the bill and Wingo said, “You are reading from the original version it has completely changed.” “We worked tirelessly on this bill with the Ethics Commission this is not a fly by night bill.”
“If a member of the legislature enters into a contract to do a consulting contract outside of their normal field of work this bill requires that they consult with the Ethics Commission first,” Wingo said. “It is up to the member to notify the Ethics Commission not to the company or person offering them the money.”
State Representative Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said, “Everybody but legislators are allowed to do contract work up to $30,000.”
Rep. Wingo said, “This is not intended to be a roadblock.”
State Representative Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, said, “The whole purpose of this is not to prevent members from doing work in your field.” “What you are doing is offering to protect me.”
State Representative John Knight, D-Montgomery, asked Wingo what the Alabama Attorney General said about this legislation.
Wingo replied, “I have not contacted the Attorney General.”
Knight responded, “Something from the Ethics Commission does not carry a lot of protection from the Attorney General. We have seen that in the past. I think the Attorney General and the Ethics Commission should be in agreement in the working on this.”
Wingo answered, “Maybe this is a first step.”
Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, asked, “Do we have anybody doing work outside of their regular scope of work?”
Wingo answered, “Yes I think so.”
Wingo said, “If we had had this bill four or five years ago maybe we could have been spared the embarrassment that this body experienced with the former Speaker.”
Wingo was referring to former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard who was convicted of 12 counts of felony ethics violations in June 2016. Ironically, Hubbard is largely responsible for creating the ethics law that he was found guilty of violating 11 times in his relentless pursuit of outside contracts and personal wealth.
Unlike McClain, however, Hubbard has not yet served any of this sentence.
House Bill 387 passed 67-0 with 26 legislators abstaining.
The bill now moves to the Senate for its consideration.
(Original reporting by the Alabama Media Group’s Lisa Osborn in 2009 was consulted in this report.)