Connect with us

In Case You Missed It

Legislature returns today

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Tuesday, April 4, 2017, the Alabama Legislature returns after a two week spring break.

The legislature has a number of issue to deal with.

The first of these is the budgets. The Senate was debating the education trust fund (ETF) budget on the last day. Now it moves to the House for their consideration. The House on Tuesday, March 14, passed the State General Fund Budget (SGF); but it still has to be taken up by the Senate. The SGF is Spartan. The state needs to spend more money on Medicaid, prisons, mental health, and State Troopers; but there really is not any money in the budget to fund those agencies at the levels that administrators would like.

The State suffered a bitter disappointment when the US House of Representatives failed to act on repealing and replacing Obamacare. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley had been promised much greater flexibility in how the State operates its Medicaid program, preferably block grants with less federal strings attached so that the state would have the freedom to pass more costs onto beneficiaries and to set its own standards on the income levels needed to qualify for the enormously expensive entitlement. Now all of those Medicaid reforms have been postponed perhaps indefinitely and the State is struggling to keep pace with the escalating costs of the program: by far the most expensive item in the General Fund.

The elephant in the room is what to do with embattled Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R). Even though the state Attorney General’s Office, the US Justice Department, and the Alabama Ethics Commission all have ongoing investigations in to possible misconduct by the 73 year-old Governor, he still has not been indicted for anything to this point. Undeterred by that the House Judiciary Committee has announced that they are doing their own investigation and have scheduled hearings for this month to decide whether or not to impeach Gov. Bentley. The Judiciary Committee is promising to have all of this wrapped up by Mid May so the House can vote to impeach or not to impeach (if this gets that far) by May 9. Bentley’s legal team is already attempting to throw up legal road blocks to try to delay and stall the process for time…..they have already had eleven months to prepare a defense. The big question in the Bentley case is will the attorneys allow: Bentley; his alleged mistress, Rebekah Caldwell Mason; her husband, Jon Mason; etc. to testify in a open hearing while knowing that Federal and State prosecutors are still out there listening and comparing all of that testimony with what they already have learned thru their investigation and the secret grand jury process. Whether or not that constitutes “double jeopardy” under the law will be hotly debated both in the legislature itself and likely in court when the Bentley legal defense team trys to get the courts to intervene in the impeachment process. None of this has been ruled on before because Alabama has not impeached anybody in over a hundred years.

Permitless carry is still moving its way through the Legislature. Both the House and the Senate Republican Caucuses promised gun owners before the session began that they would end the requirement that gun owners must purchase a concealed carry permit in order to carry concealed (open carry is already legal in Alabama) or to keep a loaded handgun within reach. So-called “Constitutional Carry” is supported by grass roots gun rights groups across the State; but is being opposed by the Alabama Sheriffs Association and other Law Enforcement groups.

Public Service Announcement

Will the Legislature pass laws ensuring that faith based Adoption Agencies continue to be granted the latitude to place children in homes as they see fit or will State agencies be placed in a position to force the religious groups to place children in the homes of families that do not practice traditional marriage? Legislation is moving through the process but is being opposed by both gay rights groups and the Social Workers Union.

Will the Legislature pass a tax increase? Powerful special interests including the Road Builders, the Business Council of Alabama (BCA), and the County Commissions are putting a lot of pressure on legislators to pass a controversial bill that would raise the State’s tax on fuel. The gas tax money would then be immediately spent on a massive bond issue so there would be a lot of election year road projects; but all the new revenues would be tied up to service the massive new debt. Many conservative groups have opposed this legislation on the grounds that it raises both the burden on the taxpayers and increases the debt.

Similarly, Governor Bentley’s plan to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to build fancy new prisons has passed the State Senate though in a somewhat downsized version. Now the enormously controversial plan to build costly new prisons while shuttering old prisons moves to the Alabama House of Representatives. Privately some legislators have told The Alabama Political Reporter that they don’t trust the ethically challenged Bentley Administration with the money to build new prisons and may just punt this issue to the new Governor in 2019.

ADVERTISEMENT

Republicans have promised Confederate history groups that some protections for monuments and memorials will finally pass during this Legislative session. Various versions of the “monuments bill” or the Memorial Preservation Act are also moving through the legislature. They are however being opposed by the County Commissions and some city governments who oppose having a new state board having the say on whether they can tear down or move monuments and statues or rename public buildings no matter how old they are.

Expanding school choice is another issue that is still before the Legislature. A new version of the Alabama Accountability Account allowing even more money to be diverted from the traditional government run top down school systems to fund scholarships for families to flee failing public schools is currently before the legislature. School choice advocates are pushing legislators to expand who qualifies for the scholarships and to actually begin to see charter schools established in the State. School choice reforms are however being opposed by the school employees unions, the public school superintendents, and the school boards association. Despite the efforts of grass roots groups, overturning the state’s unpopular college and career ready standards which are aligned with Common Core appears to have completely stalled in the Legislature in this Legislative year even though there has been no measurable improvement in test scores since the State adopted the new standards and even Gov. Bentley admitted publicly recently that: “Our schools suck.”

Gambling is another issue before the Legislature; though many sources tell The Alabama Political Reporter that there is little appetite for dredging up the gaming issue after the lottery Special Session exposed deep divisions even among gambling supporters as to what a lottery means. No one expects a lottery or gaming bill to pass either House during this session.

To stay up to date on all of your Legislative news throughout the session keep visiting The Alabama Political Reporter for unmatched coverage of the Alabama Legislature and State government.

 

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

Advertisement

In Case You Missed It

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.

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

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.

Public Service Announcement

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

Continue Reading

In Case You Missed It

House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

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.

Public Service Announcement

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

 

Continue Reading

In Case You Missed It

Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

Published

on

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.

Public Service Announcement

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

Continue Reading

In Case You Missed It

Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

Published

on

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.

Public Service Announcement
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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement