By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Republican Party’s Steering Committee has joined the chorus of state leaders calling for Gov. Robert Bentley’s immediate resignation over the fallout from his relationship with a former top political adviser.
The party’s 21-member main governing body passed a resolution Sunday night calling for Bentley to step down from his office. The party’s call follows similar demands from State Republican leaders last week, including House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Madison, and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston.
“While we are deeply saddened by these circumstances, the Alabama Republican Party holds their elected officials accountable and demands the utmost integrity of office holders,” the committee’s resolution reads.
McCutcheon, arguably the State’s most powerful elected official, called on the Governor to resign Friday before a damning 130-page report on the Governor from the House Judiciary Committee’s special counsel was released. McCutcheon’s announcement was, according to Goat Hill insiders, an attempt to give the Governor an out before the report was released.
“Let’s end this embarrassment to our state, right now,” McCutcheon said. “Let Alabamians once again look to our Capitol with pride, rather than with shame. If Governor Bentley will take a moment to consider the effect of his position and what it’s having on our state, it’s reputation and its citizens, I’m hopeful he will do the right thing and step down from Office immediately.”
“It’s the only way to avoid taking our State on a long, painful and embarrassing journey, whose ending is likely already known to us all.”
The Governor’s spokeswoman, Yasamie August, made it clear Friday afternoon that the Governor had no plans to resign. In response to the question of whether the Governor plans to resign, she said, “No, not at all.”
Marsh, the leader of the Alabama Senate, spoke out Thursday after the release of the four Ethics Commission charges about 24 hours before. He called on the Governor to step down for the good of the State.
“I hope at the end of the day that the Governor do what’s best for the people of Alabama,” Marsh said. “If it means that these things are pressings, that it’s going to continue to put the State under a cloud if that’s where we’re headed, I hope the governor does what’s best for the State and seriously considers stepping down.”
Sources close to the matter also say that officials from the Attorney General’s Office consulted with the Governor about resigning his office Friday. But the unified chorus of calls for his resignation had no effect on the Governor through Friday.
“Once again, let me say, I do not plan to resign,” Bentley said Friday morning at an impromptu press conference on the marble steps of the Alabama Capitol. “I have done nothing illegal. If the people want to know if I misused state resources, the answer is simply no, I have not.”
Lawmakers and law enforcement officers, sources close to the Governor and even some within the Governor’s Office said Sunday night that Bentley was close to resigning, but was concerned about what investigations would continue if he were to step down. His resignation could come sooner than expected, the sources said.
Those sources said Bentley, beleaguered from the past week, had all but consented to stepping down, but the sides had not yet reached an agreeable deal that would halt not only the impeachment process but also weigh favorably for the governor in the ongoing criminal investigations by state and federal officials, the Alabama Political Reporter’s Josh Moon reported.
Friday was the culmination of a bad week for the 74-year-old doctor and Baptist deacon turned Alabama Governor, who has been under fire since March 2016 for his relationship and alleged affair with a former top staffer, Rebekah Mason.
In April 2016, several Alabama House members filed articles of impeachment against the Governor, launching a year-long process that is set to result in impeachment hearings beginning Monday — if it gets that far.
The hearings are expected to detail an investigation by the House Judiciary Committee’s special counsel, Jack Sharman, who has been investigating the governor for possible misuse of state funds and resources. Sharman’s investigation involved interviewing more than 20 witnesses and combing through more than 10,000 pages of documents.
The Governor has admitted to an inappropriate relationship with Mason that ended up killing his 50-year marriage with former First Lady Dianne Bentley, who divorced the Governor in 2015. The Governor has also denied any legal wrongdoing, but exhibits released with the House’s investigation tell a different story — a story of a governor who became increasingly obsessed with his image and even used State resources and personnel to protect himself from public humiliation.
“[Bentley], in a process characterized by increasing obsession and paranoia, subjected career law enforcement officers to tasks intended to protect his reputation,” the report reads.
According to the report, Bentley irected law enforcement officers, including Collier and former security officer Wendall Ray Lewis, to end his relationship with Mason on his behalf and drive to Tuscaloosa and Greenville to recover lewd recordings of him and Mason. He also wanted investigations into those with to recordings to see if there were any crimes they could be charged with.
The report also found that Bentley ordered former ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier not to file an affidavit with the Attorney General’s investigation into former House Speaker Mike Hubbard, who was removed from office last year upon conviction of 12 felony ethics violations.
Meanwhile, Mason developed increasingly political and policy authority within the Governor’s Office, enjoying a favored spot on his staff and hundreds of thousands of dollars in monetary compensation. In 2015, Collier was forced to meet with Mason to set budget priorities for the legislative session.
Another portion of the report notes that no one got to Bentley except through Mason.
“The Bentley-Mason relationship evolved to the point that nothing could be done in the Office without Mason’s sign-off,” the report reads.
The House is not the only body investigating Bentley, and if he chooses to step down, it is unclear but unlikely that the other investigations would end. The Alabama Attorney General’s Office and the Montgomery County District Attorney, on recommendation from the Alabama Ethics Commission, are also assumed to be conducting separate criminal investigations.
The Ethics Commission last week referred four charges to the Montgomery DA, all of which were class B felonies. If the Governor is formally charged by either of the law enforcement agencies, he could face up to 20 years in prison and $30,000 in fines for each of the four charges.
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.