By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, May 9, 2017 state Representative Johnny Mack Morrow (D from Red Bay) held a press conference where a bipartisan group of legislators and community groups expressed their opposition to former Governor Robert Bentley’s prison construction plan, SB302, which is sponsored by Senator Cam Ward (R from Alabaster).
Representative Morrow was joined by State Representative Mike Holmes (R from Wetumpka) and Allen Farley (R from McCalla) as well as citizens concerned about the prison bill.
Rep. Morrow said, “When we saw this $800 million bond issue coming we started a discussion group.” Do we need to obligate future taxpayers to the tune of $800 million. The more we learned the more we found we did not need this.
Morrow said that the plan had been increased to $845 million in committee earlier in the morning.
Morrow chastised House Judiciary Committee Chair Mike Jones (R from Ozark) for how the public hearing was conducted earlier in the day. “I resent the process in Montgomery today. We do not give the people impacted an opportunity to be heard. Time was limited severely.”
The Legal Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) Rhonda Brownstain said, “The building of these prisons will not resolve the legal issues.” The prison are dangerously understaffed. They are staffed at only 50 percent. Commissioner Dunn admits that is the biggest problem. The state is borrowing $800 million and according to the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) says that this will only need 174 less officers. That will leave ADOC only 1300 officers short.
Brownstein said The idea is prison are in bad shape; but that is not what is keeping people from applying for prison guard jobs and staying wioth ADOC. The pay is.
The starting pay is $7000 less than a state trooper. They leave to get paid more as state troopers, as sheriff’s deputies, and as police officers. The money needs to go to salaries.
Brownstein disputed the idea that the $51 million bond debt could be paid for with cost savings. The $844 million will be paid back over 30 years supposedly through cost savings. ADOC could not explain this. They claim they can save $21 millin in overtime; but in order to be fully staffed they would need 1300 new officers. ADOC also claims there will be $10 million in health savings. Once the court rules in the current case, the state will have to spend tens and probably hundreds of millions of dollars more for inmate health and mental health care.
Brownstein said, “The whole idea of cost savings will pay all of thise is absolutely false.”
Richard Fox said my story is a very personal one. I know what it is like from an inmates point of view. Yes we could use new buildings. We could use air conditioning in the summer time. Fox said that he was concerned that the figures don’t add up.
Fox said, “We have bad management. There is a problem with management. There is a problem with the drug problem inside the prisons. There is only one way that drugs can get inside the prison and that is prisoners or guards bringing them in.”
Fox said that some guards make more money selling drugs than they do from their salary.”
Fox’s son was a prisoner and has been there out for two years. “I still have contacts.”
“There is rich justic and poor justice. If you think justice is the same across Alabama I need to pinch you because you must be asleep.” “I have interviewed judges, a district attorney, prison guards, a chaplain, and prisoners from every prison in Alabama.
Fox said, “I am not against new buildings if we can afford them but I live in a 60 year old house because that is what I can affortd.”
Troy University Economist Courtney Michaluk said that the prison construction financing will be financed by lease revenue bonds. Revenue bonds are done for things like toll roads and hospitalsm where the revenue generated from the tolls or the hospital pay the bonds. “Prisons do not have a source of revenue.” The money used to pay off the bonds come direct from the general fund. The claim that this, “Is revenue neutral is fiction.” “The bond debt is off budget for the state but the ulitmate source to pay off the debt is still state revenue.”
Michaluk attacked the idea that the counties and municipalities could assume the majority of these debts. “Elmore county is very interested. They have an $11 million annual budget.” Their debt is $8.4 million a year.” Michaluk said that this is risky debt because the bonds are not guaranteed by the state. There is no guarantee that the DOC renew the lease every year. “The local authoritity is at the mercy of the state.”
Jack Pelfrey, the former mayor of Clio, said that under this plan the prison in their community will likely close. Pelfrey said, “It is going to be very difficult to build these kinds of prsons.” ADOC claims they can build these prison for $56,000 per inmate.
That is normally the cost per iname for low security. The cost to build a maximum security is running about $145,000 per inmate.
Pelfrey said that ADOC were did not do staffing analysis. There was no real in depth analysis done. It looks like the savings were reverse engineered to go to the amount of the debt service. “ It is counter intuitive that if you have more inmates and fewer guards that you will hve less violence.”
Pelfrey said that he is concerned with what this is going to do to Clio. The town has been borrowing money to provide water and sewer services to the prison. “Over the years Clio has done almost $7 million in water and sewer infrastructure improvements. A lot of that was done to support the prisons.” Clio will be in debt till 2043.
Pelfrey said that the prison is the largest employer in the and the largest customer for Clio’s water and sewer services. If the prison town loses a third of its annual revenues
$350,000 in revenue goes away and $106,000 in debt service remains. Clio has just over a $million budget now. “I don’t know that the town of Clio can survive.” “A municipal bankruptcy will be in the near future.”
The Executive Director of Eagle Forum Deborah Love said, “SB302 has many flaws.” How will this particular bill impact the lives of Alabamians.
Love predicted that a tax increase will be needed to service this $845 million in new bonds. There is a lot of issues that have not been fully addressed including medical care and mental health. Will the prison be competitively bid?
Love warned that could lead to one of the largest tax increases in Alabama history. She was also concerned about centralization of power. It moves power towards the governor and there is a real concern about that no matter who the governor is.
Love said that this, “Will unfairly burden the taxpayers and will not solve the problem.”
Randy McGilberry with the Alabama Corrections Officers Associaiton said, “My son was a corrections officer in St Clair. On March 7, 2016 he was stabbed. “We are talking about mens and women’s lives and their livelihoods.”
McGilberry blamed, “Inadequacies in management.”
McGilberry said that the Associaiton gives Corrections officers a voice. “They are reprimanded when they speak about anynthing and treated in a very legalistic way. We are in this because this is a train wreck and it is the corrections officers who are paying the prices. They are working 16 hour shifts and being mandated on their days off. There is a gang leader in St. Clair who said we don’t care what you build we will rule it. We allow you to go home”
McGilberry said, “They are talking about hiring additional parolle officers and additional community officers. Where is that money comng from? What are we going to do in twenty years when these facilities are wore out because they were not properly maintained?”
Clay County Sheriff Ray Latham said, “I represent a group of sheriffs across Alabama who have previously house ADOC inmates. When the first prison bill was rejected, ADOC removed all of our inmates increasing their overcrowding.”
Sheriff Latham said, “We were trying to partner with the Alabma Department of Corrections to give thme some relief without burdening the taxpayers by $2.2 billion and they were not the least bit interested.”
Latham said that the 2015 sentencing reform act targeted the implementation of alternative sentencing thus reducing the ADOC population 100 new probation officers were supposed to be hired. They were never hired. ADOC is not held accountable to follow the very laws they are tasked with enforcing
Rep. Mike Holmes (R from Wetumpka) blamed ADOC management for most of the problems. “They keep telling us that they can’t control cell phones and drugs. They can clean it up. We need a change of management.” “Follow the money.”
Rep. Morrow said under current legislative leadership, “We pretend that we are looking for solutions. We appoint task forces and committees when we really aren’t looking for solutions. We know what we know what we can do.’
State Representative Allen Farley (R from McCalla) said that he had $48,000 in receipts which one family has paid to keep their son safe. A guard looks the other way then the gangs sexually assault an inmate and then tell the other inmates to call their families and come up with some money or it will be your turn next week.
Rep. Farley said that the current bill is all smoke and mirrors. He asked the new governor to call a special session so the legislature can get prison reform right. “It would be better than spending $845 million and not to get it right.”
Rep. Farley has introduced his own prison reform plan, but it has had difficulty moving while the leadership is still supporting Bentley’s Great State 2020 prison construction plan.
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.)