By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, June 27, 2017, US Federal District Judge Myron H. Thompson declared the mental health care system in Alabama prisons to be “horrendously inadequate.” The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) is being sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center and a number of prisoners who claim that their mental and health needs are being neglected by the prison system.
In a 302 page ruling, Judge Thompson said that the prisons are an unconstitutional failure that has resulted in a “skyrocketing suicide rate” among prisoners over the last two years. US District Judge Myron H. Thompson ordered the State to reform the system and directed them to work with the Southern Poverty Law Center to resolve the issues with the chronically underfunded and overcrowded prison system.
Randy McGilberry is the President of the Alabama Corrections Officers Association and Chair of the Bettis Commission (which has been tasked with finding solutions to the problems dealing with the troubled prison system) responded to then news of Judge Myron Thompson’s Ruling. Chairman McGilberry said in a statement, “The Bettis Commission has discussed at length during the initial meeting in Perdido, Florida on 12 June 2017 what our response would be with respect to what we believed would be a ruling against the ADOC. Based on the numerous areas of neglect that we have listed in our points page opposing the Prison Reform Bill issued from that meeting the overall incompetency of the Legislative Joint Prison Committee to hold the ADOC accountable for their management and operation of the prison system and the ADOC management and Commissioner’s inability and willful neglect to address these matters has failed the ADOC staff and inmates.”
McGilberry continued, “Commissioner Dunn made statements that overcrowding and lack of staff was the cause of the inadequacies for mental healthcare. The Bettis Commission believes that the commissioner and all of his staff for communications, operations and management have been exposed for the incompetence that exists. Since Dunn took over all they really focused on the Prison Reform Bill and assumed that it would pass, but as we have stated the real issues with the ADOC are internal corruption and mismanagement unchecked. The mere fact that Dunn has offered up savings on a new phone contract for tablets and WiFi in all dorms in all prisons shows how incompetent he is when this case was most surely going to be ruled against the ADOC.”
McGilberry continued, “The communication we have with Sheriff’s offices is that all too often the time an inmate that exhibits potential mental health issues and receiving the actual evaluation could be months while incarcerated in the county jail which is an issue for the Sheriff’s office because they are limited to bed counts which is what the ADOC claims is an issue as well. Even if they have an evaluation they are sent back to county jail awaiting the results of the report and could be a few months to over a year in the county system. That issue is due to the fact that the State Legislators have allowed closure of many Mental Health institutions thus eliminating hundreds of beds that the inmate could have occupied as a patient instead of being forced into the department of corrections as an inmate due to the lack of institutions.
The Prison Bill distorts the actual reasons for the chaos at the ADOC as it draws attention away
from the obvious and treats the public and taxpayers as too naive to see the truth. The Legislature and ADOC have failed to properly fund the key areas of the system which are operations compliant to growth and required processes, maintenance of the facilities on a routine basis and by qualified technicians and Legislative verification and validation. The Pardons and Paroles Division admits that the SB-67 bill that addresses new laws affecting sentencing, incarceration and community corrections and such is drastically behind and will take months and possibly years to be a part of the judiciary process. In the opinion of the Commission any reference to that as being a part of the new prison construction conversation is shear speculation for Legislators and ADOC personnel.”
McGilberry said, “I, as the Bettis Commission Chair, can assure that we have a team of experts that are former wardens, former federal officers, mayors, lawyers, analysts, sheriff officials, representatives, former governor liason, current corrections officers, former corporate safety advisor, former construction manager, former maintenance planner/buyer and lobbyists for corrections officers. This commission has opinions and a willingness to participate in the discussions for the resolutions to the issues that plague the ADOC. This is a serious commission that wants and expects to be included and work with the ADOC and Legislators to develop a plan of action that is equitable for the state of Alabama and the ADOC.”
24 year old Alabama prisoner Jamie Wallace testified in 2014, “This place is killing me. Please get me out of here.” He testified that ADOC was not getting him the mental health care that he needed. A month later he committed suicide.
Thompson ruled, “[T]he evidence from both sides … materially supported the plaintiffs’ claim.” “Simply put, ADOC’s mental-health care is horrendously inadequate.”
The ruling follows a trial in February.
SPLC Senior Supervising Attorney Maria Morris said in a statement, “This ruling means that prisoners with mental illness may finally get the treatment they have been denied for so long.” “The suffering some of these men and women have endured is excruciating and inhumane. We are pleased Judge Thompson has demanded that the state of Alabama meet its constitutional obligation to provide adequate care.”
Thompson wrote, “ADOC officials admitted on the stand that they have done little to nothing to fix problems on the ground, despite their knowledge that those problems may be putting lives at risk.” “The skyrocketing suicide rate within ADOC in the last two years is a testament to the concrete harm that inadequate mental health care has already inflicted on mentally ill prisoners.”
Baker Donelson attorney Lisa Borden said, “For far too long, Alabama prisons have been little more than warehouses where many people struggling with mental illness have been hidden away and abandoned by the State. Once locked behind prison walls, in deplorable conditions with little or no treatment, any hope for improvement or recovery was lost, and many became more profoundly ill. We look forward to now having the opportunity for our clients to receive real treatment for their illnesses, and to seeing them afforded the basic dignity to which any human being is entitled.”
Dr. Kathryn Burns, chief psychiatrist at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said the ADOC mental health system is the “worst system” she’s ever seen – so bad that “it’s difficult, really, to call this a system.”
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) said in a statement: ““There are obviously several issues within our prison system that must be addressed. Over the next few weeks Commissioner Dunn, his staff, and my office will be reviewing Judge Thompson’s order.”
Gov. Ivey continued, “I am committed to providing justice to all Alabamians by ensuring constitutionally-permissible conditions for all prisoners. I will be working closely with Commissioner Dunn and the leadership in the House and Senate to address the issues raised in today’s order. All appropriate options at my disposal, including the possibility of a Special Session, will be considered as potential remedies to address the judge’s order.”
ADOC Commissioner Jeffrey Dunn is a political appointee chosen by former Governor Robert Bentley (R). He had no experience at all with a prison system prior to his appointment. He has spent the last two years advocating for Governor Bentley’s plan to close 17 prisons and replace them with four new super max prisons.
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.