By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Monday, July 17, 2017, three challengers to US Senator Luther Strange debated at Billy’s Grill in Northport before a full crowd of 150. Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore (R), Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) and state Senator Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) all participated in the forum. The forum was co-sponsored by BamaCarry and the Alabama Republican Assembly.
Sen. Trip Pittman said, “I am a businessman. I have a tractor and equipment business in Baldwin County. My Grandfather, JD Pittman, had a tractor business here in the 50s.”
Sen. Pittman said that Alabama has not had a businessman since 1907. “I support our military and believe in peace through strength; but if we go to war it should be a declared war. We have problems in North Korea today that could have been resolved 65 years ago. In recent years we have fought some wars without a plan and have become trapped in those regions too long.”
Pittman said that in addition to his business experience, “I have been in government, in the State Senate. In 2007 I was in a friend’s plane and there was an electrical fire we missed the field and came down in the trees. I spent nine days recovering. The good Lord kept me around for a reason so I ran in a special election for State Senate. I was in the minority for the first three years. After the Republican takeover I have been budget chairman. We have balanced every budget for the last ten years. We passed drug testing for welfare recipients.”
Pittman told the gun rights group, “I supported SB24, which would have given Alabamian the right to concealed carry without a permit. In the Senate I would support a federal bill requiring that all states honor the concealed carry permits of every other states. The Constitution gives us all the right to keep and bear arms. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
Pittman said that he believes in the free enterprise system and in term limits.
Pittman warned that the environmental rules and regulations are all an agenda to hurt the South. Alabama needs a strong leader, someone who has experience. “I am not running for state Senate again because I believe in term limits. Donald Trump is a businessman. He needs another businessman to help him in Washington. I speak his language. Alabama needs to elect the next Senator, not the disgraced Governor or the Washington DC crowd.”
Chief Justice Roy Moore said, “It is an honor to be here. I went to school here and my wife did too. I used to live down by the river when I was a student here. “I am not good at talking about myself.” What I believe in is what Alabama believes in. I served in the military. I went to Vietnam. I fought in the war. Right now we have got a military that is more interested in social experiments that in winning wars.”
Moore said, “I want to stop illegal immigration. I want to build the wall; but we have got a military we can use to help stop illegal immigration too. Why are we stopping states like Arizona from enforcing their immigration laws. Every sovereign has the right to control who crosses their border.”
Moore said to make America great we need to make America a free enterprise zone. “We don’t need to replace Obamacare we need to repeal Obamacare. Socialized medicine never achieves a good end….look at the Veterans Administration hospitals. It is a fallacy…We need to also repeal the McCarren Ferguson act which allowed the states to declare monopolies.”
Judge Moore said, “I know the Constitution. It restrains politicians because the framers understood the fallen nature of man. With politicians in DC it is not about what is good for the country but what is good about them. We need term limits. We need to uphold and support the Constitution of the United States. The pledge of allegiance says one nation under God. We have forgotten where morality comes from. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Cars will kill if you drive them into a crowd.”
Moore said, Obergefell versus Hodges was an illegal ruling. Congress could impeach these people and one impeachment would change the culture of the entire judiciary.
Judge Moore concluded: “McConnell has said that he does not want a conservative rebel in a caucus that is already difficult to control. I don’t plan to be managed. He won’t be able to control me. We need to get back to acknowledgement of God. If we don’t understand God we will never be goo and if we are not good we will never be great again.”
US Representative Mo Brooks (R from Huntsville) said, “Mitch McConnell won’t be able to control him either. I agree with Roy. Roy should be the one that they are coming after instead of me. I have been married for 41 years to my wife Martha. She got an accounting degree and she got to work on the Bear’s tax returns. I was a prosecutor in the County DA’s office. When I was first elected as a Republican to the State legislature in 1982 we were outnumbered 136 to 4. Throughout my career I was one of the points of the spear as Republicans worked to take over the state. When I was first elected to Congress I was running in a district that Republicans had not won in over 130 years. The incumbent switched parties. My two opponents outspent me $2.5 million to $165,000 and I won without a runoff.”
Brooks said, “The Alabama people are my employers. I have faced nine reelections. Not one has of my opponents got within 30 percentage points. The people of North Alabama have similar values to you. Let me do for Alabama what I did for my home district.”
Brooks said that the incumbent (Strange) has put his personal interests over his duties to the people of Alabama. “I was a prosecutor. He violated the ethical standards of his office. You do not negotiate for personal favors from people whom you are investigating. Governor Kay Ivey looked at this and said it is bad and that there is an ethical cloud hanging over the Senate seat so moved the election up.”
Brooks said that Washington DC special interests are spending $15 million against him and for the current place holder. “I believe in placing states interests over self-interests. I have a proven record of conservative leadership. Senator is arguably third most important position in the government.”
Brooks explained his opposition to Trump in the primary season: “I pledged my support to Ted Cruz and I keep my world and I used every tool to try to defeat Trump and elect Cruz. The Donald Trump steamroller turned me into a pancake. However, once Trump won the nomination, a day or two after the Access Hollywood tape came out I was writing a check for the Alabama Strike force to go to Florida. The incumbent ignores the President’s plea to change the Senate rules and sent a letter to Chuck Schumer saying we want to leave the filibuster rule in place. I am opposed to that rule and that is a harp contract between me and the incumbent.”
Brooks said, “We need to start electing better congressmen and Senators. I am a staunch defender of the Second Amendment. I have a Glock, a..22 rifle, and a 16 gauge shotgun.”
Moore promised to help pass bill allowing gun owners to carry across state lines.
Pittman: “I support SB24 through all parts of the process in the Legislature. I shot a timber rattler with my .22 and I shot a rattlesnake with my 9 mm handgun.”
Moore said that he favored the fair tax, but would vote in favor of that or a flat tax or anything other than the current tax system. “I will make the tax code much simpler and will do away with the IRS. The more income taxes you give the more Congress spends.”
Pittman said we have got to simplify the tax codes. “It is longer than four King James bibles. I would support a simplification of taxes. 20 percent is all that people will pay. You raise it higher than that that and then people figure out how to avoid them instead of going about their business. Everyone should have to pay in something. Pittman said that we need to require people to work. We have got to get the economy growing.”
Brooks said that the fair tax is an extraordinarily good way to raise revenue for government. Brooks said that the establishment politicians like the tax code the way it is because they are the ones who get all the special interests that are funding campaigns.
Moore said that what the Supreme Court did in Obergefell versus Hodges was unconstitutional. “That is not just my opinion, Justice Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas stated it in their dissenting opinion. Moore said that as a former Judge and Chief Justice I will be able to vent those judiciary and supreme court nominees.”
Moore said the he would support a complete repeal of NAFTA and healthcare. Healthcare is not in the Constitution. The NAFTA treaty is unfair and needs to be repealed.
Pittman be careful with just repealing trade agreements: “I believe in free trade, but it has to be fair.”
Pittman said, “Communism and socialism is a race to the bottom. The only way you can enforce it is with the barrel of a gun. A loaf of bread may be 5 cents but there is none in the stores.”
The Major Party Primaries are on August 15.
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.)