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Monday is Christmas Day

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Monday, December 25 is Christmas. It is a state and federal holiday, so banks, schools, courthouses and other government buildings will be closed, as well as many private businesses.

The holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth over 2,000 years ago. Most Christians believe that Jesus is God made flesh. “For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” (John 3:16)

The story of Jesus’s birth is found in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, though there are differences in the two accounts.

Luke Chapter 2: “And it came to pass, that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled. [2] This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria. [3] And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city. [4] And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David, [5] To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child. [6] And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered. [7] And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. [8] And there were in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the night watches over their flock. [9] And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them; and they feared with a great fear. [10] And the angel said to them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: [11] For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. [12] And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. [13] And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: [14] Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will. [15] And it came to pass, after the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath shewed to us.  [16] And they came with haste; and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. [17] And seeing, they understood of the word that had been spoken to them concerning this child. [18] And all that heard, wondered; and at those things that were told them by the shepherds. [19] But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart. [20] And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God, for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. [21] And after eight days were accomplished, that the child should be circumcised, his name was called JESUS, which was called by the angel, before he was conceived in the womb.” (Gospel of Luke Douai-Rheims).

The Gospel of Matthew tells of the visitation by three Magi who followed a star to find the child. There is some disagreement among biblical scholars on whether or not the magi arrived at the birth or actually two or three days later; but most people are familiar with the nativity scene that shows both the shepherds and the three “wise men” with their camels at the nativity.

The word for Christmas in late Old English is Cristes Maesse, the Mass of Christ, first found in 1038, and Cristes-messe, in 1131. In Dutch, it is Kerstmis; in Latin, Dies Natalis, whence comes the French Noël and Italian Il natale.

The early Christians probably did not celebrate Christmas as we do today. Christmas was not mentioned by Irenaeus and Tertullian in their lists of feasts.

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It is actually a Roman tradition to honor and celebrate birthdays, not a Jewish one.

The first evidence of the feast of Christmas is from Egypt. About A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria, says that certain Egyptian theologians “over curiously” placed the day of Christ’s birth as May 20. Other early theologians placed it as either April 19 or 20. Other Christian communities celebrated it on March 28. Clement tells us that the Basilidians celebrated the Epiphany, and with it, probably, the Nativity, on 15 or 11 Tybi – 10 or 6 January.  At some point, however, the celebration became established on 29 Choiak – 25 December. By the late Fourth Century, that became the standard in the western church where it remains to this day. Some Eastern Churches stuck with 6 January, and generations of theologians have debated whether the feast should be December 25 or January 6. By the time of St. Jerome, December 25 was established in the western church. From the Fourth Century, every western calendar assigns it to 25 December.

It is likely that the popular pagan festival of Sol Natalis Invicti, celebrated on 25 December, had a role in establishing the feast of Christ’s birth as December 25. In ancient Babylon, the feast of Horus, the Son of the goddess of nature, Isis, was celebrated on December 25. The holiday was known for heavy partying, feasts, drinking and gift giving.  Elements of that older holiday likely influenced the Roman winter solstice celebration. Sol Natalis Invicti was the celebration of the birthday of the unconquered sun. The Christmas tree tradition likely dates to Germanic people bringing evergreen trees in their homes to celebrate the winter solstice, and in many cases, the birth of the god, Mithras, is generally celebrated on December 25. Christmas trees are not introduced into France and Great Britain until approximately 1840. Presents and gift giving likely dates to the pagan holiday.

Pope Leo I, delivering a sermon on Christmas Day in the middle of the Fifth Century said, “Our Saviour, dearly-beloved, was born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life.”

December 25 became a major Christian feast day.

In 1223, St. Francis of Assisi made the nativity scene popular. It was an older, ecclesiastical custom, but St. Francis made it popular. The oldest known nativity scene dates to the Fourth Century. In the 13th Century, the manger scene with the holy family, the shepherds, wise men, camels, oxen, donkeys, sheep and angels became fixtures in churches across medieval Christendom and became the Christmas decoration of choice in public squares and private homes.

Christmas carols began as church hymns sung at Christmas mass and dates to at least the 11th Century.

The St. Nicholas and his “reformed” equivalent, Father Christmas, or later – Santa Claus, are probably borrowed straight out of the pagan tradition of the god, Woden, who, with his wife, Berchta, descended on the nights between 25 December and 6 January – later the 12 days of Christmas, on a white horse to bless earth and men. This was celebrated with fires on hills and blazing wheels – wheels were a pagan symbol for the sun – and feasts.

The Catholic Church made the celebration of Christmas a major part of its liturgical year, second in importance only to Easter week.

Early Protestant reformers did not like Christmas at all, and many Protestant Churches did not formally celebrate the holiday for several centuries. Protestants in Scotland abolished Christmas in 1560. In England, during the English Civil War, Puritans replaced the “Book of Common Prayer” with the “Directory for the Public Worship of God” which completely eliminated all things Christmas from the English Church. Christmas was formally outlawed by an Act of Parliament in 1644. It was illegal for shops to close, and plum puddings and mince pies were condemned as heathen. Feasting on the day was denounced, churches were closed that day and December 25 was declared a day of fasting. The Puritans under Oliver Cromwell defeated the Royalists under King Charles I; but the common people strongly disliked the outlawing of their holiday, and a number of pro-Christmas riots were held in the 1640s. In 1647, pro-Christmas rioters protesting working on Christmas day actually seized control of the city of Canterbury, leading to a major insurrection that consumed much of Kent and became part of the Second English Civil War. The Royalists were finally defeated a second time, Charles I was executed and Christmas, again, suppressed throughout the remaining years of Cromwell’s rule as Lord Protector. In 1660, the English monarchy was restored under King Charles II, and with it, Christmas emerged from the shadows. Angry dissenters would call Yuletide “Fooltide” for years. Christmas in England would be sort of a drunken day of feasting for years afterwards but would make an even more powerful comeback beginning in the 1830s and 1840s.

In America, anti-Christmas Puritans ignored the holiday as Catholic and/or pagan. Largely Anglican or Episcopalian Virginians had it as a day for parties, feasting and hunting. The Catholic Irish, who increasingly were moving to America in greater and greater numbers, treated the day as a religious holiday complete with mass, feasts and nativity scenes. German settlers brought the Christmas tree with them, and by the 1830s, that tradition began to catch on as a distinct American identity began to develop. Alabama was the first state to make Christmas a state holiday in 1836. By the 1850s, town squares all over the United States featured decorated Christmas trees. What had begun as a quaint German tradition was now an American one. By the 1850s, American printers were selling Christmas cards. The Civil War ironically increased the appeal of Christmas as the long time away from home and the brothers lost in the war made family even more important to the returning veterans. By the 1870s, Americans were embracing the ritualistic exchanging of gifts and were importing Christmas ornaments in large quantities from Germany.

Christmas with its emphasis on gift giving, carols, feasts, sentimentality and parties elevated family to almost a national religion unto itself.

Catholic Churches would fill as both parishioners and their non-Catholic neighbors would flood the church on the night of Christmas Eve to pray and celebrate the birth of the savior. Eventually, even the most Calvinist Protestant denominations added Christmas carols, Christmas decoration and even Christmas services.

Christmas today is partly a celebration of a savior born in a manger over 2,000 years ago during the height of the Roman Empire, partly a materialistic display of wealth and partly a celebration of all things family.

(Wikipedia, the New Advent Encyclopedia, a 1995 article in History Today, a 2011 article in BBC History Magazine, and a December 8 article in Investorplace were consulted in the writing of this article.)

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House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

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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.

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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.

 

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

Sam Mattison

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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.

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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.

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Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

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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.

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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.

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House OKs bill to clarify consulting contracts by state legislators

Brandon Moseley

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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.”

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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.)

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