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Lawmaker admits new ethics bill would have saved Mike Hubbard from prosecution

Bill Britt

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Alabama speaker Mike Hubbard stands in Judge Jacob Walkers courtroom before the start of Hubbards ethics trial on Tuesday, May 24, 2016 in Opelika, Ala. (Todd J. Van Emst/Opelika-Auburn News/Pool Photo Todd Van Emst)

In what may be one of the most brazen acts of upending state ethics laws, Republican Rep. Rich Wingo admitted on Tuesday that his legislation, HB387, is designed to save others from being prosecuted like former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard.

Wingo, during a floor debate, unwittingly gave the real reasons behind HB387, which was passed in the House this week. “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 said.

Here, Wingo is referring to the conviction of then-Republican Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, who was found guilty of using his office for personal gain by accepting contracts with entities that had business before the state.

As Wingo makes clear, if HB387 had been the law of the land when Hubbard was in office, a simple filing would have allowed him to use his office for personal gain without worry.

During the debate, 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.”

House OKs bill to clarify consulting contracts by state legislators

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So, according to Wingo’s answer to Hall, not only does his bill hope to see other legislators avoid Hubbard’s fate but also to provide cover for those who may be currently breaking the law.

Wingo’s confession that HB387 is intended to inoculate current and future lawmakers from prosecution is frightening enough, but it also may give the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals just the reason they need to overturn some of Hubbard’s felony convictions.

This so-called clarification bill is a sickening example of just how far some legislators will crawl to please the state’s business elites. It is also further testimony to how even good lawmakers will shrink from doing their duty.

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The bill passed the House with 67 yeas, zero nays and 26 abstentions. Generally abstaining from a vote means the law is loathsome, but the lawmaker is too cowardly to oppose it outright.

Sold as a “notification” requirement, HB387, sponsored by Republicans Wingo and Sen. Trip Pittman, would require that legislators notify the ethics commission if they enter into an employment arrangement that is outside the member’s scope of work.

In other words, if a legislator who is a lifelong music teacher suddenly signs a contract to do PR work for a company doing business with the state, all he needs to do is fill out a form and file it with the Ethics Commission.

Keep in mind that under this Republican-supported bill, the Ethics Commission is neither authorized or required to do anything at all with the notification.

Under this vague statute, a simple notification replaces the need for a legislator to seek a formal advisory opinion from the Ethics Commission, as is currently the final check on such contracts. While the commission as presently configured is little more than a rubber stamp for cronyism, it is better than what is offered by HB387.

Alarmingly, the bill doesn’t make a distinction between legislators being hired by a principal, which under current law draws a Class III felony charge.

As passed in the House, the bill allows a lawmaker to enter into a contract and receive money, i.e., a paycheck from a principal.

HB387 promises to make the notifications public, but in reality, these contracts would be virtually hidden from news media and citizens. To monitor these notifications would require a daily search of the Ethics Commission database – something few organizations can afford.

This week, two pieces of legislation have passed the House, and any honest observer knows these are bills meant to weaken current law and potentially aid Hubbard, and his fellow travelers.

Businessmen who were forced to testify at Hubbard’s trial—or face prosecution themselves—want to do away with the laws that convicted Hubbard. Some of these same men lurk in the shadows pushing these bills through high-powered lobbyists and law firms.

These wealthy businessmen paid good money for Hubbard, and they don’t plan on losing on their next investment.

Even now, these elites have found a new “Hubbard,” who is gaining power and trust while doing these business giants’ bidding under the cover of darkness.

Wingo’s bill is designed to aid them in their venture.

 

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Congress

Palmer supports legislation making unused PPP funds available to small businesses

There is an estimated $137 billion remaining in the Payroll Protection Program that could be immediately available to small businesses.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Congressman Gary Palmer, R-Alabama, added his signature to a discharge petition that would force a vote on a bill that would allow unused Paycheck Protection Program funds to be made available for small businesses.

There is an estimated $137 billion remaining in the Payroll Protection Program that could be immediately available to small businesses. The program has kept thousands of small businesses open since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many are still in need as the economy continues to recover.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has refused to hold a vote. The Democratic controlled House passed the $3.4 trillion Heroes Act, which Republicans opposed.

Palmer and House Republicans accuse Pelosi of holding American workers and businesses “hostage,” preferring the Democrats’ relief legislation.

“Speaker Pelosi has made her objectives abundantly clear,” Palmer said. “We could have negotiated and delivered immediate aid for small businesses and individuals weeks ago, but her leftist agenda always comes first. Many businesses are barely hanging, on anxiously awaiting the extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, but Pelosi is determined to hold them hostage to get her way. She would like to bail out states that were bankrupt before the pandemic and further a welfare agenda that is harmful to the economy. Today, I proudly signed a discharge petition to circumvent Pelosi’s control of the House floor and force a vote on a bill that would bring real relief to businesses struggling to survive the pandemic. It’s time for Members of Congress to stand up for small businesses and American workers since the Speaker clearly won’t. Small businesses across the country can’t wait.”

A discharge petition on H.R. 8265 was filed on Friday by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Washington, and 218 signatures are needed to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote. The bill was introduced on Sept. 16 by Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio.

“This public health crisis has left our small businesses near permanent closure, and that will happen on a massive scale if Congress doesn’t act,” Beutler said. “Yet Congress isn’t acting, so I’ve filed the discharge petition in the House today so we can bypass the political posturing and bring relief to our nation’s small businesses and their employees. Other relief remains vital, but we either save jobs and businesses now or provide triage soon for the damage caused by empty buildings, lost livelihoods and health care plans, and fewer employment opportunities overall. Reviving the PPP has to be our priority.”

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“The Paycheck Protection Program has served as a critical lifeline for America’s small businesses,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California. “Since its launch, the program is credited with saving 51 million jobs nationwide. But our work in helping small business owners stay open and keep employees on payroll is not done. A recent report indicates that as many as 36 percent small businesses say if no new funding comes from Congress soon, they will be forced to lay off workers or cut back hours. Democrats have consistently blocked or delayed relief, but Republicans are not giving up. That is why House Republicans, led by Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler have filed a discharge petition to force a vote on a stand-alone extension of the Paycheck Protection Program through the end of the year. It only needs 218 signatures to force a vote, so I hope that our Democrat colleagues will join us in delivering relief. My Republican colleagues and I will continue to act on our Commitment to America; we will be relentless in our fight to protect jobs, small businesses, and the American dream.”

“Since March, small businesses—corner stores, retail shops, and family restaurants—have been struggling to survive,” Chabot said. “Congress worked in a bipartisan manner to pass the CARES Act, which delivered rapid assistance to small firms through programs like the Paycheck Protection Program. Unfortunately, in recent months, additional relief for small businesses has been caught up in the partisan logjam and the livelihoods of real people hang in the balance. Congress must work together to get help to small businesses in Washington, Ohio, and across our great nation. Rep. Herrera Beutler’s discharge petition to force a vote on my legislation is the way to do just that. I thank her for her leadership on behalf of America’s small businesses.”

Multiple news outlets, including Roll Call and The Hill, are reporting that several House Democrats are “strongly considering” signing Beutler’s discharge petition.

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Palmer represents Alabama’s 6th Congressional District. Palmer does not have a Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 general election.

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Agriculture Secretary Perdue to tour storm damage today

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue will tour farms in South Alabama on Monday to see damages from Hurricane Sally.

Brandon Moseley

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Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate and Gov. Kay Ivey’s chief of staff Jo Bonner will visit South Alabama on Monday to tour damages following Hurricane Sally.

They will visit Flowerwood Nursery, a horticulture operation in Loxley, Alabama, severely impacted by Hurricane Sally.

Perdue, Pate and Byrne will also meet with Baldwin County farmers at a visit to Underwood Family Farm, a pecan farm in Summerdale.

Following the two stops in Alabama, Perdue will visit Jenkins Farm in Jay, Florida, a cotton farm impacted by Hurricane Sally. The secretary will hold a roundtable discussion with local Florida farmers and stakeholders impacted by Sally.

Hurricane Sally came ashore on Sept. 16 as a category two hurricane with 105 miles per hour winds and torrential rains. The wind, the downpour and then the flooding devastated crops in the area as well as blowing down trees and damaging homes and businesses.

Sally was the first hurricane to make landfall in Alabama in 16 years.

“Throughout Southwest Alabama, winds and flooding have left many without essentials like power, water and shelter,” Byrne said on Thursday. “Fortunately, help is on the way.”

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“Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who experienced significant damage during this powerful hurricane,” Pate said. “Alabama farmers have already faced economic hardships this year due to market instability, trade concerns and the coronavirus pandemic.”

Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia Counties have been declared a natural disaster area by the Trump administration.

“I went up to Escambia County today to check out some storm damage around Atmore and meet with local officials,” Byrne said. “Thanks to Sheriff Jackson for showing me some of the damage. It wasn’t just the coastal counties who took a beating from Hurricane Sally. Residents of Escambia County are all eligible to seek Individual Assistance from FEMA for any disaster related issues.”

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The Alabama Farmers Federation has started a relief fund so that people can help Alabama farmers who were impacted by Hurricane Sally.

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Elections

Sewell: Confirming Barrett before the election would undermine Supreme Court’s legitimacy

“The nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett is clearly tainted by the hypocrisy of Senate Republicans to go back on their own promise,” Sewell said.

Brandon Moseley

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Congresswoman Terri Sewell (via Office of Rep. Terri Sewell)

Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, said Saturday that President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court was tainted by hypocrisy and that confirming Barrett would undermine the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court nomination by President Trump today, with the 2020 presidential election only 38 days away, denies the American people a voice in this very important decision,” Sewell said. “The nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett is clearly tainted by the hypocrisy of Senate Republicans to go back on their own promise not to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court so close to a presidential election.”

In 2016, Senate Republicans refused to give President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, a hearing or a vote to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. Garland’s nomination came eight months before the 2016 presidential election. Republicans held out and Trump eventually filled Scalia’s seat with Justice Neil Gorsuch.

“This blatant power grab by Trump and Senate Republicans is especially disturbing given that the voting process has already begun with hundreds of thousands of voters having cast their ballots in the 2020 presidential election,” Sewell said.

Democrats have largely coalesced around opposing Trump’s filling of Ginsburg’s seat. If approved, Barrett would tilt the court even further to the right, solidifying a 6-3 conservative majority.

“Fairness and comity demand that the Senate not confirm any vacancy on the Supreme Court until the American people have chosen the next president,” Sewell concluded. “To do otherwise, I believe would undermine the very legitimacy of the Supreme Court.”

Before Barrett was nominated, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, said that he would not support any Trump nominee for the Supreme Court before the results of the Nov. 3 election are known.

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“It is a poor reflection of the state of our national politics that, just hours after Justice Ginsburg’s passing, we were thrust into a divisive partisan fight over her successor, denying the nation the time to mourn this extraordinary American’s death,” Jones said. “Just weeks from a national election, we are confronting a blatant power grab by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the President that will undermine the court and subvert the will of the American people.”

At the time, four years ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said during an election year, the Senate should let the American people decide before confirmed new justices. He’s reversed course, promising to give Barrett a vote.

“If confirming a Supreme Court justice ten months prior to a presidential election would have denied the American people a voice,” Jones said, “then isn’t he now denying the American people a voice by rushing to confirm a justice just weeks before a presidential election?”

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“I believe the answer to this question is a resounding YES,” Jones continued. “This is especially true given the urgent legislative work we have yet to do. Leader McConnell should turn his focus instead to protecting the lives and livelihoods of the American people by bringing a new bipartisan COVID-19 relief package up for a vote. We also need to pass the National Defense Authorization Act to support our military. We need to pass our annual funding bills instead of kicking the can down the road with yet another costly continuing resolution. We need to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which has languished in this Senate, in order to protect the right of all Americans to vote and participate in our democracy.”

Jones said if Trump is re-elected, he will evaluate any pending or future nominee on their merits and vote for or against the nominee based solely on their qualifications.

Trump has already appointed Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. President Barack Obama appointed two nominees to the court during his eight-year term.

Jones also voted against Kavanaugh.

Sewell represents Alabama’s 7th Congressional District. Sewell has no Republican general election opponent.

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National

Palmer bill would give states flexibility in spending remaining coronavirus funds

Palmer said passing this legislation, HR8360, will give states a much-needed boost for infrastructure and an extended period to determine how to address continued COVID-19-related expenses, instead of rushing to spend the funds with a looming deadline.

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Gary Palmer

Congressman Gary Palmer, R-Alabama, has introduced the Coronavirus Relief Fund Flexibility Act, which would allow states to determine how to spend their remaining coronavirus relief dollars issued under the CARES Act.

“The initial legislation was perhaps too restrictive,” Palmer said. “What we hope to do with this legislation is not only create some flexibility to prevent waste but to incentivize states to use the funds towards much needed infrastructure. The one-size-fits-all nature of the underlying measure fails to consider how each state is responding to the pandemic differently, so this legislation would put the spending decisions in the hands of those on the ground in the states who have a better understanding of their specific needs.”

Palmer said passing this legislation, HR8360, will give states a much-needed boost for infrastructure and an extended period to determine how to address continued COVID-19-related expenses, instead of rushing to spend the funds with a looming deadline.

States and localities were provided with $150 billion through the CARES Act relief fund for mitigation and response to COVID-19. Alabama’s legislators originally thought they could do whatever they wanted with that money. State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, even went so far as to produce a wish list that included hundreds of millions for broadband expansion and a new Statehouse.

Federal authorities, however, made it clear that there were restrictions on what that money could be used for. It can not be used to make up for lost revenues due to the lengthy economic shutdowns, the dramatic cutbacks in travel and hospitality, and the reductions in business capacity.

It is now estimated that approximately $80 billion remains unspent. HR8360 would allow state legislatures to determine how to utilize these remaining funds, with measures to encourage infrastructure development and future COVID-19 preparedness.

Palmer said that the Coronavirus Relief Fund Flexibility Act would prohibit funds from being spent on government employee bonuses, lobbying expenses or budget shortfalls predating the pandemic, while providing a 50 percent match for funds spent on infrastructure projects begun in the next year.

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It would also require states to hold 25 percent of their remaining relief funds in trust for future COVID-19 expenses. The states are currently required to return any unspent CARES Act money in January.

Democrats have been pushing for more than $1 trillion in funding for cash-strapped state and local governments, but the White House and congressional Republicans have resisted this call, arguing that would be just rewarding state and local governments for poor fiscal planning.

The White House and Senate Republicans are in negotiations with Democratic leaders, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, on a possible compromise coronavirus relief bill prior to the Nov. 3 general election.

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Palmer represents Alabama’s 6th Congressional District. Palmer has no Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 general election.

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