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House concurs on Education Budget, passes bonus money for education retirees

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives voted to concur with the conference committee version of the Education Trust Fund budget. The House also passed legislation giving Alabama’s Education retirees a one-time bonus check.

House Bill 175, the Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget, had already passed both Houses of the Alabama Legislature; but each House had passed a different version of the ETF. A conference committee had been appointed to iron out the mostly minor differences between the two versions of HB175.

HB175 was sponsored by State Representative Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, who chairs the House Ways and Means Education Committee that is tasked with writing the ETF each year. Alabama is unique in that it has two budgets: one dealing with education, the ETF, and one dealing with non-education spending the state General Fund budget.

Alabama also has billions of dollars in other revenues that are earmarked for specific purposes that do not show up in the budgeting process. Fuel taxes for example go to the Department of Transportation and a portion goes to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency for patrolling the highways.

The Secretary of State’s office does not even get an appropriation from either budget as Secretary John Merrell has been able to operate his department off of the corporate filing fees and other revenues that the Department collects.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) is funded entirely through utility taxes and then sends the surplus back to the SGF. Other agencies like the Department of Public Health, Alabama Medicaid, and the Department of Human Resources take their SGF appropriation and uses it as matching dollars to draw down $billions in federal dollars.

Poole recommended that the House adopt the conference committee version of HB175. There are some differences in the amount appropriated to a number of agencies in this version of HB175 versus the version that had originally passed the House. There are also differences in wording.

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The biggest of these perhaps is wording over what happens when a new school system is formed. Poole said that this states that, “The money follows the child.” This was not written for any specific future school system and Poole did not know if any new school system would break away in fiscal year 2019 or not though did acknowledge that Gulf Shores was talking about possibly starting a new system to break away from the Baldwin County School System. Gardendale had tried to form its own school system; but was blocked from breaking away from Jefferson County by the federal courts.

State Rep. Phil Williams, R-Huntsville, praised Poole for the work that he does on the education budget. Williams said that this was the best education budget ever.

The ETF is $6.63 billion for FY2019. Education employees receive a 2.5 percent pay increase.

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State Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, complained that Alabama A&M did not get enough state funding in the version of HB175 that originally passed the House.

Poole said that the Senate added another $175,000 for Alabama A&M.  The conference committee kept that extra funding in HB175.  Rep. Hall said that she was still not satisfied with that.

The House voted 98 to 0 to concur with the conference committee report on HB175.

The House also passed Senate Bill 21 which gave Alabama’s education retirees a one-time bonus check. SB21 is sponsored by State Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried in the House by State Representative Connie Rowe, R-Jasper.

SB21 gives the retirees a $1 a month bonus for every month that they worked. A teacher who retired after 25 years of service would get a $300 check. A thirty year employee would get a $360 bonus check.

The bill was universally popular with legislators; but Rep. Rowe faced some heavy questioning from State Representative Merika Coleman, D-Midfield, who was angry because Rowe, a former Jasper police chief, had help worked to defeat Coleman’s politically correct racial profiling bill, Senate Bill 84.

SB84 is sponsored by State Senator Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, and is being carried in the House by Coleman. Law enforcement strongly opposes SB84 because of the onerous reporting requirements and fears that the bill is just a vehicle to generate law suits against police departments. The House rejected SB84 on Thursday on the Budget Isolation Resolution (BIR) vote.

Coleman and Smitherman negotiated a compromise version of SB84 with House leadership before the business day began on Tuesday. The leadership put SB84 back on the special order calendar for Tuesday, but the House adjourned at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday night because they still did not have the votes to pass SB84. The Alabama Political Reporter was told that several sheriffs still strongly oppose the latest version of SB84. Smitherman is threatening to hold the session hostage, filibustering everything, unless he gets his SB84 passed.

SB21 passed the House 86-0. The bonus will cost the ETF budget $26 million. However, Rowe amended SB21 to pay the bonus in June instead of in October like the original version had called for. This change means that SB21 still has to go back to the Senate, which is tied up with House Bill 317 by Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton, exempting economic developers from having to register as lobbyists.

The Senate still has to act on concurring with HB175, the ETF budget.

Some members had been hoping that Wednesday would be the last day of the 2018 Legislative Session; but the lack of progress on Tuesday may have made that goal unattainable.

 

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National

Lawmaker files bill to ban treatments for transgender kids

Jessa Reid Bolling

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Republican Wes Allen, R-Troy, filed a bill to prevent doctors from providing hormone replacement therapy or puberty suppressing drugs to people younger than 19 who identify as transgender.

HB303, the Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act,  would make it a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for doctors to prescribe puberty-blocking medications or opposite gender hormones to minors. Allen’s legislation would also ban hysterectomy, mastectomy or castration surgeries from being performed on minors.

“I was shocked when I found out doctors in Alabama were prescribing these types of drugs to children,” Allen said in a news release. “This is something you hear about happening in California or New York but it is happening right here in Alabama and it’s time we put a stop to that practice.”

Allen said that children experiencing gender dysphoria are struggling with a psychological disorder and that they need therapeutic treatment from mental health professionals instead of medical intervention that would leave their bodies “permanently mutilated.” 

“These children are suffering from a psychological disorder, just as someone who is suffering with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia but we treat those patients and try to help them. We should treat these psychological disorders as well.”

In 2018, a policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said that:

  • “Transgender identities and diverse gender expressions do not constitute a mental disorder; 
  • Variations in gender identity and expression are normal aspects of human diversity, and binary definitions of gender do not always reflect emerging gender identities; 
  • Gender identity evolves as an interplay of biology, development, socialization, and culture; and
  • If a mental health issue exists, it most often stems from stigma and negative experiences rather than being intrinsic to the child”

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced in 2018 that it was removing “gender identity disorder” from its global manual of diagnoses and reclassify “gender identity disorder” as “gender incongruence,” which is now listed under the sexual health chapter rather than the mental disorders chapter. 

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In a 2018 interview, Dr. Lale Say, a reproductive health expert at the WHO, said that gender incongruence was removed from the list of mental health disorders because “we had a better understanding that this was not actually a mental health condition and leaving it there was causing stigma. So in order to reduce the stigma, while also ensuring access to necessary health interventions, this was placed in a different chapter.”

In 2012, the American Psychiatric Association revised the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to remove the term “gender identity disorder” from the manual and add the term “gender dysphoria.”

Allen’s bill will be considered by the Alabama House of Representatives in the coming weeks.

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Elections

Doug Jones raises $2.4 million in first fundraising period of 2020

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, raised $2.4 million in the first fundraising period of 2020, according to his reelection campaign, which was $500,000 more than he raised during the fourth quarter of 2019. 

Jones has $7.4 million cash at hand, according to his campaign, which released the totals on Thursday. Jones’s latest campaign finance reports weren’t yet posted to the Federal Election Commission website on Thursday. 

“Alabamians across the state are showing their commitment to Doug’s message of One Alabama and his proven track record of standing up for all Alabamians,” said Doug Turner, Senior Advisor for Jones’s campaign, in a statement Thursday. Doug’s work to support working families, fund our HBCUs, modernize our military and expand and protect our health care is resonating with folks throughout Alabama. We are well-positioned to continue to grow our grassroots support and win in November.” 

Jones ended 2019 leading all of his Republican contenders in fundraising, ending the year with $5 million in cash.

 

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Courts

Alabama Democratic Party lawsuit was back in court on Thursday

Josh Moon

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The dispute goes on forever and the lawsuit never ends. 

A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge on Thursday delayed a decision on whether he has the standing to settle an internal dispute within the Alabama Democratic Party but indicated that he’s leaning towards ruling that he does. 

Judge Greg Griffin said he would rule soon on the matter, but made no promise that the decision would come before Alabama’s primary elections on March 3. 

Thursday’s hearing was the latest in the seemingly endless fight over control of the ADP and was the next step in a lawsuit brought by former ADP chairwoman Nancy Worley. Worley and her supporters, which have proven to be a decided minority of the State Democratic Executive Committee, filed the lawsuit late last year after the Democratic National Committee invalidated her re-election as chair and forced the party to change its bylaws and hold new elections. 

Those new elections resulted in Rep. Chris England being elected as party chairman and former Rep. Patricia Todd being elected vice-chair. The new party leadership has the backing of the national party, which pulled funding from ADP because Worley and others refused to rewrite the state party’s bylaws to be more inclusive. 

Worley filed her initial lawsuit prior to the elections in which she was booted out of her position, and Griffin, who was widely criticized for his handling of the case, granted a temporary restraining order that prevented the Reform Caucus of the ADP from meeting. That decision by Griffin was immediately overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court, in a rare, late-Friday evening emergency ruling. 

However, the ALSC did not rule on whether Griffin had standing to settle a dispute within the state party. The court left that question up to Griffin, which was why Thursday’s hearing was held. 

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The entire thing seems to be an exercise in futility at this point. 

The ADP has moved on, with England certifying candidates and DNC officials clearly recognizing him as the rightful party chair. The DNC has no desire to work with Worley, who was stripped of her credentials for failing to follow directives and bylaws of the party. 

Even if Griffin creates a reason to invalidate England’s election, it doesn’t seem to matter much. The DNC has validated it, and it accepted the ADP’s new bylaws and changes to leadership structure. 

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If Worley were to prevail in court, it’s unclear exactly what she would win.

 

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House

House passes landfill bill allowing alternative materials as temporary cover

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday to change the statutory definition so that temporary “cover” in landfills can be a material other than “earth.”

House Bill 140 is sponsored by State Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton.

The bill allows landfills to use alternative daily covers in place of earth to cover landfills until the next business day. “The EPA has allowed this since 1979,” Baker said. It would save landfills the cost of using earth for daily cover.

“This does not change anything in the operating rules for landfills,” Baker said.

A number of members from both parties expressed concerns about this bill on Tuesday, so the bill was carried over until Thursday.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon told reporters, “Sometimes in a debate you can see that the debate is not a filibuster or anti-debate; but rather is an honest effort by members to understand a bill.”

“There was a lot of misinformation out there,” McCutcheon said. The Environmental Services Agency and ADEM were brought in to explain the members and address their concerns.

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McCutcheon said that human biosolids is a separate issue and that Rep. Tommy Hanes has introduced legislation dealing with that issue.

Alternative daily cover is often described as cover material other than earthen material placed on the surface of the active face of a municipal solid waste landfill at the end of each operating day. It is utilized to control vectors, fires, odors, blowing litter, and scavenging. Federal and various state regulations require landfill operators to use such earthen material unless other materials are allowed as alternatives. (Mitchell Williams writing on Oct 31 in JDSUPRA)

Soil cover can use valuable air space. Further, it can generate the need to excavate and haul soil to the facility. Alternative daily covers are often advocated to be a more efficient and cost-effective means of cover. (Williams)

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Baker said that it would be up to ADEM (the Alabama Department of Environmental Management) in the permit whether to allow a proposed alternative cover or not.

Baker said, “This bill does not change any of the materials used as cover.” “This would keep us from having to use that good earth in landfills when other materials are available. If it becomes a nuisance ADEM can revoke a cover on the permit. Daily cover has to be approved at the discretion of ADEM.”

Baker said that only materials not constituted as a risk to health or are not a hazard can be used.

An environmental attorney shared the list of ADEM alternative covers with the Alabama Political Reporter. The list includes: auto fluff, excavated waste, synthetic tarps, coal ash, petroleum contaminated soil, automotive shredder residue, shredder fluff, wiring insulation, contaminated soils, paper mill (including wood debris, ash shaker grit, clarifier sludge, dregs, lime), 50% on-site soil and 50% tire chips, spray-on polymer-based materials, reusable geosynthetic cover, automobile shredder fluff, tarps, foundry sand, clay emulsion known as USA Cover Top clay emulsion, non-hazardous contaminated soil, non-hazardous solid waste clarifier sludge, steckle dust all generated from Nucor Steel Tuscaloosa Inc., non-coal ash from Kimberly Clark operations, lagoon sludge from Armstrong World Industries operations, meltshop refractory material from Outokumpu Stainless USA operations, paper mill waste (non-coal ash, slaker grits, dregs, and lime), biodegradable synthetic film, fly ash, residue from wood chipper or paper, slurry with a fire retardant and tactifierl,Posi Shell Cover System, waste Cover, foundry waste, 50% soil and 50% automobile shredder fluff, incinerator ash, green waste to soil
Sure Clay Emulsion Coating, alternative cover materials (manufactured), compost produced by IREP Montgomery-MRF, LLC, 50% saw dust mixed with 50% soil, and waste soils considered to be special waste.

McCutcheon said that members did not understand that these were just temporary covers. That was explained to them.

Alabama landfills have used alternative covers for years; but three people sued saying that this was not allowed under Alabama law and that ADEM had exceeded its mandate by permitting alternate covers. On October 11, 2019 the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals found in favor of the plaintiffs.

HB140, if passed, would address this oversight in the Alabama legal code so that ADEM and the landfills can legally continue to use alternate covers and not have the added expense of quarrying dirt for daily cover.

A Senate version of the same bill received a favorable report last week from the Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee.

HB140 now goes to the Alabama Senate.

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