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Attorney paid by unnamed client to write, negotiate HB317

Bill Britt

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Is it appropriate for a lawyer working for an unidentified private client to write laws for a department of state government? Doesn’t the public have a right to know if a private individual pays for a bill to be written? How is it ethical for a piece of legislation to be sponsored by a member of the legislative body when the work product is paid for by unknown private sources?

Passed off as original work drafted by the Alabama Department of Commerce, and later joined by the State Attorney General’s Office, HB317 was in fact written by a Bradley Arant lawyer paid by an unidentified client.

Who paid for HB317?

That question is the focus of an Alabama Political Reporter investigation into the controversial economic development bill, HB317, that carved out an exception in the State’s Ethics Act, making economic development professionals exempt from having to register as lobbyists — a move that essentially exempts them from most of the ethics laws.

This exemption gives wide latitude to individuals engaged in economic development projects before the state, but the bill’s content is now overshadowed by how the law came to be and the mystery of who paid for the legislation to be written.

According to several sources present at various times during the writing and negotiations surrounding HB317, the actual bill was written by Bradley Arant attorney Ryan P. Robichaux.

A high ranking government source confirmed Robichaux drafted HB317 for Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield.

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Once the proposed legislation fell under media scrutiny, horse-trading was required to move the bill forward.

“Mr. Robichaux was there every step of the way,” according to a well-placed individual who asked for anonymity to speak freely. “He not only wrote [HB317], he was in every negotiation.”

APR contacted Robichaux, but he didn’t respond to a request for comment by publication deadline.

Not only did a Bradley Arant attorney craft and negotiate the legislation, the firm’s lobbyists, Josh Blades and Dave Stewart, were at the forefront of the fight to have lawmakers pass the controversial bill.

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During the days leading to its passage, Attorney General Steve Marshall said the bill was approved and portions even were written by members of the Special Prosecutions Divison led by Matt Hart. However, several lawmakers reached out to Hart during this period. They say Hart declined to speak about HB317, replying, “I need to stay in my lane on this one.”

Will Gov. Ivey unmuzzle Hart and Albritton?

Not only was Hart muzzled by Marshall, the state Ethics Commission’s executive director, Tom Albritton, who initially opposed the bill, was sidelined by the commission’s chair, Judge Jerry Fielding, who spoke on behalf of the bill in a bizarre committee meeting held by retiring state Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, who helped ferry the bill through the Senate.

According to sources close to the Attorney General’s Office, Hart’s team did write parts of the bill that appeared in the omnibus ethics bill SB343, which was tabled until 2019. But what Marshall failed to disclose was that Robichaux, working on behalf of an unknown paying client, added significantly to the legislation.

Lobbyists offer substitute to economic developer bill HB317

In a press conference during the heat of discussions over HB317, Marshall said, “I opposed HB317 in its original form. The ethics-related language in that bill altered the definition of lobbying in a manner that, I believe, was far too broad. I requested that the bill be halted to give me the opportunity to work with Secretary Canfield towards a proposal that was more in line with the approach to economic development found in the comprehensive ethics reform bill that my Office crafted over the course of the last two years and that Senator Marsh filed as SB343.”

Marshall did work with Canfield to prepare a substitute, but it was Bradley Arant attorney Robichaux who oversaw the entire process.

Bentley appointees trick lawmakers into passing dangerous ethics, economic development bill

HB317 passed in the waning hours of the 2018 Session, despite objection by many Republicans who stood aside, choosing not to vote yea or nay but present.

Ivey’s signing of HB317, along with Marshall’s support, is a hot-button issue on the campaign trail as both Democrat and Republican candidates for governor and attorney general have called out Marshall and Ivey for supporting legislation that undermines state ethics laws.

Republican candidate for governor Scott Dawson reacted to Ivey’s signing of House Bill 317 saying, “After decades in politics and over a million dollars in special interest money, today’s signing of House Bill 317 is to be expected from Kay Ivey,” Dawson said. “Follow the money and you’ll find where she gets her talking points: from the same lobbyists and politicians who have betrayed the people of Alabama at every turn and I’m not having it.”

Scott Dawson criticizes Ivey on decision to sign HB317

Democrat gubernatorial hopeful and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox has echoed a similar sentiment about HB317.

It is no longer a debate about the merits of HB317. The questions now are: Who paid Robichaux to write the bill for Canfield? What do Canfield and Marshall know about the unnamed benefactor, and is it ethical to have legislation composed behind the scenes by lawyers being paid by mysterious unknown individuals?

Canfield, Robichaux and others were contacted for this report but did not respond. Ivey’s office requested more time to answer due to time constraints.

 

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Health

Fed’s promised additional COVID-19 doses to states not coming

An Alabama Department of Public Health spokesman said the federal government’s inconsistent flow of vaccines makes planning difficult.

Eddie Burkhalter

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It was unclear Friday just how the federal government’s failure to deliver promised additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines to states might impact Alabama’s plan to expand vaccinations starting Monday, but the Alabama Department of Public Health is concerned about the state’s supply. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday announced the federal government would no longer hold back second doses of vaccines and instead send them out to states, in a push to get states to expand vaccinations to larger groups. 

But when that statement was made the federal government had already depleted those reserved doses, according to The Washington Post on Friday, which cited state and federal officials. 

The lack of additional doses could hamper the Alabama Department of Public Health’s (ADPH) ability to schedule more vaccinations in the near future. ADPH is to begin administering vaccinations to those aged 75 and older, police and fire, on Monday, but ADPH spokesman Ryan Easterling in a message to APR on Friday said the department is concerned about vaccine supply. 

“While we are concerned about the supply of vaccine, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) will administer the doses we have according to appointments as we have scheduled, recognizing that further efforts are dependent upon supply,” Easterling said.

Easterling said the federal government hadn’t promised the state a specific number of additional doses, and explained that the inconsistent flow of vaccines to Alabama from the federal government is making it difficult for ADPH to plan vaccination efforts. 

“We are finding out the allocations we are getting as they are loaded into the system. This makes it very difficult to schedule appointments, when we do not know the amount of vaccines that we will be receiving,” Easterling said. “If we knew a consistent amount that we were receiving every week, this would allow us to schedule additional appointments.” 

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President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed stopped stockpiling second doses of the Pfizer vaccines at the end of the year, The Washington Post reported officials as saying, and the last reserve shots of the Moderna vaccine began shipping out over the weekend. Regular vaccine shipments to states means that those in line to get second shot will be able to get them, however, the newspaper reported. 

“States were shocked and surprised that they did not see an increase in their allocations, and when they asked for explanations, some of them were told there was not a large stockpile of second doses to draw from,” said an official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to The Washington Post. “They thought they were getting more doses and they planned for more doses and opened up to 65 and up, thinking they were getting more.”

The demand for vaccinations in Alabama is greatly outstripping the ability of ADPH to supply them. The department on Jan. 13 announced that there were no more vaccination appointments available for county health departments, and that eligible callers to the state’s COVID-19 hotline would be added to a waiting list. 

The state hasn’t yet fully moved into ADPH’s phase 1b of its vaccination plan, but has extended into a subsection of phase 1b, to include those 75 and older, police and firefighters. 

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ADPH on Jan. 9 made the COVID-19 vaccine hotline – (855) 566-5333 – available for those aged 75 and older, police officers and firefighters to call to set an appointment, but in its first day the hotline took more than 1.1 million calls.  

“The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is aware that the COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline: 1-855-566-5333 is experiencing difficulties,” ADPH said in a Jan. 13 statement. “Staff continues working to expand vaccine scheduling capabilities at the call center.”

As of Jan. 16 the state has administered 130,394 doses out of a total supply of 370,575 at the time, according to ADPH. The state at the time was still awaiting delivery of 269,575 doses that had been allocated by the federal government but not yet delivered. 

Alabama had the lowest number of vaccinations administered per 100,000 residents in the nation as of Friday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)., but ADPH in a statement Friday said the CDC’s number wasn’t complete. 

“ADPH, as part of its ongoing review of vaccine data, determined that some entities did not report complete information which meant that some doses administered were not included in CDC numbers,” ADPh said in the statement. “This issue has been corrected, and providers are reminded that all doses of COVID-19 vaccine must be recorded in the system within 24 hours of administration.” 

Gov. Kay Ivey in a statement Friday thanked the public for being willing and ready to get their COVID-19 vaccines, and called for patience.  

“Please continue to be patient as we are in the very early stages of distribution. Dr. Harris and his team are continually working to more efficiently get this vaccine into the arms of Alabamians,” Ivey said, referring to Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris. “Our current supply remains limited, but we are committed to vaccinating as many Alabamians as possible. We will get shots in the arm and off the shelf. In the meantime, be patient, wear your mask and practice good common sense. Let’s get this thing behind us.”

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Elections

Shelby County Legislative Delegation Chairmen endorse April Weaver

“April Weaver has been a standard bearer for conservatism when she served in the State House.”

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Yesterday, Shelby County Legislative Delegation Chairmen Representative Arnold Mooney and Senator Dan Roberts endorsed Republican April Weaver’s bid to replace Senator Cam Ward in the State Senate.

“Having served in the State House with April Weaver for many years, I have found her to be a principled and honest public servant who always fought for the interests of Shelby County,” said Representative Arnold Mooney, Chairman of the Shelby County House Legislative Delegation. “I was proud to stand with her when she served as Chairman of the Shelby County House Delegation and I am proud to stand with her now.”

“April Weaver has been a standard bearer for conservatism when she served in the State House,” stated Senator Dan Roberts, Chairman of Shelby County Senate Legislative Delegation. “April has proven she cares for the interest of Shelby County and I look forward to serving with her in the State Senate.”

“Having represented Shelby County for almost 10 years and serving as the Shelby County House Delegation Chairman in the past, I am prepared to represent Shelby County from Day One,” April Weaver stated. “I am honored to have the support of my colleagues and look forward to continuing to be a strong advocate for Shelby County.”

April Weaver served ten years as an accomplished state legislator in the Alabama House of Representatives, including five years as the chair of the House Health Committee.  She served as the Chairman of the Shelby County House Delegation from October of 2016, through May of 2020.  Most recently, she served as the Region IV Regional Director for the United States Department of Health and Human Services. A registered nurse who holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in business administration, Weaver worked for over 23 years as a hospital leader in various management roles in urban, suburban and rural hospitals.

Weaver is running for State Senate, District 14, which was vacated by Senator Cam Ward after he was appointed to serve as Director of Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles.  Senate District 14 encompasses portions of Bibb, Chilton and Shelby Counties.  

The Republican Primary will be held on March 30.

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Joey Kennedy

Opinion | The embarrassment of Coach Tommy

Alabama U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville should keep his mouth closed.

Joey Kennedy

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(STOCK PHOTO)

There’s this old saying: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”

Alabama U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville should keep his mouth closed.

Not long after he was elected, Tuberville incorrectly identified the three branches of the U.S. government. In a November interview, Tuberville said, “Our government wasn’t set up for one group to have all three branches of government — wasn’t set up that way. You know, the House, the Senate, and the executive.”

Actually – and one would think a United States Senator would know this – the three branches of the U.S. government are the executive, legislative, and judiciary.

In that same interview, Tuberville said we fought in World War II to free Europe from socialism.

As most of us know we fought World War II to free Europe from fascism. You know, kind of like an awful lot of Republicans, including twice-impeached Donald Trump, would like to establish in the United States.

I would put Tuberville in that group as well, but, in fact, it’s doubtful he knows what socialism or fascism or even capitalism is.

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Tuberville didn’t mind helping spread The Big Lie, though. The Big Lie, a propaganda technique, was perfected by German fascists in World War II after Adolf Hitler dictated in his 1925 book Mein Kampf that one should use a lie so huge that no one would believe someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

Our Big Lie this election season was Trump telling anybody and everybody he had defeated President-elect Joe Biden in a landslide. Actually, Trump lost in a landslide, all 50 states certified the result and the electors, and the Congress affirmed the electoral college vote last week even as Trump was sending his far-right, white-supremacist supporters to the Capitol building to disrupt the count. Tuberville joined a few colleagues who challenged the count.

Now, Tuberville has become Twitter famous by opening his mouth again. In an interview Thursday, Tuberville suggested just pushing back the inauguration of President-elect Biden, questioning the timing of the event on Jan. 20.

“We probably could have had a swearing-in and inauguration later after we got this virus behind us a little bit,” Tuberville is quoted as saying.

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Tuberville is apparently unaware that the U.S. Constitution sets the inauguration date as Jan. 20. Trump’s term ends at noon and Biden’s starts. Tuberville should give the Constitution a read. It’s not that long, about 4,500 words.

But not long after he suggested the inauguration be pushed back, Tuberville was the butt of jokes on Twitter, again, bringing embarrassment to Alabama.

“Tuberville played too much football without his helmet,” said one Tweeter.

Another suggested this: “I think we need to have all incoming members of Congress take and pass a Civics test, the same kind that we force naturalized citizens to take because….well, Lauren Boebert and Tommy Tupperville (sic.), et al.”

And then, a direct slap at Alabama from a third Tweeter: “Alabama choosing Tommy Tuberville, a former football coach, over Doug Jones, a wellrespected civil rights attorney, is all I need to know about Alabama’s priorities.”

There are plenty of others.

CNN also had a little fun with Tuberville with a story titled: “Tommy Tuberville, meet the Constitution. Constitution, Sen. Tuberville.”

Here’s a real problem, though. With all the factual mistakes Tuberville makes, members of the media are likely to want to interview him often, just to get a shot at that “gotcha” moment, and it appears Tuberville is an easy mark.

It’s too bad that Coach Tuberville is exactly the living stereotype of a football dude: A dummy.

Even worse, though: We traded in Doug Jones for this fool.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

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News

Secretary of State’s Office receives first clear financial audit in 14 years

“When we came into office, we established new expectations, procedures, and standards, and in turn, changed the paradigm for a successfully run government agency.”

Staff

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Yesterday morning, the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts released the Office of the Secretary of State’s perfect financial audit, marking the first time in more than 14 years that the Secretary of State’s Office had complied with all financial obligations and responsibilities.

Prior to Secretary of State John H. Merrill taking office in January of 2015, the agency’s financial operations were on the decline. In the 2005-2007 report, one discrepancy was found, in the 2007-2009 report, three discrepancies were found, and seven discrepancies were found during the period ranging from 2009-2015. These issues ranged from not maintaining personal receipts, not establishing a comprehensive disaster recovery plan, not creating a backup voter registration database, not administering Help America Vote Act funds appropriately, not limiting access to company credit cards, and worse.

“Previously, public money was treated as disposable and there was a severe lack of accountability among the staff,” stated Secretary Merrill. “When we came into office, we established new expectations, procedures, and standards, and in turn, changed the paradigm for a successfully run government agency. We are excited to announce that the Office of the Secretary of State no longer operates at the speed of government, but instead operates at the speed of business.”

This year’s report, which spans from 2015-2019, found a perfectly clear audit.

“Reversing more than 14 years of agency inefficiencies would not be possible without the leadership, dedication, and drive of our seven division heads, and I am incredibly proud of their work ethic and determination to bettering the Office of the Secretary of State. Their work pays respect to the people of Alabama and makes responsible use of public funds,” he concluded.

Secretary Merrill is supported by the following Division Heads:

• David Brewer: Deputy Secretary of State and Chief of Staff

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• Clay Helms: Deputy Chief of Staff and Elections Director

• Taylor Freeman: Chief Financial Officer

• Adam Alexander: Director of Information Systems

• Shemekwa Farrow: Director of Government Support, Authentications, and Trademarks

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• Elaine Swearengin: Director of Business Services

• Beth Hall: Director of Uniform Commercial Code Services

The Office of the Secretary of State is proud to be in compliance with all state procedures and expectations.

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