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Brooks votes to delay medical device tax, protect churches’ First Amendment rights

Brandon Moseley

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Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, last week voted “Yes” on HR88, the combined Retirement, Savings, and Other Tax Relief Act of 2018 and Taxpayer First Act of 2018. Amongst other things, the bill delays many of the Affordable Care Act’s taxes and protects churches from losing their tax-exempt status for engaging in normal political speech in the regular course of their activities.

“Today’s vote delays or repeals some of Obamacare’s most egregious taxes on health care that, in turn, drive up health care costs,” Brooks said. “One delayed tax, the Medical Device Tax, is a 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices sold in the United States (wheelchairs, devices for amputees, and the like). Another, the Health Insurance Tax, taxes health insurance providers, thus forcing insurers to raise health insurance premiums to cover the higher cost of health care. The Cadillac Tax is a monstrous 40 percent tax on high quality health insurance plans that actually acts to encourage employers to give their employees cheaper and lower quality health insurance! Each of these Obamacare taxes is counterproductive and makes it harder for Americans to pay their medical bills. I am pleased to have the opportunity to vote to repeal or delay them.”

“Another positive in the bill is its elimination of IRS restrictions on churches’ free speech rights. Specifically, this bill rolls back the prohibition against churches engaging in political speech,” Brooks continued. “No church should be at risk of losing its tax exempt status because it expresses political views in the regular course of its long-held religious beliefs and activities. This is particularly true when a church’s expression of its political views is nothing more than its expression of religious values and views that have been the underpinning of its religion for thousands of years. Taken further, this bill eliminates the possibility the IRS, under a liberal president, will target churches for political retribution, like Obama’s IRS did when it targeted Tea Party and other conservative groups. Reducing the federal government’s intrusion in American’s daily lives is always a winner.”

The Tax Relief Act also retroactively extends 24 tax privileges that expired at the end of 2017 for one year. Congress will have to revisit these same provisions again next year. The temporarily revived tax subsides include economic development tax credits and green energy tax credits. The Tax Relief Act would scale back and make permanent a tax credit for certain railroad track maintenance, and extend the biodiesel and renewable diesel credits in full through 2021, and then phase out diesel credits by 2025.

The bill makes reforms to simplify some areas of retirement savings, including allowing small employers to pool together to offer retirement benefits. Many Americans, especially those employed by small businesses, are not able to take advantage of retirement plans due to their complexity and high compliance costs. Pooling and a new safe harbor election would help expand retirement savings account access to more Americans.

The bill also repeals the maximum age for new contributions to traditional IRAs and adding new exemptions from minimum distribution requirements for retirees who are currently forced to draw down their savings or face penalties, as well as other modifications.

The bill also allows families to withdraw up to $7,500 from their own retirement accounts to support parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child, and increases the retirement account loan threshold for victims of recent natural disasters to $100,000. These reforms allow families more flexibility to access their own money in times of need.

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The Tax Relief Act also allows new businesses and entrepreneurs to write off more of their initial start-up costs. Currently, new businesses are only able to deduct up to $5,000 of their initial start-up expenses, forcing them to write off the remainder over the next 15 years. This makes it more expensive to start new businesses. The bill would allow new entrepreneurs to deduct up to $20,000 of their start-up costs and increase their ability to transfer other benefits, such as operating losses and tax credits, to new owners.

The bill includes some technical corrections to last year’s tax reform, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The Tax Relief Act includes five of the better-known technical corrections. The first fixes the “retail glitch,” which unintentionally denied the benefit of expensing to building improvements, called qualified improvement property. The bill also addressed the effective date for new limitations made to deductions for business net operating losses and a limitation on the ability to pay liabilities on deemed repatriation over the intended eight years. The bill also allow sexual harassment victims to deduct legal fees and address one of many problems with new pass-through deduction.

The second division of the bill, titled the Taxpayers First Act of 2018, includes a long list of reforms to the IRS. The bill creates a new independent office for taxpayer appeals, focus on improving IRS customer service through congressional oversight, require the agency to develop a reorganization plan by September 2020, and implement various modernizations for increased cybersecurity in the 21st century.

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HR88 is supported by key conservative and religious groups including Americans for Tax Reform, the Family Research Council, FreedomWorks, the National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Prosperity, the Home School Legal Defense Fund, the Archdiocese of New York, the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, and the American Association of Christian Schools.

The legislation passed the House 220 to 183.

Congressman Mo Brooks represents Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District and was recently elected to his fifth term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Original reporting by the Heritage Foundation’s Adam N. Michel contributed to this report.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Congress

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne announces new chief of staff

Eddie Burkhalter

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U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne

Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, on Friday announced that Seth Morrow will serve as his chief of staff.

“As we enter the last half of 2020, my office remains busy assisting constituents and advancing our legislative priorities. I know Seth shares my focus on finishing out my term in Congress strong, and he is well prepared to move into the Chief of Staff role,” Byrne said in a statement. “My staff and I will continue working hard every day to fight for the people of Southwest Alabama and advance our conservative agenda.”

Morrow is a native of Guntersville and has worked for Byrne since June 2014, serving as deputy chief of staff and communications director. 

“I am grateful for this opportunity, and I’m committed to ensuring our office maintains our first class service to the people of Southwest Alabama. Congressman Byrne has always had the hardest working team on Capitol Hill, and I know we will keep that tradition going,” Morrow said in a statement.

Morrow replaces Chad Carlough, who has held the position of Byrne’s chief of staff since March 2017. 

“Chad has very ably led our Congressional team over the last few years, and I join the people of Southwest Alabama in thanking him for his dedicated service to our state and our country,” Byrne said. 

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Congress

Voting rights activist calls for federal Department of Democracy

LaTosha Brown, a Selma native who co-founded Black Voters Matter, issued a statement saying that it is time to reimagine American democracy.

Micah Danney

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(VIA BLACK VOTERS MATTER)

The co-founder of an organization that is working to mobilize Black voters in Alabama and elsewhere used the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act on Thursday to call for a new federal agency to protect voting rights nationwide.

LaTosha Brown, a Selma native who co-founded Black Voters Matter, issued a statement saying that it is time to reimagine American democracy.

“The Voting Rights Act should be reinstated, but only as a temporary measure. I want and deserve better, as do more than 300 million of my fellow Americans,” Brown said.

The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the law in a 5-4 ruling in 2013, eliminating federal oversight that required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get approval before they changed voting rules.

“To ensure that the Voter’s Bill of Rights is enforced, we need a federal agency at the cabinet level, just like the Department of Defense,” Brown said. “A Department of Democracy would actively look at the patchwork of election systems across the 50 states and territories. With federal oversight, our nation can finally fix the lack of state accountability that currently prevails for failure to ensure our democratic right to vote.”

She cited excessively long lines, poll site closings and voter ID laws in the recent primaries in Wisconsin, Georgia, Kentucky and Texas as voter suppression techniques that disproportionately affect Black and other communities of color.

Brown said that the July 17 passing of Rep. John Lewis, who was nearly killed marching for voting rights in Selma in 1965, has amplified calls for the Voting Rights Act to be strengthened. That’s the right direction, she said, but it isn’t enough.

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“History happens in cycles, and we are in a particularly intense one. We have been fighting for the soul of democracy, kicking and screaming and marching and protesting its erosion for decades,” Brown said.

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Congress

Negotiations on a bipartisan coronavirus relief bill appear to have broken down

Brandon Moseley

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The United States Capitol Building (STOCK PHOTO)

Both parties in Congress and the White House hoped to have agreement on a bipartisan coronavirus relief bill, but those hopes appear to have been dashed after a Thursday night meeting at the White House.

The Washington Post reports that the White House and Democrats failed to reach an agreement late Thursday night on the fifth virus relief bill. White House officials and Democratic leaders ended a three-hour negotiation with no agreement and both sides far apart on basic issues.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has insisted on a $3.4 trillion package. The White House wants a $1 trillion relief package.

“We’re still a considerable amount apart,” said White House chief of staff Mark Meadows after emerging from the meeting with Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Trump was called into the meeting several times, but they were unable to resolve key issues.

Pelosi said that the meeting was “consequential,” but blamed Republicans for the breakdown in negotiations.

“They didn’t take the virus seriously in the beginning, they’re not taking the consequences of the virus seriously at this time, and that’s why it’s hard to come to terms,” Pelosi said.

Mnuchin said that if the administration decides that further negotiations are futile, Trump would move ahead unilaterally with executive orders to address things like unemployment aid. Schumer said Democrats were “very disappointed” in how the meeting went and that any White House executive orders could be challenged in court.

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Pelosi claimed that Meadows pounded the table at one point. Meadows denies the allegation.

“We are very far apart,” Pelosi said. “It’s most unfortunate.”

Over 30 million unemployed Americans will see their unemployment checks dramatically cut next week without an extension of benefits. Trump has suggested that he could increase the benefits through unilateral executive action. Critics suggest that would be unconstitutional.

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Democrats want about $1 trillion in aid for cities and states, but Trump has dismissed that demand as a “bailout” for mismanaged states and has agreed to just $150 billion in aid for states.

Meadows said that the White House has agreed to go above $1 trillion, but that Democrats still have refused to go below $3.4 trillion. Democrats are also pushing for more money for food stamps, child care and the U.S. Postal Service as part of the plan. All of this would be paid with more deficit spending.

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Corruption

Arrest warrant issued for Rep. Will Dismukes for felony theft

Dismukes is charged with first-degree theft of property in connection with a theft that occurred at his place of employment between the years 2016 to 2018.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, has been accused of theft of property, a Class B felony. (WSFA)

An arrest warrant has been issued for Alabama State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, for felony theft from a business where he worked, Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey said Thursday.

Dismukes is charged with first-degree theft of property in connection with a theft that occurred at his place of employment between the years 2016 to 2018, Bailey said during a press conference.

Bailey said the charge is a Class B felony and levied when a person steals in excess of $2,500 and that “I will tell you that the alleged amount is a lot more than that.” 

“The warrant has just been signed, his attorney has been notified and we are giving him until late this afternoon to turn himself in,” Bailey said.

Bailey said the employer contacted the district attorney’s office with a complaint about the theft on May 20, and after reviewing bank records and interviewing witnesses, the decision was made to charge Dismukes with the theft. 

WSFA reported Thursday that the theft occurred at Dismukes’ former employer, Weiss Commercial Flooring Inc. in East Montgomery. Bailey did not provide any more specifics on the charge but said the employer signed the arrest warrant after countless hours of investigation on the part of the DA’s office.

While the charge stems from a complaint filed months ago, Dismukes been in the headlines recently and faced a torrent of calls for his resignation in recent weeks after posting to Facebook an image of himself attending a birthday celebration for the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest.

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The event was hosted by an individual with close ties to the League of the South, a hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In response, Dismukes stepped down from his post as a pastor at an Autauga County Baptist church but defiantly refused to step down from the Legislature.

If convicted of the felony, Dismukes would be immediately removed from his seat in the Alabama House, to which he was elected in 2018.

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In June, the Alabama Democratic Party called for his resignation over previous social media posts glorifying the Confederacy.

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