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Legislature

Sen. Del Marsh re-elected President pro tempore of Alabama Senate

Chip Brownlee

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The Alabama Senate has unanimously elected Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, as President pro tempore.

In a vote of 32-0, Marsh captured support from both Republican and Democratic senators. Democrats did not nominate their own candidate for the position, largely because the Republican caucus holds a supermajority in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

Marsh, the only Republican to serve as President pro tempore since Republicans took control of the Senate in a historic election in 2010, will now head into his third consecutive term in the position.

The Republican leader in the Senate will likely hold the position until the end of the quadrennium in 2022.

Marsh — who, along with Republican Speaker Mac McCutcheon, has highlighted infrastructure and a gas tax as the key issue in the upcoming legislative session — said Tuesday that despite heavy turnover in leadership at the state level, the Alabama Senate has been a place that has worked together to pass legislation.

The upper chamber of the Legislature has been one of the only corners in state government that has not been impacted by corruption convictions and ethics violations that have removed former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, former Gov. Robert Bentley and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.

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“The Senate has worked smoothly over the past several years, and I believe today’s bipartisan vote reflects that,” Marsh said. “I am proud of the work we have done to improve the lives of the people we represent and will continue to operate the Senate in that way.”

The regular session of the Legislature starts a bit later this year on March 5. Marsh, McCutcheon and Gov. Kay Ivey have been relatively unified in identifying a gas tax as the key issue this year.

Republicans will again set the tone this year with a majority that has slightly expanded. Republicans gained one seat and now control 27 of the 35 seats in the upper chamber.

Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, will remain as majority leader.

The eight members of the Democratic caucus elected Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, to serve as the Senate minority leader. Singleton, who was elected to the Senate in 2005, replaced outgoing minority leader, Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton.

Beasley is moving to another leadership role in the Democratic minority.

“I look forward to working with Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton and all of my colleagues in the Legislature as well as Governor Ivey and Lt. Governor Ainsworth as we tackle the tough issues facing Alabama and continue passing balanced budgets and conservative pro-growth policies that have led to an unprecedented record setting economy,” Marsh said Tuesday.

Lawmakers began their organization session Tuesday, which is mandated at the beginning of every quadrennium. The body convened to elect leadership positions, vote on operating rules and confirm committee assignments.

 

House

McCutcheon hopes road bill will be issue No. 1 in session

Brandon Moseley

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 Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, told reporters that he is working on an infrastructure bill.

“The work that is being done is between myself, the pro-tem (Del Marsh) and the governor (Kay Ivey).

Gov. Kay Ivey promised roads that would be “the envy of the nation” in her inauguration speech.

The regular session begins in March. McCutcheon said that there is not a deal yet, but is hopeful that all of the parties will come to an agreement soon so that a bill can be passed early in the legislative session so that they can move on to other priorities.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked: According to the U.S. Census Bureau between 2010 and 2017 this state only grew by 90,000 people (from 4.785 million to 4.875 million just .26 percent annual growth). 55 of the 67 counties are in decline or have zero growth and the population of Alabama is getting older. There is a real need for roads in Madison, Baldwin, Limestone, Lee, and Shelby Counties but most counties aren’t really experiencing any growth at all. Why is this suddenly such a priority?

“It is a priority on many fronts,” McCutcheon answered. The roads are all connected. People in Madison County where the growth is want to go to the beach and have to go through the other counties to get there, they spend money there, and that produces revenues for our state. “We have a lot of people traveling through our state to our beaches.” There are people who go through our state to go to Florida. “Our roads are being congested to the point that people can’t move.” I get phone calls all the time from constituents who are stuck in traffic for one or two hours on 1-65 in Shelby County. Roads are a problem everywhere whether it is the Wiregrass or the Black Belt.

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McCutcheon said that they would like to recruit jobs to poor counties like the Black Belt where unemployment is high; “but the problem is that it is hard to recruit companies to where you don’t have good roads; because they need roads to get a product in and out.”

Sources have told the Alabama Political Reporter that a fuel tax increase of 26 cents a gallon (or perhaps more) as well as a tax on electric cars is going to be introduced early in the regular legislative session.

McCutcheon said that, “Electric vehicles are contributing to the wear and tear put on our highways.”

“I will be contacting every legislator about the needs in their districts,” McCutcheon said. “I brought this up for four years. It has been an education process. It came up on the campaign trail. Many things need to be in the plan including oversight.”

A reporter asked McCutcheon if he had met with the Governor yet on the budget.

“All the meetings we have had have been on the infrastructure plan.” McCutcheon said that last year he worked closely with the Governor on the budgets. “It was very productive to sit around the table with the governor and her staff so that when we got around to the budget there will be no surprises.”

“We are working with the Ethics Commission on reforms,” McCutcheon said. “We are not trying to reform the ethics law. We have a good law and it is working. What we are doing is bringing some common sense.”

“I hope that transportation would be item number one, then ethics, and then corrections.” McCutcheon predicted that there would be an increase for the Alabama Department of Corrections, “But how much more?”

“There will be some discussion about rural hospitals,” McCutcheon acknowledged. “We have got to continue to look at that, Medicaid expansion. We need to “make technology available to the rural areas of our state to bring better healthcare.”

“We will see a lottery bill,” McCutcheon stated. “The leadership is not promoting a lottery bill. There is an interest in both houses in a lottery bill.”

“Public safety for our schools is going to be an issue,” McCutcheon added. “Pre-K has proven itself and is working.”

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels criticized new House rules that limited filibustering the special order calendar to just one hour.

“Anthony is a good man. He is doing a good job in his leadership role,” McCutcheon said. “As Speaker, I enjoy a healthy debate on an issue; but I am not much for filibustering. When every special order that is brought up is debated for two hours, I am thinking that we are wasting time that could be spent on legislation. Because of that I was trying to find a compromise so that we can get some things done. I have been clotured before. I am not a big fan of cloture. If we can find ways to keep the process moving, that is what I am for.”

Reporters asked McCutcheon how he thought the organizational session went.

“I think it went well,” the Speaker answered. “We had a little issue with the rules; but that is normal. The rules ended up being adopted and everybody ended up being upbeat.”

“I love the legislative process,” the Speaker said. “When you look at the people who you are representing, and you think that you are helping those representatives it is emotional for me. At the end of the day it is all about serving and I am very honored to be serving the members as Speaker. I am a little more excited about serving this session than when I first took over.”

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Governor

Lieutenant governor picks deputy chief of staff

Chip Brownlee

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The lieutenant governor has selected his deputy chief of staff.

Jess Skaggs, a former Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries administrator, will be Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth’s deputy chief of staff, his office said Thursday.

“As lieutenant governor, I plan for my office to be the most active and engaged in Alabama’s history, and Jess Skaggs has the experience, dedication, and energy necessary to help make that plan a reality,” Ainsworth said. “Jess has a deep desire to serve his fellow Alabamians and to make our state an even better place to live for all of its citizens. I’m happy to have him on my team as we work to provide Alabama with more jobs, better schools, and a higher standard of ethics among its elected officials.”

Skaggs previously served as the deputy commissioner for external affairs in the department.

He spearheaded economic development opportunities for the Department of Agriculture and Industries in that role. He also worked with the Alabama Legislature to promote the state’s agricultural industry and assisted the commissioner with public policy research.

Ainsworth was sworn in as lieutenant governor on Monday. He’ll begin presiding over the Senate when the Legislature returns for the 2019 session in March. Ainsworth said Monday that he plans to focus on economic development, education, job training and government ethics during his term.

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Aside from his experience in the ADAI, Skaggs has other experience in the Legislature that could come in handy for the lieutenant governor. Skaggs worked closely with two senators and five state representatives as the delegation director for the Baldwin County Legislative Office. In that role, he oversaw constituent services, drafted and researched legislation, and coordinated community service grants for the delegation members.

Skaggs worked on the bill that authorized improvements to Gulf State Park and the Lodge at Gulf State Park. That was at the behest of former State Sen. Tripp Pittman, for whom he worked as a legislative aide. Pittman who chaired the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee.

A graduate of Huntingdon College with a degree in political science and history, Skaggs has also worked on numerous political campaigns as a general consultant and fundraiser.

He and his wife, Charlanna, an attorney specializing in business law, have three daughters and one son.

 

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Legislature

Sen. Cam Ward will again chair the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee

Chip Brownlee

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The senator largely responsible for rewriting many of Alabama’s antiquated sentencing laws and who has led an effort to reform Alabama’s prisons will again chair the Alabama Senate’s Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, was selected to chair the powerful committee responsible for oversight of Alabama’s criminal justice system.

Ward, who has served in the State Senate since 2010 after two terms in the Alabama House of Representatives, sponsored historic legislation in 2015 that rewrote Alabama’s sentencing guidelines. The aim was to reduce Alabama’s prison population by moving non-violent offenders toward rehabilitation programs.

Since the legislation passed, in 2015, Alabama’s inmate population has decreased by at least 4,406 inmates or a little more than 14 percent. In October 2018, the population was 26,858. That’s down from a high of 32,523 in 2013.

Combined with sentencing reforms in 2013, the population has decreased by about 17.5 percent since that year. That has been welcome news to an Alabama corrections system that has experience historic overcrowding since the new millennium.

About 20,195 of those prisoners are held in Alabama Department of Corrections facilities, which were designed to hold only 12,412. That occupancy rate of about 160 percent is down about 15 percent since 2013, when prisons were verging on 190 percent occupancy rate.

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“We have made a lot of strides with criminal justice reform, but we still have a long ways to go. We have to continuously innovate and use smart, data-driven approaches to figure out ways to keep recidivism as low as possible,” Ward said. “Criminal justice reform is an area where Republicans and Democrats actually agree on a lot, as evidenced by the fact that Cory Booker and Ted Cruz both voted for President Trump’s First Step Act, which I think is a smart reform of the federal sentencing guidelines.”

Ward has also sponsored or been a main supporter of legislation that would have built new prison facilities to replace aging prisons that were built largely in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Judiciary Committee chairman said he isn’t done looking at the issue of sentencing reform, though. And he views it as a bipartisan issue that both sides can work on together.

He also hinted at his support for an increase in infrastructure investment. The Republican leadership in the Legislature is considering a plan to raise Alabama’s gas tax for the first time since 1992 in an effort to fund infrastructure investment.

“The Republican majority has accomplished some huge conservative reforms over the past few years. Thanks to a strong commitment to fiscal responsibility, proration hasn’t happened once to Alabama’s schools since 2011, and we have passed a historic pro-life constitutional amendment, to cite just two examples,” Ward said. “In this new legislative term, I look forward to working with other legislators and Governor Ivey to tackle some of the remaining big challenges facing our state, like infrastructure modernization and education reform.”

Ward hasn’t stopped with sentencing reform. He led an effort to reform court costs and fees charged to juveniles. Last year, he proposed 10 different bills that focused on some issue of Alabama’s justice system. Six of those dealt directly with court funding issues.

Though some of them failed, like the juvenile justice reform bill, others have passed. Last session, he sponsored a bill signed into law that increased penalties for trafficking and distributing fentanyl, an extremely powerful synthetic opioid that claimed the lives of 157 Alabamians in 2016, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

On top of his role in the Legislature, Ward is entering his ninth year as president of the Alabama Law Institute.

The ALI, housed in the Law Center Building at the University of Alabama, has the goal to “clarify and simplify the laws of Alabama, to revise laws that are out-of-date and to fill in gaps in the law where there exists legal confusion.”

The Legislature will reconvene in March for the 2019 legislative session.

 

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House

McCutcheon announces standing committee assignments for 2019–2022 legislative term

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama House of Representatives released committee assignments to the public this week.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R – Monrovia, made a statement regarding the member assignments for the 25 House standing committees.

“Most of the hard, complex, and important work of vetting and amending the measures that come before the House is completed in the trenches of the body’s standing committees,” McCutcheon said. “Each of our House members, Republican and Democrat alike, have unique insights, experience, and areas of expertise, and we worked hard to assign members to the committees that can best utilize their talents. I am confident that the members of our committees and the legislators who chair them will be prepared to go to work and carry out their duties when the Legislature convenes for the 2019 regular session on March 5.”

There are 34 House Committees. They include: Agriculture and Forestry, Baldwin County Legislation, Boards Agencies and Commissions, Children and Senior Advocacy, Commerce and Small Business, Constitution Campaigns and Elections, County and Municipal Government, Economic Development and Tourism, Education Policy, Ethics and Campaign Finance, Financial Services, Fiscal Responsibility, Health, Insurance, Internal Affairs, Jefferson County Legislation, Judiciary, Lee County Legislation, Limestone, County Legislation, Local Legislation, Madison County Legislation, Military and Veterans Affairs, Mobile County Legislation, Montgomery County Legislation, Public Safety and Homeland Security, Rules, Shelby County Legislation, State Government, Technology and Research, Transportation Utilities and Infrastructure, Tuscaloosa County Legislation, Urban and Rural Development, Ways and Means Education, and Ways and Means General Fund.

Most committees meet on Wednesdays during the legislative session.  When a bill is introduced it is assigned to one of the committees.  The committee chairman decides whether or not it is placed on the committee calendar.  Committees often drastically change legislation and generally is a committee is opposed to a bill it won’t come out of that committee to ever reach the House floor.

Voters gave Republicans a commanding 77 to 28 supermajority in the House and that is also reflected in the committees where the Republicans have the numerical strength to move legislation without much, if any, bipartisan support.

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To view the composition of each committee is available here.

The 2019 regular session begins in March.

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Sen. Del Marsh re-elected President pro tempore of Alabama Senate

by Chip Brownlee Read Time: 2 min
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