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House passes controversial new rules

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama House of Representatives voted for a series of rule changes in the inner workings of the house. Passing the rules for the next four years is one of the duties of the legislature during the organizational session; but since Republicans have an overwhelming 77 to 28 supermajority the Republicans essentially got to write the rules, while Democrats complained.

House Rules Committee Chairman Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) sponsored the new rules, H.R. 7.

After Republican gains in the 2018 election, Democrats only 28 seats in the House of Representatives. 27 of the 28 House Democrats are Black.

State Representative Thomas Jackson (D-Thomasville) said, “You already have a supermajority. Now you are making it harder for the minority to represent our districts.”

One of the proposed rule changes decreased the amount of time that can be spent debating on adoption of the special order calendar from two hours to just forty minutes.

“We don’t have nothing, but a voice,” Rep. Jackson said. “27 minority members of the House and you want to take that way. All I can do is talk and you want to limit the time. Are we moving away from Democracy and moving to authoritative dictatorship?”

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Montgomery) said that the rule change was, “Taking away a tool by the minority party.”

Chairman Jones said that the rule which they were referring to is rule number eleven. This was passed in 2003 under Seth Hammett (D) when Democrats were in the majority. Prior to that the debate on the special order calendar had been unlimited. It was felt then that there needed to be some reasonable point of cutoff. Right now it is two hours. We would like to spend more time debating those actual issues. Right now we are burning two hours without much being accomplished in the process.

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Daniels said that relations between the two parties, “Has gotten better under our current Speaker. This is not necessary.”

Jackson said, “I was in the body when that passed in 2003 and I didn’t like it then. Some of us Democrats felt that we should have unlimited debate. We were in the minority even then.”

State Representative Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) said, “These rules are sickening.” Givan objected to rules making it easier to remove a legislator from the room.

Rep. Jones said that that the reason for stating that rules was to make it clear and very specific. A legislator can be removed for just one day on order of the presiding officer for a decorum violation. The Speaker of the House is the presiding officer of the House chamber; but even the speaker is subject to overrule by the entire body.
State Representative Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) said, “We are setting up an authoritarian rule in the House. I think there is an effort from the Governor’s mansion to the White House to destroy the democratic way of life.”

State Representative Merika Coleman Madison (D-Pleasant Grove) said, “This is a rule that members of your own caucus has used to get bills on the calendar particularly in the end of the session.”

Jackson objected to Rule 66 that says that only the chairman of the Rules committee can ask to take leave of the House while the House is in session. “Every chairman should object to that.”

Rep. Coleman Madison said, “If you shut us up, you shut up the 26 percent of Alabamians who are African Americans. I could see a federal lawsuit.”

“The Republicans already have the Democrats hanging on the cross. Are you the one to drive the nails in even further?” Rep. Artis J. McCampbell (D-Livingston) said.
State Representative John Rogers (D-Birmingham) said, “These rules changes are for the birds. These rules are terrible.”

“I have been here 32 years,” Rogers said. “Don’t cut me to ribbons and call me your friend. I stand on my own. No Caucus represents me. I might as well be a third world country. I don’t give a damn what you call it, it is a cloture.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) interrupted and said, “Watch your language.”

“Can I say darned,” Rogers asked.

“That would be preferable,” McCutcheon said.

“When I was in Vietnam, I was outnumbered but I had to use guerilla warfare,” Rogers said. “I am feeling an ill will in this House and the trickery is so broad that I can’t feel good about this House.”

Several legislators objected to the new rule limiting pages to no younger than ten and no older than eighteen,

Jones said that that was the change that the most legislators had questions about and that the House has an intern program for college age students.

Rep. J. Givan presented a compromise proposal on Rule 11 that set the limit on special order calendar debate at one hour rather than forty minutes.

Chairman Jones accepted Givan’s amendment, “in the spirit of compromise.”
The new rules were passed along partisan lines 74 to 27.

The House also passed SJR7 changing the organization of the legislature. SJR7 consolidated a number of legislative agencies under the Legislative Services Agency (LSA) which is headed by Jimmy Entrekin. The Alabama Law Institute (ALI), Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO), and Examiner of Public Accounts are now all under the Legislative Services Agency (LSA). SJR7 passed 85 to 0 and had already passed the Senate.

On Wednesday, the House and Senate met in a joint session and canvassed the election results. The organizational session has ended. The 2019 regular session will begin in March.

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House

Alabama Legislature plans to return to work briefly March 31

Eddie Burkhalter

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The Alabama Senate is planning to get to only a few big, constitutionally mandated items before calling an end to the year’s legislative session amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but whether they’ll get those tasks accomplished remains to be seen. 

Senate leadership is advising lawmakers who fall into “at-risk” categories because of their age or pre-existing medical conditions to not attend the Senate’s meeting when it resumes.

Among the items legislators tentatively plan to tackle before gaveling the session closed sometime in the future are the passage of the Education Trust Fund budget and the General Fund budget, which is the Legislature’s only constitutionally mandated duty.

And “other bills deemed necessary.” 

The state Senate’s Plan of Action, obtained by APR Friday, states that the Senate will meet at 2 p.m. on March 31 for its 14th legislative day. 

“The intent for this legislative day is to advance only essential attendance items and then to adjourn to a date certain for the 15th Legislative Day. April 28 has been discussed with the House,” the plan reads. 

The State Senate’s plan: 

“As leaders, it is imperative that we demonstrate that the business of this state carries on in an orderly and systematic fashion while adhering to the recommendations of our public health officials.

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The Alabama Senate will meet on Tuesday, March 31 at 2:00 pm at the Statehouse in the Senate Chamber as scheduled. This will be the 14th Legislative Day.

The intent for this legislative day is to advance only essential attendance items and then to adjourn to a date certain for the 15th Legislative Day. April 28 has been discussed with the House.

Below is a draft agenda for Tuesday, March 31.

  • Gavel In
  • Pledge and Prayer
  • Roll Call
  • Excuse all Senators
  • Points of Personal Privilege
  • President Pro Tem Marsh
  • Majority Leader Reed
  • Minority Leader Singleton
  • Adjourn to date certain for 15th Legislative Day.

“It is highly recommended that any Senator that falls into any of the at-risk categories stay away from the March 31 Legislative Day,” the plan advises. “However, each Senator’s personal wish will be accommodated.”

Any Senator or staff member that is ill, has been ill, or has been in the same room of anyone that has had any symptom of illness in the 72 hours preceding the March 31 Legislative Day must stay away from the March 31 Legislative Day, according to the Senate’s leadership.

A disinfecting station will be provided under the canopy of the second-floor rear entrance for each senator to disinfect hands and cell phones as they enter the State House and as they leave the Statehouse.

“We must ensure that we practice all Health Department recommendations while at the Statehouse,” the plan reads.

Social distancing will be accomplished by having senators report to their offices by 1:45 p.m. They will then walk into the chamber as the roll is called and then go back to their offices.

“As much separation as possible is required therefore greetings must be verbal only from a distance of 6 feet or greater,” the plan reads.

The remainder of the session will be held possibly Tuesday, April 28 through Monday, May 18.

This timeframe includes three weeks of the session plus the last day of May 18.

A specific plan for meeting more days than normal will be developed and provided prior to the next legislative meeting date.

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House

$200,000 in campaign finance penalties deposited into State General Fund

Staff

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Act 2015-495, which went into effect beginning with the 2018 Election Cycle, allows the Secretary of State’s Office to issue penalties to Political Action Committees (PACs) and Principal Campaign Committees (PCCs) that fail to timely file campaign finance reports.

As of today, the Office of the Secretary of State has collected $202,504.20 which has been deposited into the State General Fund to benefit the people of Alabama.

Conversations with the Senate and House General Fund Chairmen are currently underway to determine the best way to allocate these resources to counties.

Anyone who receives a campaign finance penalty is able to appeal their penalty to the Alabama Ethics Commission who has the authority to overturn a penalty.

“When I campaigned for this office in 2014, I made a promise to the people of Alabama that I would work to see that it is easy to vote and hard to cheat in this state. Since then, we have worked to make the electoral process more fair and transparent through requiring the honest reporting of all PACs and PCCs,” stated Secretary of State John H. Merrill.

Anyone who suspects an individual may be in violation of the Alabama Election Fairness Project is encouraged to report suspicious activity to StopVoterFraudNow.com.

 

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Economy

Daniels: We have to get help to those who need it most

Josh Moon

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There is not enough help coming fast enough to the people struggling the most. 

That was the message from Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, who was asked on the “Alabama Politics This Week” podcast about the efforts of Alabama’s state government to address the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“If you’ve never been poor, you don’t fully comprehend how things like this affect the poor and the unique problems the poor people face,” Daniels said. “I commend Gov. (Kay) Ivey and her staff for working to try and address this crisis the best they can, but I just think there’s a lack of understanding among all of us in some cases of how people need help.” 

To address those issues, at least in part, Daniels is writing a series of letters to different entities, including Ivey, to explain how they can best help the state’s most vulnerable. 

Daniels plans to ask the Alabama Supreme Court to order lower courts to halt foreclosure proceedings and evictions for those affected by coronavirus job losses and illnesses. He also will ask Ivey to intervene with banks on behalf of customers who are falling hopelessly behind on mortgage, car loans and other installment loans. And he will seek additional assistance from the state for borrowers with overwhelming student loan debt. 

“I want people to understand that I’m not criticizing what’s being done or trying to take control, I just hear from these folks on a daily basis and believe there are some better ways to help people,” Daniels said. “President Trump has addressed student loan debt by knocking the interest of those loans, but what does that really do for a person who just lost a job? Or someone who’s had hours and pay cut? We need to pause those payments and give people substantial forgiveness. 

“Otherwise, it’s going to be ugly.”

Democrats in the House also have been putting together potential legislation that could be passed to help the state’s poorest citizens and those who have been laid off from jobs. The specifics of those pieces of legislation weren’t available, but Daniels said they would have the same focus — providing real help for those who need it most. 

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If those bills are anything like the measures taken during the last economic downturn, you can expect a relaxing of rules on social programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and unemployment assistance programs. 

One of the first moves could be overturning a measure passed during the last legislative session that cut the number of weeks of unemployment pay in the state from 26 to 14. State Sen. Arthur Orr sponsored that legislation, and critics argued at the time that a downturn, such as the one that occurred in 2008, could suddenly leave thousands in the state without jobs and job prospects. It passed anyway.

 

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House

Alabama House cancels March 25 committee meetings due to coronavirus

Jessa Reid Bolling

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The Alabama House of Representatives announced on Monday that committee meetings scheduled for Wednesday, March 25 will be cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The legislative day on March 26 has not technically been cancelled but the House is not expected to have a quorum for that day.

A “quorum” is the minimum number of House members that must be present at any meeting to make the proceedings of that meeting valid. If there are not enough members present, then the meeting cannot proceed and House rules state that the speaker of the House is allowed to set a new date for the meeting. 

The Legislature is currently on an annual spring break. The House and Senate are both expected to reconvene on March 31. According to the statement from the House, a joint decision will be made regarding the future legislative meeting days.

The full statement reads:

“The leadership of the Alabama House of Representatives has made several changes to the upcoming meeting calendar because of the coronavirus crisis in the state.

House committees that were scheduled to meet on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 have been cancelled.

The House is scheduled to meet on Thursday, March 26, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. but no quorum is expected that day.

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Under House Rule 5(b), if there’s no quorum to conduct business during a state of emergency declared by the governor, the speaker of the House is allowed to set the date and time of the next meeting day. 

Both the House and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 and at that time a joint decision will be made as to future legislative meeting days.”

 

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