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Livingston, Ledbetter preview legislative session

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, and State Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, addressed the people of Fort Payne about the state of the state. The event was sponsored by the Fort Payne Chamber of Commerce,

Senator Livingston said that I want to give you an overview of what happened in 2018 and an overview of what’s ahead in the legislative session.

“Its an honor to represent Fort Payne in the Alabama Legislature,” Representative Ledbetter said. “It is an honor to be re-elected as Majority Leader unanimously.”

Sen. Livingston said that he will support legislation in the next session that will teach the Bible as an elective. “A lot of the problems in our school system would go away if we would just say a prayer at 7:30 each day.”

“If you want a job in Alabama you can find a job in Alabama,” Livingston said praising the strong Alabama economy.

“Alabama is one of the top five states for business,” Rep. Ledbetter said. “Being one of the top five states people want to go to is important.”

Livingston said, “I was at the Blue Origin ribbon cutting this week. It was interesting to see the excitement from the ULA (United Launch Alliance) folks.

ULA will use the Blue Origin rocket engines for their rockets which are made at the ULA Decatur factory.

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Livingston said that there was a possibility of Dream Chaser making landings in Huntsville as early as 2022.

Dream Chaser is a reusable space plane built y Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems. The Dream Chaser is designed to resupply the International Space Station. Dream Chaser will be launched into space on a ULA Atlas V rocket.

Ledbetter said that Google is coming into Birmingham and is also building in Jackson County.

Livingston said that on Monday U.S. Senator Richard Shelby said that the FBI is looking at putting another $billion into the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.

“Last year we passed the largest tax cut in the history of Alabama,” Livingston told the audience.

“We passed the Rolling Reserve Act, which virtually eliminated proration,” Ledbetter said. “This year we will surpass over $7 billion in the education budget, the largest education budget in the history of the state.”

“There is no one size fits all for securing schools,” Livingston said. “We have got to provide some money for school security and let our school superintendents decide how to spend it.”

Livingston said that in 2018 the legislature passed a balanced state general fund budget of $2 billion with no new tax increases. They were able to add $3 million in funds for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to put 30 additional state troopers on the road. Corrections was given a $55 million increase to hire additional mental and medical health staff.

“We have paid off over $500 million that the previous administration had borrowed from the rainy day fund,” Ledbetter said.

“We started giving veterans free entrance to all Alabama state parks,” Ledbetter told the Fort Payne audience. The Veterans Employment Act established a one-time $2,000 income tax credit for businesses that hire a veteran for a full-time position paying at least $14 an hour.

Livingston said that the legislature has reformed incentives so that they are pay as you go rather than cash incentives.

The two legislators said that the legislature passed bills to help ridesharing services and the Data Breach Notification Act after Equifax reported in March that two million Americans were affected by their data breach in 2017.

Livingston said that the legislature passed bills to fight human trafficking.

Livingston said that the legislature also passed Emily’s Law last year. Emily Colvin was killed by a dangerous dog. Some of her family were in attendance. The bill sets felony penalties for anyone convicted of owning a dog that has seriously injured or killed a person.

“You can spend time in jail and have a hefty fine,” Ledbetter said.

Ledbetter spoke in favor of expanding rural broadband.

“What if we have a man in rural Alabama who has found a cure for cancer but he does not have broadband to get it out there to the rest of the world?” Ledbetter said.

Livingston said that State Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, was the architect of the bill that created the Broadband Accessibility Fund.

Ledbetter said that he expects another bill that will raise the fund.

Livingston said that the legislature passed the Child Care Safety Act “To make sure that we protect our kids.”

“We changed the law and I think kids in daycare are safer because of it,” Ledbetter said.

Ledbetter said that he worked with Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon to protect the Republican supermajority. The House GOP has the largest majority it has ever had at 77 of the 105 seats.

Livingston said that Republicans picked up Harri Ann Smith’s seat in southeast Alabama and defended the 26 seats they already has so hold 27 of the 35 seats in the Alabama Senate.

“We have a group that will play well together,” Senator Livingston added.
Ledbetter said that he expected to see an infrastructure bill.

“I don’t know what the mechanism will be; but we have CEOs from Mercedes get up and say if you don’t improve your infrastructure we will stop expanding in your state. A General said if we had known you weren’t going to expand your infrastructure we would have stayed in Virginia.”

Livingston praised Mayor Tommy Battle and the folks in Huntsville for coming up with $250 million in local money to improve roads there.

“I have not seen the bill,” Livingston said. “I have heard 26 cents (a gallon in higher fuel taxes). I don’t know where that came from. If you have driven I-65 you will know that we have a problem.”

Ledbetter said that Dekalb County school buses drive 30,000 a miles a year to get around bad bridges. The last time the state did anything was 1992. Cars are a lot more fuel efficient than they were then. The last two years it (fuel tax collections) has been down six percent even though we have we have 22 percent more vehicles on the road. “It may not be all fuel taxes, it might be something else.”

“There is a lot of conversation going on,” Livingston said. “The devil is in the details. The fighting will start when we see a bill.” Georgia passed a 26 cents a gallon increase. “We have seen a lot of growth. If we don’t address this all of that could come to a screeching halt.”

Livingston said that Senator Shelby said that there is going to be some money set aside for dredging Mobile Bay Harbor. Right now there is not a port on the Gulf of Mexico that the big supercargo container ships can go to. They have to go around to the Atlantic Ocean. They are talking about dredging down 18 inches and 20 foot on either side.

The legislators said that the trucking industry pays 44 percent of the fuel taxes, Ledbetter said 23 percent of all fuel is by people transiting through the state Alabamians only buy 33 percent of the fuel.

“The trucking industry is behind it,” Livingston said.

On the prison issue, Livingston said, “The Governor has an idea that they can fix this without the legislature’s help. We will see.” We will have to provide more mental health care in the prisons.

“We have got to look at doing something about workforce development,” Ledbetter said. “A certified plumber can make more money in Dekalb County than a lawyer can. We have a lot of lawyers. We don’t have enough plumbers. It is the same way with electricians.”

The two legislators said that they were meeting with Chancellor Baker to discuss a plan to help Northeast Alabama’s workforce.

“Mike Row said that we have kids borrowing money for degrees for jobs that no longer exist,” Ledbetter said. “Welders can make six digits.”

Livingston said that there is a big need for HVAC workers. Google has to cool all those servers and they are paying $37 an hour for HVAC certified people.

“Medicaid expansion has become a topic suddenly this week,” Livingston said.

“There is some talk among the hospitals that they have a way to pay the state’s portion back,” Ledbetter said. “We are losing a lot of rural hospitals. Jacksonville just closed. If they are willing to pay it back and not be a burden for the state.” “Am I sold on it yet? I am not.”

Livingston said that were working with CMS (the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) to make it where small rural hospitals are entitled to the same reimbursement as major city hospitals.

Ledbetter said that Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar asked for less money than they got last year.

Ledbetter said that there is going to be a lottery bill. “I am not privy to the plan yet.”
“I am not sure who is going to bring it,” Livingston said. McClendon has a stand-alone lottery bill.

“I am not a lottery person, but I think you have a right to vote on it,” Ledbetter said. “If you see me vote for it, I am voting for your right to vote on it.”

“Economic growth the last two years has been really good,” Livingston said. “The general fund budget is healthy. That’s when the problems start in Montgomery. When we have got money.”

“92 percent of our money is earmarked,” Livingston said. “We only have got a little bit of money to play with.”

The legislators reported that Dekalb County has four existing industries expand and five new industries announced for 112 new jobs. Jackson County has expansions and one new industry for a total of 315 ne jobs.

“We are dropping a ball on mental health in Alabama,’’ Ledbetter said. We would like to get mental health advisers in schools so kids can get help early on.

Livingston acknowledged the concerns of an audience member and admitted that a lottery is a regressive tax and will come with social ills.

The legislators said that the Bellefonte nuclear power plant will create 8000 construction jobs over seven years and1500 permanent jobs.

Livingston said that TVA blocked the sale of the plant at the last minute and the matter is in federal court in front of new appointee Lyles Burke.

“I feel pretty comfortable that if things go well they (TVA) will sell the plant,” Livingston said. “It will be done right and managed professionally. This is not Nathaniel and Steve going out and building a nuclear plant. This will be done right.

An audience member asked about removing the sales tax on groceries.

Livingston said that the state would have to make the money back from someplace

“We are looking at it,” Ledbetter said.

“We need to be looking at changing Alabama for the next generation and not for the next election,” Ledbetter said.

Huntsville economic developer Nicole Jones addressed the legislators about her support for infrastructure improvements.

“I appreciated the opportunity to speak briefly on the importance of addressing Alabama’s crumbling infrastructure,” Jones said in a statement. “Adequate infrastructure always makes the top tier of requirements during the site selection process. If we are going to continue our state’s economic momentum (project wins), we must be proactive and address infrastructure now. This means dredging a small part of Mobile Bay so ships can move in more cargo as well as fixing our highways so 18-wheelers can transport goods effectively and constituents can travel to and from the workplace in a safe and reliable manner (with minimal traffic) We are not receiving the same return on investment as the economic model generated in 1992. Vehicles have become more fuel efficient since then. Infrastructure is a quality of life issue and a bipartisan issue that will dominate the upcoming legislative session.”

The legislative session begins 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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