Monday night, state Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, and state Rep. Craig Lipscomb, R-Gadsden, addressed the St. Clair Farmer’s Federation in Ashville on their annual legislative day.
McClendon said that one of the biggest issue facing the legislature will be a proposed gas tax.
“I am not involved in it,” McClendon said. “Everything that I know is second hand or third hand and that is a gas tax. There is a lot of talk about raising taxes on fuel to go towards infrastructure or really roads and bridges. I have not seen the bill; but they have started showing us some numbers. We were told that it would be 12 cents per gallon. We were told at this meeting that 8 cents would go to the state and be used to draw down federal money, at an 80 cents federal to 20 cents state. Three 3 cents (per gallon) would go to the counties and one cent goes to the cities. The cities are not happy with that.”
“The Speaker of the House and the Senate Pro Tem. both appear to be big advocates for raising taxes on gas,” McClendon said. “What to do vote, yes or no. You could abstain but that is chicken. I could stay at the House and abstain. That is a dilemma. Do you do what you think is the right thing for the future of the state or do you do what the people want?”
McClendon asked for a show of hands from the estimated 34 people present at the meeting. Only two raised their hands in support of raising gas taxes.
Lipscomb said that dredging Mobile Bay will come out of it. They are going to use the transportation dollars to open up Mobile Bay for super container ships to increase commerce through the Port of Mobile.
“The last time gas taxes were raised were 1995,” McClendon said. “And that was just five cents. Gas taxes are interesting in that the taxes are per gallon and not per dollar. You collect the same amount whether gas prices go up or go down.”
State Representative Lipscomb said, “What we don’t know is what their intention are in disbursing the funds.” Do we get to keep our gas taxes locally or is it going to be used someplace else? “If that is the case I am not for that. I need to see a real tangible effort to keep our taxes local.”
The Alabama Political Reporter asked if the tax would be put on the ballot for a vote of the people in the 2020 election?
McClendon said that the Constitution make it the job of the legislature to decide.
“Our vehicles are much more efficient than they used to be,” McClendon said. Each cent of fuel taxes raises about $30 million.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the state has only added 90,000 people between 2010 and 2017 why do we need to spend $360 million a year in new tax increases plus federal matching dollars on roads when we really have no significant growth. Yes there is growth in Madison, Baldwin, Lee, and Shelby Counties but 60 of the 67 counties are either flat or in decline?
“I don’t believe those numbers,” Lipscomb said. “We have had more growth than that.”
“My daughter is President of her 4H,” Lipscomb told the farmers.
“I have pre-filed one bill. This is my first bill,” Lipscomb said. It deals with all of the unasked for sales calls that everyone is getting. “It would give the Attorney General the power to criminally prosecute the people who are making this phone calls.” There are some logistical issues with federal law that still have to be resolved.
“I am going to introduce the lottery bill,” McClendon said. “45 states have lotteries.”
“ALFA has always opposed that,” McClendon said. “I personally have not ever bought a lottery ticket in my life, though I might if the revenue stayed here instead of going to another state. I polled my Senate district and that includes parts of St. Clair, Shelby, and Talladega counties. Seventy percent say they want the right to vote.”
McClendon said that it goes directly to the voters if it makes it out of the House and the Senate. McClendon estimated that a state lottery would bring in $200 million. Half of the money would go to the education trust fund (ETF) and half would go to the cash strapped state general fund (SGF). McClendon said that he did not want to earmark the money for a specific purpose in the state Constitution for something like teacher pay raises, because we may not need that in five years.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked: last year the legislature approved a property tax increase vote that was rejected by the voters of St. Clair County. The bill authorizing that was passed in a little publicized local bill is that going to be making a return in this legislative session.
“Yes,” McClendon said. “Jim Hill is working on it.” McClendon said that the new bill authorizing a new vote to raise property taxes will be by school attendance zones and the school board draws those lines. If Moody votes to raise property taxes and Ashville doesn’t then Moody gets to keep those taxes in Moody’s schools and Ashville would not get the new money (as an example).
“We fought hard to defeat that school tax,” Former St. Clair County Farmers Federation President Roland St. John said. “They tried to sneak that in the back door and it seems like that is what they are doing now. I encourage the both of you and the rest of them to put a cap on raising taxes.”
McClendon said that state Representative Jim Hill (R-Odenville) couldn’t be here tonight because he, “Has been working in Montgomery all day on ethics as head of the House Judiciary Committee. That is a never-ending process. We keep messing with it.”
McClendon said that there used to be gas wars in Alabama where gas stations would compete for business by lowering their prices to attract customers. “In 1984 Alabama passed a law that says that you can’t sell gas below cost. We don’t have those anymore because Montgomery changed the law. The big boys come in and drive the Mom and Pops out of business. I bought that when I first went to Montgomery.”
“Now Buc-ees truck stop has come in in South Alabama. They cut the cost and are going to be sued,” McClendon said. “It is illegal to sell gas below cost in Alabama. I don’t think we have any other product like that. It doesn’t seem very capitalistic.”
McClendon said that he is introducing a hands-free bill. The no texting while driving bill was a six-year battle. Georgia passed a bill that became effective July 1. You can still talk on your phone, but you have to use a hands-free blue tooth device. The Georgia sponsor feels like 100 lives can be saved. That is going to be controversial. I hear from people that see we are taking my God given rights away by not letting them talk on their phones while they drive, wear seat belts, have auto insurance, etc. “There will certainly be opposition to it.”
“Enforcement has been a problem with my anti-texting bill,” McClendon said. “It was a good bill, but it has not been effective. Georgia has given out between 9,000 and 12,000 citations for it.”
$100 would be the fine for the first offence and $250 for the second offense McClendon said. The court costs and higher insurance costs is where it hits you.
Will Gilmer announced that he is running for regional Vice President in the Alabama Farmers Federation. He lives in Lamar County where he is a dairy farmer.
“I have been interested in some type of leadership capacity,” Gilmer said. I waited for the right combination of timing and the experience and skill set. I was secretary/treasurer of my county chapter for ten years. I am in my fifth year as county President.
“President Parnell has us on a good footing and headed in the right direction,” Gilmer said. “If you start having cracks at the county level the whole thing can fall down. I bring a new voice and new perspective. I don’t have to be milking cows until about 3:30 am so I have time to hand around and talk to you.”
The St. Clair County Farmer’s Federation meets on the second Monday night of each month at the ALFA building on Highway 411/231 in Ashville.
The 2019 legislative session begins on March 5.
Lawsuit claims governor ignored nomination process to appoint probate judge
A lawsuit filed Wednesday is challenging Gov. Kay Ivey’s appointment of Birmingham attorney James “Jim” Naftel II as Jefferson County probate judge place 1.
The suit, filed the day Ivey announced the appointment, alleges she circumvented the Jefferson County Judicial Commission’s nominating process. She should have selected an appointee from a list of three nominees provided by the commission as the state’s Constitution requires, the suit says.
“Because Judge Naftel was not lawfully or properly appointed as Probate Judge of Jefferson County, he is currently usurping, intruding, and unlawfully holding that office,” the suit alleges.
Ivey’s office said she disagrees with the suit’s interpretation of the law.
“The state constitution gives the governor the authority to fill this vacancy,” said Gina Maiola, Ivey’s press secretary. “Judge Naftel is highly qualified to serve as probate judge, and the governor looks forward to his many years of excellent public service to the people of Jefferson County and the state as a whole.”
Barry Ragsdale, an attorney with the firm Sirote & Permutt, P.C., said that he has no issue with who Ivey chose, only how she did it.
“I frankly have nothing but respect for Judge Naftel,” Ragsdale said. “I think he’ll make a great probate judge. I think he’s going to end up being the probate judge, but it’s about protecting a process that we’ve had in Jefferson County for 70 years.”
Jefferson County was the first of six counties to create such a commission. It originally applied only to Jefferson County Circuit Court, but that was expanded in 1973 to include any judicial office, the suit says — including probate judges.
Ragsdale said it is important because the process is meant to provide local input into whom potential judges are. Commissioners are local citizens who likely know the people they nominate, whereas a governor probably doesn’t.
“That takes most of the politics out of it,” Ragsdale said. He noted that before the first commission was created in 1950, George Wallace appointed his relatives to the bench when vacancies opened. A local screening process prevents that, Ragsdale said.
“We have that, we fought for it, and we fought governors for decades to follow the process,” he said.
Ragsdale believes this is a case of a governor simply wanting to exercise power, he said.
“She’s absolutely wrong about what the law says, and we intend to prove that,” Ragsdale said.
Ivey announces SiO2’s $163 million expansion in Auburn
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced Wednesday that SiO2 Materials Science plans to invest $163 million in an expansion at its Auburn facility.
The announcement came just after securing a major contract to supply the federal government with vials to support the COVID-19 vaccine effort if and when an effective vaccine is developed. The project will create 220 jobs.
“It is exciting to know that SiO2 will be directly involved in providing a product essential to addressing the COVID-19 crisis, which will impact not only Alabamians but the entire country,” Ivey said. “This is a testament to the ingenuity of this great company and its growing Alabama workforce.”
Economic developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Vials produced by SiO2 Materials Science may be the critical component needed to ensure safety in the vaccine distribution process. The breakthrough technology developed by the Auburn-based company provides a glimmer of hope amidst challenging times and showcases how Alabamians are working diligently to craft solutions that will assist our nation and the world in the fight against COVID-19. In addition, the 220 new, high-skilled jobs housed in Auburn Technology Park West will bring economic benefits to Lee County as well as the entire state of Alabama.”
The expansion will allow SiO2 to increase its production capacity so that it can meet the expected demand for vials and syringes when a coronavirus vaccine is finally approved for mass use.
In June, SiO2 announced an $143 million contract with federal government agencies for a production scale-up of the company’s state-of-the-art packaging platform for storing novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) vaccines and therapeutics.
Bobby Abrams is the CEO of SiO2.
“The pandemic presents an enormous challenge for all people,” Abrams said. “We are extremely grateful for Senator Shelby’s steadfast support and assistance, and we’re honored to collaborate with our government so a COVID-19 vaccine can be safely and quickly distributed. The State of Alabama and the City of Auburn for many years have been very supportive of SiO2 Materials Science during its research, development, commercialization, and now scale-up phases of the company.”
Over the last 10 years, SiO2 has developed its patented vial platform, which combines a plastic container with a microscopic, pure glass coating on the inside that is ideal for biological drugs and vaccines. The product, developed in Auburn with help from experts from four major U.S. research institutions, combines the benefits of both glass and plastic without drawbacks.
“There are problems with plastic, and there are problems with glass, and we resolve all of them,” Abrams said.
SiO2 will expand its existing facility at 2250 Riley Street and will invest in a new molding facility at 2425 Innovation Drive, both located in the Auburn Technology Park West.
Construction is already under way to expand the facility on Innovation Drive. The completed approximately 70,000-square-foot facility will increase the production capacity of SiO2’s injection molding operation.
“We’re proud to have some of the world’s leading scientists and product developers working in our community,” Auburn Mayor Ron Anders said. “With the presence of these companies and Auburn University’s outstanding medical and engineering programs, we believe we’ll see significant growth in the biotech industry right here in Auburn. On top of that, the well-paying jobs created through this project will result in significant economic opportunities for our local businesses.”
Greg Canfield, the secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said that SiO2’s expansion project in Auburn will help ensure that the nation’s health authorities have an ample supply of vials and syringes to administer a vaccine for COVID-19 as soon as it is developed.
“Having a steady supply of SiO2’s innovative vials will represent a key strategic advantage for federal agencies wanting to act rapidly once a vaccine is available to counter the coronavirus,” Canfield said.
Robert S. Langer is a professor at the David H. Koch Institute at MIT and a company adviser.
A key element of SiO2’s product is enhanced safety for healthcare providers and for patients, who are at a lower risk of adverse side effects. A combination of plastic and a microscopic layer of glass also means vials and syringes won’t break, shatter or crack. SiO2 ships its products worldwide.
“Many drug development and drug formulation innovations can be limited due to variables associated with traditional glass vials and syringes,” Langer said. “The SiO2 vials and syringes eliminate these variables and allow drug development partners to bring their innovations to life.”
SiO2 is a privately-owned company based in Auburn, where it has around 200 employees. The Retirement Systems of Alabama provided early financial support for the company.
517,464 people have already died from the COVID-19 global pandemic, including 130,602 Americans.
Governor appoints Barbara Cooper as secretary of Department of Early Childhood Education
Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday announced the appointment of Barbara Cooper as secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.
“Dr. Barbara Cooper has spent her professional career dedicated to helping students achieve their greatest potential. She and I share the same goal, and that is to make Alabama a better place, which begins with our youngest citizens,” Ivey said. “With her vast experience in various administrative positions, Dr. Cooper is more than qualified, and I have no doubt that she will continue the impressive work of the Department of Early Childhood Education. I am confident that Alabama will continue leading the nation with the best early childhood education system.”
Cooper has over 30 years of education experience and most recently served in DECE since 2018. She previously served as the department’s director of the Office of School Readiness and the Birth to Grade 12 advisor for the Alabama Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation.
She was appointed by the Alabama State Board of Education to serve as the chief administrative officer during the Montgomery Public Schools Intervention where she worked to improve leadership and governance.
Cooper is currently in the process of earning a certificate in Early Education Leadership from Harvard University Graduate School of Education.
She also received a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and Innovation and a Master of Science in Administration, Supervision & Curriculum Development from the University of Colorado at Denver and a Bachelor of Science in Education from Western Illinois University.
“Education is the greatest profession and the work we do in our calling as educators will last beyond our lifetime,” Cooper said. “I look forward to serving Alabama’s children and families for many years to come. I appreciate Governor Ivey’s confidence in selecting me to serve in this new capacity and I look forward to hitting the ground running.”
Cooper’s administrative experience is vast as she has served as Deputy State Superintendent/Chief Academic Officer of the Alabama State Department of Education, Deputy Superintendent of Huntsville City Schools, Chief Equity and Engagement Officer of Aurora Public Schools (Colorado) and a Principal with Denver Public Schools. She has teaching experience ranging from elementary to teacher instruction.
The governor’s appointment is effective immediately.
Governor appoints Jim Naftel as Jefferson County probate judge
Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday appointed Birmingham attorney James “Jim” Naftel II as Jefferson County probate judge place 1.
Ivey spoke to Naftel Wednesday afternoon to inform him of her decision, according to a press release from Ivey’s office.
“As one of my appointees, you will be making important decisions that directly affect the citizens of Alabama. I have made honesty and integrity a priority in my Administration, and I know that you will embody these two virtues while serving the people of Alabama,” Ivey wrote in a letter to Naftel on Wednesday.
Naftel will replace Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan King, who was first elected to the judgeship in November 2000, and who retired in May after 19 years of service. King’s wife was killed just more than a year before his retirement in a hit-and-run in Denver.
Naftel has been an attorney with the law firm Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C. since 1998, and is a 1998 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law.