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Coastal Alabama Partnership holds Legislative Sendoff

Brandon Moseley

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The Coastal Alabama Partnership hosted the fifth Annual Meeting and Legislative Send-Off Friday, Feb. 1 at the Daphne Civic Center in Baldwin County.

Attendees included State Sen. Chris Elliot, State Rep. Chip Brown, State Rep. Matt Simpson, State Rep. Alan Baker, Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood, Economic Developer Nicole Jones, Donna Baker of Baldwin EMC, representatives from the City of Mobile, and many other noted members of the public and private sectors.

Economic developer Nicole Jones shared, “The Coastal Alabama Partnership leverages the strength of both Mobile and Baldwin Counties to improve the quality of life for all of Coastal Alabama. The unified approach helps share the message that both Baldwin County and Mobile County are economic powerhouses within the state of Alabama that provide benefits, especially through the Port of Mobile, that affect all of our 67 counties.” Nicole Jones continued, “Infrastructure affects current and future jobs and commerce. Companies rely on adequate roads and bridges to transport goods from one place to another. During the site selection process, infrastructure consistently makes it in the top tier of needs, which is important to note if Alabama is going to continue to attract partners like Airbus and Austal. Because of this, the Coastal Alabama Partnership hopes that the State of Alabama will address the infrastructure crisis we face in the upcoming legislative session.”
The Coastal Alabama Partnership has identified several areas of focus for their Legislative Agenda.

Areas of focus include insurance, Infrastructure & Transportation, Seafood, Environment, and Economic Development.

Coastal Alabama Partnership’s mission is to enable and unify business and political leadership in their pursuits of improving our quality of life by collaborating on improving infrastructure, education, and governmental services.

Coastal Alabama Partnership’s vision is for Coastal Alabama to become a globally competitive destination recognized around the world as THE place to work, live, and play, because of the unique quality of life found in our region. Baldwin County is one of the fastest growing counties in Alabama.

Transportation is a big issue for the group. Building the I-10 a bridge over the Mobile River, traffic along I-10 and the need to improved infrastructure to support the growing economy. There are also plans to dredge the shipping channel so the Port of Mobile can handle the big new super container ships. Right now, Savanah is the closest port that can handle those biggest ships that are crossing through the Panama Canal. The existing shipping channel needs to be deepened and widened to accommodate that traffic,

The partnership announced that they are finally seeing traction with the Mobile River Bridge & Bayway Project, yet still have several hurdles to overcome.
In a recent TRIP Report for Alabama (2016), 50 highway projects were identified that are needed in order to support Alabama’s economic growth. TRIP, a national transportation research group, listed the Mobile I-10 corridor as the 2nd most critical project to economic growth in the state of Alabama.

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“The amount of commerce that travels through our region is massive. Mobile is a key point along the Jacksonville – New Orleans – Texas corridor. If we do not solve this traffic jam soon, companies will find other routes,” says Wiley Blankenship, CEO of Coastal Alabama Partnership.

The pending expansion of the channel in Mobile Bay, means that the Port will see increased traffic. In a letter to the Corp of Engineers, Alabama’s congressional delegation expressed full support of the proposed expansion plan. Improvements are also needed in the road infrastructure to handle that increased freight whn those ships are loaded and unloaded.

The group has expressed support for raising the Alabama gas tax. Both Gov. Kay Ivey and Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, have said that raising fuel taxes to pay for infrastructure is their top legislative priorities. Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, recently told the Mid Alabama Republican Club that state Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, will introduce the legislation to raise fuel taxes.

State Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, told the St. Clair County Farmers Federation that the state fuel tax increase will be 12 cents a gallon with 8 cents of that (approximately $240 million per year) going to the Alabama Department of Transportation. Three cents per gallon (an estimated $90 million a year) will be divided among the 67 counties in Alabama. One cent per gallon (approximately $30 million per year) will somehow be divided among the 169 cities and 291 towns in Alabama. State Rep. Craig Lipscomb, R-Gadsden, told the farmers that the improvements for the Port of Mobile will be part of that package.

The $360 million a year in additional dollars for roads and bridges will allow the state to go to the U.S. Department of Transportation and pull down as much as $1.44 billion a year in federal dollars.

President Donald Trump has asked Congress for a massive infrastructure bill. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives had balked at giving the President an infrastructure bill because it will greatly increase the budget deficit, which has ballooned to $871 billion due to increased spending on defense, the failure to repeal Obamacare, Congresses refusal to address entitlement reform, and the 2011 Republican tax cut which was not offset by spending cuts. It remains to be seen if the now Democratic controlled House of Representatives are more likely to pass Trump’s infrastructure request making hundreds of $billion in new USDOT dollars available to the states for infrastructure projects. Pres. Trump has requested that broadband expansion be part of that infrastructure bill.

When Robert Bentley was governor he used future gas tax dollars to issue a $1 billion bond issue for road and highway spending. If there is a federal infrastructure bill, the legislature could use the $360 million a year in future gas tax dollars to issue $3 billion plus in bonds to pull down $12 billion in federal dollars. The Senate passed such a bond plan in 2017, but the House never passed the gas tax bill to implement that ambitious plan.

The Alabama Political Reporter has not seen the gas tax bill and is not privy to whether or not there will be a bond issue. Some have suggested that the gas tax that actually passes the House will ultimately be smaller than the 12 cents per gallon increase being discussed now. Currently, the state of Alabama collects $18 cents a gallon and last increased that in 1992 when a five cent a gallon increase was passed.

The 2019 legislative session begins on March 5.

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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

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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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