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2019 legislative session begins Tuesday

Brandon Moseley

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The 2019 regular session of the Alabama legislature begins today Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey will give her annual state of the state address to a joint session of the Alabama Legislature tonight at 6:30 p.m. There are several key issues that will be decided by the legislature in these weeks.

Fuel tax increase – This is the Governor’s biggest priority. It is also the most controversial piece of legislation that the legislature has seen in many years. State Senator Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, and State Representative Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, are sponsoring this legislation. Motorists would see a ten cent a gallon fuel tax increase phased in over the next three years plus the bill includes a provision to index the fuel tax to the cost of road construction so could lead to future tax increases without a vote of future legislatures. The bill would generate an additional $310 million a year in new revenue that would be split between the Alabama Department of Transportation, county road departments, municipalities, and a $10 million a year subsidy for dredging the shipping channel in Mobile Bay so that the port can accommodate the new super container ships. The Alabama Republican Party Executive Committee has urged the legislature to reject the bill. The Business Council of Alabama, the Association of County Commissions, the League of Municipalities, and various trade associations are urging legislators to pass the bill. Expect the governor to call a special session so that proponents can ram this through in as little as ten calendar days.

Common Core repeal – This issue has been a conservative priority since the Bob Riley administration first agreed to the experimental new education curriculum. Repeal efforts have gotten new vigor in recent years because the schools have done such a poor job of implementing the change. Alabama’s public schools have been ranked as low as 50th on some measures in recent testing. The Alabama Department of Education is rewriting the math course of study and is urging the legislature to hire math coaches and reading coaches to coach teachers on how to teach, but conservatives are urging the legislature to just abolish the much-maligned Alabama College and Career Ready Standards. In the past, repeal efforts could not get out of committee; but Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, has promised repeal advocates that repeal can get to the floor of the Senate.

Hunting hogs and deer over bait – This issue has come up repeatedly over the last four years and evokes passion by proponents and opponents alike. Feral swine is an enormous problem in Alabama. The invasive species preys on crops, ground nesting birds, and native plants. Proponents argue that hunting hogs over bait is necessary to control the species. Opponents argue that this is just a ploy to get approval of hunting deer over bait. Hunters feed the deer then harvest the animals at their convenience. Opponents argue that this is not fair chase.

Lottery – State Senator Jim McClendon, R-Springville, is bringing a lottery bill. Polls show that most Alabamians support a lottery; but the details are where the legislature gets side tracked. The general fund is where the state needs revenue; but many people prefer an education lottery like Georgia has. Gambling proponents could kill the lottery bill over demands that a gambling bill legalize bingo machines at Greenetrack, Shorter, the Birmingham Race Course, and Lowndes County. Casino proponents know that if the legislature passes a lottery bill that does not provide any legalization of electric bingo or actual casino games then it is highly unlikely they will pass a gambling bill in future legislative sessions. McClendon’s bill is not expected to include any legalization of slot machines or electronic bingo. Any lottery or gambling bill would still have to be approved by voters, whom rejected a lottery when Governor Don Siegelman (D) last brought one to voters.

Permitless Carry – gun proponents including the National Rifle Association (NRA), Gunowners of America (GOA), and Bamacarry are all in support of Senator Gerald Allen’s, R-Tuscaloosa, bill to end the requirement that Alabama citizens must have a concealed carry permit in order to carry a handgun on their person or concealed in their automobile. The Alabama Sheriff’s Association and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America both strongly oppose this legislation. In the past the bill has gotten out of the Senate; but is unable to get out of committee in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Medicaid Expansion – the Alabama Hospital Association is floating a plan to expand the Medicaid program to cover non-disabled adults. They would pay for the state’s portion of the program with a per bed fee on the hospitals. The hospitals claim that expanding Medicaid is necessary to keep struggling rural hospitals from closing. Expanding Medicaid will have opposition in a conservative legislature which is already troubled by the rising costs of funding regular Medicaid.

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Ethics reform – last year the legislature tasked a committee with preparing recommendations on how to reform Alabama’s 2010 ethics law. The committee is expected to recommend legislation to make economic developers exempt from the requirement that they have to register as lobbyists. Proponents argue that this is necessary to keep the state competitive in recruiting new industry. Opponents argue that the legislature is simply weakening the Alabama Ethics Law. Marsh has expressed concerns that there were unintended consequences with the 2010 ethics law that have prevented legislators from serving while operating their businesses.

Arming teachers – The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. That phrase will be used to justify a number of suggestions to increase the numbers of armed personnel in Alabama schools. An effort is underway to increase the number of school resource officers in schools. There will also be a bill introduced to arm some trained school teachers and administrators. Armed teachers is supported by pro-Second Amendment groups, but is opposed by Moms Demand Action. Legal liability concerns are a major issue as well.

Prisons – Federal Judge Myron Thompson has ruled that the state does not provide adequate mental health care for its inmates. The legislature is going to have to increase funding for mental health workers to comply with the federal court order. It is also going to have to come up with funding to hire hundreds more corrections officers for the chronically overcrowded and understaffed state corrections facilities. Gov. Ivey is expected to authorize the construction of three new large capacity men’s prisons. She could do that through executive action and go around the legislature. Doing a bond issue with the legislature is likely to be considered, but past efforts to get similar bills through the legislature all failed.

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Budgets – the economy is doing strong so revenues are up and neither the general fund budget or education budget are expected to be difficult. The 2020 fiscal year education budget is anticipated to be the largest in state history. There will still be efforts to un-earmark more money. Any effort to actually combine all state funding into one pot would have to be approved by the voters and there seems to be little support for that in the legislature.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Alabama Legislative Black Caucus holds meetings on racism in wake of George Floyd death

Eddie Burkhalter

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State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, is the chair of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus.

Members of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus in recent months have been meeting with Gov. Kay Ivey, state law enforcement officials and others to voice their concern over systemic racism in Alabama, the group said in a statement Friday. 

Alabama Legislative Black Caucus members in June met with Ivey, and in follow-up meetings with other state officials and leaders of higher education, members discussed what they believe needs changing to battle racism in Alabama, according to the press release. 

“We are very appreciative of Governor Ivey and all of the officials with whom we have met thus far,” said State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, chairwoman of the ALBC, in a statement. “Our dialogues have been very substantive and productive as the Caucus presented our concerns and recommendations. Our goal is to get to the root of and eradicate racism and anything that communicates hatred, bigotry or divisiveness within the State of Alabama. The tragic and senseless death of George Floyd caused us all to take a closer look at the systemic racism at work here in Alabama.”

ALBC members met with officials from Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Sheriffs Association, the Alabama Association of Police Chiefs and Katie Britt, president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama along with BCA’s Executive Leadership Committee.

Members also met with The University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis St. John, and Jay Gogue, president of Auburn University. 

In the statement, ALBC members applauded the University of Alabama’s Board of Trustees for voting unanimously to rename Nott Hall — named for Josiah Nott, a doctor who believed in white superiority — Honors Hall. 

“The University of Alabama had already started this endeavor before our meeting with them this past Tuesday,” said State Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Gallion, vice chairman of ALBC, in a statement. “That was a great first step and strong leadership was shown. We are looking forward to the other institutions of higher learning in Alabama to do the same as well. The Caucus also hopes that all members of the Alabama Legislature have been inspired to adopt and make meaningful changes in legislation that governs our state.”

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Figures said the group of elected senators and representatives are holding these talks, with plans for others, “so that people will stop focusing on Alabama’s sordid past, and instead see a beautiful Alabama present, and the makings of a bright future for all Alabamians.” 

“During each of these meetings, our members have had the opportunity to voice what we feel the necessary changes should be. I just hope this openness to positive change continues throughout the upcoming 2021 Alabama Legislative Session,” said State Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, in a statement. 

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State senator calls for Rep. Dismukes to resign over celebration of former Klan leader

“Since first being elected in 1996, I’ve had a policy of not publicly criticizing other elected officials, but at this time I am making an exception since Rep. Dismukes is MY state representative,” Chambliss wrote in a tweet. “He does not represent my views or the views of the vast majority of people in District 88.” 

Eddie Burkhalter

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State Sen Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, on Monday called for the resignation of Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville.

State Sen Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, on Monday called for the resignation of Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, after posting to social media about attending a birthday celebration for Nathanial Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Dismukes posted a photo of himself on Sunday speaking at Fort Dixie outside of Selma on Saturday, the same day that late Congressman and Civil Rights hero Rep. John Lewis, was honored in Selma. 

“Since first being elected in 1996, I’ve had a policy of not publicly criticizing other elected officials, but at this time I am making an exception since Rep. Dismukes is MY state representative,” Chambliss wrote in a tweet. “He does not represent my views or the views of the vast majority of people in District 88.” 

“The post is bad enough, the timing is even worse, but the real problem is that an elected official in 2020 would attend a celebration of the life of someone that led a group that terrorized and killed other human beings,” Chambliss continued in the tweet. “He has had 24 hours to understand why people are so upset, but his interview on WSFA a few moments ago confirms that he is lacking in understanding and judgment — he should resign immediately.” 

Dismukes in the WSFA interview told a reporter that he hadn’t thought about the memorial for Rep. Lewis and connected it to his attendance at the celebration for the Klan leader. 

Dismukes told WSFA that he won’t apologize for his family’s service in the “war between the states” that he said wasn’t primarily fought over slavery, that he’s not a racist but that he doesn’t see the need for the current racial reconciliation. 

“We no longer drink from separate water fountains, and we no longer have segregated schools,” Dismukes told WSFA. “You know there’s abundant work opportunities for all colors, there’s abundant scholarship opportunities for all colors. So what are you asking that needs to be racially reconciled?”

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Chambliss may be the first Republican lawmaker in Alabama to call for Dismukes’ resignation, but others have expressed concern over his social media post and attendance at the event. 

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan issued a statement addressing the post, and said he believes voters should decide whether Dismukes keeps his office. 

“While Rep. Dismukes has released a statement attempting to clarify his actions as a private citizen attending a celebration of the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, Alabamians hold their elected officials to a high standard of actions. So does the Republican Party,” Lathan said in the statement. 

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“Rep. Dismukes offered no explanation for why he participated in a birthday celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Additionally, I find his statement to be shallow in understanding why his activities are deeply offensive to so many Alabamians. His constituents will be the final decision-makers of his political future.”

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Republicans are concerned by Rep. Dismukes’ Confederate social media posts

Brandon Moseley

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Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, is facing criticism for attending a birthday celebration for the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, on Monday released a statement in response to a recent social media post by State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, who was in Selma Saturday celebrating Confederate General and Ku Klux Klan leader Gen. Nathan Bedford Forest’s birthday over the weekend. This was while much of the rest of the state was celebrating the life of Alabama native and Civil Rights Movement legend Congressman John Lewis.

“The Alabama Republican Caucus is comprised of 75 men and women, each of whom have their own beliefs and principles that guide their lives,” Ledbetter said. “The personal beliefs expressed by any one member do not reflect the beliefs of the others, and their activities outside the Legislature should be considered their own, as well.”

“Several of our Republican Caucus members have reached out to me with concerns about the content and timing of a recent social media post by State Rep. Will Dismukes, and I, as a House member, share those concerns,” Ledbetter continued. “We live in a nation that guarantees each citizen the right to express the ideas they wish to share, and in the case of a public official, voters will ultimately decide if they agree with those ideas.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, also released a statement regarding the controversial social media post.

“The Alabama House cannot police the beliefs, statements, and activities of its members outside the Legislature as that is a job best assigned to voters in each House district across the state,” McCutcheon said. “It is important to note, however, that I and many other members of the House devoted our weekend toward honoring an Alabama native and civil rights icon who dedicated his life to securing freedom, liberty, and equality for all Americans.”

“While Rep. Dismukes has released a statement attempting to clarify his actions as a private citizen attending a celebration of the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, Alabamians hold their elected officials to a high standard of actions. So does the Republican Party,” said Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan. “Rep. Dismukes offered no explanation for why he participated in a birthday celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Additionally, I find his statement to be shallow in understanding why his activities are deeply offensive to so many Alabamians. His constituents will be the final decision-makers of his political future.”

“The Alabama of today was on full, honorable display as we paid humble tribute this weekend to the life of Congressman John Lewis,” Lathan continued. “That is the Alabama that we are proud of — showing the nation and world that we are one in the common goals of equality for all of our citizens.”

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“It is one thing to honor one’s Southern heritage, however, it is completely another issue to specifically commemorate the leader of an organization with an indisputable history of unconscionable actions and atrocities toward African-Americans,” Lathan concluded. “I strongly urge his constituents to contact Rep. Dismukes to articulate and share with him their thoughts on his personal actions.”

On Sunday, Dismukes shared several pictures from the celebration of Gen. Forest’s birthday, with the caption: “Had a great time at Fort Dixie speaking and giving the invocation for Nathan Bedford Forrest annual birthday celebration. Always a great time and some sure enough good eating!!”

After the comments became a social media firestorm that has garnered press attention, Dismukes attempted to explain his position.

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“First and foremost, my post yesterday was in no way related to disrespecting the passing of Rep. John Lewis,” Dismukes said. “That wasn’t even a thought in my mind. That is not who I am as a person. I am a transparent person. To the point that as a public official I lay it all there for the people to see for better or for worse at times. My post yesterday was as usual me sharing a previous days events. The post was in no way intended to seem as if I was glorifying the Klan or any party thereof. The very atrocities and actions they committed are a disgrace to our country.”

“Also, we are all individual members that make up our legislature. I made a post independent of my colleagues,” Dismukes continued. “I made a post independent of my colleagues. My regret is that I have allowed them to be put in a negative light. If you disagree with me and my beliefs do not hold them under the same umbrella. I can live with a dislike for me, but not fellow members, or members of my own personal family. Our body as a whole is made up of some of the finest people I have ever had the honor of knowing and working with, both Democrat and Republican. I close by reiterating that my post was in no way glorifying the Klan or disrespecting the late Rep. John Lewis.”

The Alabama Democratic Party had already come out and demanded that Dismukes resign months ago when it became known that he, a minister, was chaplain for a Sons of the Confederacy chapter in central Alabama.

Dismukes is serving in his first term in the Alabama House. He briefly was a congressional candidate in Alabama’s 2nd District but dropped out of the race before the Republican Primary.

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Alabama lawmaker faces sharp criticism over celebration of former KKK leader

Micah Danney

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State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, shared a post on Facebook after a birthday celebration for Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, is again facing calls to resign over a social media post he made about his participation in an event honoring Confederate heritage.

Dismukes posted a photo of himself on Sunday speaking at Fort Dixie the day before, where a yearly event was held celebrating the birthday of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

“Had a great time at Fort Dixie speaking and giving the invocation for Nathan Bedford Forrest annual birthday celebration. Always a great time and some sure enough good eating!!” Dismukes wrote above a photo of himself speaking on a porch adorned with a portrait of Forrest and several Confederate flags. The post is no longer visible.

Criticism was swift on social media as word spread that Dismukes attended the celebration on the same weekend that the late Congressman and Civil Rights hero, Rep. John Lewis, was honored in Selma, where Lewis was nearly beaten to death in 1965, during the march for voting rights that crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Alabama Democratic Party Executive Director Wade Perry called for Dismukes to resign.

“Will Dismukes has demonstrated yet again why he is unfit to hold public office,” Perry said in a statement. “Americans don’t celebrate racists or traitors. Nathan Bedford Forrest was both. And a founder of the Klan. The Alabama Democratic Party renews our call for Dismukes to resign. It’s 2020 and it’s time for racial extremists like Will Dismukes to go away.”

Dismukes posted a statement on Monday addressing the criticism: “First and foremost, my post yesterday was in no way related to disrespecting the passing of Rep. John Lewis. That wasn’t even a thought in my mind. That is not who I am as a person.

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“I am a transparent person. To the point that as a public official I lay it all there for the people to see for better or for worse at times. My post yesterday was as usual me sharing a previous days events. The post was in no way intended to seem as if I was glorifying the Klan or any party thereof. The very atrocities and actions they committed are a disgrace to our country.

“Also, we are all individual members that make up our legislature. I made a post independent of my colleagues. My regret is that I have allowed them to be put in a negative light. If you disagree with me and my beliefs do not hold them under the same umbrella. I can live with a dislike for me, but not fellow members, or members of my own personal family. Our body as a whole is made up of some of the finest people I have ever had the honor of knowing and working with, both Democrat and Republican.

“I close by reiterating that my post was in no way glorifying the Klan or disrespecting the late Rep. John Lewis.”

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Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan issued a statement addressing the post:

“While Rep. Dismukes has released a statement attempting to clarify his actions as a private citizen attending a celebration of the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, Alabamians hold their elected officials to a high standard of actions. So does the Republican Party.

“Rep. Dismukes offered no explanation for why he participated in a birthday celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Additionally, I find his statement to be shallow in understanding why his activities are deeply offensive to so many Alabamians. His constituents will be the final decision-makers of his political future.

“The Alabama of today was on full, honorable display as we paid humble tribute this weekend to the life of Congressman John Lewis. That is the Alabama that we are proud of – showing the nation and world that we are one in the common goals of equality for all of our citizens.

“It is one thing to honor one’s Southern heritage, however, it is completely another issue to specifically commemorate the leader of an organization with an indisputable history of unconscionable actions and atrocities toward African-Americans. I strongly urge his constituents to contact Rep. Dismukes to articulate and share with him their thoughts on his personal actions.”

House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, issued a statement saying that the beliefs of one member don’t reflect the beliefs of all, and that several Republican Caucus members expressed concern to him about the content and timing of Dismukes’ post.

We live in a nation that guarantees each citizen the right to express the ideas they wish to share, and in the case of a public official, voters will ultimately decide if they agree with those ideas.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, on Monday issued his own statement:

“The Alabama House cannot police the beliefs, statements, and activities of its members outside the Legislature as that is a job best assigned to voters in each House district across the state.  

“It is important to note, however, that I and many other members of the House devoted our weekend toward honoring an Alabama native and civil rights icon who dedicated his life to securing freedom, liberty, and equality for all Americans.”

Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, tweeted a stern rebuke on Sunday: “I cannot fathom why anyone in 2020 celebrates the birthday of the 1st KKK Grand Wizard. And while the body of a civil rights icon beaten by the Klan lies at state Capitol being honored by GOP/Dem leaders from all over the state. This mentality does not rep my party or my faith.”

Another GOP colleague, Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, responded to a constituent about the matter in a tweet

“Scott, As a Christian, Conservative, member of the Republican Party, I was proud of the comments of my colleague Rep. Danny Garrett. Rep Will Dismukes’ actions were also unfathomable to me. I believe it will take the voters in House Dist. 88 to remove Rep. Dismukes from office,” Farley said.

While fellow Republican officials said that Dismukes’ constituents should decide if he remains in office, the College Republican Federation of Alabama issued a statement on Monday calling for him to resign.

“Representative Dismukes’s Facebook post of him at an event that celebrated former KKK Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest is unacceptable and has no place in the State Legislature or the Republican Party,” the statement said.

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