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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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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