The 2019 regular legislative session began on Tuesday, but following the adjournment of her state of the state address Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey called a special session to address Alabama’s infrastructure issues.
The regular session has been recessed until March 19. Only one of the regular sessions’ 30 legislative days has been used.
The special Session is focused on legislation to levy an additional excise tax on gasoline and diesel fuel; legislation concerning the Legislature’s Permanent Joint Transportation Committee to provide for effective legislative oversight of the Alabama Department of Transportation; and legislation to provide the Alabama Highway Finance Corporation with authority to borrow money and issue bonds for the purpose of improving the Alabama State Docks and the Mobile Bay ship channel.
“Due to the dire need to act now, I am the Alabama Legislature into a special session, focused solely on passing this critical infrastructure legislation,” Ivey said in a statement. “Beginning tomorrow, as we enter this special session, we must shift our focus and tackle this issue together! It’s time to make our crumbling infrastructure system a problem of the past.”
Ivey made a pitch for the fuel tax increase during her state of the state address:
“Each year in Alabama, 69 billion miles are driven on our roadways,” Gov. Ivey said. “We have urban roads in poor condition. Our drivers are experiencing major congestion on our freeways. County governments currently operate on a 56-year resurfacing schedule; when, in fact, we should be operating on a 15-year rate. In Alabama, half of our more than 16,000 bridges are older than their 50-year life span. Bridges should be replaced every 50 years. Yet, county governments are on schedule to replace their bridges every 186 years! Folks, that’s almost as long as Alabama has been a state. From 2015 to 2017, Alabama saw nearly 3,000 traffic fatalities. One-third of those were due to deficiencies in our roadways.”
Gov. Ivey said that state Representative Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, and Senator Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, will carry the legislation.
“Leading the charge in the Legislature on this issue is Representative Bill Poole,” Governor Ivey said. “He along with Senator Clyde Chambliss, will guide this legislation over the coming weeks. I thank both of them for their leadership.”
The plan which was released only days before the regular session even though Gov. Ivey called for this tax increase during her inauguration speech weeks ago and even though supporters admit they have been working on this for 18 months.
”Much work has gone into this issue by many people over the last 18 months including over 30 public meetings regarding every aspect of infrastructure,” said Sen. Chambliss. “I attended many of those meetings and so did a lot of others. I have reviewed the only other alternative plan out there and it is based on one-time monies. Relying on on-time monies is what got us into the mess we are in. I cannot support such temporary measures to a need that will be with us until we don’t use roadways any more.”
One of the most controversial parts of the plan, other than there is any tax increase at all, is that Alabama motorists are subsidizing the international transoceanic shipping industry; but repairing, updating the state docks, and dredging the shipping channel for the Port of Mobile. The Port improvements will cost the transportation budget $10 million a year.
“Each year, $436 billion dollars in goods are shipped to and from businesses using our state’s roadways,” Ivey said. “The Port of Mobile, Alabama’s only deep-water port, moves approximately 64 million tons of cargo each year. Deepening and widening the Port will increase Alabama’s economic capability. This will enhance our status as a primary industrial and agricultural hub in the Southeast.”
Opponents claim that an additional ten cents per gallon of gas is overtaxing the people of Alabama. Sen. Chambliss, however, points out that the Alabama tax burden per capita as a percentage of household income peaked in 2001 at just 6.4 percent. That has since plummeted to just 4.7 percent in 2017, the lowest that it has been in decades.
Supporters claim that the increase will cost the average Alabamian just $55 more a year. Obviously, families where both parents commute to work and where children have to be driven to a number of extracurricular activities like ball games or people who work out of their vehicle and drive considerably more than 200 miles per week will pay more than that in taxes. There is also a special penalty imposed on people who drive electric or hybrid vehicles in the plan.
Ivey argued that better roads will actually save motorists money.
“Driving on rough roads costs the average Alabamian $507 dollars annually in additional vehicle maintenance – a total of $2 billion dollars statewide, each year!” Ivey said in her state of the state.
The tax increase, which will be phased in over three years, is projected to raise $310 million a year. The tax increase is indexed with the cost of construction so the ten cent per gallon tax may rise over time.
The bill has the support of Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, and Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, as well as the powerful Business Council of Alabama (BCA) and even some Democrats. If it does not pass in the special session, the legislature could bring is back in the regular session or Gov. Ivey could call another special session.
The Alabama Republican Executive Committee has passed a resolution urging the legislature to reject the tax increase.
The special session begins today at 9:30 a.m.
Alabama lawmaker pre-files legislation to allow removal of Confederate monuments
If passed, the measure would permit counties and cities to relocate historic monuments currently located on public property.
Alabama State Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, introduced legislation this week in advance of the 2021 legislative session that, if passed, would permit counties and cities to relocate historic monuments currently located on public property. Givan’s bill, HB8, would also provide for the relocation of historic memorials to sites appropriate for public display.
“Across the state of Alabama, citizens are calling for the removal of prominently placed statues and monuments that are insensitive or offensive to the communities that surround them,” Givan said. “City and county governments must be able to address the demands of their citizens. This legislation provides a tool for local governments to safely remove these artifacts so that they can be moved to a site more appropriate for preserving or displaying the historical monument.”
Removing the monuments and historical markers is currently illegal under Alabama’s Memorial Preservation Act, which the state Legislature passed in 2017. Givan has been an outspoken opponent of that Republican-sponsored legislation. In 2018, Givan introduced a measure to repeal the bill that barred the removal of monuments.
“I believe HB8 can achieve bipartisan support,” Givan said. “My bill seeks to balance the wishes of the people. It respects the will of communities that want the monuments removed. It also respects those who wish to preserve history. With this legislation, Confederate monuments could be relocated to a public site, like Confederate Memorial Park, whose purpose and mission is to interpret and tell these stories. When the Legislature convenes, I hope to have the support of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.”
If enacted, HB8 would permit county and municipal governments to remove memorial monuments, including permanent statues, portraits and markers, located on public property in their jurisdictions. It would require a transfer of ownership of the removed monuments to the Alabama Department of Archives and History or the Alabama Historical Commission. Finally, the bill would instruct Archives and History or the Historical Commission to maintain and display monuments removed by local authorities in a location accessible for public display.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps track of Confederate monuments and memorials across the country, released an update to its Whose Heritage report, which tracks symbols of the Confederacy on public land across the United States. They report at least 30 Confederate symbols have been removed or relocated since George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020.
These include 24 monuments removed, 5 monuments relocated and the Mississippi state flag replaced. Since the Charleston church shooting in 2015, 115 total symbols have been removed from public spaces. These include 87 monuments that have been removed or relocated from public spaces. At least 78 monuments were removed and nine were relocated.
SPLC says there are still nearly 1,800 Confederate symbols on public land, and 739 of those symbols are monuments. The SPLC has prepared an “action guide” to help community activists target Confederate historical markers and memorials for removal.
President Donald Trump has denounced what he calls “cancel culture” that seeks to remove historical monuments and statutes.
“There is a growing danger that threatens every blessing our ancestors fought so hard for, struggled, they bled to secure,” Trump said. “Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.”
Senate pro tem requests general fund committee begin hearings in July
Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, announced today that he has asked Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Range, to begin holding General Fund Committee meetings in preparation for the next session.
In an effort to be better prepared because of uncertainty in state revenue as a result of COVID-19 pandemic Senator Albritton has agreed with Senator Marsh and has invited Legislative Services, the Department of Finance, Pardons and Paroles, Corrections and the Personnel Department to provide updates to the committee.
“Typically, we begin this process closer to sessions however because of uncertainty about state income and possibility of special sessions, we felt like it was important to get started much earlier than usual in this process,” Senator Albritton said. “The Legislature has done an excellent job managing our budgets over the past few years. So much so that Alabama was able to weather the storm of the COVID-19 shutdown this year with little impact to our vital state services. We understand that we will not have final revenue projections until after July 15th, but we must continue to do our due diligence and ensure that we use taxpayer money sensibly.”
“We want to make sure that all public money is being used wisely, now and in the future,” Senator Marsh said. “We have many pressing issues facing the state such as a potential $2 billion-dollar prison reform proposal and a stunning lack of rural broadband investment which need to be addressed whenever the Legislature is back in session and it is our duty to make sure we are prepared and kept up to speed on these matters. Furthermore, the taxpayers deserve a clear and transparent view of how their money is being used.”
The hearings are scheduled to begin July 9 in the Alabama State House.
Part-time employee in lieutenant governor’s office tests positive for COVID-19
A part-time employee in Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth’s office, who the office said works only a handful of hours each week, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, according to a press statement.
The employee, whose work area is separated from the rest of the staff, last worked in the office on the morning of Thursday, June 18.
All members of the office staff have been tested or are in the process of being tested for COVID-19 in response, and, thus far, no additional positive results have been reported.
In addition, the State House suite has been thoroughly cleaned and will remain closed until all employees’ test results have been returned.
Employees are working remotely from home, and phones are being answered in order to continue providing services to the citizens who need them.
Three workers at ADOC headquarters among latest to test positive for COVID-19
Sixteen more Alabama Department of Corrections employees, including three at the department’s headquarters in Montgomery, have tested positive for COVID-19.
The department’s latest update, released Monday evening, puts the total of confirmed cases among employees at 99, with 73 cases still active.
Five more inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 as well, including inmates at the Donaldson Correctional Facility, the Easterling Correctional Facility, the Kilby Correctional Facility, the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women and the St. Clair Correctional Facility.
18 of 27 confirmed cases among inmates remained active as of Monday, according to ADOC.
Of the department’s 28 facilities, there have been confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff or inmates in 21. Of the state’s approximately 22,000 inmates, 214 had been tested as of Friday.
Areas inside numerous state prisons are under quarantine, with ADOC staff either limiting inmate movements to those areas or checking for symptoms regularly and conducting twice daily temperature checks, according to the department.