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Special Session begins Wednesday

Brandon Moseley

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(Chip Brownlee/APR)

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.

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“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.

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“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.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with over nine years at Alabama Political Reporter. During that time he has written 8,297 articles for APR. 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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Congress

After aid to deadly rally, Republican Attorneys General Association director resigns

Alabama AG Steve Marshall leads the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which paid for robocalls promoting the rally.

Eddie Burkhalter

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People are seen in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The executive director of the Republican Attorneys General Association resigned Monday amid mounting criticism after the group’s policy arm, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, paid for robocalls urging people to attend the rally that resulted in a riot and deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who heads the Rule of Law Defense Fund, in a statement Monday did not address why RAGA’s executive director, Adam Piper, resigned. 

“Every decision Adam made on behalf of RLDF was with the best of intentions and with the organization’s best interests in mind,” Marshall said in a statement. “Adam leaves a void that will be difficult to replace, but we wish Adam well as he pursues other opportunities that will allow him to spend more time with his family.” 

“Serving Republican attorneys general has been the honor of a lifetime and honestly a dream job,” Piper said in a statement obtained by the Associated Press. 

Democratic Attorneys General Association executive director Sean Rankin in a statement to APR called for more accountability. 

“The issue here was more than the robocall, and I hope what follows is a move to accountability for actions outside the bounds and for greater civility among state Attorneys General,” Rankin said in the statement. 

Prior to the protest, RLDF sent out robocalls detailing when and where citizens should meet, which was first reported by the watchdog investigative journalism group Documented. 

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“We will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal,” the robocall says, as recorded by Documented. “We are hoping patriots like you will join us to continue to fight to protect the integrity of our elections. For more information, visit MarchtoSaveAmerica.com. This call is paid for and authorized by the Rule of Law Defense Fund.” 

Marshall, speaking to The Montgomery Advertiser on Monday after a press conference on human trafficking and before Piper’s resignation was announced, said the internal review is ongoing.

Asked by the Advertiser whether he felt Trump bore any responsibility for the violence at the Capitol on Wednesday, and for comment on Trump’s potential impeachment, Marshall declined to comment. 

“I didn’t see anything about the rally,” Marshall said, according to the newspaper. “I don’t know anything about his remarks.” 

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Former RAGA chairman and current member Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton spoke at the Wednesday rally just before riots broke out, criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court, which quickly dismissed his lawsuit seeking to overturn election results in Wisconsin, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Marshall and 15 other Republican attorneys general signed on to Paxton’s failed lawsuit. 

“One of the great things about the state of Texas is that we did not quit. If you look at what Georgia did, they capitulated,” Paxton told the crowd before the riots. 

Prior to his resignation, Piper sent a statement to APR blaming the robocall call on staff. 

“The Republican Attorneys General Association and Rule of Law Defense Fund had no involvement in the planning, sponsoring, or the organization of yesterday’s rally,” Piper said:

“No Republican AG authorized the staff’s decision to amplify a colleague speaking at the rally. Organizationally and individually, we strongly condemn and disavow the events which occurred. Yesterday was a dark day in American history and those involved in the violence and destruction of property must be prosecuted and held accountable.”

Several companies told The New York Times that they were reviewing their support of RAGA, though none said they planned to cut ties, according to the newspaper

Cherokee Nation decided to withdraw its $150,000 contribution to the Republican Attorneys General Association on Monday, citing the robocall as inappropriate, according to News on 6, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, news station.

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Elections

Sewell condemns actions, comments by Republican colleagues

Sewell called for Republican colleagues who shared in conspiracy theories over the election to be held accountable.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, during a congressional hearing.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, in a statement to APR on Monday called out some of her Republican colleagues, specifically Congressmen Mo Brooks and Barry Moore, for what she described as their “irresponsible and inflammatory remarks” regarding the election outcome and statements made surrounding the deadly attack of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. 

Rep. Barry Moore, R-Alabama, on Sunday had his personal Twitter account suspended, and then he deleted his account, after two tweets he made regarding the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol drew criticism. 

“Wow we have more arrests for stealing a podium on January 6th than we do for stealing an election on November 3rd. Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Detroit, would be places I recommend you start; there is video evidence of these crimes as well! #ElectionIntegrityMatters,” Moore tweeted on Saturday. 

Before his account was suspended and deleted, Moore also tweeted in reference to the death of Ashli Babbit, 35, who was shot by a Capitol Police officer when she tried to crawl through a broken window inside the Capitol during the siege.

“@mtgreenee @NARAL I understand it was a black officer that shot the white female veteran . You know that doesn’t fit the narrative,” Moore tweeted Saturday. The tweet has since been deleted, but it has been archived by Pro Publica’s Politwoops project.

At least five people, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, have been killed related to the siege. Another Capitol Hill police officer, Howard Liebengood, who responded to the attack, died Saturday off duty, marking the second Capitol Police officer death since Wednesday. Police did not release his cause of death.

“Since Wednesday’s violent assault at the U.S. Capitol, I have been repeatedly asked my thoughts about the actions and comments of my Alabama colleagues, especially Rep. Mo Brooks and now Rep. Barry Moore,” Sewell said in a statement to APR on Monday. “While the Alabama congressional delegation has had a history of civility, if not congeniality, irrespective of political party, I cannot let the irresponsible and inflammatory remarks of some of my colleagues go unanswered.”

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She went on to say:

“It’s not okay for elected officials to continue to peddle lies and conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud and an allegedly-stolen presidential election.  President-Elect Biden won the election. There are simply no credible allegations of fraud, and upwards of 60 cases filed alleging problems with the election have been heard and dismissed by the courts. There are Trump appointed U.S. Attorneys throughout the country who were authorized by former Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate and prosecute allegations of fraud. Not one case has been filed by any of these Trump appointees.

“It is not okay for my congressional colleagues to use their public platform to incite Americans to overturn our election, storm the U.S. Capitol or assault our democracy. It’s called an insurrection and such seditious behavior must have consequences.  

“It’s not okay to use racial overtones to further spread deceptive narratives that perpetuate the lie that caused last week’s violent events. 

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“Such lawmakers must be held accountable. Their words and actions do matter and their complicity in inciting the vicious attack on our democracy must not go unchecked. I am deeply and personally offended by the outrageous comments and every Alabamian that believes in our democracy should be, too.”

Sewell was forced to shelter inside the Capitol after Trump supporters stormed the building, prompting the evacuation of some and a barricading of others as police tried to get control of an out-of-control siege.

Moore didn’t answer APR‘s questions Sunday about those tweets directly, but his chief of staff sent APR a statement from Moore on Sunday afternoon. 

“Lawlessness is not the answer to our nation’s problems, and every person who acts unlawfully is responsible for their own actions and should be held accountable to the full extent of the law, whether that’s Black Lives Matter, Antifa or Wednesday’s rioters,” Moore said in the statement. 

Brooks was an early supporter of challenging the certification of election results, an action that pleased President Donald Trump and his allies seeking to overturn the election, and spoke to the crowd gathered near the Capitol before the attack. 

“Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” Brooks yelled into his microphone. After the riots began, Brooks tweeted an unfounded rumor alleging it was antifa who started the rioting.

The day after the attack, Brooks told an Alabama conservative talk radio host that he had no regrets over his speech prior to the violence, according to The Intercept, telling the host that there was “mounting evidence of fascist antifa’s involvement in all of this.” 

The Federal Bureau of Investigations said on Friday that there was no evidence of antifa aiding pro-Trump supporters in the deadly attack. 

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House

Governor sets special election dates for House District 73 races

Gov. Kay Ivey set the special primary election for March 30 and the general for July 13.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday set special election dates for Alabama House District 73, a seat that was held by Matt Fridy, who was elected to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.

Ivey set the special primary election for March 30 and the special primary runoff, if necessary, for April 27. Ivey set the special general election for July 13. 

“The election for House District 73 coincides with the special election for the vacant state senate seat so that we can ensure the people of Shelby County have representation,” Ivey said in a statement. “I encourage everyone in this district to get out and vote. Let’s make sure that you have a strong voice advocating for you in the Alabama Legislature.”

The qualifying deadline for candidates of major parties is Jan. 26 at 5 p.m. The deadline for all independent candidates and/or minor parties is March 30 at 5 p.m.

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House

First Black chief clerk of the Alabama House since Reconstruction appointed

Natalyn Williams is the first Black person since at least Reconstruction to hold the position.

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama Statehouse located Montgomery, Alabama.

The clerk of the Alabama House of Representative, Jeff Woodard, announced Monday that he’s appointed Natalyn Williams as the chamber’s chief clerk.

Williams, who has served more than a decade as an executive assistant in the clerk’s office, will become the first Black person since at least Reconstruction to hold the position, which is responsible for overseeing the entire House staff.

“This is a historic day and on behalf of the entire House of Representatives, I want to offer my congratulations,” said Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia. “Ms. Williams has worked in the clerk’s office for more than 25 years and is well qualified to assume this post. I’m looking forward to working with her in the days to come.”

Williams is a native of Daphne, a graduate of Alabama State University in Montgomery and has worked in the clerk’s office since January 1994.

In addition to her supervisory duties, Williams will be in charge of ensuring House bills are processed and transmitted to the state Senate and the governor’s office in a timely manner.

Gov. Kay Ivey expressed her congratulations to Williams on Twitter.

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