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Legislature

Alabama Legislative Report — Special Session

Beth Lyons

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The Legislature adjourned the 1st Special Session sine die on Tuesday, March 12 after passing the three bills by Representative Bill Poole that were Governor Ivey’s Rebuild Alabama Infrastructure plan. Governor Ivey signed all 3 bills in a ceremony after the Legislature adjourned.

HB1 (Act No. 2019-1) amends the statute that created the Permanent Joint Legislative Transportation Committee which will review the long-range plans and budgets of the Alabama Department of Transportation. Among the revisions is an increase from seven members of each House to twelve members, establishes specific dates for quarterly meetings of the committee, requires an annual report from each city and county reporting revenues collected and expenditures made on road and bridge maintenance and improvements, sets out what is expected to be presented to the committee by the Alabama Department of Transportation at each meeting and, beginning in 2020, removes any member from the committee if they are absent from two of the four quarterly meetings in any calendar year.

HB2 (Act No. 2019-2) levies an additional excise tax on gasoline and diesel fuel and provides for the collection and distribution of the proceeds for state, county, municipal and State Port Authority transportation infrastructure purposes. Among the provisions of the bill are:

Gasoline and Diesel Fuel: Effective August 31, 2019, an additional excise tax of six cents per gallon is imposed;

Effective October 1, 2020, an additional excise tax of two cents per gallon is imposed;

Effective October 1, 2021, an additional excise tax of two cents per gallon is imposed;

Beginning October 1, 2023, and on July 1 of every subsequent year, the excise tax rate will be adjusted by the percentage change in the yearly average of the National Highway Construction Cost Index (NHCCI) with the maximum amount of increase or decrease not to exceed one cent per gallon;

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The taxes collected will be deposited into the Rebuild Alabama Fund and distributed as follows:

The Alabama Department of Revenue will retain .25 percent (one-quarter of 1 percent) for the administration of the excise tax;

Each month, prior to the remaining payments, up to $750,000 of the tax proceeds from gasoline and up to $230,000 of the tax proceeds from diesel fuel shall be distributed first to the Alabama Highway Finance Corporation for payment on a $150 million bond to be issued to finance deepening and widening of the ship channel at Alabama’s Seaport;

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Of the remaining funds:

66.67 percent to ALDOT to be used for transportation infrastructure improvement
preservation and maintenance projects;

Beginning October 1, 2019, and each October 1 thereafter, ALDOT will allocate $400,000 to each county in exchange for the annual federal allocation of $533,000 which was being distributed to each county;

25 percent shall be allocated to counties as follows:

45 percent divided equally among the 67 counties;

55 percent allocated on the basis of the ratio of the population of each county to the total population of the state;

8.33 percent shall be allocated to municipalities as follows:

25 percent allocated equally among the municipalities of the state;

75 percent allocated among the municipalities on the basis of the ratio of population to the total population of all municipalities in the state;

Electric and Hybrid Vehicles:

Effective January 1, 2020, an annual license tax and registration fee of $200 on each
electric vehicle and an annual license tax and registration fee of $100 on each hybrid
vehicle;

Beginning July 1, 2023 and every fourth year thereafter, an increase on all license taxes
and registration fees of $3.00;

Creates the Electric Transportation Infrastructure Grant Program within the State
Department of Transportation which will collect and distribute the fees. $150 of the fee collected from each electric car and $75 of the fee of each hybrid car will be distributed as follows:

66.67 percent to the state;

25 percent to counties;

8.33 percent to cities;

The remainder of each fee will be deposited into the Rebuild Alabama Fund;

Other Provisions:

Creates the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program-II (ATRIP-II) to fund grant projects of local interest on the state maintained highway system which may include local roads and bridges essential to such projects.

HB3 (Act No. 2019-3) that authorizes the Alabama Highway Finance Corporation to have additional powers to borrow money and issue bonds to improve the Mobile Ship Channel.

Beth Marietta Lyons Lyons Law Firm 9 North Conception Street Mobile, Alabama 36602 [email protected] Office: 251/690-9111 Cell: 251/680-9710

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Corruption

Former State Sen. David Burkette pleads guilty, avoids jail

Josh Moon

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Former Alabama Sen. David Burkette

Former State Sen. David Burkette will avoid jail time and be sentenced to a 30-day suspended sentence as part of a plea deal reached on Monday. 

Burkette, who pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act, will also have to pay a $3,000 fine and serve 12 months of probation as part of the deal. He was sentenced in Montgomery Circuit Court on Monday after being charged two weeks ago with failing to deposit more than $3,600 in contributions into campaign accounts — a misdemeanor.

He also resigned his seat in the Alabama Senate as part of the plea deal. 

“I’m just happy to still be here,” Burkette told the court following his sentencing, according to multiple media reports. 

The former senator suffered a stroke in 2018 and has been confined to a wheelchair since. His current health status played a role in his sentence considerations. 

The charges against Burkette stem from a series of complaints filed against him with the Alabama Ethics Commission — all of them related to various issues during his time on the Montgomery City Council. The charge for which he pleaded guilty occurred in 2015.

The Ethics Commission referred numerous charges to the Alabama attorney general’s office, according to sources familiar with the investigation of Burkette, but the attorney general’s office elected to charge Burkette with only the misdemeanor as part of the deal that saw him resign. 

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“Candidates for public office at the state, county and municipal levels must comply with the State’s Fair Campaign Practices Act,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall. “Personally profiting from campaign funds erodes public confidence in the system and will not be tolerated.”

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Legislature

Former state senator arrested on charges of violating campaign finance laws

Josh Moon

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Former State Sen. David Burkette

David Burkette has been officially arrested. The former state senator from Montgomery, who resigned on Tuesday as part of a plea deal with the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, was formally charged on Thursday with a single misdemeanor count of violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act. 

According to a press release from the AG’s office, Burkette’s charge stems from him depositing campaign donations into his personal account instead of into his campaign accounts, as required by the FCPA. The alleged crimes occurred in 2015 and 2016 when Burkette was serving on the Montgomery City Council. 

The complaint alleged that, in 2015 and 2016 while running for the Montgomery City Council, Burkette intentionally failed to deposit $3,625.00 in campaign contributions into his campaign checking account, and instead, deposited or cashed those contributions into or against his personal bank account,” the AG’s release stated. 

The single misdemeanor charge is surprising given the lengthy list of allegations against Burkette submitted to the Alabama Ethics Commission. APR obtained a copy of the original report, which was submitted in October 2018. 

In addition to more than $40,000 in allegedly improperly spent council discretionary funds that were flagged by auditors for the city of Montgomery, Burkette was also accused of inappropriately donating tens of thousands more to suspect charities and two sororities, including his wife’s.

The Ethics Commission referred Burkette’s case to the AG’s Office in October 2019.

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Legislature

Pro-Growth Conference kicks off with Doug Jones, discussions on COVID impact and a living wage

Josh Moon

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Sen. Doug Jones speaks on the floor of the U.S. Senate. (VIA CSPAN)

What happens if you just give impoverished citizens $500 per month — no strings attached? Good things, it turns out. The people use that income to buy food, medicine and basic necessities for life. They take a day off work if they’re sick and actually get treatment. They quit a second, hourly-wage job that they are overqualified for and instead work towards obtaining a better, higher-paying primary job. 

These are things that the city of Stockton, California, has learned in its year-long living wage program.

The program, while limited in size — only 125 people — has proven to be a larger success than city officials had hoped, and it has opened their eyes to a new, more proactive style of governance, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs told Alabama elected officials. 

Tubbs was the featured speaker on Tuesday at the first day of the Pro-Growth Policy Conference, a three-day forum for Alabama elected leaders with guest speakers from around the country offering tips and best practices. 

The first day of the conference began with an opening talk from Sen. Doug Jones, who pressed the need for Medicaid expansion and how expansion has aided other red states. Jones also highlighted the need for broadband expansion and talked about a bill he has in the Senate that would create a broadband main office and dish out about $20 million in money for affordable access.

“Now (with COVID), we know how needed it really is,” Jones said. “We see the homework gap that we have. We know there’s a need for more telemedicine. My bill would consolidate in one office all of the monies for broadband … and provide affordable access.”

Jones said the current COVID pandemic has highlighted just how badly we need better access to broadband in Alabama, and a major area of concern right now is healthcare. 

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Highlighting that point, Brandon Garrett, the chief operating officer of the National Minority Quality Forum, and Dr. LaTasha Lee, the vice-president of social and clinical research, demonstrated the many ways in which inequality in health care and health care options is harming impoverished communities. 

A number of factors play into that inequality, but a lack of access to updated means of communication and tools is one of the biggest. 

“(Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) said that, ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane because it results in physical death,’” Lee said. “That’s what we’re seeing currently with COVID-19 and sickle cell disease. These two diseases are affecting the minority community and causing death, and they make a great argument that such health care disparities really are a social justice issue.”

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Correcting such issues was one of the goals of Stockton’s living wage experiment. Now, Tubbs said, a working person can afford to stay home or get tested if they’re feeling symptomatic, whereas before that person — scared of missing a paycheck or losing the job altogether — might come to work with the virus and infect an entire workplace. 

That alone, Tubbs said, has restored dignity to a number of residents. 

“This is not easy, especially with budgets the way they are,” Tubbs said. “But I don’t know how we continue to live with the status quo as it is.

“I think part of being a leader, as we are, is having the courage to do something about what we’re seeing. We have to be able to do that.”

The Pro-Growth Policy Conference will run both Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Wednesday’s round of conferences will focus on state grants, economic development around the state and what the 2021 legislative session might look like. 

On Thursday, the event will wrap up with talks by the Equal Justice Initiative’s Bryan Stevenson and Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell.

 

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Elections

Russell Bedsole wins Republican runoff in HD49

Brandon Moseley

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House District 49 Republican nominee Russell Bedsole

As of press time, it appears that Russell Bedsole has won a narrow victory over Mimi Penhale in the special Republican primary runoff election in Alabama House District 49.

At press time, Bedsole had a 166-vote lead in unofficial results on the secretary of state’s website.

“We won,” Bedsole declared on social media.

Bedsole is an Alabaster city councilman and a Shelby County Sheriff’s Department captain.

“Sadly, tonight did not turn out in my favor. Despite the loss, I feel like God truly used this opportunity to help me grow in my walk with Him, and gave me the opportunity to increase my testimony,” Penhale said. “I feel so incredibly blessed by the people I have met on this campaign and the experiences I have had. I am disappointed in the outcome, but what an honor it is to have the confidence of 1,183 people across House District 49! Thank you!!”

Russell Bedsole had 1,249 votes, or 51.36 percent, to Mimi Penhale’s 1,183, or 48.64 percent, to win the House District 49 Republican primary runoff.

There were just 2,432 votes cast in the special primary runoff election. Shelby County was the decisive factor in the election. Bedsole won Shelby County with 762 votes, or 71.42 percent, to Penale’s 305 votes.

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Penhale carried Chilton and Bibb Counties, but could not overcome Bedsole’s strong performance in Shelby County.

The provisional ballots will be counted on Sept. 8, 2020, and certification of votes will occur on Sept. 16, 2020.

Bedsole will face Democratic nominee Sheryl Patton in the special general election on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020.

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The vacancy in House District 49 was created when State Rep. April Weaver announced her resignation to accept a presidential appointment as a regional director in the Department of Health and Human Services.

In a statement, the Alabama Republican Party thanked “each of the candidates that qualified for offering themselves up for service in the Alabama State House of Representatives.”

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