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House committee OKs bill to increase penalties for attorneys that case run

Brandon Moseley

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On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee gave a favorable report to a bill, HB189, which increases the penalties for unscrupulous attorneys who aggressively seek out potential plaintiffs, by offering bribes, inducements, or by hiring a person to recruit potential clients.

The term used for this unscrupulous practice is case running.

“Under existing law, an attorney who gives, offers or promises to give a valuable consideration, including money, to another person for the purpose of encouraging that person to bring an action against another; or who employs another person to search for or procure clients to be brought to the attorney is guilty of a misdemeanor and is fined not more than $1,000, removed and disbarred from practicing as an attorney, and may be imprisoned for a term not exceeding six months. This bill would increase the criminal penalty by providing that the attorney would be fined not more than $10,000 and may be imprisoned for not more than one year.”

HB189 is sponsored by state Rep. Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo.

The House Judiciary Committee is chaired by state Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville.

Fridy said the legislation would increase the fine for case running. It would also mean disbarment if an attorney is caught engaging in the practice.

“This has become a bigger and bigger problem, particularly in the Birmingham area,” Friday said. “The trial attorneys I know are good people that operate in a very ethical manner. The purpose of this bill is to make an example of the few bad apples that are not doing it the right way.”

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“I support the bill, but I have never seen this prosecuted,” said State Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Selma. “We all know who is doing this and some of them are the largest, most powerful law firms.”

“The same handful of large law firms get all of the wrongful death cases within a one-hundred mile radius,” Chestnut said. “If we do this, I want to see it done fairly and go after the big firms and not just a solo practitioner trying to make a living.”

HB189 received a favorable report from the House Judiciary Committee and now moves on to consideration by the full House of Representatives.

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McCutcheon is in “wait and see mode” on medical marijuana bill

Brandon Moseley

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Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) last Thursday was asked by reporters where he stood on pending medical marijuana legislation.

“I am in a wait and see mode,” McCutcheon told reporters. “The sponsor of the bill has done a lot of work.”

On Tuesday, State Senator Tim Melson (R-Florence) introduced a bill to legalize tightly controlled medical cannabis. The Medical cannabis bill introduced on Tuesday is Senate Bill 165.

“We have a letter from the Attorney General,” recommending that the legislature reject the bill.

Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) is arguing that while marijuana remains a federally controlled substance the legislature should not pass a state law that would be noncompliant with federal law. Marshall believes that if medical marijuana has any medical benefit then the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be the appropriate authority to approve such legislation and the state should wait for FDA to act.

33 states already have legalized medical marijuana.

“It brings up a legal question when you get a legal opinion from the attorney general office,” McCutcheon explained. “It answers some of my questions and also on the pro and the con there were some questions raised in the legal community.”

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McCutcheon said, “That is why we are in the mode that we are in.”

Melson introduced a medical marijuana bill last year during the 2019 regular session. That bill passed the Senate; but had difficulty getting out of committee in the Alabama House of Representatives. Instead of passing medical marijuana legislation the legislature passed a bill extending Leni’s Law and Carly’s law and establishing the Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission tasked with making a recommendation to the legislature.

The Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission was chaired by Sen. Melson and met monthly from August to November. In December, the commission voted in favor of a draft proposal recommending that the state allow licensed medical providers to prescribe marijuana based medications to patients with a demonstrated need. The state would create the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to regulate medical cannabis in the state. Farmers, processors, transporters, and dispensaries would have to get a license from the Commission and product would be strictly regulated.

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Despite the Commission’s recommendation, SB165 remains highly controversial in the legislature and there is expected to be considerable opposition to the bill. SB165 is 82 pages long.

SB165 has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Judiciary Committee Chairman Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) told the Alabama Political Reporter that there will be a public hearing on SB165 on Wednesday, at 8:30 a.m. in the Alabama Statehouse room 825. Opponents and proponents will both be given the opportunity to voice their opinions.

Thursday was the fourth day of the 2020 legislative session.

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House passes bill to simplify annexations

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday the Alabama House of Representatives passed legislation making it simpler to annex property in overlapping police jurisdictions if both of the municipalities agree and all of the landowners agree with the annexation.

House Bill 12 is sponsored by State Representative Terri Collins, R-Decatur. The bill however was carried on the floor of the House on Thursday by Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, who was away with her family due to the sudden death of her husband, Tom Collins, from a sudden heart attack on Sunday, February 9.

Rowe said that under current law, if both of the municipalities in overlapping police jurisdictions agree, and all of the property owners are also in agreement then half of the land could be annexed this year. Half of the remaining half could enter the city limits next year, then half of the remaining one quarter could be annexed the year after that. The process could take years.

HB12 simplifies it so that all of the land in overlapping police jurisdiction, where the landowners are in agreement, could come in to the city limits of their choice as long as both of the cities or town are in agreement.

Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, said that he was voting against the bill and wanted it amended to exempt Talladega County out of it. He said that many country people were fearful of being annexed into a city and having local governments telling them that they can not build a chicken house or expand their barn. Hurst said that there was a Mayor in his county that was seeking more power and more annexations. He did not name that mayor.

Rowe assured Hurst that the property owners could not be annexed against their will under the terms of this legislation.

HB12 was passed by the Alabama House of Representatives on a vote of 83 to 4.

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The legislation now goes to the Alabama Senate for their consideration.

The Alabama House of Representatives will meet again on Tuesday, February 18. It will be the fifth day of the 2020 Legislative Session. Under the Alabama Constitution of 1901, the regular legislative session is limited to no more than thirty days.

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House passes bill to make it a hate crime to attack law enforcement

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday that would add law enforcement officers to Alabama’s hate crimes statute. It now moves to the Senate.

The House passed HB59 by a margin of 92 to 0.

Under current law a crime become a hate crime if a person is victimized because of their race, creed, or disability. Murder to make money, in a crime of passion, or in the commission of a crime is murder. If a racist targets a person because of their race, then it become a hate crime and additional sentencing enhancements kick in under Alabama sentencing guidelines. House Bill 59 would make targeting a member of law enforcement because they are a member of law enforcement also a hate crime.

House Bill 59 is sponsored by State Representative Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville).

Reynolds said that Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall supports the legislation.

“An attack on law enforcement in Alabama is an attack on all of her citizens—an attack on all Alabamians.…” Marshall said on social media. “If you take the life the life of a law enforcement officer, you will likely have forfeited your life as well.”

Marshall stated, “To the brave men and women who wear that badge, my heroes: Don’t give up. Don’t lose heart. Keep fighting the good fight, because your cause is righteous. Know that you have our support and our eternal gratitude.”

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Reynolds said that attacks on law enforcement, whether it is throwing water on them, assaults, or assassinations are up across the country. “We are not going to stand for it anymore.”

State Representative Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) said, “I support the bill, but there are too many guns on the street.”

Moore proposed banning high powered rifles and AR-15s. “We need to level the playing field for them.” :We stand ready to come up with a bipartisan bill to curb the number of guns on the street. We need men and women who are not afraid of the National Rifle Association.”

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“We have got to change how police officers are treated,” said Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-Morris). “I have been to too many police funerals.”

Treadaway is a police captain with Birmingham Police Department.

“The disrespect for police officers is unprecedented,” Treadaway said. “I have been a law enforcement officer for 30 years and I have not seen anything like it. We can’t hire police. We can’t retain police.”

Rep. Artis “A. J.” McCampbell (D-Livingston) said, “We have had eight police officers killed in the last 13 months.”

“How do we enhance the crimes when we already have a capital case for the murder of a police officer?” McCampbell asked.

Reynolds said that the sentence enhancements would apply when the police were targeted; but it is not a capital crime. 6,500 police officers were assaulted last year.

Reynolds said that harming an officer while attempting to escape or resisting arrest would not qualify as a hate crime. Attacking police because the motive is hate of the police would be a hate crime and then sentencing enhancements would apply.

Reynolds said that under current law if they are convicted of a capital crime of killing the police they get the death penalty.

Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) said, “Is there a way to just give them the death penalty without going through all the appeals?”

Reynolds said, “I sure wish we could.”

Rogers said, “The death penalty should be automatic.”

Rogers daughter Mary Smith mas murdered.

“It has to be adjudicated in the court system before these enhancements would not come into play,” Reynolds said. “I hope there will come a day when a bill like this is not needed because people respect law enforcement.”

Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) said that the police, sheriffs, and other law enforcement and first responders at the thin blue line protecting us and our families.

Mooney is a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.

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House committee fails to advance “gender is real” legislation

Brandon Moseley

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A House committee failed to advance legislation that would have required high school athletes to compete under the gender assigned at their birth. It was opposed by LGBTQ groups who said that it discriminates against transgender people.

HB35 was sponsored by Congressional candidate State Representative Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) who chairs the State Government Committee.

The legislation would require public K-12 school students to use their biological gender, as it appears on their birth certificate, to determine the sporting events in which they may participate. Additionally, the bill would ban teams from using public facilities if children are competing in single-gender sporting events that don’t align with their gender identified at birth.

Rep. Pringle said that the GIRL Act is aimed at ensuring fair competition among student athletes in the state.

“Gender is real. There are biological differences between boys and girls that influence athletic performance,” Pringle said in a statement. “The GIRL Bill seeks to support female student athletes, so that they may compete against each other and not have to compete against male students with an unfair advantage.”

Pringle called the bill a common sense measure based on science saying, “Liberal Democrats are always trying to accuse us of refusing science, but gender is a real biological truth. It truly defies logic that anyone would deny science and want male students to compete in female sports.”

Pringle said that two boys in Connecticut competing as girls have dominated athletic competition there. Pringle said that it is not fair to the girls to have to compete against trans girls.

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Six LGBTQ advocates spoke in opposition to the legislation.

Cassandra Williamson said that she was a former Marine and U.S. Naval Academy graduate with four children and eleven grandchildren and is a trans woman. She said that the American Medical Association, the psychiatric association and the nurses all oppose this.

A motion by Democrats to carry over the bill was defeated; but no one made a motion to give the bill a favorable report.

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The Yellowhammer Fund, an abortion fund and reproductive justice organization in Alabama, commends the Alabama House Committee for its decision to shelve HB 35 the “Gender is Real Legislative (GIRL) Act which they claimed was a direct attack on transgender students in the state.

“We could not be happier to see the committee recognize that HB 35 was a divisive ‘solution’ to a non-existent problem, and one that would only further marginalize and discriminate against the trans community,” said Mia Raven, Policy Director for the Yellowhammer Fund. “All students should have the right to participate in sports with their teammates, regardless of gender identity.”

Since the committee did not actually vote down the bill, as chair, Pringle could bring back the bill at a future committee meeting.

Pringle told reporters that he was “optimistic” about the bill’s chances.

“There are always a lot of questions in our society on gender issues,” Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) said. We had expected to hear from some groups in support of the bill out of a sense of fairness.

Reporters asked the Speaker if HB35 would pass the house.

McCutcheon replied that it, “Was too early for me to be making those types of predictions.”

Chairman Pringle is a candidate for Alabama’s First Congressional District. Incumbent Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Doug Jones (D).

The Republican primary is March 3.

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