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Legislature

Speaker: Don’t expect House action on comprehensive ethics reform

Brandon Moseley

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On Thursday, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, addressed reporters about the week’s legislative accomplishments.

On Wednesday, a controversial rewrite of state ethics laws appeared to stall in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Reporters asked McCutcheon if the House of Representatives would introduce their own comprehensive ethics reform bill.

“No, I don’t see any comprehensive ethics package coming from the House,” McCutcheon said. “Not in this session.”

The bill, SB230, is sponsored by state Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore. It has been widely criticized as weakening the state ethics laws.

On Saturday, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said he cannot support SB230 as it is written right now.

Reporters also asked McCutcheon where the Common Core repeal effort was in the process.

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McCutcheon said the Committee was working on the Common Core issue and were meeting with the appropriate people — the state department of education, the business community, the school board, teachers and parents.

“We had a good debate on the general fund,” McCutcheon said. “We passed out a $2.1 billion budget for the general fund. We had some money there for mental health, additional troopers and more corrections workers. As we move into next week, I am anticipating the Senate working on the education budget.”

“We have members of the Alabama House and Senate working with the U.S. Attorney’s office on possible legislation to remedy the problems in the Department of Justice report,” McCutcheon said. “The legislature has the Joint Prison Task Force, and we also have a group that is not a formal task force, but they are working to gather information.”

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McCutcheon said Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Hill, R-Odenville, is taking the lead on the House response to the DOJ on the prisons.

Reporters asked about the abortion ban bill, sponsored by State Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur.

“I just know that while we were in session there were some discussions among Chairperson Collins and Representative Wingo,” McCutcheon said.

On Thursday, House bill 49, sponsored by State Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Robertsdale, which formally extends stand your ground principles to churches, was on the floor but was carried over.

“There have been some discussions with the Senate on the bill,” McCutcheon said. “They are writing some amendments dealing with the church’s liability, both civil and criminal. I thought it was wise to work on those amendments.”

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed HB212 sponsored by State Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Killen, that makes it a misdemeanor to drive for more than a mile and a half in the left lane of an interstate without passing, unless there is congestion, hazardous conditions or in a construction zone.

“This left lane issue is very, very important,” McCutcheon said. “Travelling in the left lane, it can be a hazard. Traffic starts backing up and people start getting impatient.”

On Thursday, the House of Representatives had prayer for State Rep. Jimmy Martin, R-Clanton, who is being treated for lung cancer.

“Jimmy Martin is a sick man,” McCutcheon said. “He is doing fair.”

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. 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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Legislature

Groups call for Rep. Will Dismukes to resign, state Legislature to address racist policies

The Montgomery nonprofit Alabama Arise, the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and Greater Birmingham Ministries in a joint statement on Friday called for Dismukes’ resignation and for the state Legislature to address systemic, racially-oppressive policies.

Eddie Burkhalter

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State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, shared a post on Facebook after a birthday celebration for Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Three groups joined the chorus of calls for state Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, to resign for attending an event celebrating the birthday of the Klu Klux Klan’s first grand wizard. 

The Montgomery nonprofit Alabama Arise, the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and Greater Birmingham Ministries in a joint statement on Friday called for Dismukes’ resignation and for the state Legislature to address systemic, racially-oppressive policies.

“Our elected officials and appointed leaders should respect the full dignity, worth and humanity of all people they represent. We urge all political parties and public officials to acknowledge the harm that white supremacy continues to inflict upon Alabama. And we call upon them to dismantle white supremacist structures through intentional policy changes,” the groups said in the statement. 

Dismukes attended a birthday celebration for Nathanial Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, then posted a photo of himself at the event to his Facebook page, which he has since either deleted or made private. 

Dismukes later told WSFA that he won’t apologize for his family’s service in the “war between the states” that he said wasn’t primarily fought over slavery, that he’s not a racist but that he doesn’t see the need for the current racial reconciliation. 

State Sen Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, on Monday called for his resignation, as has the Alabama Democratic Party. 

“The cause of white supremacy permeates our state’s fundamental governing document. When the president of the 1901 constitutional convention, John Knox, was asked why Alabama needed a new constitution, his answer was clear: ‘to establish white supremacy in this state,’” the three groups said in the statement. 

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“Any celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest of the Ku Klux Klan – a white supremacist terrorist organization – is contrary to the values that Alabamians expect from our leaders, elected officials and neighbors. In celebrating Forrest, Rep. Will Dismukes revealed he is unable or unwilling to represent the best interests of his constituents and his state. We condemn his actions in the strongest possible terms. We also understand this is not the first time Dismukes has celebrated the Confederacy or Forrest in such a manner. Therefore, we join with many other individuals and organizations across Alabama in calling for Dismukes to resign immediately,” the statement continues. 

The groups say the need for racial justice and healing reaches beyond any one individual, and called for all elected officials to look at their actions and the impacts of policy decisions. The groups point to the 2017 Memorial Preservation Act, which prevents municipalities from removing Confederate monuments or face steep fines. 

“Lawmakers’ failure to expand Medicaid leaves a disproportionate share of African Americans without health insurance during a pandemic. And the absence of racial impact data prevents communities and legislators from evaluating the full effects of state policy choices,” the statement continues. 

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The groups in the statement highlight the following disparities: 

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Legislature

Dismukes resigns as pastor, refuses to step down as state lawmaker

Josh Moon

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State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, shared a post on Facebook after a birthday celebration for Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Embattled State Rep. Will Dismukes has resigned as pastor of a Baptist church but defiantly declared that he has no plans to step down from the state Legislature. 

The Alabama Baptist, an online and print news source for Baptists around the state, reported on Thursday that Dismukes had agreed to step down from Pleasant Hill Baptist Church following heavy criticism from lawmakers and citizens around the state over Dismukes’ decision to attend and give the invocation at a birthday celebration for Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. 

“Immediate effort was made to connect with Will on behalf of our leadership with commitment toward a biblically based process to mitigate controversy surrounding this issue,” Mel Johnson, a mission strategist for the Autauga Baptist Association and a deacon at Pleasant Hill Baptist, told the Alabama Baptist. “He was open and receptive to our call and subsequent in-person meeting on Tuesday afternoon (July 28).”

In an interview with the Montgomery Advertiser on Thursday morning, however, Dismukes, a freshman lawmaker from Prattville, said he had no plans to step down from the Legislature. Both Democrats and Republicans, including Republican Sen. Clyde Chambliss, who is Dismukes’ senator, have called for Dismukes to resign. He is not up for re-election until 2022. 

Dismukes’ Facebook post, which went up the same day the state was honoring Civil Rights hero John Lewis, showed him speaking at the Forrest event. The backlash from around the state was swift and severe. 

Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, told the Alabama Baptist, “We are saddened and grieved to learn of the recent Facebook post by state Rep. Will Dismukes. … In the wake of tremendous controversy, we reaffirm our opposition to any kind of racism.”

The day after his controversial post, Dismukes participated in an interview with WSFA-TV in Montgomery to offer an explanation but seemingly made things worse for himself. In the interview, he blamed the backlash on “cancel culture” and expressed surprise over the outrage. 

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Immediately following the interview, Chambliss issued his call for Dismukes to step down.

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Elections

Donna Strong seeks Republican nomination in House District 49

Brandon Moseley

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Republican State House candidate Donna Strong

Donna Strong is touting her experience as an educator in her bid to win the Republican nomination for Alabama House District 49 special election. Strong is a veteran educator with 31 years of teaching experience at the middle, high school and college levels. She hopes to bring that experience and educational knowledge to the Alabama House of Representatives, she said.

“Most Alabamians don’t realize the degree to which politics controls our public education system,” Strong said in a statement. “When everything from class sizes, curriculum programs, school calendars, lunchroom menus, educator salaries, and standardized testing are legislatively mandated, public schooling is largely dictated by career politicians who have never walked in a teacher, bus driver or cafeteria worker’s shoes.”

Strong said that she wants to cut wasteful spending and see curricula implemented that will help all students learn to think critically, communicate clearly and solve problems in their everyday lives now and for their future. Strong said that she believes health and safety resources should be significantly enhanced for students.

“Educators at all grade levels have seen an increase in the number of students who come to school with mental health or behavioral problems,” Strong explained. “Learning is just too challenging when children are depressed, scared or angry. Every school should have a qualified nurse and easy access to trained mental health professionals.”

Strong said that she will make enhancing infrastructure in District 49 a high priority.

“The events of the past several months have brought a new awareness of the critical dependence we all have for a strong and stable economy,” Strong continued,. Safe roads, effective schools, accessible local health care, and adequately funded police and fire departments are the key elements to encourage both small and large business growth. As a state we also need to continue to upgrade 5G (5th Generation) wireless so that every student and every worker has fast and reliable access to the online resources they need to succeed. As a legislator, I will always focus on these important local and state issues for every citizen in District 49.”

Strong grew up in Shelby County. She was a member of 4-H and later was on both the Auburn University Livestock and Dairy judging teams.

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“I always enjoyed the time we spent visiting and practicing at farms throughout Alabama,” she said. “Agriculture is still a very important way of life for many Alabamians and this industry needs to be fully funded and supported.”

Strong is a science teacher, nature enthusiast and animal lover. Strong says that she is dedicated to protecting our environment.

“From the scenic mountains of north Alabama to the beautiful beaches of our southern coast, we have one of the most biodiverse states in the country,” Strong said. “Some Alabama plants and animals are found nowhere else in the world. And importantly, our unique and picturesque landscapes are critical to the people and jobs that depend on the tourism driven by our beautiful landscapes.”

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Strong said that she wants to encourage community recycling programs and see tougher sanctions on companies and individuals who harm the environment.

Strong is a graduate of Chelsea High School. She has a bachelor’s degree in science and a master’s degree in education from Auburn University. She also has a Ph.D. from Penn State University.

She and her husband Russell live in Alabaster. They have two children.

In addition to Strong, Russell Bedsole, James Dean, Chuck Martin, Jackson McNeely and Mimi Penhale are all running in the special Republican primary on Tuesday, Aug. 4. If a Republican runoff election is needed, it will be held on Tuesday, Sep. 1, 2020. The eventual Republican nominee will face Cheryl Patton in the special general election on Tuesday, Nov. 17.

The vacancy in House District 49 was created when State Representative April Weaver, R-Briarfield, announced her resignation to accept an appointment with the Trump administration as a regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

House District 49 consists of portions of Bibb, Shelby and Chilton Counties. The winner will serve the remainder of Weaver’s term which ends in late 2022.

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Governor

Nine people protesting for Medicaid expansion arrested outside Alabama Capitol

Among those arrested was former State Sen. Hank Sanders.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Nine people were arrested during a protest in front of the Alabama Capitol on Tuesday. (Hank Sanders/Facebook)

Nine people were arrested during a protest in front of the Alabama Capitol on Tuesday, which for some was the second time they’d been arrested this month while trying to bring attention to expanding Medicaid in the state and to the need for racial reconciliation.

As members of Alabama Black Lives Matter and Alabama SaveOurSelves held a demonstration Tuesday, which was live-streamed on former State Sen. Hank Sanders’ Facebook page, some began attempting to spray paint the words “Good Trouble,” a reference to the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis and his civil rights work, and “Expand Medicaid” on the street in front of the Capitol and were arrested.

Still, others began to try and spray paint onto the street and were also arrested, as can be seen in the video.

Among those arrested was Sanders, who could be seen in the video being handcuffed and loaded into a Montgomery Police Department vehicle, and his wife, 75-year-old Faya Rose Toure, an attorney, civil rights activist and former municipal judge.

The groups had planned Tuesday’s demonstration to bring attention to their push to expand Medicaid and to the arrest of five members after a demonstration there on July 16, in which members tried to use yellow spray paint to paint the words “Black Lives Matter” and “Expand Medicaid” on the street. The five turned themselves into police on July 20.

Montgomery Police Department public information officer Capt. Saba Coleman in a press release Tuesday evening said that those detained had not yet been charged. Montgomery Police declined to identify those persons who were detained.

“On Tuesday, July 28, 2020, at about 12 noon, MPD responded to the area of the Capitol in reference to protesters painting the street in front of the Capitol steps. Upon arrival, MPD witnessed the protesters painting the street. At which time, MPD notified the City of Montgomery’s Traffic Engineering Department regarding the painting of the street,” Coleman said in the statement. “The paint was deemed noncompliant because organizers failed to request and obtain proper permitting and prior approval, which resulted in a crew being dispatched to the area. Protesters involved in the offense were subsequently detained; however, they were released with charges pending. There’s no additional information available for release.”

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Faya Toure, Sanders’ wife, attorney, civil rights activist and former municipal judge, speaking to APR on Tuesday morning before the demonstration said she planned to once again work to bring attention to the need to expand Medicaid in Alabama in order to save thousands of lives a year and that she’s also addressed the arrests earlier in the month, of which she was one.

Sanders told APR on Monday that he was “mad as hell” over the arrests which included strip searches for the women but not for the men.

In an open letter to Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, Toure wrote of her experience being strip-searched at the police station.

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“Some say I should have resisted, but I did not,” Toure starts the letter of, then describes the act of having to strip for officers. “Within minutes the ordeal that changed my soul was over.”

In a statement, ACLU of Alabama noted that the latest arrests came “just days after a memorial service honoring Representative John Lewis was held on the same steps.”

“Once again, we see Alabama police officers using the power of the government to unnecessarily seize and detain people who are exercising their constitutionally protected First Amendment right to assemble and protest,” said Randall Marshall, executive director of ACLU of Alabama in a statement. “While the Constitution does not explicitly protect people from legal repercussions when protesting crosses into civil disobedience, we paid tribute mere days ago to the life and legacy of Representative John Lewis, a man dedicated to peaceful civil disobedience.”

“His phrase ‘good trouble’ was called that precisely because protesting unjust laws means breaking those laws. Nevertheless, we have seen time and again that change does not happen without protesters who are willing to accept these consequences in order to upend the status quo and those who uphold it,” Marshall continued. “We stand with these freedom fighters–in Montgomery, Hoover, and across the state of Alabama–who are continuing to fight for a more just and equitable world where every social problem is not addressed with handcuffs.”

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