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House passes broadband bill

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama House of Representatives passed legislation last week to try to make broadband more available to Alabamians, particularly rural Alabamians who few high-speed internet options.

House Bill 400 is sponsored by state Representative Randall Shedd, R-Cullman.

Shedd said, “We have all seen the map with whole counties in red with declining populations. Young people will not stay where they are not connected to the worldwide web, they just won’t. Realtors says that the first question homebuyers ask not is about the internet access.”

Shedd’s bill would is titled the Telecommunications, Broadband Using Electric Easement Accessibility Act.

Shedd said that 850,000 Alabamians do not have access to broadband at their homes.

Shedd said that if the government waits on the private sector to provide broadband to rural areas, it may never happen. Many rural Alabamians waited decades for electricity to be extended to their homes, and that only happened with rural electrification efforts.

A key issue in the debate was whether the act would apply only to Alabamians who are unserved, meaning that they have no access to any broadband or if it would also include the underserved, those Alabamians who have some sort of internet access available to them through the existing cable. Supporters of certain internet providers objected to the underserved being included in this.

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Shedd insisted that if you could not run the broadband wire on the same poles that another provider always has a line that it would be difficult to get the infrastructure out into rural areas that presently are unserved.

Opponents four times introduced motions to carry over HB400, the closest they came to forcing it off the floor was 40 to 48.

Despite the objections to the bill, no one wants to be seen as being “anti-broadband” so it ultimately passed 92 to 2.

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The bill has the support of the Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA) and the Business Council of Alabama (BCA).

Expanding broadband has been a key priority of Gov. Kay Ivey.

HB400 is part of a comprehensive effort to get broadband infrastructure in place. Also on Thursday, the Senate passed the education trust fund budget, which included $20 million in funding for the Rural Broadband Grant Program.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said that the budget includes money to turn every public school into a wifi hotspot so that children could do their work from their cars in the parking lot if needed.

Orr said today many Alabama students have to travel for miles to McDonald’s to connect to the internet in order to do school work requiring internet access.

Shedd expressed confidence that we would be able to cut deeply into the 850,000 Alabamians without access in the next few years.

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Crime

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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Bill to help save “man’s best friend” advances to House

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The Alabama Senate passed a bill to help save animals in hot cars. Sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Holley, SB67 aims to prevent animal abuse. This bill passed the Senate in a vote of 33-0 and now heads to the House.

If enacted, this bill would prevent owners from leaving domestic animals in a motor vehicle unattended in a manner that creates an unreasonable risk of injury or harm to the animal.

Currently, there is no legislation that forbids owners from leaving animals in vehicles where there is possible harm or injury concerned.

This bill would also provide criminal immunity to civilians aiding animals stuck in a dangerous situation inside a vehicle.

In addition, the bill would grant civil and criminal immunity to any public safety official who rescues an animal.

Bill sponsor Senator Jimmy Holley noted that this bill was intended to mirror the law passed in a previous session that was created to prevent parents from leaving small children in cars during extreme temperatures. 

“I’m blessed to have a district with so many people who love their pets, especially their dogs. I was asked to create a bill that paralleled the bill we previously passed that protected people who rescued children from dangerous situations in vehicles,” Senator Holley said.

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This bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senator Jimmy Holley represents District 31 in the Alabama State Senate, which includes all or parts of Coffee, Dale and Pike counties.

 

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Governor

Speaker McCutcheon standing with governor on gaming workgroup

Bill Britt

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During her 2020 State of the State address, Gov. Kay Ivey said she would be signing an Executive Order to establish a small working group to gather all the facts on how much money the State could gain if some form of gaming expansion occurred. She also asked the Legislature to give her time for the group to come back with an answer.

Whether lawmakers would grant Ivey’s request for time has been an important question swirling around the halls of the State House.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon answered that question on Wednesday when APR reached out to his office with a request for clarification.

APR’s email wrote, “Speaker McCutcheon recently made the statements quoted below.”

“I am not a big gambling guy; but if you are going to vote for a lottery, that’s gambling, then don’t be a hypocrite and let’s get the biggest bang for the buck,” McCutcheon said. “Let’s address a lottery, the Poarch Creek Indians, and these counties that want a one-armed gambling. Put them all in a room and hammer out a deal.”

The Speaker warned, though, that if he cannot get a grand deal between all the parties on gambling, then there likely would not be any gambling bill brought forward in 2020.

“Does he still stand by these statements?”

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The following is the response APR received from the Speaker’s office:

“Since the Speaker made the statement, the Governor will be signing an Executive Order to bring people together to evaluate the facts on how much money the State could gain if some form of gaming expansion occurred. The Speaker will be working with the Governor in her efforts.”

Ivey said once the working group had completed its task, she would “bring these facts to the 140 members of the Legislature and the people of Alabama. And we will then, once and for all, be in a position to determine whether or not this is a path we want to pursue.”

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That McCutcheon is in  alignment with the governor should signal to all interested parties that no further movement on gaming legislation will happen until the working group has completed its evaluation.

Some have been slow to hear Gov. Ivey’s entreaty.

Even after Ivey’s call for more time to gather facts, the Poarch Creek Band of Indians continues to flood television, internet and social media with a massive advertising campaign touting their billion-dollar plan in exchange for a tribal-state compact and exclusive right to Vegas-style casino gaming in the State.

PCI lobbyists, including tribal council vice-chair Robbie McGhee, are being very pro-active at the State House.

On Tuesday, Madison County Republican Rep. Rex Reynolds said, “We’re gonna move forward on a lottery. We clearly got that message during our conference meeting yesterday. I think it’s the right thing to do. The people want to vote on a lottery and I think we need to give them an opportunity to,” according to a report by WAFF.

Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, the House budget chairman, recently said that he planned to file legislation that would create an education lottery in Alabama.

Clouse’s bill would create a paper lottery with scratch-offs and PowerBall options only.

Opinion | Prepare for more gambling debates in the 2020 Legislative Session

A day after Ivey issued her State of the State request to the Legislature to stand down on gaming, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh held a meeting with representatives of the Poarch Creeks and two of the State’s dog tracks to discuss moving ahead on a proposed lottery and gaming bill.

Marsh holds meeting with gaming interests day after Ivey calls for the Legislature to stand down on gaming

These various statements and actions have added confusion as to what is happening with gaming this session.

Now that McCutcheon has made his position known, maybe it will put to rest the rumors, activities and behind-the-scenes maneuvering that go against Ivey’s wishes.

 

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