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Legislature

Weekly 2019 Legislative Session report

Beth Lyons

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The Alabama Legislature met for Day 14 of its annual Regular Session on Tuesday, April 30. Thirty-one committee meetings were held throughout the week to consider legislation. Both Houses met on Thursday, May 2 for Day 15. 943 bills have been introduced to date.

The Legislature will return to Montgomery on Tuesday, May 7 for Day 16 of the Session with the House convening at 1:00 p.m. and the Senate at 3:30 p.m.

DURING THE WEEK:

On Tuesday the House passed the bill that would make it a felony to perform an abortion; the only exception is when the woman’s life is in danger. The bill now goes to the Senate [HB314 by Representative Terri Collins].

The House Health Committee held a public hearing, but did not vote, on another abortion bill that would require a physician to exercise reasonable care to preserve the life of a child born alive after an abortion or attempted abortion. The committee is expected to vote on this bill next week [HB491 by Representative Ginny Shaver].

The Senate substituted and passed the $7.1 billion Education Trust Fund Budget. The budget is a 7 percent increase over the $6.6 billion budget passed last year for the current fiscal year. The pre-K program received the largest increase (30 percent). The bill also includes funds for a 4 percent pay raise for K-12 employees provided for in SB192 by Senator Orr which also passed. With the pay raise and recent COLA increase, beginning pay for teachers in Alabama now exceeds $40,000 per year. The bills are now pending in the House Ways and Means Education Committee [SB199 by Senator Arthur Orr].

The House Judiciary Committee debated a bill that would make possession of less than one ounce of marijuana a violation, as opposed to a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine. The bill was assigned to a subcommittee for further consideration [HB96 by Representative Laura Hall].

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The House Judiciary Committee amended and passed a proposed Constitutional Amendment which would allow bail unless a person is charged with a capital offense or a Class A felony and proof of guilt is evident or the presumption of guilt is great, and would allow bail to be denied if no condition of release can reasonably protect the community from risk of physical harm. The bill now goes to the full House [HB282 by Representative Chip Brown].

A bill which would require hospitals and health care facilities to report non-accidental gunshot wounds to law enforcement was amended and passed by the House. The bill now goes to the Senate [HB288 by Representative Adline Clarke].

SIGNIFICANT INTRODUCTIONS THIS WEEK:

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A bill was introduced in the Senate that would require the Department of Public Health, instead of the Department of Mental Health as currently required, to provide education and services regarding care of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or related diseases to those individuals, their families, and the general public. The bill is pending in the Senate Healthcare Committee [SB330 by Senator Greg Albritton].

A bill was introduced in the Senate that would reduce the number of signatures required for certain political parties and independent candidates for statewide office to gain ballot access from 3 percent to 1.5 percent of the qualified electors who cast ballots for the office of Governor in the last general election. The bill is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee [SB336 by Senator Cam Ward].

A bill was introduced in the Senate that would further provide for the process of issuing notice to pay a toll and would authorize the non-renewal of the vehicle registration for vehicles whose owners fail to pay the required toll and administration fees. The bill is pending in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee [SB347 by Senator David Sessions].

A bill was introduced in the Senate that would require a municipality to receive approval from the Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) prior to being authorized to use automated traffic enforcement systems. The bill is pending in the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee [SB348 by Senator Gerald Allen].

A bill was introduced in the House that would increase the number of years a person must be admitted to practice law before he or she can qualify to be appointed or elected to a circuit or district court judgeship. The bill is pending in the House Judiciary Committee [HB529 by Representative David Faulkner].

A bill was introduced in the Senate that would provide for a delivery service permit that would allow the permittee to contract with certain licensed retail establishments to deliver sealed alcoholic beverages directly to Alabama residents who are at least 21 years of age for their personal use. The bill is pending in the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee [SB368 by Senator Shay Shelnutt].

A bill was introduced in the Senate that would provide a procedure for aftercare of certain patients discharged from a hospital, the designation of a family caregiver, and notice and instruction to a patient and caregiver. The bill is pending in the Senate Healthcare Committee [SB376 by Senator Vivian Davis Figures].

SIGNIFICANT COMMITTEE ACTION THIS WEEK:

The Senate Judiciary Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a House bill that would require retailers of alternative nicotine products, to obtain a tobacco license, prohibit certain advertisements, prohibit the sale to minors, and require the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to regulate retail sales of alternative nicotine devices as with sales of tobacco products. The bill now goes to the full Senate [HB41 by Representative Shane Stringer].

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee gave a favorable report to a proposed Constitutional
Amendment that would provide that only a citizen of the United States has the right to vote. The bill now goes
to the full Senate [SB313 by Senator Del Marsh].

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee gave a favorable report to a House bill that would require the Alabama Historical Commission to commission monuments for Rosa Parks and Helen Keller to be located on the Capitol grounds. The bill now goes to the full Senate [HB287 by Representative Laura Hall].

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee gave a favorable report to a House bill that would authorize the Judge of Probate to appoint up to 2 high school or college students to work as unpaid student interns at each polling place in the county on election day. The bill now goes to the full Senate [HB186 by Representative Alan Baker].

The House Health Committee gave a favorable report to a Senate bill that would establish the Alabama Board of Genetic Counseling, provide that the practice of genetic counseling without a license is a criminal offense, exempt physicians and other medical professionals from licensure, and provide that genetic counselors are not authorized to practice medicine. The bill now goes to the full House [SB213 by Senator Jabo Waggoner].

The House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing, but did not vote, on a bill that would require a person convicted of a sex offense involving a person under the age of 13 to undergo chemical castration as a condition of parole [HB379 by Representative Steve Hurst].

The House Judiciary Committee gave a favorable report to a bill that would establish the crime of female genital mutilation. The bill now goes to the full House [HB421 by Representative Rod Scott].

The House Judiciary Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a Senate bill that would criminalize the act of recording or attempting to record any image or video of private, intimate body parts of another person without that person’s consent. The bill now goes to the full House [SB26 by Senator Clyde Chambliss].

The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a Senate bill that would authorize an organization, winery or brewery to obtain a license from the ABC Board to hold a wine or beer festival where wineries or breweries may provide tastings and sell their products for on-premises or off-premises consumption. The bill now goes to the full House [SB269 by Senator Andrew Jones].

The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee gave a favorable report to a bill that would authorize licensed manufacturers of alcoholic beverages within an entertainment district that conduct tastings and samplings to sell beverages for consumption outside the premises. The bill now goes to the full House [HB474 by Representative Neil Rafferty].

The House Education Policy Committee gave a favorable report to a Senate bill that would require that the pledge of alliance to the US flag be conducted at the beginning of each school day in public K-12 schools.

The bill now goes to the full House [SB258 by Representative Steve Livingston].

The Senate Tourism Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a bill that would exclude certain places or spaces for tent camping, marine slips and recreational vehicles from the state transient occupancy (lodging) tax. The bill now goes to the full Senate [SB308 by Senator Gerald Allen].

The House Commerce and Small Business Committee substituted and gave a favorable report to a bill that would allow a licensed wine manufacturer to obtain a wine direct shipper permit to ship directly to residents for personal use. The bill now goes to the full House [HB350 by Representative Terri Collins].

The Senate Transportation and Energy Committee substituted and gave a favorable report to a bill that would provide further for the exemptions of the Alabama Toll Road, Bridge and Tunnel Authority from state and local taxation. The bill now goes to the full Senate [SB154 by Senator Chris Elliott].

The House Economic Development & Tourism Committee and the Senate Tourism Committee each met on bills that would protect the electronic bingo games currently being played at VictoryLand in Macon County in the event the “paper only” lottery bill passes [HB422 by Representative Pebblin Warren and SB322 by Senator Billly Beasley].

SIGNIFICANT FLOOR ACTION THIS WEEK:

The House amended and passed a bill that would require municipal fire departments provide supplemental insurance coverage to pay the claims of a career firefighter who has served 12 consecutive months and has been diagnosed with cancer under certain conditions. The bill is now pending in the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund [HB360 by Representative Phillip Pettus].

The House amended and passed a bill that would allow qualifying seasonal sales, use and lodgings taxpayers the option to file these taxes on a quarterly, semi-annual or annual basis. The bill is now pending in the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee [HB383 by Representative Steve McMillan].

The House passed a bill that would provide a two-step salary increase for certain employees in specified classifications of the Department of Corrections, and would allow certain officers and employees to receive payment for accrued, unused leave. The bill is now pending in the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee [HB468 by Representative Chris England].

The House amended and passed a Senate bill that would establish a Prisoner Feeding Fund in each county, increase the allowance paid by the state for the feeding of prisoners in county jails, provide for excess funds, and provide for audits by the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts; the bill would not require a change in procedure in counties where funds are paid directly into the general fund of the county prior to the effective date of this act. The Senate concurred in the House amendment and the bill is now pending action by the Governor [SB228 by Senator Arthur Orr].

The Senate passed a House bill that would authorize the county commission of a wet county to permit and regulate the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday. The bill is now pending action by the Governor [HB168 by Representative Reed Ingram].

The Senate passed a bill that would update the amnesty and class action provisions of the Simplified Sellers Use Tax (SSUT), and clarify transactions for which the tax cannot be collected and remitted. The bill is now pending in the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee [SB153 by Senator Tim Melson].

The Senate carried over a bill that would provide for a $10 million allocation of motor fuel excise taxes to the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to facilitate growth of inland ports and transfer facilities, and for the coordination of a transportation system for inland waterways [SB268 by Senator Arthur Orr].

The House amended and passed a bill that would provide that a person commits the crime of assault in the second degree if the person causes physical injury to a journalist or other in the performance of the journalist’s duties. The bill now goes to the Senate [HB312 by Representative Prince Chestnut].

The House amended and passed a bill that would phase in the requirement that each public K-12 school offer courses in computer science. The bill now goes to the Senate [HB216 by Representative David Faulkner].

The House substituted, amended and passed a bill that would authorize the placement, construction, installation, operation and use of broadband and other advanced communication capabilities and related facilities within electric easements by electric providers. The bill now goes to the Senate [HB400 by Representative Randall Shedd].

 

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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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