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House passes bill to reform Pardons and Paroles Board

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill to reform the much-maligned Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.

House Bill 380 is sponsored by State Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper. Rowe is a retired police chief.

The bill creates a director of pardons and paroles who is appointed by the governor and codifies the rules that the board is supposed to use when considering pardons and paroles.

Rowe said that Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, who was sentenced to life in prison, got out in January 2018. He was out for six months, went to Guntersville and murdered three people including a 7-year-old boy.

Rowe said there were rules in place that would have kept a violent offender like Spencer from getting out until 85 percent of his sentence. The current board ignored those rules.

State Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, said the bill gives the governor and the attorney general too much authority.

“The role of pardons and paroles is public safety,” Rowe said. “This makes the task of the Pardons and Paroles Board more clear.”

“We are changing the structure of the Pardons and Paroles Board,” said State Rep. Dexter Grimsley, D-Abbeville.

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“This codifies those rules that are too often ignored by the board,” Rowe said.

“I wish that the appointees must have some knowledge of the operations of the Board of Pardons and Paroles,” Grimsley said.

“If he (Spencer) had looked like me, they would never have let him out,” said State Rep. Thomas Jackson.

“This bill will not solve the problem because every time someone gets out of prison, we don’t know what they will do,” said State Rep. Ralph Howard, D-Greensboro.

“The 600-plus officers of the Department of Pardons and Paroles answer to the board, not to the executive director,” Rowe said.

“This bill is going to have unintended consequences,” said Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham. “The Pardons and Paroles Board is not broken.”

The new director of Pardons and Paroles will be appointed by the governor, rather than working up through the ranks like the current executive director normally does. The governor appointed director would oversee the 600 employees instead of the board, whose sole purpose would become making the decisions on pardons and paroles rather than also serving in an administration function.

“One single person making all of these decisions is a problem I have with this,” Grimsley said.

In 1939, the Legislature took direct oversight over pardons and paroles from the governor and put it under the Legislature.

“I think they (Pardons and Paroles) should be answerable to the executive branch,” Rowe said. “Currently, they are answerable to no one.”

Rep. Wes Kitchens, R-Guntersville, said he represents the district where that 7-year-old boy who liked playing with John Deere tractors was killed while spending the summer with his great-grandmother.

Kitchens said the man who killed him had a long rap sheet that stretched to the 1980s and had escaped from prison before. He was even arrested a month before the slayings but was not sent back to prison for parole violations.

“We all make mistakes,” Rowe said. “When I try to cook I often make mistakes; but the parole board made a mistake that killed three people. If this case in Guntersville was the only one, I wouldn’t be bringing this; but we have crimes all over this state from people who got out and are re-offending, robbing, killing and raping.”

“I know Gov. (Kay) Ivey is a powerful woman, but this gives her too much power, and that concerns me,” said State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham.

“If I was the governor, I would run so far away from this bill that you would think I was a track star,” Roger said. “We have had a lot of governors get in trouble for pan handling, and this bill sets up for a lot of pan handling.”

State Rep. Kirk Hatcher, D-Montgomery, said he could not support handing over legislative authority over Pardons and Paroles “to the Governor and her minions.”

Due to opposition, Rowe agreed to amending the bill to restore the nominating committee of the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the house and the speaker pro tempore. An earlier version of the bill gave the governor more autonomy. The chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court no longer serves on the nominating committee under this amendment.

Because of opposition from Democrats, the Republicans eventually had to invoke cloture.

House Majority Leader Nathanial Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, brought a cloture motion to force a vote. The cloture motion passed 74 to 24.

The bill passed the House 73 to 26. HB380 now goes to the Senate for their consideration.

The Southern Poverty Law Center opposes the bill.

“This bill, if passed by the Alabama Senate and signed by the governor, will have the immediate effect of limiting paroles, increasing overcrowding and increasing hopelessness and desperation of the people under the state’s care,” said SPLC Senior Supervising Attorney Ebony Howard. “Without the incentive of reentering society, incarcerated people are more likely to act out in prisons, and our state’s prisons will continue to be among the most dangerous for incarcerated people and guards in the country.”

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall applauded passage of the legislation.

“I am pleased today that the Alabama House has heeded the call of thousands of Alabama crime victims in passing House Bill 380 to fix the badly broken Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, including giving the governor authority to appoint a director of Pardons and Paroles and establish their responsibilities,” Marshall said in a statement.  “In particular, I want to thank Rep. Connie Rowe for her commitment to correcting this extremely important public-safety problem. The legislation has been the subject of vigorous and lengthy debate, and I appreciate Speaker Mac McCutcheon’s dedication to positioning it for final passage. I look forward to similar efforts in the Alabama Senate in the days to come.”

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Alabama Legislature plans to return to work briefly March 31

Eddie Burkhalter

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The Alabama Senate is planning to get to only a few big, constitutionally mandated items before calling an end to the year’s legislative session amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but whether they’ll get those tasks accomplished remains to be seen. 

Senate leadership is advising lawmakers who fall into “at-risk” categories because of their age or pre-existing medical conditions to not attend the Senate’s meeting when it resumes.

Among the items legislators tentatively plan to tackle before gaveling the session closed sometime in the future are the passage of the Education Trust Fund budget and the General Fund budget, which is the Legislature’s only constitutionally mandated duty.

And “other bills deemed necessary.” 

The state Senate’s Plan of Action, obtained by APR Friday, states that the Senate will meet at 2 p.m. on March 31 for its 14th legislative day. 

“The intent for this legislative day is to advance only essential attendance items and then to adjourn to a date certain for the 15th Legislative Day. April 28 has been discussed with the House,” the plan reads. 

The State Senate’s plan: 

“As leaders, it is imperative that we demonstrate that the business of this state carries on in an orderly and systematic fashion while adhering to the recommendations of our public health officials.

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The Alabama Senate will meet on Tuesday, March 31 at 2:00 pm at the Statehouse in the Senate Chamber as scheduled. This will be the 14th Legislative Day.

The intent for this legislative day is to advance only essential attendance items and then to adjourn to a date certain for the 15th Legislative Day. April 28 has been discussed with the House.

Below is a draft agenda for Tuesday, March 31.

  • Gavel In
  • Pledge and Prayer
  • Roll Call
  • Excuse all Senators
  • Points of Personal Privilege
  • President Pro Tem Marsh
  • Majority Leader Reed
  • Minority Leader Singleton
  • Adjourn to date certain for 15th Legislative Day.

“It is highly recommended that any Senator that falls into any of the at-risk categories stay away from the March 31 Legislative Day,” the plan advises. “However, each Senator’s personal wish will be accommodated.”

Any Senator or staff member that is ill, has been ill, or has been in the same room of anyone that has had any symptom of illness in the 72 hours preceding the March 31 Legislative Day must stay away from the March 31 Legislative Day, according to the Senate’s leadership.

A disinfecting station will be provided under the canopy of the second-floor rear entrance for each senator to disinfect hands and cell phones as they enter the State House and as they leave the Statehouse.

“We must ensure that we practice all Health Department recommendations while at the Statehouse,” the plan reads.

Social distancing will be accomplished by having senators report to their offices by 1:45 p.m. They will then walk into the chamber as the roll is called and then go back to their offices.

“As much separation as possible is required therefore greetings must be verbal only from a distance of 6 feet or greater,” the plan reads.

The remainder of the session will be held possibly Tuesday, April 28 through Monday, May 18.

This timeframe includes three weeks of the session plus the last day of May 18.

A specific plan for meeting more days than normal will be developed and provided prior to the next legislative meeting date.

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House

$200,000 in campaign finance penalties deposited into State General Fund

Staff

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Act 2015-495, which went into effect beginning with the 2018 Election Cycle, allows the Secretary of State’s Office to issue penalties to Political Action Committees (PACs) and Principal Campaign Committees (PCCs) that fail to timely file campaign finance reports.

As of today, the Office of the Secretary of State has collected $202,504.20 which has been deposited into the State General Fund to benefit the people of Alabama.

Conversations with the Senate and House General Fund Chairmen are currently underway to determine the best way to allocate these resources to counties.

Anyone who receives a campaign finance penalty is able to appeal their penalty to the Alabama Ethics Commission who has the authority to overturn a penalty.

“When I campaigned for this office in 2014, I made a promise to the people of Alabama that I would work to see that it is easy to vote and hard to cheat in this state. Since then, we have worked to make the electoral process more fair and transparent through requiring the honest reporting of all PACs and PCCs,” stated Secretary of State John H. Merrill.

Anyone who suspects an individual may be in violation of the Alabama Election Fairness Project is encouraged to report suspicious activity to StopVoterFraudNow.com.

 

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Economy

Daniels: We have to get help to those who need it most

Josh Moon

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There is not enough help coming fast enough to the people struggling the most. 

That was the message from Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, who was asked on the “Alabama Politics This Week” podcast about the efforts of Alabama’s state government to address the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“If you’ve never been poor, you don’t fully comprehend how things like this affect the poor and the unique problems the poor people face,” Daniels said. “I commend Gov. (Kay) Ivey and her staff for working to try and address this crisis the best they can, but I just think there’s a lack of understanding among all of us in some cases of how people need help.” 

To address those issues, at least in part, Daniels is writing a series of letters to different entities, including Ivey, to explain how they can best help the state’s most vulnerable. 

Daniels plans to ask the Alabama Supreme Court to order lower courts to halt foreclosure proceedings and evictions for those affected by coronavirus job losses and illnesses. He also will ask Ivey to intervene with banks on behalf of customers who are falling hopelessly behind on mortgage, car loans and other installment loans. And he will seek additional assistance from the state for borrowers with overwhelming student loan debt. 

“I want people to understand that I’m not criticizing what’s being done or trying to take control, I just hear from these folks on a daily basis and believe there are some better ways to help people,” Daniels said. “President Trump has addressed student loan debt by knocking the interest of those loans, but what does that really do for a person who just lost a job? Or someone who’s had hours and pay cut? We need to pause those payments and give people substantial forgiveness. 

“Otherwise, it’s going to be ugly.”

Democrats in the House also have been putting together potential legislation that could be passed to help the state’s poorest citizens and those who have been laid off from jobs. The specifics of those pieces of legislation weren’t available, but Daniels said they would have the same focus — providing real help for those who need it most. 

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If those bills are anything like the measures taken during the last economic downturn, you can expect a relaxing of rules on social programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and unemployment assistance programs. 

One of the first moves could be overturning a measure passed during the last legislative session that cut the number of weeks of unemployment pay in the state from 26 to 14. State Sen. Arthur Orr sponsored that legislation, and critics argued at the time that a downturn, such as the one that occurred in 2008, could suddenly leave thousands in the state without jobs and job prospects. It passed anyway.

 

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House

Alabama House cancels March 25 committee meetings due to coronavirus

Jessa Reid Bolling

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The Alabama House of Representatives announced on Monday that committee meetings scheduled for Wednesday, March 25 will be cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The legislative day on March 26 has not technically been cancelled but the House is not expected to have a quorum for that day.

A “quorum” is the minimum number of House members that must be present at any meeting to make the proceedings of that meeting valid. If there are not enough members present, then the meeting cannot proceed and House rules state that the speaker of the House is allowed to set a new date for the meeting. 

The Legislature is currently on an annual spring break. The House and Senate are both expected to reconvene on March 31. According to the statement from the House, a joint decision will be made regarding the future legislative meeting days.

The full statement reads:

“The leadership of the Alabama House of Representatives has made several changes to the upcoming meeting calendar because of the coronavirus crisis in the state.

House committees that were scheduled to meet on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 have been cancelled.

The House is scheduled to meet on Thursday, March 26, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. but no quorum is expected that day.

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Under House Rule 5(b), if there’s no quorum to conduct business during a state of emergency declared by the governor, the speaker of the House is allowed to set the date and time of the next meeting day. 

Both the House and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 and at that time a joint decision will be made as to future legislative meeting days.”

 

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