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Legislature

Weekly 2019 Legislative Session report

Beth Lyons

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The Alabama Legislature met for Day 16 of its annual Regular Session on Tuesday, May 7. Thirty-eight
committee meetings and 2 subcommittee meetings were held throughout the week to consider legislation. Both Houses met on Wednesday, May 8 and Thursday, May 9 for Days 17 and 18.

Exactly 1,000 bills have been introduced to date.

The Legislature will return to Montgomery on Tuesday, May 14 for Day 19 of the Session with the House
convening at 1:00 p.m. and the Senate at 4:00 p.m.

SIGNIFICANT DURING THE WEEK:

The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee held a public hearing on the Senate passed
lottery proposal. A substitute was discussed which would change the distribution of the proceeds to 75 percent to the General Fund and 25 percent to the Education Trust Fund instead of repaying the Alabama Trust Fund for transfers made to the General Fund, then one-half to the Alabama Trust Fund and one-half to the General Fund. A vote is expected in the House committee next week [SB220 by Senator Greg Albritton].

The bill that would prohibit cities and counties from regulating, restricting or prohibiting the litter of bags, cups, bottles and packaging was brought up on the Senate floor but failed to survive a procedural vote that would have allowed a vote on the bill [SB244 by Senator Steve Livingston].

The bill that would make possession of less than one ounce of marijuana a violation punishable by a fine,
as opposed to a misdemeanor, was amended in a subcommittee to change the amount to 5 grams or less. The bill was debated in the full committee but was defeated on a 6-5 vote [HB96 by Representative Laura Hall].

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Following a lengthy debate on Wednesday in the Senate the bill that would allow the use of medical
marijuana if a person has a qualifying condition and a valid medical cannabis card was carried over just before the Senate adjourned for the day. On Thursday morning, just after convening, the Senate passed the bill on a 17-6 vote. The bill is now pending in the House Health Committee [SB236 by Senator Tim Melson].

A proposed Constitutional Amendment was introduced in the Senate that would rename the State Board
of Education as the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education and provide that the
members would be appointed by the Governor, subject to confirmation of the Senate, instead of being elected by the voters in eight districts. The bill is pending in the Senate Education Policy Committee [SB397 by Senator Del Marsh].

The bill that would make it a felony to perform an abortion was brought up on the Senate floor. After
a committee amendment which would have allowed an exemption for an abortion for rape or incest was
removed from the bill, the Senate adjourned until next week delaying a vote on the bill [HB314 by Representative Terri Collins].

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SIGNIFICANT INTRODUCTIONS THIS WEEK:

A bill was introduced in the House that would remove the religious exemption for immunization of
children for participation in schools. The bill is pending in the House Health Committee [HB592 by
Representative Scott Stadthagen].

A Mobile County local bill was introduced in the House that would provide for the distribution of a portion of the county’s and municipalities’ share of the simplified sellers use tax (SSUT) to the Circuit Court of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit. The bill is pending in the House Mobile County Legislation Committee [HB598 by Representative Barbara Drummond].

A proposed Constitutional Amendment was introduced in the House that would allow for the
advertisement of local bills on the internet prior to introduction in the Legislature, instead of in a local newspaper.
The bill is pending in the House State Government Committee [HB577 by Representative Andrew Sorrell].

A bill was introduced in the House that would require the Secretary of State to create, maintain, host, and
operate a website on which public notices may be published with the same legal effect as publishing in a
newspaper. The bill is pending in the House State Government Committee [HB576 by Representative Andrew Sorrell].

A bill was introduced in the House that would authorize municipalities to provide an alternate electronic
process for the processing and recordation of business license renewals specific to that municipality. The bill is pending in the House County and Municipal Government Committee [HB582 by Representative Dickie Drake].

A bill was introduced in the House that would authorize a man who is not the presumed father of a child
but who believes himself to be the child’s biological father to petition the court for genetic testing to challenge paternity. The bill is pending in the House Judiciary Committee [HB590 by Representative Gil Isbell].

A bill was introduced in both Houses that would create a new statewide pistol permit called the Lifetime
Carry Permit which would be notated in the state database and linked to the driver license system [HB595 by Representative Proncey Robertson and SB392 by Senator Randy Price].

A bill was introduced in the House that would provide further for the employees and operations of the
Mobile County Legislative Delegation Office. The bill is pending in the House Mobile County Legislation
Committee [HB586 by Representative Napoleon Bracy].

SIGNIFICANT COMMITTEE ACTION THIS WEEK:

The House Commerce and Small Business Committee substituted and gave a favorable report to a bill
that would prohibit an employer from paying any of its employees at wage rates less than those paid to
employees of another sex or race for equal work. The bill now goes to the full House [HB225 by Representative Adline Clarke].

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee held a public hearing, but did not vote, on a bill that would
establish the Alabama Court Cost Commission who would review existing laws imposing court costs and make recommendations to the Legislature as to whether existing laws should be amended, repealed or left unchanged and to review and approve any proposed legislation before introduction to the Legislature [SB217 by Senator Greg Albritton].

The House Health Committee gave a favorable report to a 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 bill now goes to the full House [HB491 by Representative Ginny Shaver].

The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund committee gave a favorable report to a House 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 now goes to the full Senate [HB360 by Representative Phillip Pettus].

The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee gave a favorable report to a House 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 now goes to the full Senate [HB468 by Representative Chris England].

The House Judiciary Committee amended and gave a favorable report to 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. The bill now goes to the full House [HB379 by Representative Steve Hurst].

The House Education Policy Committee held a public hearing, but did not vote, on a Senate bill that
would allow public schools to offer elective courses focusing on the study of the Bible in grades 6 to 12 and allow for the display of artifacts, monuments, symbols, and texts related to the study of the Bible [SB14 by Senator Tim Melson].

The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a
Senate 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 now goes to the full House [SB153 by Senator Tim Melson].

A House Economic Development and Tourism Committee held a public hearing, but did not vote, on
a bill 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 [HB519 by Representative Gil Isbell].

The Senate Transportation and Energy Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a bill 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 now goes to the full Senate [SB348 by Senator Gerald Allen].

The Senate Transportation and Energy Committee amended and gave a favorable report to a bill 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 now goes to the full Senate [SB347 by Senator David Sessions].

The Senate Transportation and Energy Committee held a public hearing, substituted and gave a favorable report to a bill that would give wireless providers nearly unlimited access to city and county rights-of-way for the installation of small cell structures and create a new process for an exemption for wireless providers from rights-of-way requirements of a city and a county. The bill now goes to the full Senate [SB264 by Senator Arthur Orr].

SIGNIFICANT FLOOR ACTION THIS WEEK:

The Senate passed a House bill that would authorize the Town of Dauphin Island to establish up to three
entertainment districts within its corporate limits if certain qualifications are met. The bill is now pending action by the Governor [HB224 by Representative Chip Brown].

The House amended and passed a bill that would provide for the registration of certain fantasy sports
operators, require the implementation of procedures for consumer protection, and exempt fantasy sports contests from the state prohibition against gambling. The bill now goes to the Senate [HB361 by Representative Kyle South].

The Senate passed 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 Governor [HB287 by Representative Laura Hall].

The Senate amended and passed a House bill that would require that the pledge of allegiance to the US
flag be conducted at the beginning of each school day in public K-12 schools. The bill now returns to the House for action on the Senate amendment [HB339 by Representative Nathaniel Ledbetter].

The House substituted and passed a bill to further provide for the acceptance of certain unimproved
roads and regulate the construction of certain other unimproved roads in Mobile County. The bill is now pending
in the Senate Local Legislation Mobile County Committee [HB281 by Representative Chip Brown].

The House carried over a bill that would prohibit a person from holding or otherwise using his or her
body to support a wireless communication device or standalone electronic device while operating a motor vehicle [HB404 by Representative K L Brown].

The Senate amended and passed 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. The bill is now pending in the House County and Municipal Government Committee [SB268 by Senator Arthur Orr].

The Senate passed a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would provide that only a citizen of the
United States has the right to vote. The bill is now pending in the House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee [SB313 by Senator Del Marsh].

 

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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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