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Heated public hearing held on controversial bingo bill in committee

Brandon Moseley

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The Local Legislation Committee held a well-attended public hearing Tuesday on a local bill dealing with Greene County.

HB545 would clarify that electronic bingo is legal in Greene County and would establish a five-member gaming commission to regulate the electronic bingo business in Greene County.

House Bill 545 is sponsored by State Rep. Artis “A.J.” McCampbell, D-Livingston.

The chairman of the House Local Legislation Committee is Alan Baker, R-Brewton.

McCampbell said Greene County passed C.A. 743 in 2003, which allowed charity bingo including electronic marking machines.

“Currently it is regulated by the sheriff of the county,” McCampbell said. “This creates a five-member gaming commission.”

It will also clarify that electronic bingo is legal in Greene County.

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Baker said the committee would not be taking action Tuesday. The public hearing was Tuesday, and the vote will be at a later time.

The Executive Director of Eagle Forum Becky Gerritson said that this legally opened the door to gambling in Alabama.

Gerritson said Greene County is a poor county and that gambling will only work because it “provides false hope to the poor.” It convinces them of the fantasy that “gaming their way out” is a solution to their problems. She said gambling hurts the local economy because it takes money out of the local economy and does not produces a good or service and flushes money down the drain.

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Gerritson said people spend much more money on electronic devices than when they play bingo on paper cards.

Gerritson said 13 Alabama Supreme Court decisions have ruled repeatedly that bingo is a game played on a paper card, but some Greene County officials turn a blind eye to electronic bingo.

“Do not pass a favorable report,” Gerritson said.

Former Greene County Probate Judge Julia Burke Spree spoke in favor of the bill.

“I have lived in Greene County for 45 years,” Spree said. “I am married to a family that has been there for over 200 years. We are a bicentennial farm. Greene County needs a gaming commission. Five persons instead of one — our sheriff.”

“There is no transparency without a gaming commission,” Spree said. “We have a lot of crime in Greene County that needs to be looked in to.”

“We are part of the one of the poorest counties in Alabama,” said Forkland Mayor Charlie McAlpine. “According to the census, the population of Forkland is 600. There are 2,200 people in an extended community for five miles out. We receive a stipend each month from the Sheriff. Without this stipend, Forkland would not exist. It allows us to repair roads. We will start our own police force and municipal court. Because of the bingo we are able to not only pave our roads and police force but add a nutrition program for the elderly and disabled. This is not a local bill because we have not participated in a town hall.

Commissioner Allen Turner Jr. represents Greene County District 4. He said they will start construction on eight miles of roads, they have issued 125 scholarships for local kids to go to college and they have back to school programs, disabled and senior housing programs with the aid of Sheriff Jonathon Benison.

Luther Winn Jr., who represents Greenetrack, spoke in favor of the bill.

“We are not here to ask anybody to stop bingo,” Winn said. “Bingo has been going on in Greene County since 2003, and we hope that it continues. In 2003, the residents of Greene County were 66th in per capita income. We rose to 31 in 2007. Today, we are back to 66. Two county commissioners and a city councilman here today are running bingo facilities. We ask that this be passed so that a commission can be put in charge of gaming instead of one person and so that we can put Greene County back to where we were in 2007.”

The Alabama Political Reporter asked Representative McCampbell about Winn’s allegations later.

McCampbell said that he could not confirm anything about the ownership of bingo facilities.

Kerri Jones is the finance chairperson of Forkland.

“Because of the bingo initiative of Jonathon Benison, our hospital was in jeopardy that has now been saved,” Jones said. “When this began we had a hard time finding $5,000; now we have $500,000. If we passed this, it would eradicate CA743.”

“I do not support this bill because it takes away what the citizens of Greene County have already voted for,” said Greene County Commissioner Corey Cochrell for District 3.

“Altering things already in place does not show good faith,” Cochrell told the Committee. “From 2003 to 2007, this community was very limited.”

Since 2009, with Benison regulating bingo, things have been improving. Now all of a sudden it doesn’t work for him (Winn) so he want it gone.”

Greene County Sheriff Joe Benison said, “I am a retired state trooper with a great pension thanks to this legislature. I was appointed in 2010 by Governor Bob Riley (R). I was reelected in a landslide. I got elected to a second term. I got a third term and defeated four people.”

“I have done my work I am going to continue doing to my work,” Benison said. The bill is, “Unfair to the citizens of Greene County. Self interest needs to get out of it.”

Another speaker said that Greentrack and Winn “Owes the state $73 million.”

Forkland City Council member L. A. Carpenter said, “I am a former Sheriff’s Deputy working for Sheriff Joe Benison.” Passing this would cost Forkland over $400,000. That h as allowed us to pave many roads.

Chairman Baker said that since this is a gaming bill, should the bill advance; it would still have to pass another committee, possibly Economic Development and Tourisml but that is at the discretion of the Speaker.

McCampbell said under his bill two percent of the revenue would go to the state and ten percemt would be allocated to local sources. Some of it goes to the county commission, some to the hospital, some to E911. The bill maintains the intent of C.A. 743.

“We need that money allocated and accounted for,” McCampbell said. “My purpose is not to deal with the different facilities but to make sure that Greene County has a steady source of revenue.”

“The hospital has contacted me and others about getting just basic funding,” McCampbell said. “The hospital should not have a need given the amount of money flowing through the county.”

State Representative David Wheeler, R-Vestavia Hills, asked if the sheriff’s department would receive funding.

“We could negotiate on that,” McCampbell said. “I have no problem with the sheriff being a part of that committee. My belief is that one person should not have that much power. You can get to one person; but can’t get to a group of people. I have no problem with the sheriff being part of that.

The committee did not vote on whether to give the bill a favorable report or not.

In 2014, some of Greene County’s bingo parlors were raided by state authorities. They reportedly reopened after Benison said the businesses can resume operations. Then Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and state police seized more than 1,300 gaming machines and nearly $117,000 from three bingo parlors in Greene County. The state claimed that the machines are illegal gambling devices and that electronic bingo is not bingo. The county and the bingo operators claim the machines are legal.

In 2017, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall filed a lawsuit. He said then that the Alabama Supreme Court “has made it abundantly clear that electronic bingo and the use of slot machines are illegal in all Alabama counties. It is the responsibility of the attorney general to ensure that Alabama’s laws are enforced, including those laws that prohibit illegal gambling.”

Whether or not electronic bingo is legal in Greene County, the practice has continued. HB545, if passed and ratified by the voters, would legally establish that electronic bingo is legal in the county, which has a population of just 8,330.

(Original reporting by the Tuscaloosa News contributed to this report.)

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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Economy

Governor announces auto supplier IAC plans Alabama expansion

IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County.

Brandon Moseley

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Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday that International Automotive Components Group North America Inc. plans to invest over $55.9 million in expansion projects that will create 182 jobs at two Alabama facilities.

“International Automotive Components is a leading global auto supplier, and I am pleased that this world-class company is growing significantly in Alabama and creating good jobs in Cottondale and Anniston,” Ivey said. “IAC’s growth plans show that Alabama’s dynamic auto industry continues to expand despite today’s challenging environment.”

Nick Skwiat is the executive vice president and president of IAC North America.

“Alabama was the logical choice due to its skilled workforce and proximity to the customer,” Skwiat said. “We are excited to see the continued growth of the automotive industry in Alabama and we plan to grow right along with it. We thank the Governor and Secretary Canfield for their leadership in this sector.”

IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County. This facility will produce door panels and overhead systems for original equipment manufacturers. That project will create 119 jobs at the production site in Cottondale.

IAC also plans to invest $21.6 million at its manufacturing facility located in the former Fort McClellan in Anniston. That East Alabama project will create another 63 jobs.

This project builds on a milestone 2014 expansion that doubled the size of the Calhoun County facility. There IAC manufactures automotive interior components and systems. Key components produced at the Anniston plant include door panels, trim systems and instrument panels for original equipment manufacturers.

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IAC Group is a leading global supplier of innovative and sustainable instrument panels, consoles, door panels, overhead systems, bumper fascias and exterior ornamentation for original equipment manufacturers.

IAC is headquartered in Luxembourg and has more than 18,000 employees at 67 locations in 17 countries. The company operates manufacturing facilities in eight U.S. states.

“With operations around the globe, IAC is the kind of high-performance company that we want in Alabama’s auto supply chain to help fuel sustainable growth,” said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield. “We look forward to working with IAC and facilitating its future growth in this strategic industrial sector.”

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Danielle Winningham is the executive director of the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority.

“International Automotive Components is a valued part of Tuscaloosa County’s automotive sector,” Winningham said. “We are grateful for IAC’s investment in our community and the career opportunities available to our area workforce as a result of their investment.”

“The City of Anniston is excited that IAC has made the decision to expand here. I have enjoyed working with the leadership at IAC, the Calhoun County EDC, and the state of Alabama to get this project finalized,” said Anniston Mayor Jack Draper. “This is even further evidence that Anniston is indeed open for business.”

Only Michigan has more automobile manufacturing jobs than the state of Alabama. Honda, Mercedes, Hyundai, Polaris, Toyota and soon Mazda all have major automobile assembly plants in the state of Alabama.

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Aderholt fully supports Barrett’s confirmation process

Confirmation hearings began last week and a vote on her confirmation is expected in the next week just days before the general election.

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Robert Aderholt

Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, updated his constituents on the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Aderholt said, “I do support her fully and I know she will defend life, protect the Constitution, and uphold our freedoms.”

Confirmation hearings began last week and a vote on her confirmation is expected in the next week just days before the general election.

“Senate Democrats are not seriously questioning Judge Barrett on her credentials, instead they have decided to attack her character and her beliefs,” Aderholt said. “I am disappointed to see this unfold on the national stage, but I think Judge Barrett stood strong and did well during this first week of hearings.”

“While I do not have a vote in her confirmation process, I do support her fully and I know she will defend life, protect the Constitution, and uphold our freedoms when she is officially sworn in as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court,” Aderholt said.

Barrett is a Notre Dame graduate, has served on the U.S. Seventh Court of Appeals and is a former clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

“I clerked for Justice Scalia more than 20 years ago, but the lessons I learned still resonate,” Barrett said. “His judicial philosophy is mine, too: A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.”

Barrett vowed to keep an open mind on any matter that comes before the court, though Democrats fear she is prepared to overturn Supreme Court precedent on abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act.

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That the Republican controlled committee will recommend that Barrett be confirmed appears certain. A vote to confirm Barrett to the nation’s highest court by the full Senate could occur just days ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

President Donald Trump has been the president of the United States for less than four years but if Barrett is confirmed, then he will have selected one third of the U.S. Supreme Court. Barrett fills a place created by the death of the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September.

Aderholt is in his 12th term representing Alabama’s 4th Congressional District. He faces Democratic nominee Rick Neighbors in the Nov. 3 general election.

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Economy

New unemployment claims increased last week

More people joined the unemployment rolls last week than the week before.

Micah Danney

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There were 8,581 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, up from 7,732 filed the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. 

Of the claims filed between Oct. 4 and Oct. 10, there were 3,125 related to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s 36 percent, compared to 51 percent the previous week.

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Economy

Governor announces $1.5 million grant to expand job training at Bevill State Community College

The expanded facility will help train people in welding and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning and other trades. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey and the Appalachian Regional Commission this week announced a $1.5 million grant to renovate and expand a training facility at Bevill State Community College. 

The expanded facility will help train people in welding and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning and other trades. 

“Alabamians are eager to work, and we are eager for them to find jobs that will allow them to earn a good living,” Ivey said in a statement. “These funds will help more Alabamians answer the call to the state’s increasing demand for jobs in these fields. I am thankful for our partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission and the assistance they have provided in helping us respond to in-demand issues.”

The grant comes from Appalachian Regional Commission’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization initiative, which targets areas affected by the closing of coal mining and coal-related industries, according to a press release from Ivey’s office. 

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs administers the ARC program in Alabama.

“This grant is a shot in the arm for an Alabama economy that has maintained its poise during the cessation of coal industries and then the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic,” ADECA director Kenneth Boswell said in a statement. “ADECA is pleased to join with Gov. Ivey, ARC, Bevill State Community College and many other partners in this life-changing program.”

Dr. Chris Cox, Bevill State interim president, said the program will allow for scholarships for workers who lost jobs in coal-related industries.

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“This rapid training center expansion will help establish a career pipeline to support local manufacturing industries, will serve to diversify the region’s economy and will increase post-secondary students’ access to advanced training and completion of industry-recognized certifications,” Cox said in a statement.

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