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Rogers kills bills. Mooney files complaint against Rogers

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, the Alabama House of Representatives attempted to close the day with a ten minute calendar where any bill that anyone had any objection to could be defeated if any legislator spoke against the bill for ten minutes.  All of the bills place on the calendar by the Rules committee were all considered to be non-controversial with broad bipartisan support.

Under a ten minute calendar, all debate must be over and the bill passed in ten minutes time.  Any single legislator who takes his ten minutes of time can kill any bill simply by speaking for ten minutes on the bill.

That was the bipartisan plan; however State Representative John Rogers, D-Birmingham, took it upon himself to kill every bill that came on the calendar. Rogers only explanation was a complaint about one of his local bills that did not get approved for the earlier special order calendar.

After Rogers killed the first several bills, State Representative Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs requested a point of personal privilege.

Mooney cited recent offensive remarks made by Rogers two weeks earlier during the abortion debate in a letter that he gave to the speaker and distributed to reporters.

Mooney began reading from his letter formally accusing Rogers of conduct disgracing the legislature. As Mooney read his letter of condemnation from the floor he was gaveled down by the Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia,

“That is uncalled for,” McCutcheon said interrupting Mooney.

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The House erupted.

House Majority Leader Nathanial Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, motioned that the House adjourn.

The plan had been to work until midnight; but there were two and a half hours left in the legislative day. Wednesday was the last day for the House to pass House originated bills. For the remainder of the session, the House will only consider Senate bills for the remainder of the legislative session.

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Arnold Mooney is running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. John Rogers has expressed interest in running for U.S. Senate as well. Doug Jones currently holds that seat.

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House

House votes to outlaw smoking, vaping in automobiles with children present

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives voted for legislation to be smoking and vaping in motor vehicles if there is a child under 14 years of age.

House Bill 46 is sponsored by State Representatives Rolanda Hollis (D-Birmingham).

HB46 as introduced by Hollis would have banned smoking with children in automobiles/

State Representative John Rogers (D-Birmingham) asked, “Would this give a police officer the ability to stop a car anytime that a police wants to stop them and say I stopped you because I thought you were smoking.”

Rogers warned that this would give the police an, “Excuse to stop a person of color or anyone else.”

Hollis said, “An amendment will address this.”

Rogers said that this would be like, “Bloomberg’s stop and frisk.”

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Rep. Scott Stadthagen (R-Hartselle) said, “Thank you for bringing this bill. There is nothing more disturbing than to be at a red light and see someone smoking with a baby in the car.”

Rep. Neil Rafferty (D-Birmingham) introduced an amendment that establishes this as a secondary infraction. Police could not stop someone for smoking with children in the car; but if they were stopped for another reason, then the officer could then cite them for this infraction.

Hollis agreed to accept Rafferty’s amendment as a friendly amendment and the House voted to add the amendment to the bill.

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Rep. Brett Easterbrook (R-Fruitdale) said, “I agree with the idea that it is ridiculous that an adult smokes with children in the car; but It is also ridiculous to tell a family everything that they can do in a car that they paid for.”

Rep. Bob Fincher (R-Woodland) said, “When I was a child both of my parents smoked in the car and I survived, and I am 76 years old now.”

“When we come to the point of telling people what they can do in their own cars, at some point we will tell them that they can’t smoke in their own home,” Fincher warned. “If you don’t have the right to do the wrong thing then we don’t have any rights at all.”

Hollis replied, “This bill does not tell you that you can not smoke. Smoke all you want to. This is about the health of children.”

Rep. Victor Gaston (R-Mobile) said, “I am Pro-Life and Pro-Life for a six-year old is not having to ride in a car with smokers and the windows up.”

Rep. Barbara Drummond (D-Mobile) proposed an amendment to also ban vaping in cars with children present.

Hollis refused and said, “Bring your own bill.”

Rep. Jim Hill (R-Odenville) said, “If we are not going to let people smoke in cars we should not let them vape in cars with children present. If we deny one, we ought to deny both.”

Rep. Chris Blackshear (R-Phenix City) said, “Thank you for bringing this bill. I am one hundred percent behind the amendment as well.”

Drummond brought her amendment anyway.

Hollis said, “I look at tobacco smoking and vaping differently. How are they the same?”

Drummond said, “The effects are the same.”

Hollis eventually relented and accepted Drummond’s vaping amendment. The amendment passed 71 to 8.

The House passed HB46 on a vote of 78 to 19. It now goes to the Alabama Senate for their consideration.

Tuesday was day five of the 2020 Alabama regular legislative session. Neither budget committee has introduced a budget yet and Gov. Ivey’s gambling commission has not released any legislation proposals yet. The legislature can meet for a maximum of thirty days in a regular session.

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Courts

Legislation would limit death penalty appeals

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth on Tuesday discussed legislation that would reduce the length of some death penalty appeals. 

“Over the last 13 month, seven Alabama law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty by violent criminals, which is a new record and obviously not one the state of Alabama is proud of,” Ainsworth said during the press conference at the Alabama State House on Tuesday. “Back the blue has got to be more than just a slogan. Actions must follow words.” 

Ainsworth said that death row inmates in Alabama serve approximately 14 years on average before executions are carried out, and that there needs to be a “fair but expedited process in Alabama.” 

The proposed legislation would prevent the Alabama Supreme Court from hearing death row appeals in capital murder cases, and would stop all such appeals at the state Court of Criminal Appeals level. 

The bills would also require the criminal appeals court to expedite death row appeals when possible, and would reduce the amount of time a person has to appeal such convictions to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ainsworth said. 

“This legislation still affords a thorough appeals process, and all the protections guaranteed to them under the U.S. Constitution,” Ainsworth said. “It has been designed to provide both equal justice to inmates, and swifter justice to their victims.” 

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, a candidate for a seat on the state Supreme Court and sponsor of the senate’s version of the bill, said during the press conference that while overall crime rates have been declining, murders in Alabama have increased 25 percent over the last three years. 

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“I’ve always been an advocate for criminal justice reform, but let me tell you something, public safety is first and foremost, Ward said. “…I think this is a reasonable bill. It still provides for due process.” 

State Rep. Connie Row,R-Jasper, is sponsoring the bill in the House and said that as a former police chief she recognizes the value of the lives of those who serve the public. She also worked with crime victims in capital cases, she said, and in “capital cases it’s seeing if you can live long enough to see justice served in a death penalty case.” 

The bills also add language that would allow the Alabama Department of Corrections to conduct executions at facilities other than the Holman Correctional Facility near Atmore, where the state’s death chamber is currently located. 

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ADOC commissioner Jeff Dunn said in January that all death row inmates were being moved to Holman, while the majority of the prison’s areas for other incarcerated men was being closed due to concerns over maintenance problems in a tunnel that carries utilities to those portions of the prison. The death row section of Holman was to remain open, Dunn said. 

There are 175 people serving on the state’s death row, according to Alabama Department of Corrections statistics

Attempts Tuesday to reach staff at the Equal Justice Initiative for comment on the legislation were unsuccessful. The Montgomery legal aid nonprofit works to exonerate death row inmates, among its other initiatives. 

According to the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center 167 incarcerated people on death row in the U.S. have been exonerated and released from prison since 1973. Among those formerly on death row, six were scheduled to die by execution in Alabama. 

The last Alabama death row inmate exonerated was Anthony Hinton, freed in April 2015 after spending 30 years on death row for the 1985 murders of two fast food supervisors in Birmingham. 

The only evidence presented at Hinton’s trial was ballistics testing state prosecutors said proved the bullets that killed the two men came from a gun Hinton’s mother owned. 

Hinton lost appeals for a decade before the Equal Justice Initiative took up his case. Subsequent ballistics testing by the nonprofit in 2002 proved that the bullets weren’t a match for the firearm, but the state declined to re-examine the case. 

It took another 12 years for Hinton’s appeal to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed the lower court’s ruling and granted a new trial. 

The judge in his new trial dismissed the charges after the state’s prosecutors determined through additional testing that the bullets could not have come from Hinton’s mother’s gun. 

A 2009 study by professors at the University of Colorado and published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology found that 88 percent of the leading criminologists in the U.S. polled did not believe the death penalty effectively deters crime.

Of the leading criminologists polled in the study, 87 percent said that speeding up executions would not add a deterrent effect on crime.

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Courts

Alabamians for Fair Justice urges lawmakers to repeal habitual offender law

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Tuesday in Montgomery, over a hundred advocates for criminal justice reform will urge Alabama lawmakers to adopt reforms to help alleviate Alabama’s prison crisis. Alabamians from across the state will push for major changes that would help make prison sentences proportionate to the crimes committed, prevent people convicted of minor offenses from going to prison, and provide needed supports for people re-entering communities.  Today, Alabama’s prison are roughly 170 percent over capacity with staffing levels at 30 percent. 

In April 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) warned Alabama that the conditions in the male prisons likely violate the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment.  The DOJ letter found Alabama’s prisons do not protect people from violence, sexual abuse, and fail to provide safe living conditions.  Alabama’s prison system was also found to have “persistent and severe shortages of mental-health staff and correctional staff, combined with chronic and significant overcrowding,” in in 2017 state-wide ruling in Braggs v. Dunn

“It is important for Alabama to see the people behind the prison walls,” said  LaTonya Tate, executive director and founder, Alabama Justice Initiative.  “These are real fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, wives and husbands behind every excessive prison sentence. Lawmakers need to understand that incarcerated Alabamians, their families, and their supporters are constituents too. Their voices matter.”

The lobby day is organized by the Alabamians for Fair Justice (AFJ) coalition.   

AFJ’s legislative priorities includes:

  • Repealing Alabama’s “three strikes” law, also called the Habitual Felony Offender Act, or HFOA.  About 6,000 people in Alabama are serving escalated sentences based on prior offenses, often committed as teenagers. The law permits a Life Without Parole sentence for a single Class A felony if someone has a prior minor drug or property conviction.  About 500 Alabamians are sentenced to die in prison for non-homicide crimes under this law.
  • Reducing sentences for marijuana possession.  Each year, nearly 1,000 people face felony convictions for marijuana possession, a “crime” that is legal for nearly half of the population in the United States.  Alabama spends roughly $22 million tax dollars per year to enforce possession laws.     
  • Making the 2013 sentencing guidelines retroactive.  The 2013 presumptive sentencing guidelines were a major contributor to Alabama’s prison population declining.  Now, hundreds of people sentenced before 2013 still serve longer sentences than they would face if sentenced now – and for nonviolent crimes. AFJ asks for the Legislature to apply the same guidelines to people convicted prior to the new guidelines.
  • Overhaul the state’s community corrections, diversion, and alternative court programs to make them more accessible, especially to people without money, and more accountable to the taxpayers of Alabama.  Currently, these programs have no uniform standards, lack necessary oversight, and are funded by the participants.  
  • Reform the state’s parole system.  Roughly nine out of every 10 people up for parole were denied since Governor Kay Ivey appointed Charles Graddick as the director of Alabama’s Bureau of Pardons and Paroles.  If this rate continues, ACLU of Alabama estimates the state prison population will increase by 3,700 people due to the dramatic drop in paroles being granted. 

Alabama spends about $500 million in tax dollars each year for over 20,000 people in custody, yet the state’s prisons remain dangerous, overcrowded, and understaffed. 

Governor Ivey’s main solution to Alabama’s unsafe prisons is to spend $2.6 billion taxpayer dollars “lease” three new mega-prisons that would be built by a private, for-profit corporation.

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“When you have the worst prisons in the country, the solution is not to build more. The solution is to enact smart, commonsense reforms to provide treatment, services, and alternatives in communities and keep people out of prison,”  said Tate.

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House

Montgomery’s new occupation tax likely to be challenged by the legislature

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday night, the Montgomery City Council voted to impose an occupation tax on everyone who works in the city of Montgomery. Tens of thousands of people would be adversely impacted by the move. The Alabama legislature appears to be on the verge of blocking the controversial measure.

Earlier that day that Senate Government Affairs committee gave a favorable report to House Bill 147, sponsored by State Representative Chris Sells (R-Greenville).

New Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed was at that meeting and told the Senators that the City Council would table their motion to impose an occupation tax on the people who work in the City if the Committee would carry over HB147.

The Committee refused that proposal and gave a favorable report on an eight to two vote.

Sells’ bill, which passed the House on Tuesday, February 11, would require that any city who did not already have an occupational tax on February 1 must have their tax approved by the Alabama State Legislature, similarly to what counties have to do.

The State Government Committee is Chaired by Jimmy Holley (R-Elba).

Holley told Reed, “I remember you when you were a small boy, serving with your father.”

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“Our city have very moderate revenue,” Reed pleaded with Senators. “We are about 18th in revenue per capita.”

“How do we pay our policemen, our firemen our sanitation workers?” the new Mayor asked. “We had no intention of passing an occupational case.”

Reed claimed that the subject had come up in some public meetings on how the state’s capitol city could enhance revenue.

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“We are the engine that drives the whole river region,” Reed said. “We are the fourth performing regional area of the state. We are behind Huntsville-Madison, we are behind Birmingham-Hoover and we are behind Mobile.”

Reed said that the city had some hearings and would like time to study the situation.

“It is important to cities that Home rule means something,” Reed said. “26 other cities have an occupational tax.”

“We do have an ordinance on our agenda from tonight,” Mayor Reed threatened. “If it is not pulled from the agenda today we will move forward with that.”

Rep. Sells said, “I am not trying to remove an option.”

Sells said that thousands of Alabamians work in Montgomery and live in other places. “These people have no voice right now.”

State Senator Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham) said, “I come from Birmingham where I served on the City Council. This legislature for years has long eroded local authority and control.”

Coleman-Madison said that mayors and city councils are also elected by the people and if the people do not like the way they are doing their jobs they can be removed. It is called voting.

(Mayor) “David Vann in his infinite wisdom fashioned the occupation tax. People from the outside use the roads, if they have an accident local police have to respond.” If they need assistance fire and rescue will assist them. If they come in for events the city has to maintain those venues. “So all of these amenities that people on the outside enjoy, those costs are being born by the people that live in the cities.”

“In Jefferson County a lot of our cities are having problems with roads due to traffic whether that is heavy trucks or people coming in,” Coleman-Madison said. “This legislative body, we should be working with local government not tying their hands.”

Reed is the son of Alabama Democratic Conference Chairman Joe Reed. The senior Reed has been a powerful force in the Alabama Democratic Party for fifty years.

Sen. Chris Elliot (R-Fairhope) made a motion to give HB147 a favorable report.

The Committee passed the bill on eight to two vote. It now goes to the full Senate for their consideration.

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