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Speaker McCutcheon: There aren’t the votes to pass the lottery

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, spoke to reporters about the prospects of reconsidering controversial lottery legislation.

“There are not the votes,” McCutcheon told reporters. “It would be a waste of money and time to bring back the lottery.”

This was in response to Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh’s, R-Anniston, comment that “The lottery is a priority of the Senate” (which passed it easily) and that he expected it to return this session.

McCutcheon said that the House would pass the education budget next week and then both budgets would be in conference committees.

Marijuana legislation is another issue that the House will address. McCutcheon said that there are three parts to that. The first is renewing Carly’s law so that the research study that UAB is doing on cannabidiol oil as a treatment to prevent severe epileptic seizures. Leni’s law also needs to be extended. The third part of the new marijuana policy would be establishing a commission to research the issue.

House sponsor State Representative Mike Ball, R-Madison, told the Alabama Political Reporter that the study commission will meet and make recommendations to the legislature for next year’s session.

“I think it is going to pass,” Ball said.

McCutcheon said that a number of members had expressed concerns about the bill as it had passed the Senate.

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Senator Tim Melson, R-Florence, is the sponsor of the medical marijuana bill that passed the Senate.

The bill listed a number of conditions that a doctor could prescribe medical marijuana for.

APR asked Ball if that would have opened the legislature to future debates on the floor as whether a medical condition should be added or taken away from the medical marijuana list and if the Alabama legislature had the necessary expertise to make those kinds of decisions.

Ball acknowledged that that was a concern, “We are not doctors.”

Speaker McCutcheon said that the two educations bill: the bill to eliminate the elected school board and the bill to end elected county school superintendents would be priorities of the legislature next week along with the budgets.

Reporters asked McCutcheon if he was going to act on Representative Arnold Mooney’s, R-Indian Springs, complaint against State Representative John Rogers, D-Birmingham.

McCutcheon said that the complaint was made in the form of a letter to him, not in the form of a resolution as the rules require; so they could not take action against Rogers based on that letter.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked the Speaker: the House Minority Leader said at his press conference that all of the promises that were made to pass the gas tax increase have not been met. Do you know what he is talking about?

“There was no agreement,” the Speaker said. “We listened to their views.”

McCutcheon said that he can’t speak for the governor’s office or the Senate leadership.

Democrats have been campaigning on expanding Medicaid and the Alabama Hospital Association has been putting pressure on legislators to accept the expansion.

The lottery failed largely because Democrats did not want all the money going unearmarked to the state general fund, where the Republican Supermajority could use the money to finance new prison construction in order to settle concerns by the U.S. Justice Department that the state does not provide humane care for its inmates.

It is looking increasingly like the Ivey administration is going to prioritize: infrastructure improvement, education reform, and improving the Alabama prisons as the priorities of this quadrennium, and it seems increasingly unlikely that there will not be any funds available in the state general fund to even consider Medicaid expansion before 2023, if then.

McCutcheon said that he does not know if there will be a special session later in the year to address the prison system or not, “But that is not up to me.”

Reporters asked McCutcheon if this coming week would be the last of the regular session.

“It is a possibility,” McCutcheon acknowledged. “Saturday will be the 28th day of the session.”

Under the Alabama Constitution, a regular session is a maximum of 30 legislative days, though the legislature often does not use all of them.

At the start of the legislative day on Thursday, McCutcheon chastised members for some of the over the top behavior that occurred on Wednesday.

“The well of this chamber is not a professional wrestling ring and the microphones are not to be used for grandstanding, personal promotion, or blindsided attacks on other members,” McCutcheon said. The speaker vowed to be quicker to gavel members down and microphones will be cut off in the future.

The leadership of both parties joined the Speaker on the floor in making this announcement. While Wednesday night was largely a disaster, Thursday was the most productive day of the session with dozens of bills passing in a relatively compressed period of time.

Afterwards, McCutcheon told the legislators that he was proud of them for how hard they had worked on Thursday.

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House

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

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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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