Both houses of the Alabama legislature approved the conference committee report on the state General Fund Budget Thursday. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey praised the legislature for their work on the budget.
“While remaining steadfast in our fiscally conservative approach, we have put forward a General Fund, which provides important funding that moves our state in a positive direction. Very importantly, we are wisely using our dollars to tackle some of our state’s major challenges,” Gov. Ivey said. “From areas of public safety to mental health, state is making great strides. I am very proud that this year’s budget returns $35 million to our Road and Bridge Fund. I applaud General Fund Chairs Rep. Clouse and Sen. Albritton for their tremendous leadership on this legislation. The Alabama Legislature can be proud of this strong budget.”
State Senate President Del Marsh, R-Anniston, praised the work that Senator Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, did on the budget. Albritton chairs the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee.
“I want to commend Sen. Albritton on passage of his first General Fund budget,” Marsh said. “Although this is usually a thankless job, Sen. Albritton did an excellent job of working with the General Fund Committee, Senators on the floor, colleagues in the House, as well as countless hours behind the scenes to ensure that this budget was fair to everyone in Alabama.”
“This is a budget that received bipartisan support and that all Senators can be proud of,” Marsh added. “Through conservative fiscal practices and living within our means we have been able to come out with a robust budget that provides funding for state agencies including more money to our corrections system to hire new officers, money to hire new state troopers, an increase to Mental Health and a sizable reserve for future budgets. I thank everybody for their diligent work.”
House Bill 152 is sponsored by State Representative Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, who chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee, which is tasked with taking the Governor’s proposed general fund budget recommendation and crafting that into a budget. The SGF then has to pass the House, before going to Albritton’s committee in the Senate, which made several changes to the budget before releasing it to the full Senate. The full Senate passed the SGF with Albritton’s changes. The House then rejected the Albritton budget. A conference committee, that included both Albritton and Clouse, then crafted a compromise budget. That conference committee report on the SGF budget was then approved by both Houses on Thursday.
Alabama uses an arcane budgeting system that divides state government into two budgets: the SGF and the ETF (Education Trust Fund). Most of the money for the two budgets are earmarked allowing very little flexibility in moving money from one budget to another. The SGF for fiscal year 2020 is $2.1 billion, while the ETF is $7.1 billion.
Albritton and Clouse tried to increase future SGFs by $166 million a year through passage of a paper lottery. The controversial paper lottery bill, SB220, passed the Senate but was dead on arrival in the House, partially because House Democrats thought more of the money should go to the ETF instead of to the SGF.
The legislature is expected to be called into a special session in September or October to fund new prisons to replace the state’s aging and badly overcrowded prisons before the federal court system takes over management of the prisons, which the U.S. Justice Department calls the most dangerous in America.
Ironically, the ETF budget in 2019 had an overage of over $280 million that will be spread among all of the state’s public schools, colleges, and universities through two supplemental 2019 appropriations, due to the booming Trump/Ivey economy. In another state, the legislature could have used that extra income tax, sale tax, and use tax money to pay all the front end costs of the proposed $800 million prison construction project; but because this is Alabama and we have by far the most earmarked money of any state in the nation; none of that money could be used to deal with the problems at the Alabama Department of Corrections as ADOC is in the SGF budget, not the ETF budget. Democrats would rather spend more SGF dollars on Medicaid Expansion; but there is no money to do that either without gutting other SGF agencies. The state also have approximately $4 billion in earmarked revenues that are outside of the state’s two formal budgets and draws down an additional $7 to 8 billion in federal matching dollars.
The legislature will return today for the last day of the session. The major effort for today will be passing the conference committee report on the ETF and considering a constitutional amendment to abolish the elected State Board of Education and repeal and replace the much-maligned Common Core educational standards.
Democratic women condemn comments on Gov. Kay Ivey’s appearance
“These comments are disrespectful, inappropriate in every way, and represent a broader culture of casual sexism,” read a joint statement from four Democratic women.
A group of Democratic women on Wednesday issued a statement condemning comments made by a state school board member who was critical of Gov. Kay Ivey’s weight.
Wayne Reynolds, a Republican who represents portions of northwest Alabama on the board, wrote during a live stream event that Ivey, who is also a Republican, “is gaining weight.”
Afterward, in an interview with AL.com, Reynolds doubled — and then tripled — down on his comments as he critiqued Ivey’s choice of clothing.
“She looked heavy in that white suit,” Reynolds said of Ivey, who held a press conference on Wednesday to update the state’s “safer-at-home” order. “I don’t know what she weighs. I just made an observation.”
Later in the interview, Reynolds said the pantsuit Ivey wore was unflattering and that he had seen her wear other suits “that were more slimming on her.”
The backlash to Reynold’s comments was swift and bipartisan with women around the state rightfully taking issue.
“These comments are disrespectful, inappropriate in every way, and represent a broader culture of casual sexism,” read a joint statement from four Democratic women. “Women all over Alabama know what it is like to be subjected to unfair criticism on the basis of their appearance or weight.
“We need to cultivate an environment where individuals are judged on the basis of their skill and proficiency. Alabama elected officials should be discussing policy, not the physical appearance of policymakers. Anything less is a disservice to Alabamians. We are disturbed by Mr. Reynold’s remarks, and we hope other elected officials and candidates will likewise condemn his comments. Mr. Reynolds was wrong and we deserve better.”
The statement was signed by Amy Wasyluka, president of Alabama Democratic Women, Phyliss Harvey Hall, a District 2 congressional candidate, Dr. Adia Winfrey, a District 3 congressional candidate and Laura Casey, a candidate for president of the Alabama Public Service Commission.
Nine people protesting for Medicaid expansion arrested outside Alabama Capitol
Among those arrested was former State Sen. Hank Sanders.
Nine people were arrested during a protest in front of the Alabama Capitol on Tuesday, which for some was the second time they’d been arrested this month while trying to bring attention to expanding Medicaid in the state and to the need for racial reconciliation.
As members of Alabama Black Lives Matter and Alabama SaveOurSelves held a demonstration Tuesday, which was live-streamed on former State Sen. Hank Sanders’ Facebook page, some began attempting to spray paint the words “Good Trouble,” a reference to the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis and his civil rights work, and “Expand Medicaid” on the street in front of the Capitol and were arrested.
Still, others began to try and spray paint onto the street and were also arrested, as can be seen in the video.
Among those arrested was Sanders, who could be seen in the video being handcuffed and loaded into a Montgomery Police Department vehicle, and his wife, 75-year-old Faya Rose Toure, an attorney, civil rights activist and former municipal judge.
The groups had planned Tuesday’s demonstration to bring attention to their push to expand Medicaid and to the arrest of five members after a demonstration there on July 16, in which members tried to use yellow spray paint to paint the words “Black Lives Matter” and “Expand Medicaid” on the street. The five turned themselves into police on July 20.
Montgomery Police Department public information officer Capt. Saba Coleman in a press release Tuesday evening said that those detained had not yet been charged. Montgomery Police declined to identify those persons who were detained.
“On Tuesday, July 28, 2020, at about 12 noon, MPD responded to the area of the Capitol in reference to protesters painting the street in front of the Capitol steps. Upon arrival, MPD witnessed the protesters painting the street. At which time, MPD notified the City of Montgomery’s Traffic Engineering Department regarding the painting of the street,” Coleman said in the statement. “The paint was deemed noncompliant because organizers failed to request and obtain proper permitting and prior approval, which resulted in a crew being dispatched to the area. Protesters involved in the offense were subsequently detained; however, they were released with charges pending. There’s no additional information available for release.”
Faya Toure, Sanders’ wife, attorney, civil rights activist and former municipal judge, speaking to APR on Tuesday morning before the demonstration said she planned to once again work to bring attention to the need to expand Medicaid in Alabama in order to save thousands of lives a year and that she’s also addressed the arrests earlier in the month, of which she was one.
Sanders told APR on Monday that he was “mad as hell” over the arrests which included strip searches for the women but not for the men.
In an open letter to Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, Toure wrote of her experience being strip-searched at the police station.
“Some say I should have resisted, but I did not,” Toure starts the letter of, then describes the act of having to strip for officers. “Within minutes the ordeal that changed my soul was over.”
In a statement, ACLU of Alabama noted that the latest arrests came “just days after a memorial service honoring Representative John Lewis was held on the same steps.”
“Once again, we see Alabama police officers using the power of the government to unnecessarily seize and detain people who are exercising their constitutionally protected First Amendment right to assemble and protest,” said Randall Marshall, executive director of ACLU of Alabama in a statement. “While the Constitution does not explicitly protect people from legal repercussions when protesting crosses into civil disobedience, we paid tribute mere days ago to the life and legacy of Representative John Lewis, a man dedicated to peaceful civil disobedience.”
“His phrase ‘good trouble’ was called that precisely because protesting unjust laws means breaking those laws. Nevertheless, we have seen time and again that change does not happen without protesters who are willing to accept these consequences in order to upend the status quo and those who uphold it,” Marshall continued. “We stand with these freedom fighters–in Montgomery, Hoover, and across the state of Alabama–who are continuing to fight for a more just and equitable world where every social problem is not addressed with handcuffs.”
Congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis has died
“Our country has lost one of its most beloved Civil Rights leaders,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey.
Alabama native turned Civil Rights Movement leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis has died.
Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Selma, mourned the passing of her friend, colleague and mentor.
“My heart breaks for the passing of my dear friend and mentor Congressman John Lewis, but my spirit soars for an angel walked among us and we were all touched by his greatness. He forever changed Selma and this nation,” Sewell said. “May we finish his life’s work and restore the Voting Rights Act.”
“Congressman John Lewis was a beacon of light, hope and inspiration throughout his life,” Sewell continued. ”To be in his presence was to experience love, whole-hearted and without exception. Though he was so often met with hatred, violence and racial terrorism, it never permeated his being. He remained until his passing a faithful servant-leader, whose righteousness, kindness and vision for a more equitable future inspired all who were blessed to know him. I am honored to have been able to call him a mentor and colleague and, above all, a friend.”
Lewis grew up on a farm outside of Troy, where his family were sharecroppers. At 21, he became a Freedom Rider. At 23, he was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington. He was a close colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement. King affectionately referred to him as “the boy from Troy.”
Lewis and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Hosea Williams organized the first Selma to Montgomery voting rights march. Then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace ordered the then all-white Alabama State Troopers to stop Lewis and about 600 marchers. On March 7, 1965, the State Troopers, local law enforcement and hundreds of white citizen volunteers attacked Lewis and the other voting rights marchers when they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
Lewis was among the many marchers beaten that day. The event is remembered as “Bloody Sunday.”
“On Bloody Sunday in 1965, John was confronted by Alabama state troopers and their dogs, but he was determined to fight for equality and justice, putting his own life on the line in the service of others and a vision for a brighter future,” Sewell said. “So many times did John cross bridges, insisting that our nation live up to the promises enshrined in our constitution. As he always said, he gave a little blood on Selma bridge, but he also bridged the gaps that so often divide our political parties, working every day for a more just America.”
“John believed firmly that the best days of our nation lie ahead of us,” Sewell concluded. “It is his unwavering optimism that I will continue to call upon in moments of challenge and hardship. While John has left this earth, his legacy fighting for equality and justice lives on. I hope that our nation – and our leaders – will unite behind the cause most dear to John: voting rights. We must restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to its full strength so that every American – regardless of color – is able to make their voice heard at the ballot box. John, the ‘boy from Troy,’ was the conscience of the Congress. He will be dearly missed.”
“John Lewis was an American treasure,” said Martin Luther King III in a statement. “He gave a voice to the voiceless, and he reminded each of us that the most powerful nonviolent tool is the vote. Our hearts feel empty without our friend, but we find comfort knowing that he is free at last.”
“Our country has lost one of its most beloved Civil Rights leaders,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. “I join my fellow Alabamians & the nation in mourning the death of Rep. John Lewis. He dedicated his life to serving his community & advocating for others. We’ll forever remember his heroism & his enduring legacy.”
Lewis announced that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer in December.
He was absent at this year’s annual remembrance of Bloody Sunday in Selma on March 1. The annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama had been led by Lewis every year until this one.
“Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way,” former President Barack Obama wrote. “John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders — to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.”
Lewis was age 80. He was preceded in death by his wife, Lilian Miles Lewis, who died in 2012 after a long illness.
Seven counties get grants to expand internet access
Seven internet providers will receive $2.9 million in grants between them to extend broadband services in seven Alabama communities, Gov. Kay Ivey’s office announced on Thursday.
The grants were awarded through the Alabama Accessibility Fund that was created to extend service to homes, businesses and “community anchors” in unserved or underserved areas of the state. Community anchors include police or fire departments, city halls, libraries, schools and medical facilities.
The grants were distributed as follows:
- Butler County: Hayneville Fiber Transport Inc. (Camellia Communications) – $128,797 to provide service availability to 48 households and four community anchors in the Sherling Lake community which is northwest of the city of Greenville.
- Choctaw County/Washington County: Millry Telephone Co. Inc. – $954,902 to extend broadband service in the third phase of a project covering south Choctaw and north Washington counties. The project includes 559 households, 16 businesses and two anchors including Millry City Hall and Millry School.
- Cleburne County: Gigafy – $178,782 to provide access availability to 486 households and 38 businesses in the vicinity of the city of Heflin.
- Cullman County: Cyber Broadband Inc. – $1.33 million to provide service availability to 1,600 households, 125 businesses and 50 community anchors in the vicinity of the Baileytown and Joppa communities in eastern Cullman County.
- Dallas County: Spectrum Southeast – $55,481 to extend broadband service availability to 55 households in the Deerfield subdivision west of the city of Selma.
- Lee County: Spectrum Southeast – $8,407 to provide high-speed cable access to eight households along Lee County Road 279 near the Halawaka community.
- Tallapoosa County: Spectrum Southeast – $245,567 to extend service availability to 316 households in the Marina Marin area of Lake Martin near Alabama Highway 50.
A total of $18.5 million in grants has been awarded to expand internet access in Alabama, mostly to unserved rural areas.
“The COVID-19 pandemic further emphasized how essential broadband services are to the unserved and underserved residents of Alabama,” Ivey said in a statement. “Thanks to the Broadband Accessibility Fund and broadband providers, we are making progress in ensuring that Alabamians have access to high-speed internet services, but there is no question we have a long way to go on completing this mission.”