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Legislature

Weekly 2019 Legislative Report

Beth Lyons

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The Alabama Legislature adjourned the 2019 annual Regular Session Sine Die on Friday, May 31 on the 28th day of the session. Gov. Kay Ivey is expected to call a Special Session in the fall to address the prison situation. The 2020 annual Regular Session will convene on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020.

There were 1,070 bills introduced during the 2019 Regular Session.

SIGNIFICANT DURING THE WEEK:

The House passed a resolution Celebrating the Life and Mourning the Death of Jean Jumonville Gaston. Gaston passed away on Wednesday, May 22, 2019. She was married to House Speaker Pro Tempore Victor Gaston for 46 years. Gaston and her husband raised two sons who have given them six grandchildren [HR270 by Rep. Chris Pringle].

SIGNIFICANT BILLS PASSED DURING THE LAST WEEK OF THE SESSION:

Bills passed in the last five days of the session have 10 days from the date of adjournment to be signed by the governor or they automatically receive pocket vetoes.

Following a Conference Committee to work out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the $2.1 billion General Fund Budget legislation, a substitute was agreed on, and the bill was sent to the governor. The bill includes increases to the Department of Corrections, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Department of Mental Health, a significant decrease to Medicaid, which will be partially offset by carried over funds, and no funding for Medicaid expansion. The final version includes $35.06 million to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program [HB152 by Rep. Steve Clouse].

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Following a Conference Committee to work out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the$7.1 billion Education Trust Fund Budget, a substitute was agreed on, and the bill was sent to the governor.

The bill is a 7 percent increase over last year’s budget with increases for public universities, the community college system, rural broadband grant programs and First Class pre-K program [SB199 by Sen. Arthur Orr].

A Senate bill that provides for a 4 percent pay raise for K-12 employees [SB192 by Sen. Arthur Orr].

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A House 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 [HB225 by Rep. Adline Clarke].

A Senate bill that would provide further for the exemptions of the Alabama Toll Road, Bridge and Tunnel Authority from state and local taxation [SB154 by Sen. Chris Elliott].

A Senate 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 [SB347 by Sen. David Sessions].

A House bill that would provide that the surviving spouse and dependents of a law enforcement officer or firefighter killed in the line of duty, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018, will continue to receive worker’s compensation benefits [HB187 by Rep. Matt Fridy].

A House bill that would update the amnesty and class action provisions of the Simplified Sellers Use Tax and clarify transactions for which the tax cannot be collected and remitted [HB183 by Rep. Rod Scott].

A House bill that would include additional activity that would constitute the crime of receiving stolen property in the second degree, including firearms [HB375 by Rep. Matt Simpson].

A Senate bill that would provide for the operation of shared micro-mobility device systems and would require the consent of a county or municipality prior to the use of the system in the county or municipality [SB312 by Sen. Rodger Smitherman].

A Senate bill that would authorize autonomous vehicles operated by an automated driving system under certain circumstances [SB47 by Sen. Gerald Allen].

A House bill that would authorize the secretary of state to establish procedures to allow a voter to be placed on a permanent absentee voter list upon proof of having a permanent disability [HB174 by Rep. Victor Gaston].

A House bill that would phase in the requirement that each public K-12 school offer courses in computer science [HB216 by Rep. David Faulkner].

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 [HB360 by Rep. Phillip Pettus].

A House bill that would prohibit a vehicle traveling on the interstate highway from remaining in the leftmost lane for more than 1 1/2 miles without completely passing another vehicle [HB212 by Rep. Phillip Pettus].

A House bill that would require hospitals and health care facilities to report non-accidental gunshot wounds to law enforcement [HB288 by Rep. Adline Clarke].

A House bill that would create the “Alabama Incentives Modernization Act” to add tax incentives for the attraction and expansion of businesses in rural Alabama and enhance Alabama’s participation in opportunity zone programs [HB540 by Rep. Bill Poole].

A Senate bill that would allow public schools to offer elective courses focusing on the study of the Bible in grades 6 through 12 and allow for the display of artifacts, monuments, symbols and texts related to the study of the Bible [SB14 by Sen. Tim Melson].

A Senate bill that would require the Department of Agriculture and Industries to develop a plan for monitoring and regulating the production of hemp [SB225 by Sen. Tim Melson].

A Senate bill that would authorize licensed manufacturers of alcoholic beverages within an entertainment district that conduct tastings and samplings to sell beverages for consumption outside the premises [SB276 by Sen. Rodger Smitherman].

A House bill that would provide for the State Board of Health to conduct criminal background checks on EMS personnel seeking licensure and provide penalties for unauthorized disclosure or records generated from a criminal background check [HB58 by Rep. Chris Sells].

A Senate bill that would provide reporting requirements for property seized for forfeiture in connection with a crime and provide certain requirements for the accounting and spending of the proceeds [SB191 by Sen. Arthur Orr].

A Senate bill that would exclude certain places or spaces for tent camping, marine slips and recreational vehicles from the state transient occupancy — lodging — tax [SB308 by Sen. Gerald Allen].

A House 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 [HB379 by Rep. Steve Hurst].

A House bill that would make several changes to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, including having the governor appoint the director as opposed to the board [HB380 by Rep. Connie Rowe].

A House bill that would implements steps to improve the reading proficiency of students and ensure that every student completing the third grade is able to read at or above grade level [HB388 by Rep. Terri Collins].

A House bill that would require state colleges and universities to broadly protect all free speech rights of students and faculty and to pass policy statements to implement [HB498 by Rep. Matt Fridy].

A House bill that would allow a public school district to donate surplus, non-expired food to a charitable organization for the purpose of redistributing the food to needy students participating in federal school nutrition programs [HB566 by Rep. Wes Kitchens].

A Senate bill that would exclude certain rentals that are not for overnight accommodations from the lodging tax [SB171 by Sen. Garlan Gudger].

A Senate bill that would authorize the judge of probate to appoint up to two high school or college students to work as unpaid student interns at each polling place in the county on election day [SB240 by Sen. Donnie Chesteen].

A Senate bill that would criminalize the act of recording or attempting to record any image or video of private, intimate body parts of another person without that person’s consent [SB26 by Sen. Clyde Chambliss].

A Senate bill that would require the Department of Public Health, instead of the Department of Mental Health as currently required, to provide education and services regarding care of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or related diseases to those individuals, their families and the general public [SB330 by Sen. Greg Albritton].

A Senate bill that originally would have allowed the use of medical marijuana if a person had a qualifying condition and a valid medical cannabis card but was substituted to create a Medical Cannabis Study Commission instead [SB236 by Sen. Tim Melson].

A House bill that would provide additional penalties for criminal littering and include enhanced penalties for littering of certain items including cigarettes, cigars, containers of urine and restaurant food containers [HB500 by Rep. Margie Wilcox].

A House bill that would increase the number of years a person must be admitted to practice law before he or she can qualify to be appointed or elected to a circuit or district court judgeship [HB529 by Rep. David Faulkner].

SIGNIFICANT BILLS THAT FAILED DURING THE LAST WEEK OF THE SESSION:

The Senate Judiciary Committee failed to give a favorable report to a House proposed Constitutional Amendment that would allow bail unless a person is charged with a capital offense or certain felonies [HB282 by Rep. Chip Brown].

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

A Senate 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 [SB264 by Sen. Arthur Orr].

A House bill that would require a child to successfully complete kindergarten before being admitted to the first grade in public elementary schools [HB423 by Rep. Pebblin Warren].

A House bill that would provide for the annexation of all property in overlapping police jurisdictions upon consent of all of the parties and all of the affected municipalities under certain conditions [HB75 by Rep. Terri Collins].

A House bill that would provide that a person commits the crime of assault in the second degree if the person causes physical injury to a journalist or other in the performance of the journalist’s duties [HB312 by Rep. Prince Chestnut].

A Senate bill that would authorize local boards of education to sell advertising space on school buses [SB411 by Sen. Greg Reed].

A House bill that would establish a new Tier III benefit retirement plan for employees who first become a member of the Teachers’ Retirement System on or after Jan. 1, 2013 [HB77 by Rep. Alan Baker].

 

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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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