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Orr selected as chair of new government study commission

Brandon Moseley

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The newly established Commission on the Evaluation of State Services met for the first time on Monday for their organizational session.

State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) was selected as the Chair of the new commission.

Liz Filmore was selected as Vice-Chair. Filmore is the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff.

The Commission is composed of six members of the legislative staff and six members appointed by the governor.

Othni Lathram is the Director of the Legislative Services Agency (LSA).

Lathram said that the process of evaluating government agencies goes back to July 2015 when the state held two special sessions on the budget. This was also the start of a new quadrennium.

“I was getting a lot of questions about what data is available to us,” Lathram said. And about the services provided to the citizens. This started test efforts in how to get a better understanding of how to look at government agencies given the scarce resources for our state agencies to operate with.

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Othni said that State Representative Rich Wingo (R-Tuscaloosa) came and said, “I think there are some great resources in the private sector to use to evaluate state agencies.”

Lathram said, “We hired Marcus Morgan to embed in that effort and be our point person in looking at that.”

Lathram said that in that process we came across the Pew-MacArthur study looking at mental health.

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“What is the return on investment for the dollars being spent?” Lathram asked. Return on investment function does not give the best evaluation for mental health because “We are a state that does a lot of last resort interventions.” Last resort interventions are the most costly of services provided.

Lathram said that they are looking at a number of metrics including: How to build a service inventory? Were they reaching the target audience? What services are they providing?

Lathram said that they are looking at “Putting our money at its highest and best use.” “Do we have duplication?”

“We are very excited about this effort,” Lathram said. “At every stage the governor has been plugged in.”

“We are always going to be a state with scarce resources,” Lathram said. We need to determine how best to use those resources.

After Lathram finished his presentation and no one on the commission had questions, Sen. Orr said, “I think everybody is spell bound.”

Orr said that this “Will be a difficult task.”

Orr said that if we achieve what we want to achieve it will have benefit for the state going forward. There have been efforts to do this in the past; but “very few have done a joint executive and legislative side.” That will make this a more effective effort.

“At the endo of the day we have got to do it together,” Orr said. “This is not a commission for headline grabbing or name calling. We are trying to thread the needle between the two camps.”

“We probably will never reach perfection,” Orr said. “Are we still getting a bang for the buck? I hope we can do this in a collaborative manner.”

Rep. Wingo said, “Osni did a great job of explaining the genesis of this bill.”

“The sole purpose originally was, we as a part time legislators cannot make wide decisions with limited information,” Wingo said. “There are hundreds and hundreds of services, consultants, and companies doing business with the state. We don’t know if those services are functionally properly. That is why the deep dive. We will never be able to make sound decision until we have sound information.”

“The MacArthur Pew study was a great study,” Wingo said. “Now we can really make a difference,”

“This is what the people want,” Wingo added. This is, “The only we can make sure that the people’s money is being spent properly.”

State Director of Finance Kelly Butler said, “The only way this can work is if we a collaborative effort. The people who the governor has appointed to this are good people, many of whom are heads of state agencies. There are a lot of strong willed individuals.”

State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) said, “At some point we will be looking at the judicial branch as well.”

Ward said, “Having a more formal process is fair to our employees on the executive side.”

Orr asked that he and the Vice Chair have the power to add members to the committee.

That motion passed 12 to 0.

LSA policy analyst Marcus Morgan said that they have been working on this since the passage of SJR877. There are ten agencies listed n the SJR. We are trying to understand the complexities of each and come up with a database of services that is searchable and filterable
In order to answer the questions that decision makers might have.

Morgan said that they did not inventory Medicaid and what they have prepared is not a complete inventory. It did not get into all the departments and agencies.

Morgan said that they have developed three white papers on this and have provided each commissioner with a synopsis of our process as a whole.

“Is this the type of information that you are looking for and if not how can we get that?” Morgan asked.

Orr said that the commissioners were emailed a proposed organizational plan.

“Vice Chair Filmore and I will get together on when we need to meet next,” Orr said. It will be sometime in the middle of November before Thanksgiving. We will give this commission two or three weeks notice.

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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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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Legislature

Under ethics investigation, State Sen. David Burkette resigns

Josh Moon

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State Sen. David Burkette

David Burkette has resigned his Alabama Senate seat as part of a deal with prosecutors in an ethics investigation.

The Montgomery Democrat submitted a resignation letter to Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday afternoon, but he refused to reveal specifics to state media outlets. A source familiar with the investigation told APR that Burkette’s resignation is part of a deal that would reduce or eliminate any jail time.

“Governor Ivey is disappointed, but firmly supports the rule of law, and particularly in this situation where there has been a clear misuse of public trust,” said Gina Maiola, a spokesperson for Ivey’s office.

Attempts by APR to reach Burkette late Tuesday were unsuccessful, but he told Alabama Daily News that he couldn’t speak about his conversations with prosecutors because of a confidentiality agreement.

Burkette has been the focus of an ethics investigation for more than a year. A complaint filed against Burkette nearly two years ago alleged that while serving on the Montgomery City Council, Burkette directed tens of thousands of dollars in council discretionary funds to suspect charities and also directed funds to his wife’s sorority.

The Alabama Ethics Commission ruled 4-0 last October to refer allegations against Burkette for prosecution. At the time, Montgomery District Attorney Daryl Bailey said the Alabama Attorney General’s Office would handle the investigation.

It is unclear if Burkette’s current plea deal is limited to only those allegations.

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Burkette’s resignation is a disappointing conclusion to a Senate tenure he fought hard to get. Vying for a seat vacated by former State Sen. Quinton Ross, who left to become president at Alabama State University, Burkette won 11 races over the course of six months, beating out longtime State Rep. John Knight in most of them.

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