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Reed elected chairman of Legislature’s Oil and Gas Study Committee

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper, was elected Chairman of the Alabama Legislature’s Oil and Gas Study Committee.

“Alabama is abundant in natural resources, and that includes coal, oil, and natural gas,” Reed said. “I am committed to working with state agencies and private companies to ensure that we have a fair, transparent regulatory system in Alabama that results in more jobs for workers, increased economic growth for the state, and lower costs for the consumer.”

The Oil and Gas Study Committee was created by the State Legislature in 1983. The Oil and Gas Committee is responsible for keeping track of trends in Alabama’s oil and gas industry.

According to a study conducted in 2017 by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Alabama’s oil and natural gas industry supports 86,400 jobs and contributes $8.8 billion to the state’s economy.

The Speaker Pro Tempore of the House of Representatives, Victor Gaston, R-Mobile, is the immediate past chairman of the Oil and Gas Study Committee.

Rep. Gaston commended Reed’s leadership as he nominated Reed on Thursday to serve as the new chairman.

“It was my pleasure to recommend Greg Reed as the new chairman,” Gaston said. “Senator Reed is a serious thinker who understands the vital importance of Alabama’s oil and gas industry, and he has the respect of his peers in the State Legislature, on both sides of the aisle.”

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Reed has served as a member of the committee since 2013, said he appreciated the years of service that Gaston has contributed as chairman.

“Speaker Pro Tem Gaston has done a tremendous job in leading this committee, and it is a privilege to follow in his footsteps as chairman,” Reed said.

Greg Reed is the Alabama Senate Majority Leader and represents Senate District 5. SD5 includes all or parts of Winston, Walker, Tuscaloosa, Jefferson, and Fayette counties.

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In recent years, the oil and gas industries, as well as coal have come under attack by environmental groups who blame the burning of fossil fuels for a number of environmental concerns, including climate change.

The U.S. is the largest producer of oil and gas in the world.

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House

Bill would make owning pre-1960 slot machines legal for personal use

Eddie Burkhalter

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Vintage slot machines are highly sought-after by collectors, but owning one for personal use is a crime in Alabama. That could change this year. 

Rep. Chip Brown, R-Mobile, told APR by phone on Wednesday that he was approached by a group of antiques collectors who asked that he write a bill that would allow a person to own the vintage slot machines for personal use. 

Mention of legislation around gaming machines of any kind raises caution in Montgomery, where legislators and special interests have for decades fought over gambling and whether to establish a state lottery. Brown said he was well aware of the sensitivity of the subject matter when crafting the bill, which makes clear it won’t allow any of the old machines to be used for commercial purposes. 

“All this does is it just allows individuals to collect pre-1960 slot machines for their own home collection,” Brown said.  “I was very careful when we drafted the bill to make sure that it wouldn’t open the door to any bigger issues.” 

House Bill 260 reads that “The crime of possession of a gambling device does not apply to a slot machine manufactured before 1960, with the intention that the slot machine be used only for the personal and private use of the owner or for public display as a historical artifact in a manner that the slot machine is not accessible to the public.”

Alabama is one of eight states that do not allow ownership of slot machines made in any year. Other state laws vary, allowing residents to own machines made before certain years. 

Pre-electric slot machines are highly sought-after, and can fetch many thousands of dollars. Brown said those who want to own one for personal use ought to be be able to do so. 

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“I’m hoping I can get it in debate in committee next week,” Brown said of his bill.

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House

Bill strengthening foster parents’ rights in child custody cases clears senate committee

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, a bill that would require a juvenile court to consider a child’s relationship with his or her current foster parents and the child’s best interests when making a determination of whether to terminate parental rights received a favorable report in the Senate Committee on Children and Senior Advocacy.

House Bill 157 is sponsored by State Representative Paul Lee, R-Dothan.

Lee said that when we talk about our education system, nothing is more destructive than a lack of home life. A lot of these children are in foster care for two or three years. Then when parental rights are about to be terminated relatives show up at court even though they have been AWOL in the life of the child. Presently the judge can not take into account the role that the foster parents have played. This bill allows him to use the three years weight in making his decision.

HB157 passed the full House on Tuesday where it passed 94 to 1.

24 hours later the Senate Committee on Children and Senior Advocacy, chaired by State Senator Larry Stutts, R-Sheffield, gave the bill a favorable report. There was no opposition to the bill thus there was no public hearing.

The bill was cosponsored by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur.

Collins said, “Some of these children, these babies, have been in foster care for years. This gives foster care families some say in permanent decisions with the child.”

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Collins said that she met with a group of foster parents from her district and this bill was a priority for them.

According to the synopsis: “Existing law provides factors for a juvenile court to consider in making a determination of whether to terminate parental rights. This bill would require a juvenile court to consider a child’s relationship with his or her current foster parents and the child’s best interests when making a determination of whether to terminate parental rights. This bill would provide that a juvenile court is not required to consider a relative for candidacy to be a child’s legal guardian if the relative has not met certain requirements. This bill would also provide that service on an individual whose parental rights have been terminated are not entitled to receive notice of pendency regarding an adoption proceeding involving a child for whom the individual’s parental rights have been terminated.”

The bill states that: “If the juvenile court finds from clear and convincing evidence, competent, material, and relevant in nature, that the parents of a child are unable or unwilling to discharge their responsibilities to and for the child, or that the conduct or condition of the parents renders them unable to properly care for the child and that the conduct or condition is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, it may terminate the parental rights of the parents. In a hearing on a petition for termination of parental rights, the court shall consider the best interests of the child.”

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According to the bill the judge should award custody to the foster parents over a relative, “In a proceeding for termination of parental rights if both of the following circumstances exist: “(1) The relative did not attempt to care for the child or obtain custody of the child within four months of the child being removed from the custody of the parents or placed in foster care, if the removal was known to the relative. “(2) The goal of the current permanency plan formulated by the Department of Human Resources is adoption by the current foster parents.”

The bill now goes to the full Senate for their consideration.

 

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House

State leaders unveil a major mental health legislative initiative

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R – Rainsville, Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth (R), Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R – Monrovia, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R – Anniston, Alabama Department of Mental Health Commissioner Lynn Beshear, State Education Superintendent Eric Mackey, House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, as well as the legislators carrying the bills held a press conference to announce a major mental health legislative initiative at a State House news conference.

“47,000 Americans lost their lives to suicide last year,” Rep. Ledbetter said. “It is the second leading cause of deaths for teenagers.”

“We are failing with mental health,” Ledbetter said. “I told the Governor that we are failing mental health. She asked us to lead an initiative to address mental health.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) tasked Ledbetter with leading an effort to improve and expand the mental health services that state government offers the citizens of Alabama. Ivey discussed the importance of the issue during her 2020 State of the State Address.

“The Speaker and the Pro Tem, either them or their staff, have been at every meeting we had,” Ledbetter added. “A member of the Governor’s staff also attended

Ledbetter proposed five pieces of legislation:

A School Service Coordinator Bill sponsored by Ledbetter and Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D – Birmingham, requires each school system within the state to employ a mental health service coordinator subject to legislative appropriation.

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A 72-Hour Hold Bill sponsored by Rep. Wes Allen, R – Troy, and Sen. Donnie Chesteen, R – Geneva, authorizes law enforcement officers to place individuals who are believed to have mental illness and pose a threat to themselves or others under 72-hour protective custody, which includes transportation to a hospital for evaluation and treatment.

A CIT Training Bill sponsored by Rep. Rex Reynolds, R – Huntsville, and Sen. Andrew Jones, R – Centre, requires the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission to provide mandatory crisis intervention training and continuing education to law enforcement officers.

A Crisis Care Center joint resolution by Rep. Randall Shedd, R – Fairview, and Sen. Garlan Gudger, R – Cullman, calls for the immediate creation and funding of three 24-hour crisis care centers, which serve as an alternative to costly hospital and emergency room visits by providing suicide prevention and other mental health services on an immediate, walk-in basis.

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A Stepping Up joint resolution by Rep. Anthony Daniels, D – Huntsville, and Sen. Steve Livingston, R – Scottsboro, encourages Alabama’s 67 counties to implement and embrace the Stepping Up initiative, which seeks to reduce the number of individuals in jail with mental illness.

Ledbetter said that several of these items come with a price tag. The three crisis centers will costs $18 million. This is, “One of the major priorities of our 2020 legislative session.”

“Thank you for you and your committee’s work,” You have put a lot of time and effort in it.” Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said. “Alabama, we hear you. We can do a better job. We will do a better job in addressing mental health.”

“This has been an ongoing experience for our legislature to stop and take a look at what we do with mental health in our state,” Speaker McCutcheon said. It is time that we step up. The last time Alabama stepped up on mental health without a court order was in the 1960s with Lurleen Wallace’s $47 million bond issue.”

“It is time to quit kicking the can down the road,” McCutcheon said. “The House will commit a full day to these bills’ passage.”

“What I have found in my time in Montgomery is if somebody does not take a lead on a particular topic nothing gets done we just keep talking about it,” Marsh said thanking Ledbetter and the task force.

“You either have a family member, a friend, or a community member who is affected by mental illness,” Marsh said. “Mental health is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue. It’s a simple issue of providing needed services that will help reduce recidivism in our prisons, improve performance in our schools, and enhance the quality of life for all Alabamians.”

Sept. Mackey said that, “This is an ongoing effort. Everybody has been wanting to work together to address mental health in this state.”

Mackey said that they “Are hearing from teachers that there are students coming into their classrooms with mental health issues as early as kindergarten and even as early as Pre-K.”

“We want to see that families have the mental health support that they need so that those kids come to school capable of learning,” Mackey said.

Alabama Department of Mental Health Commissioner Lynn Beshear expressed thanks that the legislative and executive branches of government are uniting their powers to address a growing problem.

“The fact that the governor and the Legislature are working so closely and cooperatively on this issues demonstrates its importance to Alabama and its citizens,” Beshear said. “The Alabama Department of Mental Health works hard to provide the best services possible with the dollars we are given, but this legislative initiative and intense emphasis will help us to literally save lives and provide hope where it does not currently exist.”

“The stepping up initiative is the foundational piece,” Beshear said. “This is an initiative that began in 2015 in the White House.” “The goal is to reduce the number of individuals with mental illness in jail.”

“The Montgoemry area was one of the first fifty to sign on to this,” Beshear explained. “They sent teams to receive training. At this time we have 21 county commissions that have signed the stepping up resolution.”

“When a person is discharged from the hospital, the hospital sends them home with a care plan,” Beshear added. “When a person is discharged from jail they need a care plan. If we can reach people early or at a crisis point in their disease process we can prevent it from progressing further.”

Commissioner Beshear said that, “Law enforcement, healthcare, government and the business community come together to create a plan at the regional level.”

The mental health reform bills could be in House and Senate bills as early as next week.

 

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Senate committee gives favorable report to bill abolishing state auditor

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, the Alabama Senate Government Affairs Committee narrowly voted favorable report for a controversial piece of legislation that would abolish the constitutional office of State Auditor, if passed by the legislature and approved by voters.

Senate Bill 83 is sponsored by State Senator Andrew Jones, R-Centre.

The Senate Government 6 to 5 vote came after a substitute bill was offered by Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville). The original bill would have transferred the Auditor’s powers and responsibilities to the Examiner of Public Accounts which answers to the state legislature. Givhan’s substitute does away with the State Auditor and move its duties to the State Treasurer.

The current State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) is term-limited from seeking another term. SB83 would abolish the State Auditor position in January of 2023 when Zeigler’s term ends.

It is a proposed constitutional amendment. If it passes both Houses of the Alabama Legislature, it would be voted on by the voters on the November 3, 2020 presidential election ballot.

Zeigler opposes the legislation.

“We need an independent elected State Auditor to inventory state property and to serve as a watchman against waste, mismanagement and corruption,” Zeigler said in a statement.

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Zeigler expressed concerns that he “fears that the bill will be quietly amended again late in the process and take effect immediately.”

Zeigler filed the initial ethics complaint against then-governor Robert Bentley (R). After a year of investigations, the Alabama Ethics Commission found in favor of Zeigler and against Bentley recommending criminal prosecution. Five days later, Bentley resigned and signed a plea agreement with state prosecutors. Zeigler led the political effort to block a toll bridge on I-10 over Mobile Bay. He is also an outspoken opponent of Amendment One on March 3, which would abolish the elected State Board of Education (SBOE).

When the 1901 Constitution was written the authors envisioned the State Auditor as an independent check on state agencies. In 1939 the Auditor’s auditing powers were stripped from the office by the legislature who took them for themselves. Since then state Audits are conducted by the Examiner of Public Accounts, which strangely answers to the legislature. The Auditor’s office has been conducting inventories of state property since then.

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Don Wallace is a CPA, former candidate for the State Board of Education, and former President of the Alabama Republican Assembly.

“Further, the independently elected auditor is the one that should be in charge of the Department of Examiners, as opposed the elected officials that oversee that office now,” Wallace said. “It may not be a violation of professional standards, but it is certainly less independent to have said elected officials overseeing the department that audits their budgets.”

“The State Auditor should be directing a smaller examiners department, with the bulk of that work done by private auditing firms at less cost and more efficiently,” Wallace said. “The current Examiner’s department is often years behind getting to audits of counties, schools, etc. and rarely picks up corruption cases due to work overload. Letting the private sector handle the standard financial audit services, while a re-purposed examiners office under the direction of the State Auditor could go more deeply into government corruption and wasteful spending. There is NOTHING about the proposal from the legislature that is good for oversight of the taxpayer’s dollars.”

SB83 now goes to the full Senate for their consideration.

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