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American Society of Civil Engineers names Chambliss outstanding public official

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Alabama State Senator Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, has been named the 2019 Outstanding Public Official by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). ASCE’s Committee on Advancing the Profession selected Chambliss to receive the national award for “impeccable service and dedication to the State of Alabama, as well as to the civil engineering profession and land surveying professionals.”  

Elected to the Alabama Senate in 2014, Chambliss was recognized by the ASCE for meritorious service as a servant leader in the Alabama Legislature.

“Instituted in 1963, the award is made to those members of ASCE who have contributed substantially to the status of the engineering profession by meritorious public service in elective or appointive positions in civil government,” noted Lawren Pratt, the ASCE member who nominated Chambliss for the award.

During his tenure in the Senate, Chambliss has led the effort to reform and modernize government regulations on the engineering profession. In 2018, Chambliss helped write and pass Senate Bill 316 that required Qualification Based Selection (QBS) to be included in the State Administrative Code, and added two public members to the Alabama Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors.

Brad Williams, P.E., President of the Alabama Section of ASCE, praised Chambliss’s leadership.

“Senate Bill 316 led to one of the strongest QBS laws in the nation; it would not have passed without Senator Chambliss’s leadership. Senator Chambliss’s knowledge of our profession as a practicing Professional Engineer was instrumental in how he was able to lead meetings, mediate between parties of differing interests, and educate legislative members on the importance of QBS,” Williams said.

In accepting the award, Chambliss said that he appreciated the collaboration between legislators and professionals in the engineering field that led to the passage of SB316.

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“It is such an honor to be recognized by my peers and colleagues with this award.  Passage of SB316 was truly a group effort, and I appreciate the work of my engineer and surveyor peers in the development of such a great piece of legislation.  I also want to thank my legislative colleagues for their support in voting for the bill, and Governor Ivey for signing it into law,” Chambliss remarked. 

Senator Chambliss and his wife Tara, also a civil engineer, own and operate a civil engineering firm that provides engineering services to small towns, water systems, and developers in Central Alabama.

 

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Governor

State Rep. Will Dismukes says mask order is “a ridiculous crock”

Brandon Moseley

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State Rep. Will Dismukes.

Several Republican lawmakers have not taken kindly to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s decision to issue a statewide mask order. This is being done to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which is ravaging the state, but State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, dismissed the idea as “the dumbest thing that could be done.”

“The statewide mask implementation is the dumbest thing that could be done besides shutting the state down,” Dismukes claimed. “Here is just a couple reasons why,” Dismukes wrote on social media. “As I have been watching people wear their mask, a vast majority do not wear them correctly. So that makes it pointless.”

“One of the main things we are told is, wash your hands and don’t touch your face,” Dismukes continued. “The majority of people who wear a mask are touching their face far more than if they didn’t wear one at all.”

Dismukes said the mask requirement is a “ridiculous crock.”

Former State Rep. Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City, also questioned whether the governor has the legal authority to even issue the order.

“While it may be a smart move, in my opinion anything not passed by the legislature is only a suggestion and does not have the weight of law,” Butler said. “You can not force healthy people to wear a mask, and in my opinion if this were passed by the legislature, they can really only control state property and not private property.”

“Also the government cannot decide what goods, services, venues etc. are essential,” Butler added. “Only we the people can do such and we have had that right since 1776.”

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“I’m always against overreach of any kind even when it’s a good idea,” Butler said. “Government is supposed to protect your rights. Private property owners (businesses) are well within their rights to require you to wear a mask while on their property. I would have no issue had she stood up there and strongly requested everyone to wear a mask but to invent a law is never right. I predict a judge would quickly drop any charges. We have 3 branches of government for a reason.”

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth similarly expressed reservations with the statewide mask order.

“Issuing a statewide face mask mandate, however, is an overstep that infringes upon the property rights of business owners and the ability of individuals to make their own health decisions,” Ainsworth said. “In addition, it imposes a one-size-fits-all, big government requirement on counties that currently have low to moderate infection rates and little need for such a mandate.”

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“Masks should be worn to combat further outbreaks, and while I admire Gov. Ivey’s leadership and her on-going efforts, I also believe a statewide order is the wrong way to go about encouraging their use,” Ainsworth said.

In March, the Governor shut down the Alabama economy to slow the spread of the coronavirus. By April 30, a growing number of people were panicked about the economic impact of the shutdowns, so the governor ordered the gradual reopening of the economy.

Since Memorial Day weekend, the number of coronavirus cases has grown tremendously. From March 20 to May 10, the state of Alabama had diagnosed a total of 9,889 COVID-19 cases (52 days). The next ten thousand cases were diagnosed between May 9 and June 7 (28 days).

The state broke 30,000 cases on June 22 (15 days), 40,000 cases on July 1 (9 days) and 50,000 cases on July 11 (10 days). On Wednesday, the Alabama Department of Public Health announced that the state had reached 58,225 cases. 32,073 of those cases are still active.

ADPH reports that 1,183 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 already and the department is investigating another 28 probable COVID-19 deaths. More than half of Alabama’s COVID-19 deaths have come since that Memorial Day weekend and the reopening of the Alabama economy.

Despite the risk, the state plans on reopening schools next month.

The state remains under a statewide “safer-at-home” order. Citizens are advised to please stay home whenever possible, wash hands frequently, wear a mask or a cloth face covering when out in public, avoid situations where you might be in crowds or within six feet of other people not in your immediate household, and to be aware of the symptoms of COVID-19.

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Elections

Mark Gidley announces run for Rep. Becky Nordgren’s House seat

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama State House at 11 South Union Street in Montgomery. (APR)

Republican voters in Etowah County went to the polls and elected State Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, as their nominee for revenue commissioner, defeating Jeff Overstreet in the Republican primary runoff.

No Democrat qualified for the seat, so Nordgren will likely be the commissioner once the current commissioner’s term runs out. At that time, the governor will call a special election to fill Nordgren’s soon-to-be vacant House seat.

Mark Gidley has announced that he will seek the Republican nomination for State House District 29.

“I have a strong desire to continue to promote pro-life, pro-family, and strong conservative values in Montgomery as the Representative for the people of District 29,” Gidley said. “I have been a member of the pro-life community for many years, serving as a board member for the Etowah County Pregnancy Center, and I will fight in Montgomery to continue to make Alabama a Pro-Life State. I believe in family values, and the traditional family created in the image of God. I will fight for these values as a Representative in the Alabama House”.

Mark Gidley is a lifelong resident of Etowah County and is heavily involved in his community. Gidley is the pastor of the Faith Worship Center Church of God in Glencoe.

Gidley says that it is his desire to serve this community and the area of District 29 with bold and conservative leadership.

Mark is married to the former Kathy Chapman of Hokes Bluff. They have two daughters and four grandchildren. Mark is a member of the Executive Committee of the Etowah County Republican Party.

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House

State Rep. Ron Johnson, longest-serving House member, has died

Brandon Moseley

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State Rep. Ronald “Ron” Johnson, R-Sylacauga, died Tuesday of complications from liver cancer. He was 76.

“I was saddened to learn of the passing of Rep. Johnson this evening, following his recent cancer diagnosis,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. “Ron and I have served together for many years. He was a real champion for the communities in Talladega, Coosa, and Clay. He was engaged with the needs of his constituents, and never turned them away. He has offered much of his life to serving the people of Alabama, and I know his colleagues in the House, friends in the Senate and I will miss working with him. I pray that his loved ones feel peace knowing he is no longer suffering and is finally at rest.”

Johnson, at the time of his death, was the longest-serving continuous member of the House of Representatives. Johnson’s District 33 seat includes portions of Clay, Coosa and Talladega counties. He was first elected as a Democrat in 1978. He switched to the Republican Party in 1998.

“Ron Johnson was one of the most respected members of the Alabama House, and he served with distinction since 1978,” said Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia. “In my years as a member and speaker, I valued Ron not only for his institutional knowledge that helped guide me but also for his friendship. He made sure the voices of the people of his district were always heard. My wife Debbie and I send our thoughts and prayers to his family.”

“Losing any member of the House is difficult, but losing the body’s longest-serving member magnifies the loss even more,” McCutcheon said. “Rep. Johnson was someone I could always turn to for advice and wise counsel both before and after I become Speaker of the House, and I will miss the support he provided. We will pray for comfort and solace for his family and all who loved him.”

“Because of his 42 years of service, State Rep. Ron Johnson was considered an institution both within the Alabama House of Representatives and the House Republican Caucus, and his loss will be felt,” said House Majority Leader Nathanial Ledbetter, R-Rainsville. “Rep. Johnson’s experience, institutional knowledge, and decades of service made his a voice that commanded the respect and attention of his colleagues. On behalf of the Alabama House Republican Caucus, our prayers of comfort go out to his family, his friends, and the constituents that he served so ably for so long.”

“Cindy and I were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our dear friend and my former colleague State Representative Ron Johnson,” said Secretary of State John H Merrill. “Representative Johnson has selflessly served our great state for 42 years, and I am incredibly grateful for his friendship, leadership, and guidance during the many years I have been fortunate enough to know him.”

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“He leaves behind a legacy that will set an example for future legislators to follow for decades to come,” Merrill added. “His courageous attitude and eagerness to lend a helping hand to any in need will be deeply missed. His family is in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

Johnson served on the agenda setting House Rules Committee. He was vice chair of both the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee, and the House Health Committee.

Johnson was a pharmacist. He had bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and biology from Florida State University and a pharmacy degree from Auburn University.

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He is survived by his wife Susan and his daughter Stephanie Lee.

State law requires Gov. Kay Ivey to call a special election to fill the vacancy.

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House

Legislature told budgets are in good shape despite pandemic and economic downturn

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Members of the Alabama Senate were in Montgomery Thursday for hearings on the budget, where Senators were told that both of the budgets are in good shape looking forward to 2021.

The meeting was chaired by Senate Finance & Taxation Committee Chairman Greg Albritton.

Kirk Fulford is the Deputy Director for the Fiscal Division of the Legislative Services Agency.

“I don’t know a better time to do this than in the middle of the biggest health emergency we have ever see and a recession,” Fulford said of the Senate decision to hold a budget hearing in July while the legislature is not in session. “I hope you hold more of these between now and the start of the next legislative session.”

“Both budgets you passed are in good shape looking forward to 2021,” Fulford said predicting that both the State General Fund (SGF) and education trust fund (ETF) would be able to avoid proration even if the economic downturn is protracted and state revenues experience no growth at all in fiscal year 2021, which starts October 1.

The state of Alabama uses a very arcane budgeting system where over 93 percent of revenues are earmarked and all the money goes into two budgets set by the Legislature (the ETF and SGF). There are also $billion of dollars in revenues to state agencies not included in the budgeting process. The state also collects another roughly $7.5 billion in federal dollars in a typical year, most of it in matching funds.

Despite the economic crash that occurred in March due to the forced economic shutdown and the lingering economic costs to fight the spread of the coronavirus, Fulford said that he expected that both budgets will finish 2020 with growth. Much of that was due to the robust economy the state experienced from Oct. 1 to Feb. 28 before the coronavirus crisis and Fulford broke the state’s fiscal performance down for both budgets into separate income statements for the Oct. 1 to Feb. 29 period and the Mar. 1 to June 30 period.

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The SGF, which funds non-education state agencies, budget was $2,151,954,704.

“Things were growing great through February,” Fulford said.

Since then the state’s lodging tax receipts have experienced a decrease of $7,4 million and oil and gas revenues are down $4.4 million; however the new Simplified Sellers USE Tax grew by $51 million thru June. More people are buying more of their stuff online and SSUT allows the state to collect much more taxes on those online sales.

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“The General Fund’s strength is built on several changes that have been made by the legislature,” Fulford said. “The state has not prorated the general fund budget since 2012.”

Fulford predicted that the state will not need to prorate the general fund, “Even if there is a recurrent COVID situation and even if there is another shutdown.”

Fulford praised the legislators for moving that growth revenue to the general fund. Prior to the redistribution of use taxes from the ETF to the SGF, use taxes brought in less than $one million to the general fund. The Simplified Sellers Use Tax and the Supreme Court ruling in Wayfair vs South Dakota changed all of that. In FY2019 the SSUT brought in $70 million. Fulford anticipates that it will bring in $125 million in FY2020 is complete.

In addition to the SSUT Fulford credited legislators for their conservative budgeting and for in 2012 the legislature changed how the Alabama Trust Fund pays out its oil and gas trust fund moneys from a market fluctuating model to a fixed payment model. The Alabama Trust Fund will pay $104 million for the SGF in the current year and $116 million for the next year.

Fulford predicted that the SGF will have 2021 receipts of $2.406,000 receipts with $46 million in growth in FY2021. Fulford said that the FY2021 SGF budget passed by the legislature is $170 million more than the FY2020, but $170 million less than the Governor had predicted in February. “It is still the highest general fund in state history.”

Fulford next broke down the ETF, the education budget.

“We were anticipating above average growth rate in 2020,” Fulford said.

The 2020 ETF budget estimated receipts of $7,582,260.

Fulford said that thru February the ETF receipts were up 8.04 percent primarily due to increase in income and sales tax revenues. From March 1 to June 30 revenues have declined by 17.83 percent versus the same period in 2019. ETF revenues in that period have declined by $405,862,551.

Fulford said that part of that is due to moving the payment dates back, both the income tax deadline of April 15 to July and the quarterly estimated payments.

“We will know more by the end of the month,” Fulford predicted, “We anticipate that a lot of that money will come in in July. We will know by the end of the month what those numbers look like.”

Despite the economic collapse total ETF growth for 2020 is 1.09 percent. Net receipts are $5,473,075 by the end of June. $58,980,858 in growth due to the large annual growth before the COVID-19 impact of $224.5 million.

Fulford said that a provision in the Rolling Reserve Act allowed the state Finance Director to transfer $301.6 million from the budget Stabilization Fund to alleviate cash flow problems in the ETF. The state may not need that money anymore by the end of July, depending on July receipts.

Citing the Rolling Reserve Act and the conservative budget passed by the legislature, Fulford predicted that the state an cover ETF next year even at zero growth in revenue.

State Finance Director Kelly Butler explained to the Senators how the CARES Act was being appropriated to the state. The estimated total allocation to Alabama was $4.100,738,000 for COVID-19 expenses. $1.9 billion was appropriated to the state to spend. $115 million had to go to Jefferson County leaving state government with $1.789 billion to appropriate. Butler explained that the money is very limited in what it can be spent on and the state has had to have guidance from federal officials on their latest interpretations of the CARES Act rules.

Fulford explained that the Payroll Protection Program has greatly benefitted state finances.

Alabama businesses received 7,878 loans thru the closing of the PPP program deadline on June 30.

“408,803 jobs were retained because of the loan program,” Fulford said. “The situation with our economy would be vastly different if that program had not been established.”

State Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) said that a record over 2000 people tested positive for coronavirus just today. If everyone follows the health protocols, that person and everyone in that household have to self quarantine for 14 days if they don’t have it and if they do get COVID-19 or have to care for someone with COVID-19 they could be out from work for over a month.

Fulford acknowledged that there was a “Trickle down effect to everyone in that household,” and that “Has an impact going forward and one that you have to pay attention to.”

“I am concerned about the long lasting effects of this virus,” Butler said. “We are going to have to learn to live with this virus until it is cured, an effective therapy is developed or a vaccine.”

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