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McCutcheon is open to grand deal on gambling

Brandon Moseley

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House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said Wednesday that he is open to a deal on gambling.

The speaker of the House was in Auburn for the Alabama Association of County Commissioners meeting.

“The lottery has been up for the last two years,” McCutcheon said. “Here is the bottom line in the (Republican) caucus. Out of the 77 members, 18 are not for any gambling at all. It takes 63 votes to pass a constitutional amendment. I needed votes from the (Democratic) minority, but because of some of their local concerns that didn’t happen. Unless their local bills with the bingo issues were passed they wouldn’t support it.”

McCutcheon said that some counties want their own bingo and some want to reopen their racetrack.

“This is where we are. We have got a lottery over here that would generate $150 to 180 million,” McCutcheon said. “We have got the Poarch Creek Indians” who have come and offered to enter into a compact.

McCutcheon said that the Indian proposal would allow them to continue doing what they are doing now with the possibility of adding some gaming facilities in other parts of the state. In exchange, they would bring revenue into the state.

“I am not a big gambling guy; but if you are going to vote for a lottery, that’s gambling, then don’t be a hypocrite and let’s get the biggest bang for the buck,” McCutcheon said. “Let’s address a lottery, the Poarch Creek Indians, and these counties that want a one-armed gambling. Put them all in a room and hammer out a deal.”

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“It would be ridiculous to sell us out for $150 million when there could be $700 million,” McCutcheon said. “It is going to be hard to just pass a lottery.”

The speaker warned though that if he cannot get a grand deal between all the parties on gambling then there likely would not be any gambling bill brought forward in 2020.

“If not let’s take it off the table,” McCutcheon said.

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In the 2019 Alabama legislative session, State Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, introduced a lottery bill that would have created a statewide lottery but also included online gaming and video lottery terminals at the existing bingo facilities in Shorter, Birmingham, Greene County, and Mobile.

The Poarch Creek Band of Indians and a number of legislators found that bill objectionable.

State Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, introduced a much more conservative lottery proposal for a paper lottery only, with no online lottery playing or video lottery terminals. This made the racetracks and a number of legislators angry.

The McClendon bill stalled in the Senate Tourism Committee, while the Albritton lottery plan passed out of the Senate. In the House of Representatives, Democrats demanded that video gambling in Macon and Greene Counties be legalized or they would not support the lottery bill.

There was also a great deal of discussion about where the money should go. The Albritton bill had originally earmarked all the money for the states beleaguered general fund budget.

The House Tourism Committee gutted that proposal and shifted money to education, even though the education trust fund budget had a record surplus from the income taxes generated by the booming economy.

That still wasn’t enough for House Democrats who then demanded gambling in both Macon and Greene Counties and that the money earmarked for the SGF go instead to Medicaid expansion rather than the construction of three proposed mega prisons.

When the House Tourism Committee version of the bill finally got to the floor of the House late in the session, it died a quick death.

The Poarch Creek Indians have offered to a deal that they say will give the state one billion for exclusive gaming rights in the state and have begun advertising the deal that they have offered the state of Alabama.

The 2020 legislative session begins on February 4.

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House

Alabama lawmakers advance bill banning transgender athletes in K-12 sports

Jessa Reid Bolling

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A House committee voted Wednesday to advance a bill that would ban transgender teenagers from playing on the sports teams of the gender they identify with. 

House Bill 35, titled the Gender Is Real Legislative Act, or GIRL Act, would require student athletes in K-12 schools to participate as the gender listed on their birth certificate, preventing transgender athletes from competing as the gender they identify as.

Sponsored by Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, the bill passed the House State Government Committee on an 8-4 vote. The bill will now go to the full House. 

The bill, according to Pringle, is aimed at preserving the accomplishments of women and to prevent women from having to compete against athletes who were born male.

“Gender is real. There are biological differences between boys and girls that influence athletic performance,” Pringle said in a statement. “The GIRL Bill seeks to support female student-athletes, so that they may compete against each other and not have to compete against male students with an unfair advantage.”

Opponents say that HB35 was born out of prejudice against transgender youth rather than seeking to protect women in athletics. 

Carmarion D. Anderson, Alabama state director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an LGBTQ+ rights organization, called the bill a “political advertisement” with no supporting evidence

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Anderson said she believes this bill will do harm to young transgender youth by segregating them from competing in sports events, further contributing to the ostracization trans youth feel in society.

“We’re concerned about a student’s mental health when they cannot participate in the sports that are comfortable for them, and the level of dysphoria they already face when they are transitioning,” said Anderson. 

Anderson also said that while it is unfortunate that this bill passed the committee, HRC will be at the forefront to try to see the bill defeated. 

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The bill now heads to the full House.

 

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Legislation may harm pets locked in hot cars, not help, vets and advocates say

Eddie Burkhalter

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A bill passed by the Alabama Senate last week lawmakers say will help keep pets trapped in hot cars safe, might actually endanger the animals, according to some animal advocates and veterinarians.

That bill was written by a dog breeder who some worry purposefully wrote the bill to make it harder to keep animals safe, and to instead protect breeders from having animals confiscated, they told APR this week. 

Mindy Gilbert, The Human Society’s Alabama state director, told APR by phone on Tuesday that she’s certain that the senate bill’s sponsor, Alabama Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, “does have good intentions, but I think the devils in the details.” 

Several attempts this week to reach Rep. Holley were unsuccessful. 

The bill would grant criminal immunity to a civilian who rescues an animal from a vehicle, and would provide civil and criminal immunity to first responders who do so. The legislation also makes it a misdemeanor crime if a pet dies in a hot car. 

Gilbert said that while those might also sound like great ideas, the bill would actually reduce criminal penalties for allowing a pet to die in a hot car. 

“Our current cruelty statute, which has been used in cases like this, would define that as a class C felony,” Gilbert said. 

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A Trussville woman in 2018 was charged with felony aggravated cruelty to animals for leaving her dog in a locked car while shopping in Walmart. The dog died after police broke out a window and removed the distressed animal. 

The bill also states that the ambient temperature of the interior of a vehicle must be 99 degrees or hotter to be charged under the legislation. 

Gilbert said she’s spoken with numerous veterinarians who all said that 99 degrees is too hot to be safe for pets trapped in cars. 

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Gilbert said that for many breeds of pets, and pets with compromised health, “that requirement in order to rescue them will absolutely sentence them to death,” and there are other aspects of the bill that trouble her. 

“I think everybody was very focused on providing immunity to first responders, which I think is fabulous,” Gilbert said of the legislation, but worried that it doesn’t include animal control personnel in its definition of public safety officials and covered by the bill’s immunity clause. 

Holley’s legislation defines public safety officials as “An individual employed by a law enforcement agency, fire department, or 911 emergency service.” 

Dr. Mark Colicchio, a veterinarian in Spanish Fort, reached out to Sen. Holley and all of the members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee about his concerns with the bill prior to its passage in the senate. Holley put Colicchio in touch with the man he said wrote the bill, Norman Horton.

Colicchio said he spoke to Horton, owner of the Dale County german shepherd breeding company Triple S Shepherds, at length about his concerns, but that none were addressed in the final legislation. 

“There are a lot of temperature references in there which make no sense whatsoever,” Colicchio said. 

Colicchio said he spoke with Horton about the bill’s language that required the ambient temperature of the interior of a vehicle to be 99 degrees or higher before a person could be charged. He said he told Horton that there’s no practical way for a public safety official to measure the ambient temperature inside a locked vehicle from outside, to which he said Horton suggested they call carry digital temperature readers. 

Such devices measure surface temperatures, and wouldn’t  be able to read the temperature inside a locked car, Colicchio said. 

After speaking with veterinarians at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine Cholicchio said they looked at data that suggested that if the outside temperature of a vehicle, which can be more easily measured, was 78 degrees an animal trapped inside with no ventilation could be in jeopardy. 

Colicchio said he suspects the legislation was purposely written to protect owners from having their animals taken from them in the event they’re left in hot cars. 

“He doesn’t want breeders to risk having their valuable dogs stolen out of the car because somebody thinks they’re at risk,” Colicchio said. “…When you structure a law to benefit yourself, and animals suffer for it, that just gets to me.” 

Horton, speaking by phone Wednesday,  told APR that he wrote the bill to protect animals and to establish the proper way to rescue an animal in distress. 

“This is America, and this is Alabama, and if someone’s gonna be guilty of a crime or charged for a crime then they need to have committed that crime” Horton said. 

Horton said “we don’t need vigilante justice” so he wrote the bill to make clear how best to enter a vehicle if an animal is in need of help. 

Asked how he decided that 99 degrees inside a vehicle was the temperature at which a pet was in danger, Horton said “I got the figure after talking to several veterinarians.” 

Asked which veterinarians he spoke to get that figure, Horton said “that’s immaterial” and declined to name them. 

Horton likened the matter to speed laws, and said while some speed limits are set at 70 MPH, some people, such as police officers, can drive safely at speeds up to 113mph. 

Asked why the bill doesn’t include animal control officers in the immunity protections, Horton said that “it does.” 

Horton pointed to the bill’s language that defines public safety officials as “An individual employed by a law enforcement agency” and said “go to Tuscaloosa. Go to any of the cities around, and animal control officers are employed by the police department. They’re sworn officers.” 

Some animal control officers who work in municipal law enforcement agencies are sworn officers, Gilbert said, but many are not, and in the counties, where animal control is operated as stand-alone agencies, animal control officers are not sworn officers and wouldn’t be immune from prosecution under the legislation. 

Asked why his bill didn’t include all animal control officers, whether they were sworn officers working in law enforcement agencies or not, Horton suggested that it was to ensure owners could be charged with crimes 

“Do we want to charge for the crime when they do something like this or just let them go?” Horton said. 

Horton declined to answer a question about the bill’s language that limits the charge of killing an animal in a hot vehicle to a misdemeanor and soon after ended the interview. 

“It’s not to help the animals,” Colicchio said of the legislation. “That’s the wolf in sheep’s clothing.” 

It was unclear Wednesday if Holley’s bill had a sponsor in the state House. There were no similar bills filed Wednesday, according to the state Legislature’s website.

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Crime

House Judiciary Committee passes bail reform law named for Aniah Blanchard

Jessa Reid Bolling

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The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday passed a bill to give judges more discretion in denying bail to people accused of committing violent crimes. 

The bill is named for Aniah Blanchard, a 19-year-old Alabama college student who was kidnapped and murdered last year. The man charged with her murder, Ibraheed Yazeed, was out on bond for charges including kidnapping and attempted murder at the time he was arrested in connection with Blanchard’s case. 

Currently, judges can only deny bond in capital murder cases. The bill would allow judges to deny bail in cases involving certain violent offenses. 

Blanchard’s father, Elijah Blanchard, stepmother, Yashiba Blanchard, and mother, Angela Harris, spoke to the House Judiciary Committee today in support of the law. 

“This would not have happened to our child if this bill would have been in place,” Harris said. “We can save a lot of lives by doing this because, because with repeat violent offenders, they are going to repeat.”

If the bill passes the full House and Senate, it will appear on the ballot in November.

 

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House votes to outlaw smoking, vaping in automobiles with children present

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives voted for legislation to be smoking and vaping in motor vehicles if there is a child under 14 years of age.

House Bill 46 is sponsored by State Representatives Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham.

HB46 as introduced by Hollis would have banned smoking with children in automobiles.

State Representative John Rogers, D-Birmingham, asked, “Would this give a police officer the ability to stop a car anytime that a police wants to stop them and say I stopped you because I thought you were smoking.”

Rogers warned that this would give the police an, “Excuse to stop a person of color or anyone else.”

Hollis said, “An amendment will address this.”

Rogers said that this would be like, “Bloomberg’s stop and frisk.”

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Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill. There is nothing more disturbing than to be at a red light and see someone smoking with a baby in the car.”

Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, introduced an amendment that establishes this as a secondary infraction. Police could not stop someone for smoking with children in the car; but if they were stopped for another reason, then the officer could then cite them for this infraction.

Hollis agreed to accept Rafferty’s amendment as a friendly amendment and the House voted to add the amendment to the bill.

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Rep. Brett Easterbrook, R-Fruitdale, said, “I agree with the idea that it is ridiculous that an adult smokes with children in the car; but It is also ridiculous to tell a family everything that they can do in a car that they paid for.”

Rep. Bob Fincher, R-Woodland, said, “When I was a child both of my parents smoked in the car and I survived, and I am 76 years old now.”

“When we come to the point of telling people what they can do in their own cars, at some point we will tell them that they can’t smoke in their own home,” Fincher warned. “If you don’t have the right to do the wrong thing then we don’t have any rights at all.”

Hollis replied, “This bill does not tell you that you can not smoke. Smoke all you want to. This is about the health of children.”

Rep. Victor Gaston, R-Mobile, said, “I am Pro-Life and Pro-Life for a six-year old is not having to ride in a car with smokers and the windows up.”

Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, proposed an amendment to also ban vaping in cars with children present.

Hollis refused and said, “Bring your own bill.”

Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville, said, “If we are not going to let people smoke in cars we should not let them vape in cars with children present. If we deny one, we ought to deny both.”

Rep. Chris Blackshear, R-Phenix City, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill. I am one hundred percent behind the amendment as well.”

Drummond brought her amendment anyway.

Hollis said, “I look at tobacco smoking and vaping differently. How are they the same?”

Drummond said, “The effects are the same.”

Hollis eventually relented and accepted Drummond’s vaping amendment. The amendment passed 71 to 8.

The House passed HB46 on a vote of 78 to 19. It now goes to the Alabama Senate for their consideration.

Tuesday was day five of the 2020 Alabama Legislative Session. Neither budget committee has introduced a budget yet and Gov. Ivey’s gambling commission has not released any legislation proposals yet. The Legislature can meet for a maximum of thirty days in a regular session.

 

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