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Sessions supported the widow’s tax that Doug Jones just killed

Josh Moon

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After nearly two decades, the military widow’s tax is apparently on its deathbed. 

Thanks to Doug Jones. A U.S. Senator from Alabama. 

Because of Jones and Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, some 67,000 military widows will finally enjoy the military benefits their loved ones were promised when they enlisted and gave their lives protecting this country. 

There are nearly 2,000 of those widows in Alabama. 

The repeal will net them tens of thousands in benefits when the tax is phased out over the next three years. 

It’s astounding that we ever ended up with such a ridiculous setup. Essentially, the tax is used to offset military widows receiving payouts from two separate insurance pools. 

The military’s Dependency and Indemnity Compensation program pays the widows of fallen servicemen and women about $15,000 per year and is provided at no cost to enlisted men and women. The second program, the Survivor Benefit Program, requires payments of, essentially, premiums and pays out 55 percent of service member’s benefits to his or her spouse. 

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For family members who qualified for both programs, the widow’s tax kicked in and offset dollar for dollar the amount paid out by the DIC program from the benefits received from the SBP. 

Because, you know, we don’t want military widows going crazy in Vegas on their 55 percent plus nearly a thousand per month. 

I’ll tell you the next thing that needs to be fixed: That 55 percent payout to widows. 

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Let me get this straight. If we send a soldier to some godforsaken sand pit on the other side of the world to protect oil wells and he/she is killed by a roadside bomb, we tax him 45 percent for dying? 

That seems … infuriating. 

Look, I get that the spouse of a service member isn’t in a life or death situation every day. But those spouses make it possible for the soldiers to do their jobs. 

There aren’t too many days that go by, when I’m cleaning yogurt off a couch or trying to force shoes onto a squirming toddler, that I don’t think of the men and women left behind by deployed service members who are doing these things alone. While worrying that their partners in life might never return. And holding all of life together for them both — because this country asked them to go somewhere else and defend the homeland.  

And we’re docking them 45 percent. 

And up until now, we’ve also been taxing them because they got an extra grand per month from another program. 

It’s a wonder we have anyone willing to fight for this country anymore, given the way we treat these men and women when they come home. The promises we break to them are staggering. 

We’ve cut their benefits, refused to pay their health care costs, left them dying in VA waiting rooms, pulled the rug from under their tuition reimbursements and taxed their widows. 

Thankfully, this one small piece will be fixed. 

But it literally wouldn’t have happened without Doug Jones. And I don’t just say that because he was a co-sponsor of this bill. I say that because during the numerous attempts to repeal this tax over the past 18 years, there has been one guy always standing in the way. 

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. 

The former (but always junior) senator from Alabama went on record voting against the repeal of the tax in 2005 and 2012. At other points, his opposition to the repeal, along with others, helped stall repeals and prevent floor votes. 

Because we just couldn’t afford it. 

Sessions never had a problem, of course, voting to send young men and women off to war, at a cost of trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives. But the cost of providing military widows with decent benefits was simply too much of a financial burden. 

But elections have consequences, and when voters in this state rejected Roy Moore and turned to Jones, they put in place someone who actually cares about the working class, the military and the poor. 

It took Congress 18 years to repeal this tax. 

It took Doug Jones just two.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Congress

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne announces new chief of staff

Eddie Burkhalter

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U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne

Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, on Friday announced that Seth Morrow will serve as his chief of staff.

“As we enter the last half of 2020, my office remains busy assisting constituents and advancing our legislative priorities. I know Seth shares my focus on finishing out my term in Congress strong, and he is well prepared to move into the Chief of Staff role,” Byrne said in a statement. “My staff and I will continue working hard every day to fight for the people of Southwest Alabama and advance our conservative agenda.”

Morrow is a native of Guntersville and has worked for Byrne since June 2014, serving as deputy chief of staff and communications director. 

“I am grateful for this opportunity, and I’m committed to ensuring our office maintains our first class service to the people of Southwest Alabama. Congressman Byrne has always had the hardest working team on Capitol Hill, and I know we will keep that tradition going,” Morrow said in a statement.

Morrow replaces Chad Carlough, who has held the position of Byrne’s chief of staff since March 2017. 

“Chad has very ably led our Congressional team over the last few years, and I join the people of Southwest Alabama in thanking him for his dedicated service to our state and our country,” Byrne said. 

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Congress

Voting rights activist calls for federal Department of Democracy

LaTosha Brown, a Selma native who co-founded Black Voters Matter, issued a statement saying that it is time to reimagine American democracy.

Micah Danney

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(VIA BLACK VOTERS MATTER)

The co-founder of an organization that is working to mobilize Black voters in Alabama and elsewhere used the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act on Thursday to call for a new federal agency to protect voting rights nationwide.

LaTosha Brown, a Selma native who co-founded Black Voters Matter, issued a statement saying that it is time to reimagine American democracy.

“The Voting Rights Act should be reinstated, but only as a temporary measure. I want and deserve better, as do more than 300 million of my fellow Americans,” Brown said.

The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the law in a 5-4 ruling in 2013, eliminating federal oversight that required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get approval before they changed voting rules.

“To ensure that the Voter’s Bill of Rights is enforced, we need a federal agency at the cabinet level, just like the Department of Defense,” Brown said. “A Department of Democracy would actively look at the patchwork of election systems across the 50 states and territories. With federal oversight, our nation can finally fix the lack of state accountability that currently prevails for failure to ensure our democratic right to vote.”

She cited excessively long lines, poll site closings and voter ID laws in the recent primaries in Wisconsin, Georgia, Kentucky and Texas as voter suppression techniques that disproportionately affect Black and other communities of color.

Brown said that the July 17 passing of Rep. John Lewis, who was nearly killed marching for voting rights in Selma in 1965, has amplified calls for the Voting Rights Act to be strengthened. That’s the right direction, she said, but it isn’t enough.

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“History happens in cycles, and we are in a particularly intense one. We have been fighting for the soul of democracy, kicking and screaming and marching and protesting its erosion for decades,” Brown said.

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Congress

Negotiations on a bipartisan coronavirus relief bill appear to have broken down

Brandon Moseley

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The United States Capitol Building (STOCK PHOTO)

Both parties in Congress and the White House hoped to have agreement on a bipartisan coronavirus relief bill, but those hopes appear to have been dashed after a Thursday night meeting at the White House.

The Washington Post reports that the White House and Democrats failed to reach an agreement late Thursday night on the fifth virus relief bill. White House officials and Democratic leaders ended a three-hour negotiation with no agreement and both sides far apart on basic issues.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, has insisted on a $3.4 trillion package. The White House wants a $1 trillion relief package.

“We’re still a considerable amount apart,” said White House chief of staff Mark Meadows after emerging from the meeting with Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Trump was called into the meeting several times, but they were unable to resolve key issues.

Pelosi said that the meeting was “consequential,” but blamed Republicans for the breakdown in negotiations.

“They didn’t take the virus seriously in the beginning, they’re not taking the consequences of the virus seriously at this time, and that’s why it’s hard to come to terms,” Pelosi said.

Mnuchin said that if the administration decides that further negotiations are futile, Trump would move ahead unilaterally with executive orders to address things like unemployment aid. Schumer said Democrats were “very disappointed” in how the meeting went and that any White House executive orders could be challenged in court.

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Pelosi claimed that Meadows pounded the table at one point. Meadows denies the allegation.

“We are very far apart,” Pelosi said. “It’s most unfortunate.”

Over 30 million unemployed Americans will see their unemployment checks dramatically cut next week without an extension of benefits. Trump has suggested that he could increase the benefits through unilateral executive action. Critics suggest that would be unconstitutional.

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Democrats want about $1 trillion in aid for cities and states, but Trump has dismissed that demand as a “bailout” for mismanaged states and has agreed to just $150 billion in aid for states.

Meadows said that the White House has agreed to go above $1 trillion, but that Democrats still have refused to go below $3.4 trillion. Democrats are also pushing for more money for food stamps, child care and the U.S. Postal Service as part of the plan. All of this would be paid with more deficit spending.

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Corruption

Arrest warrant issued for Rep. Will Dismukes for felony theft

Dismukes is charged with first-degree theft of property in connection with a theft that occurred at his place of employment between the years 2016 to 2018.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, has been accused of theft of property, a Class B felony. (WSFA)

An arrest warrant has been issued for Alabama State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, for felony theft from a business where he worked, Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey said Thursday.

Dismukes is charged with first-degree theft of property in connection with a theft that occurred at his place of employment between the years 2016 to 2018, Bailey said during a press conference.

Bailey said the charge is a Class B felony and levied when a person steals in excess of $2,500 and that “I will tell you that the alleged amount is a lot more than that.” 

“The warrant has just been signed, his attorney has been notified and we are giving him until late this afternoon to turn himself in,” Bailey said.

Bailey said the employer contacted the district attorney’s office with a complaint about the theft on May 20, and after reviewing bank records and interviewing witnesses, the decision was made to charge Dismukes with the theft. 

WSFA reported Thursday that the theft occurred at Dismukes’ former employer, Weiss Commercial Flooring Inc. in East Montgomery. Bailey did not provide any more specifics on the charge but said the employer signed the arrest warrant after countless hours of investigation on the part of the DA’s office.

While the charge stems from a complaint filed months ago, Dismukes been in the headlines recently and faced a torrent of calls for his resignation in recent weeks after posting to Facebook an image of himself attending a birthday celebration for the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest.

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The event was hosted by an individual with close ties to the League of the South, a hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In response, Dismukes stepped down from his post as a pastor at an Autauga County Baptist church but defiantly refused to step down from the Legislature.

If convicted of the felony, Dismukes would be immediately removed from his seat in the Alabama House, to which he was elected in 2018.

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In June, the Alabama Democratic Party called for his resignation over previous social media posts glorifying the Confederacy.

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