U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Ala., announced Thursday that dozens of his requests to fund priorities for Alabama were included in a year-end appropriations package that passed the Senate on Thursday. The two funding bills now head to the President’s desk for his signature.
“From increased resources for our HBCUs to additional funding to prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease in our deer population, there are dozens of Alabama priorities included in this bill,” Jones said in a release. “The deal will also fund my Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Commission, end the Kiddie Tax on military families, and provide funding for heirs’ property owners to resolve burdensome legal issues. I want to thank Senators Richard Shelby and Patrick Leahy, who lead our Appropriations Committee, for their bipartisan work to get this done.”
Key provisions championed by Senator Jones include:
Ending the “Kiddie Tax”: As a result of the Military Widow’s Tax, Gold Star spouses often put benefits in their children’s names in order to collect full survivor benefits. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act significantly raised taxes due on these benefits up to a tax rate of 37 percent, resulting in surprise tax increases of over $1,000 for many families. The inclusion of Senator Jones’ bill to get rid of the Kiddie Tax will restore the previous lower tax rate on these benefits.
Civil Rights Cold Case bill implementation: $2M has been allocated for National Archives and Records Administration to implement Senator Jones’ Civil Rights Cold Case Collection Act, which was signed into law by the President early this year.
Funding gun violence prevention research: For the first time in two decades, Congress will allocate $25M for research into the causes of gun violence in America. Senator Jones has supported this effort as a common-sense, bipartisan step to better understand and prevent acts of gun violence.
Improving maternal and child health: $17M increase for programs to improve maternal and child health through the Health Resources and Services Administration, including an additional $5 million to reduce maternal mortality. Senator Jones has introduced numerous pieces of legislation to support families and increase access to health care for women and children.
Increasing funding to enforce federal child protection laws: $90M for State Grants and $55.66 million for the Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention grants to enforce the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which Senator Jones has introduced legislation to reauthorize in 2020.
Raising the purchasing age for tobacco to 21: The deal prohibits sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21 across the country. Senator Jones joined similar legislation earlier this year.
Clotilda excavation assistance: $500,000 for the Smithsonian Institution to support excavation, education, and community engagement around discovery of the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to arrive in the United States. The bill also expands eligibility for Civil Rights grants under the Historic Preservation Fund to include recently discovered sites of the transatlantic slave trade, including the Clotilda. Senator Jones also recently memorialized the discovery of the Clotilda, which was found near Mobile, Alabama, in a Senate resolution.
Funding programs to resolve heirs’ property disputes: $5M secured by Senator Jones for a new heirs’ property relending fund program.
Preventing the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease: Preventing the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease: $1.72M for the U.S. Geological Survey and $5M to the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service to combat chronic wasting disease. As an avid hunter and outdoorsman, Senator Jones has introduced several pieces of legislation to fight the spread of CWD. Also included in the bill was another of Senator Jones’ priorities, the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act, which will help state wildlife agencies to conduct important CWD outreach activities.
Increasing Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) funding:
In addition to securing permanent mandatory funding for HBCUs, Senator Jones has advocated for this bill to also provide $325M—a 15 percent increase—for HBCU discretionary funding next year. Last year, he also secured a 14-percent discretionary funding increase in the omnibus funding bill.
- $10M for HBCU Historic Preservation Fund grants.
- $50M, including $10M for Public HBCUs, for HBCU Capital Finance Loan deferment authority.
Increasing the maximum Pell Grant award: Students are now eligible for a $150 increase in the maximum Pell Grant award, bringing the maximum award to $6,345 per student.
Funding wastewater grant programs: $5M for the Household Water Well System Grant Program, which Senator Jones expanded in last year’s Farm Bill to include up to $15,000 for households in rural areas to install and maintain individually owned decentralized wastewater systems.
Enforcing EPA civil rights protections: $9.554M for enforcement of environmental justice programs under EPA. Earlier this year, Senator Jones called on EPA to better enforce civil rights protections in the environmental justice context.
Saving miners pensions: The bill shores up the miners pension plan, which is headed for insolvency due to coal company bankruptcies and the 2008 financial crisis, and ensures that the miners who are at risk due to coal company bankruptcies will not lose their healthcare. There are nearly 6,000 United Mine Workers of America pensioners in Alabama.
Protecting public transportation funds: The bill includes Senator Jones’ amendment to protect $1.2B in public transportation funds, including more than $7M that was set to be cut for Alabama transit agencies without this amendment.
Protecting Alabama auto manufacturers from unnecessary tariffs: The bill requires the release of automobile and auto part Section 232 investigation within 30 days, which Senator Jones has called on the Administration to make public.
Addressing the shortage of pilots and lack of diversity in military service: $3M for the Air Force and Army Junior ROTC to create pilot scholarship programs to increase diversity in military pilot ranks. Senator Jones introduced a bill earlier this year to authorize the secretaries of each military department to create these programs.
Former State Sen. David Burkette pleads guilty, avoids jail
Former State Sen. David Burkette will avoid jail time and be sentenced to a 30-day suspended sentence as part of a plea deal reached on Monday.
Burkette, who pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act, will also have to pay a $3,000 fine and serve 12 months of probation as part of the deal. He was sentenced in Montgomery Circuit Court on Monday after being charged two weeks ago with failing to deposit more than $3,600 in contributions into campaign accounts — a misdemeanor.
He also resigned his seat in the Alabama Senate as part of the plea deal.
“I’m just happy to still be here,” Burkette told the court following his sentencing, according to multiple media reports.
The former senator suffered a stroke in 2018 and has been confined to a wheelchair since. His current health status played a role in his sentence considerations.
The charges against Burkette stem from a series of complaints filed against him with the Alabama Ethics Commission — all of them related to various issues during his time on the Montgomery City Council. The charge for which he pleaded guilty occurred in 2015.
The Ethics Commission referred numerous charges to the Alabama attorney general’s office, according to sources familiar with the investigation of Burkette, but the attorney general’s office elected to charge Burkette with only the misdemeanor as part of the deal that saw him resign.
“Candidates for public office at the state, county and municipal levels must comply with the State’s Fair Campaign Practices Act,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall. “Personally profiting from campaign funds erodes public confidence in the system and will not be tolerated.”
Former state senator arrested on charges of violating campaign finance laws
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.
Pro-Growth Conference kicks off with Doug Jones, discussions on COVID impact and a living wage
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.
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.”
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.
Russell Bedsole wins Republican runoff in HD49
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.
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.
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.”