During her annual State of the State address to a packed joint session of the Alabama legislature in the Old House Chambers of the historic state Capital building, Gov. Kay Ivey urged lawmakers to deal with the problems that have long plagued the state’s prison system.
“After becoming your governor in April 2017, I realized that our great state had ignored too many problems for far too long,” Ivey said. “We had put Band-Aids and duct tape on old ideas, old roads and bridges, and tired old prisons long enough.”
Alabama’s prisons are overcrowded, understaffed, dangerous, have a poor track record of rehabilitation, have long neglected maintenance and modernization issues, and have not provided adequate healthcare and mental health services.
“Both my strong faith in the Lord – and a heartfelt concern for basic human rights – gives me a sense of urgency to address our longstanding challenges within our criminal justice system,” Ivey said. “We simply cannot afford to wait any longer to tackle this problem… and failure is not an option.”
Ivey said lawmakers made good progress during the last session to address the issue of understaffing, but more needs to be done.
“I’m pleased to report that our recruiting and retention efforts are improving and moving in the right direction,” she said. “Over the past seven months, the Criminal Justice Study Group I appointed last year analyzed many of the crucial components necessary to address the needs to rehabilitate those within our prison system.”
“Currently, work is well underway in addressing our antiquated and crumbling prison infrastructure,” Ivey said. “In the past few weeks, I visited Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore and Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka to see these issues firsthand.”
“Some of our worst, most over-crowded facilities – one of which was built more than 90 years ago — were never designed for the number of violent offenders we have today.”
Ivey said that ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn is “Spearheading efforts to build three new prisons that will transition our facilities from warehousing inmates to rehabilitating people. Ladies and gentlemen, Alabama has no choice but to reinvent our corrections system by replacing outdated and unsafe facilities that pose a great risk to public safety – and inhibit development of programs for inmate rehabilitation.”
Ivey said that the Community College System is providing educational, technical and workforce training to aid in successful reentry. “ Ingram State, where I also visited recently, is the only postsecondary institution in the country that exclusively serves the incarcerated population.”
Ivey introduced Brandie McCain, a former prisoner who has completed the coursework needed for three logistics certificates at Ingram State. She was among the first group of Ingram students to earn a nationally recognized credential in logistics and now works at Wright Way Staffing in Fairfield, where she quickly moved up the ranks to become an office administrator and staff recruiter.
Gov. Ivey gave the speech in a sling after tripping over the First Dog at the Governor’s mansion last week.
“As you can see, I’m working with one arm – not tied behind my back – just tied up!” Ivey said. “But, as I always say, there’s no step too high for a high stepper! I’ll be fine.”
“Members of the Legislature, on this first day of the 2020 legislative session, we can be confident with our plans to build on our past as we step boldly into a new century for our great state,” Ivey said. “Our 3rd century begins with a strong, robust economy and a renewed commitment to look for new opportunities to answer old challenges, many of which have been around for decades.”
Governor Ivey has been meeting with the Bipartisan Leadership of both the House and Senate.
“Unlike what we’ve seen nationally, I knew that no one party has a monopoly on good ideas,” Ivey explained. “And I felt — and time has proven me correct — that these bipartisan meetings would help us come up with bipartisan solutions on everything from infrastructure funding to hopefully improving our state’s education system.” “A prime example of the benefit of working together was Rebuild Alabama.”
“In recent weeks and months, we have announced the state’s portion of $122 million worth of road and bridge projects in more than 48 of Alabama’s 67 counties,” Ivey said. “And this is just six months after the new revenue began coming in. And as I promised the people of Alabama on the day I signed this bill into law, Rebuild Alabama will only be spent on building roads and bridges. And, in fact, we added strong accountability measures to make certain of this.”
Ivey also addressed education.
“During last year’s session, the Legislature gave the voters of Alabama an opportunity to help move our education system in a bold, new direction, by having an opportunity to vote on AMENDMENT ONE, which will be on the March 3rd primary ballot,” Ivey said. “Sadly, too many of our third graders are not proficient in reading. In fact, according to the Nation’s Report Card, we are 49th in the nation in reading and we are 52nd in the nation in math! And it only gets worse as they get older… too many of our high school graduates simply aren’t ready for college or a career.”
“This isn’t the fault of our hard-working teachers, principals or local superintendents…Folks, it starts at the top,” Ivey said. “Alabama is one of only six states that still has an elected state school board and this board has selected 5 State Superintendents in the past 5 years. Very simply, Amendment One will create term limits for the State Board and no member will serve more than two six-year terms, thus bringing fresh new ideas to the commission every few years.” “It’s time to vote YES for Amendment One on March 3rd!”
“We all know that a world-class workforce begins with a world-class education system,” Ivey said. “My education budget that I am proposing will provide an additional $25 million dollars to expand our nationally-recognized First Class Pre-K program.”
Ivey said that this will expand the program by another 193 classrooms.
Ivey proposed creating a $1 billion-dollar public school and college bond issue for K-12 education, as well as for our two- and four-year colleges and universities to allow for capital improvements across the state.
Ivey proposed a three percent pay raise for all teachers: pre-k through community college.
Ivey stated that she has a goal of adding 500,000 employees with post-secondary credentials by 2025.
Ivey also called on the Legislature to provide a two percent increase for all state employees.
“This is the third straight year our state employees will see an increase in their paychecks,” Ivey said. “Whether it is the State Trooper patrolling our highways or a social worker rescuing an abused child, we can be proud to have so many dedicated men and women who are giving their best to the people of Alabama.”
Ivey thanked Department of Human Resources Commissioner Nancy Buckner for leading the nation two years in a row in placing foster children in permanent homes.
“As we all know, 2019 was an especially difficult year for those who wear a badge,” Ivey said. “Seven members of the Alabama Law Enforcement community were killed in the line of duty. These heroes exhibited the best virtues of our state – they were selfless, brave, dedicated and, in the end, willing to sacrifice their lives for all of us.”
Mrs. Joanne Williams, the widow of Lowndes County Sheriff Big John Williams was a special guest of the governor.
Ivey said that increasing the number of highway patrol officers has been a top focus of her administration.
“We have increased the number of Troopers from 365 to 435, a net increase of 19 percent!” Ivey said. “We have almost doubled our marine officers from 24 to 42! My budget will include additional funding to hire and train 50 additional sworn officers.”
Ivey urged every citizen to participate in the 2020 Census.
“It is ever so important for every Alabamian to join me in saying “I Count” by completing a census form!” Ivey stated.
Ivey said that access to broadband; is another top priority to continue increasing the availability of high-speed Internet throughout the state, especially in rural Alabama.
“Currently, some 220,000 Alabamians do not have any wired Internet providers where they live,” Ivey stated. “Our efforts will not end until every Alabamian has access through high speed broadband.”
Ivey said that her budget will make a substantial investment in the area of health care… both rural health and mental health as well including a pilot program to incentivize primary care physicians and nurse practitioners to establish services in medically underserved areas.
Ivey asked for funding to build three new crisis centers in the state.
“When open and fully staffed, these centers will become a safe haven for people facing mental health challenges; here, they can be stabilized and treated without being sent to a jail or the hospital,” Ivey continued.
Ivey said that the Mental Health Department is partnering with the Department of Education to ensure we are promoting “Whole Child Wellness.”
Ivey said that the state has the best economy our state has ever had.
“Thanks to the hard work of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield and his team — as well as Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington and his folks — these are unquestionably the best of times,” Ivey stated. “We have the lowest unemployment rate in our 200-year history at 2.7 percent. More than 82,000 of our fellow citizens are working today than were working just a year ago.” “And fewer people are living in poverty than ever before.”
Ivey also discussed gaming, announcing that she will sign an executive order to establish a small working group to begin working, to gather all the facts on if some form of gaming expansion occurred.
Ivey said that she and her working group will bring the facts to the 140 members of the Legislature and the people of Alabama.
“My pledge would be for the people of Alabama to have the final say,” Ivey said. “But first, we must get the facts and understand what they mean.”
“With the continued involvement of all our people — and with God’s continued blessings — there is every reason to believe that our third century will be our best yet!” Ivey stated.
Speaker McCutcheon standing with governor on gaming workgroup
During her 2020 State of the State address, Gov. Kay Ivey said she would be signing an Executive Order to establish a small working group to gather all the facts on how much money the State could gain if some form of gaming expansion occurred. She also asked the Legislature to give her time for the group to come back with an answer.
Whether lawmakers would grant Ivey’s request for time has been an important question swirling around the halls of the State House.
Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon answered that question on Wednesday when APR reached out to his office with a request for clarification.
APR’s email wrote, “Speaker McCutcheon recently made the statements quoted below.”
“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.”
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.
“Does he still stand by these statements?”
The following is the response APR received from the Speaker’s office:
“Since the Speaker made the statement, the Governor will be signing an Executive Order to bring people together to evaluate the facts on how much money the State could gain if some form of gaming expansion occurred. The Speaker will be working with the Governor in her efforts.”
Ivey said once the working group had completed its task, she would “bring these facts to the 140 members of the Legislature and the people of Alabama. And we will then, once and for all, be in a position to determine whether or not this is a path we want to pursue.”
That McCutcheon is in alignment with the governor should signal to all interested parties that no further movement on gaming legislation will happen until the working group has completed its evaluation.
Some have been slow to hear Gov. Ivey’s entreaty.
Even after Ivey’s call for more time to gather facts, the Poarch Creek Band of Indians continues to flood television, internet and social media with a massive advertising campaign touting their billion-dollar plan in exchange for a tribal-state compact and exclusive right to Vegas-style casino gaming in the State.
PCI lobbyists, including tribal council vice-chair Robbie McGhee, are being very pro-active at the State House.
On Tuesday, Madison County Republican Rep. Rex Reynolds said, “We’re gonna move forward on a lottery. We clearly got that message during our conference meeting yesterday. I think it’s the right thing to do. The people want to vote on a lottery and I think we need to give them an opportunity to,” according to a report by WAFF.
Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, the House budget chairman, recently said that he planned to file legislation that would create an education lottery in Alabama.
Clouse’s bill would create a paper lottery with scratch-offs and PowerBall options only.
A day after Ivey issued her State of the State request to the Legislature to stand down on gaming, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh held a meeting with representatives of the Poarch Creeks and two of the State’s dog tracks to discuss moving ahead on a proposed lottery and gaming bill.
These various statements and actions have added confusion as to what is happening with gaming this session.
Now that McCutcheon has made his position known, maybe it will put to rest the rumors, activities and behind-the-scenes maneuvering that go against Ivey’s wishes.
Business, community leaders call on lawmakers to support Gov. Ivey’s push for more Pre-K funds
Governor Ivey’s push for a $25 million statewide expansion of Alabama’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program was endorsed today by business and community leaders from across the state. If approved by the state Legislature, the proposed funding increase would add at least 160 new classrooms next year and help enroll at least 2,889 additional four-year-olds.
The Alabama School Readiness Alliance Pre-K Task Force included its support for Governor Ivey’s budget request in its 2020 Legislative Recommendations. The ASRA Pre-K Task Force consists of more than 60 prominent leaders from the business, education, civic, medical, legal, philanthropic, military, and child advocacy communities.
In addition to increased funding in FY2021, the Task Force’s plan proposes a series of recommendations to fully fund the state’s First Class Pre-K program by the 2022-23 school year while maintaining the program’s benchmarks for quality and accountability. The Pre-K Task Force’s Recommendations are available in their entirety at https://www.alabamaschoolreadiness.org/asra-pre-k-task-force-recommendations/.
“We are not there yet, but the state is moving in the right direction to provide high-quality, voluntary pre-k to all families that want it,” said Mike Luce and Bob Powers, business leaders and co-chairs of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance Pre-K Task Force. “The Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s Pre-K Task Force is pleased that Governor Ivey is once again prioritizing additional funds to add more pre-k classrooms across the state. We stand with Governor Ivey and encourage lawmakers to appropriate the $25 million increase outlined in her proposal.”
For 13 years in a row, the National Institute for Early Education Research has ranked Alabama’s pre-k program as the number one state-funded pre-kindergarten program in the country for quality. Research by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham has found that students who participate in a First Class Pre-K classroom – regardless of demographics, zip code or school – are more likely to be proficient in math and reading than their peers.
The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education manages the First Class Pre-K program. It allocates funding for the First Class Pre-K program through a competitive application process. Public and private schools, child care centers, faith-based centers, Head Start programs, nonprofits, universities, and other community-based providers are all eligible to apply. Potential providers can apply for three different levels of funding: an excellence classroom (up to $50,400), tiered funding (ranges from $86,904 to $100,008), and a new classroom (up to $120,000). Applications for First Class Pre-K classroom funding are due March 13 on the Department’s website, www.children.alabama.gov.
The ASRA Pre-K Task Force first proposed expanding voluntary pre-k access to all families in 2012. Since then, state leaders have incrementally increased the level of investment in Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program from $19 million to $122.8 million. In 2012, the program enrolled just six percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds. In the 2019-20 school year, nearly 40 percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds attend First Class Pre-K.
Marsh holds meeting with gaming interests day after Ivey calls for the Legislature to stand down on gaming
Despite Gov. Kay Ivey’s call for the Legislature to give her “time to get the facts,” on a lottery and gaming before proceeding with legislation, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh summoned representatives of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians and two of the state’s dog tracks to sit down and discuss moving ahead on a proposed lottery and gaming bill.
A day after Ivey’s State of the State, Marsh, along with Senators Bobby Singleton and Steve Livingston, held a conference with Robbie McGhee, PCI’s Vice-chair, Lewis Benefield, who operates VictoryLand and the Birmingham Race Course, and Nat Winn from Greenetrack to try and reach an agreement among the three gaming entities.
Marsh, at the Wednesday meeting, informed those gathered that they needed to come up with a compromise on the gaming issue so that legislation could proceed with a constitutional amendment on a lottery and gaming package this session.
Participants in the closed-door meeting declined to speak with APR about the content of their discussions. However, those who have knowledge of the conversation did relay some of the details to APR.
According to those sources, the group discussed what a compromise might look like, what tax revenue the facilities would be allotted to the state and locations sought by PCI.
Reportedly, the discussions were generally cordial and productive while lawmakers were present, but that the tone changed dramatically once the lawmakers left the room.
Two sources with an understanding of events said that McGhee turned arrogantly defiant after the legislators left, telling the track owners that PCI didn’t need to compromise because they already have the votes necessary to pass their desired legislation. Benefield, Winn nor PCI would confirm APR‘s sources’ account.
Any lottery or gaming legislation requires an amendment to the state’s 1901 Constitution, which must be approved by a vote of the people. The governor plays no direct part in legislation that involves constitutional amendments.
PCI is demanding Class III Vegas-style gaming, which would require a tribal-state compact that must be negotiated under the authority of the governor.
There is a way to bypass Ivey, although it is fraught with complications.
If the Legislature passed a constitutional amendment that includes a comprehensive gaming solution plus an authorization for the governor to negotiate a compact with PCI, then a potential federal-state showdown could occur.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires that tribe request the negotiation of compacts with states in which they intend to conduct Class III gaming. “States, in turn, must negotiate with tribes in good faith to develop such a compact,” according to a report in Indian Gaming Lawyers. “If the state refuses to do so, the federal government may intervene and potentially impose a compact if all other efforts to secure a compact have failed.”
In a report titled The Tribal Trump Card, Patrick Sullivan explores several cases in which tribes have sued various states under IGRA’s good faith clause.
If the tribe has the vote to pass its legislation, that is not publicly known at this time.
Others close to the tribe say McGhee’s remarks to the track operators should be ignored as he is still smarting from the billion-dollar “Winning for Alabama” campaign that is a bust for PCI.
A recent survey conducted for Alabama Republicans found that an overwhelming majority of likely Republican primary voters disapprove of any legislation giving the Poarch Creeks a monopoly. Those numbers skyrocket in the areas where PCI casinos currently exist.
Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon has stated publicly that he wants to push for a grand gaming package that puts the issue to rest once and for all and also brings in a lot of money for the state. He has indicated that anything short of a grand plan will not get a hearing.
Do the Legislature and PCI want to challenge Ivey? That’s a daunting question for anyone who has watched her operate the levers of power over the last few years.
Whether Marsh’s meeting was meant to undermine Ivey’s call for time to “get the facts,” or a last attempt at a compromise is unclear. But what is certain is Ivey’s intentions to seize gaming issues and bring a solution to the Legislature in the best interest of the state.
Ivey seizes gaming issue
Toward the end of her 2020 State of the State address, Gov. Kay Ivey snatched the issue of a state lottery and gaming from the hands of the Legislature.
“I will be signing an Executive Order to establish a small working group of some of Alabama’s most distinguished citizens, to begin working, to gather all the facts on how much money we could really gain if some form of gaming expansion occurred,” said Ivey.
Not only did Ivey take ownership of the gaming debate, she asked the Legislature to stand down.
“My challenge to the Legislature is: give us some time to get the facts and then, together, we will give the people of Alabama the information they need to make the most informed decision possible,” said Ivey. “Once they have done so — I will bring these facts to the 140 members of the Legislature and the people of Alabama. And we will then, once and for all, be in a position to determine whether or not this is a path we want to pursue.”
Not since Gov. Don Siegelman’s failed attempt to bring a lottery to the state in 1999, has any governor dared throw weight behind a lottery bill much less try to untangle the Gordian knot that gaming has become as a result of former Gov. Bob Riley’s bingo wars.
Riley and his compatriots upended years of established law that allowed electronic bingo in Macon, Lowndes and Greene Counties, which resulted in the Poarch Band of Creek Indians gaining a virtual monopoly over gambling in the state. Despite federal rules that prohibit the tribe from operating any games that are illegal in the state, the Poarch Creeks have thrived.
Over the last several months, the Poarch Creeks have engaged in a statewide advertising campaign to promote a billion-dollar payday for the state in exchange for a state-tribal compact and a guaranteed unfettered monopoly over Vegas-style gaming.
Ivey’s announcement has put an end to any hopes of an immediate compact or other gaming legislation for now.
Lottery legislation requires an amendment to the state’s 1901 constitution, which must be approved by a vote of the people. The governor plays no direct part in legislation that involves constitutional amendments. However, any state-tribal compact must be negotiated under the authority of the governor.
For the last several years, the Poarch Creeks have blocked all attempts to pass a lottery and have resisted calls to negotiate in good faith with owners of the state’s dog tracks.
Even as there was hope going into the 2020 session that PCI might come to the table for a comprehensive gaming solution recently, those hopes have been waning because there doesn’t seem to be any indication the tribe is backing down from its demands for an advantage over others players in the market.
There is also apparently no leader in the House and Senate strong enough to bring all sides together in a compromise.
Ivey has shown she is powerful enough to bring disparate groups together for a common solution as she did with the 2019 gas tax.
When it comes to the issue of gaming, the Legislature will most likely follow Ivey’s lead as it would be foolish to buck a governor with her approval and influence.
It is doubtful even the Poarch Creek’s money can stop Ivey.
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