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Weekly Legislative Session Report: Week Two

Beth Lyons

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The Alabama Legislature met for Day 3 of the annual Regular Session on Tuesday, February 11. Twenty committee meetings were held during the week to consider legislation. Both Houses met on Thursday, February 13 for Day 4.

443 bills have been introduced so far this Session.

The Legislature will return to Montgomery on Tuesday, February 18 for Day 5 of the Session with the House convening at 1:00 p.m. and the Senate convening at 3:00 p.m..

DURING THE WEEK

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee held a Public Hearing on SB127 by Senator Gerald Allen which would expand the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017 and the jurisdiction of the Committee on Alabama Monument Protection, as well as increasing fines from a total of $25,000 to $10,000 per day. Earl Hilliard, Jr., representing Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, spoke in opposition to the bill, stating that cities should not be forced to keep Confederate monuments as it is hurtful to many residents and hampers economic development efforts.

Several Senators also spoke in opposition to the bill, which was carried over.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee also debated and carried over SB83 by Senator Andrew Jones which would abolish the office of State Auditor at the end of the current term. Current State Auditor Jim Zeigler spoke in opposition to the bill.

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The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee failed to give a favorable report, by a vote of 6-8, to SB58 by Senator Arthur Orr that would have required the term of a deferred presentment transaction (payday loan) to be a minimum of 30 calendar days.

The Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee held a public hearing, but did not vote, on SB172 by Senator Arthur Orr which would expand the right of some wireless providers to install their facilities on public rights-of-way. Several representatives of cities spoke in opposition to the bill.

The House State Government Committee held a public hearing, but did not vote, on a bill that would prohibit public K-12 schools from participating in, sponsoring, or provide coaching staff for interscholastic athletic events at which athletes are allowed to participate in competition against athletes who are of a different biological gender.

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BILLS PASSED BY HOUSE:

HB12 by Rep. Collins
HB29 by Rep. Jackson
HB53 by Rep. Hall HB59 by Rep. Reynolds
HB147 by Rep. Sells

BILLS PASSED BY SENATE:

SB12 by Senator Smitherman
SB48 by Senator Elliott
SB67 by Senator Holley

Property with overlapping police jurisdictions; all property to be annexed with consent of all parties and affected municipalities under certain conditions.

To extend protections granted to in-home cottage food production to include in-home producers of roasted coffees.

To establish the crime of female genital mutilation.

To provide for enhanced penalties for persons found guilty of committing a crime against a law enforcement officer when it is shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was motivated by the victim’s employment as a law enforcement officer.

To prohibit a municipality that does not already have an occupational tax from imposing an occupational tax unless authorized by local law.

To expand the Missing Senior Citizen Alert Act to include missing and endangered persons suffering from a mental or physical disability who are at risk of bodily harm or death.

To authorize the governing body of a Class 8 municipality with an incorporated arts council, main street program, or downtown development entity that is located primarily on an island to establish three entertainment districts within its corporate limits.

To prohibit a person from leaving a domestic animal in a motor vehicle unattended in a manner that creates an unreasonable risk of injury or harm to the animal.

HOUSE:
HB66 by Rep. McClammy
HB84 by Rep. Hill

To authorize a municipality or county to establish a local redevelopment authority for property that is contiguous to an active US Air Force military installation (Amended in House Ways and Means General Fund).

To limit mayoral pardons in relation to convictions for domestic violence (House County and Municipal Committee).

SIGNIFICANT FLOOR ACTION THIS WEEK

NOTEWORTHY BILLS REPORTED FROM COMMITTEE THIS WEEK

SENATE:

SB3 by Senator Elliott
SB108 by Senator Orr
SB124 by Senator Marsh
SB129 by Senator Chambliss

HOUSE:

HB210 by Rep. Hanes
HB213 by Rep. Whitt
HB229 by Rep. Lawrence HB233 by Rep. Reynolds
HB235 by Rep. Gray

To provide for the expenditure of funds received by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, pursuant to the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, for coastal conservation, restoration, and protection (Senate Governmental Affairs Committee).

To prohibit a public official, agency of the state, municipality, or county from intentionally adopting a policy or practice that limits or restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws (Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee).

To provide that any Class 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 municipality that does not create and adopt a municipal plan or is not executing its plan in good faith is ineligible to receive grants from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (Amended in Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee).

To create and fund the General Fund Budget Reserve Fund, and provide for the withdrawal and use of the monies deposited into the fund (Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund).

SIGNIFICANT INTRODUCTIONS THIS WEEK

A proposed Constitutional Amendment to prohibit any toll from being fixed, charged, or collected for the construction, renovation, or use of a public road, bridge, tunnel, or interstate highway unless approved by the electors in the county or counties affected (House Transportation, Utilities and Infrastructure Committee).

To require all campaign finance reports and statements be filed electronically with the Secretary of State, including candidates for municipal offices, without exception (House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee).

To provide a cost-of-living increase for certain state employees (House Ways and Means General Fund Committee).

To allow a municipality to use electronic records and signatures in the conduct of its affairs (House County and Municipal Government Committee).

To authorize local boards of education to offer yoga to students in grades K-12 (House Education Policy Committee).

HB238 by Rep. Hollis

SENATE:

SB165 by Senator Melson
SB173 by Senator Jones
SB183 by Senator Sessions

To require a man to undergo a vasectomy within one month of his 50th birthday or the birth of his third biological child, whichever comes first (House Judiciary Committee).

To authorize and regulate the use of medical cannabis for certain medical conditions, and to authorize and regulate the cultivation, processing, testing, transporting and dispensing of medical cannabis (Senate Judiciary Committee).

To prohibit a municipality that does not already have an occupational tax from imposing an occupational tax unless authorized by local law (Senate Governmental Affairs Committee).

To authorize any county to issue bonds to refund certain bonds previously issued by the county, and to ratify and confirm the validity of any refunding bonds originally issued prior to January 1, 2011 (Senate Banking and Insurance Committee).

 

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Corruption

Former State Sen. David Burkette pleads guilty, avoids jail

Josh Moon

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Former Alabama Sen. David Burkette

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. 

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“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.”

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Legislature

Former state senator arrested on charges of violating campaign finance laws

Josh Moon

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Former State Sen. David Burkette

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.

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Legislature

Pro-Growth Conference kicks off with Doug Jones, discussions on COVID impact and a living wage

Josh Moon

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Sen. Doug Jones speaks on the floor of the U.S. Senate. (VIA CSPAN)

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. 

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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.”

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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.

 

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Elections

Russell Bedsole wins Republican runoff in HD49

Brandon Moseley

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House District 49 Republican nominee Russell Bedsole

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.

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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.

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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.”

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