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Weekly Legislative Session Report: Week Four

Beth Lyons

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The Alabama Legislature met in session for Day 7 of the annual Regular Session on Tuesday, February 25. Twenty-three committee meetings were held during the week to consider legislation. Both Houses met in session on Thursday, February 27 for Day 8.

611 bills have been introduced so far this Session.

The Legislature will return to Montgomery on Tuesday, March 3 for Day 9 of the Session with the Senate convening at 2:30 p.m. and the House convening at 3:00 p.m.

DURING THE WEEK

After recommendations from Governor Ivey’s study group on Criminal Justice Policy, a number of bills were introduced along with budget recommendations. The bills include establishing a deputy commissioner for rehabilitation within the Department of Corrections (SB226 by Senator Clyde Chambliss), mandatory pre-release supervision for inmates coming to the end of their sentence (SB244 by Senator Cam Ward), retroactive presumptive sentencing guidelines (HB329 by Representative Jim Hill), requiring a non- driver photo identification card for former inmates (HB342 by Representative Connie Rowe), and establishing a study group to address access and uniformity in pre-trial diversionary programs (SJR25 by Senator Bobby Singleton). Budget recommendations include increases in funding for expanding prison education programs, for a program to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jail, and for the Corrections Department to expand the number of correctional officers and mental health professionals within the prison facilities.

Both the House Health Committee and the Senate Healthcare Committee held public hearings on bills (HB303 by Representative Wes Allen and SB219 by Senator Shay Shelnutt) that would prohibit a medical procedure on or medication to a minor child that is intended to alter the minor child’s gender or delay puberty. After several people spoke both for and against the bills they were given favorable reports..

The Senate voted not to consider SB3 by Senator Chris Elliott which provides that funds received by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, pursuant to the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, be spent in the coastal counties for conservation, restoration, and protection.

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The House Education Policy Committee held a public hearing, but did not vote, on HB214 by Representative Kerry Rich which would create the “Teacher Bill of Rights,” granting teachers the right to use appropriate discipline, remove persistently disruptive students, and be treated with civility and respect, among others.

The House County and Municipal Government Committee held a public hearing, but did not vote, on HB258 by Representative Danny Crawford that would allow any business paying a municipal business license based on gross receipts to deduct from gross receipts any excise taxes imposed by the federal, state, and local governments.

The Senate Confirmations Committee met to discuss pending board appointments by the Governor. Among the appointments approved by the committee were Ben Stimpson, Daryl H. Dewberry, and Horace H. Horn to the Alabama State Port Authority, and Karen E. Carter and John Harrison to the Troy University Board of Trustees.

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BILLS PASSED BY HOUSE:

HB42 by Rep. Hall
HB48 by Rep. Hall HB69 by Rep. Rich
HB81 by Rep. C. Brown
HB113 by Rep. C. Brown
BILLS PASSED BY SENATE:
HB147 by Rep. Sells
SB52 by Senator Melson
SB111 by Senator Orr

SIGNIFICANT FLOOR ACTION THIS WEEK

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 increase the minimum age of contracting marriage to the age of 18.

To increase the fees for issuing permits in the regulation of of the manufacturing, sale, display of fireworks, and for the use of pyrotechnics before an audience with 5% of the total fee going to the Alabama Firefighters Annuity and Benefit Fund.

A proposed Constitutional Amendment to provide that a person charged with a Class A felony, when the proof is evident or the presumption is great, and if no conditions of release can reasonably protect the community from risk of physical harm, be denied bail before conviction.

To provide for additional offenses that would require mandatory denial of bail.
To prohibit a municipality that does not have an occupational tax as of February 1, 2020 from imposing an occupational tax unless authorized by local law.

To provide that a municipality may authorize a law enforcement officer to issue a summons and complaint in lieu of custodial arrest for certain criminal offenses.

To prohibit the manufacture, marketing, sale, distribution, use, and possession of synthetic urine or a urine additive to defraud an alcohol, drug, or urine screening test.

HOUSE:

HB71 by Rep. Hall
HB43 by Rep. Simpson

SENATE:

HB272 by Rep. Weaver
SB9 by Senator Givhan SB83 by Senator Jones
SB85 by Senator Jones
SB127 by Senator Allen
SB142 by Senator Elliott
SB147 by Senator Melson

To revise the focus of the content, course materials and instruction provided to public school students in any program or curriculum that includes sex education or the human reproductive process (Amended in House Education Policy Committee).

A proposed Constitutional Amendment to authorize the Baldwin County Commission to levy a tax not greater than 10% on the sale of hemp products, alternative nicotine products, and electronic nicotine delivery systems, with the funds being used to create and implement a mental health diversionary program (Amended in Baldwin County Legislation Committee).

To revise deadlines for candidates to qualify for the November 3, 2020 general election to accommodate the dates of the 2020 Republican National Convention (Senate Judiciary Committee).

To decrease the term of office of members of county boards of education from six to four years (Senate Governmental Affairs Committee).

A proposed Constitutional Amendment to merge the Office of State Auditor into the Office of State Treasurer at the end of the current term of office (Substituted in Senate Governmental Affairs Committee).

To provide that if an AdvantageSite economic development site is annexed by a municipality or is located in the police jurisdiction of a municipality, an employee employed on the site would not be subject to any occupational license tax (Substituted in Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee).

To expand the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017 and the jurisdiction of the Committee on Alabama Monument Protection, as well as increase fines from a one-time fine of $25,000 to a daily fine of $5,000 (Substituted in Senate Governmental Affairs Committee).

To eliminate municipal authority beyond the corporate limits of each municipality and provide for a referendum to decide whether to reinstate police jurisdictions (Senate Governmental Affairs Committee).

To redesignate common fireworks as consumer fireworks, limit local government regulations, and provide further for the regulation of consumer fireworks (Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee).

NOTEWORTHY BILLS REPORTED FROM COMMITTEE THIS WEEK

SB168 by Senator Whatley
SB189 by Senator Smitherman
SB172 by Senator Orr

HOUSE:

HB321 by Rep. Sorrell
HB322 by Rep. Johnson
HB336 by Rep. Rogers
HB340 by Rep. Allen
HB341 by Rep. Ledbetter HB344 by Rep. Sells

To revise the focus of the content, course materials and instruction provided to public school students in any program or curriculum that includes sex education or the human reproductive process (Amended in Senate Education Policy Committee).

To require a board of education to hold a hearing when a student has been expelled or suspended for a period of more than 10 days, prevent a student in pre-K to 5th grade from being suspended or expelled unless the physical safety of students or personnel is endangered, and prohibit a student from being suspended or expelled for truancy or tardiness (Amended in Senate Education Policy Committee).

To expand the right of some wireless providers to install their facilities on public rights-of-way, exempt these providers from certain zoning reviews and approval procedures, and establish maximum rates and fees for permits (Substituted in Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee).

SIGNIFICANT INTRODUCTIONS THIS WEEK

To require the specific content of any program that includes sex education be disclosed to the parents, and written consent from the parents be obtained before a student may participate in the program (House Education Policy Committee).

To prohibit a business establishment from selling a product containing dextromethorphan (commonly found in over-the-counter cough suppressants) to anyone under the age of 18 (House Judiciary Committee).

To permit wagering on the results of certain professional or collegiate sports or athletic events, and to create the Alabama Sports Wagering Commission (House Economic Development and Tourism Committee).

To authorize certain law enforcement officers to take an individual whom the officer believes has a mental illness into protective custody under certain conditions, and to provide for the transportation of the individual to a hospital or other facility for evaluation and treatment (House Judiciary Committee).

To require each local board of education to employ a mental health service coordinator (House Education Policy Committee).

To require wireless telecommunications service providers to offer filters that block Internet access to certain material that is harmful to minors (House Judiciary Committee).

HB347 by Rep. Collins
HB356 by Rep. Sorrell

SENATE:

SB238 by Senator Orr
SB240 by Senator Singleton
SB241 by Senator Figures

To amend the Alabama School Choice and Student Opportunity Act to allow an applicant to apply directly to the commission under certain conditions, provide further for funding of public charter schools based on current enrollment, to require monthly disbursement of funds, and to provide further for the treatment of certain local revenues and local tax allocations (House Ways and Means Education Committee).

To prohibit an individual from transporting a cat or dog on the open platform of a flatbed truck on a public highway (House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee).

To exempt the academic performance of certain English as a second language students from consideration in the assigning of an academic achievement grade to a school or school system (Senate Education Policy Committee).

To allow a licensed wine manufacturer to obtain a direct shipper permit to allow the permittee to ship limited quantities of table wine directly to Alabama residents (Senate Tourism Committee).

To eliminate the sales tax discount given to sales tax license holders who timely file and pay their sales taxes for taxes collected on or after September 1, 2020 (Senate Finance and Taxation Education 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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