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Legislature

Alabama Senate passes state general fund budget

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday the Alabama Senate passed the 2021 state general fund budget (SGF). Despite the economic fallout from the forced economic downturn, the Senate passed a $2,391,206,601 SGF budget, a $168,860,692 increase over the 2020 budget of $2,222,345,909.

The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee is chaired by Senator Greg Albritton (R-Atmore). As Chair, Albritton is the sponsor of the state general fund budget, Senate Bill 157.

“This year we pumped up the agencies and departments in need since they are under siege,” said Sen. Albritton. “We also wanted to make sure they had enough resources to properly respond to the issue at hand. We put a priority on public safety, with the increase for additional troopers on the road and conditional appropriations for the Department of Corrections. None of the money allocated was received from the federal government meaning we expect to have additional money made available to the state general fund due to the Covid-19 outbreak.”

The budget was passed on a bipartisan 31 to 0 vote.

The Democrats in the Alabama House of Representatives are staging some sort of a protest by boycotting the remainder of this session. Rep. Rod Scott (D-Fairfield) was the only House Democrat who attended Monday’s session. A majority of Senate Democrats on the other hand were present Tuesday, even Sen. David Burkette (D-Montgomery) who is still recovering from a stroke and is in a wheelchair.

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) told Albritton: “I want to thank you, for involving us on the minority side. Every move that was made, I was informed on. You could do this without us. I appreciate you.”

Senate President Del Marsh (R-Anniston) told reporters that any move that the Senate makes, on legislation in the waning days of this session, “Will be bipartisan.”

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The 2021 SGF budget starts on October 1st.

Alabama has an arcane budgeting system where over 93 percent of state revenues are earmarked and there are multiple pots of money. Income taxes go to the education trust fund (ETF), gas tax dollars go to the road and bridge fund, and the SGF gets insurance taxes, utility taxes, interest off the Alabama Trust Fund, a portion of the sales and use taxes, etc. The SGF funds about 80 non-education state agencies. Many of the state agencies also have their own revenue streams. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management for example is overwhelmingly funded through fees from the industries it regulates and receiving just $4 million from the SGF. The Secretary of State’s office is funded entirely from its own fees. The Public Service Commission is entirely funded by fees and utility taxes and is actually a large contributor to the SGF from their excess revenues. The state also receives over $8 billion a year in federal revenues. Agencies like Alabama Medicaid, the Alabama Department of Transportation and the Alabama Department of Health use their state dollars to draw down large amounts of federal moneys.

This SGF budget sets aside an additional $35 million for the Alabama Department of Public Health along with an increase of $94 million for the Alabama Medicaid Agency. This budget also appropriates an additional $3 million for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) to hire 25 new state troopers. This SGF budget increases the Alabama Department of Corrections’ budget by $23 million and provides an extra $25 million to the Alabama Department of Mental Health.

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The Alabama Senate also passed legislation by Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) creating a rolling reserve for the general fund budget, Senate Bill 129.

Senate Bill 161, a 2020 supplemental appropriation bill, contained $5 million to go to the new rolling reserve fund.

Chambliss said that the rolling reserve will not help in the present economic downturn, but it will help in the next unexpected economic event.

Albritton said that passage of the rolling reserve for the general fund legislation is a show of the body’s conservatism.

“I want to thank Senator Albritton for his hard work — as this budget illustrates, Republicans in the State Legislature remain committed to fiscal discipline,” Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) said. “Since 2011, we have cut the state government workforce by 14 percent, saving taxpayers millions of dollars.”

“Obviously this is not the budget we thought we would have when the session started, however this is a strong budget that gives state agencies a place to start as they work on their individual budgets for next year,” Marsh said. “If we determine that changes to this budget need to be made we can still do so next session without additional expense to the taxpayers in a special session. I want to commend Senator Albritton on a job well done in a difficult situation.”

The budget was not without controversy.

The Senate version of the SGF slashed funding for the State Auditor by 47 percent.

Sen. David Sessions (R-Grand Bay) introduced an amendment on the Senate floor restoring the Auditor’s budget line item.

Sen. Jack Williams (R-Wilmer) said that he has gotten over a thousand phone calls and emails from supporters of the auditor asking that the money be restored.

Albritton said that his committee is responsible for moving funds to the areas where they are needed. “I am shocked that my rightwing colleagues from Mobile county are opposed to downsizing government.”

Albritton made a motion to table the Sessions amendment. The tabling motion prevailed on a 17 to 13 vote.

Albritton told reporters that most agency heads come before his committee to tell them what they do with their money; but the Auditor has not.

State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) said in a statement, “This further cut would make the state property inventory system inoperable.”

The auditor had suffered a 28 percent cut during the Bentley administration.

Zeigler vowed to, “Take the fight to save the State Auditor’s office to the House.”

Zeigler is term limited from running for a third term in 2022.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked Albritton: it appears that we are in the start of a global recession, why not pass a budget with a five percent proration across the board to deal with what is likely an extended economic downturn?

“That is not what is happening,” Albritton said. “Draconian steps” were taken to deal with the coronavirus situation. “The economy will snap back. What we need now is to get people back to working.”

There is a strong possibility that Congress will send more federal bailout dollars to the states to make up for lost revenues as part of another coronavirus relief package, but that is far from a certainty at this point.

The General Fund budget now goes to the House of Representatives, where it will start in the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

The 2020 legislative session constitutionally has to end by May 18 due to a limit on the number of calendar days in a regular legislative session, but once both budgets are passed the legislature could vote to end this session as early as Friday.

The House of Representatives is expected to take up the Education budget as early as today.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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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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Legislature

Groups call for Rep. Will Dismukes to resign, state Legislature to address racist policies

The Montgomery nonprofit Alabama Arise, the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and Greater Birmingham Ministries in a joint statement on Friday called for Dismukes’ resignation and for the state Legislature to address systemic, racially-oppressive policies.

Eddie Burkhalter

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State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, shared a post on Facebook after a birthday celebration for Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Three groups joined the chorus of calls for state Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, to resign for attending an event celebrating the birthday of the Klu Klux Klan’s first grand wizard. 

The Montgomery nonprofit Alabama Arise, the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP and Greater Birmingham Ministries in a joint statement on Friday called for Dismukes’ resignation and for the state Legislature to address systemic, racially-oppressive policies.

“Our elected officials and appointed leaders should respect the full dignity, worth and humanity of all people they represent. We urge all political parties and public officials to acknowledge the harm that white supremacy continues to inflict upon Alabama. And we call upon them to dismantle white supremacist structures through intentional policy changes,” the groups said in the statement. 

Dismukes attended a birthday celebration for Nathanial Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, then posted a photo of himself at the event to his Facebook page, which he has since either deleted or made private. 

Dismukes later told WSFA that he won’t apologize for his family’s service in the “war between the states” that he said wasn’t primarily fought over slavery, that he’s not a racist but that he doesn’t see the need for the current racial reconciliation. 

State Sen Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, on Monday called for his resignation, as has the Alabama Democratic Party. 

“The cause of white supremacy permeates our state’s fundamental governing document. When the president of the 1901 constitutional convention, John Knox, was asked why Alabama needed a new constitution, his answer was clear: ‘to establish white supremacy in this state,’” the three groups said in the statement. 

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“Any celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest of the Ku Klux Klan – a white supremacist terrorist organization – is contrary to the values that Alabamians expect from our leaders, elected officials and neighbors. In celebrating Forrest, Rep. Will Dismukes revealed he is unable or unwilling to represent the best interests of his constituents and his state. We condemn his actions in the strongest possible terms. We also understand this is not the first time Dismukes has celebrated the Confederacy or Forrest in such a manner. Therefore, we join with many other individuals and organizations across Alabama in calling for Dismukes to resign immediately,” the statement continues. 

The groups say the need for racial justice and healing reaches beyond any one individual, and called for all elected officials to look at their actions and the impacts of policy decisions. The groups point to the 2017 Memorial Preservation Act, which prevents municipalities from removing Confederate monuments or face steep fines. 

“Lawmakers’ failure to expand Medicaid leaves a disproportionate share of African Americans without health insurance during a pandemic. And the absence of racial impact data prevents communities and legislators from evaluating the full effects of state policy choices,” the statement continues. 

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The groups in the statement highlight the following disparities: 

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Legislature

Dismukes resigns as pastor, refuses to step down as state lawmaker

Josh Moon

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State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, shared a post on Facebook after a birthday celebration for Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Embattled State Rep. Will Dismukes has resigned as pastor of a Baptist church but defiantly declared that he has no plans to step down from the state Legislature. 

The Alabama Baptist, an online and print news source for Baptists around the state, reported on Thursday that Dismukes had agreed to step down from Pleasant Hill Baptist Church following heavy criticism from lawmakers and citizens around the state over Dismukes’ decision to attend and give the invocation at a birthday celebration for Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. 

“Immediate effort was made to connect with Will on behalf of our leadership with commitment toward a biblically based process to mitigate controversy surrounding this issue,” Mel Johnson, a mission strategist for the Autauga Baptist Association and a deacon at Pleasant Hill Baptist, told the Alabama Baptist. “He was open and receptive to our call and subsequent in-person meeting on Tuesday afternoon (July 28).”

In an interview with the Montgomery Advertiser on Thursday morning, however, Dismukes, a freshman lawmaker from Prattville, said he had no plans to step down from the Legislature. Both Democrats and Republicans, including Republican Sen. Clyde Chambliss, who is Dismukes’ senator, have called for Dismukes to resign. He is not up for re-election until 2022. 

Dismukes’ Facebook post, which went up the same day the state was honoring Civil Rights hero John Lewis, showed him speaking at the Forrest event. The backlash from around the state was swift and severe. 

Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, told the Alabama Baptist, “We are saddened and grieved to learn of the recent Facebook post by state Rep. Will Dismukes. … In the wake of tremendous controversy, we reaffirm our opposition to any kind of racism.”

The day after his controversial post, Dismukes participated in an interview with WSFA-TV in Montgomery to offer an explanation but seemingly made things worse for himself. In the interview, he blamed the backlash on “cancel culture” and expressed surprise over the outrage. 

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Immediately following the interview, Chambliss issued his call for Dismukes to step down.

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Elections

Donna Strong seeks Republican nomination in House District 49

Brandon Moseley

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Republican State House candidate Donna Strong

Donna Strong is touting her experience as an educator in her bid to win the Republican nomination for Alabama House District 49 special election. Strong is a veteran educator with 31 years of teaching experience at the middle, high school and college levels. She hopes to bring that experience and educational knowledge to the Alabama House of Representatives, she said.

“Most Alabamians don’t realize the degree to which politics controls our public education system,” Strong said in a statement. “When everything from class sizes, curriculum programs, school calendars, lunchroom menus, educator salaries, and standardized testing are legislatively mandated, public schooling is largely dictated by career politicians who have never walked in a teacher, bus driver or cafeteria worker’s shoes.”

Strong said that she wants to cut wasteful spending and see curricula implemented that will help all students learn to think critically, communicate clearly and solve problems in their everyday lives now and for their future. Strong said that she believes health and safety resources should be significantly enhanced for students.

“Educators at all grade levels have seen an increase in the number of students who come to school with mental health or behavioral problems,” Strong explained. “Learning is just too challenging when children are depressed, scared or angry. Every school should have a qualified nurse and easy access to trained mental health professionals.”

Strong said that she will make enhancing infrastructure in District 49 a high priority.

“The events of the past several months have brought a new awareness of the critical dependence we all have for a strong and stable economy,” Strong continued,. Safe roads, effective schools, accessible local health care, and adequately funded police and fire departments are the key elements to encourage both small and large business growth. As a state we also need to continue to upgrade 5G (5th Generation) wireless so that every student and every worker has fast and reliable access to the online resources they need to succeed. As a legislator, I will always focus on these important local and state issues for every citizen in District 49.”

Strong grew up in Shelby County. She was a member of 4-H and later was on both the Auburn University Livestock and Dairy judging teams.

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“I always enjoyed the time we spent visiting and practicing at farms throughout Alabama,” she said. “Agriculture is still a very important way of life for many Alabamians and this industry needs to be fully funded and supported.”

Strong is a science teacher, nature enthusiast and animal lover. Strong says that she is dedicated to protecting our environment.

“From the scenic mountains of north Alabama to the beautiful beaches of our southern coast, we have one of the most biodiverse states in the country,” Strong said. “Some Alabama plants and animals are found nowhere else in the world. And importantly, our unique and picturesque landscapes are critical to the people and jobs that depend on the tourism driven by our beautiful landscapes.”

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Strong said that she wants to encourage community recycling programs and see tougher sanctions on companies and individuals who harm the environment.

Strong is a graduate of Chelsea High School. She has a bachelor’s degree in science and a master’s degree in education from Auburn University. She also has a Ph.D. from Penn State University.

She and her husband Russell live in Alabaster. They have two children.

In addition to Strong, Russell Bedsole, James Dean, Chuck Martin, Jackson McNeely and Mimi Penhale are all running in the special Republican primary on Tuesday, Aug. 4. If a Republican runoff election is needed, it will be held on Tuesday, Sep. 1, 2020. The eventual Republican nominee will face Cheryl Patton in the special general election on Tuesday, Nov. 17.

The vacancy in House District 49 was created when State Representative April Weaver, R-Briarfield, announced her resignation to accept an appointment with the Trump administration as a regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

House District 49 consists of portions of Bibb, Shelby and Chilton Counties. The winner will serve the remainder of Weaver’s term which ends in late 2022.

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