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Thursday, March 17, 2011

We're Moving

We wanted to let readers know we are moving our blog and making it easier to find.

You can now find us at:

or go to and there is a direct link to the blog at the top of the page as one of our "Featured" sites.

We also have a South Union Street page on Facebook, where we post links to the latest updates we've placed on the blog.

Please e-mail us at if you have any suggestions or have any questions.

The South Union Street Team

Ag commissioner announces layoffs

The commissioner of the state’s agriculture department has started notifying about 60 workers they will be laid off to make cuts necessary to balance the budget.
Commissioner John McMillan said the department informed 17 people this week that they were being laid off and expects to announce more layoffs next week. Those employees who are laid off will remain on the payroll through April.
He said he is trying to cut personnel without affecting the departments that handle food safety and consumer protection. McMillan said he is eliminating the two-person international trade section.
The commissioner said international trade is "mighty important," but not as important as the department’s duties inspecting poultry flocks and meat processors in the state to try to catch any instances of avian flu, hoof and mouth disease, or any other disease or danger.
The department, as evidenced by the stickers on gas pumps throughout the state, is also responsible for inspecting pumps and scales such as those in grocery stores.
The agriculture department is in the last tier of priorities for the administration of Gov. Robert Bentley. In that tier, all departments or agencies are cut at least 45 percent.
McMillan said he knew when he entered the office in January that "we had some challenges, but I didn’t have any idea." He said he was expecting about 10 percent proration in the General Fund this year and about 15 percent cuts for the 2012 budget.
Instead, most agencies in the General Fund are facing 15 percent proration, across the board cuts declared by the governor to balance the budget.
McMillan said that proration led to an immediate cut of $2.3 million and that the department faces another $4.7 million cut in the 2012 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
"It's deeply troubling, but we have had no other choice but to reduce staff," McMillan said.
McMillan said he brought four employees with him when he started as commissioner including at least one that worked for his campaign.
"The people that I brought in I chose very carefully for their knowledge and experience with the intent of making a good many changes in the department," he said. McMillan said he wanted them to help analyze and evaluate issues at the department.
"They have the ability to work hard. They are going to have to shoulder a lot more of the load, as is everybody that will still be out there."

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Armistead selects new executive director for state GOP

Timothy James "TJ" Maloney will become executive director of the Alabama Republican Party on Monday, the party announced Thursday.
New Party Chairman Bill Armistead, a former state senator, said he made his choice after a thorough search for the person with the necessary experience and skills to direct the daily operations of the party.
“We have a strong team shaping up, and TJ has the experience and knowledge to take the helm,” Armistead said. “His prior experience in Alabama, having run a congressional campaign in 2008, is a real plus for us."
Maloney worked in 2008 as campaign manager for Wayne Parker in his unsuccessful bid to defeat Parker Griffith for the 5th Congressional District seat.
Maloney, who is relocating from Virginia for the job, has worked extensively in politics the corporate world.
"He has a reputation of being a solid team player and a hard-working leader, unconcerned about who receives credit,” Armistead said.
Maloney said he enjoyed his previous campaign work in Alabama and “coming back to Alabama is like coming home for me."
“I enjoyed living here when working on a previous campaign, and I'm glad to be back,” he said. “There are exciting things happening in Alabama and there is much to accomplish.”
John Ross worked as the executive director when Mike Hubbard was chairman of the party. Hubbard, who is now speaker of the House and presided over historic Republican wins in November, did not run for another term.
Armistead defeated state Rep. Jay Love of Montgomery in the contest to succeed Hubbard.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bentley: Lawmakers should sacrifice if they expect the same from teachers

Gov. Robert Bentley said he is leaving it up to lawmakers about how to handle the much-publicized and much-criticized pay raise, but he does have some advice.
"If they're wise, they should consider a cut like every other agency is taking a cut," the governor said.
Bentley said that lawmakers should be willing to sacrifice if they are going to ask teachers to sacrifice.
He also believes that lawmakers need to take out the automatic cost of living increase that they included when they passed a resolution in 2007 giving themselves a more than 60 percent increase in salary and expense allowances.
Bentley said he does not believe lawmakers need to go back to making closer to the $30,000 a year they did before the pay raise. He said that pay level makes it difficult with them staying in a hotel here, with gas approaching $4 a gallon, and eating while they are here.
The governor believes that lawmakers taking a cut like state agencies have would be a "good-faith effort" on their part.
Many Republicans ran criticizing the pay raise that the Democratic-led Legislature passed for themselves in 2007 as one of their first acts of business in the four-year term.
Now, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate appear to agree on a resolution that, beginning in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1., would cut the pay of lawmakers at the same level that the governor declares proration if the Legislature passes a budget in which spending is outpacing the money coming into the state.
Bentley reminded the Montgomery Advertiser in a conversation that he will not take a salary as governor until unemployment reaches 5.2 percent. He said that pledge to not take a salary as governor until Alabama reaches full employment is probably the reason he won the election.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Bentleys cutting back at mansion

Gov. Robert Bentley, talking Monday at the Montgomery Advertiser about the budgets, said he and his wife are trying to save the state money at the mansion.
He said he and his wife, Dianne, had the six phone lines coming into the mansion cut to one. And they decided they only needed one cable box instead of four.
The governor said his wife is frugal and they are cutting services and saving money where they can.
The governor's mansion has a current budget of $311,519 with a proposed budget of $185,352 for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Bentley signs bill overhauling education funding

Gov. Robert Bentley signed his first bill into law on Friday, a day after the Republican-led Legislature passed the bill overhauling how lawmakers budget money for Alabama schools.
Republicans, including Bentley, pushed the so-called rolling reserve bill to keep lawmakers from spending all of the available money in good economic years and from keeping Bentley and future governors from having to declare proration, across the board cuts required to balance the budget when not enough money is coming into the state to meet spending, in economic downturns.
Democrats are concerned the proposal could hurt Alabama schools, that Republicans are relegating their duties to a formula, and that the Legislature passed the bill during down economic times, which will place the cap unnecessarily low and keep funding from getting to schools for books, supplies, professional development and other needs.
Some years lawmakers passed budgets they knew would go into proration, requiring cuts to schools during the year when teachers and support staff were hired, and children were in classrooms.For too long, state Rep. Greg Canfield said, teachers, administrators and local school boards have "suffered under the burden of uncertain budgets."Canfield, R-Vestavia Hills, the sponsor of the bill, said the lofty budget proposals used to put together the budgets were a false promise.In the last 11 years, Canfield said one in three budgets went into proration."When you look at having proration every third year, that is unacceptable," Bentley said.
The bill would use a 15-year average of money available for the education budget to set a spending cap. Additional revenue beyond that cap would be used to replace money the Legislature borrowed from a state rainy day fund to balance the budget in previous years and revenue after that would be placed in a reserve fund intended to stabilize the education budget. Based on the 2011 fiscal year, the Legislative Fiscal Office estimates there would be 3.38 percent growth for the 2013 education budget.
House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said it is fitting that the budget change is the first bill passed in this four-year term for lawmakers, the first with Republicans in the majority in more than a century. He said the legislation ushers in a new era of fiscal responsibility.
"It sends a message we're going to change the way Montgomery operates," he said. " ... This was the right thing to do."
-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Governor Won't Get to Sign DROP Bill

It looks like Gov. Robert Bentley will only get to sign one of the two major pieces of legislation that he needed lawmakers to pass to make his budget proposals for fiscal 2012 work.

Though the House passed legislation that would eliminate the state's Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP program, the Senate adjourned without concurring on an amendment that was put on in the House. The amendment would create a study committee that would develop ideas for retaining the state's top teachers and public employees.

That means that Bentley won't get to sign the bill until after the Senate takes it up when that body returns from spring break. Lawmakers are expected to return to Montgomery on March 22.

The Senate gave final passage to a bill that would change the way that the legislature develops the education budget by capping appropriations from the Education Trust Fund and creating reserve funds to help stave off proration, or across the board cuts to education.

-- Markeshia Ricks

DROP Bill is Amended to Create a Study Committee on Teacher Retention

A bill that would eliminate the state's Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP program, was amended from the floor Thursday to create a study committee that would look for ways to help the state retain its "best and brightest" classroom teachers and public employees.

The amendment was offered by state Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Huntsville The committee would have to report its findings by the fifth legislative day of the 2012 session. Lawmakers voted for the measure 78 to 8, though state Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said he wanted the people back at home to know that the current DROP program would still be ended under this bill.

State Rep. Harry Shiver, R-Bay Minette, had attempted earlier in the day's debate to amend the bill to change the effective end date of the program from April 1 to July 1, giving people who might have planned to enter the program this year time to put in their applications.

State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, had successfully fought attempts Wednesday evening to amend the bill to move the end date, arguing that it would cost the state between $10 million and $12 million to move the date to June 1.

State Finance Director David Perry said the governor's budget plans partially hinge on the DROP program being eliminated by April 1. He said that state agencies would have to figure out how to cut the additional millions from their budgets if the April 1 date was pushed back. It is unclear how much a move to July 1 would cost.

House members ultimately voted to reconsider the Shiver amendment, while he was out of the room, and ultimately decided to table the amendment.

House members continue to debate the bill, with mostly Democrats offering amendments. McCutcheon's amendment has been the only successfully one offered so far Thursday. The amended bill would have to go back to the Senate, but it is expected to be accepted in the upper chamber.

Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard of Auburn told members before they recessed at just after noon to have a big lunch because there likely would be no break for dinner.

-- Markeshia Ricks

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Legislature passes rolling reserve bill

State lawmakers passed a bill on Thursday that could keep funding for education at or below 2007 levels for another five years.
The House passed the measure on Tuesday and the Senate passed the legislation on Thursday 23-10 along partisan lines with Republicans voting for it.
Democrats in the House and Senate expressed concerns that the "rolling reserve" bill could hurt the progress Alabama has made in education.
"In the interest of showing the public we are fiscally conservative we are going to hurt the education of our children," said Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma.
The Senate passed the bill intended to keep the education budget from going into proration, which are across the board cuts that the governor must declare to balance budgets if the amount of revenue the state is taking in cannot keep up with spending levels passed by the Legislature.
Republicans believe the bill is necessary to keep lawmakers from spending every penny in good years and from going into proration in economic downturns.
Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, mentioned the bill in his state of the state address and said he would sign it if lawmakers pass it.
The bill would use a 15-year average to set a spending cap for the education budget. Additional revenue above that level, in good economic years, would be placed in a rolling reserve fund or used to replace money the Legislature borrowed from a state rainy day fund to balance the budget in previous years.
Sanders tried to get the Republicans to delay implementation until better economic years. He said the Republicans are including down economic years when the state has cut funding for books, school supplies and professional development.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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"STOP JUAN CROW": Opponents of bill targeting illegal immigrants rally at State House

People opposing an Arizona-style bill that they believe will lead to racial profiling and cost the state heavily to defend it in court rallied in front of the State House on Thursday.
They carried handmade signs that read: "Stop Juan Crow," "Don't spend my taxdollars on your hate," and "This country was built by immigrants."
A House committee already passed the bill and it now goes to the full House for consideration. Many observers expect the Legislature to pass a bill this year targeting illegal immigration.
If the bill passes, people who are here illegally could be arrested for trespassing just for being in Alabama and those who cannot produce papers documenting their legal status can be jailed indefinitely.
Proponents of the bill said it is needed because of the costs of health care, school, law enforcement, and lost tax revenue due to illegal immigration.
Speakers on Thursday said the bill has already cost other cities and states, including Arizona, millions to defend similar legislation in court.
A translator was there on Thursday to relay the words of the speakers to the Spanish-speakers in the crowd. More than 100 people attended the rally.
Those protesting the bill at the Celebrating a Diverse Alabama Rally included religious leaders, Welcoming Alabama, the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, Center for Progress in Alabama, Southern Poverty Law Center, Alabama American Civil Liberties Union, and Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice. They are part of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Democrats announce legislative agenda

Democrats in the Alabama Legislature rolled out their agenda on Wednesday, saying their platform is a handshake with working people and not with big corporations.
They were taking a dig at Republicans, who are pushing through bills from their Handshake with Alabama, a list of campaign promises from the 2010 election.
This is the first regular session in which Democrats will be trying to pass their agenda as a minority. About two dozen Democrats were in the House chamber on Wednesday to share their goals.
Their agenda includes online filing of campaign finance forms and creating a searchable database; trying to curb the purchase of medication used in making methamphetamines; fighting distracted driving; creating tax incentives for existing and potential industries using millions of dollars from revenue from offshore oil and gas; and eliminating tax loop holes for out-of-state corporations that Democrats believe are costing the state millions in revenue.
Some of their goals are ones they had difficulty passing while they were in the majority including removing the state portion of the sales tax off of groceries, and rewriting the state's 1901 constitution.
Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, and House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, acknowledged that Democrats have been run over in the Alabama Senate. During the special session and so far in this session, Senate Republicans have quickly shut down any effort by Democrats to debate issues and moved to quickly vote on issues.
Ford said they hope, like they did with one bill during the December special session, that they will be able in the House to peel away some Republicans to vote with them on some issues.
State Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, said he is continuing his fight to remove the 4 percent state sales tax on groceries. He said he is open to talking to anyone with suggestions of how to replace that revenue.
Republicans oppose replacing the revenue by stopping Alabamians above a certain income level from deducting the federal income tax they pay from their state income tax.
Bedford is pushing a resolution that would allow people to vote in the June 2012 party primaries on whether they want the constitution rewritten by convention, which would be conducted later by a man and woman elected from each House district.
State Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, plans to introduce bills that he believes would close the loopholes for out-of-state corporations that compete with corporations headquartered here. Also, with the state needing revenue for education, Lindsey said the state is losing out on $100 million in revenue because of the loopholes.
Bedford and Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard, said Sudafed is a main ingredient in methamphetamines and said people are crossing the border from Mississippi to purchase it so they want to make Sudafed a Class III drug, which would only allow it to be purchased by prescription.
Rep. Joe Hubbard, D-Montgomery, has introduced a bill that he believes would create greater transparency through online filing of campaign finance forms.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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House Goes to Special Order on Fifth Legislative Day

The Alabama House of Representatives will start working from a special order calendar Thursday that could allow several bills important to the Republican majority to come up for debate before lawmakers head off to spring break.

House Rules Chairman Blaine Galliher, R-Gadsden, told members that they would begin working from the special order on the fifth legislative day, which is Thursday.

A special order calendar could allow bills such as one that would eliminate the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP program, and a bill that would require state and local officials to enforce federal immigration law to come up.

The House has been operating from its regular order calendar which allows members to take up bills in the order they come out of committee. A special order would allow lawmakers to craft a calendar that would bring up bills ready for debate on the regular calendar out of order.

-- Markeshia Ricks

Major players in Alabama have large sums in DROP program

The following is a list of the people with the top 50 balances in the DROP program or Deferred Retirement Option Program. The Alabama Senate voted on Tuesday to kill the program and the House could vote on its version as early as Thursday. The name of the officials are followed by their balance in the program.

REED, JOE LOUIS; $1,475,952.21; Associate Executive Secretary, Alabama Education Association

HUBBERT, PAUL R; $1,374,311.70; Executive Secretary, Alabama Education Association

PORTERA, MALCOLM; $1,325,210.85; Chancellor, University of Alabama System

MOULTON, V GORDON; $1,188,669.94; President, University of South Alabama

PEEVY, KEITH JACKSON; $850,979.97; Pediatrician, University of South Alabama Hospital

MOORE, MAL M; $849,659.52; Athletic Director, University of Alabama

HAWKINS, JACK; $841,726.82; Chancellor, Troy University System

DAVIS, M WAYNE; $836,460.20; Vice-President, University of South Alabama

DELUCAS, LAWRENCE J; $835,433.66; Optometrist, University of Alabama at Birmingham

MASON, JOSEPH B; $769,941.43; Dean, University of Alabama College of Business

CAPILOUTO, ELI; $757,275.19; Provost, University of Alabama at Birmingham

LOBUGLIO, ALBERT F; $755,807.85; Director, University of Alabama at Birmingham Cancer Center

ROQUEMORE, PERRY JR; $750,454.75; Executive Secretary, Alabama League of Municipalities

BLAKENEY, LARRY; $748,161.90; Football Coach, Troy University

WHITT, JOE; $699,555.01

WHITLEY, RICHARD J; $696,527.03


IRWIN, J DAVID; $661,061.84



ALDERMAN, CHARLES W; $631,116.91

JONES, RONALD L; $621,247.48

ROGERS, WILLIAM J; $615,526.07

LUCAS, LINDA C; $614,172.99

QUINDLEN, EUGENE A; $601,967.87

BENEFIELD, R ALAN; $599,568.08

DALE, LOUIS; $586,065.84

BREZOVICH, IVAN A; $579,167.38

DULEK, RONALD E; $578,125.32

STAGNO, SERGIO; $570,164.37

WYSKIDA, RICHARD M; $569,713.41

COCHRAN, JOHN E JR; $569,431.00

YANCEY, DONALD L; $563,241.18

SCRIPA, ROSALIA N; $559,557.32

DYER, DAVID F; $558,511.68

GREGORY, JOHN C; $556,001.70

MERRITT, JUDY MILES; $554,659.42

STEPHENS, JERRY W; $546,935.11

MCALPINE, HELEN T; $545,568.25


BLOUGH, DAVID K; $540,709.13

BRANCH, GARY LEO; $530,272.28

ANDREWS, J BARRY; $529,213.67

CAPLES, VIRGINIA; $526,227.74

DOUGLASS, PEGGI L; $525,464.47

MICHALEK, SUZANNE M; $521,521.73

ESSARY, REBA J; $520,759.17

BONNER, JUDITH L; $518,955.73

BROWN, DAVID B; $499,686.03

VAN MATRE, JOSEPH G; $497,818.97

source: Legislative Fiscal Office

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Senate Republicans vote to kill DROP program

Democrats in the Alabama Senate attempted to delay a vote on the bill that would kill a retirement program the state started to keep quality longtime employees, especially teachers, from retiring or leaving for other states, but Republicans quickly shut down debate.
On Tuesday, Republicans approved the bill repealing the DROP program or Deferred Retirement Option Program on a 23-12 vote.
The DROP program allows state and education employees who are 55 years old and have 25 years of service to receive salary and retirement benefits while continuing to work.
The bill now goes to the Alabama House of Representatives for consideration.
Democrats in the Senate had also pushed for an amendment that would allow people to continue to enroll until the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, instead of ending enrollment April 1, but that died 19-16.
Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said some people have "been counting" on the program for years.
Republicans argued the "luxury" retirement plan was too costly during these tough financial times, an argument that Democrats object to. Bedford said the state would save from not having to pay benefits for the DROP enrollee and a new hire.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Senate Democrats attack repeal of DROP

Democrats in the Alabama Senate are calling the attempt by Republicans to stop the DROP retirement program a punitive attack on teachers and state employees hidden behind the guise of saving money.
Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said that Republicans in the regular session, like they did in the special session on ethics, are bringing up a bill that would hurt teachers and state employees as the first proposal they consider. During the special session, the first bill considered and passed by the new Republican majority stopped politically active associations that represent teachers and state employees from collecting their dues through the state's automatic payroll deduction system.
The Deferred Retirement Option Program or DROP program allows state and education employees who are 55 years old and have 25 years of service to receive salary and retirement benefits while continuing to work. The program was passed in the hope that it would discourage valuable employees from taking early retirement.
State Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said the intent of DROP was to slow teachers leaving Alabama for other states.
Projections from the Legislative Fiscal Office and others put the savings to the state for repealing DROP between $35 million and $70 million.
Republicans believe the "luxury benefit plan" needs to be repealed during these tough financial times.
"DROP is simply an added luxury that public employees enjoy, but the state does not have the resources to continue funding luxuries while cutting the budgets for the necessities. I believe the people of Alabama can understand that logic," said Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston. "It's the same logic that they follow when making financial decisions that impact their families - it's simply common sense budgeting."
Bedford said the purpose is "not to save money, but to punish them because a disproportionate number of them chose to vote for Gov. Robert Bentley over not-Gov. Bradley Byrne"
The Alabama Education Association supported Bentley, then a two-term state legislator, over Byrne, former chancellor of the state's junior college system who was supported by some of the state's most prominent Republicans, in that party primary.
Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, said the bill is an attack on teachers and state employees.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Lawmakers move forward with term limits, stronger veto power and removing racist language

A committee of Alabama senators approved legislation on Tuesday that would allow voters to decide if they want to remove racist language from the state constitution, limit how many terms a state lawmaker can serve, and give the governor stronger veto power.
"These represent monumental reforms," said Bryan Taylor, chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections.
The panel also passed out proposals that would require those utilizing robo-calls during campaigns to disclose who is paying for them, lowering the threshold for independent and third party candidates to get on the ballot in the state, and requiring electronic filing of campaign finance reports.
Taylor, R-Prattville, said term limits and giving the governor stronger veto power should make government more accountable and, he believes, lessen the influence of special interests.
Taylor said the proposal by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would "remove the most appalling segregationist" language from the state's 1901 constitution if approved by voters. Even though those sections are not utilized now, Taylor said the move would be "deeply symbolic" and help improve the state's image nationally and internationally.
"Like it or not, Alabama still has a reputation for racism," said Taylor, referring to grainy footage of the civil rights struggle in the state. "That seems to be what a lot of people think of when they think of Alabama."
He said the state deserves better.
Orr said the language should have been removed years ago and, if passed by the Legislature, would be on the ballot in the November 2012 general election.
A proposal by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, would limit members of the House and Senate to serving three consecutive full terms.
Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Pike Road, wants to require the vote of three-fifths of lawmakers to override a veto by the governor. Currently, a simple majority can override a veto. But Brewbaker said any proposal that gets to the governor had to have the support of a simple majority to get there.
Brewbaker said there are not three "co-equal levels of government" now because the Legislature is clearly dominant and that his bill would give the governor an effective veto.
The committee passed another bill that would lower the threshold for third party or independent candidates to get on to the ballot in Alabama. If the Legislature approves the proposal, candidates would be required to get the signatures of 1.5 percent of eligible voters who voted in the last election. Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said the 20 percent required now is the highest in the nation.
Ward, the sponsor, said the high threshold disenfranchises people by making ballot access difficult.
The committee carried over a bill that would provide for members of the military to vote electronically because the sponsor, Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, was not at the meeting.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Senate panel to consider term limits, military voting and removing racist language

Term limits, military voting on the web, and removing racist language from the state constitution are at the top of the agenda for the Senate Committee on Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections, according to the chairman.
Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, said those are among the bills that will be considered during a meeting at 11 a.m. Tuesday in room 609A of the State House.
Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, has introduced a bill that would implement term limits for lawmakers.
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, has proposed allowing voters to decide if they want to remove racist language from the state constitution.
Their colleague, Gerald Dial of Lineville, has introduced a bill that would provide for members of the military to vote electronically.
The committee will consider several other issues including requiring a supermajority of the Legislature to override a veto by the governor, a bill related to displaying the Ten Commandments, and requiring robo-calls to include a disclosure of who is paying for it.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Senate puts repealing DROP at top of agenda

The president pro tem of the Alabama Senate is pushing for the repeal of what he deemed a "luxury benefit plan," known as the Deferred Retirement Option Program or DROP.
Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said when lawmakers return to Montgomery on Tuesday that repealing DROP will be at the top of the Senate's agenda. He said people need to understand the difference between luxuries and necessities in tough economic times.
Marsh said repealing the program could save the state up to $70 million and said it has become a drain on the state's cash-strapped budgets.
"There is a lot of rhetoric out there regarding this bill, so I want to be clear - repealing this program will not cost anyone their job, it will not have a negative impact on anyone's retirement and it will not raise taxes on the people of Alabama," Marsh said. "However, if we fail to pass this bill, it could be catastrophic to essential programs - such as those that help children in need, provide medical assistance to seniors and serve as the lifeblood for people with disabilities."
"DROP is simply an added luxury that public employees enjoy, but the state does not have the resources to continue funding luxuries while cutting the budgets for the necessities. I believe the people of Alabama can understand that logic. It's the same logic that they follow when making financial decisions that impact their families - it's simply common sense budgeting."
DROP allows state and education employees who are 55 years old and have 25 years of service to receive salary and retirement benefits while continuing to work. The pro­gram was passed in the hope that it would discourage val­uable employees from taking early retirement.
Last week, House and Senate committee passed bills that would stop enrollment in DROP.
Republican Gov. Robert Bentley and Republicans in the Legislature have made repealing DROP a priority as they seek to balance the state's budgets.
Bentley pushed for repealing the DROP program in his State of the State address a week ago and said it has "overly taxed our retirement system."
"I applaud Governor Bentley's willingness to tackle these problems and make tough decisions as we work to cut out the fat so that we can save essential programs," Marsh said. "The Republican leadership is committed to heeding the governor's warning, repealing DROP and passing the savings on to relieve some of the strain on the Education Trust Fund and General Fund."
High school coaches and teachers are among those who have spoken out against repealing the bill.
Projections from the Legislative Fiscal Office and others put the savings to the state between $35 million and $70 million.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ivey Makes Appointments to Reapportionment Committee

Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey announced Thursday the appointment of eleven state senators to a committee that will redraw lines for congressional, state and local political boundaries.

Ivey appointed the following senators to the reapportionment committee: Congressional District 1– Sen. Trip Pittman, R.-Daphne Congressional District 2– Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba; Congressional District 3 - Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville; Congressional District 4– Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville; Congressional District 5 – Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison; Congressional District 6 – Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster; Congressional District 7 – Sen. Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham. In addition, the Lieutenant Governor appointed 4 at-large members: Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile; Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur; Sen.Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa; Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville.

“The purpose of reapportionment is to ensure fairness in elective representation in the legislative branches on the state and national levels,” Ivey said in a press release Thursday. “We are going to diligently re-draw districts that are equal in population and homogeneously representative of the people."

The committee is responsible for divvying up Alabama's seven U.S. House of Representatives seats, based on each district’s proportion of the state population as determined by the most recent census. The preceding decennial 2010 Census, which put Alabama's population just shy of 4.8 million people, is the baseline for determining how many House seats are allotted to the state. Alabama neither lost nor gained any congressional seats and will have nine electoral votes in 2012.

The committee of lawmakers also will redraw the lines for the 105 Alabama House of Representative seats, the 35 Alabama Senate seats and the eight State Board of Education seats.

The full Reapportionment Committee is comprised of a total of 22 members including 11 members of the House of Representatives appointed by the Alabama Speaker of the House.

-- Markeshia Ricks

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Democrats Continue Fight for Constitutional Reform

Democratic members of the Alabama Legislature announced Thursday that they would introduce a resolution that would allow the state's voters to decide whether to call a constitutional convention to reform the state's constitution.

State Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, said that he hopes his Republican colleagues who now control both chambers of the Legislature will join him in support of allowing the people to vote. Newton has championed a reform of Alabama's oft amended 1901 constitution by convention. Democrats had brought legislation for years when they controlled the legislature, but were never successful.

"Today is step one in letting the people of Alabama decide if they want a new constitution," Newton said. "Why should we be afraid of the citizens of Alabama?"

State Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, said that Alabama's constitution was written to disenfranchise blacks, women and poor whites, and, with its hundreds of amendments, a broken document.

"Our constitution is clearly broken," she said. "It has hundreds of amendments and every time we add another amendment it is weakened even more."

Republicans have said they favor an article-by-article revision of the state's constitution. State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, has introduced legislation this session that would amend the constitution to remove racist language.

-- Markeshia Ricks

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bill to Shut Down Drop Program Advances

Members of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee voted 10 to 4 along party lines to advance a bill that would end enrollment in the DROP program and change how much interest the remaining accounts receive starting June 1. Ending the program was one of the cost saving measures that Gov. Robert Bentley outlined in his state of the state address Tuesday.

State Rep. Barry Mask, R-Wetumpka, is the sponsor of the bill and he said its only purpose is to “scrape up all the money we can” to help the state save money in the beleaguered General Fund. Projections from the Legislative Fiscal Office and others put the savings to the state between $35 million and $70 million. But opponents of the bill argue that lawmakers don’t have the real numbers on what eliminating the program could cost the state.

The bill would end new enrollment in the DROP program, which was created in 2002 to discourage valuable employees from taking early retirement. It also would change the interest that DROP accounts accumulate from 4 percent to whatever the market rate is. DROP provides an incentive for state, county and education employees who are 55 years old and have at least 25 years of service to keep working for at least another three to five years in exchange for sending their retirement allowance to an account that they can cash out when they complete the program.

Committee members heard impassioned pleas from high school football coaches and teachers who extolled the benefits of the program and asked lawmakers to consider ways to keep it and save money during a public Wednesday.

Steve Savarese, executive director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association and 37-year veteran teacher, asked lawmakers to consider what doing away with the program would do to the state’s ability to keep experienced teachers in hard to staff subjects such as math and science.

“My main concern is that we’re going to lose our best and brightest,” he said.

Read the rest of the story in Thursday's edition of the Montgomery Advertiser at

-- Markeshia Ricks

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Secret Ballot Bill Headed to the Full House

For the first time in the three years, a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the right to a secret ballot including in votes of employee representation is on its way to full debate in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Business interests in the state have backed such a bill for several years, but were always unsuccessful getting it out of Democrat controlled committees because of heavy union pressure. But times have definitely changed with Republicans at the helm of House committees.

Business Council of Alabama President and CEO William Canary said the bill didn't come up for debate in 2009 and committee members voted to indefinitely postpone the bill in 2010, effectively killing it for the session. Canary was the proponent for the bill at Wednesday's hearing.

The House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee, in a voice vote, gave a favorable report to the bill. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Kurt Wallace, R-Maplesville, would amend Section 177 of the Official Recompilation of the 1901 Alabama Constitution.

Wallace told his colleagues that the right to vote by secret ballot "is as American as apple pie."

The amendment, which would have to be voted on statewide, would add the following language to the state constitution: "The right of individuals to vote by secret ballot is fundamental. Where state or federal law requires elections for public office or public votes on referenda, or designations or authorizations of employee representation, the right of individuals to vote by secret ballot shall be guaranteed."

Al Henley of Alabama AFL-CIO said told lawmakers that the bill was about union avoidance and would likely result in costly litigation for the state.

"We're all trying to save a little money these days, but a lot will be spent on litigation if this bill passes," he said.

-- posted by Markeshia Ricks

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From Nearly 30 to 3: Voter I.D Bill Makes it out of House Committee

In a 7 to 2 vote, the House Constitution, Campaigns and Election Committee gave a favorable report to a bill that would allow voters to show only government issued, photo identification at the polls.

If the bill becomes law, it would reduce the kind of identifying material that a person could possibly use to prove they are a voter from nearly 30 to 3.

And all three kinds of identification would have to be government issued.

State Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville, is sponsoring the voter photo-I.D. bill, which is being pushed by Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman as a way to fight voter fraud.

The former two-term legislator who made his return to the State House on the Republican sweep of the 2010 election cycle told his colleagues that the bill would go a long way in streamlining the identification process that exists under current law.

In 2003, state legislators passed a law that allows voters to use nearly 30 forms of identification at the polls including bank statements and utility bills, as long as it had the voter's name on it. Under Rich's bill a voter would have to provide poll workers with picture identification issued by the state or federal government such as a driver's license, a non-driver identification card or military identification card.

The bill further provides that since the photo identification would be a requirement of the law, the state would provide, free of charge, state issued identification cards for those who would need them. A Legislative Fiscal Office analysis estimates those free cards and subsequent renewals and duplicates could cost the Alabama Department of Public Safety $750,000 (new) and $398,000 (renewals/duplicates), respectively, as they did in fiscal 2010.

Rich said he believes that most people use their driver's license when they go to the polls so it shouldn't cause any problems for about 99 percent of Alabamians. He said provisions that allow homebound elderly and those with disabilities to vote absentee ballot by using a witness or having them notarized wouldn't change. He said those who manage to forget their government issued photo identification on election day would still be allowed to vote provisional ballots, or they can have two certified poll workers sign an affidavit verifying their identity.

Two of the three Democrats on the committee, State Representatives Juandalynn Givan and Demetrius Newton, both of Birmingham, voted against the measure. State Rep. Richard Lindsey of Talladega voted for the measure after he amended it to make sure that probate judges would work with DPS to issue photo identification instead of the Secretary of State's Office.

-- Markeshia Ricks

Check out this list of current forms of identification considered acceptable at the polls in Alabama from the Secretary of State's Website:

A. Current, Valid Photo Identification

  1. Government-issued photo identifications (current and valid)
  2. Employee identification for employee with photo of employee produced by the employer
  3. Photo identification card issued by Alabama college or university
  4. Photo identification issued from Alabama technical or professional school (current and valid)


B. One of the following

  1. Utility bill of voter with voter's name and address
  2. Bank statement with voter's name and address
  3. Government check with voter's name and address
  4. Paycheck with voter's name and address
  5. Valid identification card (authorized by law) issued by the State of Alabama (including any branch, department, agency, or entity of the State of Alabama)
  6. Valid identification card (authorized by law) issued by any of the other 49 states (including any branch, department, agency, or entity of that State)
  7. Valid identification card (authorized by law) issued by the government of the United States of America (including any branch, department, agency, or entity of the federal government
  8. Valid United States passport
  9. Valid Alabama hunting license
  10. Valid Alabama fishing license
  11. Valid Alabama pistol/revolver permit
  12. Valid pilot's license issued by the FAA or other authorized agency of the federal government
  13. Valid United States military identification
  14. Birth certificate (certified copy)
  15. Valid Social Security card
  16. Naturalization document (certified copy)
  17. Court record of adoption (certified copy)
  18. Court record of name change (certified copy)
  19. Valid Medicaid card
  20. Valid Medicare card
  21. Valid electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card
  22. Government document that shows the name and address of the voter

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Fight over illegal immigration begins in Alabama

The two sides in the fight over illegal immigration in Alabama discussed a proposal modeled after the controversial law in Arizona during a public hearing on Wednesday.
In the second day of the legislative session, a committee in the Alabama House of Representatives heard from both sides on the bill intended to push out illegal immigrants that are here and deter others from coming to the state.
The bill, which the sponsor expects to be amended, is expected to require all employers to use the federal e-verify system to check the immigration status of workers, require jails to hold people until they can verify their status, criminalize knowingly transporting an illegal immigrant, and allow law enforcement officers to ask for proof of status during other stops.
Opponents are concerned the legislation would lead to racial profiling, mistrust by the Hispanic community, and additional costs for businesses, cities and counties.
Proponents argued that those who are here illegally are a drain on public services during this economic crisis and that they are driving down wages for Alabamians looking for work.
The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee did not vote on the bill. The chairman, Rep. Micky Hammon of Decatur, said they could vote on the bill next week.
Most observers expect the Legislature, now under Republican control for the first time in more than 130 years, to pass legislation intended to curb illegal immigration in Alabama.
Hammon said he found, in looking at numbers about two years ago, that the cost in Alabama of educating children of illegal immigrants cost about $200 million a year. He said there will be costs to enforcing the legislation, but those would be outweighed by the costs of medical care, law enforcement, depressed wages, lost tax revenue, and education.
There is not an estimate of the potential cost here, but one opponent of the bill said Kentucky estimates the cost of a similar proposal there at $40 million to $80 million a year.
Shay Farley, legal director of the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice, said that Arizona is spending $11,000 a day defending its law, that the state has lost $15 million in the hotel industry, and that the state has lost $17 million in tax revenue from decreased tourism spending and employment.
Some people representing the religious community and outreach groups for victims of domestic violence expressed concerns that their work could be criminalized for transporting or housing people who are not legal citizens.
Hammon said a priest could be found guilty for having an illegal immigrant in the sanctuary of his church.
Some opponents also said the federal government – not the state and local law enforcement –are responsible for enforcing immigration law.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Presidential Preference Primary Could Go Back to June

The House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee gave the green light to a bill that would return Alabama's presidential preference primary to June and likely save the state nearly $4 million in fiscal 2012 and every four years after.

Alabama lawmakers voted in 2006 to move the state's presidential preference primary from the first Tuesday in June to the first Tuesday in February in hopes of having a greater influence on the 2008 presidential contest. The move cost the state about $3.9 million, according to a Legislative Fiscal Office analysis.

State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, is the sponsor of the a bill that would return the presidential preference primary to June.

"We passed this bill in a bipartisan manner, but, unfortunately, a lot of states did the same thing and we didn't gain as much exposure as we hoped we would," he said.

If the bill makes it into law it would restore the state's presidential preference primary to the first Tuesday in June. It also would delete language from the statute that allowed counties that recognize Mardi Gras as a holiday to be reimbursed for the cost of having an election on that day.

Deleting that section will save the state an additional $250,000 for any fiscal year that the presidential preference primary would have been held the same day as Mardi Gras.

-- Markeshia Ricks

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Senators propose pay cut if budgets goes into proration

A bipartisan group of state senators said Tuesday they support a resolution that, beginning with the next state budgets, would cut the pay of state legislators equal to the level of budget cuts declared by the governor.
Some Republicans who slammed a 2007 pay raise that lawmakers voted for themselves do not believe the resolution goes far enough.
Senators who support the resolution said the measure was intended to encourage legislators to try to accurately balance the budgets.
Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, announced Monday that he was immediately declaring 3 percent proration in the current education budget and would soon declare 15 percent proration in the current General Fund budget, the source of funds for most non-education functions of state government including Medicaid, prisons, and public safety.
State law requires the budget to be balanced so the governor must declare proration, or across the board cuts, to balance revenue and spending.
If the resolution proposed on Tuesday passes, lawmakers' pay would be cut at the rate of proration beginning with the next budget year, which starts Oct. 1. The proposal would not affect the current fiscal year.
Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, said he proposed the resolution because unrealistic budget forecasts hurt agencies and state employees, but legislators are not feeling the pain.
As a small businessman, Sanford said "when my employees feel the pain, I feel the pain."
He said this would be an incentive for lawmakers to be more cautious when assembling the budgets.
Lawmakers were asked why not make the resolution effective this budget year.
"There (are) many people in these chambers who didn't have anything to do with these budgets," Sanford said.
Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, a former budget committee chairman, said the resolution would give more accountability to the budget process.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said he does not feel the support is there to roll back legislative pay levels to 2007, when lawmakers passed a more than 60 percent pay raise for themselves as one of their first acts of business. He believes the issue could bring the Senate to a stalemate. Marsh said any legislator who wants to turn down their pay raise can do so.
But some legislators want the pay level taken back to the 2007 level and want to remove the automatic cost of living increase that lawmakers included in that increase.
Republican Sens. Gerald Dial of Lineville and Bryan Taylor of Prattville want to roll back the pay increase.
Taylor said he has not seen a draft of the resolution, but understands "where some of my colleagues are coming from, particularly the freshmen." He said some of them took pay cuts and took jobs in the private sector to run.
"Many of us were not here in 2007," Taylor said.
But Taylor said he continues to support a repeal of the pay increase.
"I think the pay raise in 2007 was wrong," he said.
Taylor said any resolution cutting back pay "is a step in the right direction."
Marsh said the joint support for the resolution sets a good tone for the legislative session, which started Tuesday.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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