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November General Election Results

Twitter Updates for 2012-06-29

  • Parts of the Medicaid expansion struck down by SCOTUS. Could save Alabama as much as $700 million/year starting in 2019. #alpolitics #
  • Medicaid struck down on basis that states could lose all funding for the program if it didn't expand. #alpolitics #
  • SCOTUS ruled that Congress can vote to expand healthcare services through Medicaid, but can't withhold current funds if states disobey. #
  • "The health care law is an overreach by the fed gov't that creates more regulation, bureaucracy, & dramatic increase in costs to taxpayers." #
  • More Gov. Bentley: "The ACA is the single worst piece of legislation to come out of Congress. This law must be repealed. #alpolitics #
  • Dr. Don Williamson, AL's Public Health Officer says it's unclear what the SCOTUS ruling means for Medicaid now. #
  • Dr. Williamson says he's not concerned with whether the ACA should be repealed. He says he's concerned with managing Medicaid. #
  • Attorney General Luther Strange says SCOTUS ruling means this is a bad day for Federalism. #alpolitics http://t.co/jtuuh427 #

Sue Bell Cobb, the court and future of Democrats

Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb’s unexpected decision to exit the court more than a year before her term ends has people talking.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), Cumberland Law School Dean John Carroll and Democrat activist and consultant Martha Bozeman talk about the current political shocker on Good Day Alabama. Watch here.

Read more of Rick Journey’s blog here.

New Bar President: “No way to run a court system.”

The incoming president of the Alabama Bar Association says a $27,000 fix to extend Jefferson County court security for 3 more weeks is a way to buy time for a long-term solution.

“Well-intended people are working on extending those 3 weeks,” Jim Pratt says.

Pratt, who moves into the president’s role in three weeks, says the county budget shortfall threatens a domino-effect across the criminal justice system if not resolved.

“No way to run a court system. It’s triage for one of society’s most important institutions.”

Pratt also takes exception with critics of the county’s effort to raise new revenue. Those critics contend the county has money in reserve to sustain the county’s basic services and staff.

“It’s just not true,” Pratt says, “I’ve looked at the finances. There’s a $75 million reserve… with one sign of the pen, that 75 million could go away.”

The “one sign of the pen” reference refers to a judge overseeing the lawsuit between the county and Wall Street investors in the sewer debt crisis. Wednesday the Birmingham News reported that a court-appointed receiver for the sewer system demanded $75 million from a settlement agreement with JP Morgan Chase.

Also Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported one leading analyst advised investors to “shy away from all Alabama bonds” because the state has not helped remedy the long-running sewer debt crisis.

Read more of Rick Journey’s blog here.

But I thought that’s what they do in Montgomery?

Debriefing testimony from Rep. Barry Mask’s 2nd day on the witness stand in the “Bribes for Bingo” case. Birmingham attorneys Roger Appell, Raymond Johnson Jr. and pollster/political observer Larry Powell of UAB talk about Mask’s claims that he felt Milton McGregor was offering him a bribe.

Read more of Rick Journey’s blog here.

AG Luther Strange Wants In JeffCo Sewer Mess

Attorney General Luther Strange says he wants to represent ratepayers in Jefferson County’s $3-billion sewer debt crisis. Strange has asked a judge to let him intervene on behalf of the ratepayers. He hopes for a hearing soon. Strange says he wants a “seat at the table…. to be a catalyst” to negotiate a resolution. The AG took the step after a court-appointed receiver recommended a 25% multi-year rate increase. The test, he says, “what is just and reasonable?”

Read more of Rick Journey’s blog here.

A Former First Lady Promotes “The New Cotton” in Alabama

Her husband no longer serves as an economic development booster as governor or lieutenant governor in Montgomery, but former first lady Marsha Folsom takes on the role as the promoter with a new agribusiness.

The future for Alabama’s Black Belt Region? In a word, Marsha Folsom says… “bamboo.”

“It’s the new cotton,” Folsom told me this morning on FOX6 News Good Day Alabama, “sustainable, ecological, a very environmentally friendly crop.”

An increased demand for bamboo products has created a shortage in supplier nations primarily based in Asia. Research by Mt. Vernon, Washington biotechnologist Jackie Heinricher created Boo-Shoot Gardens. Folsom’s introduction to Heinricher and her research prompted the Cullman county native to promote bamboo as an Alabama (and Deep South) cash crop.

Currently the University of Alabama has an acre of bamboo growing in Moundville as an example of “what could be” for Black Belt landowners. Northport has a downtown project called Black Belt BamBoost. Then there is Bike Lab in Greensboro. The group focuses on building bicycles made of Alabama bamboo.

Sometime Thursday morning Marc OBrien joins three more Bike Lab teammates for a Hale County to San Francisco trek called Ride Alabamboo.

On a political note, Folsom says her family is enjoying private life since Republicans swept statewide races in November, preventing Jim Folsom Jr. from another term as lieutenant governor. Her husband is the son of two-term governor “Big Jim” Folsom, who served in the 1940′s and 1950′s. “Little Jim,” as he is sometimes called, rose from lieutenant governor to governor in 1993 when Guy Hunt was removed from office. Jim Folsom currently works with an investment firm.

When asked off camera if her now adult children would ever consider entering the family business, she laughed and asked, “investing?”

Read more of Rick Journey’s political blog here.

Key bills left worth mentioning

Lawmakers will return to the State House on May 24th for the final push through the final 7 meeting days of the Regular Session.

Aside to trying to complete the complicated and politically charged reapportionment process, there are several bills that received much fan fare at one point or another during the session that have yet to move. Here’s a sort of primer on what they are.

  • The budgets: Both the Education Trust Fund (ETF) and General Fund (GF) passed both chambers but are now waiting to be finalized by a conference committee with members from both the House and Senate. There are some details that need to be hammered out. Some of the key details on these have to do with bills that are travelling with each of the budgets. The ETF carries with it a proposal to take funds normally reserved for telephone service for the deaf (it’s really revenue from that service) and transfer that to pay for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. With the budgets there’s a bill that would increase how much state employees contribute to their retirement while decreasing how much the state contributes. It would be a 2.5% jump over the next year and a half.
  • Ban on 20 week abortions:Rep. Kerry Rich’s bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy moved through the House with some Democratic opposition and it then soared through the Senate health committee. It now sits on the Senate floor waiting for a third reading. That bill is very close to passage. It is modeled after a Nebraska law outlawing abortions after 20 weeks, citing medical research that a fetus could feel pain inside the womb.
  • The “tenure” bill, having to do with modifying the termination process for public school teachers passed the Senate in the waning hours last week. It would limit terminated teacher pay on appeal to 75 days as well as eliminate the federal arbitrator from the process. The bill sponsor, Sen. Tripp Pittman, says the bill is simply a new mechanism to give school boards the ability to get rid of bad teachers. He also remarked, “If you’re a good teacher, then you have nothing to worry about.” That bill is now down in the House and the Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard said several hours before Senate passage, “We’re looking forward to getting that bill down here.”
  • Alabama’s illegal immigration reform bill is ttthhhhiiiiissssss close to passage. Last week, several hours before the vote on the tenure bill, the Senate approved a substitute to the House version, by replacing it with **the entire text of the Senate version.** I overheard someone say, “This is a Senate bill in House clothing.” It would require any company that handles a state contract to use the Federal E-Verify system to prove the immigration status of each employee. It also has several of the same measures in the controversial Arizona law that has since been challenged and rebuked by a Federal Panel. Alabama’s immigration bill could become law before June 1.

Well there you have it. There are several other bills out there like ones on bullying, a ban on texting while driving, and changing the ERS and TRS boards within the RSA but we’ll try to address those at another time.

For now, happy reapportioning.

Redistricting Recess

Lawmakers will not convene for the next two week as they are in recess to hold redistricting hearings in their respective districts.

Senate President Pro-tem Del Marsh and Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard said they wanted to address redrawing Congressional and school board lines during the Regular Legislative Session in order to avoid calling a special session devoted to the matter.

They also said they will address legislative redistricting in the coming sessions ahead of the 2014 elections. Basically, there is no rush to rewrite legislative districts since the election is so far off.

Alabama is in a much better spot than other states in regard to Congressional redistricting, simply because the state didn’t lose a Congressional District. Having to eliminate a district would have been an enormous political headache and it would be very difficult to avoid Federal intervention from the Justice Department.

Public hearings on redistricting will be held this week in Huntsville, Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery, and Selma where the public is invited to weigh in on the process.

Speaker Hubbard said he hoped the process wouldn’t be a very partisan, noting the GOP will be the party in control of the process for the first time in a very long time.

Democrats proposed their own plan to Speaker Hubbard and President Pro-tem Marsh to appoint a group of citizens to run the process instead of the committee on reapportionment in the legislature. We don’t have a response yet from GOP leadership but it is likely the GOP will go ahead with its own plan for reapportionment given the fact Democrats had controlled the process for so many years.

There is no use in speculating what the new Congressional or school board lines will look like. The legislature will draw the map and it is very possible the initial map they draw could be the final version. Combine the two facts that Republicans control supermajorities in both the House and Senate and that Governor Robert Bentley is a Republican, a veto of the map is unlikely.

It will be interesting to see what lawmakers come up with as the new Congressional and school board maps. GOP leadership have said the goal is to complete redistricting by the end of the legislative session.

“Personhood” Bill Set for Committee Vote

Tough question for Alabama lawmakers to deal with this session. Perhaps tougher than many of you will realize.

Here it is: when do you become a person? At birth or is it the minute the sperm fertilizes the egg?

Now throw in this complication. What if the fertilized egg isn’t in the womb. Is the human embryo a person even then or only after implantation in the womb?

Rep. John Merrill (R-Tuscaloosa) and Sen. Phil Williams (R-Gadsden) have introduced legislation to legally define l personhood “from the moment of fertilization.” Read HB409 here

Williams bill awaits a full vote in the Senate. Merrill’s version will come up for a vote in the House Health Committee.

“Personhood” legislation has popped up in several states. The closest to passage at this time is Mississippi, where the court’s are considering a ballot measure that would allow voters to decide if it should be put in the state constitution.

The idea: outlaw abortion by declaring fertilization constitutes personhood, thus setting up a potential U.S. Supreme Court battle. Personhood USA is a national anti-abortion movement that has seen limited success in other states and now has included Alabama in it’s focus. Read more here.

“The purpose of the legislation is to protect the rights of the unborn,” Rep. Merrill says, “we’re dealing with peoples’ lives when talking about the abortion issue.”

“I have the highest regard for life, maybe more so than anybody else because I understand the value,” says Jessica Sasser, “that’s what I’m fighting for is a baby. But at the same time, especially with the wording of this bill, there are scientific things you need to look at.”

Sasser testified against the current wording of the bill two weeks ago. Like one in seven U.S. couples, the 26 year old and her husband need fertility specialist to try to get pregnant. After two years with no success, in vitro fertilization appears to be their last, best hope.

Her doctors, and fertility organizations like the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, contend it could raise serious legal questions for fertility clinics if “personhood” is adopted in it’s current language.

ASMR’s Dr. Robert Rebar writes:

Even with natural conception, most fertilized eggs never develop into human beings. This is also true when the conception is accomplished using ART techniques. Because many of the fertilized eggs will not continue their development, physicians generally create several embryos for each patient. This is necessary so that the embryologist can choose the most developmentally competent embryo(s) for transfer and thereby increase patients’ chances of achieving a pregnancy and having a baby. Almost all ART cycles result in extra embryos. If their extra embryos have developed well, patients usually choose to freeze them for later transfer- to try for a pregnancy again if the current attempt was unsuccessful or to have another child. Read the full letter here.

Merrill says roadblocks for fertility patients is not the bill’s intent. As for the medical criticism of the bill in it’s current language, Merrill considers that “speculative” and in some cases, an “obstacle” by opponents.

Sasser and others who appeared before the House Health Committee hope Merrill will amend the bill to declare “personhood” once the fertilized egg is “implanted in the womb.”

Merrill’s bill will be considered by the House Health Committee Wednesday at 9a.m.

Read more of Rick Journey’s blog here.

Humane Society vs. Cockfighting

George Altman reports in this morning’s Press Register that a bill to strengthen Alabama’s weakest in the nation cockfighting law may be doomed.

Altman quotes Rep. Jim Barton (R-Mobile) saying “the sentiment of the House – particularly a lot of the north Alabama representatives (is that they) do not want to deal with it…. I think there’s been a lot of pressure on those guys.”

HB74 would boost cockfighting penalties from a range of $20-$50 now to $500 and up. It would cover not just conducting a cockfight, but attending, training or betting on a cockfight. Even business dealings involved would fall under the law.

This week on FOX6 News Good Day Alabama, Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States called cockfighting a “barbaric activity.” While promoting his book, The Bond, he called for Alabama’s legislature to strengthen the laws.

“People set up these fights just to watch the birds hack each other to death…. it should be a felony. It’s a felony in 40 other states. Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states.”

“They are all part of God’s creation. We should never do this sort of thing to them,” Pacelle says.

Read more of Rick Journey’s blog here.