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November General Election Results

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.

Dem Fatigure with the “Handshake”

Well, did you expect Democrats to tell the new Republican majority “good job?”

You can hear the fatigure when Democrats talk about the Republican “Handshake With Alabama,” which was a mid-summer 2010 campaign promise.

Recently, Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) quipped to me “the ‘Handshake’ is about to break my arm.”

Sunday, Dana Beyerle of the NYT Regional Papers wrote Senate Republicans will now take up the House-passed “Handshake” agenda with the greatest conflict perhaps centering around illegal immigration.

Today on Good Day Alabama, House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) offered a quick criticism of the “Handshake” agenda while discussing efforts to protect last year’s PACT bailout.

“They’ve (Republicans) addressed their ‘Hand Shake With Alabama.’ We spent a third of the session addressing these bills, which are unconstitutional, and now we’re going after the PACT program and take money from the PACT program.”

Read more of Rick Journey’s blog here.

Lawmakers consider possible pay cut

By Bob Howell – WSFA 12 News Anchor – Montgomery, AL

Members of the Alabama Senate are talking about whether their pay should be cut – or perhaps prorated like state budgets when economic times are tough.  Sen. Paul Sanford, (R – Madison) favors the option of prorating salaries as needed.  He says repealing the 60%  pay hike approved by lawmakers in 2007 could force him and others to leave the legislature.  “If you cut this pay back to ’07 then I believe myself and many other legislators are going to be put in a situation where we’re going to have to resign,” said Sen. Sanford. “And if I’m going to have to resign then the state’s going to have to have a special session.”

Lawmakers base pay is fixed by law.  But they’ve been able to get around the rather modest amount by increasing their “expense allowance.”  Currently they earn about $52,000 in total compensation annually….up from about $30,000 prior to 2007.

Veteran lawmaker, Sen. Gerald Dial (R – Lineville)l favors repealing the raise…going back to the pre-2007 level.  He says the lawmakers were aware they had the power to raise or lower their expense pay. ”Every legislator knew when he or she was elected they could change that,” said Sen. Dial. “They could come down and increase that a hundred percent or reduce it a hundred percent.”

The senate leadership created a new senate subcommittee devoted exclusively to dealing with the legislative pay issue.

Alabama Legislature: Bentley, Budgets and Forever Wild

Committee work picks up today in Montgomery.

This morning, AEA took the stance as the only group opposing Rep. Greg Canfield’s (R-Vestavia) “Rolling Reserve Budget” bill during a hearing. The state Department of Education backs the idea. This Huntsville Times editorial looks at the issue.

Canfield and Jefferson county Democrat, Rep. Merika Coleman react to Gov. Robert Bentley’s SOTS in this video from FOX6 News Good Day Alabama.

Among the many groups lining up to push their bills, the wide-ranging organization pushing to renew Alabama’s Forever Wild program. Tim Gothard of the Alabama Wildlife Federation made his case for renewing the conservation campaign on Good Day Alabama this morning.

You can read more about the challenge facing Forever Wild from this Sunday piece by Tom Spencer of the Birmingham News.

Read more of Rick Journey’s blog here.

Bradley Byrne Pushes “Reform Alabama”

Bradley Byrne says he’s “very impressed” with the legislature and expects an “activist” session from the new Republican majority.

As for the man who defeated him in a bitter Republican primary, Byrne says Gov. Robert Bentley deserves to be given time.

“Those budgets he presents next week will be key.”

The candidate who was favored to win the Republican nomination for governor, only to lose a runoff race to Bentley, says he will continue his campaign of reform through a grass-roots organization called Reform Alabama.

And we’re not talking about the city in Pickens county.

“We had a great start with the special session,” Byrne said this morning on FOX6 News Good Day Alabama, “we’ve got to keep going with that reform agenda. There’s some issues we need to keep pushing on.”

Byrne identifies reforms in the budgeting process and campaign finance. He proposes everyday electronic filing in final 45 days of an election cycle and searchable databases. He also points to education and economic development as the other part of the non-partisan Reform Alabama agenda.

All of this sounds like last year’s Byrne for Alabama campaign for governor.

“I dont know what the future is going to be,” Byrne said when asked if this gives him a platform for a future political run.

Read more of Rick Journey’s blog here.

New GOP Chairman: Focus on County Courthouse

Newly elected Alabama Republican Party chairman Bill Armistead says the greatest challenge facing the state GOP may be “Democrats wanting to jump ship and come over and take control of the Republican party.”

This morning on FOX6 News Good Day Alabama, Armistead warned Democratic office holders who want to switch parties for the “purpose of being elected next year” won’t be welcome.

The former Shelby county senator says “conservative Democrats” with a “proven track record” will be welcomed if they consider a switch.

One Montgomery insider who knows Democratic party politics well won’t make Armistead’s list: Paul Hamrick

The one-time chief of staff for former governor Don Siegelman was announced in an email from Republican Majority Leader Sen. Jabo Waggoner as a contract consultant of PR/Communications for the Senate Republican Caucus.

It immediately prompted questions from several Senate Republicans.

Armistead says he has heard from several, “I do have a problem with that. I’m getting a lot of calls as party chairman about that. He (Sen. Waggoner) says that’s not a done deal and I’ve asked him not to make that a done deal.”

Armistead says he will focus on county courthouses in 2012 where Democrats still hold a strong majority as Probate Judges and Circuit Clerks.

He dismisses perceived factions between loyalists of former Gov. Bob Riley and supporters of Gov. Robert Bentley as “inside baseball.”

Armistead says his job will be to unite any factions to focus on 2012.

Read more of Rick Journey’s blog here.