As promised, here is a link to Slide Show from Last Weeks Organizational Meeting of the Task Force. I will update this blog post with more information later this week. Semper Fi - Bill
My hope was that others involved in this legislative annexation request would be forthright in their discussions regarding the outcome of this issue, but unfortunately that has not happened. Therefore, I'm providing the following timeline with documentation regarding the development and outcome of this annexation request. Please click on the links and review the supporting documentation while reviewing the timeline. I do not care for the difficult position that I’ve been placed in with regards to this legislative annexation but always strive to be open and transparent regarding my representation of the people in the Alabama Legislature.
I remain willing to work with interested parties to resolve the conflicts surrounding this issue. There are several paths forward to achieve this annexation request - with and without an alcohol license being issued, but a greater opportunity for public involvement must be a part of the process.
As always, please feel free to contact me should you have further questions.
Semper Fi - Bill
Legislative Annexation Timeline
4 May - HB579, a local bill regarding annexation of property approximately 7 miles outside of the established city limits of Athens passes the Alabama House of Representatives. To say that this bill passed the 105 Members of the House is rather disingenuous; actual vote count? Passed 23-0 with 65 members of the House abstaining. The legislature is not normally involved in the annexation process as property annexation request contiguous to existing city limits only requires a vote of the city council. To my knowledge there is only one other instance of an "island" annexation in Athens/Limestone County - Blacks Landing - and this occurred several years ago. This is the first annexation by legislation request that I've seen in my 7 years of service in office.
8 May - A formal agreement between city and property owner/developer is signed. In the agreement the property owner acknowledges that even though the property would be considered a part of Athens, the city would not be required to provide fire, police, trash services and that the city could de-annex the property at any time.
9 May - I received an email from the city with the agreement from 8 May attached. It is important to note, while I had heard rumblings of a proposed legislative island annexation this is the first time that I had been contacted by the city regarding the proposed annexation. I briefly met with HB579 bill sponsor, Rep Danny Crawford and fellow Limestone County Senate Delegation, Senator Orr and Senator Melson on the Senate floor that afternoon to discuss having had no previous interaction with city/county regarding this legislative annexation and initial concerns regarding the lack of fire/police protection for a city annexation and possible impact of the city granting an alcohol license. I will not speak for my colleagues but understood they shared similar concerns.
12 May - (My Birthday!) began receiving emails - about 30 in all - from residents living around/near the marina asking that I support the annexation. I replied to each email and included a copy of the agreement that had been signed by the property owner and the city along with an explanation of my concerns. I received replies back over the next couple of days - some supporting the annexation, others opposing primarily based on potential for increased property taxes with no city services. Important to note - my email was shared with others as I began receiving responses from people that I had not initially emailed and these responses were not in favor of the proposed annexation. This was my first public interaction/feedback regarding this proposed legislative annexation.
13 May - After several phone calls and text messages between the property owner/developer and myself, I responded to him via email. This is a tricky email to read as the owner/developer had sent me several text messages that I copied into an email and responded to each text. I courtesy copied fellow legislators and city/county officials, detailing my concerns - including the possibility of an alcohol license being issued. Several city/county elected officials called to discuss my email. Additionally, my research of earlier press reports on the possible annexation revealed several instances where the owner/developer stated an alcohol license was not the main reason for the annexation and that they wanted to be annexed into the city regardless of an alcohol license being issued. I felt these statements supported my request for the agreement to be amended.
15 May - In further phone call/text message discussion with owner/developer, he agrees that they'll amend the agreement so that an alcohol license would not be issued by the city. I agree to meet with fellow Senators and "sign the bill out", effectively moving it into position for final passage contingent upon the agreement being amended prior to the last day of the legislative session.
17 May - received letter from Mayor's office regarding my request to amend the agreement with language regarding issuing an alcohol license. The response struck me as odd considering the agreement between the city and owner/developer expressly stated no city services for fire/police. While the city can put in writing that they will not provide fire, police or trash pickup they somehow can not put in writing that they won’t issue a liquor license until (this is what the property owners agreed to in the email shared above) one of two conditions are met; the property becomes contiguous to Athens through future annexation, or Limestone County becomes wet. (edited 5/24 to clarify this statement)
18 May - received email from local Volunteer Fire Department expressing liability concerns and that while informal discussions had taken place, no formal agreement was in place with the city. Excerpts from that email follow:
I saw in the paper where Senator Holtzclaw had questions about the annexation of Bay Hill Marina before voting. I have not been approached by anyone about this except for one informal meeting with Mayor Marks and Chief Thornton. The paper is also reporting that Athens has secured an agreement with Clements VFD, which they do not. The favor is, would you make Senator Holtzclaw aware of this and that I would be glad to have a conversation with him about all of this. I’m really concerned that there may be some misinformation flowing through that will ultimately hurt Clements VFD.
19 May - Last day of the Legislative Session. HB579 is in position to pass but it is apparent that their are several outstanding issues regarding this annexation by legislation that need to be addressed. A decision was made to not pass the legislation this year.
A quick blog update on three important things happening in Montgomery this week:
First, SB329 - a bill I'm sponsoring to allow direct shipment of wine to Alabama residents passed the Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development committee 6-4 Wednesday and will now move to the full Senate. Alabama is one of 6 states that does not allow wineries to ship directly to your residence; rather residents are required to ship to the closest ABC store. This is the case whether you ordered in person at an in-state or out-of-state winery, or via the internet This bill would allow residents to have wine directly shipped to their residence. As with other states that allow direct shipment, numerous safeguards are in place including allowing UPS, FedEx or the USPS to ship wine to residents and requires the shipment be signed for by a person 21 years of age. I look forward to debating this legislation before the full Senate.
Second, Unfortunately, SB323 did not pass the committee yesterday going down in a tie 4-4 vote with one abstention. On the surface this was a difficult bill and subsequent vote but I remain principled in my approach that only the legislature should be allowed to raise a tax/fee. With that in mind, a little background is due.
SB323 came about after the House passed the General Fund Budget a couple of weeks ago. There is a line item in the GF Budget under the District Attorneys that conditionally appropriates $6M to the DAs based upon the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board passing a 5% markup on retail and wholesale sales of spirits. You read that right - the legislature is asking a regulatory agency to increase a markup - AKA a tax - to fund an essential function of state government. You can view the page from the GF Budget here (see lines 7-32).
Of course this is a problem on many levels, namely what other department or agency is going to ask an appointed regulatory board to raise a fee (again, a tax) to fund their activities. I introduced SB323 to prevent this tax increase from happening by a regulatory board and to force the issue to come through the front door of the legislature, where the representatives of the people should be the ones making this decision.
This debate is not about whether or not the DA's in each county need additional revenue. Several years ago we increased fees for worthless checks that the DA's could collect; that has obviously dropped off as not many people write a lot of checks these days. A couple of years ago we increased fees for bail bonds but the DA's are no longer charging/collecting those fees due to lawsuit threats from groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center. The point being each of these fee increases were presented and voted on by the legislature, not a regulatory agency. I am disappointed with my colleagues that sided with allowing a regulatory agency to do the legislators job. An appointed board is not responsive to the people. Mark my words, once the people realize this has happened legislators will simply throw their hands up and state it was out of their control, the ABC board is allowed to raise the fee and there was little anyone could do. But wait - I may have lost the battle in a tight vote but I've not lost the war. More to come in the days ahead.
Third, SB24 a bill to allow Constitutional or Permitless Carry passed the Alabama Senate on Tuesday. I discussed passage of that bill in Tuesday's Blog. Yesterday I was contacted by a few people concerning a statement by the Madison County Sheriff's office. The statement was made on social media and copied here.
In short, nothing in SB24 changes current law with respect to issuing Concealed to Carry Permits. It is important to note that significant changes were made to the Concealed to Carry Permit process a few years ago, essentially moving Alabama from a "may issue" to a "shall issue" state. In other words, the Sheriff must have a valid reason and provide documentation as to why a permit will not be issued upon request. An appeals process for the individual was included in the changes as well. Below excerpts are from the Alabama Code Section 13A-11-75 regarding Concealed to Carry Permits. This section was not repealed or affected by SB24.
Excerpts from Alabama Code Section 13A-11-75
b. The sheriff shall provide a written statement of the reasons for the revocation and the evidence upon which it is based must be disclosed to the applicant, unless disclosure would interfere with a criminal investigation.
(3) A person who is denied a permit under subdivision (1), or a person whose permit is revoked under subdivision (2), within 30 days of notification of the denial or revocation, may appeal the denial or revocation to the district court of the county where the denial or revocation was issued. Upon a review of a denial under this subdivision, the sheriff shall have the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the person is prohibited from possession of a pistol or other firearm pursuant to state or federal law or, based on any of the considerations enumerated in subsection (a)(1) that the person may use a weapon unlawfully or in such other manner as would endanger the person's self or others if granted a permit to carry a concealed weapon under this section.
So in short - the comment from the Sheriff's office is incorrect. No changes were made to the issuing permit issuing process. Of course a Sheriff could decide to not issue any permits but the office will be very busy in court attesting to why the permits were not issued and defending the reasoning for doing so.
Semper Fi - Bill
The biggest news in Montgomery today is that Governor Ivey made a decision on the US Senate Seat formally held by now US Attorney General Sessions. As most readers know, former Governor Bentley appointed former Alabama Attorney General Strange to fill the seat. State law requires that the Governor appoint someone to fill a US Senate vacancy but that a special election should be called "forthwith". Governor Bentley set that special election for the next General Election in Alabama (Primary Election June 2018 and General Election November 2018) citing that it would save the state money. Governor Ivey reversed that decision today, setting the Primary Election for August 15, 2017 and the General Election for December 12, 2017. It will be an interesting summer in Alabama politics...not that this spring has been any less interesting...or last year for that matter. I'll stop there.
The Senate returned to session at 2 PM this afternoon to work through the most controversial Special Order Calendar of this session. Not surprising, votes fell mostly along party lines as each bill was filibustered by the Democrats.
I further discuss each vote below.
SB24 - relating to Constitutional Carry or Permitless Carry passed with a 25-8 vote. I supported this bill. I reported on this bill in the blog for week 4 of the session. I will reiterate from that post; the bill does not address in any form or fashion the ability to purchase a gun - pistol, rifle, shotgun, etc. A pistol permit, or license as it is sometimes called, is not a "license" to own a gun nor is it some form of verification that the owner has received/demonstrated some level of training, similar to a driver's license. The bill allows for a Concealed to Carry Permit (CCP) to become optional. I, and many others, will continue to purchase a CCP for reciprocity with other states that I frequently travel through.
SB12 - allowing execution of death row inmates by nitrogen gas passed with a 25-8 vote. I supported this bill. Note, the title of the bill as originally filed includes the use of firing squads but this was amended out of the bill in committee. Currently two other states, Mississippi and Oklahoma, have similar provisions. This has been brought about as complexities during executions involving various drugs have been reported in other states resulting in several court cases. Manufacturers of drugs used in executions have also sought to remain anonymous in contracting with a state, or be granted immunity by the state. The focus has shifted to utilizing other alternatives for executions.
SB108 - preventing voters from switching between parties during a primary runoff passed with a 24-8 vote. I supported this bill. The intent of this bill is to address the instance where voters from one party vote in a primary runoff to influence the other party. This most recently occurred in Mississippi where democrats widely voted statewide in a Republican US Senate primary runoff. This bill only affects voting in a Primary Election and has no effect in a General Election.
SB187 - relating to the appeals process of capital punishment passed with a 28-5 vote. I supported this bill. This bill is modeled after a Texas bill and is intended to streamline the appeals process - often referred to as an "Rule 32" - allowing for someone sentenced to death to be able to run their appeals in tandem rather than having to wait until one appeals process is completed before starting the second appeal under Rule 32.
HB24 - prohibiting the state from discriminating against adoption agencies based on a religious exemption and considering what is best for a child that will be placed in foster care or for adoption passed with a 22-9 vote. This bill passed the House 60-14. I have received some emails stating that this bill is discriminatory in nature however the bill protects faith based adoption agencies in Alabama. According to the bill sponsors, similar laws have been passed in South Dakota, North Dakota, Michigan and Virginia. Additionally, state laws have been passed in Massachusetts, California, Illinois and Washington DC requiring faith based agencies to place children in situations against what the agency may think is in the best interest of the child, prompting some faith based adoption and foster care services to close in these states. Approximately 30% of adoptions/placements in Alabama are made through faith based agencies with the remaining 70 percent being conducted by other agencies. All agencies work through the oversight of the Department of Human Resources and this bill does nothing to change that.
The Senate adjourned just before 8PM. I have a breakfast with the TVA Caucus where we will meet with the TVA President followed by several committee meetings throughout the day.
Semper Fi - Bill
It happens every year...at some point during the legislative session writers block sets in and I find my ramblings about the legislature simply not worthy of being shared in the blog. I write, I delete what I've wrote, write some more and delete it again. Then I turn the computer off and go for a run, mow the yard - do something, anything to spur the thinking and thought process but never seem to get back to the computer with those thoughts intact (yes, I've deleted and re-wrote that line twice now! That, coupled with all that has been going on in Montgomery has me a few weeks behind on the blog. I'm determined to correct that today. Here goes!
I won't rehash all that has occurred in Montgomery over the past few days other than to say I'm fairly confident readers of my blog are fully aware of the background and results of the Ethics Commission Report from Thursday of last week and Friday's release of the report to the House Impeachment Committee - all of which lead to an historic day - although not so much in a good way - for Alabama yesterday. I have worked with Governor Ivey for 7 years now as she presided over the Alabama State Senate and I'm confident in her abilities as she leads our state in the weeks and months ahead out of these difficult times. As I have discussed in this blog before, the impeachment proceedings sucked a lot of the energy out of the legislative process. Today we got back to work!
The Senate passed a total of 18 of 19 bills today from a Special Order Calendar. SB101, relating to using public funds or property to advocate for or against a ballot measure was carried over. I was fortunate to be able to pass four bills on today's calendar. These bills are a part of the Military Package of bills that I am working this session for the Department of Defense and the State Military Stability Commission. All six of the bills introduced to support our military and veterans have now passed the Senate and awaiting committee action in the House.
Several bills that had been "carried over to the call of the chair" to allow more debate and possible amendments were also passed today. SB84, relating to borrowing funds to build a new state owned parking deck near the State House passed in a 20-8 vote. I voted against the bill. SB193, relating to Briarwood Presbyterian Church establishing a police force passed in a 20-4 vote; I was one of the 4 opposed to this bill. You can read more at this report. I had asked the the bill be carried over during debate last week with the intent to amend the bill to create better oversight and protect the public, police force and church in an incident involving the use of force or arrest. However, after giving this much thought over the weekend I knew that I would be unable to support the bill no-matter the amount of amendments added.
Lastly, in an effort to keep readers informed, HB487, a gasoline tax increase was introduced in the House last week and voted out of a House committee (by voice vote...) earlier today. The bill calls for a 4 cent per gallon increase in 2018 followed by a 2 cent increase in 2019. I encourage you to read the bill and contact your legislator with your thoughts.
That's all for now. Appears I've broken through the dreaded "writers block"! I have several committee meetings in the morning as we continue the legislative process. I'll keep focused on representing you - the people that sent me to Montgomery!
For the first time this session the Senate conducted three legislative days this week. Normally we only vote on Tuesdays and Thursdays of each week with Wednesdays being devoted to committee meetings. Leadership decided to include a third day of voting on Wednesday in addition to committee meetings. On the surface this may seem like much was accomplished however, over the course of three days the Senate debated and passed three bills. I know that sounds crazy - and it is somewhat complicated describing and understanding the process by which "the sausage is made" in the State House but I'll give it a try. A Senator - any Senator - has the ability to slow the process down through procedural moves. The question is often asked "how can someone have that much power". This is what makes the Senate, the Senate. While on one hand it may seem counterproductive to slow things to a crawl, it is productive to that Senator who is attempting to move (or block) a particular piece of legislation. The best way to describe what occurred this week is "Filibuster Light" meaning each day bills were filibustered yet the opposition stood down prior to an actual cloture vote being used as an option to move the debate along.
Readers can review the Special Order Calendars (SOC) for Tuesday and Wednesday (each day links to a separate SOC) but it is important to note that all bills were carried over with exception to SB87 allowing medical parole for certain prisoners suffering from chronic and life-threatening illnesses (passed 24-6), SB23 requiring drivers' license offices to be open a minimum of one day each week in each county (passed 22-3) and one of my bills, SB234 removing the requirement for breweries to capture personal identification of customers (passed 27-0); making good on a promise best discussed in this article. All other bills were carried over or the Senate adjourned before taking up the bill due to the "posture of the body" described above.
We experienced a breakthrough of sorts on Thursday and worked on a 16 bill SOC with some success; passing 11 of the Bills. The bills carried over include SB176, SB166, and SB307. One bill was defeated, SB80, relating to colleges and universities requiring residents that live within a certain mileage radius of campus to live on campus. The bill was narrowly defeated in a 15 yea, 16 nay vote. One of the bills at the end of the SOC was the Education Budget. On Wednesday the Senate Education Budget Committee passed the Education Budget out of committee. There was some controversy though as committee members stated they had not seen/reviewed the Education Budget. There was some objection - myself included - to voting on a $6B+ budget in the Senate under such a short time-frame.
After much debate the Prison Construction Bill was passed today. It is important to note that this bill has been substituted numerous times throughout the committee process. Additionally, at least one floor substitute was debated...in other words, we are operating off a substituted substitute to the substitute...that may be substituted again! Simply put - this is far from the $800M Prison Construction Bill that was introduced. I remain up-to-date on the debate and changes to the proposed prison bill and will provide a link to the "final-final" as well as an overview of what Prison Construction Bill was passed by the Senate in a separate blog post.
Upon adjournment today the Legislature began a scheduled two-week Spring Break. We will return to Montgomery on Tuesday, 4 April to resume the balance of the Legislative Session; 17 Legislative Days taking us through mid-May. I look forward to working across the Senate District during the break and have several meetings and school visits planned throughout this time. We will meet on Monday the 20th of March for the weekly Coffee and Conversation at Little Libby's in Madison but will not meet on the 27th.
Semper Fi - Bill
On Monday I was able to visit the Renaissance School in Athens, Alabama. This is a wonderful school in the Athens City School System providing blended, or hybrid learning opportunities to many students across Alabama. Click here to learn more about this unique school. Later that morning I attended the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce’s Washington Update by Congressman Mo Brooks. I am thankful for the Chamber’s periodic Washington updates and that our congressional delegates take the time out of their busy schedules to provide their insight as to what is happening in our nation’s capitol. I also enjoy visiting with the many community and business leaders that attend these luncheons.
On Tuesday I enjoyed visiting with a group of students from the Athens/Limestone Chamber of Commerce Student Ambassador Program that visited the State House. We should all be encouraged by these students interest in their government. I am thankful for the Athens/Limestone County Chambers work on this program.
In impeachment proceedings news, the House Impeachment Committee met Tuesday morning. After some discussion the committee voted to table a vote to consider a request from acting Assistant AG Ellen Brooks to stand down while the AG’s office completes their ongoing investigation. This is similar – but more formal - to what AG Strange requested of the committee last fall. The motion received a split or tie vote, leaving the committee somewhat in a lurch – what next? On Wednesday the committee held another vote and reconsidered the same request. This time the committee voted to set aside the request and will now move ahead with its own, ongoing investigation.
The Senate met on Tuesday and voted on a 17 bill Special Order Calendar (SOC); as with previous blog posts, readers can click on the link above to read the bills on the SOC. This was the first day of the 2017 session where the Senate saw a bumpy road. While reasons for the minority parties’ opposition to the bill’s under consideration remain somewhat cloudy, they employed several procedural tactics to delay movement on the SOC including having a bill read at length (literally, having every page of the bill read prior to final passage of the bill). These tactics were used on the first two bills on the calendar; SB10 and SB126. Clearly indicating the delay tactics, both bills passed without a single no vote; 23-0 and 30-0 respectively. SB156, relating to obscene materials of persons under 17 years old, SB32, relating to requiring a civics test before graduation, and SB23, relating to updating voter registration lists were all carried over meaning they were not debated or voted on. The remaining bills on the calendar passed.
Wednesday was a very busy committee day where I attended four committee meetings and debated/voted on a total of 12 bills. I was successful in passing two of my bills through Senate committees this week. SB242, relating to the Military Stability Commission and SB234 deleting the requirement by the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board for breweries to collect personally identifiable data on retail customers. Both bills will now move to the Senate for a full vote in the days ahead. I also enjoyed meeting with several other groups visiting Montgomery throughout the day including members of Leadership Social Services-United Way Huntsville. I was also honored to attend the Governor’s Excellence in Trade Awards where Huntsville's Advanced Optical Systems (AOS) received an award.
On Thursday the Republican Caucus met to discuss the Prison Bill. A heavily revised version of this bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee (I do not serve on this committee) and will move before the full Senate in the coming days. I believe that even this new version will see more changes before coming to the floor as it has become more complex. I’ll report on that in the coming days.
The Senate debated a 15 bill SOC on Thursday. Once again we hit some bumps in the road, primarily due to SB60, the Memorial Preservation Act. After over three hours of debate and stall tactics a compromise was reached and SB60 passed in a 24-7 vote along party lines. SB177, relating to an Emergency Act for elections was carried over and SB80, relating to requiring students to live on campus at colleges and universities. SB204, a bill that I'm sponsoring for the Alabama National Guard relating to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) passed the Senate. This bill brings the state UCMJ up-to-date with recent changes to the federal UCMJ.
Don't forget our weekly Coffee and Conversation at Libby's!
Semper Fi - Bill
I enjoyed visiting several schools in the District on Monday of this week, making stops at Sparkman High School, Bob Jones High School and Discovery Middle School. I was able to visit some classrooms and talk with students and teachers during my visit. I also attended a press conference at the Robotics Park regarding some career tech initiatives and later visited with local business owners regarding some ABC rules for wine/spirit tastings. Somewhat related - I now have an ABC backed bill to completely remove any requirements for collection of consumer personal data at the point of sale for a brewery. We should have this bill in committee next week. I always enjoy being out and about in the Senate District - you just never know where my travels will take me!
The Senate focused on Sunset Committee Bills this week. As good as that sounds - conjuring up visions of the sun setting on a beach or at the lake - Sunset Bills serve as the means by which various boards, agencies and commissions are periodically re-authorized. A good thing! These boards, agencies and commissions govern varying interests and industry across the state and, in order to allow for legislative oversight, will expire – or sunset – if we do not periodically renew their status through legislation. The Senate rules require us to take up these set of bills every year no later than the 15th Legislative Day. Click on the day to view the specific Sunset Bills voted on for Tuesday and Thursday of this week.
Although I am not a member, I attended the Judiciary Committee meeting this week to hear first hand the testimony for two very important bills that were debated this week. SB24, the Constitutional Carry Bill, and SB59, the Governor's bill to borrow $800M to build new prisons. I encourage you to read both bills but caution that SB59 will likely change...significantly. The debate over both bills was robust with passionate speakers from both sides. SB59 was not voted on this week. Changes are being recommended to this bill even as I type this blog. I remain open-minded to solving the problems with Corrections in our state but do not support the current proposal. Stay tuned. SB24 passed the committee in a 6-3 vote; interestingly along party lines. I personally don't view gun rights and the 2nd Amendment as partisan issues?!?
There has been a lot of information distributed from both sides on this legislation. I encourage everyone to simply read the bill and understand what the bill addresses...it is only 8 pages! While there are a few aspects to this bill, I'll focus on the overarching issue. The bill does not address in any form or fashion the ability to purchase a gun - pistol, rifle, shotgun, etc. A pistol permit, or license as it is sometimes called, is not a "license" to own a gun nor is it some form of verification that the owner has received/demonstrated some level of training, similar to a driver's license. The bill does not affect what you can carry - in particular those sometimes scary semi-automatic pistols or assault rifles (what is semi-automatic or an assault rifle? - topics for another blog post!) Please contact me if you have questions after having read the bill. I am committed to working to undo the tangled web that has existed with Alabama's gun laws and pistol permitting (that existed well before my time in the legislature) and this bill serves as another step in that direction. In fact, my research supports that pistol permit's were created back in the late 50's to prevent or impede African Americans from carrying pistols during Alabama's most troubled racist period.
My research also shows that 12 states (AK, AZ, AR, ID, KS, ME, MS, MO, MT, VT, WY and WV) do not require a permit and five states (AL, TX, IN, SD and KY) are currently considering this type of legislation with several more pending. One would think that if there are public safety issues with permitless carry we'd be hearing about those issues from these states or they would be attempting to re-impose permits.
One argument against the bill that I hear most often is this will increase access to guns by criminals. How? To be clear - under current law - if you can legally own a pistol you can carry a pistol even without a permit; referred to as open-carry, or you can purchase a pistol permit issued by the local sheriff's office in the county you live in. I'm fairly certain that criminals are not concerned with 1) they can legally carry a pistol, and 2) obtaining a pistol permit.
Lastly the bill makes obtaining a pistol permit optional, meaning if this bill passes it is not a requirement if one chooses to carry a pistol concealed. Concealed is simply carrying a pistol in your car, covered by a coat or in a purse, etc. A lot of people, myself included, will continue to purchase a pistol permit solely for reciprocity between other states. I frequently travel to other states that have similar but different gun laws than Alabama. A permit from Alabama is recognized in each of the surrounding states and most states throughout the Southeastern U.S.
In other topics, there were several visitors from North Alabama in Montgomery this week. The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce made their annual trip, again coinciding with NASA Day and Aerospace Week - yes, we were well represented in Montgomery this week!
Don't forget the weekly Coffee and Conversation at Little Libby's in Madison every Monday morning from 6-7AM. We enjoyed a lively discussion this week - even at 0600! - and our group is growing. Libby's serves a great breakfast, no need to make a reservation and I'll buy the coffee.
Semper Fi - Bill
I enjoyed spending time with several groups visiting Montgomery this week including Madison City Council Members John Seifert and Maura Wroblewski to discuss projects in Madison. A large group of principals, teachers and central office staff from Limestone County Schools joined Superintendent Sisk visiting my office and sharing personal insight regarding the budgets and legislation being considered this session. Members of the Professional Fire Fighters Association stopped by to discuss recruitment and retirement concerns related to their very important service to communities across the state. This is just an example of the wide breadth of concerns I work on and I truly appreciate everyone taking time to meet with me in Montgomery. While face-to-face meetings are great I encourage anyone to contact me with issues they feel are important.
As we closed out the third week I'm happy to report that in general this legislative session is moving along quite well. There is very little drama/conflict between or within any party in the Senate. We seem to all be on the same page...for now. I remain optimistic that we'll continue in that form for the days ahead.
I will admit that the impeachment process has began to suck most of the air out of the building. Some interesting updates on that from this week. With renewed interest (pressure?) for the House Impeachment Committee to resume their work, additional experts are studying/interpreting existing law regarding the impeachment process. Remember - Alabama has never impeached a Governor. As most readers know I'm not a lawyer and have very limited interaction with the legal process - a good thing I believe as we need the "common man's (and woman's) viewpoint in lawmaking...at times common sense is not very common in lawmaking! However, back to the topic, we are now told that if/when the House votes on Articles of Impeachment, and the simple majority of the 105 members vote in favor of the Articles, the Governor is immediately removed from office. The Lt. Governor will immediately assume the office of Governor. This could happen in a week or a month. The ball has been and remains in the House of Representatives court.
Should/If/When the House votes to impeach the Governor, the Senate will then form as a Jury with the Supreme Court Chief Justice presiding over the formal impeachment hearings. A group from the Senate was appointed last week to begin formalizing the rules for this process that the entire Senate will vote to approve. Again, we are breaking new ground here...Alabama has never impeached a Governor.
A question from our weekly Coffee and Conversation has prompted me to include a link to the Special Order Calendar from each Legislative Day; I'll admit, the website can be difficult to navigate. The Special Order Calendar is compiled by the Rules Committee and places legislation with a second reading (received favorable report from a committee) in priority to be voted on by the full body. This is an easy way for you to read the legislation we voted on. Just click on the links below and then click on the bill number to read the legislation.
Tuesday's SOC included 10 bills; I'll highlight actions on a couple of them below.
SB153 is a remake of a bill that we saw last year. Most of us refer to it as the Longitudinal Data Bill. Opposition remains strong for this legislation which attempts to collect data on students from Pre-K through 12th grade, into Community College/University and then the workforce. Simply put I think we are going about this the wrong way - we need to invert the proposed format and rather than government collecting data to share with industry to drive education we need education to better interact with industry to ensure we are educating students in accordance with the evolving needs of the real world. The bill failed to achieve enough votes to pass the procedural Budget Isolation Resolution (A BIR vote is required for each bill brought before the body until the budgets are passed by both the House and Senate. The BIR was incorporated as a Constitutional Amendment in 1981 and is intended to force the legislature to give the budgets priority...it really doesn't work that way but that would be a whole blog unto-itself!). We will likely see another push for this bill in the coming days.
SB2 further defines in Alabama law that a county or municipality cannot add taxes to firearms, ammunition or ammunition accessories other than what is allowed for normal sales tax. This concern has come about due to some cities nationally attempting to impose gun restrictions through adding special taxes on-top-of sales tax for ammunition and firearms. While I normally vote against any legislation which restricts local elected bodies (city councils/county commissions) from acting on behalf of their constituency, this is an exception as it impacts 2nd Amendment Rights.
With exception to the last bill listed on the SOC, SB154, all other bills were passed by the Senate. I supported each of them. SB154 deals with adding Fentanyl and similar drugs to the controlled substances list. This bill was "Carried Over" as a member wished to further review some of the language in the legislation.
Thursday's SOC included 10 items; I'll highlight a couple of actions on them below.
SB16 abolishing the current judicial override of a jury's verdict by a judge for life in prison vs. the death penalty has passed the Senate. Alabama is the only state that allows this and obviously needs to be repealed. This article provides a great overview of the law if you'd like to read more.
Both SB93, SB84 and SB136 were all Carried Over due to members concerns. SB93 would prohibit the legislature or local governing body from naming a building or road after an elected official while they are still in office. It never really became clear to me why some members opposed the bill during debate. I support the bill but admit that I fail to see this as a pressing issue to be addressed at this time. SB94 deals with an existing Parking Deck Authority law that allows the state to build parking decks around the State House and Capitol. I have some concerns with borrowing money AND relying on Federal Funds paid to various agencies that supposedly would offset cost for the project (federal funds - in part or whole - may not be there in the coming days yet the costs will remain). I am interested in the proposal as parking for constituents is something I'd like to see. There would be a charge - similar to airport parking I'm told. I'll continue to provide updates as debate continues. SB136 regarding Insurance was carried over to allow for clarification on language in the bill.
I supported the remaining bills on the Thursday's SOC.
In other work, I was able to move four bills out of committee this week. SB96 relating to DHR verifying if a child abuse/neglect case is a military dependent unanimously passed the House Veterans Affairs Committee and is now in position to go before the House for final passage. As discussed in earlier blogs posts, I am sponsoring a group of bills for the Military Stability Commission and Department of Defense. Three of these passed the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee - SB203 ensures military recruiters receive the same level of access as colleges and universities in our high schools. SB204 conforms the Alabama code of Military Justice to the Federal UCMJ. Recent changes to the UCMJ with sexual assault and other areas have prompted changes to state law. Finally, SB218 formalizing a process for communities adjacent to military installations around the state to use joint funds for infrastructure.
Upon return from Montgomery on Thursday evening, I enjoyed visiting with several groups in the Senate District on Friday and was able to provide some grant funding for various projects. This included The Huntsville Drumline, a great program serving 60 plus children in Huntsville City Schools, The Alabama Chapter of ALS which is producing a video with someone with ALS locally to increase awareness and better assist those diagnosed with ALS and their faimly on the various services available to them. I also visited with the Veterans of North Alabama Services Assistance Program. This is a great example of a group working to fill the needs of Veterans in a unique way. Oftentimes a homeless Veteran is successfully moved into a house but the home doesn't have any furnishings or items such as pots and pans needed for daily living. This organization picks up unwanted furniture, etc, stores it and then delivers it to Veterans moving into a home/apartment. I was also able to stop by the Madison Senior Center to visit with the director, staff and seniors enjoying a Mardi Gras celebration hosted by Madsion Rotary. What fun!
We held our second Coffee and Conversation on Monday and, even though it was President's Day, we had a nice turnout to discuss various issues in State Government. We will meet again this Monday at 0600. I provide the coffee and we discuss what happened last week and what I anticipate will happen the coming week in Montgomery. No need to make reservations. Hope to see you there!
Semper Fi - Bill
Today's blog covers Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Hopefully you'll find the information timely and useful. I got a little long winded here and will update Thursday's blog after tomorrow's session ends.
Legislators returned to Montgomery for week 2 of the 2017 Session on Tuesday. What began to shape up to be an interesting week quickly fizzled. Early Tuesday morning, rumors circulated of an attempt to "end around" the House Impeachment Committee. As I understand it, a plan was hatched over the weekend for House Members to submit a resolution containing "articles of impeachment" of the Governor rather than continue to wait for the House Impeachment Committee to finalize...or re-start, their work. I'm told the group "shopping" the resolution was asked to stand-down and given assurances that the Impeachment Committee would re-start their work.
Late on Wednesday the newly appointed State Attorney General appointed a staff attorney to lead (continue?) an investigation of the Governor. Definitely a fluid situation.
Most of the action on Tuesday stayed in the House as they debated a resolution for almost 5 hours and then followed up with a Sanctuary University Bill as reported here. Controversial debate will start in the Senate soon enough but not so on Tuesday.
The Senate debated an agenda of 13 bills, passing 12 of them in relatively short order. These are now off to the House for debate. A bill regarding increased weight limits for Commercial Carriers converted for Compressed Natural Gas was carried over due to concerns regarding application to Federal Highways vs. State/Local Highways. The other 12 bills were wide ranging and non-controversial. Of note:
SB96 includes military bases in the notification for mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect requirements. This bill was requested by the Department of Defense as it brings in the resources of Defense Family Advocacy Programs that might otherwise be overlooked. I am the sponsor of this legislation. The bill passed the Senate unanimously.
SB73 a mandatory seat belt usage for all occupants (front and back seat) in a vehicle passed the Senate. I don't mind sharing that I was surprised that this was not already the law. The bill was amended so that passenger(s), rather than the driver, would receive the ticket for adults violating the law. I supported the law as few can argue that seat belts save lives but I had reservations based on how this can be enforced by law-enforcement.
SB85, dealing with Medicaid Fraud. Essentially this bill brings Alabama State Law in line with Federal Law and allows the state to pursue cases where an entity, i.e. an LLC, can be charged for Medicaid Fraud rather than just an individual. Apparently this is somewhat of a loophole that has, on occasion been exploited. Fraud is fraud and I support measures that can help prevent such.
SB21, dealing with over-the-counter sales of nonprescription eyeglasses also passed. A couple of media/blogs had erroneously reported that passage of this bill would require someone to obtain a prescription for the reading glasses, aka "cheaters" that some of us - including me! - rely on as reading glasses. I confirmed with the bill sponsor during debate that this bill does not include these type glasses, currently readily available at local convenience stores. If you are like me you likely buy the multi-pack and have several pairs located around the house, office and in cars! Again, this bill does not affect what consumers can currently purchase and rather address reading glasses that include dials to increase and decrease power and target prescriptions greater than the 3.5 maximum currently available over-the-counter.
Wednesday started with a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Caucus meeting. The focus of today's meeting was an update by Google concerning the Data Center being built in Jackson County and the Google Fiber initiative in Huntsville. I didn't know that Google has 15 Data Centers around the World with 8 in the US. Pretty neat that Alabama is one of those sites - worldwide! The project was announced in in 2015 and has focused largely on site-work and infrastructure, prepping 100+ acres for the data center to be built. The Google Fiber initiate is also progressing and should be ready for their first customers in early summer.
I was also able to meet with several groups throughout the day to include a large group of students from Athens High School visiting the State House and talking with legislators about Career Technical Education - which is outstanding! We called it Vo-Tec back when I was in high school and this is where I learned to change oil, replace brakes and so much more on my car that I still enjoy to this day! Of course so much more is offered through Career Tech today including Agriculture, Business Management, Education, Law/Public Safety, STEM and more. I have and will continue to support Career Technical Education.
I was also able to meet with members of the Alabama Birth Coalition supporting midwifery in our state. A Senate bills is being drafted that I plan to co-sponsor. Little known fact - I was born in a house in rural Arkansas and not in a hospital. I believe and support that this should be choice if the parents desire this course of delivery.
I have attended several Legislative Receptions this week including Realtors, Republican Women, Cattleman's Association and ALFA's annual "Taste of Alabama". It is always great to visit with so many folks that journey to Montgomery to visit with us! I enjoy the conversation and casual discussion of various interest groups at these receptions.
A quick reminder of two events for Monday the 20th of February. First, the weekly Coffee and Conversation at Libby's; even though Monday is a Federal Holiday, I'll be there at 0600 to discuss this weeks activity in Montgomery and listen to your concerns about all this is going on in our State's Government. Second, the annual Madison County Legislative Delegation Public Forum. This Forum is normally held prior to the Legislative Session but due to schedule conflicts it was shifted to after the session this year. The Forum will be held Monday night at Huntsville City Hall at 7PM. Read more about the Forum here.
Have a great weekend. Semper Fi - Bill
Bill Holtzclaw is the Senator for the Alabama 2nd District representing Limestone and Madison Counties in North Alabama.