October 2016 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

New leadership in the judiciary and looking ahead to the issues that will most likely dominate the 2017 legislative session are just two of the subjects grabbing headlines in Alabama political news this month.

Lyn Stuart Assumes Leadership of State Judiciary
Justice Lynn Stuart has served as the state’s acting chief justice since May, when ethics charges against Chief Justice Roy Moore led to his suspension. The Court of the Judiciary recently suspended Judge Moore for the remainder of his term which ends in 2019. Justice Stuart, currently serving her third term on the state’s highest court, is the most senior justice. She won election as a district judge in Baldwin County in 1988. Governor Fob James appointed her a circuit judge in the county in 1997. Three years later, she was elected to the state’s highest court where she has served since that time. As the top administrator of the state courts, Stuart oversees day-to-day operations and will be tasked with addressing the perpetual struggle to adequately fund the court system.
Contract Review Committee Delays Contract
The Legislative Contract Review Committee recently met and agreed to delay a $1.3 million legal services contract after State Auditor Jim Zeigler presented objections to unbid contracts to provide legal services for the Alabama Medicaid to implement their RCO plan. Zeigler calls the RCO plan “fatally flawed and needs to be scrapped.” After the state did not expand Medicaid to include the poor, non-disabled and non-senior adults, most of the beneficiaries affected are children. The largest Medicaid provider to this segment is Children’s Hospital of Alabama. Children’s Hospital recently criticized the RCO plan saying it will place a further financial burden on the state’s beleaguered General Fund. The State Medicaid Agency will be able to present their case for approving the legal contract to the committee next month.

Prisons Big Issue for 2017
Next year, Alabama lawmakers could again face calls to build new prisons in order to reduce overcrowding. In a recent letter to Governor Bentley, The Department of Justice stated that it is launching an investigation into the 14 men’s prisons in Alabama. The investigation will focus on whether prisoners are adequately protected from physical harm and sexual abuse at the hands of other inmates or staff, and whether the prisons provide sanitary, secure and safe living conditions. The Department of Justice warns that the state could face a lawsuit if violations are found, and the state doesn’t work to correct them.

October 2016 Group Watch: Bloom Group Associate Honored

james-smallThe University of Alabama recently announced the 2016 inductees to the Alabama Social Work Hall Of Fame that honors the accomplishments of some of the state’s most distinguished leaders in the field of social work. One of the three inductees is The Bloom Group’s very own, James Dupree, Jr. who spent more than 25 years in juvenile justice and retired in 1998 as CEO of the Alabama Department of Youth Services. Since his retirement, he has worked as a professor, consultant and now, as an associate with The Bloom Group, Inc. He remains active in the community where he serves on several boards including the Alabama Youth Services Board.

October 2016 Group Watch: New Bloom Group Associate

garrett-jemison

We are proud to announce Garrett Jemison, former state director for Senator Richard Shelby, as the firm’s newest associate. For almost 30 years, we have been advocating for our clients and reaping real results. Now, with the addition of Jemison, our team of experienced professionals has gotten even stronger. Jemison, a Montgomery native, brings his strategic planning skills, his detailed understanding of the interface of business and government, expertise in campaign fundraising and messaging, and a long-standing relationship with Alabama’s Congressional Delegation to bear on behalf our clients.

After graduating from The University of Alabama with BA in Political Science with a minor in Public Relations in 2008, Jemison continued the association he formed with Senator Richard Shelby as an intern while still in school when Senator Shelby selected Jemison to serve in his personal office. Jemison next went to work at Mowery Consulting Group, a strategic communications, public relations and campaign consulting firm.

In 2011, Senator Shelby asked Jemison to serve as his State Director, where he oversaw in-state operations and set up events in all 67 counties for the senator’s annual state tour, giving him a first-hand look at the needs of everyday Alabamians across all regions of the state. He also spent a year working with Franklin Resources Group in Montgomery as an associate.

In 2014, Jemison formed Jemison Inc., and now, in addition to his work with The Bloom Group, he maintains a diverse portfolio of clients ranging from energy, defense and education, to associations, municipalities and counties.

According to The Bloom Group’s founder and principal Hal Bloom, Jemison will add considerable depth to the firm’s expertise. “The Bloom Group is honored to represent some of the finest businesses and trade organizations in Alabama and the nation and proud to announce Garrett as a new player on our team,” Bloom said.

Jemison is equally pleased with his new position. “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to put the skills I’ve gained in my career to good use through The Bloom Group.”

Jemison and his wife Emily live in Montgomery.

 

October 2016 Group Watch: Political Trailblazer Lucy Baxley Passes

Noted Alabama public servant Lucy Baxley died peacefully on Friday, October 14, at age 78. After working in Birmingham real estate, Baxely entered politics and enjoyed much success. She was elected as state treasurer in 1994 and again in 1998. She made history by becoming the state’s first female lieutenant governor, serving from 2003-2007. While in that role, she ran as the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006 but lost in the general election. After suffering a stroke in 2006, she pushed on and became president of the Public Service Commission in 2008. Throughout her career, she was someone Alabama could be proud of, and all of us here at The Bloom Group offer our sympathy and prayers to her family and many friends.

October 2016 Group Watch: Central Alabama Community College Grants

Governor Robert Bentley recently announced the award of two Appalachian Regional Commission grants of nearly $1 million to Central Alabama Community College. The grants will allow the college to expand a classroom and purchase new equipment for students studying advanced manufacturing at its Alexander City campus. Governor Bentley said the community college system is extremely important in the workforce training program. The development of the advanced manufacturing course was funded by the state after firms started selecting east Alabama as a place to locate.

September 2016 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House: Special Session Update

The 2016 Special Session that began in mid-August has wrapped up. Read on to get a play-by-play of what was accomplished.

Proposed Alabama Lottery Dies (Again)
During the second week of the special session, to the surprise of some onlookers, the lottery bill pushed by Governor Bentley passed both chambers only to die on a concurrence vote in the Senate when some Senators questioned how the House version would impact existing gaming facilities. The House debate on the bill lasted about 13 hours, during which 30 amendments were offered and six cloture motions made.

Four amendments were adopted, including one that narrowly defined the term “lottery.” Many believe the redefine term was needed to get the required votes to pass the proposed constitutional amendment. The following day when the Senate took up the House-amended bill, some Democrats were concerned how the narrow definition of lottery could affect existing gaming facilities. The bill’s sponsor moved to concur and lost 24-7, thus killing the proposal.

BP Settlement Allocation
The legislature returned on September 6 to begin consideration of the BP Settlement bill. The House-passed version authorized the state to monetize the settlement through the issuance of bonds and allocated $639 million in proceeds. The proceeds would be used to pay off debt and save about $35 million in interest payments and provide money for infrastructure projects in Baldwin and Mobile Counties. Interest savings could be used to fund Medicaid. The Senate debated the House changes to the bill for six hours, finally agreeing to go to a conference committee to resolve the differences and come up with a plan to fund Medicaid.

After hours of give and take, the conferees agreed to a compromise. The compromise will free up $70 million for the Medicaid program for 2017 plus an additional $15 million for the upcoming fiscal year and some additional funding for 2018. The House overwhelmingly approved the compromise as did the Senate after hours of additional discussion. Governor Bentley claimed victory for the citizens of Alabama and commented that this funding package for Medicaid should allow for the RCO program to move forward. The Alabama Legislature adjourned SINE DIE on September 7, 2016.

September 2016 Group Watch: AL’s First Charter School Opening in Mobile

The Mobile Area Education Foundation announced its plan to open a charter school in the port city that could serve up to 300 high school students by fall of 2017. The program is called the Acceleration Day and Evening Academy and is designed to provide personalized education for at-risk students. The school must operate within the same safety requirements and graduation standards as public schools.

Students from any school district are eligible, including students from neighboring Baldwin County. The Alabama Public Charter School Commission is allowed to approve 10 schools in Alabama per year. There are two pending applications, one in Madison County and this one in Mobile.

September 2016 Group Watch: AL AG Defends Abortion Laws

In a recent lengthy filing, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange argues that two abortion laws passed earlier this year should not be blocked by a federal judge. The legislature passed abortion-related bills that outlawed abortion clinics located within 2,000 feet of public schools as well as an abortion procedure that a  U.S. Supreme Justice described as “gruesome.”

Attorney General Strange argues that the law prohibits dismemberment abortion of a viable fetus. He further argues that providing a 2,000-feet barrier between abortion clinics and schools allow a reasonable distance between some of the protest activities that occur and young school children. Oral arguments in these matters are scheduled for early October in federal court in Montgomery.

August 2016 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

So far, this month has been marked by new people in new positions and the announcement of the governor’s lottery plan. Stay tuned to Group Watch for developing special session news later this week.

Governor Releases Proposed Alabama Lottery
Governor Bentley unveiled a constitutional amendment that would allow voters in November to decide whether Alabama should have a state lottery. The amendment would provide a seven-member lottery commission, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, to oversee the Alabama Lottery. All proceeds from the lottery would go to the General Fund budget, which for years has grappled with rising expenses and flat revenues. Legislators would have to pass the amendment by August 24 to get it on the November ballot, where voters would decide whether or not to approve it. Under the proposed amendment, the Legislature would work out enabling legislation in a later session.

Alabama Republicans Pick Mac McCutcheon as New House Speaker
The 70-member House Republican Caucus voted unanimously to support Representative Mac McCutcheon as the new House Speaker. Their endorsement is tantamount to election with Democrats having only 33 votes. McCutcheon has served in the House since 2006 representing parts of Madison and Limestone counties in north Alabama. He chaired the powerful Rule Committee the last six years, which sets the daily agenda of bills the House will consider. Mac is a retired Huntsville police officer, has worked as a farmer and as associate pastor at the College Park Church of God. He replaces Mike Hubbard who was convicted earlier this summer of 12 felony ethics violations and automatically removed from office.

State Board of Education Chooses New Superintendent
The State Board of Education chose education consultant and former Secretary of Education for Massachusetts Michael Sentence as the new Superintendent of Education. He was chosen out of a field of six finalists, including Stanford University research fellow Williamson Evers; Madison school superintendent Dee Fowler; Jefferson County superintendent Craig Pouncey; Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education Secretary Jenna Ross; and Florence city school superintendent Janet Womack.

8/16 Group Watch: Insurance Rates May Climb

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama is seeking an average rate increase of 39 percent on individual plans offered through the Obamacare marketplace. The proposed rate hikes will affect more than 160,000 people in Alabama who purchased insurance through the federal exchange, which represents 5 percent of Blue Cross membership.Blue Cross is the only insurance company that will offer Alabamians individual insurance plans through the exchange next year after the departure of Humana and UnitedHealth. Officials with the Alabama Department of Insurance are reviewing the proposed rate increases and will issue an opinion in September about whether the increases are justified.

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