July 2021 Group Watch: State Rep Vying for Senate Seat

One of the Republican leaders in the Alabama House of Representatives will run for the state Senate next year. Rep. Mike Jones of Andalusia, who chairs the House Rules Committee, announced he will run for the south Alabama seat now held by Senator Jimmy Holley, who is retiring after next year. Holley is one of Alabama’s longest serving legislators, now in his sixth term in the Senate after five terms in the House. Holley represents District 31, which includes Coffee, Covington, Pike and Dale counties. Jones is a lawyer and municipal judge in Andalusia.

July 2021 Group Watch: Who’s the Next AL House Speaker?

That is the question following Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon’s announcement of retirement at the close of the 2022 session. McCutcheon said he will not be on the ballot for re-election to his House seat. House Majority Leader Nathan Ledbetter of Rainsville announced his candidacy for speaker, as did Ways and Means Education Chair Bill Poole of Tuscaloosa. Poole exited the pursuit as quickly as he entered. Then, Ways and Means General Fund Chair Steve Clouse of Ozark announced that he was entering the speaker’s race. Insiders speculated Connie Rowe of Jasper, who is Vice Chair of the House Republican caucus, would be a candidate, but she quickly said it’s too early to commit to run with the decision not being made until December 2022. Stay tuned: Next year’s organizational session may be more of a thriller than the elections themselves!

First Black Republican Elected to the AL Legislature in 150 Years

Retired Army Sgt. Kenneth Paschal handily defeated Democrat Sheridan Black in a general special election for a Shelby County-based state House seat, making him the first Black Republican elected to serve in the Alabama Legislature since reconstruction. In comments after his victory, he noted that his win in the majority white suburb proves the GOP is “open to everyone.” He replaces Matt Fridy, who was elected to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. Read more here.

July 2021 Group Watch: April Weaver Wins Senate Seat

With a fraction over 80 percent of the vote, April Weaver won the special election for the District 14 seat in the Alabama Senate held on July 13. She previously served for a decade in the Alabama House and most recently served as the Region IV Regional Director for the United States Department of Health and Human Services, being tapped for the position by former President Trump. Read more here.

July 2021 Group Watch: Controversial Critical Race Theory Not in AL Schools

In a meeting earlier this week, The Alabama Board of Education worked on language for a resolution related to critical race theory that could see a vote later this summer, and State Superintendent Eric Mackey confirmed that CRT is “certainly not” currently being taught in the state’s schools. Read more here.

June 2021 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

Summer is here, and despite the 2021 regular session being over, there’s still plenty of news to report.

COVID funds are still flowing, and leaders are deciding how to best divvy them up.

On the economic development front, the state’s many wins in this arena — including a big announcement of a company move last week — have earned it national recognition.

And even Alabama’s politicians are being noticed and honored. Read all about this and more in this month’s Group Watch.

June 2021 Group Watch: Tweet of the Month

June 8
It’s official: I’m running, and I’m all-in! I will put Alabama First, deliver results for our state and never apologize for it. Because we don’t just need a senator from Alabama, we need a Senator for Alabama. #BrittForAlabama #AlabamaFirst

June 2021 Group Watch: Ivey Awards Community Development Grants

Governor Ivey awarded $500,000 each to the city of Opelika and Russell County and $300,000 each to Marengo, Monroe and Pickens counties. The awards are part of more than $40 million allocated to Alabama under a special Community Development Block Grant program funded from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES). The grant funds are required to be expended on projects relating to the recovery from or preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus or any future infectious diseases. The City of Opelika will use funds to rehabilitate a senior citizen center and purchase equipment to improve social distancing in public buildings. Marengo County will use funds to repair a roof on its business incubator building in Linden and pave a parking lot at the regional hospital in Demopolis. Both buildings can be used for testing and vaccination centers. Monroe County will purchase medical equipment to help respond to COVID-19 and any future healthcare crises. Russell County will use funds to purchase a mobile health clinic and equipment to provide health services.

June 2021 Group Watch: COVID Funds for Prisons?

Governor Ivey met with legislative leaders to discuss Alabama’s need for new prisons, talks that included the possibility of using federal coronavirus relief funds to help cover the costs. State officials are looking for new options after the plan by Ivey and the Alabama Department of Corrections to lease and operate three new men’s prisons that would have been financed and built by developers stalled. The governor has not backed away from a commitment to build new prisons, saying they remain an essential part of overhauling a correctional system that the Department of Justice has alleged holds men in unconstitutional conditions. State and local governments in Alabama are expected to receive about $4 billion to help with COVID-19 recovery efforts, and the spending of these funds could be more flexible than CARES Act monies. It’s likely there will be more discussion to determine how many, if any, of these federal dollars can be used to address the prison crisis. The legislature could authorize the sale of bonds for prison construction, but no firm proposal is on the table at this time. Some expect a special session will be held before the end of the summer to deal with this issue.

June 2021 Group Watch: Possible Uses for American Rescue Plan Funds

Alabama officials are early in the process of deciding how to use the latest round of federal funds coming to the state because of COVID-19 in the form of the American Rescue Plan, including a determination of whether some of the money could be used to help build prisons (see above). The Legislature will have to approve use of the money within guidelines that the U.S. Treasury Department  recently set out in a 150-page document. State and local governments have until the end of 2024 to use it. Along with costs directly related to the coronavirus, the money can be used to expand high-speed internet access, a need that increased in urgency after the pandemic showed the importance of being able to work and take classes from home. The money can be used for water and sewer projects and will help counties and municipalities make long-needed improvements. They can use some of the funds to make up for a loss in tax revenues caused by the pandemic. The pandemic disrupted Alabama’s economy, raising unemployment to 13.8 percent in April 2020, up from a record low 3.5 percent the month before. By December 2020, the rate was back down to 3.9 percent, and Alabama’s tax revenues appeared to hold up overall. The Treasury Department formula allows states to plug in an expected average growth factor of at least 4 percent to measure whether they lost revenue during the pandemic. It is this scenario that allows states flexibility in spending some of the federal dollars.

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