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.

8/16 Group Watch: Special Session

The Alabama Legislature convenes today for a special session called by the governor to address the Medicaid funding crisis. The session is narrowly targeted and is not expected to be enduring. The Bloom Group will be there protecting your interests and will provide you with timely updates throughout the special session as it progresses.

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

Students may still be enjoying their summer break, but the Alabama State Board of Education is working to find the right new state superintendent, the state Medicaid agency is making cuts and more.

State Board Narrows Search for New Superintendent
The Alabama State Board of Education recently narrowed its search for a new state superintendent to six candidates. The board also elected new leadership, elevating Yvette Richardson to the position of vice president and Mary Scott Hunter to president pro tem. Board members agreed to interview the candidates on August 4 and make a selection at the boards regularly scheduled meeting on August 11. The six candidates that will be interviewed for the job are: Craig Pouncey, current Jefferson County School superintendent; Janet Womack, current superintendent for Florence Schools; William Evers, a research fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University; Dee Fowler, current superintendent of Madison City Schools; Jeana Ross, secretary for the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education; and Michael Sentence, a longtime Massachusetts educator and administrator.

Alabama Medicaid Agency Announces 1st Major Cut
The Alabama Medicaid Agency announced its first major cut due to budget cuts. The agency announced it would end enhanced reimbursement payments for primary care doctors. The enhanced reimbursement put some Medicaid primary care reimbursement rates on par with Medicare rates. It was designed to get more doctors to serve Medicaid patients. Alabama lawmakers approved a budget that was $85 million short of what was needed to fund Medicaid. The cut in reimbursement will save an estimated $14.7 million. Additional cuts are expected.

Judge Temporarily Halts New Restrictions on Abortion Clinics
A federal judge temporarily stopped the state from enforcing new restrictions on abortion clinics in Alabama that were scheduled to go into effect August 1. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson’s restraining order keeps the state from implementing a law that bans abortion clinics within 2,000 feet of a K-8 public school and a ban on what abortion advocates call the safest second trimester abortion procedure. The lawsuit was filed by the Alabama Women’s Center in Huntsville and the West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa claim the 2000 feet restriction would force both of them to close, leaving only three clinics that provide abortions in the state. Judge Thompson set a hearing on the request of both clinics for October 4.

Alabama Will Not House Immigrant Children
In the June issue of Group Watch, we wrote that federal agencies were in the process of deciding if the state would be forced to take in immigrant children who were in the country without their parents. The feds have scrapped those plans, according to Representative Bradley Byrne of Mobile and Representative Martha Roby of Montgomery. The federal government initially wanted to house children at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, as well as military fields in Baldwin County. Representative Byrne and Representative Roby said they were told that there are no plans to use military installations in the state as part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ plan. The children, detained at the U.S. and Mexico border, must await processing by the Office of Refugee Resettlement since they are in the country without their parents.

July 2016 Group Watch: Principal Perspective

by Allen Sanderson

The news in the last few weeks has been dominated by tragedy, and here at The Bloom Group our thoughts and prayers especially go out to the families of the slain police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. We have always and will continue to proudly support the men and women who work in law enforcement, those who bravely put themselves in danger daily to protect us and our rights. I’d like to take this opportunity to say “thank you” to police, sheriffs and others in law enforcement across Alabama and our country.

July 2016 Group Watch: Birmingham Funding ShotSpotter

The Birmingham Police Department has been using ShotSpotter, a gun location and detection service since 2008. The Birmingham City Council approved paying more than $52,000 to let officers keep using the gunfire detection system. The detection system can determine the difference between a gunshot and something else like a firecracker. If a sound goes off like gunfire, sensors will triangulate the sound and get as close as possible.

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

If you thought summer meant a slow-down in business and political news, think again. In the month since the 2016 regular session ended, we’ve seen several positive economic development announcements and the trial and subsequent conviction of the Alabama Speaker of the House. Read on for more details.

Mercedes-Benz Supplier Adding 200 Jobs
German supplier Eissmann Automotive will build a new 130,000-square-foot facility for production in Pell City. The St. Clair County facility currently has 650 employees, and the expansion will add 200. Eissmann makes car interiors, shifter modules and other parts for auto makers like Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Jeep and Volkswagen. The $14.5 million expansion is the most recent of several since the facility located in Pell City. A $2.3 million expansion completed in 2015 added 80 new jobs. Eissmann North America is one of the largest private employers in Pell City.

Auto Supplier to Invest $530 Million in Birmingham
Auto supplier Kamtek will break ground in coming weeks on an $80 million, 148,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in the City of Birmingham. The project will include an investment of $530 million and create 354 jobs through 2020. The facility will produce aluminum automotive casting parts for major auto manufacturers in the United States. Mayor William Bell said the company is valuable to the community in terms of economic development and employment. Of the more than 900 employees, 37 percent live in the City of Birmingham and 78 percent live in Jefferson County. The company could expand further, with the potential to increase to 400,000 square feet by 2025.
In other news…

On June 10, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard was convicted on 12 counts of using his office for personal gain. The guilty verdicts cost him his seat in the legislature, his position as Speaker and could lead to jail time (sentencing is scheduled for July 8). He maintains that he is innocent and has promised to appeal. In the meantime, the process of replacing Hubbard as Speaker has already begun. A vote of the full House will elect the new Speaker at the start of the 2017 session or during a special session later this year, if the governor calls one. Current contenders include:

  • Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa
  • Rep. Victor Gaston, R-Mobile
  • Rep, Phil Williams, R-Huntsville
  • Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle
  • Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Capshaw
  • Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia

Several other representatives have also expressed interest.

June 2016 Group Watch: Will Alabama House Illegal Immigrant Children?

Federal agencies will decide. Officials from the Department of Defense (DOD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) are scheduled to come to the state and visit facilities in Baldwin County. They will be looking at two Naval Outlying Fields in Foley and Summerdale to determine whether unaccompanied minors, who entered the country illegally, could be temporarily resettled at the sites. The site assessment will determine the feasibility of utilizing the property for semi-permanent shelters should the number of children referred by HHS exceed the shelter capacity currently available. While DOD officials will be present for the tour, HHS officials will make the final determination about whether the site is appropriate. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and United States Senator Richard Shelby say the proposal is inappropriate. Governor Bentley says the states should play a more active role in the determination process and describes the effort as usurping the authority of the State of Alabama.

June 2016 Group Watch: No More Common Law Marriage in AL

On January 1, 2017, Alabama will join 40 other states no longer recognizing common law marriage. Governor Bentley signed into law legislation abolishing common law marriages. Common law marriage is when a couple decides to live together without a license or a ceremonial marriage. This arrangement often leads to certain legal issues when couples break up, or one of them dies or if children are involved. There is no provision for division of marital property and no division of marital debts. Common law arrangements before the law goes into effect will still be recognized.

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