4/10/17 Group Watch: Ethics Commission Believes Gov. Bentley Broke Laws

Following more than nine hours in an executive session, The Alabama Ethics Commission voted to refer Governor Robert Bentley’s case to the Montgomery County district attorney’s office for consideration and possible prosecution. The commission said it found probable cause to believe the governor violated the state’s ethics laws and the Fair Campaign Practices Act, both Class B felonies. They contend Bentley misused state resources and improperly accepted a campaign contribution and loan. Punishment for such violations can range from a prison term of up to 20 years and fines up to $20,000 on each count.

4/10/17 Group Watch: Children’s Advocacy Centers Get Grants from Governor

There was some good news involving the governor last week. Governor Bentley awarded a grant to the Alabama Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers to help the nonprofit enhance services for child abuse victims in the state. According to the Office of the Governor, the grants total $159,326 and will help fund a victim advocate to assist victims directly. The grant will also fund a training coordinator who will assist the centers across the state. The grant from the U.S. Department of Justice is being administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Governor Robert Bentley notified Jim Ed Clayton, president of the Alabama Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers of the award.

March 20, 2017 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday, March 14th for the 11th day of the session, and on that day, the House passed a General Fund Budget. Here are a few other highlights:

  • On Tuesday (11th day of session): The House passed a couple of bills of local application only and worked late into the night before passing a $1.8 billion General Fund budget for FY2018. They also passed supplemental appropriations for the Board of Prosthetic and Orthotists and the Alabama Forestry Commission and general appropriations for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Children First Fund. The Senate passed a couple of bills of local application only and general bills to require drivers’ license offices be operational in each county at least one day a week and to provide for medical furlough for certain people not withstanding Medicaid eligibility.
  • On Wednesday (a committee day and 12th day of session): The House Boards, Agencies and Commissions Committee approved bills to regulate the practice of midwifery and a Senate-passed bill to immunize the Board of Licensure for Engineers and Land Surveyors when acting to protect public safety. The House County and Municipal Government Committee approved a bill to define the approval process by local governments for municipal solid waste facilities. The House Ways and Means Education Committee approved a Senate-passed bill to extend tax exempt status for United Way and related agencies from all taxes. The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee approved an education budget that is substantially level funded for all agencies, including entities such as Tuskegee University, Lyman Ward Military Academy and Talladega College, which has achieved considerable recognition for the State of Alabama from its band’s participation in the recent presidential inauguration. The House passed a few bills of local application only and general bills to increase the jurisdictional limits for district courts relating to filing and docket fees and a standardized system for collecting excise taxes on compressed and liquefied gas. The Senate passed a general bill to create the crime of homicide by a vehicle or vessel.
  • On Thursday (13th day of session): The House passed a number of bills of local application only and general bills to create the Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act to prohibit the state from discriminating against childcare service providers under certain conditions; to create the Assisted Suicide Ban Act; to affirm the state’s commitment to the right to life of unborn children; and to authorize healthcare providers to decline to perform services that violate their conscience. The Senate passed several bills of local application only and general bills to authorize loan repayment programs for advanced practice nurses for certain currently certified nurses; to transfer the Information Services Division and State Business Systems Division from the Department of Finance to the Office of Information Technology; and Education Appropriations for FY2018 for Lyman Ward Military Academy, Tuskegee University and Talladega College.

3/20/2017 Group Watch: Gov. Bentley Denies Resignation Rumors

At the end of last week, a spokesperson for Governor Bentley made a definitive statement, saying the governor had no intention of ending his term early by resigning from office. The statement said he was committed to the people of Alabama and to “finishing the race.” Read more here.

3/20/2017 Group Watch: New Prison Plan

An updated version of legislation to build new prisons in Alabama has been filed, and it’s a scale back of previous plans. The plan calls for construction of three new prisons, but the updated version requires at least two of them to be built by local governments or groups. The state would build a third prison, but only if it first gets leases on the two local facilities. If two communities or groups don’t build, the entire plan becomes null. The new plan stipulates that the state could bond out at $350 million, down considerably from the $775 million and $800 million of previous plans. The new plan shifts the financial burden to local governments or groups. Local communities that build prisons would be required to enter a 30-year lease-to-own agreement with the state and would be paid at a rate of $13.5 million per year, per agreement. The Department of Corrections will have the final say on which groups get the go-ahead to build.

March 13, 2017 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The Alabama Legislature returned to work on Tuesday, March 7th for the 9th day of the session. The General Fund Budget came up in committee, and here are a few other highlights:

  • On Tuesday (9th day of session): The House passed several bills of local application only and general bills to allow marinas to be designated an additional type of community development district; to authorize the State Fire Marshal to issue permits to certain fire protection sprinkler contractors for systems and changes to systems designed by a licensed engineer; and a Senate-passed bill to further define and provide penalties for Medicaid fraud. The Senate passed general bills to further authorize temporary license plates and registration certificates for manufacturers and dealers of boats and boat trailers; to repeal the requirement for probate judges to issue marriage licensees while providing for the recording of the event and transmission to the office of Vital Statistics; to create a tax credit for hiring an unemployed veteran regardless of whether the veteran was recently deployed; and to immunize the Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors for promulgating rules relating to antitrust laws that effect public safety. This is the companion bill that passed the House on this same day.
  • On Wednesday (a committee day): The House Judiciary Committee approved bills to authorize churches to establish security programs and designate who may carry firearms and to establish Defense Advisory Boards with immunity for board members. The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee approved a substitute General Fund Budget, which will be debated next Tuesday, and bills to extend the supplemental privilege assessment for nursing facilities and to extend the private hospital assessment. The Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee approved bills to give preference on competitive bids on public contracts by state entities to vendors owned by veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to authorize the use of an auction company for sale of state land by the Revenue Department. The Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee approved a bill to require the county superintendent of education be appointed unless provided otherwise by the constitution.
  • On Thursday (10th day of session): The House passed general bills to authorize the use of sunscreen at school and to authorize police powers for the Poarch Creek Indians on tribal lands. The Senate passed a few bills of local application only and general bills to exempt prescription drugs from business license tax based on gross receipts and to authorize the use of sunscreen at school.

3/13/17 Group Watch: Tuscaloosa Mayor Re-elected

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox was re-elected this week to a fourth term by almost 90 percent of voters. Maddox thanked his supporters for ushering him victory in his first political challenge since 2005. Maddox bested four challengers for the mayor’s seat in 2005 after six-term Mayor Al Dupont chose not to seek re-election. Since then, Maddox has helped implement the Tuscaloosa Pre-K Initiative, which serves more than 250 at-risk preschoolers in nine schools, and the Tuscaloosa 311 non-emergency hotline system, which serves as a direct phone line to City Hall while monitoring and tracking everything from pothole complaints to garbage cart replacements. He also steered the city through the effects of a national economic downturn and guided Tuscaloosa’s recovery from the tornado of April 27, 2011, which is considered the most severe natural disaster the city has faced. His decision-making following the deadly storm that damaged or destroyed 12 percent of the city earned him the 2012 Municipal Leader of the Year by American City and County, a national publication that has focused on state and local government since 1909. He is a fellow with the Program on Crisis Leadership at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

3/13/17 Group Watch: Tweet of the Week

from @thebloomgroup: Read the truth about OPS ONE Opelika’s FTTH Network and how it can improve the quality of life for all of Lee County.

3/13/17 Group Watch: State School Board Holds Special Meeting

The state school board held a special work session last week to discuss financial matters. The meeting was called after board members received hundreds of phone calls and emails from constituents concerned about actions the State Superintendent had taken in recent days. Some board members have been critical of the superintendent’s “lack of communication” with them. Questions surfaced last week in the legislative contract review committee meeting about two contracts for more than $1.3 million for school intervention. The lack of further details prompted questions. Also, plans for a reorganization of the career tech and workforce development program were apparently leaked to the media last week before board members were briefed on the proposed plan.

March 6, 2017 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

On Tuesday February 28th, the House and Senate returned to work for the 7th day of the session. Here are a few highlights:

  • On Tuesday (7th day of session): The House passed several bills of local application only, and general bills to authorize the hunting of whitetail deer or feral swine by means of bait; to exempt from competitive bids the purchase of electronic data bases of manuscripts, books, maps, pamphlets or periodicals; and to clarify the authority of the Community College System to acquire and dispose of property and to participate in the TRS and PEEHIP. The Senate passed sunset bills to continue a number of state boards and agencies, such as the State Board of Pharmacy, Dental Examiners Board, the Board of Nursing and the Nursing Home Administrators Board of Examiners.
  • On Wednesday (committee day): The House Judiciary Committee approved bills to require the Department of Human Resources to place the infant of a dependent minor mother with the minor mother in foster care and to require a parenting plan in all cases involving child custody. The House Children and Senior Advocacy Committee approved a bill to require licensing of all child care facilities to ensure uniform safety for children in care. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill to prohibit the possession of a firearm at certain places to include persons with a valid pistol permit. The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee approved a bill to provide a $5,000 income tax credit to certain rural certified registered nurse practitioners.
  • On Thursday (8th day of session): The House passed several bills of local application only that include the establishment of a cemetery board for Jefferson County and passed general bills to extended limited immunity to non-profit affiliates of Public Housing authorities and to authorize warrantless arrest for persons trespassing on property of an educational institution. The Senate passed a number of sunset bills to continue the operation of state boards, commissions and agencies including the Board of Optometry, the Interior Designers Board, the Marriage and Family Therapy Board, the Board of Podiatry and the Home Builders Licensure Board.

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