September 2013 Group Watch: Rep. Demetrius Newton Passes

Demetrius Newton, a civil rights attorney who represented icons like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. before becoming the first black person to serve as speaker pro tem of the Alabama House of Representatives, has died at the age of 85. Newton was a former city attorney for the city of Birmingham and served in the legislature since 1986. In the legislature, he was an outspoken critic of the state’s 1901 Constitution, which he described as too long and out of date. Governor Bentley, who served with Newton in the House, described him as a true gentleman and an effective public servant. Colleagues past and present voiced sadness over his death and praise for his distinguished career. Demetrius Newton will be missed, but we are glad we got to know and work with this fine person.

August 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

This month brings another resignation, and as school begins, parents and educators brace for the new list of failing schools.

  • Rep. Jim Barton Resigns: State Representative Jim Barton of Mobile announced his resignation from his House seat to take a job with a Montgomery-based lobbying group. Barton expressed appreciation to those who have supported him over the last 13 years while serving in the Legislature. Prior to his resignation, he served as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means General Fund Committee. Barton’s departure is the latest in a string of high-profile resignations among state elected officials. Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman and Representative Jay Love both resigned last month to take advantage of private sector offers. A few months ago U.S. Representative Jo Bonner announced his resignation from Congress to take a position as vice chancellor of government relations and economic development for the University of Alabama System. Barton, who is the owner of two Mobile-area businesses, thanked House Speaker Mike Hubbard for naming him to the committee chairmanship. Barton is prohibited from lobbying House members for two years, but can immediately lobby Senators.
  • New Failing Schools to Be Announced This Fall:  Alabama will be facing a new list of “failing” schools before the end of the year, as the test scores from last spring are due to be released sometime this fall. The new round of test results will cause the state to recalculate the scores that led to the list of failing schools. Parents at any new failing schools will be eligible for a $3,500 tax credit to help pay for private school in the spring. Since the state does not release the scores of non-failing schools, it is impossible to guess if the state list will grow much longer, as we don’t know how many schools are on the brink of “failing.” Republican lawmakers through the Alabama Accountability Act chose to label as failing any school testing in the bottom 6 percent in reading and math at least three times over the last six years. The state listed 72 schools as “failing” for not meeting the testing standard. A third of those missed the mark for six straight years. That means they have no success to build on and no shot. Those schools will remain on the list for at least four more years no matter how well they score this year.

August 2013 Group Watch: Alabama AG Supporting Legislative Prayers

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has joined other attorneys general in filing a brief in a New York case asking the U. S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that prayer at the beginning of a government assembly violates the Establishment Clause. Strange and 22 other attorneys general filed briefs in the case.

The Supreme Court upheld the practice of opening legislative sessions with prayer in a case 30 years ago. The brief filed by the attorneys general asks the Supreme Court to reaffirm that ruling and to clarify that the Constitution does not require state and local governments to screen prayers for sectarian references. The State of Alabama has a long history of opening legislative sessions with prayer.

August 2013 Group Watch: PSC Lowers Power Rates

The Public Service Commission voted 2-1 to radically change how Alabama Power’s rates are measured and created more oversight, which will mean cheaper power bills for consumers. The PSC President said the changes allow the commission to measure Alabama Power’s profits by taking into account a wider array of its financial picture and will save customers an estimated $30 to $110 a year based power utilization.

Most regulated utilities are allowed a profit range based on a rate of return on common equity. Alabama Power’s range has stayed at 13 to 14.5 percent for the past few decades, while the ranges for similar utilities in other states have fallen. But the company argued at a series of public meetings that the figure paints an incomplete picture of its finances. The new formula takes into account the company’s debt structure and allows for a range of 5.75 to 6.21 percent.

July 2013 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The governor is raising funds in hopes of retaining office, while another elected official announces his departure.

  • Bentley Begins Run for Second Term: Alabama Governor Robert Bentley filed his first campaign finance report, which shows he has over a half-million dollars already on hand. The report shows he entered the campaign fundraising season with a beginning balance of $236,000 and raised $422,500, giving him a total of $545,000. A spokesperson for the governor said he is happy with the initial report and thinks it reflects the support he has based on his job performance to date. Alabama’s primary election is June 3, 2014.
  • Rep. Jay Love Resigns: State Representative Jay Love, one of the most powerful members of the House of Representatives, announced he is leaving the legislature August 1 to pursue business opportunities and to promote education reform. Love is chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Committee, which writes the budget for all education functions in the state. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 2002 and during his stint in public office, ran unsuccessfully for congress and for chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. Love has owned several Montgomery area eateries and became a prominent legislative player after Republicans took control of the legislature in 2010. Love’s replacement will be selected in a special election that will be called by Governor Bentley.

July 2013 Group Watch: Trade Mission to Canada

The Alabama Department of Commerce will lead representatives from 10 state companies to Canada next week on a trip aimed at strengthening ties with that country. Canada, a North American Free Trade Agreement partner, is the top destination for Alabama products and the upcoming trip will capitalize on those current ties. Small businesses from across the state, mainly technology and research and development firms, will be a part of the trade mission. Canada continued as the state’s top export destination last year, with shipments valued at almost $4 billion. Alabama imports from Canada were valued at more than $258 million.

July 2013 Group Watch: Obamacare Reprieve

Employers will get a one-year reprieve from providing health insurance for their workers as the White House retools the mandate that critics have said is both costly and cumbersome. The delay was announced by Treasury officials and would push the requirement past the 2014 mid-term elections. Other aspects of the massive law wouldn’t be delayed. The employer mandate requires businesses with more than 50 workers to provide health insurance for their employees or face fines of up to $3,000 per worker. The change was supposed to become effective January 1, 2014, but will now occur in 2015. Government officials are strongly encouraging employers to maintain or expand health coverage during the transition period.

Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee Endorses Court Candidates

In this photo, Justice Greg Shaw, Judge Scott Donaldson, Judge Bill Thompson, Judge Mary Windom and Judge Beth Kellum pause for photo after lunch.

ACJRC Endorses Court Candidates

The ACJRC Board held a luncheon meeting yesterday in Montgomery and heard presentations from five appellate court judges. After the judges were dismissed, the Board voted voted unamimously to endorse the following candidates:

Justice Greg Shaw for re-election to the Alabama Supreme Court
Judges Bill Thompson and Scott Donaldson for the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
Judges Beth Kellum and Mary Windom for the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

In a press release, ACJRC Chairman Tom Dart said, “These judges exemplify the best in Alabama’s judicial system – intelligence, hard work and, above all, fairness and adherence to the rule of law. We are proud to support their candidacies next year.”

We will be sending out press kits on each of the candidates and urge all ACJRC members to support these candidates, invite them to appear at your meetings and events and help spread the word about their elections with your employees, friends and families.

The Board will meet again on August 20th with the legislative leadership.

June 2013 Group Watch: Jefferson County Bankruptcy Deal

Jefferson County officials reached a deal to settle its bankruptcy. The county finance committee approved a deal 4-1, which was later ratified by the full commission. The deal, which must still be approved by judges and creditors, would bring an end to the largest government bankruptcy in U.S. history. The county’s lead attorney in the matter said the deal would bring to halt litigation between the county and its creditors and peace to county residents.

June 2013 Group Watch: New Secretary of IT Aims for Customer Service

Alabama’s new secretary of information technology says state agencies in some ways need to operate more like partners in a giant corporation rather than like independent companies. Brunson White, who retired from Energen Corporation in January, started in April in the new position in the governor’s cabinet. White says the newly created position can benefit taxpayers and state government. He plans to change what he said is a tendency for agencies to handle IT independently. White, who lives in a Birmingham suburb, worked for Energen for more than 30 years and was chief information officer for 16 years.

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Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee

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