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Border wall bill advances

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A bill to allow Alabamians to donate some of their income tax return to the construction of a wall on the U.S.’s southern border by checking a box on their tax return documents could get a vote in the Alabama Senate this week.

Eight GOP members on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee voted in favor of the legislation from Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, on Tuesday. Two democrats, Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D- Birmingham, and Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier, D-Selma, voted against it.

Marsh told Alabama Daily News that he plans on doing everything he can to get the bill to the Senate floor soon.

Marsh said that his original reasoning for proposing the bill was because of problems he faced when trying to send money to We Build the Wall, Inc.

“I wanted to create an avenue that would, one, give a way for Alabamians to show support for (President Donald) Trump and for building the wall, but also to allow them to participate in that process,” Marsh said.

State law currently allows Alabamians to donate a portion of their state income tax returns to one of 22 “charitable and nonpolitical” organizations listed on the tax form. The money is sent from the Alabama Department of Revenue to the organizations. Marsh’s bill would add “We Build the Wall, Inc.” as a check-off recipient. It’s a non-profit GoFundMe campaign that so far has raised $20.7 million toward its $1 billion goal.

Marsh supports the building of a southern border wall, which has been a cornerstone of Trump’s presidency and a political fight for funding.

Trump recently used his veto power for the first time in his presidency on Congress’ attempt to reverse his national emergency declaration and to rein in spending on the wall. Trump wants $5.7 billion for its construction.

Marsh sees the border wall as a necessary measure for national security and a way to help secure jobs.

“I am a believer in national security, which the wall is part of, and I think that wall makes our citizens safer and protects American jobs,” Marsh said.

Workers replace sections of the border wall, left, with new sections, right, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, in Tijuana, Mexico. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Committee member Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, said that he and his constituents are in favor of the border wall being built and that is why he supports the bill.

“Anything that promotes or speeds up the building of a border wall is without question something that a majority of the citizens of Senate District 17 support,” Shelnutt said.

Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, also voted in favor of the bill and said that it is simply a matter of allowing the Alabama taxpayer the freedom to choose to donate to whatever organization they desire.

“I think it should be the right of the people to be able to place their money and their tax refund where they want to,” Gudger, who represents most of Lawrence County, said. “It’s not mandatory to do this, and if another non-profit wanted to do the same and they had enough strength for that bill to get passed then they could do the same.”

When asked if he would have a problem with a similar bill being proposed but for an organization that went to more liberal causes, Gudger said he would consider those bills as they came.

“I would have to look at each individual one and see what’s exactly in them,” Gudger said. “I certainly have things I believe in and other things that I don’t, so I’m obviously more conservative than liberal.”

Coleman-Madison said during the committee meeting that she does not think the state government should be involved with a topic as controversial as the border wall.

“If they support building the wall, as you say, then they should send their own check privately in their own time,” Coleman-Madison said. “I think this brings government into a very volatile issue that is very controversial and something that not all Alabamians agree upon.”

Coleman-Madison later said that she did not like how the bill opened the door for any other non-profit organization to be able to fall under the tax check-off list either.

“I do not like the fact that the state government would then be involved with that process and I certainly don’t support building the wall and am uncomfortable seeing that check-off on there,” Coleman-Madison said.

Victoria Siciliano, the administrative director at Adelante Alabama Worker Center, said Marsh’s bill is a clear signal to immigrants in Alabama that they are not welcome in the state.

Adelante Alabama is a non-profit based in Birmingham that helps defend the rights of laborers, domestic workers and other low-wage and immigrant workers.

“It’s morally repugnant to use immigrants’ taxes to build a tangible barrier between them and their families,” Siciliano said. “Not only US citizens pay taxes. Each tax return will come with a clear message to immigrants that we are not welcome here.”

Marsh believes though that he will have broad support for his bill.

“It may come down party lines, but I hope it won’t because I don’t see how anybody, Republican or Democrat, can object to individuals having the right with their tax returns, if they want, to make a donation to what they want to make a donation too,” Marsh said.

Marsh said he would not be opposed to other lawmakers suggesting additional check-offs and further expanding the program.

“For instance, if there were a bill to allow something on Medicaid, which would be something that Democrats would look at, there again, if it is something that is the independent choice of the tax payer then I’m not going to have a problem with it,” Marsh said.

According to the 2018 Annual Report from the Alabama Department of Revenue, some of the biggest organizations allowed checkoff contributions were the Child Abuse Trust Fund, Alabama Veterans’ Program, Mental Health Consumers of Alabama and University of South Alabama Mitchell Cancer Institute Fund.

In 2018, nearly 16,000 check-off donations were made totaling nearly $18,626.

Donations for the border wall could begin in the 2020 tax year, if Marsh’s bill becomes law.

Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-Birmingham, is sponsoring the companion bill, House Bill 56.

Sen. Geral Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, hadn’t seen Marsh’s bill as of Tuesday, but said he supports it.

“If I had $6 billion, I’d build the wall myself,” Allen said.

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