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Daily News Digest – February 19, 2020

Good morning!
Here’s your Daily News for Wednesday, February 19.

1. Occupational tax showdown

  • The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday advanced a measure aimed to slow down the process for cities enacting occupational taxes, despite opposition from several of the state’s mayors.
  • House Bill 147, sponsored by Rep. Chris Sells, R-Greenville, would limit municipalities from enacting occupational taxes by requiring any such policy to pass the Legislature as local legislation. The bill, which passed the House last week, now only lacks passage in the full Senate and signature by Gov. Kay Ivey to become law.
  • Ivey’s office said she reserves the right to review any bill that comes to her desk, but spokeswoman Gina Maiola added that the governor generally sees occupational taxes as “burdens placed upon hard-working Alabamians.”
  • The Republican-led Alabama Legislature has been in something of a race against the City of Montgomery, which has been considering an occupational tax.
  • Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed spoke before the Senate committee urging them to shelve the bill and warning that the city would take action to get ahead of the legislation.
  • “We do have an ordinance on our City Council agenda for (Tuesday night),” he said. “That ordinance can be easily removed if this bill is removed from the agenda today. If the bill is not pulled, then our city council will move forward with the ordinance because we want to have that option even though it is not our priority.”
  • Reed wasn’t kidding.
  • In the wake of the committee’s action, the Montgomery City Council on Tuesday night voted to pass an ordinance implementing a 1% occupational tax on all those working inside the city limits starting in 2021.
  • Sells’ bill would would not apply to cities that have already enacted occupational taxes. The bill is set to be retroactive to February 1, which could apply to the Montgomery occupational tax effort, though a dispute on which takes precedence is likely to end up in court.
  • Read more HERE.


2. Education benefits bill passes House

  • A bill that would create a new tier of improved retirement benefits for education employees passed the Alabama House unanimously on Tuesday, but some lawmakers still wonder if the change should apply only to K-12 classroom teachers.
  • A bill from Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, would create a “Tier III” level of benefits that would increase the multiplier, which determines how much retirees earn, from Tier II’s current 1.65% to 2%. His bill applies to all education employees, including support staff and administrators.
  • Tier II retirement benefits went into effect for new teachers in 2013 in an effort to save the state money on retirement costs. Teachers who were already in the classroom at that time got to stay in the more generous Tier I.
  • “With Tier III this is attempting, somewhat, to get as close back to Tier I as possible but without the cost that Tier I did incur,” Baker said during a committee meeting last week. “I would say that a very strong point is to be made that in implementing the Tier III, this would cost less than a one percent pay increase for teachers.”
  • This is an interesting story with lots of opinions from lawmakers.
  • Read more from ADN’s Caroline Beck HERE.



3. Morgan County tax fight will have statewide impact

  • The Morgan County Commission and the county’s school districts went head-to-head in a Montgomery County Circuit Court hearing on Tuesday in their fight over who should receive online sales taxes, and now they must await a decision from the court.
  • Last year, a local law sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, directed the county to distribute 95% of the Simplified Sellers Use Tax to the various school districts in the county. The Morgan County Commission refused, saying the original SSUT law gave the county sole discretion of distributing the money. School districts sued for the money, and on Tuesday they were in court.
  • Whatever Montgomery Circuit Court Judge James Anderson decides, other county officials and state lawmakers will be watching.
  • The crux of the legal dispute is whether the local law conflicts with the statewide SSUT law. Under Section 105 of the Alabama Constitution, a local law can supplement a statewide law but not contradict it. The statewide law took effect as a voluntary tax on online sellers in 2015. The law became mandatory for most online retailers beginning in January 2019, at which point online sales tax revenue jumped significantly.
  • Attorneys Bobby Segall for the Alabama Education Association and Dorman Walker for the Morgan County Commission argued in court yesterday.
  • Read more from Eric Fleischauer and me HERE.



4. Sessions fends off attacks, launches new ones in TV ad

  • With less than two weeks to go until primary election day, we have entered the “show contrast” phase of the race for U.S. Senate.
  • All three top candidates now have some form of an attack ad airing on television.
  • In a new ad launched Tuesday, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fends off attacks from rival Senate GOP hopefuls Tommy Tuberville and Bradley Byrne while firing barbs of his own at both candidates.
  • The new ad titled, “Desperate Attacks” begins airing statewide on cable and broadcast networks this week, according to the Sessions campaign.
  • The ad calls Byrne and Tuberville “desperate” and says they are “telling lies about Jeff Sessions,” before pointing out that Sessions was the first sitting U.S. Senator to endorse Donald Trump for President in 2016.
  • Pivoting to attack mode, the ad accuses Byrne of standing “with the liberals” when he called Trump “not fit” to be president in the wake of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump can be heard bragging about grabbing women’s private parts. Byrne later affirmed his support of Trump in the 2016 election and has been a staunch defender of the president ever since.
  • Sessions’ ad accuses Tuberville of being a “tourist in Alabama” who “lives, votes and pays taxes in Florida.” Tuberville recently responded to concerns about his residency by showing his Alabama driver license at a number of GOP campaign events.
  • Watch Sessions’ full ad HERE.
  • In case you missed them, Byrne’s contrast ad from the weekend can be seen HERE and Tuberville’s ad launched yesterday can be seen HERE.


5. Source: Barr could quit over Trump tweets

  • Attorney General William Barr has told people close to him he’s considering quitting his post after President Donald Trump wouldn’t heed his warning to stop tweeting about Justice Department cases, an administration official told The Associated Press.
  • The revelation came days after Barr said in a television interview that Trump’s tweets about Justice Department cases and staffers make it “impossible” for him to do his job. The next day, Trump ignored Barr’s request and insisted that he has the “legal right” to intervene in criminal cases and sidestep the Justice Department’s historical independence.
  • It’s unclear how seriously Barr has considered resigning or whether he is instead trying to pressure Trump to back off his provocative tweets about the Justice Department. Barr’s spokeswoman said late Tuesday that the attorney general “has no plans to resign.”
  • Barr is one of the president’s closest allies in the administration and has been a staunch defender of Trump’s policy decisions. But considering resigning from his post suggests he sees the Justice Department’s reputation as an institution that makes decisions on criminal cases independently, unmoved and unbound by political sway, as more important than his allegiance to the president.
  • Full story HERE.


What we’re watching today…

Medical marijuana bill heads to committee vote

  • MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A medical marijuana bill is headed to its first vote in the Alabama Legislature as advocates hope to gain legislative traction after years of setbacks in Montgomery.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on the legislation this morning and could vote the same day. The bill by Republican Sen. Tim Melson would allow people to be prescribed medical marijuana for certain conditions, including cancer, anxiety and chronic pain, and to purchase cannabis products at a dispensary licensed by the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission.
  • The bill would allow marijuana only in forms such as pills, gelatinous cubes, skin patches and gels and creams. It would not allow products consumed by smoking or vaping. It would also not allow so-called edibles where the marijuana is baked into cookies, candies or other food items.
  • Supporters expressed cautious optimism ahead of the committee after years of little headway in Montgomery. A medical marijuana bill in 2013 won the so-called “Shroud Award” for the “deadest” bill that year in the House of Representatives.
  • Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall opposes this year’s legislation.
  • Melson estimated that 150,000 to 200,000 people in Alabama would have a qualifying condition that would allow them to be prescribed medical marijuana from a physician. Qualifying patients would be given a medical cannabis card and buy the products at a licensed dispensary. The bill allows up to 34 dispensaries in the state, he said.
  • Story link.




ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Committee advances bill limiting occupational taxes as Montgomery City Council passes ordinance
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – House passes teacher retirement bill; fate uncertain in the Senate
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Morgan County tax dispute will have statewide impact
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Sessions defends himself, attacks opponents in new TV ad
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Medical marijuana bill heads to committee vote
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Source: Barr tells people he might quit over Trump tweets
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Ainsworth: Bill would expedite death row appeals
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Bradley Byrne fights to make Senate runoff
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Bill would ban use of hand-held devices while driving
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Realtors’ PAC makes primary endorsements
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Bloomberg makes debate stage, facing Dem rivals for 1st time
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Daily News Digest- February 18, 2019
AL.COM  – Alabama has third-highest death rate of mothers in the nation, new federal report says
AL.COM  – Bill to restrict Alabama city occupational taxes advances
AL.COM  – Ivey declares state of emergency for flooding
AL.COM  – Alabama’s exports down again in 2019, but autos up
AL.COM  – Plan to improve Alabama teachers’ retirement advances
AL.COM  – Whistleblower faces retaliation for reporting Alabama school system wrongdoing, lawsuit says
AL.COM  – Bill would eliminate step in Alabama death penalty appeals
AL.COM  – Alabama Launchpad finale set for Feb. 27
AL.COM  – Byrne fights to make Senate runoff
AL.COM  – Blue Origin will ‘rapidly move’ ahead at new Huntsville engine plant
MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER – House approves bill to develop land around Air Force bases
MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER  – Contributor Sandy Stimpson: Big 10 mayors to Alabama Legislature: HB147 is an assault on local governance
MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER  – Alabama House OKs ban on smoking in cars when kids are present
YellowHammer News – Sessions begins closing argument: ‘I have the ability to help in a way a new person does not’
YellowHammer News – Super PAC ad says Tuberville ‘wrong on Trump, wrong on immigration’
YellowHammer News – Ivey issues State of Emergency to assist with Alabama flooding recovery
Dothan Eagle – Chipley woman dies in accident after airborne deer enters windshield
Dothan Eagle – Dothan man charged with murder in Wednesday’s fatal shooting is out of jail on bond
Dothan Eagle – Government Oversight: Development plans for hotel different than five years ago
Tuscaloosa News – Lawmakers, cities clash on occupational tax, local control
Tuscaloosa News – Alabama House okays proposed teacher retirement change
Decatur Daily – Morgan commission, schools await ruling on online sales tax dispute
Decatur Daily – Bill would ban use of hand-held devices while driving
Decatur Daily – House passes teacher retirement bill; fate uncertain in the Senate
Times Daily – Bill would ban use of hand-held devices while driving
Times Daily – Ainsworth: Bill would expedite death row appeals
Times Daily – GOP-backed grocery tax repeal bills emerge in the State House
Anniston Star – Alabama House passes teacher retirement bill; fate uncertain in the Senate
Anniston Star – Alabama Senate committee advances bill limiting occupational tax
Anniston Star – Anniston council punts homeless shelter decision again
WBRC Fox 6 Birmingham – Committee advances bill limiting occupational taxes
WBRC Fox 6 Birmingham – House passes teacher retirement bill; fate uncertain in the Senate
WBRC Fox 6 Birmingham – Bills seek more financial transparency from state licensure boards, AHSAA
WASHINGTON POST  – Trump grants clemency to high-profile individuals, including Rod Blagojevich, Michael Milken and Bernard Kerik
WASHINGTON POST  – Post-impeachment, Trump declares himself the ‘chief law enforcement officer’ of America
NEW YORK TIMES  – As Trump Claims to Be Law of the Land, Barr’s Irritation Builds
NEW YORK TIMES  – On Politics: Can Bloomberg Take the Heat?

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