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Another record year for immigrant minors in Alabama
By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
More than 2,200 unaccompanied minors detained at the U.S.’s southern border were sent to Alabama between October 2021 and August 2022, according to federal data.
With one month of reporting left for fiscal year 2022, that figure far surpasses recent previous years, including 1,946 in fiscal year 2021. In fiscal year 2020, 271 minors arrived in Alabama through federal placement, according to records.
Alabama Daily News has previously reported on state leaders’ frustration with federal policies and the Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They also say it points to a larger illegal immigration problem.
“The (President Joe Biden) administration refuses to do any to address this situation,” Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said recently.
When minors not accompanied by a parent or legal guardian are apprehended at the border, federal law requires that the ORR feed, shelter and provide medical care to them. The office then releases them to sponsors — usually family members — while the minors await immigration proceedings.
The ORR reports counties that have received 50 or more of the minors in a given year. Last year, there were seven such counties in Alabama. Through August of fiscal 2022, there were 15.
- Baldwin: 155
- Chambers: 69
- Coffee: 82
- DeKalb: 64
- Franklin: 83
- Houston: 71
- Jefferson: 282
- Lee: 204
- Limestone: 55
- Madison: 107
- Marshall: 178
- Mobile: 109
- Montgomery: 140
- Morgan: 102
- Tuscaloosa: 109
“This is the Alabama experience in numbers since President Joe Biden took office,” Orr said. “And what does this do? It means more children we need to educate, more children that we’re not collecting taxes for, so we have to pay for their education, we have to pay for their health care …
“The taxpayers of Alabama have to pay because of the administration not doing their jobs.”
Nationwide, 118,486 unaccompanied minors were detained in the first 11 months of fiscal year 2022. That compares to 107,686 in all of 2021. Most of the minors are teen males from Central America.
The youths, if they are enrolled in school, can present a challenge to public school systems around the state because they may have limited educational experience and often don’t speak English.
Orr, who chairs the Senate education budget committee, has previously said the immigrant youths were driving down test scores in schools in his area, which in turn negatively impacts home sales and economic growth. Earlier this year, the Legislature and Gov. Kay Ivey approved legislation that says English language learners’ test scores can’t be considered when assigning an academic achievement grade to a school or school system for the first five years of enrollment of the student.
Supporters of the bill said schools with large ELL populations are unfairly impacted in the state’s annual assignment of letter grades that are meant to give the public an apples-to-apples comparison of schools.
Meanwhile, advocacy groups say these populations are vulnerable to exploitation. Earlier this month, the Alabama Department of Labor issued and collected more than $35,000 in civil monetary penalties for violations of Alabama’s Child Labor Law by two businesses. SL Alabama, LLC, an auto parts supplier in Alexander City, and JK USA, an Opelika-based temporary employment agency providing workers to automotive suppliers, were fined for multiple violations involving the employment of a 14, 15 and 16 year old. The teens are undocumented and believed to be from Central America, a ADOL spokesperson said.
Historically, the young immigrants in Alabama have located to areas with agricultural industries, including chicken processing plants.
New bill-drafting system on the way
By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
A massive upgrade to the Alabama Legislature’s bill-drafting system is almost complete and will include some public-friendly improvements when rolled out next year.
“Our current system was at least 40 years old and the support for it was not being provided,” Secretary of the Senate Pat Harris told Inside Alabama Politics. “We were keeping it together with baling wire and duct tape. It had to be updated.”
Glitches — from missing fiscal notes to incorrect history sequences — when reading bills and their accompanying documents in the current system are sometimes noticeable. Meanwhile, bill drafters currently work in a decades-old program called Arbortext that pre-dated Word Perfect.
Developer International Roll-Call built the new system under a contract totaling about $9.8 million, but the system now belongs to the state, Harris said.
The upgrades largely help the Legislative Services Agency, the office that drafts bills and state budgets, and Senate and House staffs by making a more efficient drafting and updating process, from initial creation to codification. The system also handles the workflow of House and Senate and their committees, produces the legislative calendars and journals and all other aspects of the legislative process.
Some of the improvements will be noticeable to the public after the January organizational session of the newly elected Legislature. That’s when lawmakers can start pre-filing bills for the 2023 session that starts in March. Bills will have continuous line numbering over multiple pages, rather than lines one through 27 currently used on each page, so that making and keeping up with changes to a bill will be less confusing and cumbersome.
“That will make it a lot easier for members and the public to follow along with what’s happening and have conversations about amendments and ensure that amendments fit properly,” Othni Lathram, director of LSA, said.
Also, as bills are amended, changes viewed online will be highlighted in the newest versions.
“We want to make it easier for the public to see what the changes may be by highlighting underlines and strikeouts, just to make it a little more transparent when you go to see what changes have or have not been made,” Harris said.
The program upgrade dovetails with a new legislative website launched early this year. Lathram said he and Harris have had dozens of conversations with leaders in other states for tips on building the best legislative system.
“… It’s going to be a much improved experience all the way around,” Lathram said.
This will be the first system like this in the country, Harris said.
“I’ve had inquiries from Canada, from Northern Ireland, from Australia, about how this system is going to work,” Harris said. “We’re very proud of being on the cutting edge of how this works for legislatures all over the country.”
Lathram said improvements can continue to be made to the system and site as staff, lawmakers and the public get used to it.
“We want to improve the product as we live with it,” he said.
State House access changing
A new pre-clearance access program will allow state agency leaders and liaisons and lobbyists quicker access to the State House during legislative sessions.
Recently approved by the Legislative Council and requiring a $25 background check, the pre-clearance option will allow those who have the specially issued photo ID cards to bypass security screenings at the Washington Street entrance to the State House. It won’t apply to the main Union Street entrance and large bags may still be searched.
“We hope that it provides for an improved experience while continuing to ensure the building remains secure,” Othni Lathram, director of the Legislative Services Agency, told Inside Alabama Politics.
The program is only available for active state government agency heads, state agency legislative liaisons and registered lobbyists. There is an application process through LSA.
Speaker’s race update
By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
The race to become the next Speaker of the House remains an interesting one to watch within the State House and without. As IAP has reported, State Rep. Steve Clouse remains the choice of most of the veteran lawmakers in the chamber. The problem with that for Clouse is there just aren’t many of them. Looking at the post-election Caucus, there are nine members who were elected in 2010 and before. That number goes up to 29 if you include the 2014 class. A full 48 members will have served one term or less. Meanwhile, State Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter, who has served as Majority Leader for almost two terms, is said to have a lead among the newer members who will make up a majority of the House GOP Caucus come November.
There has been talk in late summer and early fall of Clouse allies floating the prospect of cutting a deal with Ledbetter, ceding the match in order for him to retain the chairmanship of Ways & Means General Fund and for others to not lose out on their prospects at chairmanships should Ledbetter win and give the spoils only to his supporters. While the vote is supposed to be a secret ballot, it is generally no secret who is on whose side. And yet, just last week, Clouse signaled he is very much still in the race by sending emails to members of the Caucus insisting on a fair voting process. He believes only members elected after the November elections should be allowed at the meeting and that outside counsel should be brought in to count the ballots instead of Caucus staff who essentially work for Ledbetter. The thinking among some Clouse supporters is that he’s more likely to win a truly secret ballot if members aren’t worried about retribution in the form of committee assignments or getting their bills on the special order calendar (the daily House agenda). Ledbetter supporters maintain that he has the votes to win based on commitments from members of the Caucus.
Still, when it comes to internal elections like this where politics can become so personal, it really is difficult to count votes. As one lawmaker put it, “the only commitments you can really trust are the ones who tell you no.”
And so it goes.
Majority Leader race update
By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
If it’s difficult to count Caucus votes for Speaker, then it’s doubly so for Majority Leader. As we’ve previously reported, Reps. Joe Lovvorn and Scott Stadthagen are facing off for the No. 2 spot in the House. One update of note comes in the form of PAC spending. Both men have leadership PACs to support their candidacies, TEAM PAC for Lovvorn and STACK PAC for Stadthagen. But the former has been raising money aggressively. On the latest campaign finance reports, STACK PAC had raised about $93,000 and spent $2,800. One notable contribution: $30,000 from John Blanchard, Lindy Blanchard’s ex-husband who remains inside the family tent. Lovvorn’s TEAM PAC had no report to file, which usually means no money raised or spent. But, there’s still time left, as he can make promises about paying off campaign debt after the election.
When do all these elections take place anyway? Let’s review the timeline.
The House Republican Caucus is scheduled to meet on Thursday, November 10 to have elections. That’s when the races for Speaker, Majority Leader, Speaker Pro Tem and Whip will be decided.
The Legislative Council will hold legislative orientation for new members December 13 and 14th. Alabama Daily News is told this will mostly involve newly elected lawmakers and their spouses, but you could also see some veteran members there given that it is the Legislative Council.
The Organization Session will convene Tuesday, January 10, 2023 at noon. This is when formal elections for Speaker, Senate President Pro Tem and House Clerk will formally take place. The two bodies will also adopt various sets of rules: House rules that govern House proceedings, Senate rules that govern Senate proceedings, and joint rules that govern proceedings between the bodies. This session could last a few days due to a few resolutions needing to go back and forth. There will also be an all-member briefing on ethics and human resources issues.
Finally, the inauguration will take place Monday, January 16, 2023. That’s when the governor, lt. governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state auditor and agriculture commissioner will be sworn into office.
How could Libertarians impact the election?
By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
For the first time in 20 years, Alabama voters will see Libertarian candidates and some three-person contests on their Nov. 8 General Election ballots.
There are more than 50 Libertarians running for office, including U.S. Senate and governor, and legislative seats.
Libertarian leadership said the party wanted to get candidates in as many races as possible this cycle.
It’s been a bit since we’ve seen three-person races on a November ballot, so let’s review the rules. While a third-party candidate in Georgia could force a General Election runoff between Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker, that can’t happen here. Unlike in primary elections, Alabama doesn’t have runoffs in General Elections. Plurality wins, Secretary of State John Merrill said.
There are 11 Libertarians running for state Senate and 27 seeking House seats, including in one of the more competitive legislative races between a Republican and Democrat.
The House District 10 seat is open because of the retirement of long-time Republican Rep. Mike Ball. Republican David Cole and Democrat Marilyn Lands have both raised significant amounts of money in their campaigns for the Madison County district that Ball has said is now more purple than when he was first elected. Elijah Boyd is the Libertarian. He has not filed any campaign finance reports.
“That race may be so close that the Libertarian candidate does make a difference,” said Jess Brown, a retired Athens State University political science professor.
While Libertarians’ limited government message may resonate with some voters, especially Republicans, Brown said they largely haven’t had the money or manpower to spread that message this cycle.
Without a lot of competitive races at the top of the ballot, Brown doesn’t expect a high voter turnout Nov. 8.
“(District 10) could be so close, a token number of votes could decide who is the plurality winner,” Brown said.
Many of us learned in June during the Tom Whatley/Jay Hovey State Senate saga that tied primary races can be settled by a coin flip. What happens if there is a tie in a statewide or legislative race in the General Election?
Per 17-12-22 of the Code of Alabama, the Legislature “by joint vote” selects the winner. That’s never happened, Merrill said.
Other legislative races with three candidates on ballot:
- HD41, where incumbent Republican Corley Ellis faces Democrat Chris Nelson and Libertarian Matthew Gregory Morris Jr.
- HD43, where incumbent Republican Arnold Mooney faces Democrat Prince Cleveland and Libertarian Jason Newell Davis Burr.
- House District 57, vacated by Merika Coleman who is running for state Senate, the candidates are Republican Delor Baumann, Democrat Patrick Sellers and Libertarian Manijeh Nancy Jones.
- In Senate District 23, Republican Michael Nimmer, Democrat Robert Stewart and Libertarian Portia Shepherd are running for the seat vacated this year by Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier.
- In Senate District 29, incumbent Republican Donnie Chesteen faces Republican Nathan Mathis and Libertarian Floyd “Pete” McBroom.
Updated Race Charts
With 19 days to go until Election Day, here are the updated races for Congress, constitutional offices, House of Representatives and Senate. The Libertarian candidates have been certified by the Secretary of State and will be on the ballot.
|U.S. Senate||Katie Britt||Will Boyd||John Sophocleus|
|U.S. House, AL-1||Jerry Carl (i)||-||Alexander Remrey|
|U.S. House, AL-2||Barry Moore (i)||Phylliss Harvey-Hall||Jonathan Realz|
|U.S. House, AL-3||Mike Rogers (i)||Lin Veasley||Thomas SickofDC Casson|
|U.S. House, AL-4||Robert Aderholt (i)||Rick Neighbors||Johnny C. Cochran|
|U.S. House, AL-5||Dale Strong||Kathy Warner-Stanton||P.J. Greer|
|U.S. House, AL-6||Gary Palmer||-||Jason Clark|
|U.S. House, AL-7||Beatrice Nichols||Terri Sewell (i)||Gavin Goodman|
|Governor||Kay Ivey (i)||Yolanda Flowers||James "Jimmy" Blake|
|Lt. Governor||Will Ainsworth (i)||-||Ruth Paige Nelson|
|Attorney General||Steve Marshall||Wendell Major||-|
|Secretary of State||Wes Allen||Pamela J. Laffitte||Jason "Matt" Shelby|
|State Treasurer||Young Boozer (i)||-||Scott Hammond|
|State Auditor||Andrew Sorrell||-||Leigh Lachine|
|Ag Commissioner||Rick Pate (i)||-||Jason Clark|
|Supreme Court Place 1||Greg Cook||Anita Kelly||-|
|PSC Place 1||Jeremy Oden (i)||-||Ron Bishop|
|PSC Place 2||Chip Beeker (i)||-||Laura Lane|
|Board of Education Place 2||Tracie West (i)||-||-|
|Board of Education Place 4||-||Yvette Richardson (i)||-|
|Board of Education Place 6||Marie Manning||-||-|
|Board of Education Place 7||-||Gavin Goodman|
|Board of Education Place 8||Wayne Reynolds(i)||-||-|
|1||Phillip Pettus (i)|
|3||Kerry Underwood||Wesley Thompson|
|4||Parker Moore (i)|
|5||Danny Crawford (i)|
|6||Andy Whitt (i)||Greg Turner|
|7||Ernie Yarbrough||Mose Jones, Jr||Marc Durocher|
|8||Terri Collins (i)||Angela Walser|
|9||Scott Stadthagen (i)||Gregory Bodine|
|10||David Cole||Marilyn Lands||Elijah Boyd|
|11||Randall Shedd (i)|
|12||Corey Harbison (i)||James Fields|
|13||Matt Woods||Mark Davenport|
|14||Tim Wadsworth (i)|
|15||Leigh Hulsey||Richard Rouco|
|16||Kyle South (i)|
|17||Tracy Estes (i)|
|18||Jamie Kiel (i)||Talia Shimp|
|19||Laura Hall (i)|
|21||Rex Reynolds (i)|
|22||Ritchie Whorton (i)|
|24||Nathaniel Ledbetter (i)|
|25||Phillip Rigsby||Mallory Hagan|
|26||Brock Colvin||Ben Alford|
|27||Wes Kitchens (i)||Herb Neu|
|29||Mark Gidley||Clifford Foy Valentin|
|30||Craig Lipscomb (i)|
|32||Evan Jackson||Barbara Boyd (i)|
|33||Ben Robbins (i)||Fred Crum|
|34||David Standridge (i)|
|35||Steve Hurst (i)|
|36||Randy Wood (i)|
|37||Bob Fincher (i)|
|38||Debbie Wood (i)||Charles Temm Jr.|
|39||Ginny Shaver (i)|
|40||Chad Robertson||Pam Howard|
|41||Corley Ellis (i)||Chris Nelson||Matthew Gregory Morris Jr.|
|42||Van Smith (i)||Doug Ward|
|43||Arnold Mooney (i)||Prince Cleveland||Jason Newell Davis Burr|
|44||Danny Garrett (i)||John Wiley Boone|
|45||Susan DuBose||Kari Mitchell Whitaker|
|46||David Faulkner (i)|
|47||Mike Shaw||Christian Coleman|
|48||Jim Carns (i)||Bruce Stutts|
|49||Russell Bedsole (i)|
|50||Jim Hill (i)|
|51||Allen Treadaway (i)|
|52||John Rogers (i)|
|53||Anthony Daniels (i)|
|54||Neil Rafferty (i)|
|55||Fred “Coach” Plump|
|56||Ontario Tillman||Carson Lester|
|57||Delor Baumann||Patrick Sellers||Manijeh Nancy Jones|
|58||Rolanda Hollis (i)|
|59||Mary Moore (i)|
|60||Juandalynn Givan (i)||PJ French|
|61||Ron Bolton||Damon Pruet|
|62||Bill Lamb||Brenda Cephus|
|63||Cynthia Almond (i)||Samuel Adams|
|64||Donna Givens||Jeff May|
|65||Brett Easterbrook (i)||Marcus Caster|
|66||Alan Baker (i)|
|67||Prince Chestnut (i)|
|68||Fred Kelley||Thomas Jackson (i)|
|69||Karla Knight Maddox||Kelvin Lawrence (i)|
|70||Chris England (i)|
|73||Kenneth Paschal (i)|
|74||Charlotte Meadows (i)||Phillip Ensler|
|75||Reed Ingram (i)|
|76||Penni McClammy (i)||Scott Manges|
|77||Tashina Morris (i)|
|78||Kenyatte Hassell (i)|
|79||Joe Lovvorn (i)||Amanda Frison|
|80||Chris Blackshear (i)|
|81||Ed Oliver (i)|
|82||Lennora "Tia" Pierrot||Pebblin Warren (i)|
|83||Jeremy Gray (i)|
|84||Berry Forte (i)|
|85||Payne Henderson||Dexter Grimsley (i)|
|86||Paul Lee (i)|
|87||Jeff Sorrells (i)|
|88||Jerry Starnes||Justin “Tyler” May|
|90||Chris Sells (I)|
|91||Rhett Marques (i)|
|92||Matthew Hammett||Steve Hubbard|
|93||Steve Clouse (i)|
|94||Jennifer Fidler||Margaret “Maggie” Helveston|
|95||Frances Holk-Jones||Richard Brackner|
|96||Matt Simpson (i)|
|97||Adline Clarke (i)|
|98||Napoleon Bracy (i)|
|99||Sam Jones (i)|
|100||Mark Shirey||Peyton Warren|
|101||Chris Pringle (i)|
|102||Shane Stringer (i)|
|104||Margie Wilcox (i)||Jon Dearman|
|105||Chip Brown (i)||Mark Lewis|
|1||Tim Melson (i)|
|2||Tom Butler (i)||Kim Lewis|
|3||Arthur Orr (i)||Rick Chandler|
|4||Garlan Gudger (i)|
|5||Greg Reed (i)|
|6||Larry Stutts (i)||Kyle Richard- Garrison|
|7||Sam Givhan (i)||Korey Wilson|
|8||Steve Livingston (i)|
|9||Clay Scofield (i)|
|10||Andrew Jones (i)|
|12||Keith Kelley||Danny McCullars|
|13||Randy Price (i)|
|14||April Weaver (i)|
|15||Dan Roberts (i)||Michael Crump|
|16||Jabo Waggoner (i)|
|17||Shay Shelnutt (i)||John Fortenberry|
|18||Rodger Smitherman (i)|
|19||Merika Coleman||Danny Wilson|
|20||Linda Coleman-Madison (i)|
|21||Gerald Allen (i)||Lisa Ward|
|22||Greg Albritton (i)|
|23||Michael Nimmer||Robert Stewart||Portia Shepherd|
|24||Bobby Singleton (i)||Richard Benderson|
|25||Will Barfoot (i)||Louie Albert Woolbright|
|26||Kirk Hatcher (i)|
|27||Jay Hovey||Sherri Reese|
|28||Billy Beasley (i)||David Boatwright|
|29||Donnie Chesteen (i)||Nathan Mathis||Floyd “Pete” McBroom|
|30||Clyde Chambliss (i)|
|32||Chris Elliott (i)|
|33||Peter Riehm||Vivian Figures (i)|
|34||Jack Williams (i)|
|35||David Sessions (i)||Clifton Hudson|
Races to watch
For almost a 24 year stretch, say from 1986 to 2010, the November general election was a big one up and down the ballot. Democrats and Republicans were highly competitive statewide, for Congress and in individual legislative districts. Those days have mostly passed, as voters have fully re-sorted themselves to create for Republicans the kind of political majority that Democrats enjoyed prior to 1986. That’s why you won’t see any surprises election night in the statewide or congressional contests, and most legislative contests.
However, there are a handful of State House and Senate races that could be close…
In House District 74, incumbent Republican Rep. Charlotte Meadows is facing a fierce challenge from former teacher and public servant Phillip Ensler. This race is competitive because the district was re-drawn last year to include much more Democratic-leaning areas and remove more Republican-leaning areas. Meadows was furious with her colleagues, and had every reason to be, given that she came up on the short end of the stick. In many ways, however, she could blame the previous round of redistricting back in 2011 that essentially took away the moderate district held by then-Rep. Joe Hubbard and sent it to Shelby County. Nobody argued with that move, partly because nobody liked poor Joe and because it made Montgomery’s Republican districts more Republican and the Democratic districts more Democratic. In the latest campaign finance reports, Meadows had raised nearly $113,000 and spent $35,000 with more than $87,000 left for the final stretch. Meanwhile, Ensler raised more than $229,000 and spent almost $217,400, leaving $42,500 in the bank. This could be the closest general election contest in the entire Legislature.
In House District 10, which, as noted above, is being vacated by retiring Rep. Mike Ball, most expect a close race between Republican David Cole and Democrat Marilyn Lands. Going into the final stretch, Cole has a money advantage with almost $87,000 in the bank compared to Lands’ $34,000. Ball himself has told Alabama Daily News he expects the race to be a “toss up” partly because of the intense population growth of Madison County. And don’t forget that there’s a Libertarian in the race that could impact things.
“Madison County is an anomaly in Alabama politics,” Ball said. “It’s such a melting pot from so many other places.”
For that matter, it is worth watching House District 25 where Democrat Mallory Hagan, a former Miss America, is facing off with Republican Phillip Rigsby for the seat held for years by retiring Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon.
Also in North Alabama’s Senate District 2, Republican Sen. Tom Butler is facing a competitive reelection challenge from Democrat Kim Caudle Lewis, a Huntsville businesswoman. Sources tell IAP the polling shows the race favoring Butler, but within reach for Lewis. It’s at least enough to cause some capital city groups to send more resources to back the incumbent senator in the final stretch. As of campaign finance reports filed this week, Butler has raised $758,007 in contributions this cycle, spent $698,142 and has $134,842 on hand. Much of his spending was in the primary. Lewis has raised $128,685, spent $98,419 and has about $31,350 on hand.
There is one common thread in each of these competitive races: for Democrats to win, they have to motivate and turn out voters at the local level. Why? There is little motivating Democrats to get out this election year. The primary turnout for Democrats was pathetic statewide and it probably will be again in the general. There is no Joe Biden at the top of the ticket, to say nothing of Barack Obama. There is no Doug Jones or Walt Maddox who have just enough of a chance to get voters to the polls. Meanwhile, this will be the first time Republicans will get to cast a symbolic vote against Biden and the Democratic control of Congress.
Voter enthusiasm is with the GOP this cycle so, to have a chance, Democratic candidates have to motivate voters on their own.
Weird poll in SD27
Multiple sources from East Alabama tell IAP that they’ve been polled via text message about the Senate District 27 race. The questions asked about the favorability of the two nominees, Republican Jay Hovey and Democrat Sherri Reese, but it also veered into asking about current State Sen. Tom Whatley, who lost by one vote to Hovey in the GOP primary. The poll also asked about a voter’s willingness to consider a write-in candidate, sources confirmed. Asked about the poll, Whatley assured IAP he was not behind it and had nothing to do with it.
“I’m a Republican and I vote Republican. I have a ‘Vote Republican’ sign in my yard. Plus, I want to be able to run as a Republican in the future, so I would never do that.”
Whatley is referring to an Alabama Republican Party bylaw that bars for two cycles anyone who runs against a GOP nominee in a general election, including in a write-in capacity.
Taxes: To Cut or Not to Cut?
By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
While some elected state budget leaders are discussing possible tax rebates and tax cuts in 2023, not all of them are on board with the idea.
“I’m going to be opposed to anything that is going to place in jeopardy the state of Alabama’s sound financial footing,” Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, told Inside Alabama Politics this week.
Tax revenue collection in the Education Trust Fund in 2022 was an unprecedented 20.5% over 2021. General Fund revenue was up more than 8%.
Education budget committee chairs Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, and Gov. Kay Ivey recently said the tax rebates or specific tax cuts should be considered in the next legislative session.
The record revenue is in part because of federal COVID-19 relief spending. But Albritton said the excess money is also because of belt tightening by lawmakers in the last decade.
“We’ve worked hard to get here,” he said.
Now, with record inflation and the threat of a recession, Albritton said state leaders should be cautious.
Orr said the ETF has seen a boost of more than $2 billion because of federal COVID-19 relief for businesses and individuals. The ETF’s largest revenue sources are income and sales taxes.
He said legislators should evaluate the state and national economic landscapes when the session begins in March, but a tax rebate should be considered. He’s also suggested targeted tax cuts for retirees and low-income workers.
“We have this one-time money because of a red-hot economy fueled in large part because of federal spending,” Orr said. “As far as the education budget and the over $2 billion of admittedly one-time money that we have, we should strongly consider sending some of this money back to hard-pressed Alabamians facing high inflation.
“But we must be very careful — I agree with Sen. Albritton on that point.”
Lawmakers have said they expect several state agencies, including Medicaid, mental health and corrections, to have increased financial needs in fiscal 2024.
What’s next on gambling?
By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
Perhaps it was because it landed on a Friday in the middle of college football season, but the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling against casinos in Macon and Lowndes counties probably didn’t get the headlines it deserved. Make no mistake, it is a landmark ruling and, to hear Attorney General Steve Marshall tell it, the beginning of the end for Victoryland, White Hall and any other casinos operating electronic bingo machines.
Marshall is taking a different approach than the traditional raid-and-seizure method the state used for years, only to have operations change machines and be back up running within weeks. He’s playing more of a chess match that puts local courts and law enforcement, who invariably side with the casinos, in a legal corner.
“We’ve used a vehicle that is given to the Attorney General and that is to sue for the stoppage of public nuisances. Alabama law was already clear that illegal gambling was a nuisance, per se, which simply means all we had to prove was that they are illegal gambling operations and that’s enough.
“Here the court has stated very clearly to the operation at Victoryland and to the operation in Lowndes County that you’re in violation of the law and directed the trial court to issue and order consistent with what this court said, which is to shut down.”
See Marshall’s full comments on the matter below.
If Marshall is right and this leads to the state’s non-Indian casinos being shut down, it could have big implications on the next legislative session. There would no doubt be a big push from those casinos and their allies in the Legislature to legalize their operations. In recent years, that has come in the form of a larger gambling package that includes a lottery, sports betting and a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Indeed, the package that Sens. Del Marsh and Greg Albritton put forward in 2021 came as close to passage as any package in recent memory. In fact, one reason it didn’t pass was House Democrats insisting on certain language for the health care revenue streams. Should the dog track casinos shut down, those Democrats might be much more motivated to get a bill across the finish line. That leads some to think that the Legislature could make quick work of it all by simply pulling that bill off the shelf.
But, then again, there’s the Poarch Creeks. If their rival casinos get shut down, the status quo completely changes for them. PCI was already quietly distancing itself from the 2022 version of the gambling package that went nowhere and they are not shy about their position that the non-Indian casinos are breaking the law. What incentive would they have to be part of a package that includes legalizing and rescuing their competitors?
And then there’s the Republicans, whose supermajorities will likely be more conservative, not less, next term. Many Republicans do want to finally put a lottery on the ballot and an increasing number are warming up to sports betting. But they will have little appetite to rescue casinos, especially if a popular attorney general has just won a 25-year battle to shut them down.
Depending on what happens, and how quickly it does, the stakes could be high for gambling come March.
What’s next on Education?
When asked what they want to prioritize this next term, many of Alabama’s top leaders have been singing from the same sheet of music: we must improve education, they say. It was notable down in Point Clear at the BCA governmental affairs conference when House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter said unequivocally that education was the top issue the Legislature should tackle in the next quadrennium. He was echoed by some of the Legislature’s top leaders from both parties. Gov. Kay Ivey has been saying on the campaign trail that improving education is the top reason she is running for reelection. Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth also frequently refers to improving education as a short term and long term priority.
It’s for good reason. Alabama’s education system had taken steps backward over the last several years. The last National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation’s report card, showed Alabama students scoring last in reading and next to last in math compared to other states. More recent ACAP test scores showed modest improvement, but with student proficiency in core subjects at embarrassingly low rates.
The next round of NAEP scores are set to come out on Monday. No one knows what they’ll say, but sources in the education community tell IAP that Alabama is again expected to test poorly. We may show progress, but it is expected to lag behind that of other states. So, starting Monday, we’ll begin hearing even more from state leaders about how fixing education must be the top priority in 2023.
The question is, what proposals might be made. Sources tell IAP that Ivey’s office intends to make a big push on education, which will probably kick off in her inaugural speech in January. But they are mum on exactly what proposals will be floated. The Legislature this term passed two significant education reforms in the 2019 Alabama Literacy Act and the 2022 Alabama Numeracy Act. All agree that it will take time to see the fruits of these reforms in the form of improved test scores. One proposal we might see is increasing funding for these programs.
One frustration lawmakers have is that Alabama’s scores are in many ways weighted down by drastically poor performance in some troubled school districts in urban and rural areas. This despite the state setting records for education spending year after year. We may see the governor and lawmakers pursue more acute solutions that can be targeted at specific underperforming schools or districts. This could include charter schools, specifically the conversion charter school option. There is currently a conversion charter school experiment happening in a Montgomery Public Schools feeder system that, despite lack of funding, has local leaders excited about what can be achieved. Look for more conversation about school conversions over the next six months as lawmakers prepare for the 2023 session.
In case you missed it
It was only a matter of time before the media stumbled onto David Azbell‘s treasure trove of political memorabilia at his Goat Hill office. Azbell is pretty much universally known in Alabama politics, having worked for multiple governors, including Gov. Fob James, Gov. Bob Riley and even Gov. George Wallace in his later years. His knowledge of Alabama political history is formidable, to say the least, and he has collected a cornucopia of treasures along the way.
WSFA recently visited Azbell’s office, which doubles as a museum, to highlight his unique collection of political memorabilia. And just to think, some of his stuff is still on loan to the Archives!
Check out the story below.
Mike Albares, a 12-year veteran of Alabama’s Congressional Delegation staff, is moving on from Capitol Hill and joining the federal affairs team at the Tennessee Valley Authority. Mike is a well known staple of Alabama’s presence in D.C., having worked up the chain to Chief of Staff for U.S. Rep. Martha Roby and most recently as a Senior Advisor for U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville. He developed a reputation as an expert on agriculture issues, playing a role in multiple Farm Bills. At TVA, he’ll keep his ties to Alabama as the organization has a large footprint in north Alabama.
Michelle Roth has announced her resignation as Executive Director of the Alabama Cable and Broadband Association effective Dec. 31, having led ACBA for the past seven years. With her industry knowledge and governmental affairs experience, Roth will start a new venture providing consulting and lobbying services for companies and associations across the state.
Collier Tynes is the new Legislative Liaison for the Alabama Department of Mental Health. Collier most recently led VOICES for Alabama’s Children, where she advocacy efforts for children’s issues as well as the release of the Alabama Kids Count Data Book. She previously served as Chief of Staff to First Lady Diane Bentley and Gateway, Birmingham’s first and oldest social services agency that provides therapeutic foster care, school-based therapy, and family counseling services.
Mary Elizabeth Roberson is the new Public Affairs lead for AT&T for the states of Alabama and Georgia. Mary Elizabeth leaves the Peritus PR firm, where she worked for more than five years punching up their state government portfolio. She’s now based in Atlanta, managing communication efforts across two states for one of the country’s premiere companies.
Congrats to all!