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Weekend Digest- March 10, 2019

Happy Sunday everyone. Here is your Daily News for March 10, 2019.

1. Quite a margin: Gas Tax sails in the House

  • The Alabama House passed the gas tax/infrastructure plan by a margin of 84-20 on Friday.
  • Though debate lasted for more than six hours and criticisms came from both sides of the aisle, the final vote was bi-partisan. Two of the 20 “No” votes were from Democrats and 18 were from Republicans.
  • That margin defied most expectations and was exactly what Gov. Kay Ivey and bill proponents were hoping for to build momentum for their bill.
  • It now goes to the Senate, which could decide to change the bill. That would likely lead to a conference committee, forcing both chambers to vote once more.
  • Critical to winning support for the bill was dedicating $11.7 million a year in gas tax revenue for improvement and expansion of the Port of Mobile.
  • Municipalities will now get a base amount of $14,109 and then additional money based on population. Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile would all get more than $1 million in new money.
  • There were multiple amendments proposed during the five hours of debate, most of which were tabled.
  • One from Rep. John Rogers from Birmingham proposed allowing the funding to be used for mass transit instead of only road and bridge construction but was ultimately tabled.
  • Another amendment from Rep. Mike Holmes of Wetumpka stripping the indexing portion from the bill was defeated by a vote of 68-26. That was the significant sign that the bill was headed for east House passage.
  • During negotiations on the bill, House Democrats met with Ivey on issues they want to see addressed, including Medicaid expansion. But no specific actions from Ivey or Speaker Mac McCutcheon were promised.
  • Ivey said she made a commitment to the minority caucus that “after we get the infrastructure bill tended to and set aside” that she would convene regular meetings with them and GOP leadership.
  • Read more about the bill’s debate and passage, and see how each member voted HERE.
  • And check out Mary Sell’s breakdown of the numbers and what the tax increase could mean for different municipalities.

2. Trump visits Tornado Victims

  • President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visited Beauregard, Alabama to visit with those who had lost their homes in last weeks deadly tornado that took 23 people’s lives.
  • Trump and the first lady spent the afternoon meeting with survivors, victims’ families and volunteers trying to rebuild after the massive tornado carved a path of destruction nearly a mile wide.
  • They visited a church serving as a makeshift disaster relief center for survivors and later observed a moment of silence before white wooden crosses commemorating each of the victims.
  • Trump has had hits and misses in the past with his role as consoler-in-chief during times of tragedy, and but besides some awkwardness from people asking him to sign their Bible, Trump avoided any controversy while in Alabama.
  • He thanked Gov. Ivey for her efforts in helping those who were affected by the tornado, as well as local law enforcement and other first responders, as well as Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
  • Now many are reflecting on what could have been done to avoid this loss of life and how FEMA funds could be directed to help with that.
  • But in an area like Beauragard, where many of the residents are spread out and not clustered in orderly subdivisions, it’s hard to find the right mix of public and private shelters to help an unincorporated area inhabited by roughly 11,000 people.
  • Federal grant money helped fund the construction of hundreds of shelters after the deadly tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011 — nearly all in north Alabama, where most of the deaths occurred.
  • But Beauregard is in east Alabama in Lee County which wasn’t hit by a tornado that day and didn’t share in much of the federal money that helped pay for in-home and community shelters elsewhere.
  • You can read more about the tornado shelters in Alabama HERE and more about Trump’s visit HERE.

3. Watkins & Son found guilty

  • A jury on Friday convicted Donald Watkins Sr. and his son, Donald Watkins Jr., of defrauding investors and a bank out of millions of dollars after a trail that featured many high-profile and poltical figures.
  • Donald Watkins Sr. was convicted of bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy after more than a day of deliberation. His son was found guilty of conspiracy and wire fraud.
  • Prosecutors said that the elder Watkins sold investments that were supposed to help grow a biofuel company called Masada Resource Group, but instead the pair used the money for personal bills and debts such as taxes, alimony and clothing.
  • U.S. Attorney Jay Town said the case was about “deception and greed at the expense of too many.”
  • Watkins said that he was disappointed in the verdict, but “respects the system” and plans on appealing the decision.
  • Some of the high-profile names there were former basketball star Charles Barkley, football player Takeo Spikes, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Martin Luther King III.
  • You can read more about the trial HERE.

4. Two rulings.

  • The Alabama Supreme Court on Friday ruled against the Alabama Education Association and in favor of LEAD Academy, a public charter school that had planned to open this year.
  • Largely seen as a stalling tactic, AEA brought the suit arguing that the process the state’s charter school commission took to approve Montgomery’s first charter school was invalid. The Court ruled 6-2
  • Ryan Cantrell of the American Federation for Children said the ruling is an opportunity to “move past the petty arguments of adults” and focus on children.
  • Read more about the charter school ruling from Trish Crain HERE.
  • But it wasn’t all bad news for AEA. The Court also upheld a Montgomery judge’s ruling that a state insurance board’s 2016 vote to increase health care premiums was improperly taken.
  • AEA had filed a lawsuit in 2016 seeking to invalidate the premium increases. The case will now return to the trial judge to discuss refunds.
  • “This is a great day for educators in Alabama public schools,”AEA President Sherry Tucker said in a statement.
  • That story from Kim Chandler HERE and from Trish Crain HERE.


ALABAMA DAILY NEWS– Gas tax would mean millions for Birmingham area
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS– Donations fuel effort to restore rocket replica in Alabama
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS– Jurors find Watkins, son guilty in fraud trial
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Too late: Leaders planned shelter before killer twister hit
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS – Trump surveys devastation, pays respects to tornado victims
ALABAMA DAILY NEWS– Supreme Court sides with AEA in insurance case
AL.COM – Highly taxed, but road weary: Why Truckers strongly back Alabama’s gas tax increase.
AL.COM – Protest held at Hoover dealership following racist video.
AL.COM – Contributor Jonathan Miller: Rabbi offers primer on fair criticism of Israel.
AL.COM – Contributor Frances Coleman: Brace yourself, Barbie, for what lies ahead.
YELLOWHAMMER NEWS – Ivey: ‘Responsibility’ of legislators educate anti-gas tax hike constituents about benefits of ‘Rebuild Alabama’. 
FLORENCE TIMES DAILY – Local funds key in gas tax support.
FLORENCE TIMES DAILY – The Times Daily: Budget shenanigans continue in Legislature.
ANNISTON STAR – Where gas tax money could go.
ANNISTON STAR – The Anniston Star: Rogers, Brooks should have voted for the resolution.
ANNISTON STAR – The Anniston Star: What’s next after the Rebuild Alabama Act?
MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER – Supreme Court sides with AEA in insurance case
OPELIKA-AUBURN NEWS – Lee County: “USA!” President Trump’s visit stirs emotions.
DOTHAN EAGLE – 10 years later Samson, Geneva remember the largest mass shooting in county history.
DOTHAN EAGLE – Contributor Rosalyn Warren: Alabama’s prison reform should focus on rehabilitating people.
DOTHAN EAGLE – Contributor State Sen. Donnie Chesteen: Reasons I support the Rebuild Alabama plan.
WASHINGTON POST – A remote bombing range on the border gets sized up for a piece of Trump’s wall.
WASHINGTON POST – The Washington Post: The travel ban is still a weapon in Trump’s anti-immigrant arsenal.
WASHINGTON POST – Springing forward to daylight saving time is obsolete, confusing and unhealthy, critics say.
WASHINGTON POST – Contributor Rachel Marshall: I’m a public defender. My clients get none of the sympathy Manafort did.
WASHINGTON POST – Contributor Saad Omer: Rand Paul is wrong: Vaccines are no threat to liberty.
NEW YORK TIMES – Why Some Republicans Voted Against the Antibigotry Resolution
NEW YORK TIMES – U.S. Continues to Separate Migrant Families Despite Rollback of Policy
NEW YORK TIMES – Bernie Sanders-Style Politics Are Defining 2020 Race, Unnerving Moderates
NPR – Y’all Heard? An Argument For The Great Southern Pronoun
WALL STREET JOURNAL – Tornado Highlights Alabama’s History of Loose Mobile-Home Codes

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