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Arise Daily News Digest 4-23-2014
AL.COM - $10K reward offered for bathroom vandals as second threat forces Auburn University to evacuate building.
AL.COM - Colonel says Redstone Arsenal doesn't need BRAC to grow, but needs a community people want to live in.
AL.COM - Congressman Bradley Byrne sees military cuts as danger to national security.
AL.COM - Magazine says Alabama home to 4 of South's most 'elite' business meeting spots.
AL.COM - Contraband cellphones, inmate strikes not the path to fixing Alabama’s prison problems, state Sen. Cam Ward says.
AL.COM - Richard Scrushy preparing to release his first book.
AL.COM - Chad Mathis leads a tight pack in his internal poll of 6th District, 44 percent still undecided.
AL.COM - Alabama governor candidate Stacy George files for his fourth divorce.
AL.COM - Election expert says 4 Alabama counties should 'lay out what they've done' to clean voter rolls.
AL.COM – Contributor Clete Wetli: Gov. Robert Bentley has overplayed the 'blah, blah, blame Obama' strategy.
ALABAMA POLITICAL REPORTER - Oden Says He Has Faced Vicious Attacks from Liberal Environmentalists
ALABAMA POLITICAL REPORTER - Contributor State Rep. Darrio Melton: Alabama must embrace a spirit of new energy to tackle tough issues.
AL.COM – Contributor Pepper Bryars: Prejudice is a people issue, not a partisan issue.
AL.COM - Mississippi Gulf Coast casino revenues continue to swell as Poarch tribe seeks Florida casino.
(FLORENE) TIMES DAILY - Alabama educating students on finances.
(FLORENCE) TIMES DAILY - Justices: State must protect unborn.
WELD - The state of the planet: Alabama.
ANNISTON STAR – The Anniston Star: The plight of the middle class.
ANNISTON STAR – The Anniston Star: Passing on the cost - JSU’s decision not to raise tuition highlights real problem in higher ed.
MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER - Rural HIV patients linked to medical care.
MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER - Contributor Ken Klippen: Strange correct to join egg rule fight.
OPELIKA-AUBURN NEWS - 3 Alabama schools honored for environmental work.
WASHINGTON POST - What you’d need to make in every county in America to afford a decent one-bedroom.
WASHINGTON POST - Supreme Court upholds Michigan’s ban on racial preferences in university admissions.
WASHINGTON POST - Republicans have a major demographic problem. And it’s only going to get worse.
WASHINGTON POST - Meet the Alabama legislator who really, really loves his guns.
WASHINGTON POST - The Washington Post: Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action ruling should focus colleges on improving diversity.
NEW YORK TIMES - No Comment Necessary: Vote for Me or I’ll Shoot
NEW YORK TIMES – The New York Times: Racial Equality Loses at the Court
SALON - Poor black people don’t work?: Lessons of a former dope dealer.
SALON - Common Core propaganda fails: Well-financed education “reformers” fight common sense.
2014 legislative update: General Fund budget, changes to Alabama's landlord-tenant law enacted
Next year’s General Fund (GF) budget became law Thursday night when the Alabama House ended the 2014 regular session without considering Gov. Robert Bentley’s proposed amendment to it. Bentley’s changes to the $1.8 billion GF budget were enacted automatically when the House adjourned. Check out AL.com’s report to learn more about Thursday’s action.
Bentley still must decide whether to sign the Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget or veto it and order the Legislature to return for a special session. Bentley urged lawmakers to approve a 2 percent pay raise for K-12 teachers next year, but the ETF budget sent to him did not include a teacher raise or bonus. Click here to learn more about the ETF budget.
GF support for the Department of Corrections would fall by about $2 million, or 0.5 percent, next year under the budget, even though Alabama’s prison system is operating at nearly twice its designed capacity. The budget includes $3.5 million for an overflow facility to help house some inmates from the overcrowded Julia Tutwiler women’s prison in Wetumpka. The spending plan also includes $250,000 for a new ombudsman program for Tutwiler prisoners who report mistreatment.
State employees would receive a one-time $400 bonus next year under lawmakers’ GF budget. Bentley’s amendment changed the funding source for those bonuses but did not eliminate them. Medicaid funding would increase by 11.4 percent next year, though the amount would fall short of what State Health Officer Don Williamson said the agency needs from the GF. Williamson said earlier this year that Medicaid could endure at the proposed funding level by cutting costs in the prescription drug program and other areas. Click here to learn more about the GF budget.
Landlord-tenant law revisions, AHIP bill among other enacted legislation
Alabama landlords will have more time to refund a security deposit or give notice of why they are keeping some or all of it under a new law enacted last month. SB 291, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, will increase that window from 35 days to 60 days. The law also will allow landlords to treat a property as abandoned if electrical service is cut off for at least a week.
In addition, landlords will have to provide only a seven-day written notice if they plan to terminate the lease for a violation that does not involve failure to pay rent. That’s down from the previous 14-day timetable. SB 291 gives renters four chances every 12 months to correct problems cited as a lease violation without getting the landlord’s written consent. The measure passed 28-0 in the Senate and 98-0 in the House.
The Alabama Health Insurance Program (AHIP) will come to an end under another law enacted last month. SB 123, sponsored by Sen. Slade Blackwell, R-Mountain Brook, will transfer any remaining unused and unobligated program funds to the GF. Supporters said AHIP, which offers “guaranteed-issue” health coverage, is no longer needed because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires insurers to offer coverage regardless of a person’s health history. Blackwell’s bill passed 21-0 in the Senate and 90-0 in the House.
Before the ACA, applicants with pre-existing conditions like cancer often struggled to find coverage. Alabama created AHIP as a high-risk pool to cover certain residents who were turned down by other insurers after Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 1996.
By Chris Sanders, communications director, and M.J. Ellington, health policy analyst. Posted April 4, 2014.
2014 legislative update: Alabama Legislature passes ETF budget, goes home without approving bills on payday lending, execution drug secrecy
Alabama lawmakers passed a $5.9 billion Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget without a pay raise for K-12 teachers just before the 2014 regular session ended Thursday night. The House voted 54-45 to agree to the compromise budget that the Senate approved Tuesday. That leaves Gov. Robert Bentley, who urged the Legislature to approve a 2 percent raise for teachers next year, to decide whether to sign the ETF budget or veto it and order lawmakers to return for a special session. Check out AL.com’s report to learn more.
Many other proposals cleared one chamber but did not win final legislative approval before the regular session ended Thursday. Among the subjects of bills that lawmakers did not send to Bentley were:
Much discussion, no Senate passage of payday loan database, execution drug secrecy bills
The payday loan database bill reached the Senate floor twice Thursday afternoon. Senators initially delayed action on HB 145 after Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, expressed concern about the security of borrowers’ information in the database. About an hour later, the Senate returned to the measure and added three amendments to it.
One amendment, offered by Sen. Shadrack McGill, R-Woodville, would have doubled the bill’s payday loan cap from $500 to $1,000. Two other amendments came from Sens. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, and Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville. Immediately after adopting the amendments, senators agreed to postpone action on HB 145, and the chamber did not take it up again before adjournment.
Senators debated the death penalty drug secrecy bill three separate times Thursday afternoon but ultimately did not vote on it. Ward tried to amend HB 379 to allow people injured while handling such drugs to sue, but the Senate did not accept that proposal. “No one in the state of Alabama should ever be granted absolute immunity for negligence or gross negligence they commit against somebody else,” Ward said while arguing for his amendment.
The failure to pass HB 379 could bring lethal injections to a halt in Alabama by making it impossible for the state to buy the drugs used in the process, Ward said. “By opposing this bill and killing this bill, what we’re doing is ensuring is this state will go back to the system of the electric chair,” he said. Alabama began using lethal injection in executions after the state retired “Yellow Mama,” the electric chair used from 1927 to 2002.
The three other bills listed above did not reach the House or Senate floor Thursday. The HIV drug redistribution bill, HB 138, passed 99-0 in the House last month and was on the Senate’s final special-order calendar Thursday, but senators adjourned with several measures still lined up ahead of it. Arise and other consumer advocates last year urged Bentley to support this policy change as his Medicaid Pharmacy Study Commission met to consider ways to reduce costs in the state’s Medicaid drug assistance programs.
By Chris Sanders, communications director. Posted April 3, 2014.
2014 legislative update: Alabama Legislature OKs new requirements for TANF recipients, doesn't end lifetime SNAP, TANF bans for people with felony drug conviction
People convicted of a drug-related felony will remain ineligible for food assistance or cash welfare benefits in Alabama after the state House adjourned Thursday night without passing a bill to end the state’s lifetime eligibility bans for them. Lawmakers approved several other bills related to public benefits this week, including a requirement for some applicants to pass a drug test before receiving benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
SB 303, sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham, cleared the Senate 18-8 in February but lost a procedural vote in the House on Wednesday. Most House members voted to consider the bill, but the majority fell short of the three-fifths support needed under House rules to send the bill to a floor vote. The House did not consider the proposal again on Thursday, the final day of the 2014 regular session.
Coleman’s bill would have allowed otherwise eligible people to receive food assistance or cash welfare benefits even if they have a prior felony drug conviction, as long as they have completed their sentence or are complying with their probation terms, including court-ordered drug treatment.
Alabama is one of 10 states where people convicted of a drug felony face a lifetime eligibility ban under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Rep. Rod Scott, D-Fairfield, said Wednesday. Alabama also is one of 12 states to apply a similar ban to TANF benefits, Scott said. The bans apply even to people with a decades-old offense.
Lawmakers send other legislation affecting SNAP, TANF recipients to governor
TANF applicants who had a drug conviction in the last five years would have to pass a drug test to receive benefits under a bill that the House passed 73-27 Thursday. SB 63, sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, would require the Department of Human Resources (DHR) to pay for initial drug tests, as well as any later required tests that the applicant passes. The bill would allow someone else to receive benefits on behalf of other family members if an applicant fails two or more drug tests. SB 63’s provisions would expire in 2017 unless reauthorized.
Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville, said the bill is more narrowly tailored than a Florida drug testing law that a federal judge struck down late last year and said the measure could save Alabama money. “I think it’s a bad idea for the taxpayers to fund someone’s drug habit,” Rich said. “We have got to get people in a position where they understand they have to be responsible for their own lives.”
Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard, questioned whether SB 63 would save Alabama any money at all. Bracy noted that the Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO) did not attach a dollar amount to how much the state might save under the bill. The LFO’s fiscal note says the bill would increase DHR’s obligations “by an undetermined amount” that “could be offset in total or in part” by not paying TANF benefits to people who fail a drug test.
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, called it “embarrassing” to demand that some TANF applicants provide a urine sample to the state. “The majority of people who are on public assistance are hard-working folks who are doing the right thing,” England said. “Most of the people who go down there [to apply] have to swallow a great deal of pride in the first place.”
People would have to apply for at least three jobs before applying for TANF under legislation the House passed 70-33 Wednesday night. The Senate voted 28-1 Thursday to agree to the House version of SB 115 and send it to Gov. Robert Bentley. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would require recipients to comply with DHR’s requirements for job search preparation, education and other employment activities.
Another proposal that won House approval Wednesday night would forbid TANF recipients to use EBT cards in bars, liquor stores, casinos, tattoo parlors and adult entertainment establishments. SB 116, sponsored by Orr, also would prohibit the use of TANF benefits to buy alcohol or tobacco. The House passed the bill 80-22.
By Chris Sanders, communications director. Policy analyst Carol Gundlach contributed to this report. Posted April 3, 2014.
2014 legislative update: Bill to end lifetime SNAP, TANF bans still alive but loses procedural vote in Alabama House
A bill to allow people convicted of a drug-related felony to regain eligibility for food assistance or cash welfare benefits in Alabama suffered a setback Wednesday when it failed to clear a procedural hurdle in the state House. The House voted 55-43 Wednesday to consider SB 303, sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham. That majority fell short of the three-fifths support needed under House rules to advance the bill to a floor vote.
The House still could reconsider the bill, which the Senate passed 18-8 in February, though that is not guaranteed. This year’s regular session will end Thursday, and many bills still await House consideration.
Rep. Rod Scott, D-Fairfield, said SB 303 would address the imbalance of a state policy that denies eligibility to those convicted of a felony drug offense but not other crimes. “This is a very simple bill that brings about fairness,” Scott said. “These people have served their time, and I think it’s only right that they be able to take advantage of these programs.”
Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville, spoke against the bill, saying he would like to see public assistance bans extended to apply to people convicted of many other crimes as well. Rich urged his colleagues to join him in opposing SB 303.
Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said many people convicted of drug crimes struggle with addiction and deserve a second chance. “We’re making it so criminal to the point where we’re forgetting about the sickness,” Warren said. “The biggest thing about Christianity is forgiveness.”
SB 303 would allow thousands of Alabamians who were convicted of a drug-related felony but are otherwise eligible for assistance to regain eligibility for benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. To regain eligibility under the bill, people with a felony drug conviction must have completed their sentence or be complying successfully with their probation conditions. The bill’s provisions would expire in three years unless lawmakers renew them.
Alabama is one of 10 states where people convicted of a drug felony face a lifetime SNAP eligibility ban, Scott said, and one of only 12 states to apply a similar ban to TANF benefits. The bans apply even to people with a decades-old offense.
House approves certain limits on use of TANF benefits
A bill to prevent TANF recipients from using EBT cards in bars, liquor stores, casinos, tattoo parlors and adult entertainment establishments met a different fate Wednesday. The House voted 80-22 for SB 116, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, which also would prohibit using TANF benefits to buy alcohol or tobacco. The bill will go to Gov. Robert Bentley.
Rep. Mac Buttram, R-Cullman, said Alabama could lose 5 percent of its federal TANF funding if the state does not approve such benefit restrictions. But Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, questioned whether the EBT card bill would place an unfair stigma on low-income Alabamians. “I don’t understand for the life of me why we’re spending time on this,” Knight said Tuesday night during debate over SB 116.
Lawmakers will return Thursday for the final day of the 2014 regular session.
By Chris Sanders, communications director. Policy analyst Carol Gundlach contributed to this report. Posted April 2, 2014.
2014 legislative update: Alabama House sends tight General Fund budget to Bentley; ETF plan wins Senate approval, awaits House vote
The Alabama House voted 76-25 Tuesday night to agree to the Senate version of the General Fund (GF) budget and send it to Gov. Robert Bentley for his consideration.
GF support for the Department of Corrections would fall by about $2 million, or 0.5 percent, next year under the budget, even though Alabama’s prison system is operating at nearly twice its designed capacity. The $1.8 billion GF budget includes $3.5 million for an overflow facility to help house some inmates from the overcrowded Julia Tutwiler women’s prison in Wetumpka. The spending plan also includes $250,000 for a new ombudsman program for Tutwiler prisoners who report mistreatment.
State employees would receive a one-time $400 bonus next year under lawmakers’ GF budget. Medicaid funding would increase by 11.4 percent next year, though the amount would fall short of what State Health Officer Don Williamson said the agency needs from the GF. Williamson said earlier this year that Medicaid could endure at the proposed funding level by cutting costs in the prescription drug program and other areas. Click here to learn more about the Legislature’s GF budget.
Alabama Senate narrowly passes education budget
The Alabama Senate voted 18-16 Tuesday for a compromise Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget that would boost state funding for K-12 teachers’ health insurance but would not give them a pay raise next year. The budget awaits House consideration.
The $5.9 billion plan would include money to hire 70 additional middle school teachers, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. That would be down from 400 in the House-passed budget and 200 in the version that a House-Senate conference committee proposed last month. Check out the Advertiser’s report to learn more about the ETF budget.
If the House accepts the Senate’s latest changes, the ETF budget will go to Bentley. The education budget will be one of many bills still pending when lawmakers return Wednesday afternoon for the 29th of 30 meeting days during the 2014 regular session, which is expected to end Thursday.
By Chris Sanders, communications director. Posted April 1, 2014.