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NO. Alabama Voter IDs Don't Expire In 45 Days!

by: countrycat

Fri Oct 02, 2015 at 09:33:41 AM CDT

There's some misinformation spreading on Facebook about Alabama voter ids, so let's clear that up. You may have heard that the voter id card expires after 45 days, so you need to get a new one for each election.  That is not correct!

It's a misreading of the administrative rules (see page 12 of this PDF), which say that you get a paper receipt when you apply for the card and it's good for 45 days. Your actual voter id card should arrive within 14 days though.  It's no different from renewing your drivers license and getting temporary paper one to use until the renewal license is mailed.
I'm sure there's nothing malicious involved here. Someone just misread the information, got upset, and started sharing it.  And because a 45-day expiration date on the id sounds exactly like something Alabama would do, people instantly believed it.  

The voter id law has a LOT of problems - and we've written about them, but it's important that people have the correct information about the law.  
If people think they have to reapply for an id every single election, many won't bother to get one at all!
The Alabama voter id card does NOT have an expiration date.  However, if you move, you must have the card updated by filling out a form with the voter registrar and turning in your current card.  See page 15 of the PDF.   That is a real pain, but not nearly as bad as having to re-apply for a card before every election.
Please pass this information along.
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Two Special Sessions And We're STILL Losing Parks & DMV Offices

by: countrycat

Thu Oct 01, 2015 at 15:45:53 PM CDT

As we warned earlier this year, the potential 2016 budget cuts would explain why Alabama can't have nice things - or even broken stuff. How did our GOP supermajority respond to the crisis that they've known was coming since they looted the state savings account to balance the budget in 2012? Why, they doubled down on austerity, of course.

Enjoy visiting Alabama State Parks? Care about clean air and water in the state? Want to get your license renewed without packing a lunch and making a day of it?  Too damn bad, suckers.  The GOP has other priorities. 


Alabama will lose

Well, all this should be quite the selling point the next time Governor Bentley & company jet over to Europe to cheerlead for Alabama at an air show. With the budget crisis in the state, the least they could do is fly coach. 

But seriously, what kind of corporate relocation package will the state put together? These aren't exactly selling points for industries bringing skilled, high-paying jobs.... 

  • Vast swaths of the state with no access to local hospitals. 
  • Large areas with no broadband Internet access.
  • A quality of life going downhill fast with limited recreational opportunities and an unhealthy environments.
  • Public schools starved of funds because the state prefers to enrich Bob Riley with the private school scholarship scam called the "Alabama Accountability Act."
  • An unhealthy, under-educated, and unskilled workforce.
And you thought our corporate welfare payments were high before this! It'll be hard to lure anybody but landfill companies to the state before long. 

Note that the austerity plan for the state has never extended to legislators and executive branch pet projects. Legislators collected paychecks for two special legislative sessions held because they weren't able to accomplish their principal job of passing state budgets. Let's also review some of non-essential vanity projects that our cash-strapped state funded:  

Not to mention the massive legal bills the state incurred from the ill-fated immigration bill and the TRAP anti-abortion law court challenges.

If only the GOP had told voters in 2010 that the party's "jobs plan" only applied to lawyers, the voting might have been somewhat different.

Now here we are in the 2016 Fiscal year, four years after legislators "borrowed" $437 million from the Alabama Trust Fund, and a year after they kicked the can down the road on the repayment of the "loan."  

Who's to blame for this circus?  Not the clowns.  They told us they hate government because it doesn't work. And then they made it worse.  Their reward? They were voted into the supermajority not once but twice. Voters didn't turn out and our moribund state Democratic Party couldn't even be bothered to field candidates in many legislative races.  The GOP won by default.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh was blunt about the situation: "Citizens will have to SCREAM about budget cuts before (the legislature) will act on new revenue."  

No doubt the real screaming will start soon, but it'll be too little and too late. They say that people who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it, but it's looking like we're doomed no matter what.


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Every Alabama Republican Preferred A Government Shutdown

by: countrycat

Thu Oct 01, 2015 at 08:42:44 AM CDT

You wouldn't hire the head of PETA to be head chef at a steakhouse. So why did voters give the party that hates government the keys to the Capitol? Republicans worked hard yesterday to prove yet again that they can't govern - but this time they failed to shut down the government over some nonsensical issue.

Thank goodness.


With just hours to go before the federal government would run out of money, the House and Senate passed a stopgap spending measure that keeps it up an running - until Christmas. I'm sure federal workers are just thrilled at the thought of those Grinches filling the stockings this year.

Among Alabama representatives, only Democrat Terri Sewell voted for the spending bill.  Alabama House Republicans voting no were: 

  • Rep. Robert Aderholdt
  • Rep. Mo Brooks
  • Rep. Bradley Byrne (remember all those folks who said vote for him because he was only pretendingto be a nut?) 
  • Rep. Gary Palmer
  • Rep. Martha Roby
  • Rep. Mike Rogers
In the Senate, both Sessions & Shelby were among the 20 dead-enders voting no.  Hey, at least they showed up. Marco Rubio was busy fundraising!  Seriously:  

 “Our campaign’s most important fundraising deadline is tonight and all eyes are on my campaign,” Rubio stated in the pitch.  

How are Republicans handling their failure? By taking comfort in the familiar and holding yet another vote to repeal Obamacare.  That effort has failed over 50 times, but so what? Republicans have a well-known problem with basic math


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Wade Hall - A Celebration of the Author's Life

by: Larry Lee

Wed Sep 30, 2015 at 10:59:59 AM CDT

Circles really do have a beginning and an end.  But you cannot be in a rush to find them. This particular circle began one Christmas years ago and ended recently at the cemetery across the road from Liberty Baptist Church in the southwest part of Bulloch County.  
About 15 years ago my son Kevin gave me a book, Conecuh People, Words of Life from the Alabama Black Belt.  It was written by someone I had never heard of by the name of Wade Hall.  At its heart the book is about someone's search for themselves.  A journey to better understand who were the people who shaped us and the things and people who made them who they were.
So nearly 40 years ago, Wade Hall set off on a venture that took him 15 years and countless trips from Louisville, KY back to Bullock County, AL to gather oral histories of family and friends.  It was easy for me to relate to his stories of brush swept yards, outhouses, wood-burning stoves and women wearing bonnets and dipping snuff.   All were vivid images from my own childhood visits to kinfolks in Covington County.

A few years later I got the news that this book was now a play and that a determined group of folks in Union Springs and Bullock County had acquired the use of the former Episcopal church in town, ordained it the Red Door Theater, and were set to perform.  And on the last Saturday night in April 2004 I was sitting in a pew trying to stir the air with a funeral home fan and watching the book come to life.  There was his mother, who he called "Babe" and the grandmother, "Mama."  A teacher from Inverness school, a moonshiner and Elma Lee Hall, snuff and all.
I went every spring because in reality, I was going back to Covington County, instead of Bullock.  And I got to know Wade Hall, a truly interesting man who turned out to be Dr. Wade Henry Hall, Jr. author, collector and professor emeritus of English at Bellarmine College in Kentucky.  A man of letters from the unlikely settlement known as Hall's Crossroads.  (But then, who might imagine Georgiana giving the world Hank Williams?)
The middle of the Great Depression was not necessarily a good time to chose to be born in rural Bullock County.  But such was Wade's lot.  By the time he finished high school at age 16, Wade had enjoyed all the wood cutting and picking cotton he cared to and intended to get as far away as he could.  Books and teachers and classrooms where his way out and he enrolled at Troy State Teachers College.  Over time, with detours to teach school in Opp and serve in the Army in Germany, Wade got his doctorate at the University of Illinois and settled into the life of an academic in Louisville.
In addition to his time as a professor, Wade was a prolific writer and authored and edited a number of publications.  But he never got Hall's Crossroads out of his DNA.  Nor did he want to.  And while his education gave him the opportunity to rub shoulders with literary greats, he came to know that plain and simple lives have a nobility all their own.  He says in Conecuh People, "Now I know that I am truly my parents' son and the product of the school and church and community that for sixteen years stamped me indelibly and shaped me into the man I was to become."
There is a wonderful lesson in this statement that too few heed today, especially some who wish us to call them "leaders."  It is simply what good folks in Bullock and Covington counties mean when they caution someone to "not get above your raising." Wade came home in 2006.  Back to remaining family and friends.  Back to distant memories.  Ones that will forever live in Conecuh People.
Now he has made his final visit to Liberty Baptist Church and the cemetery where this community has buried its loved ones for more than 150 years.  I was there when Wade Henry Hall, Jr. was laid to rest next to his beloved mother, Babe.  In a speck of land scattered with the graves of so many he learned from as he wrote his book.
His was a rich and full life.  Made possible by the love for books and teachers and classrooms.  And fed by a curiosity about those all around him who taught him how to live and what is honestly important.

As I drove away from the little brick church founded in 1837, the words to the old hymn Will The Circle Be Unbroken ran though my head.  And I knew the one that began with a Christmas gift and one that began in 1934 had both now been completed.
Larry Lee led the study, Lessons Learned from Rural Schools, and is a long-time advocate for public education.  Read his blog: larryeducation.com

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LIA's Migration To A New Blog Platform & Web Host Is Underway

by: countrycat

Fri Sep 25, 2015 at 15:49:07 PM CDT

Wondering why you haven't seen anything new in a week? Please be patient while we handle the technical challenges involved with transferring over 11,000 articles and 77,500 individual comments from our proprietary SoapBlox platform to WordPress.

We received notice a few months ago that the Web host that had managed SoapBlox would shut down this year, so everyone still using it (a number of statewide progressive blogs) needed to put together a migration plan.

The good part? 

  • The new Web host is less expensive for hosting and we'll use WordPress as the platform.
  • We'll have a refreshed layout that's mobile-friendly and doesn't look like it's stuck in 2006.... 
  • There will be more commenting options, including Facebook comments.  But we decided to NOT use "just" FB comments because some people don't care for FB.  
  • The blog will be easier to maintain.  SoapBlox software hasn't been updated for at least 3 years.
So this is a change that's long overdue, but that's not to say it's easy.
The bad part?
  • The expense. Paying the new host & purchasing a WordPress theme (didn't want to chance a free theme when we could spend some $$ & get lifetime tech support). 
  • The time. Yes, I'm obsessive. Even though our purchased WP theme looks great, I wasn't satisfied with some of the colors, the line spacing, the text size, the fonts, etc. So I've spent an inordinate amount of time editing the style sheet and have really refreshed my rather-atrophied CSS skills.
  • The timing. Arrgh! The host would want to start the migration right when the Alabama Legislature was having its SECOND special session of the year! Because I thought it was way important to try and keep up with that circus, a lot of the migration details had to get pushed back a few weeks. 

    So we're under the gun and trying to accomplish a number of tasks before the old host goes dark on October 15.  That's why there's been no new content on the blog in a week.  Oh, and the fact that it coincided with the Jewish High Holidays, with the days of sitting in synagogue just put a cherry on top, LOL....
Anyway y'all, I just wanted to make sure you know we're still here and will be launching the revamped site within the next few weeks.
The effort should be worth the expense - total cost so far is at least $600 - and that's if we don't run into any more problems.  No new content means little or no ad revenue - how can you charge people to advertise on a site that's not getting a lot of traffic? -  even as expenses pile up.
I hate, hate, hate asking for money!  But LIA is competely volunteer and non-profit.  LOL - I have the tax returns to prove it.
So here goes... we have over 6,000 FaceBook "fans" and over 1500 registered users. If even half those folks donated just $10, we could afford to have a reporter on site during every day of a legislative session and pay expenses for people who cover events and rallies. Did you enjoy Mia's wonderful liveblogging this year of so many Legislative hearings?  Wouldn't you like more?  Is it worth paying even a little bit for - the price of a lunch or dinner just once a year? 
The 2016 legislative session should be just as much of a circus. So should the 2016 presidential primary in Alabama. We want to cover it all - and not just in 20 second clips and sound bites, but with real coverage from a reporter who stays from beginning to end - and with video coverage that shows you everything the candidate or official said, not just a few seconds.
If you think this sort of coverage is valuable, here's how you can help.  Donate via PayPal or send us a check to: Left In Alabama, LLC  593 Sharps Hollow Rd. New Market, AL 35761.
We'll be nine years old next spring, making us one of the oldest continuing state Democratic/Progressive blogs in the US.  It's pretty cool if you think about it - we're in ALABAMA and still fighting the good fight.
Send at least $15, and we'll reward you with some fun LIA swag - a mousepad, pens, and a notepad.  Not to mention a handwritten thank you note, as well as the knowledge that you've helped boost a progressive voice in the state.


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Washington Co. Probate Judge Seeks Protection From Sodomites, Asks Alabama Court To Ignore SCOTUS

by: countrycat

Thu Sep 17, 2015 at 14:47:17 PM CDT

Even though we made it through a regular legislative session & 2 special sessions, the crazy continues. Washington County Probate Judge Nick Williams is the latest public official who wants to collect a salary - without actually doing his job. Now, when I worked in corporate America, people with big salaries who didn't actually do any work were usually frat brothers or relatives of the top executives in the company.

In Alabama? They're Probate Judges. 


Williams is so horrified at the thought of issuing a marriage license to a same sex couple that he's seeking protection from the Alabama Supreme Court. The petition language is just unbelievable.  Issuing a marriage license is "the issuance of a license to engage in sodomy."

um... people don't need a license for that. 

There's more semi-hysterical language about the "criminalization of religion" and the horrors, horrors! of someone jailed for their religious belief. The "threat is ominous," the brief warns, ominously.

Somehow, Judge Williams can't grasp the concept of "do your damn job or quit and let someone else do it."

Williams' brief discounts a US Supreme Court decision as nothing more than "the opinion of five lawyers" and "utter fantasy."  Citizens United was a 5-4 ruling and it gave corporations the "fantasy" of first free speech rights, but somehow we manage to follow that law.

The brief asks the AL Supreme Court to ensure that "sincerely held religious beliefs" won't disqualify anyone from holding office.  Well, they don't now.  You can believe whatever you want, but you still have to follow the law.

This is such a simple concept, and anyone too boneheaded to understand it has no business probating wills, overseeing commitments, and conducting any sort of public business. 

Republicans condone this sort of behavior at their peril. It may whip their base into a froth, but it's setting precedents that might make those same people pretty darn uncomfortable when someone from a minority religion demands the same privileges.


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Alabama Legislature Lays Out A Welcome Mat For Federal EPA With ADEM Budget Cuts

by: countrycat

Thu Sep 17, 2015 at 09:43:09 AM CDT

"Don't tell me what you believe. Show me what you do and I'll tell you what you believe." Well, the Alabama Legislature showed us what they don't believe in yesterday: a clean environment. Legislators voted to remove $1.2 million from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management's (ADEM) budget, leaving the agency with just $280k to regulate CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations - aka factory farms).  


For context, last year's ADEM budget was $1.2 million and that was down from $6 million in 2008. 

That's right: the agency tasked with what little environmental monitoring and protection we do in this state lost the bulk of its budget allocation in the budget passed by the House & Senate during the second special session of this legislative year.

Ya know.... those two special session trainwrecks cost the state about $400k each.  If they'd just done their jobs during the regular session, that would have freed up another $800k right there for ADEM.

Most of ADEMs funding doesn't even come from the General Fund - but is going to be used to prop it up:

The fees that would be redirected to the general fund -- assessed to things like scrap tires and solid waste -- were intended to be used for specific environmental clean-up operations, ADEM Director Lance LeFleur said in a report prepared for the Alabama Environmental Management Commission. 

"These revenues are not general tax revenues, they are fees charged for a specific service," LeFleur writes. "Alabama would, for the first time, not only be providing zero financial support to environmental programs, it would convert the financial support environmental programs receive from self-generated sources to a funding source for the general fund. 

The Alabama Rivers Alliance and ADEM Director Lance LeFleur fought the funding reductions, but legislators ignored warnings of federal intervention. 

LeFleur wrote that under the most recent budget proposal, the department would have "two bad options." It could either dramatically increase permit fees paid by industry by about 120 percent, or it could cede its water permitting program to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

Now, how are all those new industries that we paid to locate here going to enjoy dealing with the federal government on permitting instead of state officials? 


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Rally Today To Oppose Rep. Faulkner's Anti-Minimum Wage Hike Bill

by: countrycat

Tue Sep 15, 2015 at 08:56:27 AM CDT

Rep. David Faulkner is a successful attorney who bills clients hundreds of dollars an hour for his time. He thinks a lot of himself, but not much of the workers at the bottom. This session, the Mountain Brook attorney sponsored HB-27, a bill that prohibits cities and counties from setting the minimum wage above the federal minimum.

The bill sailed through committee in the House.  No wonder: it was a last-minute addition to the calendar.  Yesterday, the Senate held a hearing on the bill - with 10 minutes' notice.  Yes: ten minutes. The hearing was announced at 4:35 with a start time of 4:45.

Nothing like public input on important matters.

Faulkner's bill is aimed at Birmingham. In July, the City Council voted to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next few years.  According to Faulker, it will devastate job creation and sets a dangerous precedent for other cities! Guess his $400/hour pay at his law office might be reduced if the cleaning staff were getting $10.10/hour. You can see how that would be a problem, right?

The Over the Mountain Democrats are organizing a protest today and encourage everyone in the Birmingham/Mountain Brook area to attend. Those who can't attend are encouraged to contact Rep. Faulkner to express your displeasure.

From the OTM Dems announcement:

Call House District 47 Representative David Faulkner's Office ASAP and let him know you don't think a $400/hr attorney from Mtn. Brook should sponsor legislation to prohibit any city from raising the $7.25/hr minimum wage in their city limits.

Faulkner's district covers some of Bluff Park, the bulk of Homewood and much of Mountain Brook. It's the district Paul DeMarco left to run against Gary Palmer for the 6th Congressional District last year.

In response to the City of Birmingham's increase of the minimum wage to $8.50 next July and to $10.10 in July of 2017, Faulkner has introduced GOP & ALEC inspired legislation that will prohibit any future increase above the Federal minimum wage in Alabama and void any increase currently pending or passed. Birmingham is presently the only city in the state effected.

Call Faulkner and let him know you are against this piece of legislation and that each municipality should : 

  1. Have the right to determine the minimum wage for its residents
  2. The GOP champions the concept of local control for Alabama when dealing with Washington, so why should Montgomery try to control Birmingham with this issue?
  3. His arguments as stated in this al.com piece are transparent attempts to cite administrative problems where none exist.

 Rep. Faulkner's contact info is:  

  • Birmingham office (note: not in his district): 205-870-9577
  • Birmingham email: dlfdaulkner@csattorneys.com
  • Montgomery office: 334-242-7600
  • Montgomery email: david.faulkner@alhouse.gov 


Details about today's rally:


Tuesday afternoon, at 5 PM in Mountain Brook Village at the traffic circle on the public sidewalk in front of Starbucks. Turn out to show your support for fairness and the ability to earn a livable wage and local municipal control of economic issues directly impacting a city's citizens. 



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2nd Week Of 2nd Special Session = More Of The Same

by: countrycat

Tue Sep 15, 2015 at 08:09:38 AM CDT

Back in 2012 when the GOP supermajority couldn't pass a balanced budget, they put the burden on voters to do it for them. The state spent about a million dollars on a special election that allowed the legislature to raid the principal of the Alabama Trust Fund and borrow $437 million. That amount, lawmakers assured us, would get them through the next election give them time to come up with "a long-term solution" to fix the state's budget problems.


Trust us.  That's surely the most dangerous phrase in Alabama politics.

Democratic leader Senator Quinton Ross nailed it with this comment:

"It's a sad day for the state of Alabama when we want to take money from the Education Trust Fund because we don't have the courage to take true and better steps that would solve this problem and that includes taxing the businesses who come into this state and receive incentives in the process...This is not right."' 

How did we get here from 2012? Fast forward three years and look at how our supermajority has squandered some of that borrowed money:

Not feeling the trust yet?  No wonder.

Look at what happened yesterday in the Legislature: 

  • With 10 minutes notice, the House Judiciary Committee called a special meeting to hold hearings on SB-21, the bill to replace marriage licenses with "contracts."  Nothing like public input on important issues, eh?
  • The full Alabama House spent the morning debating the regulation of 3-wheeled cars.  Hey, maybe it's a cost-saving... the state would only have to buy 3 tires for each state vehicle.
  • The House decided that more research was needed on the proposed "porn tax" and carried that bill over.  We don't even want to speculate on that one....
  • Rep. Mike Hill entertained the legislators by singing the JSU fight song because he lost a bet with another legislator. So... legislators can gamble, but average Alabamians can't?
  • House passed SB-20, a "tax amnesty" for all you scofflaws who buy from Amazon but don't pay the state sales tax when you file your state taxes each year.  Don't everyone apply at once now! 
  • Once again, failed to even consider Senator Linda Coleman's bill (SB-12) that would require huge, profitable corporations that pay no state tax to contribute to the state where they're making money.
  • Senator Quinton Ross & Rep. Christopher John England called the supermajority out about their slavish devotion to their moneymen.  Ross: "We'd rather pass taxes that hurt consumers than pass bills that tax the Big Mules. In 2015, we're still allowing big business and big landowners to dictate how we fund our state." England pointed out that, in the rush to tax consumers, Rep. Coleman can't even get a hearing on her bill.
  • In a surprise move, Republican Rep. Jim Patterson from Madison County opposed the bill to prohibit cities and counties from raising the minimum wage:  "The legislature should stay out of local issues."
  • AL Senate approved a $100 million transfer in the use tax from the Education Trust Fund to the General Fund.  Democrats tried to filibuster; Republicans shut it down. The House "only" wanted to transfer $50 million.  Now they have to hammer out the difference in conference committee.  They worked until 10:30 last night (amid reports of yelling behind closed doors!) & start again today.
  • Senator Bobby Singleton had to have had the "best phrase of the day" with his assertion that Governor Bentley could just "stroke the pen" and expand Medicaid.  I'm really hoping this has nothing to do with the porn tax. 
  • Late last night, the 3-wheeled car bill was being considered in Senate committee.

Have to share this paraphrased joke from our FB follower Patrick Link: There's no word yet on whether someone can marry a 3-wheeled car or if a state official can decline to perform the ceremony or if an auto mechanic in the state garage can cite religious reasons for his/her refusal to do a lube job on it.

Yeah, I know this is serious business, but really... sometimes the only way to keep from screaming in frustration is to mock. 

The Senate goes back into session today at 2:30pm. This morning, all the action will be in the conference committee as they try to agree on how many million dollars they want to "transfer" from Education.


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Alabama Charter School Legislation Language Came Straight From ALEC "Model Bill"

by: Larry Lee

Mon Sep 14, 2015 at 07:48:27 AM CDT

The legislative supermajority in Montgomery would have us believe that when they conjure up education policy like the Alabama Accountability Act or the charter school bill they retreat to a darkened room with their Ouija board and magically re-appear with ideas they alone thought up.
But evidence increasingly shows this tale is as plausible as telling us that every night an army of fairies flutters across Alabama exchanging money for teeth first-graders leave under their pillow. 
Case in point--the similarities between the charter school bill recently rejected by the state of Washington Supreme Court as unconstitutional, "model" charter legislation churned out the American Legislative Exchange Council and Alabama Senate Bill 45 passed last spring. 
The American Legislative Exchange Council--better known as ALEC--was founded in 1973 and has come under fire because it blurs the line between corporate well-being and public well-being.  It has been described as a "corporate bill mill" which supplies state lawmakers model legislation strongly supported by ALEC corporate funders.
One of their nine task forces deals with education policy.  They support voucher programs like the Alabama Accountability Act, tax credits for parents who send their children to private schools and charters schools.  In short, anything that results in more education privatization.
Senator Greg Reed of Jasper and Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur are the state ALEC chairs for the Senate and House.  Collins chairs the House Education Policy Committee.  Both Reed and Collins voted for the accountability act and charter schools. 
So what is the connection between Washington state, Alabama and ALEC?
The Alabama charter bill sets up a politically-appointed Public Charter School Commission that has authority to approve charter school applications, or to over-rule local charter authorizers who may deny an application.  Both Washington and ALEC legislation create charter governing commissions.  All give appointments to the Governor, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House.
What are the duties of this Commission in Alabama?
The appointing authorities of the commission members shall strive to select individuals that collectively possess strong experience and expertise in public and nonprofit governance, strategic planning, management and finance, public school leadership, assessment, curriculum and instruction, and public education law.
Each member of the commission shall have demonstrated understanding of and commitment to charter schooling as a tool for strengthening public education 

Here they are in Washington:

Members appointed to the commission shall collectively possess strong experience and expertise in public and nonprofit governance; management and finance; public school leadership, assessment, curriculum, and instruction; and public education law. All members shall have demonstrated an understanding of and commitment to charter schooling as a strategy for strengthening public education.”
And the  ALEC model bill:
Members appointed to the Commission shall collectively possess strong experience and expertise in public and nonprofit governance, management and finance, public school leadership, assessment, and curriculum and instruction, and public education law. All members of the Commission shall have demonstrated understanding of and commitment to charter schooling as a strategy for strengthening public education.”
And we are supposed to believe all of this common language is coincidental? 
Wayne Au is an associate professor at the University of Washington Bothell and has followed this issue closely.
"ALEC advocates that charter schools be governed by appointed boards with little-to-no accountability or oversight by the public because this establishes a chain of logic central to privatization," he says.  "Once we agree that public tax dollars can follow the child into educational institutions not governed by the public, then we have accepted the basic premise for voucher programs that use our tax dollars to pay for private schools. This has been a major goal of ALEC and other free-market conservatives who seek to dismantle public education and profit off our kids."
Alabama charter proponents say they drafted SB 45 by taking the best of charter legislation in many states.  But given the ties some legislators have to ALEC, as well as their track record of supporting bills Alabama educators oppose, one can't help but question this claim.
We also must ask, if the Supreme Court in Washington says  charter schools set up by a politically-appointed commission and governed by a local board that does not answer to taxpayers are not entitled to public funds, how does Alabama differ?  
Why do Alabama legislators think people outside the state know more than our own professional educators do?  And since when did "Alabama values" mean that we ignore the people of Alabama? 

Larry Lee led the study, "Lessons Learned from Rural Schools," and is a long-time advocate for public education and frequently writes about education issues.  larrylee33@knology.net 

He blogs at LarryEducation.com

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AL Senate Committee Ditches Tax Bills So They Can Debate Fetal Tissue Sales

by: countrycat

Fri Sep 11, 2015 at 14:25:06 PM CDT

Campers, this circus is costing Alabama an estimated $400k & this is what we get. This morning, the Senate Finance & Taxation General Fund Committee changed the meeting agenda at the last minute.  It removed all discussion of the tax bills the House passed yesterday, and replaced it with these bills.

Let's review the priorities....   

  • Make the sale/donation of fetal tissue even more illegal than it already is in Alabama. 
  • Take money from Education & divert it to the General Fund.
  • Keep cash poor school systems from advocating for more funding before a public vote.
The full Senate also found time to vote (again) to take the state out of the marriage license business.  Instead, couples will pay more to file a "contract" with the state. Whether these "contracts" would be accepted in any other state or by the federal government is anyone's guess, but the state always, always has money to pay useless legal fees. 
Meanwhile, the House has passed an even more mean-spirited budget than we expected. The only state agency getting an increase are our prisons - and that's only because the state is even more worried about "fedrul pointy-headed bureaucrats" stepping in than they are having more untreated mentally ill people wandering the streets.
  • Pardons & Paroles: from $27 million to $38 million.
  • Department of Corrections: from $394 million to $399 million
  • Mental Health: from $105 million to $103 million.
  • State Military Dept. cut by $721k. Good luck calling out the Guard to help after the next tornado outbreak, because some armories are certain to close.
  • DHR: from $59 million to $57 million. Sorry abused kids... we can't possibly ask wealthy corporations to pay more in taxes.
  • Judicial: From $109 million to $103 million. Speedy trial?  Who needs one, anyway?  Forcing the state to follow the 6th Amendment is probably a 10th Amendment violation anyway.
One bright spot is that Medicaid got level-funded, plus $50 million for "reforms."  But watch out: in Alabama, "reform" invariably translates to: "we'll either find a way to explain why you don't actually need the services you qualify for or we'll turn the state's job over to private business and they'll eat up that extra money in overhead."
The Senate is in recess now until 5pm, when it will "receive" the House bills and then go home for the weekend.  Yeah, the clowns must really be tired after this week's performance.  


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Yesterday's Legislative Follies - A Recap

by: countrycat

Fri Sep 11, 2015 at 10:04:22 AM CDT

The best illustration of who really controls Alabama's state government can be found in Rep. Christopher John England's description of yesterday's votes: 

Today we raised fees or taxes on rental cars, car titles, cigarettes, pharmacies and nursing homes. However, we declined to raise the business privilege tax.         

We also borrowed 50 million dollars from the Rolling Reserve Fund to give to the General Fund and transferred all of the Use Tax from the Education Trust Fund to the General Fund. 


Remember: this is the same legislature that put off this year's repayment of the money they had to borrow in 2012 to balance the state's budget. The borrowed money conveniently lasted until after the 2014 election, but now we're in a real fix.

And how do legislators propose to fix the problem? We're going to cobble together an underfunded General Fund budget that's dependent on consumer taxes: 

  • Cigarettes
  • Soft drinks
  • Nursing home beds
  • Drag shows (seriously)
  • Gas

What's not being considered are measures that would bring in real money and bring more fairness to the tax code.

Senator Linda Coleman has again introduced a bill to provide for combined reporting of corporate income taxes.  In this session, it's SB-12. While the nickel & dime - and quarter - taxes sailed through committee and the House, Coleman's bill has yet to have a hearing.  Here's how she described her bill & explained why it's necessary earlier this year:

For years, we have asked the governor to close corporate tax loopholes that allows BIG BUSINESSES to avoid paying corporate income tax. Alabama businesses benefit from many tax breaks created by the legislature. As a result, highly profitable companies manage to pay NO income taxes. 

For example, Exxon made $89 million in Alabama in 2003 but paid no taxes because it deducted payments to itself from taxable income, and there are other companies playing this shell game to avoid paying taxes according to the Alabama Revenue Dept. 

24 states already have 'Combined reporting' that requires businesses to file one combined report allowing auditors access and see all records. It keeps them honest, levels the field, and allows states to capture tax without a new tax on citizens. 

Another important item not under consideration is higher taxes on large out-of-state landowners. The situation hasn't changed much at all since 2002:

In Lowndes County, bordering on Montgomery County and the state capital, 78 percent of the land is owned by people and companies outside the county, according to the property tax records. Perry and Macon counties are close behind, each with more than 73 percent of land held by outsiders. More than a quarter of Bullock County's land is owned by people who don't even live in Alabama.
Property taxes across Alabama are the lowest in America, often forcing local governments to rely on high sales taxes to fund their schools and communities. The constitution protects land wealth while taxing commercial property at higher rates. In the Black Belt, almost all wealth is in the land.
The largest of the Black Belt's landowners, like the largest landowners across the state, pay far lower taxes per acre for their land than average Black Belt residents. Under Alabama's current-use system, which allows timber and farm owners to sidestep paying taxes on the land's actual market value, timberland owners in some Black Belt counties pay less than $2 an acre per year in property taxes, even for the most productive land.
The higher timberland property taxes in Mississippi and Georgia haven't blunted timber production. Like Alabama, Mississippi has more than doubled its annual timber production in the past 20 years. Georgia has nearly tripled production.  

Alabama has also failed to implement any sort of accountability for the corporate welfare we hand out on a regular basis.  Here are the numbers from 2012, you can bet it's higher now:

The NYT has created a searchable database of all the subsidies they were able to identify.  For Alabama, that amounts to at least $277 million -- $58 per Alabamian or 4% of the state budget.  The biggest recipient of our largesse is Airbus (EADS) at $158 million.  The company is locating a new assembly plant in Mobile.  Would they have come to Alabama without the subsidy or with a lesser amount?

Are the jobs worth the cost to taxpayers?  We'll never know because Alabama has no evaluation program in place to show what we get in exchange for $277 million in corporate gifts.  A recent Pew Research Center report indicates that most states, like Alabama, don't properly evaluate the effectiveness of tax incentives and other "job creation" giveaways.  Our public officials are blindly throwing money at corporations and thankful to get any crumb of economic development in return ... plus a photo-op at the groundbreaking ceremony. 

Of course, that kind of stuff is hard.  Worse, it might cut into campaign contributions! Why worry about it, when you can scam the masses with smokescreens like being so totally against gay marriage that you want the state out of the marriage license business and prohibiting the sale of fetal tissue in Alabama - even though that's already illegal, we'll just spend several days of our $400,000 special session to make it even more illegal. 

Who knows what else they'll come up with? The only thing we do know is that, without a budget in place, the state stops writing checks on October 1. Period. Full stop. No salaries, no utility bills, nothing.

Maybe our legislative supermajority is just jealous that DC Republicans have managed to shut down the government twice. Since that worked so well, our legislators are considering giving it a try in Alabama.


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AL House Committee Holds "Secret" Hearing To Prohibit Minimum Wage Increases

by: countrycat

Thu Sep 10, 2015 at 08:28:18 AM CDT

So much for public input on important issues. Yesterday, the House Ways & Means General Fund committee met at 2pm to hold a public hearing on the General Fund budget. There were no non-budget related issues on the published agenda. However, the committee must have such confidence in its ability to magically fill a $260 million hole in the budget that it had time to browbeat low-wage workers.


In a surprise move, the committee brought up Mountain Brook Representative David Faulkner's bill to prohibit any county or municipality from raising the minimum wage above the federal minimum. This effort is aimed directly at Birmingham, which recently decided to raise the minimum to $10.10/hour over the next two years.

Democrats on the committee were outraged:

“We tax the people who are poor,” Rep. Darrio Melton, D-Selma, a longtime sponsor of state minimum wage legislation, said at the hearing. “Now we’re saying, ‘Keep their wages low.’”
Democratic legislators criticized the legislation. Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard, who has sponsored local legislation to raise the minimum wage in Montgomery, called the bill a “backdoor attempt” to take away local decision making power.

“We’re supposed to be addressing the General Fund budget, and not taking away the rights of cities and counties,” he said.  

The GOP pushed this into committee on day one & could vote it out today.  It's not budget-related.  The only people who think it's an "emergency" are low-wage employers who happily reap profits while the working poor rely on public assistance to make ends meet. We all know which group is most important to the GOP supermajority.  

So much for "local control" and aversion to "big government," huh?  Looks like those strategy meetings that Governor Bentley held with lobbyists are paying off in a big way.


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Democratic County Chairs Ask The Supermajority: "Who Are You Fighting For?"

by: countrycat

Thu Sep 10, 2015 at 07:59:38 AM CDT

The Alabama Democratic Party leadership can't seem to get it together enough to even issue a press release about the damage the GOP supermajority is doing to the state, but a coalition of 15 county party chairs & other Democratic activists is far less reticent. In an op/ed titled "Alabama Republicans Learned Nothing in Kindergarten," they reminded the majority of its obligation to work across the aisle and listen to the people instead of lobbyists:

Note to Governor - inviting 20 lobbyists (the legislature's version of hall monitors) to work on a solution is not including anyone important, like constituents. Perhaps you asked the lobbyists for $10 million each to make up our shortfall?
Share your toys. Share the resources. Share the taxes. Individuals pay about 60 percent of state revenue; corporations and property taxes make up another 10 percent. Perhaps the 10 percenters need to pay a fairer share so the middle class doesn't carry the burden. They need to share some of their toys – and stop stealing our lunch money.
Stand up for what's right. Ask yourself why you ran for office. We hope to do what's right for our state.
Someone might run against you next election saying you voted to raise taxes. You have three more years to do some good for your district so that's not the main thing people remember. Tell them what you did with the money, why it was essential, why they don't have to drive a couple hours & spend a day getting a driver's license. Don't be bullied.

Who are you fighting for?? 

County chairs from Tuscaloosa, Jefferson, Madison, Limestone, Morgan, Etowah, and other counties signed the letter. Several leaders of ForwardAlabama also signed on, as did the chairs of the Over The Mountain DemocratsAlabama College Democrats, & Cumberland Law Democrats

Kudos to them for stepping into the void left by the ADP leadership and offering commonsense solutions to the state's budget woes.  If only the GOP leadership would listen. 


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SB-21 Greg Albritton Wants To Protect State Workers Who Refuse To Do Their Jobs

by: countrycat

Wed Sep 09, 2015 at 17:04:19 PM CDT

State Senator Greg Albritton (SD-22) is so concerned about protecting marriage in Alabama that he wants to end the state's involvement in it.  No wait, that's not quite right... Albritton is really worried that state employees & elected officials might be sued if they take a salary but refuse to do the work they were elected to do.

Well, if anybody should worry about getting sued for intransigence and incompetence, it's an Alabama legislator.


It's astonishing to watch a group of people who have plenty to say about "freeloaders" on Welfare who need to be drug tested and who have no sympathy for low-wage workers left out of the ACA because they should qualify for Medicaid. Those are "takers," you understand.  But a public employee who takes a government salary, but refuses to do his/her job is magically transformed from a slacker into some kind of religious martyr just one step below Rosa Parks.

Albritton told the New York Times last week that he's concerned about the 13 probate judges in Alabama who are refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone - because apparently the only alternative to married gay couples is everybody living in sin.

State Senator Greg Albritton, a Republican, said some of those judges were “preparing to go to jail” if ordered, as Ms. Davis was, to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

When the Legislature convenes a special session next this week, Mr. Albritton said, he intends to reintroduce legislation requiring couples to draft their own marriage contracts, which the state would simply record, putting Alabama out of the business of issuing marriage licenses.

“Kentucky is a precursor to where we are headed,” Mr. Albritton said. 

Have we not had enough of the dead-end nullification game? It's been tried before in the South. In a last-ditch effort to preserve segregation, some states closed public schools or removed all state funding for integrated schools. In Virginia, Prince Edward County closed its entire public school system and the fight was particularly bitter:

Virginia's "Massive Resistance" plan emerged out of an August 1956 special session of the legislature called to consider these issues. The session pulled Virginia away from the Gray plan of local options and into a statewide program of defiant resistance to federal desegregation orders. When the legislature mandated that the state close any school under desegregation orders from the federal courts, it was clear that Virginia would hold the line on segregated schools everywhere, regardless of local opinion on the matter.

In Alabama, we'll never live down George Wallace in the schoolhouse door, but there was local resistance as well.  In Huntsville (a city that likes to present itself a modern and forward-thinking), the city closed the public swimming pool rather than integrate it. 

Now another generation of Alabama "leaders" seems dead-set on giving us a new "schoolhouse door" moment. We look back on those days now and cringe at the thought of how many of our family members applauded that nonsense.

Just think how harshly our children and grandchildren will judge our silence.


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