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AL Chief Justice Roy Moore Praises "Plessy vs Ferguson" During Award Ceremony

by: countrycat

Sat Apr 18, 2015 at 16:03:14 PM CDT

You have to hand it to Judge Roy Moore. It takes real balls to give a speech praising Plessy vs Ferguson minutes after a group of African-American pastors has hung a "Letter from the Birmingham Jail Courage Award" around your neck. Seriously, that's what happened yesterday in Montgomery. Roy Moore CAAP

Moments after CAAP leader, Rev. William Owens, praised Moore and honored him with a medal, Moore took the podium and mentioned that he just happened to have a copy of the Plessy vs Ferguson decision on his desk, then proceeded to quote from it at length.  Admiringly.

If you're not familiar with the decision, it's one of the most embarrassing pieces of writing ever to come out of the US Supreme Court:

Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), was a landmark United States Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities under the doctrine of "separate but equal".[1]

The decision was handed down by a vote of 7 to 1 with the majority opinion written by Justice Henry Billings Brown and the dissent written by Justice John Marshall Harlan. Louisiana Justice Edward Douglass White was one of the majority: he was a member of the New Orleans Pickwick Club and the Crescent City White League, the latter a paramilitary organization that had supported white supremacy with violence through the 1870s to suppress black voting and regain political power by white property owners.[2]

"Separate but equal" remained standard doctrine in U.S. law until its repudiation in the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education.[3]

Moore said that the Justices' words in Plessy vs Ferguson "seem to ring true to the issues before this country today about same sex marriage  because it "takes away the institution of marriage as being between one man and one woman."

He then invoked state percentages in favor of "one man, one woman" marriage.  81% in Alabama and 75% in Texas.  Wonder what Alabama & Texas voters would have decided if "Plessy vs Ferguson" or later civil rights cases had come to a statewide vote that allowed citizens to vote on whether their fellow citizens would have equal rights?

Quoting from Plessy, Moore continued:

"There is a dangerous tendency in these latter days to enlarge the function of the courts with judicial interference in the will of the people as expressed by the legislature. In my opinion the decision this day will in time prove quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott case.

Moore: "I believe those words could be applied to day to any court that recognizes marriage as anything between one man and one woman."

All the lead up speeches were pretty boring, but things really got interesting when Moore started taking questions from reporters. There was a British reporter in the group, and he pressed Moore pretty hard on the issue of marriage equality.

British reporter asked (the audio doesn't pick it up well) Moore why he "persists in discriminating against gay couples" when they just want the same rights to love as you (Moore) has.

Moore: Marriage isn't based on love; marriage is based on the law.  In Massachusetts recently, they allowed three women to get married.  Do they allow three women in the UK?  Why don't they allow three women to get married in the UK if "marriage is based on love?"

Reporter:  We do have same sex marriage.

Moore: But do you allow three women to get married?  I'm asking you?

Reporter: We don't.

Moore: But if it's based on love, why not?

The reporter finally managed to get Moore off the obviously titillating subject (to him, at least) of "three women getting married," and got him to acknowledge that a SCOUTUS decision in favor of marriage equality would set precedent that Alabama would have to follow. 

Fact finding discovered that the women did not get legally married; they had a lawyer draw up contractual relationship guidelines that they all signed.

 

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Legislators Aren't Telling The Truth About Alabama Accountability Act Amendment

by: countrycat

Fri Apr 17, 2015 at 12:00:00 PM CDT

We have all been told that one should never watch either legislation or sausage being made.  Having grown up long ago on a south Alabama farm, I took part in more than a few "hog killins" and know all about making sausage.

GOP Alabama Accountability Act 

I've also witnessed legislation being birthed in more than 40 years of visiting the Alabama legislature.

And speaking from first-hand knowledge, I'll take the sausage making any day.  This point has been driven home forcefully in the last few weeks as both House and Senate committees have debated amending the Alabama Accountability Act. It has been nothing less that excruciatingly painful to listen as the truth was abused, twisted and just plain ignored by the proponents of this legislation.

Let me say that I understand being a legislator is difficult because you are bombarded by dozens of issues and being an expert on any and all is an impossibility.   In addition, legislators have virtually no staff to research issues for them, give them briefings and pass along information.

By the same token, those sponsoring legislation are often not as aware of its nuances as you would hope they might be.  Instead, they are depending on some special interest to give them sound guidance and good advice.

Still, this doesn't make untruths any less untrue. For example:

  • Senate Majority Leader Del Marsh is the sponsor of an accountability act amendment.  He has been asked repeatedly if there is a relationship between the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, set up by former Governor Bob Riley, and a scholarship granting group in Florida known as Step Up For Students.Each time he has said he is unaware of any. 
  • All non-profits must file a yearly 990 report with the IRS. 
  • The most recent such report by Step Up For Students clearly identifies the Riley SGO as a subsidiary of theirs.  You find on page 46 of this report that the Florida organization is the "direct controlling entity" for the Riley SGO.  Also, both the CEO and the CFO of Step Up For Students are two of the six Riley board members.
  • The accountability act allows all SGOs to retain five percent of their donations for administrative purposes.  Senator March says this is the lowest such rate in the country.  But on page seven of the financial audit of the Florida group dated 6-30-14 you find that their administrative charge is only three percent.

Senator Marsh's amendment would allow Alabama SGOs to pay up to $10,000 for a scholarship for a high school student.  He defends this as being a good steward of money because a limit is designated.  But he fails to note that according to the Step Up For Students web site, their maximum scholarship is $5,272.  Nor has he pointed out that the average state funding for all public school students is presently $5,828 each

So he is urging us to spend up to $4,175 more on a private school student than one in public school.

Presently the cap on SGO contributions is $25 million.  The senator would like to increase this to $30 million.  (An SGO donor gets a dollar for dollar tax credit on their state tax liability for all money given an SGO up to a certain percentage. Each dollar contributed to an SGO is a dollar that does not go into the education trust fund.  So a dollar that goes to an SGO is a dollar not available for public schools.)

In promoting his bill at a recent hearing before a House committee, Senator Marsh held his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart and told the committee, "We're just talking about a small amount of money."

I nearly fell out of my seat because where I come from $25-$30 million is not a "small amount of money."  Wonder if the good senator would care to tell a school librarian who has not had new books purchased by the state since 2008 that $25 million doesn't count.

Let's end where we started, back on the farm with the pigs.  It is also said that you cannot  put enough lipstick on a pig to cover up the fact that it is still a pig.  The same is true of the accountability act and the proposed amendment, you just can't put enough lipstick on it.
                        ---------------------------------------------------
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

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HB-405 Brings Back The Trans-Vaginal Ultrasound

by: countrycat

Fri Apr 17, 2015 at 09:36:25 AM CDT

Remember the uproar in 2012, when chicken farmer/amateur gynecologist Senator Clay Scofield introduced SB-12, the bill that required a trans-vaginal ultrasound prior to any abortion? It died then, but now Rep. Terri Collins has found a way to revive the issue with HB-405, the "Fetal Heartbeat" bill.

 

As Alabama Reproductive Rights Legislative Director, Mia Raven, pointed out in her speech on Tuesday, the bill prohibits most abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected. Yet the only way to do that extremely early in pregnancy - 4-6 weeks - is via a trans-vaginal ultrasound because the regular non-invasive technique only works later in pregnancy.

Here are excerpts from her speech, and the entire video clip is below:

I am sure that everyone knows that the state of Alabama is broke to the tune of $200 to $700 million dollars: nobody knows exactly how much.

I have spoken with several attorneys who say the cost of fighting this bill in court will cost money the state doesn't have to spend. This legislation has already been struck down in North Dakota and Arkansas.  Do we really want to waste state money on a bill that will do nothing but let politicians go back to their homes and say "Hey! We stopped abortion in the state of Alabama!"

A heartbeat may be detected at 6 weeks or as early as 4 weeks in pregnancy.  Most women don't know they're pregnant at 6 weeks, much less 4 weeks. Even if a woman finds out that she's pregnant at 6 weeks, the only way to detect a heartbeat is through the invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound.  Trans-vaginal ultrasounds do nothing but shame women, embarrass them, and traumatize them while they're seeking their constitutional rights.

It's medically unnecessary and expensive.

This bill has no exceptions for rape, incest, or physical/mental health of the woman.

In addition, legislators want to criminalize doctors with a Class C felony and loss of medical license if they perform an abortion when a heartbeat is detected. I don't know about you, but I trust actual doctors over politicians who pretend to play doctor.

Women in Alabama are tired of these gynoticians interfering, as did Senator Larry Stutts when he tried to overturn a law put into effect because of the death of one of his own patients. Women are fully aware of what we're doing with our reproductive rights and we don't need government so small it fits in our uterus. Women should make reproductive health decisions based on what is best for them.

They should only have to talk about sensitive issues with their doctor, their family, and their God.  NOT the state of Alabama.

We are not incubators for the state.  We are self-aware human beings who have the final say over what happens to our bodies.  Not by some politicians - mostly male - in the Alabama Statehouse who think they know what is best for women.

We are not dumb; we are sick of being treated like ignorant human beings who do not know what we're doing with our own bodies.  We strongly and adamantly oppose HB-405.  Not only will it cause the state an untold amount of money due to it being unconstitutional, it insults our intelligence and insinuates that that we're ignorant about our own bodily functions.

We will fight HB-405 all the way to the Supreme Court if it passes.  Instead of making unconstitutional laws on women, we strongly feel that  the Alabama Legislature needs to be working on the state's budgets.  If they want to see the abortion rate go down, we suggest teaching honest, truthful sex education in schools, and provide women with affordable contraception.

We want one step forward, not two steps back.

Women of Alabama, we need your help to stop this bill. It is unconstitutional on its face and will waste thousands of Alabama taxpayer dollars and will be overturned in court.

Let's get these men out of our health care.

 

 

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African American Pastor Group Uses MLK To Honor Roy Moore & Justify Marriage Discrimination

by: countrycat

Thu Apr 16, 2015 at 13:39:05 PM CDT

One of the worst things about being a dead famous person is the general public's propensity to put words in your mouth to serve their own agendas. It happens all the time with Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and now, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In a breathtaking bit of irony, the Coalition of African-American Pastors is set to honor Alabama's Chief Justice Roy Moore with the newly-created "Letter from a Birmingham Jail Courage Award."  From a press release we received this morning:

April 16, 2015 -Today,Rev. Williams Owens, President and Founder of the Coalition of African-American Pastors (CAAP), announced that Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore would receive their first ever “Letter from a Birmingham Jail Award” in recognition of Justice Moore’s principled stand in defense of traditional marriage.

The award ceremony will take place on the steps of the Alabama Supreme Court, 300 Dexter Avenue on Friday, April 17, 2015 at 11:00 am.

This newly inaugurated “Letter from a Birmingham Jail Courage Award” is granted to honor someone whose dedication to justice and natural law has led to an outstanding act in defense of first principles. There is no one who stands out as more deserving of this recognition than Chief Justice Roy Moore.”

His memorandum on the question of conscience, Constitutionality, and state law is a shining example of the rigorous intellectual analysis that is both necessary and rare in the public square. As such, it deserves that we do what is in our power to help others understand how momentous this stand for principle was.

 “Justice Moore is an example for all of us,” stated Rev. William Owens, President of CAAP. “By making a principled and persuasive stand for marriage, Justice Moore has singled himself out as someone who is ready to defend our most cherished values and help lead this new civil rights movement. By his words and actions, he has helped preserve marriage, the family, justice, and the spirit of democracy. This is what it means to be a ‘Letter from Birmingham a Jail Courage Award’ recipient. We hope that his example inspires others to take similar action to defend marriage in their own communities.”

You almost have to marvel at the choice to use MLK's beloved "Letter From A Birmingham Jail" to justify discrimination. Have they actually read it?

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider ...

Marriage equality isn't an issue that Dr. King addressed, but his wife, Coretta Scott King did:

"Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union," she said. "A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages." 

If they're planning to make this award an annual event, they better be careful who they award it to. I can see future recipients considering defamation of character lawsuits if they're lumped in with Judge Roy Moore and his brand of "rigorous intellectual analysis."

 

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Visit An Alabama State Park While You Still Can

by: countrycat

Wed Apr 15, 2015 at 15:11:29 PM CDT

In 2014, Alabama's state park system celebrated its 75th anniversary. Will it make it 77 after the 2015 legislative session is complete? State parks in North Alabama (home of anti-tax billboards) will be particularly hard hit by impending budget cuts, reports WHNT-TV in Huntsville. Governor Bentley has warned of "prisoners in our basements" and other horrors if the legislature fails to pass his tax plan this session. Today, we got word of proposed cuts that will close some of Alabama's most beloved state parks.

 

WHNT News 19 contacted Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein for further information.  He said the 15 parks that would close by FY2016 are:

Bladon Springs
Chickasaw
Bucks Pocket
Paul Grist
Florala
Blue Springs
Roland Cooper
Rickwood Caverns
Cheaha Park
Lake Lurleen
DeSoto
Lakepoint
Guntersville
Joe Wheeler
Frank Jackson

Lein said the seven parks that would remain open are Meaher, Wind Creek, Chewacla, Monte Sano, Cathedral Caverns, Oak Mountain and Gulf State Park.

“Those 15 parks [slated to close] have not consistently made a profit over the last three years,” said Lein.  “The remaining 7 parks have.  This is a very dynamic financial situation.”
[...]
Nix, the spokesperson, added the proposed state budget would take $2.8 million out of the parks’ guest revenue to be used for other state expenses.

That's right campers: if state parks can't make a profit, tough luck and good-bye.  Or should we say "a good BUY" for whatever campaign contributors have an interest in acquiring the property.

It's a stupid, shortsighted move - and perhaps it's mainly a threat from Bentley to "go nuclear" if the legislature continues to rebuff his tax plan. He's right that state services cost money and we have to pay for them some way. If he'd only acknowledged this when he ran in 2010 instead of harpig on that stupid "NO NEW TAXES" bandwagon, we might not be in this mess now.

Still, what makes the plan "stupid and shortsighted" is that a big part of Alabama's economy is built on tourism.  According to the State Tourism Department:

The Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) has released its annual economic impact report, which shows that the tourism industry grew by 3% with more than 23.5 million visitors spending almost $11 billion in 2013.

ATD statistician Pam Smith reported that, from 2004 to 2013, travel spending in Alabama has increased 50% according to the study conducted by Auburn University Montgomery.

From the 2013 Tourism Economic Report (PDF):

  • In 2013, more than $738 million of state and local tax revenues were generated by
    travel and tourism activities. Without those taxes, each household in Alabama would
    have had to pay $392 in additional taxes to maintain current service levels.
  •  An estimated 163,848 jobs – 8.6 percent of non-agricultural employment in Alabama –
    were directly or indirectly attributable to the travel and tourism industry.

That report deals tourism in general, but does show how important it is to Alabama's economy.  However, the park system is (or should be) about more than tourism. The park system is an important component in the state's environmental preservation efforts too:

Today, the system encompasses 22 state parks totaling more than 48,000 acres. These parks preserve and maintain just about every habitat type found in Alabama as well as some historically and culturally significant areas. Habitat types include southern Appalachian mountaintops, forests, caves, river and lake shorelines, wetlands and Gulf Coast beaches.

“The mission of the Parks Division is to acquire and preserve natural areas; to develop, furnish, operate and maintain recreational facilities, and to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment,” Lein says. “From the mountains to the coast, we have a park system that captures a lot of ecological systems and unique wildlife habitats. Two primary cave parks, Cathedral Caverns and Rickwood Caverns, illustrate the geology of Alabama and the diverse cave formations in the state. Desoto State Park is on a wild, free-flowing river.”

Note those last two parks are on the chopping block. The loss of DeSoto State Park, in particular, would be devastating, and it's worth noting that DeSoto was built thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps workers during the Great Depression. At that time, our government leaders still believed in investing in the future to benefit our children and grandchildren.

Will we really be the generation that throws it all away because we're too damned greedy and selfish to care about what sort of state we're leaving for our kids?  That's a sad, sad legacy.

 

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HB-491 How To Succeed In Health Care Without Really Working

by: countrycat

Wed Apr 15, 2015 at 11:52:03 AM CDT

The Alabama legislature may have abandoned their anti-GLBT efforts, but dagnabit, somebody better get their civil rights restricted or the session just won't be a success!  So naturally, their next stop is birth control and abortion.

We already have the fetal heartbeat bill pounding away in committee, but that's not nearly enough distraction from pressing issues like the state budgets, infrastructure problems, education, and amending the Alabama Accountability Act to bail out Bob Riley

Alabama's next PSA (Please Sue Alabama) bill is HB-491, this session's incarnation of last year's "Health Care Worker Conscience Bill" aka the "I don't want to do the job you hired me to do and there's nothing you can do about it" bill.

As we noted in 2014:

For some reason, the State of Alabama thinks it's fun and easy to pick on women and limit their health care choices, but the wording of this bill, cuts both ways (so to speak). What's going to happen the first time a doctor refuses to prescribe Viagra for an unmarried man or a pharmacist denies his prescription refill based on the "moral" belief that an aging single guy doesn't have any business tomcatting around?

And, for a political party that likes to tout its "business friendly" policies, can you imagine what a nightmare this law would be for hospitals, medical offices, and pharmacies?  Imagine trying to draw up a work schedule:

"Let's see, Sally won't fill birth control prescriptions without seeing a marriage license first, but Joe will, so we'll put them on shift together.  Bob won't assist with fertility treatments unless the couple is Christian, married, and heterosexual and Kelly is morally opposed to sterilization and refuses to assist with tubal ligations.  Then there's Andrew, the Christian Scientist, who doesn't do anything but sit all day but I can't fire him....."

HB-491 has the same guidelines, exceptions, and gives any employee the ability to sue their employer if the business, for some bizarre reason, expects them to do the job they're getting paid for.

It's an odd position for the "party against frivolous lawsuits" to hold, isn't it? A far simpler, cheaper solution is for people who have "religious objections" to health care to not pursue a career in health care.  So simple.  No bill required, no lawsuits to follow.

But when do our legislators ever take the easy path?

 

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It's Official: Ron Crumpton to Run for U.S. Senate

by: RonCrumpton2014

Mon Apr 13, 2015 at 13:10:12 PM CDT

(One hat's in the ring! - promoted by countrycat)

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I would like to take this opportunity to announce that my paperwork has been processed and I am officially a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat that is currently held by Richard Shelby.

Shelby does not serve the people.

  • He voted against legislation that would eliminate tax credits for sending American jobs overseas and establish a tax credit for bringing American jobs back to America.
  • He voted against legislation that would allow those with student loan debt to refinance that debt at a lower rate of interest.
  • He voted against legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
  • He voted against legislation that would have placed limits on the amount of “Dark Money” that could be used to influence elections.
  • He voted against legislation that would have shifted $11 billion from corporate tax loopholes to education.

Every time the interest of the people is pitted against the interest of big business, big business gets the support of Richard Shelby.

It is time for the people of Alabama to elect a progressive senator who will work for what is in their best interest and not the best interest of the political fat cats and big business executives that fund their campaigns.

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Progressive Lobby/Rally Day In Montgomery - Tuesday, April 14

by: countrycat

Sun Apr 12, 2015 at 16:09:27 PM CDT

If you can only make it down to the Statehouse one day this legislative session, make it Tuesday, April 14. On one day, activists from Alabama ARISE, AAUW, ARRA join together with "Moral Monday" organizers to rally/lobby for progressive legislation.Moral Monday Alabama

We'll gather at noon in front of the Statehouse on 11 South Union Street (here's a Google Map location) to hear featured speakers. ARRA (Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates) joined the Moral Monday coalition this week, and expect a treat when Mia Raven, ARRA's Director of Legislative Affairs (and LIA liveblogger) takes the mic to discuss HR-405, the "Fetal Heartbeat" bill.

Here's the ARRA Facebook event page - including information for people hoping to carpool from Huntsville and Birmingham.

I'll be there holding my video camera & wearing my LIA t-shirt.  Please come over & say hello!

 

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HB-405 Fetal Heartbeat: Rep. Terri Collins Offers Another PSA Bill

by: countrycat

Sat Apr 11, 2015 at 15:51:32 PM CDT

Federal court rulings be damned, Decatur Rep. Terri Collins has introduced HB-405, a "fetal heartbeat bill," that will outlaw the vast majority of abortions in Alabama if a heartbeat is detected. It's yet another time and money-wasting PSA bill that the GOP supermajority is famous for.

Please Sue Alabama 

PSA you ask?  Public service announcement?  No: Please Sue Alabama.

Because at a time when even a Republican Governor is begging for tax increases and threatening to house state prisoners in our basements if he doesn't get them, our main priority is getting on our trusty legislative horse and going out to tilt at windmills.

Collins, a former board member of Decatur Sav-A-Life Pregnancy Center, said that of all the anti-abortion legislation, this one makes the most sense to her. If no heartbeat is a sign of no life, then a heartbeat is a sign of life, she said.

Similar legislation has been challenged in other states. Collins said she is aware of that, but thinks the legislation is important and educational.

“My concern right now is to move the legislation through the House,” Collins said Tuesday. “I believe that education is always a good thing. So when you talk about life, to understand that baby in the womb that you can’t see really does have a heartbeat is great education to have circulating around the state.”

Yeah, because no pregnant woman in the past 30 years has ever been offered the opportunity to hear the heartbeat during a pre-natal visit.  Can you imagine the shock if this bill passes?

"What? There's something in there with a heartbeat? How did that happen?  Thank goodness you told me, doctor: I thought I just needed to spend more time at the gym or buy some bigger pants."

Either the majority of our rabidly anti-choice legislators are actually stupid or they think women in Alabama are.

  • Waiting periods: So that women have a chance to reflect on their choice before choosing an abortion.  Yeah, there was such a problem with women passing by a clinic and making a spur-of-the-moment decision to have an abortion. 
  • Trans-vaginal ultrasounds: So a pregnant woman who wants an abortion will understand that "there's a baby in there." Is there another reason to get an abortion that I'm not aware of?
  • Fetal personhood: Former Senator Shadrack McGill's contribution to the dumbing down of the debate was a bill that would have given full civil liberties on a group of cells smaller than a pencil eraser. To be fair, a lot of those cells are probably smarter than he is.

The Times Daily says that similar legislation has been challenged, but fails to note that it has also been struck down as unconstitutional.  That taste of forbidden constitutional fruit is well night irresistible to some members of the Alabama Legislature - and our Attorney General.

From North Dakota:

"The North Dakota strict ban on abortions at the time when a 'heartbeat' has been detected -- essentially banning all abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy -- cannot withstand a constitutional challenge," U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland wrote in his decision.

"A woman's constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before viability has been recognized by the United States Supreme Court for more than 40 years. The United States Supreme Court has clearly determined the dispositive issue presented in this lawsuit. This court is not free to impose its own view of the law."

Of course, that never stopped Alabma before!  Previous PSA laws include:

And now, thanks to Terri Collins and her 42 co-sponsors - including indicted Speaker Mike Hubbard - we'll probably be funding the folly of yet another PSA bill.

 

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UPDATED: Alabama Won't Be More Like Indiana - HB-56 MIGHT Be Dead

by: countrycat

Sat Apr 11, 2015 at 11:08:25 AM CDT

State Representative Patricia Todd announced yesterday on Facebook that Alabama's collection of state-sanctioned discrimination (aka religious "freedom") bills are effectively dead this session. The reason? "Business leaders have expressed concern..."

UPDATE: Don't look away from this issue for even a minute. In spite of Hubbard's assurances, as of 2pm, 4/11, the bill is scheduled for a Health subcommittee hearing on Wednesday 4/15 at noon.  (screen shot at the bottom of this article).  Hat tip to our legislative reporter, Mia! 

Alabama legislature bottom of the barrel 

The Speaker and the Senate leadership have agreed that they will NOT pass a Indiana style bill in Alabama. This is a huge victory for us. Alabama has traditionally passed legislation like this circulating around the states.

Business leaders have expressed concern about passing the discrimination bills. Our allies are growing, even among groups that have opposed us in the past.

I am proud they are taking the high road to deal with the real issues we face. This is proof that we can make a difference so keep it up!

In Alabama, progressives gratefully accept whatever victories we can eke out, and it's great to have business on our side for once. Still, I wish I felt as confident as Rep. Todd does about this about face. Hubbard has made promises before (like in 2014) and broken them:

The party who promised a legislative agenda consisting of God, guns, & girl parts, added another "G" to the list in an unexpected vote yesterday.  After privately promising Alabama's only openly gay legislator that he wouldn't allow the a bill calling for a constitutional convention to ban marriage equality in the US to come up, well..... surprise! Speaker Mike Hubbard lied.

Kudos to the business community for fighting "anti-business" discriminatory legislation. Those who still argue that the bill is about "religious freedom, " not discrimination would do well to read the liveblogging recap of the House debate.

But let's not breathe a sigh of relief yet: next up on the plate of bad legislation is HB-405, the "fetal heartbeat bill," which died last year on the last day of the legislative session.

If they aren't coming for the gays, it gives them plenty of time to go after the gals. 

UPDATE:  Is it or isn't it dead?

 

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Alabama House Democrats Offer Alternative To GOP's "Cut To The Bone" Budget Strategy

by: countrycat

Fri Apr 10, 2015 at 11:45:03 AM CDT

The Alabama House Democratic Caucus unveiled its legislative agenda on Tuesday, and it's what many expected: a state lottery, Indian gaming compact, minimum wage increase, and removal of the state tax on groceries. Each proposal has been suggested during previous sessions, and all have been snubbed by Republican legislators.

 

Until now. 

In a surprise move, House Budget Committee Chair Steve Clouse announced that he will sign on as co-sponsor to House Minority Leader Craig Ford's proposal to use a state lottery to help fund Alabama's ailing Medicaid program. Ford also introduced a separate bill for an education lottery (HB-472).  Note: as of this time, there's no available link to the Medicaid lottery bill. From the Alabama House Democratic Caucus Web page:

We are proposing two bills that allow the voters to vote on creating a state lottery. The first lottery bill would allocate the proceeds generated towards scholarships for students who make the A/B Honor Roll. The second lottery bill would allocate the proceeds to the state’s General Fund budget for the state’s Medicaid agency. Either lottery could generate up to $280 million annually.

“Before we even consider raising taxes we need to let the people vote on a lottery. For far too long Alabamians have been sending our hard-earned dollars to neighboring states. It’s time to let the voters decide on if we want a lottery and where we want those funds to go.”

Clouse explained his support for the Medicaid lotter bill in practical terms:

"We're just looking at anything to raise funds," Clouse said. 

The 2015 legislative session is almost a third finished, so it seems a bit late for the Democrats to roll out an agenda. The Republicans publicized their priorities well in advance of this session, and it contained usual "bright shiny objects" consisting of "God, Guns, & Gays" legislation - they're for the first two and against the third. They always include that trio to deflect attention away from the real agenda - dismantling state government & selling it off to the highest bidder.

What took the Democrats so long to offer an alternate vision for the state?  Well... the explanation is kind of lame.  They were waiting for the GOP supermajority to act like grown-ups and offer some real solutions:

We are now more than one-third of the way through the legislative session and the Republican supermajorities have not passed a single bill to address our state’s most pressing issues, primarily our tremendous budget shortfall. By low estimates, we will need $265 million to stay solvent, but debt repayment obligations mean the state needs closer to $700 million.

Still, better late than never.

I'm not a fan overall of education lotteries.  In other states, they've been oversold, over-promised, and amount to a giant income transfer from the poor to subsidize middle class kids who'd attend college with or without a lottery "scholarship."  Learn more in our 5-part series from 2010: "Winning An Alabama Lottery."

But a lottery for Medicaid?  As long as that means Alabama will sign up for Medicaid expansion under the ACA, then let's go for it.  After all, "we're looking at anything to raise funds."

 

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Spay/Neuter Fund Check-off - A Bad Option On Alabama Tax Forms!

by: countrycat

Thu Apr 09, 2015 at 15:59:23 PM CDT

One good thing about Alabama state tax forms is that they give you the opportunity to donate to some very worthy causes at the same time you file your taxes. Things like the "Foster Children's Trust Fund" are areas where people can really have an impact on people's lives.

And then there are check-off opportunities that sound great in theory, but not in practice.  Such as the opportunity to contribute to the "Alabama Veterinary Medical Foundation Spay/Neuter Program."

You know when Alabama vets protest the low-cost spay/neuter clinics and say they'd love to support them if only the clinics did "means testing?" Look no farther than the ALVMA Foundation's criteria to see just how limited that service population would be:

  • Recipients must be residents of the state of Alabama.
  • Recipients must be on Medicaid
  • Recipients are responsible for co-pay as described above

The co-pay is $10 for a cat and $20 for a dog, which sounds negligible until you realize that the family has to qualify for Medicaid to get help from the ALVMA Foundation's tax-deductible program. As we noted last year: "At those income levels, anyone buying dog food is most likely eating it themselves - not feeding Fido."

Alabama has the stingiest Medicaid program in the entire United States:

As of January 2014, in Alabama, Medicaid eligibility for non-disabled adults is limited to parents with incomes below 16% of poverty, or about $3,800 a year for a family of four, and adults without dependent children remain ineligible regardless of their income.  

So it's no wonder that this program performs precious few surgeries. Because the "small" co-pay may not be the only charge.  Participating vets are free to tack on any extra charges they want.  That may be why the program is so under-utilized compared to the high-volume clinics:

Doing the math, the ALVMA Foundation has received $635,250 from tag sales (as of 10/31/2013).  

The program has been active since March 2009 and performed fewer than 10,000 surgeries, which means the participating vets perform about 2200 surgeries/year total (not per vet). 

Compare this total to just the North Alabama Spay & Neuter Clinic, which performed 5,000 surgeries between January 2012 & fall of 2013.  In 2010, the Alabama Spay & Neuter Clinic performed 89 surgeries in a single day.

Assuming the Medicaid family scrapes together the cost to get their pet spayed or neutered, then comes the problem of finding a vet who participates in the program:

  • Limestone County, home of fervent low-cost clinic opponent Dr. Robert Pitman, has ZERO. 
  • Madison County, home to ASBVME members hostile to the low-cost clinics, also has ZERO vet participation.
  • Jefferson County has 8 veterinary clinics, but only two are located within the city of Birmingham.
  • The entire Shoals area (NW part of the state) has only one participating vet in Colbert County.  Families in Franklin and Lauderdale Counties are out of luck.

April 15 is just a week away! Before you get all warm and fuzzy and decide to share some of your Alabama refund to help the ALVMA spay and neuter programs, remember that precious few people and animals in the state actually benefit.  Sadly, what could be a worthy program is used by some as a PR ploy against the low-cost spay/neuter clinics that provide an important service to anyone who needs it.

Donate to your local low-cost clinic instead. They're non-profit and they do great work.

 

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GOP "Fiscal Reponsibility" May Lead To "Prisoners In Your Basements"

by: countrycat

Thu Apr 09, 2015 at 08:12:39 AM CDT

State agencies this week issued dire warnings of draconian cuts to mental health, child care, adult day care and more, but Governor Robert Bentley described the state's budget situation in much more colorful language when he spoke to the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce yesterday. 

Sweet Home Alabama Under Republican Control 

Bentley urged the Legislature to pass his $541 million tax hike package and, perhaps inadvertently, also highlighted the basic problem with Alabama state government: the majority of people don't seem to care about any budget cuts, corruption, or failures - unless it affects them personally:

“I know some of you don’t care about food stamps, but if it affects children, you should care,” Bentley said at the chamber’s luncheon.

Thousands would lose mental health services. More Veterans Affairs offices would close. “We might have to close 15 of our 22 state parks,” Bentley said.

And state prison funding would be cut. You might not care about prisoners, but when you have them in your basement, you’re going to care,” he said.

The Governor also pledged to call the Legislature back into special session - over and over, if necessary - until they take action to increase state revenue. Wow, isn't that extra expense a perfect solution for a state that can't pay its bils now?

This is a big change from his first term, when the newly-elected Governor and his Republican super-majority in the Legislature couldn't manage to balance the state's budget without borrowing money from the state's savings account.

What hasn't changed is the rhetoric surrounding the issue: dire warnings about Grandma getting thrown out of the nursing home, prisoners running wild through the streets, and hungry children. It sounds like one of those dystopian after-the-Apocalypse novels. What also hasn't changed is that Republicans have total control of state government. In 2011, their "solution" was a $3.4 million special election to approve their budget blackmail plan.

Bentley says he will have to cut the General Fund budget across the board if the voters turn down the constitutional amendment Sept. 18. This raises the specter of the state's releasing thousands of state inmates and laying waste to the Medicaid program and other vital services such as mental health and human resources. 

The state voted "yes," and the state General Fund got a breather for four years - conveniently, the terms of the state's "loan" from the Alabama Trust Fund didn't include repayment until after the 2014 election.

But now, Governor Bentley is facing the consequences of his 2010 intransigence:

Bentley has remained resolute that he would veto a tax increase of any type, so lawmakers eventually settled on the plan to take the money out of the Alabama Trust Fund.

While he's changed his tune and now seeks over $500 million in revenue increases, his legislative supermajority still has their hands over their ears and are resolutely shouting "LA LA LA LA LA" when anyone dares broach the subject of tax increases.

Apparently, no cut is too large and no damage to the state's population and infrastructure is too great:

Orr, chairman of the Senate's General Fund committee, asked agencies that depend on the General Fund to submit plans for how they would deal with budget cuts of 15 percent and 30 percent.

The letters show the compounding effect of state funding cuts for agencies that use that money to match federal dollars. The loss of a state dollar can reduce the bottom line by three dollars or more.

And even if Bentley succeeds with his plan, remember that a lot of that money will go to repay the money the GOP borrowed in 2011. That's bill's coming due and there was quite a dust-up in 2013 when Senator Jay Love tried to get the body to agree on a payment plan - that wouldn't require any repayment until 2026:

That loud clanging noise you heard yesterday in Montgomery was the Republican supermajority kicking the fiscal can down the road - for at least 3 more election cycles.  Looks like the Alabama Trust Fund will just have to wait for its promised repayment of the $437 million the GOP demanded last year because they were unable to balance the state's budget.

As we watch the budget circus this session, let's remember how the supermajority charged into Montgomery ready to "fix" the state budgets by "trimming waste" and fighting fraud, when in fact the real plan was to bankrupt the state so that Speaker Mike Hubbard could get rich shilling for corporations interested in buying our state government piece by piece.

These people aren't leaders. They're a bunch of con artists with credit cards.

 

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Navy SEAL Brett Jones Book Signing In Huntsville. Sunday, April 12

by: countrycat

Wed Apr 08, 2015 at 08:42:11 AM CDT

America's first openly gay Navy Seal (and Huntsville, AL resident), Brett Jones, will speak about his experiences on Sunday, April 12 and sign copies of his new book: "Pride: The Story of the First Openly Gay Navy Seal."

Brett JonesBoth the speech and book signing are free and open to the public. The event is scheduled for 2pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Huntsville, 3921 Broadmor Road.

Jones, who lives in Huntsville with his husband and their son, served in U.S. Navy for 10 years - back during the "Don't-ask-don't-tell" era of the military, in terms of its policies on homosexuality. When he was in the Navy, Jones went to great lengths to keep his sexuality private. When his buddies pestered him about having a girlfriend, he talked a female friend of his into posing as his girlfriend to accompany him to a couple events to put them off the trail.

"It was like a comedy," Jones says in an interview with David Pakman posted on his website, then Jones re-considers. "It was a nightmare. The guys in my unit were like brothers. You don't lie to them."

 

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Great Tool To Keep Track Of The Alabama Legislature

by: countrycat

Tue Apr 07, 2015 at 08:47:20 AM CDT

This year, the Alabama Legislature "updated" its legislative information system, ALISON, & made it worse. Sadly, we lost OpenBama last year.  That's a shame, because it was an incredible resource. But a Facebook group, Wake Up Alabama, has stepped into the breach.

2015 alabama legislative session 

One of the state's stop legislative watchdogs, Joann Cummings of Decatur, (and a group of volunteers) maintains a document (view it here) that lists many bills by committee assignment and tracks them through the legislative process. The group is a "closed" group, meaning that only members can see posts. Non-members can ask to be added, but that's up to the admins and trolls are quickly dispatched.

I can't praise this effort enough: the people maintaining this are unsung heroes who keep a bright light trained on the statehouse.

For instance, here's a list of committee hearings scheduled for tomorrow:

House Ed- R418, 1:30PM: both have Public Hearing
HB236 - Tim Tebow Act (church/home school kids can do K-12 extras)
HB255 - Lets' kids take as elective off-campus religion class
SB72 - Local BofEd can adopt virtual schools in HS

House W&M Ed- R617, 9AM
SB71 - Revision to Accountability Act (Public Hearing-PH)
HB322 - Ed Trust Fund, Rolling Reserve

Senate Ed - R2304, 8:30AM
SB317 - NO charter schools can be virtual
SB101 - Terminate Common Core (Public Hearing)

Senate F&T Ed - R727, 10:30AM
SB 179- Education Budget.

Senate Campaign/Election - R717, 2:30PM
SB241 - revisions to Fair Campaign Practices Act

Senate Fiscal Resp. - R727, 3PM
SB239 Revision to rules for public works contracts (Pub Hearing.)

Senate Judiciary - R325, 1PM
SB14 - Possession of firearms not disorderly, OK for load weapon in car

House Trans/Utilities R410, 9AM
SB52 - Electric utilities - changes PSC jurisdiction over changes and improvements???

House Financial services R429, 9AM
HB417 - amends Payday loan Act regarding database
HB160 - rules related to lending consumers money (Pub Hearing)


House Internal Affairs R617, 1:30PM
HB210, HB211 Both related to reestablishing the Senate/House Legislative Council and disband others

I've added a few new "features" to the summary.

  • If there is a Public Hearing it is highlighted in Yellow.
  • If it is important and/or hard to find, Title is bold/purple
  • Note- bills passed are marked "ENR" or Enacted, and in brown

As always - DOUBLE CHECK for the LATEST schedule with ALISON, as CHANGES and ADDITIONS DO OCCUR

Note that there's a BUNCH of important stuff going on tomorrow!  I've highlighted some of the bills that might be of particular interest to the LIA community. 

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