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HB-527 - Anti-Choice Leaders Hang Sponsor Rep. Ed Henry Out To Dry

by: countrycat

Fri Apr 24, 2015 at 16:45:20 PM CDT

When Hartselle Rep. Ed Henry introduced HB-527, (yet another PSA bill) which would allow the Department of Public Health to refuse to renew the license of any "reproductive health clinic" within 2,000 feet of a public school, he really didn't think it through.  The bill is poorly written enough that it could apply even to private doctor's offices and hospitals that provide "reproductive health" care.

But it gets worse!


Anybody who's followed the travails of North Alabama's lone clinic that provides abortions knows that this bill is designed to close the Alabama Women's Center in Huntsville.  It's across the street from a closed public school that's being refurbished.

But what's obvious to others seemed elusive to the bill's sponsor. When interviewed, Henry tried to play dumb:

 House Bill 527, filed Tuesday, says the state health department “may not issue or renew a health center license to an abortion clinic or reproductive health center” within 2,000 feet of a school.

“It’s a very simple bill,” sponsor Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, said Wednesday. He also said he was unaware the bill would shutter any clinics.

“I did not know it would impact closing (a clinic),” he said. “(This bill had) been asked for by several of the pro-life groups around the state.

“To me, the whole atmosphere around abortion clinics is very unsettling, with protesters on both sides, and to me not something we need to have the children of Alabama subjected to. We regulate how close liquor stores can be to schools and churches.”

But then James Henderson, a street preacher and professional protester who got his knickers in a twist when the clinic opened in a new location, weighed in:

James Henderson, the former leader of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, said his anti-abortion group drafted the legislation that Henry introduced with the purpose of shutting down the Huntsville clinic.

"What prompted the action is the abortion clinic in downtown Huntsville that was forced to close and then relocated across from a public school," he said.

"You have the spectacle of an abortion clinic across from a school," Henderson continued. "We were advised counsel that a good approach was to use the same standard of keeping sex offenders from public schools, which is 2,000 feet. That is what the bill is based on."

There you go!  Supposedly, in Henderson's warped view of the world, a women's health clinic is also some sort of "sex offender community center," so we need to protect school children from it.  Crikey... that's even more bizarre than trying to get the clinic closed because protesters disrupt the neighborhood waving signs and yelling at patients through bullhorns.

So does Rep. Henry open his email and then print off any piece of crap legislation that anyone send him?  Or - as in more likely - was he lying when he said that he was "unaware" that the bill would shutter any clinics?

Lying is one of the "Big Ten," and Henry touts his religious beliefs on a regular basis.  Maybe Henry needs to remove the log that Henderson inserted in his eye before going after imagined "sex offenders" at abortion clinics.


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HB-490 Alabama Citizens Need To Foreclose On The Legislature

by: countrycat

Fri Apr 24, 2015 at 07:40:47 AM CDT

Let's say you borrowed money in 2012 on a "no payment until 2014 easy payment plan." But as the 2016 payment date nears, you offer the lender an alternative: skip a year of payments and pick back up in 2017 with no penalties!  How would that fly do you think?

If you're snorting your morning coffee onto your keyboard right now at the very thought, consider that the Republican supermajority in the legislature may do exactly that. They've spent the money they borrowed & have no way to make payments.

Yesterday, HB-490 passed out of the House Ways & Means Committee.  From Page 2 of Rep. Clouse's amendment to the "People's Trust Act:"

(2) The total cumulative amount repaid pursuant to this section shall not be less than the following amounts on the following dates:
   a. September 30, 2014: $5,000,000;
   b. September 30, 2015: $15,000,000;
   c. September 30, 2016 2017: $30,000,000;
   d. September 30, 2017 2018: $50,000,000;

The "People's Trust Act" is one of those bills whose name has absolutely not relationship to the content of the bill. Kind of like George W. Bush's "Clear Skies Initiative" allowed polluters to discharge more dangerous chemicals into the air.

Let's think back to the $1 million dollar special election the Legislature forced on the state in 2012.  In spite of Alabama's requirement for a balanced budget, they passed a budget that required yet another #$%$ constitutional amendment so voters could approve a money transfer from the Alabama Trust Fund. Yep: our "fiscally responsible" legislators could only pay the bills by borrowing money.

How did they convince voters to give a constitutional stamp of approval to their incompetence?  Threats.  "Throw Grandma out of the nursing home!" "Prisoners running loose in the streets!" etc.  Sound familiar?

There were big promises that all the money would be repaid by 2026 and, starting in 2014 (the first bill didn't come due until they could get re-elected), they would start paying it back.  We promise! Pinky swear! 

Oh... but now the tune has changed. 

And Chuck Dean nails it:

The new bill, let's call it the Welch Act for short, would allow the state to miss the 2016 payment of $15 million. The bill calls for the payment to be delayed until 2017. But if I were you I wouldn't hold my breath counting on the money to be paid in 2017 either.

Of course this possible reneging, welching, backing out of the promise to repay the trust fund is because, ironically, the state needs the $15 million payment to help meet next year the very same essential state services it took the money from the trust fund to meet 31 months ago.

Now all the trust fund money is gone. It was used to bridge three years' worth of holes in the state's General Fund budget. The hope was then that the borrowed money, coupled with reductions in the number of state workers and more cuts in state services would stave off a crisis giving the economy time to recover.

That was the theory. It was wrong.

Today the same General Fund faces an immediate shortfall of $200 million and a longer-term hole of $700 million.

Let's be clear on this: the Stimulus Act that the Republicans hated so much patched holes in the state budget.  So did legal settlement fees and a shell game of moving money from one pot to the other.  In 2010, Republicans used this against Democrats in the mid-term elections. They told voters that they would be fiscally responsible with the state's money. Things would be different with Republicans in control.

In a sense, they told the truth.  The situation is worse now.

Keep in mind that this is the same legislature that seems to have no problem at all with the unconscionable interest rates and underhanded tactics of many "payday lenders." 

But when it comes to paying back the money they borrowed from the state because they couldn't balance the budget? 

No problem.           We'll get to it.           Sometime. 

After the next election. 



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Loretta Lynch Is Our New Attorney General - No Thanks To Sessions & Shelby

by: countrycat

Thu Apr 23, 2015 at 17:13:52 PM CDT

The Senate today - after a months-long delay- confirmed Loretta Lynch as the new Attorney General of the United States.  Only 10 Republican senators voted in favor and, of course, Alabama Senators Sessions and Shelby voted no.

Initial bi-partisan enthusiasm seemed to make Lynch  a slam dunk, but she barely squeaked through the Senate Judiciary committee, gaining only 3 Republican votes:  including Orrin Hatch (UT), Lindsay Graham (SC), & Jeff Flake (AZ).  What happened? The GOP sensed yet another way to "say no to Obama" and senators looked for reasons to oppose her nomination.

This reasoning is by far the silliest:

But many Republicans are expressing concerns about Lynch's stance on immigration and what they suggest is a lack of “independence" from the White House.

Lynch’s confirmation was pushed back by two weeks Thursday amid “anonymous" objections from some Republicans. But Democrats say they are dragging their feet.

"What we’re trying to do is get an indication from her of the independence that she’s going to have from the White House,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told The Hill.

The problem, you see, is that during her confirmation hearings, she failed to denounce the President's immigration policies.  Although why Republican senators think that a president of either party would nominate anyone who disagrees on basic policy issues to any high-profile cabinet position (let alone AG) is anybody's guess.

Here's what Senator Richard Shelby & Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III had to say today to AL.com.


"The Senate must never confirm an individual to such an office as this who will support and advance a scheme that violates our Constitution and eviscerates established law and Congressional authority. No person who would do that should be confirmed. And we don't need to be apologetic about it," Sessions said during the vote.


"I have personally expressed to Ms. Lynch that I feared she would interpret her position as the attorney for President Obama, not the United States of America.   One of my greatest concerns with Ms. Lynch is her stance on the President's action to unilaterally grant executive amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants," Shelby said.

There you go. An experienced, respected prosecutor can't take the job as Attorney General because of the President's immigration policy.  If only she had denounced him, things would have been different!  Yeah. Like she wouldn't have been nominated in the first place.

Using the Sessions/Shelby logic, the country would have just made do with Eric Holder (who they also dislike) for the rest of Obama's term, or the country would be without an AG until 2017.

No action, no vote is too extreme if it allows them to oppose President Obama apparently.  Some of these guys apparently never got out of junior high school.


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2016 Budget Cuts = Why Alabama Can't Have Nice Things - Or Even Broken Stuff

by: countrycat

Thu Apr 23, 2015 at 07:00:00 AM CDT

If the Legislature doesn't act, Alabama state budgets won't just be cut to the bone; we'll be slicing into the marrow. For many state agencies, every dollar lost in state funding equals another $2-$3 lost in federal matching funds.  Now Republicans have documented problems with basic math, but it's pretty easy to understand that if you spend $1 in state money and get $3 from the federal government, then that's a good deal.


Yesterday, the Governor's office released a memo that brings that fact into sharp focus.  We already know about the state parks crisis (although there was some good news yesterday), but here are some other low points:

-- As many as 25 Army National Guard armories would close...


-- Courts would have to lay off more than 600 employees and probably close for two days a week.

-- State law enforcement would lose 99 state troopers, 25 investigators and eight Capitol police officers.

-- The Department of Human Resources would lose $190 million in federal funds, resulting in more than 15,000 children losing subsidized child care and more than 30,000 children losing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits.

The only benefit I see here is this tidbit:

-- The Environmental Protection Agency would take over water-related functions of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, resulting in 148 layoffs and delays and over-regulation that would hurt business.

For sure, I trust the EPA to manage environment regulations far more than I trust ADEM.

The court cutbacks are quite troublesome. The supermajority has already cut criminal justice funding to the point that Alabama's forensic labs can't begin to quickly process evidence. There's a constitutional right to a "quick and speedy trial."  How long before this situation explodes into yet another federal lawsuit?

In 2012, Governor Bentley credited God for his election victory, but he's done little to help "the least of these" in this state. The corporations are doing great thanks to all the corporate welfare being handed out.  But hungry children and the working poor without insurance? Hey, they ought to just get a job (or another one) or something.

Look at how Republicans spent money during their first term:

I give the Governor credit for recognizing the state's revenue problem now - now that he can no longer run for re-election. But if he'd been listening to any pastor besides Reverend Ike, he might have found the courage to confront these problems before they threatened the state with disastrous budget cuts.


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AL Senate Democrats Threaten Shutdown Over Medicaid Expansion

by: countrycat

Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 15:00:00 PM CDT

"Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win." Alabama Senate Democrats are sounding a bit like Atticus Finch these days - and it's a good thing! They were "licked" just 5 years ago, when the GOP captured a supermajority in the Legislature, but we're finally seeing some life come back in the Democratic Caucus.


Yesterday, the Senate passed SJR34, to make absolutely sure that everyone knows that they'll never expand Medicaid in Alabama.

WHEREAS, the Legislature has no intention of allocating funds to support Medicaid expansion; now therefore, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA, BOTH HOUSES THEREOF CONCURRING, That we express our intention that the State of Alabama not expand Medicaid above its current eligibility levels.

Senate Democrats denounced the resolution as short-sighted and mean-spirited and threatened to tie up Senate operations for the rest of the term:

Democrats in the Alabama Senate today said they would try to lock down the rest of the session with filibusters because the Republican majority passed a resolution opposing Medicaid expansion.

"We tried to reach out to them, letting them know this is our No. 1 priority," said Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, the Senate minority leader.

"So why burn down the house? Why cause such a train wreck over a resolution that means nothing?"

Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Mobile, said the resolution does carry meaning -- a statement that the Legislature will not allocate funds to support Medicaid expansion.

"The reality is we can't sustain the health care we have and we sure don't need to expand," Pittman said.

Says the man who has insurance.

It's good to see signs of life among Democrats in the Legislature.  The House, remember, just unveiled its alternative to the GOP's "cut to the bone" budget, and now Senators are standing up.

The only problem?  Refer to the Atticus Finch quote in the opening.  The term "supermajority" doesn't mean they're great guys and gals or super heroes, or anything like that. It means they have the power to cut off debate any time they want to.  They've invoked cloture to shut down filibusters 121 times in the past 4 years. (Alabama Democrats used that power 26 times in the previous 11 years.) They have the votes to break a filibuster in 30 seconds - and they have done that in the past!

Bobby Singleton, an African American senator whose district includes some of the poorest counties in the state, remembers the shortest amount of time it took him to get cut off. “Thirty-two seconds,” he says ruefully. 

In reality, Senator Ross' statement is a pretty empty threat as far as legislative success.  But to Alabama Democrats desperately looking for signs of life in the state party or legislative leadership, it's a very welcome development.

Just because we'll probably lose is absolutely no excuse to remain silent on important issues.


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HB-527 Another Attempt To Shut Down Huntsville's Women's Clinic

by: countrycat

Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 11:00:00 AM CDT

In August 2014, anti-choice activists attempted to convince the Huntsville Zoning Board that the Alabama Women's Center presented a danger to the neighborhood.  In particular, they cited their own protests as a reason to stop the clinic from opening at its new location.

The "faces of anti-choice Huntsville" swarmed the city zoning board hearing last night in a last ditch attempt to keep North Alabama's lone women's clinic from reopening in a new location.  In a breathtaking display of chutzpah, speaker after speaker - some of whom live more than 50 miles from the proposed location - went concern trolling.  They cited concerns about "the neighborhood" and "disruptions" caused by protests at the previous clinic location.

In fairness, they do have a point.  I wouldn't want my child hanging out with these people.

Not surprisingly, they lost that fight and the clinic has been open for months.  But now, Rep. Ed Henry (HD-9, Morgan & Cullman Counties) has a solution: HB527.  It would stop the Department of Public Health from renewing the licenses of clinics located within 2,000 feet of public schools.

How is a clinic a threat to schoolchildren? 

Rep. Henry doesn't mention his bill on his Facebook page, so I went to his Twitter feed.  Nothing there either: Henry's too busy obsessing about Hillary Clinton. Between 4/17 and 4/21, he tweeted about her 11 times.

But we can turn to street preacher James Henderson for an explanation.  He's the guy who told a federal judge to "mind his own business:"

Judge Thompson's opinion (PDF) specifically called out Huntsville clinic protesters for creating a hostile, violent atmosphere outside the clinics, outlined the state's "history of violence & threats against abortion doctors," and noted that the "protests in Huntsville go beyond run-of-the-mill political protests."

Huntsville's protesters are not strangers to irony. They have regularly appeared at City Council meetings, in court, and in front of the zoning board to complain about the disruptions caused by clinic protests.   Except that there wouldn't be any disruptions were it not for their clinic protests.

Henry's bill is a back door attempt to close Huntsville's clinic - and yet another PSA (Please Sue Alabama) bill.  It's actually a twofer: a PSA bill and another "we don't care about local control" bill because it removes local involvement in zoning and business regulations.


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2015 Legislative Session Bill Status Courtesy of "Wake Up Alabama"

by: countrycat

Wed Apr 22, 2015 at 07:40:14 AM CDT

This year's legislative session is half over, but new bills continue to enter the pipeline.  The Facebook group, Wake Up Alabama, has updated their legislative tracking worksheet.  It's no small task: as of 4/20, 899 bills are pending!


Joann Cummings shared some items of particular interest to the progressive community:

Here are some committee meetings on 4/22 you may be interested in:

House W&M GF R617 2:30PM
HB490 -GOP wants to shift partial loan repayment out to 2022

House Campaigns/Elections R123, 9AM
HB451/HB503 Related to procedures for write-in candidates on ballots
HB379 2nd meeting on Compact for Balance Budget Amd for Article V States Convention. (Only 4 states signed so far)

House State Gov R410, 3PM
HB296 Allows day care providers and adoption agencies that oppose LGBT(or others) to SAY NO to working with their kids, no liability

Senate Judiciary R325, 1PM
SB326 Medical Marijuana ACCESS Act - Public Hearing
SB192 Prohibits racial profiling by cops for traffic stops

Senate F&T GF R727 9:30AM
SB225 Regarding disbursement of Horizon Oil Spill funds

Senate Campaign/Election R727 3:30PM
SB73 Allows PEOPLE to get a grassroots initiative/referendum on the ballot - Public Hearing

Senate Education Policy R727 830AM
SB331 Establish pilot program for INTERNAL (??) public charter school
SB360 Grant all prof. ed assoc access to employees of public schools and colleges (is this a DIG at AEA?)
SB383 Establishes a "Textbook depository" for B of Eds to use (WHO makes the money??) $$$$

Senate F&T Ed R727 10:30AM
SB256/SB245 - Forces non-profits w sales tax exemption to either report their sales tax savings annually OR to pay sales tax on purchase, then apply for refund for tax return. State wants to get a "handle" on how much tax revenue they are losing b/c of non-profits.

HOWEVER, I don't see ANY movement on HB251 - which requires an ANNUAL reporting of the value of TAX INCENTIVES that CORPORATIONS get thru abatement of sales, property and income taxes. We KNOW that is FAR LARGER than what charities don't pay for sales tax.

THIS is YOUR Government - YOU need to GET INVOLVED!

Anyone who runs or volunteers with a non-profit should take a look SB256/SB245. I find it interesting that the state wants to "get a handle" on how much sales tax revenue we're losing because non-profits get an exemption.  I would think a far bigger hit is the amount of property tax we lose when non-profits build huge structures on valuble land.  For instance, Huntsville Hospital has grown into a behemoth and even bought an old mall to turn into a "medical mall" with a fitness center that's open to the public.

Review the entire legislative worksheet here. 

And send a little appreciation to the Wake Up Alabama folks - particularly Joann Cummings, who goes above and beyond every day working on important issues.


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Dear Legislators: If You Can't Stand The Heat, Get Out Of The ALEC Bubble & Fix The Budget

by: countrycat

Tue Apr 21, 2015 at 11:56:49 AM CDT

Alabama's budget is a mess. We're facing a huge shortfall this year and in the future. The state may close over half our state parks, lay off 99 state troopers, and cut services to the elderly and disabled. Our legislature is halfway through the session and they've done nothing but shout "no new taxes" and "stop gay weddings" for the last month.


So what is Senator Harri Anne Smith bothered about? People worried about the proposed cuts are in a panic and bothering her with phone calls:

Friends......I think I have just heard the lowest of the low of abuse of political power. I can't believe that our Governor would have our Directors of programs, that help the elderly and homebound, call people receiving services and tell them that their services are about to be cut off. THE FACT IS THAT THEY HAVE SERVICES BUDGETED UNTIL OCTOBER! We are currently working on the budgets for 2016 and some have a disagreement with the Governor on how to fund these programs but I HAVE HEARD NO ONE SAY THAT THEY ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE SURE THAT THE PROGRAMS THAT PEOPLE DEPEND ON TO LIVE ARE NOT GOING TO BE FUNDED. People we are talking about are citizens who are dependent on people coming into their homes to help them with meals and health related issues. They are being called and SCARED into calling me today in tears begging me not to stop their services. THIS IS WRONG AND THE GOVERNOR NEEDS TO STOP THIS....... The Governor needs to give the elected officials the time to finish the budget hearings and then let us make good decisions for our people and the State. I am sorry these tactics are being used to try to create panic. Please pray for our leaders and our State. Please share this post.

Really, Senator Smith?  That's the "lowest abuse of political power" you've ever seen? 

This complaint reminds me of Rep. Greg Wren's little temper tantrum in 2012 when public health officials warned about budget cuts:

Last week, Don Williamson, director of the Alabama Department of Public Health, told the House Ways & Means General Fund Committee that he would explain the consequences of a $400 million cut to Medicaid.  While some committee members lamented the "devastating" nature of the cuts, Rep. Greg Wren (HD75) framed the issue in more personal terms:

“If this agency goes forward and puts out any haunting emails about potential cuts to programs that could affect the lives of individuals, I will be personally offended, and I will look forward to talking with whoever is in control of Medicaid,” he said.

There we go!  It's ok to cut programs and services, but not ok to explain the process to citizens - particularly those about to be affected by those cuts.  Because, hey, they might actually complain or share their "haunting" stories about what happens when you eliminate funding for hospice care, dialysis, or prescription drugs.

I agree that Governor Bentley has had his head somewhere during the past four years. Let's be nice and say it's been "in the sand." But this year, a miracle occurred and he recognizes the reality of Alabama's budget situation.  There isn't enough money available to fund state services and we can't cut our way out of this mess and still have a state that anybody would want to visit - much less live in.

Senator Smith, many of your fellow legislators seem totally unwilling to acknowledge this fact.  It's like ALEC blew the world's largest bubble and encased the Alabama Statehouse in it.

Governor Bentley isn't fear-mongering: he's telling it like it is. This legislature is full of irrational bad actors who don't seem concerned about the effect of their political ideology on real people.  The only way to break through their delusional facade is to force them to listen to personal stories and face facts.

So you don't like calls and emails? Then do something to fix this situation and quit whining.

Hey y'all!  The publicity is obviously having an effect here.  Find your legislator here and make him/her similarly uncomfortable.  As often as possible.


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HB-495 "Give Your Boss The Flu Act" Expanded To Include Minimum Wage Restrictions

by: countrycat

Mon Apr 20, 2015 at 19:00:00 PM CDT

Republicans love "local control" in theory, but we're finding that they're increasingly more opposed to it in practice. Take Alabama, where last year the legislature considered legislation that restricted local governments' ability to require certain types of paid leave. Unfortunately, the "give your boss the flu act" even got Democratic support.

Now it's back and even worse as HB-495, which has indicted Speaker Hubbard as a co-sponsor. 

This bill isn't content with restricting local governments' ability to require sick leave. No, it spends a lot of time emphasizing that Alabama is a "right to work" state and we don't need no stinking unions here causing trouble. Sure, we already knew that, but our GOP leaders seem to spend a lot of time passing bills that make something that was legal even more legal, because... well... I have no idea.

No, the new piece of the puzzle with HB-495 deals with the minimum wage.  It won't come as a surprise that Alabama is one of five states with no minimum wage law at all.  That's right, campers! If it weren't for federal regulations, Hubbard & company would be happy to have us out there working for pennies, or even better, crumbs that fall from the table where he's dining with industry lobbyists.

Hubbard's bill is in direct competition with HB-279. That bill creates, for the first time, a state minimum wage - one that's larger than the federal minimum.  It's a good try, but we know that Roy Moore will be performing a wedding ceremony for 3 lesbians on the steps of the state supreme court before it passes.

Still, even the chance that some local government might unduly burden business by requiring something close to a living wage is enough to spur legislative leaders to action:

(b) A county, municipality, or any political subdivision in this state shall not enact or administer an ordinance, policy, rule, or other mandate requiring an employer to provide any employee or any class of employees with any employment benefit, including, but not limited to, paid or unpaid leave, vacation, wage, or work schedule, that is not required by state or federal law, and may not require an employer to compensate an employee for any vacation or other forms of leave for which state or federal law does not require the employer to be ompensated.

In fact, the City of Birmingham is being urged to consider a minimum wage bill.  The Over the Mountain Democrats club sent out this call to action for tomorrow (4/21):

Tuesday morning the Jefferson Co. Young Democrats have a long-standing place on the agenda of the Birmingham City Council to address the desperate need for wage increase legislation for the City. 

That presentation will occur, but in addition, the Jeffco Young Dems will make sure the Council is aware of this "local interference law", inspired by ALEC, that precludes any local government from requiring minimum wage increases or improved vacation or sick-day benefits for employers within their jurisdiction.
     WE NEED YOUR HELP: Please attend the City Council meeting to support an increased minimum wage in Birmingham and to help alert the Council to the usurpation of their power and rights via the Local Interference Law HB 495. 
     WHEN: Tuesday, April 21 - 9 AM
     WHERE: City Hall, 710 N 20th ST., 3rd Floor

Alabama's poor already have it worse than most, and the state GOP supermajority is determined to keep it that way.  From refusing to expand Medicaid and wasting time passing resolutions that say they really, really oppose Medicaid to plotting to close most of Alabama's state parks, the GOP is determined to make things worse.

"Vote them out!" is a great slogan, but folks... the time to have done that is last November!  They're in office until 2018 and we have no recall option in Alabama. The time to start preparing for the next election is NOW. Who knows how much damage they can do in the next three years... Alabama can't afford much more unchecked radical Republican control of state government.


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Alabama Accountability Act: Supporting Christian Schools With Public School Money

by: countrycat

Mon Apr 20, 2015 at 14:12:53 PM CDT

Far from being a lifeline for eager learners stuck in so-called "failing" public schools, the Alabama Accountability Act instead appears to be a cash cow for several hundred private religious schools. What's more, a bill pending in the legislature would amend the AAA to allow the state to fund annual "scholarships" of up to $10,000 each for students to attend these private schools. That's almost twice the average per-pupil spending ($5828) given to Alabama's public schools.


These are the same people who say that "throwing money" at education won't do any good.  Except that what they really mean is that adequately funding public schools isn't on their agenda.  They'd rather pay more for a select few to attend private - mostly Christian - schools than give public schools the same funding and flexibility that private schools have.

Actually, "mostly Christian" is a gross understatement. Look at the AL Department of Revenue list of private schools participating in the AAA (PDF).  Of the 123 schools on the first three pages, only 11 lack an explicitly Christian focus or Christian-oriented school curriculum.  That's 9%.  The numbers don't improve as you move through the rest of the list either.

Note: I'm not insinuating that all the religious schools (or even most of them) provide a poor education.  They may be great schools, but they do teach from an explicitly Christian viewpoint - and they're receiving money to help promote a religious agenda that would otherwise be destined for public education.

Supporters will tell you that this is not "public money" but rather "donations" given to "Scholarship Granting Organizations" (SGOs) that distribute scholarships.  However: a tax-credit does what exactly?  It lowers your taxes and thereby the tax revenue of Alabama. As Larry Lee pointed out last week, there's a very real cost to Alabama public schools:

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.)

Senator Del Marsh's amendment (SB-71) takes a bad situation and makes it worse. It's not bad enough that the legislature would rather drain public education money than fix public education.  But he now wants the state to help fund religious private school tuitions in amounts that far exceed the average amount we spend on public school kids.

Somebody's making some serious money here and it's not public school teachers:

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SJR34: AL Republican Legislators Dig In Their Heels On Medicaid Expansion

by: countrycat

Sun Apr 19, 2015 at 20:02:22 PM CDT

Twenty-one state senators are sponsoring Senate Joint Resolution 34, which is now pending in the Senate Rules Committee. Basically, it says that the Legislature has no intention of ever epxanding Medicaid.  There are a lot of "WHEREASs and WHEREFOREs," but this is the point:

WHEREAS, the Legislature has no intention of allocating funds to support Medicaid expansion; now therefore, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA, BOTH HOUSES THEREOF CONCURRING, That we express our intention that the State of Alabama not expand Medicaid above its current eligibility levels.

So, on top of their time-wasting discussion about what should be Alabama's state dessert, the legislature is preparing to debate and vote on a "resolution" - meaning not even a bill - that emphasizes their determination to NOT do something they hadn't planned on doing anyway and that Governor Bentley says he won't propose in any case.

Just so we know we're getting our money's worth here....

In case you're interested in weighing in on this non-binding resolution, contact the co-sponsors on Twitter:

Phil Williams @SenPhilWilliams
Bill Hightower @hightower_bill
Clay Scofield @scofield4senate
Tim Melson @MelsonForSenate
Gerald Allen @SenGeraldAllen
Paul Sanford @citizenlawyer
Dick Brewbaker @dbrew2
Jabo Waggoner @jabowaggoner
Shay Shelnutt @shelnutt417
Bill Hightower @hightower_bill
Cam Ward @SenCamWard
Jim McCendon @RepJimMcClendon
Tom Whatley @SenTomWhatley
Arthur Orr @SenatorAOrr
Phil Williams @SenPhilWilliams
Paul Bussman @PaulBussman
Bill Holtzclaw @billholtzclaw 

Happy tweeting!

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AL Chief Justice Roy Moore Misquotes "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 - and out of context.

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."

But there's a problem: Moore skipped a lot of good stuff to get to Dred Scott:

There is a dangerous tendency in these latter days to enlarge the functions of the courts by means of judicial interference with the will of the people as expressed by the legislature. Our institutions have the distinguishing characteristic that the three departments of government are coordinate and separate. Each must keep within the limits defined by the Constitution. And the courts best discharge their duty by executing the will of the lawmaking power, constitutionally expressed, leaving the results of legislation to be dealt with by the people through their representatives. Statutes must always have a reasonable construction. Sometimes they are to be construed strictly; sometimes liberally, in order to carry out the legislative [p559] will. But however construed, the intent of the legislature is to be respected, if the particular statute in question is valid, although the courts, looking at the public interests, may conceive the statute to be both unreasonable and impolitic. If the power exists to enact a statute, that ends the matter so far as the courts are concerned. The adjudged cases in which statutes have been held to be void because unreasonable are those in which the means employed by the legislature were not at all germane to the end to which the legislature was competent.

That last bit Moore & company have issues with, so he didn't quote it.  Instead, he skipped the rest of the paragraph and jumped directly to a reference to Dred Scott.

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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