Category: Government

Compromise Medical Marijuana Bill to Get House Committee Vote

MONTGOMERY — After the House Rules Chairman said a Senate-passed medical marijuana bill wouldn’t advance in the House, lawmakers were working on a compromise Wednesday that takes a more incremental approach and keeps an existing experimental treatment program in place.

Bill sponsor Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, told Alabama Daily News that a substitute bill to create a state commission to regulate medical marijuana will get a public hearing and committee vote Tuesday. If the bill is approved in the remaining week or two of this legislative session, that commission will make recommendations to lawmakers next year about medical marijuana laws. Read more.

Lottery Stumbles in House, Fate Uncertain

MONTGOMERY — A proposal for a statewide lottery is in jeopardy in the Alabama House of Representatives, with advocates saying they will try to overcome objections from opponents and bring the bill up for debate again.

Supporters tried to revive the bill during the evening after it appeared dead when a procedural vote failed earlier in the day. Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, who is carrying the bill in the House, said he thought he had enough votes to at least get the bill back on the floor, but he fell short by one vote. He said negotiations are continuing and he will try to bring the bill back to the floor before the end of the session. Read more.

BPD Chief Briefs Council on Crime

Birmingham Police Chief Patrick D. Smith presented the City Council with an update on violent crime Tuesday, sparking a discussion that delved into poverty, youth initiatives and some councilors’ dissatisfaction with Mayor Randall Woodfin’s proposed FY 2020 budget.

Smith began his presentation by looking at the recent history of crime in Birmingham, which he said dramatically spiked between 2014 and 2018. “In 2014, the city of Birmingham had only 51 homicides within the city,” he said. “But in 2015, we moved up to 78. In 2016, we went to 92. In 2017, 99. In 2018, we reached 100.

“So somewhere in there, something happened and we didn’t make the turn to make changes in what we do, make changes in our policing patterns and what we needed to improve the city … . We’ve got to do more to reach out, to help people, to save people in our community.”

Smith added that 2019 was so far on par with 2018’s homicide rate, and he warned that summer months — June through September — would likely be the “most violent time of the year,” based on precedent. Read more.

JeffCo Commissioners to Vote Thursday on Morgan Road Widening, Discusses Sewer Spill

The Jefferson County Commission sent a funding agreement for Morgan Road improvements to the agenda of its Thursday meeting.

Commission President Jimmie Stephens said those improvements, which include making the road a five-lane thoroughfare from Interstate 459 to the Jefferson-Shelby counties line at Shades Crest Road, have been 22 years in the making. Read more.

Woodfin Says Abortion Law Is Costing Birmingham Tech Business

Updated — Two IT companies have canceled or put on hold discussions about moving to Birmingham because of the abortion ban signed into law last week, according to Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.

Woodfin told author Diane McWhorter about the changes for an opinion piece published Saturday on CNN.

McWhorter wrote that Woodfin “confirmed to me today that the abortion ban affected two IT companies considering moves to the city – one canceled outright, while the other ‘put the brakes on negotiations.’” Read more.

Budgets, Education Reform Among Bills Pending in Final Stretch of Legislative Session

Alabama lawmakers this year have approved a statewide gas tax increase, told sheriffs they can’t keep money meant for feeding jail inmates and said they want a shot at the U.S. Supreme Court with the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban.

The Legislature has two to three weeks remaining in its 2019 session, and a lot of legislating is left to do. Still on the table are proposals for a lottery, the state’s budgets, education bills and medical marijuana, to name just the tip of the iceberg.

For a look at some of the major bills that are pending and what might get punted to a special session later this year, Read more.

Senate Votes to Scrap Elected School Board, Sends Bill to House

MONTGOMERY — A bill that would replace the elected state K-12 board of education with a new commission appointed by the governor passed unanimously out of the Senate on Thursday.

If approved in the House and then by Alabama voters, the constitutional amendment would be a monumental overhaul of public education governance in the state and end Alabama’s status as one of the few states with an elected board.

House Passes Reading Proficiency, Third Grade Holdback Bill

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Wednesday night passed a bill to require schools to hold back for another year third-grade students who are not reading on grade level.

The bill was debated for more than two hours as Democrats questioned the ability of the bill to solve reading problems in failing schools and voiced concerns about the retention component of the bill. Some also cited the expected costs as a concern. The Alabama State Department of Education estimates literacy education requirements in the bill will cost $90 million annually.

In the end, the House voted 92-3 to pass House Bill 388, sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur. Collins consulted with the Department of Education and said the bill could see additional changes as it moves to the Senate. Read more.

Alabama Farmers Uncertain About Tomato Tariffs Effect

Tomatoes will likely soon get pricier. The Trump administration plans to impose a 17.5 percent tariff on tomatoes imported from Mexico. Those could take effect this week. Florida growers, who once dominated the market for off-season tomatoes, lobbied for the tariffs But today more than half the fresh tomatoes sold in the U.S. come from Mexico. Many Alabama growers and consumers are taking a wait-and-see approach. Read more.

Gov. Ivey Signs Nation’s Strictest Abortion Ban

Gov. Kay Ivey signed what has been called the nation’s strictest abortion law Wednesday evening, banning nearly all abortions in the state.

“Today, I signed into law the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, a bill that was approved by overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the Legislature,” Ivey said in a statement. “To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.”

However, she also acknowledged that the law is almost the same as the abortion ban that has been on the state’s books for more than 100 years. “As today’s bill itself recognizes, that longstanding abortion law has been rendered ‘unenforceable as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade,’” she said in the statement, assuring Alabamians that the state will “continue to follow the rule of law.”

The Senate gave final approval to House Bill 314 Tuesday in a party line vote, with 25 Republicans voting in favor and six Democrats voting against.

The legislation would give Alabama the nation’s strictest abortion law. Georgia and Mississippi recently passed laws that restrict abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Alabama’s proposal would outlaw abortions when a woman is “known to be pregnant.” Current state law prohibits abortions after 20 weeks, unless there is a health risk to the mother. Read more and see how senators voted on the bill.

Read reactions to Alabama’s new abortion ban.