Tag: Alabama Legislature

Gas Tax Is a Top Priority in 2019 Legislative Session

A gasoline tax increase to fund road improvements is expected to be a major topic of the 2019 Alabama legislative session.

“I’ve heard the governor say that’s her No. 1 priority,” Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper, said recently. “That means it will be a priority for the Legislature.”

Gov. Kay Ivey hasn’t yet announced all of her legislative goals for the session that begins March 5, but prison reform and funding, General Fund demands and education initiatives are expected to have lawmakers’ attention during the 15-week session. A proposal for a statewide lottery also will return in 2019.

Proponents aren’t referring to it as a gas tax, but a road infrastructure improvement plan.

“We’ve not done anything related to infrastructure in 26 years,” Reed said about the last statewide gas tax increase. “We’ve got bridges and highways that are in disrepair across our state.”
Read more.

GOP Strengthens Majorities in Alabama Statehouse. House now Has 1 White Democrat.

The Alabama Statehouse got a little more red Tuesday, with the GOP picking up one seat in the Senate and likely five in the House, according to unofficial results and media reports.

The number of white Democrats in the Alabama House dropped from six to one — newly elected Neil Rafferty of Birmingham. In the Senate, the number of white Democrats held steady at one.

Republicans have had a supermajority in the Statehouse since 2010, but the additional seats may give the party more confidence to take on potentially controversial issues.

“They already could shut down debate, they could move bills,” retired Athens State University political science professor Jess Brown said Wednesday. “Democrats could make a little noise on the fringes, but Republicans ruled the roost. That will remain the same.”

Now, Brown said, they have “a little breathing room from public opinion” and more leeway to take up a statewide gas tax increase — something Republicans have flirted with for several years — and possibly a lottery. Read more.

Incumbents Prevail in Legislative Primaries; Others Face Opposition in General Election

Incumbent Alabama lawmakers prevailed in primary voting in Jefferson and Shelby counties Tuesday, with five Democratic lawmakers essentially winning re-election because they have no opposition in November.

Local Republican incumbents won their party’s primaries, but all face Democratic challengers in the Nov. 6 general election.

The area’s only open seat, House District 54, is the only local legislative contest headed for a runoff and the only one with an independent challenger in the general election. Read more.

Sine Die, Ciao, Adios: Legislators Wrapped up the Session After Passing Budgets, an Ethics Exemption and Little Else

Legislators did what they had to do last week and then went home, finishing the annual regular session a couple of weeks early so they could shift their attention to the 2018 election season.

They adopted the $2 billion General Fund budget and the $6.6 billion Education Trust Fund budget. Both are the largest budgets passed in a decade, and both include pay raises for employees.

They also passed a controversial bill that exempts economic development professionals from lobbying registration requirements.
Arguments over a racial profiling bill threatened to derail the Legislature’s planned departure, but ultimately it failed. Other highly touted bills also died with the end of the session, including a package of bills introduced in reaction to the school shooting in Florida and a substantial rewrite of the ethics law. Read more.

U.S. Supreme Court to Decide Whether “Extreme” Partisan Gerrymandering Can, or Should, be Curbed

With protestors rallying outside and a packed house inside, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments over the legality of “extreme” partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts.

The court has taken up a suit, Gill v. Whitford, that alleges partisan gerrymandering in the redrawing of legislative districts in Wisconsin. The court is mulling whether enforceable standards can be set limiting political influence over the drawing of districts. Conservatives on the court are unsure that can be done, while liberals argued that not doing it undercuts the theory of democracy.

Much of Tuesday’s arguments were aimed at Justice Anthony Kennedy, widely considered the swing vote in the case.
The Supreme Court’s decision could have ramifications for legislative districts in Alabama and 20 other states.
In Alabama, legislators drew new House and Senate districts after the 2010 Census, but a court ordered them to redraw 12 districts deemed to be the result of racial gerrymandering.

The issue is whether the redistricting packed too many minority voters in too few districts. Opponents of the plan argue that if fewer black voters – just enough to influence the election – were assigned to more districts, they would have a strong voice in the selection of more legislators.
The Legislature adopted new districting maps this spring that redraw 25 of the 35 Senate districts and 70 of the 105 House districts. Unsatisfied, the Legislative Black Caucus has challenged the plans.
The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision in the spring.

BirminghamWatch Coverage
Race and the Alabama Legislature, Volatile Mix in Redrawing Political Map

A Fix for Racial Gerrymandering? Legislators to Debate Whether New Plan Cures Voting District Problems

Legislature OKs Redistricting Plan on Last Day of the Session

National Coverage of U.S. Supreme Court Case

Kennedy’s Vote Is in Play on Voting Maps Warped by Politics (New York Times)
Kennedy is Key to Supreme Court Outcome on Partisan Maps
(Associated Press)
What is Gerrymandering? A guide to Understanding the Case Before the Supreme Court (Quartz)
With Wisconsin case, Supreme Court Takes up Partisan Gerrymandering (Christian Science Monitor)
Supreme Court Appears Divided Over Gerrymandering (Wall Street Journal)
Transcript of the Arguments (Wall Street Journal)
Partisan Gerrymandering: How Much Is Too Much? (NPR)

Former Rep. Oliver Robinson Agrees to Plead Guilty to Federal Bribery and Fraud Charges

Former Alabama Rep. Oliver Robinson has been charged with having accepted bribes from a Birmingham lawyer and an Alabama coal company executive in exchange for advocating against EPA actions in North Birmingham, acting U.S. Attorney Robert O. Posey announced today.

He also is charged with fraud in connection with campaign contributions made to him and contributions he solicited for events he sponsored. The final count in the information charges Robinson with tax evasion.

Robinson agreed to plead guilty to the charges and to never again seek elected office, according to a plea agreement released by prosecutors. He also agreed to pay restitution and submit to a forfeiture judgment.
Robinson, a 57-year-old Democrat, represented Alabama’s House District 58 from 1998 until he resigned Nov. 30, 2016.

“Mr. Robinson is charged with conspiracy, bribery and defrauding the people of Alabama and his constituents his honest services,” Posey said at a press conference.

“The gist of the charges is that Mr. Robinson accepted a valuable contract from a Birmingham law firm in exchange for using his position in the Alabama Legislature to advocate for the position of a coal company which was a client of the law firm.” Read more.