Alabama Legislature


Evidently, the Alabama Legislative District Maps have gone missing! Remember: they were supposed to be released to the public in early December.

All 35 Senate districts and 105 House districts will have to be redrawn because of population changes since districts were last redrawn in 2001.

The new districts will be based on the results of the 2010 federal census.

Dial said the plan is to meet before Thanksgiving and then have a proposed district plan ready by early December so that legislators on the committee can conduct hearings in their districts.

Dial and Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, plan to introduce House and Senate redistricting bills in the 2012 legislative session, which begins in February. McClendon is the committee’s co-chairman in the House.

Oh no. Some bird must have taken the map to its nest in the dark cave. Let’s hope Dora can find the maps soon.  Let’s hope there is better transparency this time around than there was on the Congressional maps. Last time, the map stayed in the dark cave until the last minute.

[Sen. Gerald] Dial, R-Lineville, said after the original public hearing in Montgomery that there were not any maps. They were there to listen to the public and re­ceive input before beginning their work. Then, a week later, when the committee was con­sidering a plan similar to his, he said he had been working on a plan for weeks, had input from members of the state’s congressional delegation, and had spent hours on the phone with them.

So, while there allegedly was not a map in the works that people could comment on dur­ing the public hearings, there was at least apparently a plan he had been working on for weeks — not with public input, but with the input of seven members of Congress.

The GOP from top to bottom now has permission from Mike Hubbard to suggest revisions to HB56, the Alabama Anti-immigrant law. Irrespective of opinion on HB56, one thing has certainly been shown by this whole debacle: legislators and the public need time to read and study proposed bills before before a vote.

We learned how rushed HB56 was from Sen. Gerald Dial:

Sen. Gerald Dial, a Republican from Lineville, said, in comments to Centre, Ala.’s The Post on Nov. 16, that he got the immigration bill with just hours left in the legislative session and voted for it so as not to appear weak on immigration.

And Democrat Senator Marc Keahey (who voted for the bill too.)

Sen. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, said the bill was rushed through the House and Senate because Republicans had the strength.

“This is a prime example of how a bill of this magnitude gets messed up when you only allow (Sen.) Scott Beason to read the bill,” Keahey said.

(Ignorance of the final version is no excuse for voting in its favor because the basic tenor and contents of HB56 was present in the pre-conference House and Senate versions.)

In the future, both the House and Senate should enact a 72 hour rule:  every bill will be posted online for at least 72 hours before it is presented for final vote. (Amendments for 24 hours)

Alabama  State Sen. Gerald Dial received a lot of press when he proposed the elimination of the grocery tax. (For instance see here and here and here) How progressive of a “conservative Republican,” right?

Upon greater analysis, his plan did not look so progressive or compassionate. “Sen. Dial’s plan calls for phasing out the 4 percent sales tax on groceries over four years while at the same time raising the sales tax on non-grocery items from 4 percent to 5 percent.”

The critique actually started when his fellow GOPer Represenatative Dwayne Bridges withdraw his support of Dial’s plan because he recognized the Dial proposal was actually a tax increase.

Ever since, the newspapers have piled on. The Mobile-Press Register editorial board wrote:

Our problem with the plan is that it may not accomplish what it’s supposed to do, which is to make it easier for the working poor to buy what they need. If eggs and milk are less expensive, but laundry detergent and toilet paper are more costly, then what’s the point?

The Birmingham News concurred:

For starters, removing the state sales tax on food and making up for it with a higher sales tax on other goods hurts those who stand to gain the most by getting rid of the food tax. Obviously, they buy other things, so the higher sales tax would cut into whatever gains they made by not paying a state sales tax on food. That defeats the purpose of eliminating the food tax, or at least some of it.

And the Huntsville Times questioned his proposal along the same lines:

Removing the state sales tax on groceries would save $4 on $100 worth of groceries a week, or $208 a year. The savings would be $312 a year for a $150 average weekly grocery tab.

That can mean a lot to a poor family. And remember, rich and middle class shoppers would get the grocery tax break as well.

But while milk and vegetables would be less expensive, the cost for shoes, shirts and toilet paper would go up. What, then, would have been accomplished?

An editorial in the Birmingham News was fairly blunt:

Democrats for years have tried to exempt food from sales taxes, hoping to make up for the lost revenue by nixing the federal income tax exemption. Republicans always balked, saying it would hurt the wealthy and the middle class. Now they turn around, in the name of the people, and heap more burden on … the people.

And the poorest of them, at that.

This is not about Republicans and Democrats. It is a scam no matter what party backs it. And it’s bad for Alabama.

Because like it or not, the people of Alabama still are Alabama.

Perhaps someday our leaders will realize that preying on the people is not the best way to lure new business or brainpower or opportunity. A state that fails to value its own citizens is not really an attractive destination.

So no, Sen. Dial. We’re not buying your disingenuous grocery bill. Not this time.

I had tweeted my criticism of this bill on November 27 and, that same day, even suggested to radio-talk show host Dale Jackson that we should eliminate the grocery tax and replace with a internet sales tax. I had also suggested such, in more detail, on an online Facebook forum called Clay County Politics. Senator Dial must not have liked my suggestion or criticism because he posted something along these lines:

Alabama already taxes internet and catalog sales if they have a physical presence in the state. The federal government will not allow us to tax others. Any lawyer that knew what they were talking about would know this unless they got their law degree over the internet. It is easy to sit in the stands and complain about those trying to make a difference.

(This is not the exact quote but very close; Clay County Politics went offline for some reason so I cannot retrieve the exact quote.)

(UPDATE: Here is the exact quote (sic): “We in Al require both catalog and Internet sale tax collection if the seller has a location in the state . The fed govt will not allow us to collect from others . I would think anyone with a law degree would know this unless their degree came from the Internet “.it is so easy to set in the stands and critics those who are trying to play-make a difference”)

Nevertheless, here was my response:

Sen. Gerald Dial, I will refrain from the snide retort for which your post deserves and get right to the point. The Supreme Court case on point is Quill v. North Dakota, which ruled that out-of-state retailers without a “nexus” with the state are exempt from that state’s sales tax. Today, stores such as Books-a-Million pay a state sales tax on internet sales because they have brick-and-mortar locations here. (Although their internet operations, I believe, still avoid county and municipal taxes.) However, Internet retailers such as Amazon and Overstock do not remit any sales tax under current Alabama law.

The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that Alabama will lose $357 million in 2012 by un-captured internet sales tax. More modestly, a Tennessee study estimated Alabama will lose more than $170 million in 2012.

Amazon, Overstock, and, possibly, E-bay sales could be subject to Alabama sales tax though. A sufficient constitutional “nexus” does exist because they have “affiliate”/third-party sellers within Alabama. (Admittedly, e-Bay is not as strong a case.) Sen. Dial, appropriate state legislation is all that is needed to cure this. New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Illinois, Arkansas, Connecticut and California all have legislation which taxes Amazon and Overstock for sales through their websites. If the internet retailers have “affiliates” or affiliated companies based within their borders, these states require the online retailers to collect sales tax. To my knowledge, no court or state Attorney General, that has reviewed this type legislation, have agreed with your constitutional objection. (And if Amazon gets cute and tries to terminate the affiliate nexus, then include a requirement for the Amazons to report the sum of all purchases through them by Alabama customers to the Department of Revenue.)

So, Sen. Dial, contrary to your post, the legislative actions I suggest are perfectly constitutional and lawful. Not only that, I believe my suggestion accomplishes several goals: grocery taxes are largely lifted, not just shifted, off the poor, the state budget is not harmed, and the playing field between locally-owned retailers and internet retailers is leveled.

On the other hand, I question whether your proposal accomplishes the goal of removing taxes off the poor. As noted, by the Montgomery Advertiser yesterday:

But Dial’s proposal really doesn’t do much to help low- and middle-income working Alabamians. And in fact, it could hurt the poorest of them. By shifting the sales tax to other goods, working Alabamians in the middle and at the bottom of the wage scales wouldn’t really gain much, if anything. Whatever they would save on sales taxes on groceries would be offset by the higher sales taxes on other items. But consider the impact on Alabamians with really low incomes — those who qualify for federal food stamps assistance. Groceries purchased with food stamps are already exempt from sales taxes. So these families would actually be hurt by Dial’s bill because they would get little or no benefit from removing the state sales tax on groceries, but they would have to pay the higher tax on other items.”

So while there may be objections to my proposal, the lawfulness and constitutionality is not one of them.

By way of example, here is a copy of the North Carolina statute:

Mail Order Remote Sales. – A retailer who makes a mail order remote sale is engaged in business in this State and is subject to the tax levied under this Article if at least one of the following conditions is met:

(3) The retailer has representatives in this State who solicit business or transact business on behalf of the retailer, solicits or transacts business in this State by employees, independent contractors, agents, or other representatives, whether the mail order remote sales thus subject to taxation by this State result from or are related in any other way to such the solicitation or transaction of business. A retailer is presumed to be soliciting or transacting business by an independent contractor, agent, or other representative if the retailer enters into an agreement with a resident of this State under which the resident, for a commission or other consideration, directly or indirectly refers potential customers, whether by a link on an Internet Web site or otherwise, to the retailer. This presumption applies only if the cumulative gross receipts from sales by the retailer to purchasers in this State who are referred to the retailer by all residents with this type of agreement with the retailer is in excess of ten thousand dollars ($10,000) during the preceding four quarterly periods. This presumption may be rebutted by proof that the resident with whom the retailer has an agreement did not engage in any solicitation in the State on behalf of the seller that would satisfy the nexus requirement of the United States Constitution during the four quarterly periods in question.

Under HB56, are you ready to prove your legal status on the road and at work and at home and at school? We now see that you will also have to prove your citizenship for every transaction with the state government.  As reported in the Shelby County Reporter:

House Bill 56, which deals with illegal immigrants in Alabama and was passed by the Alabama Legislature during its 2011 session, requires anyone applying for or renewing a driver’s license or car tag in the state to present two forms of identification in person.

Clanton Advertiser further detailed this provision of HB56,

According to an Aug. 26 press release, Act 2011-535 of the Alabama Legislature, also known as the Immigration Act, will require everyone to show proof of U.S. citizenship for every business transaction made through the Alabama Department of Revenue, Motor Vehicle Division and County Licensing Offices.

“Business transactions” include applying for or renewing a license plate, a driver’s license, a non-driver identification card or a certificate of title.

“It’s really going to change the way we do everything in our office,” said Tim Little, Chilton County tax collector. “Just be patient with us. We’re going to suffer along with the public until we can get the wrinkles ironed out.”

Beginning Sept. 1, any person applying for or renewing a license plate, driver’s license, non-driver identification card or certificate of title must come into the Motor Vehicle Registration Office and present documents proving U.S. citizenship or lawful presence in the U.S.

“You will have to go in and show the proper I.D.,” Little said. “No more online renewals. It’s going to be bad.”

Examples of acceptable documents for U.S. citizenship, original or photocopied clearly, include:

•A valid, unexpired driver’s license or non-driver identification card issued by the Alabama Department of Public Safety.

•A U.S. birth certificate.

•A valid or expired passport with I.D. and passport number.

•Naturalization documents or the certificate of naturalization number.

According to the press release, applicants trying to prove lawful presence must present one document for verification each year, such as a valid, unexpired Alabama driver’s license, a valid, unexpired non-driver identification card or a valid tribal enrollment card.

“It (immigration law) can be interpreted so many different ways,” Little said. “We’re trying to let the public know what to expect come September 1.”

I bet GOP Majority Leader Hammon is surprised to see these “signs of laziness” show up in Chilton County and even Fortress GOP Shelby County.  But the GOP will assist these “unmotivated” local officials:

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said the abolishment of the online and mail-in renewal system was an “unintended consequence” of the immigration bill.

“As a legislature, we will definitely have to address that next year. That’s something we are going to have to fix,” Ward said. “This is a problem that came up that was not intended.”

I would like to see how prominent “unintended consequence” and “tweak” would appear in a word-cloud of recent GOP speeches.  What was an intended consequence? The people of Alabama will just deal with “nightmare” of “unintended consequences” until they can “tweak” the unpopular parts of the law next session. Problem is: tweaks will not undo the damage of the legislation. If I were a betting man though, I think we will see a special session out of this ill-considered, short-sighted, and rushed piece of legislation.

Your papers, please. . .

It appears that while the Anti-Immigration Bill was the center-piece of the GOP’s agenda in 2011, cracking down on poor, welfare-recipients will highlight the next session. As Mike “Machiavelli” Hubbard plans:

One bill being considered in the upcoming session requires drug tests for welfare recipients.

“Steve (McMillan, R-Gulf Shores) and I will be called everything in the book,” Hubbard said. “We’ll be called Nazis. There’s no telling what they’ll call us, but why should you take your hard-earned money and send it to Montgomery for us to distribute out to someone who doesn’t work and it’s easier for them to get a paycheck than to work and they go out and buy drugs with it?”

Like HB56 copied injected crack into the Arizona Anti-Immigration Bill, this drug-screening the poor is another copycat legislation from Florida.

I found this bit of off-scene political theater intriguing:

Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, introduced a similar bill in the Alabama Legislature shortly before the end of its spring session on June 9. It was too late in the session for the bill to go anywhere. Beason said it’s uncertain if he will sponsor the bill in the 2012 session or someone else will do it, but he expects it to be an issue that will draw attention.

Beason can make sure that happens because he serves as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which recommends which bills the Senate considers each day.

“I’m sure a number of liberal groups will cry foul, but it makes common sense,” he said.

What would make Scott Beason not want the limelight here? Has Scott Beason become too politically toxic to sponsor GOP-centerpiece legislation. Last term, he actually had his name affixed to the Alabama Anti-Immigration Bill. (I have yet to find another piece of legislation with a legislator’s name on it from 2011) Now, he may not even sponsor what will certainly be the GOP’s main talking point? Has he he lost “majority-of-one” status?

According to a recent report:

Alabama again ranked near the bottom in the annual Kids Count survey by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which measures quality of life issues like health care, education, and poverty. Last year, Alabama ranked 47th; this year, it ranked 48th.

The data released last week shows that the number of children living in poverty in Alabama has increased 19% since 2000, to one in every four children. Statewide, 131,000 children (12%) were living with at least one unemployed parent in 2010, and 45,000 children have been affected by foreclosure since 2007.

Alabama followed national trends, which saw improvements in three of the 10 key Kids Count indicators this year: the teen birth rate was down; the percent of teens not in school and not high school graduates was down; and the death rate for children age 1-14 was down.

But Alabama’s improvements in these three areas were accompanied by worsening trends in five other measures since 2000: the infant mortality rate, the low-weight birth rate, the teen death rate, the percentage of children living in single-parent families, and the percentage of children in poverty.

Alabama has ranked in the bottom eight states in the Kids Count survey in each of the past 10 years — coming in at 48 out of the 50 states six times.

As noted before, for the future of Alabama, Republican Governor Leutienent Kaye Ivey promised under the current leadership “more of the same” and more “budget cuts”

I hope not.

  •  Opelika-Auburn News article, “Bleak budgets will devastate courts across the state for fiscal year 2012. State courts received $152 million for fiscal year 2011, but will receive only $138.9 million for fiscal year 2012, according to Alabama’s Administrative Office of Courts. When costs must be cut, that means people will lose jobs. Hurst said her office must be trimmed from 18 staffers to 10 by Sept. 1. The case load, however, does not diminish.”
  • Tallassee City Schools lose their instructional aids for teachers due to budget cuts. Tallassee Tribune
  • Alabama Public Television shouts down Montgomery bureau and cuts shows “Capitol Journal” and “We Have Signal” due to budget cuts. Montgomery Advertiser
  • State forensic crime labs close due to budget cuts. WAFF

One impact of the budgets passed by the Legislature are summarized well by the Opelika-Auburn Editorial Board:

Whereas good people who have served the public will soon be unemployed, the public will really feel the brunt of it when their courthouse service time is slowed dramatically. The Lee County Circuit Clerk’s Office could lose up to eight of 18 staffers by Sept. 1. The amount of paperwork will not be trimmed accordingly. No, it will continue to pile up.

Who processes court dockets? The clerk’s office.

Who processes divorce papers? The clerk’s office.

Who processes traffic fines for the state, restitution for victims and paperwork filed for orders of protection? The clerk’s office.

And when the clerk’s office is running at half staff, what happens to this paperwork then? Courts move more slowly. Divorce cases linger. Spouses seeking protection may not get the official documentation when they need it.

All of this, courtesy of the Alabama state budget.

But money is tight, and we understand that. There is no magic wand to generate more revenue for state coffers. All we can do is continue to hope the economy turns despite the gloomy forecast. Medicaid continues to grow in dollars appropriated, while other important agencies shrink. What is the Legislature supposed to do about that, take away from the sick?

All we can do is hope the Legislature takes a harder look at priorities in Alabama and sends money to places that desperately need it most.

How does the Alabama Legislature value swift justice? Apparently $13 million less than it did a year ago.

Can this be said to be responsible budgeting?

According to this news report, Senator Paul Bussman intends to reintroduce legislation which mandates equal time between parents in child custody disputes

A Cullman state senator whose “shared parenting” bill drew criticism that led to its defeat in the 2011 legislative session said he will introduce similar legislation in 2012 with input from judges and attorneys. . . .

Remember this bill (here, here, here, here and here) As a sampling: the bill mandated judges to award absolute equal time of a child between parents irrespective where the parents lived no how absent a father had been during a marriage.  Another goody: it allowed a parent to deduct Christmas presents and other gifts to a child off the parent’s child support obligations. This radical piece of legislation might actually have caused more harm than the Anti-immigration legislation. This was no crank-piece of legislation either; it enjoyed the sponsorship of every Republican State Senator minus one and was actually voted out of committee.

Bussman’s bill died in the Senate, but how, and who, should make decisions about the time divorced parents spend with their children remains an issue, Bussman said. Alabama is one of a handful of states where judges generally give primary custody to one fit parent with limited visitation by the other fit parent.

Is Alabama a minority on this? I don’t think so. Every state, including Alabama, direct custody to be determined by the court’s finding of the “best interest of the child.” I challenge the Senator to cite one state wherein the courts do not award primary physical custody one parent or the other generally? As shown here, some states give a preference for joint custody unless such is not in the best interest of the child. No state mandates, as Bussman bill does,  joint custody.

“We will take out or modify the parts of the bill that caused such controversy this year,” Bussman said. “We may include some additional factors with child custody as well, including a parent’s participation in a drug court program. Drug court doesn’t show up on a person’s record, but may be a factor in custody arrangements.”

I look forward to these modifications; however, before it is worthy of passage, it need a complete rewrite.

Republican Lt.Gov. Kay Ivey

In an article entitled: Ivey: Legislative progress must continue“, Republican Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey was reported as saying “the good work must continue.”

Ivey spent several minutes touting the accomplishments of the last legislative session, which ended two weeks ago, and she said people should expect “more of the same.

“The budgets have to be a high, high priority. We’re still living beyond our means,” she said, noting $300 million of federal stimulus money will not be available for the next budget. . .

When asked where the $300 million reduction will come from without the stimulus funds, Ivey said “budget cuts.”

“We have 11 funds in the government. I can’t tell you where,” she said. “It’ll be across the board.

Ivey noted slashing teaching positions would be the “last option.”

“Budget cuts” . . .

“More of the same”

Smells like progress to me.

Alabama Republican leadership declared this recent legislative sessions great successes. However, illegal and unconstitutional may come to be the general description of their actions. In addition to the likely constitutional challenges to the congressional district lines, the immigration bill, withholding AEA dues, the health insurance mandate,  the voter photo ID bill, here is another probable unconstitutional change: HB425.

The bill basically advances the primary elections to March. But, as pointed out here,

Because the petition deadline for previously unqualified parties, and for non-presidential independent candidates, is on primary day, the bill has the effect of moving these petition deadlines from June to March. No one in the legislature seems aware that in 1991 the 11th circuit struck down Alabama’s old April petition deadline for new parties and non-presidential independent candidates. That case was New Alliance Party of Alabama v Hand, 933 F.2d 1568. Furthermore, back in 1991, the petition was 1% of the last gubernatorial vote; but ever since 1997, it has been 3% (the bill raising the number of signatures passed in 1995 but was not in effect until 1997).

So, it looks like another lawsuit is likely here too.

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