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Budget Reforms | Adoption | Law Enforcement | Legislative Highlights | Deputy Hart Act

Despite Headwinds, a Successful Legislative Session

The possible impeachment and eventual resignation of a governor has the tendency to create a gale wind that can quickly transform into a hurricane. Such a tempest was the setting for the 2017 session of the Alabama Legislature. The outcome – resignation, and now, a fresh start at the Capitol under Governor Kay Ivey – has been extensively covered in the media. Understandably, less ink has been spilled on the significant policy achievements of the legislative session, but Alabamians have a right to feel proud of the work done by their legislative representatives this past spring.  

First, the basics: the Legislature fulfilled its primary constitutional duty by passing balanced budgets for the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund.  Conservative Republican Legislators stood up for taxpayers by approving these budgets without any tax increases. 

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 General Fund budget includes an increase of $3.3 million for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to put thirty new state troopers on the road. Of all the functions of state government, public safety is paramount, and I was glad to support the targeted increase for state troopers. The budget also increases funding for the courts, including for juvenile probation officers, some of whom who were in danger of being laid off. Meanwhile, most of the large state agencies including Medicaid, Corrections, and the Department of Human Resources were level-funded. 

Since Alabamians elected a Republican majority the House and Senate in 2010, fiscal discipline has defined the budgeting process for both state agencies and our schools and universities. For example, in 2011 the Legislature established the Rolling Reserve Act, which forces the Legislature to annually set aside a portion of the Education budget’s revenue growth in an emergency fund. Because of that fiscal discipline, proration – the sudden, mid-year slashing of school budgets – hasn’t occurred since 2010.  

The FY 2018 Education budget is the beneficiary of such disciplined spending over the past seven years. At $6.4 billion, it is the largest Education budget since 2008, and provides funding for one hundred and fifty additional teachers, along with a $13 million increase to build one hundred and twenty-two new classrooms for First Class, Alabama’s voluntary Pre-K program, which was recently named the best Pre-K system in the nation by the National Institute for Early Education Research. I was also happy to support an increase of $11 million for dual enrollment programs, which are essential for giving our students the real-world tools they will need for employment after graduation. 

Along with the budgets, the Legislature passed a number of substantive bills, including: autism therapy insurance coverage, a Constitutional Amendment declaring Alabama a right-to-life state, religious freedom protections for faith-based adoption agencies, a ban on assisted suicide, a bill to require civics testing, a protection of historic monuments, a measure to shorten death penalty appeals, the legalization of midwifery, a tax credit for the revitalization of historic buildings, and an update to the Alabama Jobs Act to give cities more flexibility when recruiting new businesses. 

All in all, 1,030 bills were introduced and approximately three hundred were passed by both chambers of the Legislature and sent to the Governor’s desk. 

Despite headwinds, I am encouraged that conservatives in the Alabama Senate and House led the way in in moving our state forward during the 2017 session. I am proud of our work and I am grateful for the strong leadership of Governor Ivey.  

Thank you for allowing me to represent you in Montgomery!

 

Smart Budget Reforms Necessary for Economic Growth

The 2017 session of the Alabama Legislature is coming to a close, and as I reflect on the challenges we faced over the past year, I am proud of the way the Legislature has worked through many difficult issues: preparing for the possible impeachment of a sitting Governor, maintaining focus by passing balanced budgets that did not raise taxes on the hard-working families of Alabama, and developing a prison construction plan, to name just a few. I am thankful, too, for the steady leadership of our new Governor, Kay Ivey, and I trust she will continue to lead our state with dignity.

Looking forward, for Alabama to prosper, it is essential that conservatives continue to press for reforms in our state’s finances.  A key challenge in dealing with state budgets is that over 90% of tax revenues are earmarked for specific programs and departments, a level far higher than the average of 30% for the other forty-nine states.

Further, tax collections for both budgets are reduced by approximately $4.5 billion annually via hundreds of tax credits, exemptions, and deductions. The goal of many of these credits and exemptions is to promote economic growth and encourage certain market behaviors: for example, there are credits to encourage young dentists, doctors, and nurses to practice in rural areas, which is commendable – but I suspect many other credits and deductions have outlived their usefulness and should be revisited.

For the past six months, I have led a team of Republican and Democratic legislators who are attempting to find innovative solutions to our state’s budget challenges. Like many government committees, the team has a bland name (The Joint Task Force on Budget Reform), but our mission is serious and our work has been deep.

On May 16, our team finished a 33-page interim report that examines the state’s fiscal challenges and offers some tentative recommendations. For one, we recommend that every new tax deduction or exemption contain a sunset clause. Further, our committee believes spending on state services must be prioritized. Similar to other states, Alabama should identify spending priorities on an A-B-C scale.

Governor Ivey has indicated strong support for our team’s mission, and I am excited to implement some of our ideas in the 2018 legislative session. The full report can be viewed on the Legislative Fiscal Office’s website, www.lfo.state.al.us, under the Special Reports tab.

Ultimately, the financial success of our state will occur via a combination of prioritizing the services needed by our citizens and preparing for lean years by building financial reserves during expanding economic times.  Working together, we will make this happen!

Adopting Children, Protecting Religious Liberty

In 2014, there were around 400,000 children in the foster care system in America. Ten percent of those children had been in the system for more than five years. At a time when so many foster children need stable “forever homes,” it is imperative the state of Alabama allow faith-based adoption agencies to do their work unhindered by legal obstruction.

In the state of Massachusetts, the Catholic Charities of Boston had for more than one hundred years been a vital link between foster children and permanent families. Unfortunately, beginning in 2003, the state of Massachusetts began to require all private adoption agencies to adopt a policy of non-discrimination that included same-sex couples. What did that mean in practice? Well, private adoption agencies like the Catholic Charities of Boston were forced to either abandon their beliefs or close. If a private adoption agency refused to place children with same-sex couples, the state would revoke its state license. As Ryan Anderson and Sarah Torre document in “Adoption, Foster Care, and Conscience Protection,” the Charity was forced to shutter its ministry, rather than abandon the Christian teaching on marriage and the family.

Media elites in Hollywood and academia are often bent on attacking traditional Christian values as bigoted. Somehow, the contention that children fare best with a mother and father is backwards and hateful. There is a coordinated effort to attack the religious liberties of Christians (and all others who hold to mainstream views on the family) in the marketplace. But the First Amendment guarantees the right to the free exercise of religion, and that right extends to faith-based adoption agencies.

Thankfully, the Alabama Senate has taken a common-sense step to protect the religious freedoms of adoption agency workers. We passed the Child Placing Inclusion Act, which forbids state agencies from discriminating against child-placing agencies because the agency declines to provide a child placement which conflicts with the religious beliefs of the provider. Keep in mind that seventy percent of all placements are made by the Department of Human Resources, and by court ruling, state agencies cannot discriminate. However, a private, faith-based adoption agency should not be forced, at the risk of losing its government license, to place children in situations that are not consistent with their religious convictions.

There are so many children who are yearning for good homes. Given that close to thirty percent of adoptions in Alabama are facilitated through faith-based agencies, we need to encourage even more faith-based ministries to open their hearts and hands to foster children, and guard against petty bureaucratic attempts to squash the good work done by faith-based adoption agencies across Alabama.

Protecting Those Who Protect Us

Officer Justin “Sollo” Sollohub’s Wednesday started no differently than any other. The alarm clock went off at the same time. He got ready, put on his uniform, and bounded out the side door to hop in his car and head to the station, taking the same route he normally took. Like clockwork, Ms. Wright was taking a jog with her golden retriever. Traffic was starting to pick up as the late-night shift workers headed home.

Things were going well for Officer Sollohub on the shift until 11:00am, when things changed forever. A man was walking down the street, and something didn’t look right to Sollo. That’s when the foot chase ensued. The man ran into a neighborhood and disappeared behind a house, as Sollohub followed.

As Officer Sollohub turned the back corner of the home, the suspect intentionally and maliciously shot him in the head. Another police officer found him and tried treating the fatal wound. Sadly, Sollo did not survive.

It is for this brave man and many like him who sacrificed their lives on the front lines of protecting us that I introduced the Justin David Sollohub Law. Senate Bill 207 will increase the penalty for assault or murder of law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and correctional officers.

I would like to express my personal appreciation to Clanton Police Department Captain Neil Fetner for spearheading this effort.  We owe it to our hometown heroes to provide them with enhanced deterrence against harm when they lay their lives on the line for us every day. We must do everything we can to hold those accountable that seek to harm our policemen, sheriff deputies, prison staff, and other first responders. They protect us, so we must do everything we can to protect them.

Passing Senate Bill 207 is one of my priorities this legislative session that started a few weeks ago and will go until mid-May. If I can be of help to you or if you have concerns or questions about any bill, email me at clyde.chambliss@alsenate.gov or call my office in Montgomery – (334) 242-7872.

Ten Highlights from the 2016 Legislative Session

I am thankful and honored to represent you in the Alabama Senate. I was elected to the Senate in 2014, and the past year and a half has been quite interesting: an organizational session, two regular sessions, two special sessions…and the possibility of another special session this year!

Despite a number of political distractions, the Legislature had a productive session this year. Here are ten highlights:

  • The budgets were passed early this year. This is “the only” Constitutional duty of the Legislature and I’m excited that we have flipped the calendar. Postponing the budget was done for a myriad of reasons (and not all of them bad) for decades. But passing budgets early in the session is a tremendous improvement over the status quo, and a big goal accomplished for me.
  • We have also changed the status quo from across-the-board cuts to using a scalpel for targeted spending adjustments based on priority. Some agencies were cut, some were level-funded, and some were increased. Those increased include the National Guard, Courts, Corrections, Public Health, Mental Health, DHR, and Medicaid.
  • Medicaid was increased by $15M but falls $85M short of the requested $100M. We have shifted money from the essential functions of government for years and we cannot continue to do so. Medicaid is still an issue and we have held five of seven scheduled Medicaid hearings to figure out what the Legislature can do to control costs.
  • Increased education funding for textbooks, classroom materials, dual enrollment, and transportation. Also increased funding for Alabama’s voluntary pre-K program by $16M to fund 2,790 new students.
  • Teachers received a much needed cost of living adjustment (COLA). I supported the raise after I did my homework. The wage of the average worker in Alabama increased by 13% from 2008 to 2015, while the average state employee’s wage increased by 5% from 2008 to 2013. Yet the average K-12 employee’s wage increased only by 2.5% from 2008 to 2013. Supporting this COLA was a priority for me because investment in education is vitally important.
  • Passed a Constitutional Amendment for the November ballot that will require all funds collected at State Parks be used for State Parks. I supported this legislation and urge a “Yes” vote in November. State Parks are a tremendous asset for our state and bring in significant tourist dollars.
  • There were several bills that were passed to protect young people. I sponsored legislation that makes aggravated abuse of a child under the age of six a Class A felony. We also passed legislation expanding suicide awareness training and prevention in K-12 schools and a law allowing District Attorneys to pursue capital murder charges if abuse of a child results in death.
  • We passed a bill to allow Alabama taxpayers to deduct contributions to Health Savings Accounts on personal state tax returns.
  • I supported and we passed two economic incentives bills that will help increase jobs in Alabama.
  • Banned the brutal practice of dismemberment abortions. Also, prohibited Public Health from issuing or renewing licenses for abortion clinics located within 2,000 feet of K-8 schools.

There were many other good bills in addition to those highlighted above. So, when it seems that all you are hearing are negative things in the press and on social media about our state’s politics, please know there is a core group of good, honest, hard-working legislators in Montgomery working for you. God bless you, and may God continue to bless the great State of Alabama!

Senate Increases Penalties for Violations of Young Drivers’ Licenses

Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) and Senator Dick Brewbaker (R-Pike Road) moved a bill through the Alabama Senate today to protect Alabama’s drivers by increasing the penalty for persons who use a Stage II driver’s license in violation of the law.

A Stage II license is for drivers under the age of 18 who have held a Stage I learner’s permit for at least six months

Senate Bill 173, known as the “Deputy Hart Act,” is named in memory of Elmore County Deputy James Bart Hart, who was killed on November 23, 2015, when a sixteen-year-old driver hit his car. The teenage driver was operating his vehicle at a speed of nearly 100 miles per hour and was carrying three non-family members as passengers, in violation of the restrictions on Stage II licenses. The teenage driver and two of his passengers were also killed.

“The car wreck resulting in the death of Deputy Hart and three teenagers was tragic. We need stiffer penalties in place to discourage reckless and unlawful driving among younger drivers,” Chambliss said.

Under Chambliss and Brewbaker’s legislation, violations of a Stage II license will lead to a fine of $250 plus court costs, and the violator’s license will be bumped down to a Stage I learner’s permit for six months.

“This is an enforcement mechanism that is long overdue,” remarked Brewbaker. “God willing, this legislation will make our roads a little safer for everyone.”

Parents or guardians who knowingly allow a driver with a Stage I or Stage II license in violation of the law will be subject to a fine of $500 plus court costs.

“We should certainly hold teenage drivers accountable, but parents also bear responsibility if they knowingly allow their kids to use a restricted license in violation of the law,” Chambliss said.

 

 


Paid for By Clyde Chambliss Jr. PO Box 680782 Prattville, AL 36068
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