Category: Alabama Senate

A New Year, New Session, New Opportunities

Today marks the beginning of the 2012 session of the Alabama Legislature. A new session means opportunities and for Alabama, the opportunities are abundant.  Legislators will have the opportunity to pass meaningful education reform in the form of charter schools.  Basic principles of any market tell us that more competition leads to a higher quality across the board. And no one can deny Alabama schools could use some improvement.

Legislators will also have opportunities to help create jobs.  I say “help” because the state shouldn’t create jobs, but it should get out of the way and let the private sector begin putting Alabamians to work.  Legislators should remove obstacles to job creation and provide incentives for companies looking to locate or expand in our state. Several of these job creating measures are on the slate for the first week of the session including legislation giving economic development offices and the Governor more flexibility in offering tax incentives and a measure to allow the state to offer temporary state income tax incentives to offset build-up phase costs for companies bringing jobs to the state.

Last, but certainly not least, legislators will have the opportunity to stand strong on Alabama’s new immigration law.  There are those who want to weaken the law who will use language like “tweaking” or “making it easier to enforce,” but legislators should tread carefully.  While there are some legitimate fixes that need to be made, i.e.–adding military ID’s to the list of acceptable forms of identification, by and large, the law should be left as is.  Keep an eye on our website for more information on this issue.

Alabama legislators appear poised to take advantage of some of these opportunities and they deserve our support.  We just have to make sure they keep their eye on the ball and don’t get  distracted by those who want to keep running Alabama in the same old way.  After all, if we keep doing things the same way, we’ll keep getting the same result.  They say opportunity only knocks once, so here’s to giving our legislators the fortitude to open the door.

More Alabamians Back To Work After Passage Of Landmark Immigration Law

Opponents called the law evil, racist and defamed the character of those who supported it, but their attacks ring somewhat hollow now that evidence has shown it is working.  That’s right!  Alabama had one of the largest drops in unemployment in the country for the 3rd month in a row!  Unemployment has dropped from 9.8% when the law took effect in September 2011 to 8.1% as of December 2011.  The December 2011 drop from 8.7% to 8.1% was the largest in the country.  Below, Fox News discusses the trend and its correlation to the new immigration law.

S&P Says Internet Sales Tax Bills Will Yield Little

Wall Street credit ratings agency Standard and Poor’s say the current push by states to collect sales tax on internet purchases will yield little in the way of increased revenues:

America’s state governments won’t see many revenue gains any time soon if they triumph in battles to tax sales by out-of-state Internet retailers, a leading Wall Street credit-ratings group said on Monday.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services said that state governments were increasingly targeting Internet sales outside their borders but still faced legal hurdles and were unlikely to see much top-line benefit soon.

“At this time, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services does not think that the amount of revenue states are foregoing by not collecting tax on Internet sales is significant enough to influence state or local ratings,”

States across the country are facing tough budget battles this year and Alabama is no exception. State legislators are under a lot of pressure by retail associations and others to help close that gap by collecting sales tax on internet purchases. Before they act on that, legislators should consider the cost of imposing a tax increase on the people of Alabama. Is an insignificant increase in revenue worth asking citizens to pay more sales tax in what are already tough economic times?

AG Luther Strange Explains His Position on AL’s New Immigration Law

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange had a great op-ed in the Mobile Press-Register yesterday explaining his position on Alabama’s new immigration law.  A BIG thanks to Big Luther for doing such a wonderful job defending Alabama!

By LUTHER STRANGE

Special to the Press-Register

As the attorney general of Alabama, it is my duty to uphold and defend the laws of the state as they are passed by the Legislature and signed into law by our governor. Earlier this year, Alabama’s immigration law was passed and then signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley.

The law was immediately challenged, and my office has been litigating the issue in federal court.

Recently, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to certain Alabama school districts directing them to produce a laundry list of data. Because this particular issue received considerable attention in the media, I thought it would be helpful to ensure my position is clear regarding this matter.

This data — much of which is not currently collected by schools and would require many hours and scarce resources to compile — was purportedly sought by the Justice Department to determine whether the new law discourages children from attending school.

As counsel for the state superintendent of education in the ongoing litigation initiated by the Justice Department on these same issues, I advised the superintendent that the school districts were not compelled to reply.

Why? Because when the Civil Rights Division receives a complaint about alleged discrimination in Alabama schools, the law requires it to notify school officials and allow the schools and our state to take steps to correct the problem. We are still awaiting this information.

This theme of cooperation between the federal government and the states runs throughout federal law — from protecting civil rights in schools to enforcing federal immigration law. Congress has repeatedly instructed the federal government to work with states, not against them.

We are a nation of immigrants. That is one of our great strengths. I have personally recruited industry from around the world to Alabama. And those businesses are thriving here.

What is really at stake is the rule of law, on which all our freedoms are founded.

Everyone agrees that the existing immigration law should be enforced by the federal government. Unfortunately, the federal government has failed in its responsibility to enforce its own laws.

That leaves the states to deal with the issue, as we’ve witnessed in Arizona, Indiana, Utah, Georgia, South Carolina and here in Alabama. I have no doubt that other states will follow.

As this debate swirls and the political winds blow, I am and will continue to be focused on my job of enforcing the laws of Alabama through the proper legal channels. And I sincerely hope to have the cooperation of the Department of Justice in the process.

To those who’d like to inject the old images of Alabama from 1963, I reiterate what I have made clear from the day I took office: I have and will always enforce the law equally and fairly without regard to race, gender, ethnicity or political party.

My office is determined to see that all of our schoolchildren are protected from unlawful activity.

As I have said many times, Alabama officials are not going to do anything that violates any individual’s constitutional rights. Such illegal actions will not be tolerated as long as I am Alabama’s attorney general. That is where I stand.

Luther Strange is attorney general of Alabama. His email address is [email protected].

Republican Senators, Representatives Ask State Board of Education To Rescind Adoption Of Common Core Standards

13 senators and 8 representatives recently wrote to Governor Bentley and the State Board of Education to ask them to revoke adoption of the Common Core Standards Initiative and refuse any monies tied to a national curriculum.

We would like to thank Senators Gerald Allen, Scott Beason, Dick Brewbaker, Paul Bussman, Rusty Glover, Bill Holtzclaw, Del Marsh, Arthur Orr, Greg Reed, Clay Scofield, Cam Ward, Jabo Waggoner and Ted Whatley as well as Representatives Jim Carns, Ed Henry, Ron Johnson, Wes Long, Mary Sue McClurkin, Barry Moore, Kerry Rich and Mark Tuggle for standing up for local control of education.  For more information about why the Common Core Standards Initiative is problematic, click here.

More On Yesterday’s Ruling On Immigration Bill

We’ve spoken with one of the nation’s top immigration lawyers, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who had this to say about yesterday’s ruling:

“The decision was a significant victory for Alabama.  Judge Blackburn sustained 75% of Alabama’s HB 56, including the most important sections.  This decision vindicates the Republican legislative sponsors of the bill, who were determined to address the problem of illegal immigration in Alabama.  They and I drafted the law carefully so that it would withstand judicial scrutiny, and that has proven to be the case.”

Kris also said the ruling will help other states wanting to deal with the issue of illegal immigration:

“Alabama’s victory will help other states that are trying to discourage illegal immigration too.  Judge Blackburn rejected most of the flawed reasoning of the Ninth Circuit’s decision striking down the Arizona law.  This decision stands as a strong counterweight to the Ninth Circuit.”

On that note, Alabama College Republican Chairman, Cliff Sims, has a great op-ed in today’s Daily Caller about the effect of Judge Blackburn’s ruling.  You can check it out here, but below are some highlights.

A Victory For The Rule Of Law

Today, U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn lifted a temporary injunction on key parts of Alabama’s new immigration law.  Known as the Beason-Hammon Taxpayer and Citizens Protection Act, the law is currently the strongest in the country.  The U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the state and asked Judge Blackburn for an injunction to prevent the state from enforcing the law until the matter had been settled in court.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Blackburn issued a temporary injunction for 30 days while she considered the claims.  Today’s ruling issued a more permanent injunction on a few provisions of the law, but the majority of the law will be enforced starting October 1.

The Huntsville Times has a good run down of exactly which provisions were allowed to go forward and which were more permanently enjoined.

Blackburn upheld a provision of the state law related to police stops and detentions of people suspected of being in the country illegally.

She also upheld sections requiring schools to check the citizenship status of children and sections that would nullify contracts knowingly entered into with unauthorized aliens.

Blackburn also upheld a section making it a felony for “an alien not lawfully present in the United States” to apply for a license plate, driver’s license, business license or other business license.

On other provisions, Blackburn ruled the state:

» Can’t stop an “unauthorized alien” from seeking work as an employee or independent contractor.

» Can’t prosecute those who assist unauthorized aliens. She blocked a large section that would make it against the law to conceal, harbor, transport or encourage an illegal alien to stay in Alabama. This includes portions of the law referring to landlords.

» Can’t stop businesses from deducting the wages they pay to unauthorized aliens from their state taxes.

» Can’t create a new protected class of workers. The new law would have allowed workers who were fired or not hired in favor of unauthorized aliens to sue employers for discrimination.

Overall, the ruling was a victory for all those who support and believe in the rule of law.

School Choice Should Be At The Top Of The Agenda For 2012 Legislative Session

It’s that time of year again.  Children across Alabama have dragged out their backpacks, sharpened their pencils and gone back to school.  The beginning of the school year gives teachers and students a fresh start and legislators a new chance to study what our state is doing right and wrong in regard to education.

During the last legislative session they addressed problems with Alabama’s teacher tenure laws passing much needed reforms.  But they shouldn’t stop there.  Alabama is one of only ten states in the nation without charter school legislation. For the past few years, bills authorizing charter schools have been introduced but failed to pass due to strong opposition from the AEA and budget constraints. But when the legislators go back to Montgomery for the 2012 session they’ll get another chance to improve education in the state by giving parents more choices.

Charter schools are public schools that operate outside the traditional rules and regulations of a public school.  They are often tailored to meet the educational needs of a specific group or community.  With charters, parents are able to find the school that best meets the educational needs of their child.  Even though they operate outside the normal framework of public schools, there is still accountability.  Charter schools are judged on their ability to meet the educational goals laid out in their charter.  Those schools that don’t meet their goals are shut down.  This performance-based assessment ensures only the best schools survive.

Alabama ranked 45th in the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report.  Two states that have the largest number of charter school students, New Jersey and New York, ranked 3rd and 26th respectively.  A recent study by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice found a strong correlation between school choice and educational quality.  States that offer more options in education scored higher in terms of the overall quality of education.

But what about the cost? Given today’s tough economic times and serious budget shortfalls, the cost of charter schools is a valid concern.  The good news is that charters will actually save the state money.  The Center for Education Reform has found that the average charter school receives $3,468 less in state and federal funds than traditional public schools.  Charters are able to do more with less, and do it better.  One significant reason for that is the lack of bureaucracy, which allows teachers and school administrators to recognize problems and make quick adjustments to improve their effectiveness.

Charter schools have grown in popularity since movies like The Lottery and Waiting For Superman have hit the national stage.  As parents are being educated on the concept of charters and what they are able to do, support for charters increases.  There are now 5,400 charter schools serving more than 1.7 million children across the country.  465 new charter schools have opened in the last year alone.

And if the statistics aren’t persuasive for legislators, maybe the public will be. According to the Friedman Foundation, 58% of Alabama voters favor charter schools. The public support is there and legislators need to listen.

7 Myths About HB56

Myth: School officials will be required to determine the immigration status of every student at enrollment and will be able to refuse students without proper documentation and report the parents to the authorities.

Although schools will require a certificate of live birth for all students at enrollment, regardless of the student’s status neither they nor their parents will be punished. In a briefing for the State Board of Education, Tommy Bice, Deputy State School Superintendent for Instructional Services stated, “Those who enroll after Sept. 1 and are unable to provide documentation through a birth certificate that they are U.S. citizens will still be accepted, although they’ll have to go through a multi-­step process with the school system.” By obtaining the status of all students, lawmakers in Montgomery will have a better idea of the number of illegal immigrants and how to forecast and plan for the impact their presence may have on public education in the state.

Myth: Officers will be allowed to stop and request proof of citizenship of anyone based upon suspicion.

A law enforcement official may only request proof of citizenship if the individual in question has already committed an offense. In Section 12(a) HB56 states:

“Upon any lawful stop, detention, or arrest made by a state, county, or municipal law enforcement officer of this state in the enforcement of any state law or ordinance of any political subdivision thereof, where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the citizenship and immigration status of the person, except if the determination may hinder or obstruct an investigation.”

Myth: Illegal immigrants pay taxes through rent, sales taxes, and have taxes withheld from their paychecks, therefore they don’t cost us any extra compared to citizens at the same income level.

Tax collections from illegal immigrants do little to offset the balance of fiscal costs. The Federation for American Immigration Reform estimates that in 2010, tax collections for illegal immigrants in Alabama reached $18.2 million compared to the $298 million in costs. According to Wall Street investment firm Bear Sterns, there are at least 5 million illegal workers who are collecting wages on a cash basis and are avoiding both income and FICA taxes.

Myth: Illegal immigrants are the only ones willing to perform menial labor.

With unemployment sky-­rocketing to almost 10% in Alabama it is crucial that we protect jobs for citizens of the state. A study by the Center for Immigration Studies indicates that “Mexican immigration is overwhelmingly unskilled and it’s hard to find an economic argument for unskilled immigration because it tends to reduce wages for U.S. workers. Cheap labor from illegal immigration is not “cheap.” It’s subsidized by all of us in the form of our tax dollars paying for their services. It makes a few employers wealthy at the expense of all of us.”

Myth: HB 56 is an unfunded mandate that will cost the state more to enforce.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform estimates the cost of illegal immigrants to the state to be at least $298 million. While it is true that enforcement of the law will cost the state and local law enforcement, in the long run it is expected to save the state money.

Myth: HB 56 makes it illegal to give aid to an illegal immigrant in an emergency.

HB 56 specifically exempts 9irst responders and protection service providers [Section 13(e)]. It also states that a person must “know or recklessly disregard” the fact that a person is in the country illegally for a violation to occur. Good samaritans are not prohibited under this law (Section 13).

Myth: HB 56 prevents Alabama churches from ministering to the illegal immigrant population.

HB 56 does not prevent churches from ministering to anyone. Churches are well protected from state regulations by the Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment which states in part:

“SECTION III. The purpose of the Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment is to guarantee that the freedom of religion is not burdened by state and local law; and to provide a claim or defense to persons whose religious freedom is burdened by government.”-­-­Alabama Constitution

For more information, AFRW White Paper on Immigration

States Facing Tough Choices Regarding Retirement Plans

Alabama is not the only state facing tough decisions on retirement plans.  Governors across the country are being faced with decisions about how to get by with less.  Revenues are down and federal stimulus money has dried up and Governors are having to prioritize.

In Alabama, legislation for 2012 may focus on the best way for the state to continue paying pension benefits provided to retirees. The Times Daily reports:

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, chairman of the Senate General Fund Budget Committee, believes the state cannot afford to continue paying more each year  toward state and education employee pensions.

“If the employer’s share that the state pays continues to go up, it is unsustainable,” Orr said. “That is revenue that comes out of the education and General Fund budgets that also fund services.”

In one analytic assessment, state pension funds could run out of money by 2023.

The issue of public pension benefits has taken the spotlight as states trying to pull out of the recession still have lower-than-hoped tax revenue.  Several states are weighing their choices on how to adequately provide promised pensions to retirees, including providing optional 401(k)-style retirement contributions with no guarantee of defined pension benefits.  Alabama lawmakers increased the amounts employees will have to pay toward their pensions in this last legislative session.  Whatever route the states’ choose to take, one thing is certain–the current course is unsustainable.