21 May 2012
By Brandon Moseley and Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) signed HB658 on Friday less than 48 hours after stating that he wanted changes to the immigration bill. This was one of his reasons for calling a special session. Gov. Bentley has never wavered on the need for an anti-illegal immigration bill, but sometimes his position on the law seems to change.
On June 10th 2011, Gov. Robert Bentley signed HB56, the Beason Hammon Alabama Citizens and Taxpayer Act. At the time, Gov. Bentley said, "We have a real problem with illegal immigration in this country. I campaigned for the toughest immigration laws and I'm proud of the Legislature for working tirelessly to create the strongest immigration bill in the country."
When court challenges were filed against HB56 Gov. Bentley remained one of the law’s strongest supporters. On August 29th 2011 the Governor said, “I look forward to the Judge ruling on the merits. We have long needed a tough law against illegal immigration in this state, and we now have one. I will continue to fight at every turn to defend this law against any and all challenges.”
On September 28th 2011 Gov. Bentley said, “I will continue to fight at every turn to defend this law against any and all challenges.” On October 14th 2011 Gov. Bentley said, “Today’s decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is simply one more step in what we knew would be a lengthy legal process. As I have said on many occasions, if the federal government had done its job by enforcing its own immigration laws, we wouldn't be here today. Unfortunately, by failing to do its job, the federal government has left the problem of dealing with illegal immigration to the states. Alabama needed a tough law against illegal immigration. We now have one. I will continue to fight to see this law upheld."
After it has become public that Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange was asking for some changes in the legislation the Governor seemed to modify his position somewhat. On December 9th 2011 Gov. Bentley signaled that there would be a rewrite of the law. “The leadership of the Alabama House and Senate and I are working together to develop a bill for consideration at the beginning of the next legislative session. The bill’s purpose is to clarify and simplify the current immigration law to ensure that everyone working in Alabama is doing so legally, that law enforcement officers have the clarity, the flexibility and the tools they need to enforce immigration laws, that faith-based, medical and humanitarian services are protected, and that unnecessary burdens on legal residents and businesses are eliminated.” said Gov. Bentley.
On April 5th 2012 Gov. Bentley endorsed HB658 introduced by Rep. Micky Hammon (R) from Decatur. “Over the last several months, we have worked closely with legislative leaders and various groups to clarify and simplify portions of the immigration law, and the result is a more effective and more enforceable bill,” Governor Bentley said. “Not only do these revisions make the bill more effective, they also help promote economic growth, ensure greater fairness, and provide greater clarity on the application of the law. We have revised portions of the bill regarding religious and humanitarian services in a way that mirrors existing federal law. We have also taken steps to eliminate unnecessary burdens on legal residents and businesses.”
HB658 was changed some on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives. Further changes occurred in committee in the Senate. Senator Scott Beason (R) from Gardendale introduced his own anti-illegal immigration bill. Beason, Hammon, and the Republican leadership worked out a compromise bill that made less changes to HB56 than the version which had been passed by the House. On Wednesday (the last day of the 2012 legislative session) the Senate passed their version of HB658. The House concurred with the changes by the Senate and the bill was sent to the Governor for his signature.
Late on Wednesday night, Gov. Bentley unexpectedly added the immigration bill to the call for a special session to begin at 9:00 the next day. Gov. Bentley wrote “Leaders in the state have worked together on a series of reforms aimed at simplifying Alabama’s immigration law and making it more effective. Governor Bentley believes progress was made in the regular legislative session, and we have an opportunity to further clarify the law.”
The written statement from the Governor’s office said, “Governor Bentley has some concerns regarding a portion of the school provision in the existing immigration law. This section is currently enjoined by a federal court. Governor Bentley believes that revising this section to prevent children from being interrogated would allow the injunction to be lifted, making the law more effective.”
Sen. Beason (who co-sponsored both HB56 and HB658) strongly objected to the Governor’s assertion that the bill required that schools interrogate any children. “That is a misconception about the law. It is something that the governor said in his press release that was flat out not factual. He said that children have been interrogated. That is not what is in HB56. I thought by this time that everybody knew that. Anyone can go get the bill and look and see that upon enrollment, when the parents bring the birth certificate and a notation is made.”
Sen. Beason told ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ (APR), “I think it should be pointed out that children are asked a number of questions upon enrollment. They ask if they are homeless or not which I think is a pretty personal thing. They use that to gather data. We are simply gathering data just like we do on everything else. There is no reason for anyone to say that a child is being interrogated when that is simply not true.”
Gov. Bentley also wanted to change a second section of HB658, “A recently proposed addition to the existing law would require the Department of Homeland Security to publish the names of illegal immigrants who have had various matters before the courts. Such a list could be counterproductive and take away from the focus of the original law. The purpose of this particular section of the law is to gather data and statistics, not names.”
Sen. Beason told APR, “If any of the people that I represent were arrested for something, their name is public record and it is posted in all sorts of places. It is posted at convince stores, on websites, and all sorts of places.” “These records are public records.”
At one point on Thursday there were even erroneous press releases circulating claiming that the Governor either had vetoed HB658 or had refused to sign HB658, leading to a pocket veto of the bill: stories which the Governor’s office denied. At least one Birmingham talk radio station even reported the Bentley veto story on the air.
On Friday the Governor clarified his position on the illegal immigration law again and signed HB658 just as it was passed by the state legislature. “We needed to make House Bill 56 better. And over the course of the legislative session, we did that. There is substantial progress in this bill. Burdens on legal residents and businesses are eased, and the goal remains the same – that if you live and work in Alabama, you must do so legally,” Gov. Bentley said.
21 May 2012
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Ruthie Mae Rachard is the baby sister of Calvin McGhee the man who fought for the recognition of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, (PCI).
From the 50s to the 70s tribal leader Calvin McGhee spearheaded a campaign for recognition of Creek land claims in the southeastern states.
Ruthie Mae is 92 years old but her mind is clear about the events of the past.
“Education was the real reason Calvin started to go to Washington to fight for our tribes recognition,” said Ruthie Mae. “Indian children could not go to school passed grade six because we were not allowed in white schools.”
She said to Calvin this was about justice and he wanted the same rights for Indian children that were being given to others.
Her son Lonnie Rachard who was on the Tribal Council during some of this period said, “President John F. Kennedy was the man who was doing the most to help Calvin. Their is no telling how many years would have been saved if Kennedy had not been assassinated.”
Ruthie Mae said, “My brother, Calvin, just want what was right from the government. We used to hold chicken dinners to raise money to send him and others to Washington.”
"It was about justice with my uncle,” said Lonnie. “That’s all any of us wanted.”
Today in the eyes of the PCI and the thousands they employee in Escambia County and elsewhere are looking to see if the justice Calvin McGhee won will withstand the charges made by some on the Escambia County Commission.
The County Commission has contended that the PCI is not a sovereign nation and is therefore responsible to pay taxes on land and earnings at there casinos.
According the to the Chairman of the Escambia County Commission, the United States Supreme Court ruling in 2009 in Carcieri vs. Salazar strips the PCI of their status.
“The Poarch Band of Creek Indians received federal recognition in 1984—50 years too late to have lands lawfully set aside by the federal government,” Stokes said.
The Commission’s attorney Bryan Taylor from Prattville has said that if the tribe would pay their fair share of taxes that the Commission would drop their threats of legal action.
“Today they pay X, tomorrow they could pay Y. The problem seems to be that they would prefer to keep paying X and don't want to pay Y, what every other taxpayer pays," said Taylor. “That seems to be one of the reasons they've been so busy lobbying Congress to overturn the Carcieri decision rather than just complying with it and paying Y.”
However, many tribes are seeking the so-called Carcieri-fix to clear up the court ruling.
The Carcieri-fix has had bipartisan backing as well as support from the Obama administration. But the issue has faced opposition from tribes that want to create two classes of Indian recognition and the lawmakers that are fund such tribes.
If two classes are created then tribes like the PCI would not be allow to have gaming on their reservation.
But according to Taylor the issue with the commission is simply taxes.
“If PCI chooses to go to court to dispute the taxes, the result could be a ruling that's worse for everyone than if the PCI simply were to pay their fair share,” said Taylor.
But if the tribe’s rights are not valid under Carcieri vs. Salazar then neither is gaming and by extension there would be few taxes to collect.
Many wonder if Taylor has not led the commission down a path that will be a looser for all but Taylor.
“This man made his political career working to help Bob Riley end gaming in Alabama," said. Lonnie Rachard, “There is more to this than what that man is saying. I don’t believe the commission ever thought this through.” Rachard continued, “Bryan Taylor wants more than taxes.”
The following is a breakdown of what the Escmabia County Commission has said and the PCI response.
Escambia County Commission has said: On February 24, 2009, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Carcieri v. Salazar, tossing out everything we thought we knew about the legal status of Poarch Creek Indian lands.
PCI Position: The Carcieri decision does not impact the legal status of the lands that the United States has held in trust for the Tribe for over 25 years. The decision in Carcieri did not divest the United States of the 1,800 acres of land that the United States already held in trust for the Narragansett Tribe. Likewise, the decision did not divest the United States of the lands held in trust for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
Federal Jurisdiction is Not Limited to Federal Acknowledgment
Escambia County Commission’s has said: The Poarch Band of Creek Indians received federal recognition in 1984--50 years too late to have lands lawfully set aside . . . under . . . the Indian Reorganization Act.
PCI Position: Carcieri did not hold that a tribe must be federally acknowledged in 1934 to have lands taken into trust. Instead, it held that the tribe must be “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934. The Narragansett Tribe made no claims and proffered no evidence that prior to acknowledgment. The Narragansett maintained the kind of federal relationship possessed by many other tribes. The record in Carcieri showed only that the Narragansett were under formal guardianship of the State of Rhode Island beginning in 1709. In stark contrast, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, though not formally acknowledged until 1984, has a longstanding relationship with the United States.
Carcieri Did Not Divest the Federal Government of Title
Escambia County Commission has said: The Federal Government still hasn’t come into compliance with the Carcieri decision by relinquishing title to trust lands it has no legal authority to hold.
PCI Position: Nothing in Carcieri divested the United States of title to land that the United States already held in trust for the Narragansett Tribe or required the United States to relinquish title for lands held in trust for any other tribe.
The Tribe’s Support of the Carcieri-Fix Is Not About Avoiding County Taxes
Escambia County Commission has said: [The Tribe] is desperately pressuring Congress to overturn a Supreme Court ruling . . . in order to avoid having to pay their fair share of taxes.
PCI Position: The U.S. Constitution acknowledges Indian tribes as distinct governments, which are not subject to taxation by other governments. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians has joined Indian tribes across the country in actively advocating that Congress enact a “Carcieri-fix” not because the Tribe believes that its existing lands are no longer held in trust and thus taxable, but to resolve confusion and obviate potential frivolous claims resulting from the Carcieri decision.
21 May 2012
From the Office of Attorney General Luther Strange
MONTGOMERY--Attorney General Luther Strange said today he is pleased that the Alabama Legislature gave approval to seven bills in a package that he advocated to strengthen and support law enforcement in Alabama. These include bills to regulate synthetic marijuana, to preserve citizens’ rights and the integrity of legal proceedings, to combat looting, and to protect law enforcement officers.
“The success of our legislative package is a tribute to law enforcement officers throughout our great state,” said Attorney General Strange. “It is my honor as Attorney General to meet with these fine men and women, and as I do so, I continue to be impressed and grateful for their dedication to protect our citizens and enforce our laws. Because they cared and expressed their concerns to me, together we have been able to bring major reforms that will help law enforcement in the performance of their vital duties.”
Attorney General Strange stated, “I especially want to thank the members of the Alabama House of Representatives and the Senate who worked tirelessly to keep these bills moving and to achieve their final passage. On behalf of the citizens of Alabama, I want to thank them for a job well done.”
On March 22, the Legislature gave final approval to House Bill 17, dealing with false instruments that may be filed against public officials or law enforcement to hinder rightful claims to their property, and providing a process to facilitate the legitimate cancellation of such claims. This bill was sponsored by Representative Blaine Galliher who secured House passage and once the bill arrived in the Senate, Senator Cam Ward (who sponsored the companion bill) guided it to final passage.
Final passage of legislation to ban synthetic drugs came on April 26. Senate Bill 208 and House Bill 158 changed the law to now regulate synthetic marijuana and other similar substances. Synthetic substances that mimic marijuana or other drugs, often referred to as "spice," "bath salts" or various other names, are created with chemical compounds which had not been identified and prohibited as controlled substances under state law. The State Department of Public Health previously has taken regulatory action regarding this, and now the classification of the chemicals and chemical compounds as controlled substances under state law gives law enforcement stronger tools to combat their abuse. Sponsors were Representatives Allen Farley and Randy Wood and Senator Arthur Orr.
A significant victory was achieved on May 2 when an important compensation was restored for law enforcement officers, firefighters and correctional officers who sacrifice long hours in hard and dangerous work. House Bill 255 changed the law to allow the calculation of overtime pay toward their retirement benefits. Sponsors were representative Jay Love and Senator Jabo Waggoner.
The next day, on May 3, final passage of a looting bill was lauded as a tribute to those who have struggled through the devastating tornadoes that have struck Alabama just over a year ago. Attorney General Strange developed this legislation based on discussions within the Attorney General's Law Enforcement Advisory Committee and the law enforcement officers’ recommendations for better tools to combat looting. Under previous law, Alabama has not had a crime specific to looting, and the existing laws against burglary, theft and trespassing have not been adequate to fight the looting that becomes epidemic during times of disaster. Now the law specifically criminalizes looting and makes it a class C felony, which is punishable by one to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $15,000. Sponsors were Representative John Merrill and Senator Gerald Allen.
May 8 brought the final passage of three more law enforcement bills in the Attorney General’s legislative package:
House Bill 99, sponsored by Representative Randy Wood, will protect law enforcement personnel and other Alabamians from sham legal proceedings. Representative Wood achieved swift passage out of the House and Senator Cam Ward was instrumental in securing final passage in the Senate. Attorney General Strange included this bill in his legislative package upon the strong recommendation of members of law enforcement to fight such efforts to intimidate or hinder officers in the discharge of their duties.
Senate Bill 91 provides tough penalties for the disarming of a law enforcement officer. Previously, state law provided no specific crime for disarming a law enforcement or corrections officer. This bill makes it a class C felony to intentionally remove a firearm or weapon, or to deprive a law enforcement or corrections officer of its use when the officer is acting within the scope of his duty and the person reasonably should have known that it was a law enforcement or corrections officer. Sponsors were Senator Tammy Irons and Representative Lynn Greer.
House Bill 278 will combat the proliferation of metal theft in Alabama. This legislation arose from concerns expressed to the Attorney General by manufacturers, secondary recyclers, businesses, law enforcement, church leaders, and others who have been impacted by metal theft. It provides for a statewide digital database to be created and maintained by the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center. In addition, the bill increases criminal penalties, puts limits on transactions, and provides other safeguards. Sponsors were Senator Ben Brooks and Representative Bill Poole.
Attorney General Strange commended his legislative director, Suzanne Webb, and his law enforcement coordinator, Louis Zook, for their work in obtaining the passage of these important new laws.
21 May 2012
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Congresswoman Martha Roby (R) from Montgomery released a statement about her questioning of President Barack H. Obama’s Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the subject of protecting religious liberty.
Rep. Roby asked Sec. Sebelius how the administration’s mandate that employers provide all manner of birth control methods would impact Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), a Catholic television and radio network in Alabama. Rep Roby asked Secretary Sebelius why EWTN (a religious employer) was not exempt from HHS’s mandate in the first place.
Secretary Sebelius blamed the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) for recommending contraception and abortifacients among their recommended services essential to women. The IOM’s report to HHS contains no mention of the impact of the mandate on religious liberties or constitutionality rights.
Rep. Roby’s asked Sec. Sebelius why HHS did not exempt religious organizations like EWTN at the beginning of the process.
Sec. Sebelius said that several states already have a contraceptive mandate and provided an exemption for a narrow group of religious employers. The Obama religious exemption is narrower than any of the states.
The Obama administration is claiming that it has acquired vast new powers from the Patient Protection and Affordability Act (commonly called Obamacare). Using new powers to set minimum coverage in what sort of health insurance plans individuals and employers may purchase the administration has ordered that every health care plan sold in the country include extensive contraception coverage. Sec. Sebelius’s HHS has defined that as free contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilizations and has strictly limited the religious exemption to just houses of worship. Church owned or affiliated hospitals, book stores, radio stations, TV networks, schools, etc. have no religious liberty according to the Obama administration, which prefers to use the term ‘freedom of worship’ rather than the broader term, ‘freedom of religion.’
U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) from South Carolina asked Sec. Sebelius if she had obtained a legal opinion on the constitutionality of the contraception mandate and respecting religious freedom. The Secretary admitted that no such opinion was ever prepared and that instead she relied on discussions with the HHS general counsel for all of her legal advice.
EWTN has sued the Obama administration on the grounds that the narrow religious exemption is a violation of their constitutional rights. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has concurred with the religious broadcaster’s legal opinion and has joined in that lawsuit. Alabama has already joined 25 other states in a separate lawsuit challenging Obamacare on the grounds that the individual mandate to purchase health insurance is an unconstitutional expansion of federal power. That case has already been heard by the United States Supreme Court and a ruling is expected next month. Conservative critics of the President’s massive Healthcare industry takeover hope that the Supreme Court will rule the entire package unconstitutional.
The likely bRepublican Presidential nominee, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, has promised to repeal Obamacare if he is elected President in the November 6th Presidential election.
Governor Robert Bentley has said that Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid would require the state of Alabama to pay Medicaid benefits for another 700,000 Alabama residents. Medicaid in its present form is costing the state $603 million a year.
Congresswoman Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District and is seeking her second term in the United States Congress.