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Ward Appointed to Faith & Justice Fellowship

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) is working with federal and state lawmakers on a new, major criminal justice reform initiative.

On Wednesday, Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest outreach program to prisoners and their families, announced the launch of the Faith & Justice Fellowship, a bi-partisan coalition of state and federal lawmakers motivated by various faith traditions to pursue restorative values in criminal justice reform.

Senator Ward was named a State Leader for the Fellowship’s campaign in Alabama.

“Any efforts aimed at helping the victims of crimes and rehabilitation of offenders must include a faith-based component,” remarked Ward. “While criminal justice reform must always keep public safety first, we cannot ignore the need for proper rehabilitation in the prison system.”

“I am proud to join this distinguished group of state and national lawmakers in kicking off this nationwide fellowship to promote best practices in our corrections system. Though Chuck Colson is no longer with us, his organization continues on today, making even greater strides with the announcement of Faith & Justice Fellowship,” continued Ward.

According to Prison Fellowship, the mission of the Faith & Justice Fellowship is “to build, inform, and inspire a movement of policymakers and voters who believe that human dignity and redemption should be represented in our national dialogue on criminal justice.”

The founding federal leaders of the Faith & Justice Fellowship include: U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, N.C.; U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas; U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, Ill.; U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, Ill.; U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, Utah; and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, N.C.

In addition to Senator Ward, state leaders include: State Sen. Konni Burton, Texas; Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Mich.; State Rep. Rob Hutton, Wis.; State Rep. Matt Krause, Texas; State Del. Dave LaRock, Va.; and State Sen. John Proos, Mich.

 

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Ward Honors USS Chilton at Jemison Veterans Event

USS CHILTON PROCLAMATION

 

Whereas citizens of Chilton County Alabama have served with honor and distinction as members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America; and

 

Whereas 106 residents of Chilton County gave their lives in service to the United States and their fellow citizens during the First World War, the Second World War, Korea, Southeast Asia, Lebanon and Iraq; and

 

Whereas members of Chilton County’s Greatest Generation responded to the call to service during the Second World War; and

 

Whereas, 53 residents of Chilton County sacrificed their lives in service to the United States and their fellow citizens during the Second World War; and  

 

Whereas civilian residents of Chilton County supported the effort to defeat the Axis Powers thorough numerous community activities, especially the purchase of War Savings Bonds; and 

 

Whereas the citizens of Chilton County were honored for their efforts by having a Bayfield Class Attack Transport Ship named in their honor; and

 

Whereas APA-38 was commissioned the USS Chilton on 7 December 1943; and

 

Whereas the USS Chilton and crew served with honor and distinction as Flag Ship of Transport Squadron 17 in support of military assault operations during the invasion of Okinawa and evacuated casualties from that combat zone; and 

 

Whereas the USS Chilton and crew survived multiple direct hits by Japanese kamikaze aircraft during this engagement; and

 

Whereas the USS Chilton and crew continued to serve with honor and distinction following the war, participating in support of the Bay of Pigs Operation, the blockade of Cuba during the Thirteen Days of October 1962, and as a member of Task Force 180 in  support of the Apollo 10 space mission; and 

 

Whereas the USS Chilton was decommissioned in July 1972 after three decades of service to the citizens of the United States of America; and

 

Whereas the Commissioning Bell of the USS Chilton is the sole remaining artifact of this proud vessel;

 

Be it proclaimed that the Commissioning Bell of the USS Chilton is hereby dedicated in honor of those citizens of Chilton County Alabama who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States of America and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the United States of America and their fellow citizens.   

 

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Police Jurisdiction Bill Could Lower Taxes

Legislation clarifying the police jurisdiction of municipalities passed the Alabama House of Representatives by a 77-9 vote in the final hours of the legislative session. 

SB 218, sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, establishes a three-mile police jurisdiction beyond corporate limits for municipalities with populations of 6,000 or more and one and one-half miles for towns with fewer residents. David Cole of the Alabama Farmers Federation said the bill builds on legislation passed last year which limits the ability of local governments to tax and regulate property far outside corporate limits.

“This legislation will provide clarity and consistency to the way police jurisdictions are established while giving local governments the ability to adjust those boundaries based on future needs,” said Cole, the Federation’s House Legislative Programs Director. “We appreciate the members of the House of Representatives working to ensure final passage of this bill in the closing minutes of the session.”

After the law is enacted, any extension of police jurisdiction as a result of annexation would require a vote of the municipal governing body. Cities with a three-mile jurisdiction, however, would be allowed to reduce their enforcement area to one and one-half miles.

The bill also states when any noncontiguous property is annexed, the municipality shall not exercise any jurisdiction or authority, including the assessment of any tax, outside the corporate limits.

Gov. Robert Bentley signed the bill into law.

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Budget Funds Essential State Services

The Alabama Legislature is nearly two-thirds of the way through the 2016 regular session. While the Legislature is considering a number of bills, the only constitutionally required duty of the Legislature is to pass budgets for both the Education Trust Fund and the General Fund (the budget for all non-education state spending). 

The Legislature fulfilled part of its constitutional obligation by passing a $1.8 billion General Fund budget. There has been some criticism leveled at the budget, which I will address, but first I want to describe how the General Fund budget was put together.

Before the session began, lawmakers held a series of intense, public budget hearings with every major state department. We were determined to take a new approach to budgeting your taxpayer dollars. This new approach, called zero-based budgeting, requires state agencies to prove from the ground up each line-item request, and forces legislators to ask hard questions and carefully examine each department’s spending habits. 

It established a sound financial precedent for future Alabama legislatures. Requiring each agency to make a rigorous, line-by-line, case for their budget means agencies must prove to lawmakers that the agency’s mission and programs are still an essential function of government. In other words, the pressure is now on the state agency to prove why it should continue to receive taxpayer money. 

The reform and downsizing of government can only happen by focused intentionality. Left to its own devices, a state agency will drift from year to year, treating its budget request as a birthright owed instead of a case to be proven. 

So, here are some details on the Legislature’s $1.8 billion GF budget. The budget slightly increases funding for Public Health, National Guard units, Corrections, and the Department of Human Resources. Most other state agencies were level funded, while the budgets for some like the Department of Labor and the Department of Finance were cut. A massive outbreak of tuberculosis in rural west Alabama meant Public Health needed every bit of its $10 million increase..  

By far, the most difficult challenge for state lawmakers continues to be the behemoth of Medicaid, the federally-mandated health insurance program for children, the elderly, the disabled, and the pregnant. More than one million Alabamians are on the Medicaid rolls, and the program consumes nearly 40% of the budget. For the upcoming fiscal year alone, the Legislature allocated $700 million for Medicaid, an increase of $15 million over last year.  

Many have said Medicaid’s funding must be increased even more so that Alabama can access additional federal matching dollars and finish implementing the reforms we passed a few years ago. Yet the options for increasing Medicaid’s budget by an additional $85 million – via new taxes, or moving money from the Education budget- are not palatable to most people or the Legislature.  

The Legislature has done its duty in passing an austere General Fund budget that avoids new taxes and prioritizes funding for the agencies that need it most. Medicaid still is a problem but we have to reign in where the money will come from to pay for it. 

 

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Legislature Gives Autism Research & Treatment a Boost

Despite the political distractions, the Alabama Legislature has worked hard this session to enact policies to move our state forward. 

This session, the Legislature unanimously passed a $6.3 billion Education Trust Fund for fiscal year 2017 (FY17), the largest education budget since the recession, and it gives a much-deserved pay raise to teachers and support personnel. As a conservative, I do not believe more money necessarily equals better outcomes. Yet there is no doubt Alabama must pay our teachers a high-enough salary to compete with neighboring states and private sector employment for bright college graduates entering the workforce. 

In the Education Trust Fund, the Legislature also made a smart move to invest $288,900 in autism research and treatment through the establishment of local autism regional centers, which will be focused on care for rural areas. 

According to the Autism Society of Alabama, one in sixty-eight Alabamians are on the Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

Depending on where you are on the spectrum, autism can be a debilitating condition. A person (adult or child) with severe autism has trouble picking up on social cues and has difficulty interacting with other people. Children with autism have trouble relating to schoolmates and teachers, while autistic adults can have difficulty navigating complex social interactions in the workplace. 

Thankfully, treatment can gradually improve social skills for those on the autism spectrum. Over time, children and adults on the spectrum can learn to pick up on non-verbal cues and figure out how to read what people are saying in their non-verbal communication: a skill intuitive for most people, but which is so essential for healthy relationships!  

I have had personal experience in dealing with someone on the autism spectrum. There are many dedicated health care professionals in our state working to help kids and adults with autism. But there are gaps in the system, especially for families in rural areas where people often have to travel many miles to see any kind of health care specialist. The establishment of autism regional centers will help fill that gap for the rest of the state. 

Fittingly, April is autism awareness month, and I am thankful the Legislature made the right call last week to fund these new research centers to provide additional help for our friends, neighbors, and relatives affected by autism. 

 

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Medicaid Reform Can Help Solve Prison Problems

With our prison population at almost double capacity and consuming almost a third of the General Fund Budget which funds all the other agencies in state government, I decided to take one of the most difficult challenges in my political career. As a strong conservative who believes my most sacred obligation I have as an elected official is to protect you from those who would us harm you, and to be a wise steward of your tax dollars, I have worked tirelessly to pass reform bills that will do just that. The news events in the past couple of days continue to highlight the violence and unrest within our prison population. With our prisons in a severe state of crisis with over population and the highest number of prisoners to prison guards in the nation, I continue to bring common sense legislation that will result in keeping us safe, insuring that violent criminals are locked away in a secure environment, and will better protect those whom have the job of managing and staffing our prisons. This past week I passed Senate Bill 268 out of committee. Senate Bill 268 mandates that Medicaid will suspend Medicaid benefits instead of terminating upon incarceration. The focus behind this bill is twofold, stop the revolving door with the serious mentally ill (SMI) population in our jails and prisons and to reduce prison medical costs to the state. In short, if the state terminates Medicaid coverage upon incarceration the state loses the ability to shift those costs to the federal government. In an aging prison population those costs could be significant. In addition, passage of Senate Bill 268 could result in sizeable savings to Alabama municipalities and counties by allowing a jail prisoner that has been diagnosed as serious mentally ill (SMI) to have their Medicaid benefits suspended instead of terminated. According to the National Association of County Commissions, it can take months to get Medicaid benefits reinstated once they have been terminated. Senate Bill 68 would result in Medicaid benefit being restored in a matter of days. The logic is that to stop the revolving door of incarceration for a prisoner diagnosed as serious mentally ill, it is imperative they get the care and medicines they need in a timely manner or as statistics prove, they will continue to recycle though the jail system. This results in increased costs to cities, counties, and the state but most of all, it puts you the citizen at risk. It is a proven fact that with treatment and medication, the SMI population can be effectively managed which again reduces cost and provides a safe outcome for them and you. As always, please don’t hesitate to call or write with your concerns or suggestions.

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Teachers to Receive Training on Appropriate Behavior Under New Bill

SB274, focused on social media interaction between students & teachers, passes Senate Committee  

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Yesterday in the Alabama Senate, the Education & Youth Affairs Committee passed legislation by Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) and Representative Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) requiring all K-12 teachers and administrators receive annual training on appropriate behavior towards students, especially in the context of social media. The bill is strongly supported by the Alabama Education Association (AEA). 

“Most teachers behave with admirable character and maturity in and out of the classroom,” Ward remarked. “However, there are ethical questions the use of social media has raised: for instance, is it appropriate for teachers to be friends with a student on Facebook? This training seminar will establish what the legal and ethical standards are for our teachers as they interact online and in person with students.”

Senate Bill 274 stipulates the training must includestandards for interaction between educators and students inside and outside the classroom, with special attention given to social media.

“The use of Internet technology is essential in our classrooms, and that can certainly include social media, in certain circumstances,” Butler observed. “Yet we also need to make sure there are clear lines defining what is appropriate and inappropriate, especially as it relates to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.This bill is about protecting our state’s most precious resources: our children. ”  

“We commend Senator Ward for recognizing the need for this essential training for Alabama educators,” said AEA President Sheila Hocutt Remington. “AEA supports his efforts and we look forward to ensuring implementation in all Alabama school districts.”

Senate Bill 274 now goes to the full Senate for consideration. 

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Senate Bill Protects Critical Infrastructure Sites, Increases Penalty for Criminal Trespassing

Cam Ward focuses on ways to better secure sites that affect the public interest

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) today passed legislation to protect the property of Alabama businesses by increasing the penalty for criminal trespass of critical infrastructure, a term that includes chemical manufacturing facilities, electrical tower substations, railroad switching yards, trucking terminals, and water treatment facilities. 

Criminal trespass of such critical sites would now be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a maximum fine of $6,000.  

"These are extremely sensitive business sites that often contain dangerous chemicals or support our utility infrastructure,” Ward said. “Criminal trespass of these sites puts the pubic at risk and represents a huge loss in annual revenue to Alabama’s businesses and consumers.”

Previously, criminal trespass of critical infrastructure sites had been punishable only with a criminal violation, the maximum penalty for which is thirty days in jail and a fine of $200.

“We applaud Senator Ward’s leadership in championing this important piece of legislation protecting Alabama’s manufactures and their partners,” stated George Clark, President of Manufacture Alabama. “Ensuring the safety and security of our state’s vital industries allow them to build their businesses and grow Alabama’s economy."

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. 

 

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Playing Politics With Prison Reform is Dangerous

By Cam Ward, an Alabama State Senator and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.; and Mike Jones, Jr. an Alabama State Representative and chair of the House Judiciary Committee

Last year, an inmate walking out the door of an Alabama correctional facility might have spent the first day of his or her release, and every day thereafter, under virtually no supervision.

Many people in the state who were convicted of serious, even violent, offenses who served long sentences did not receive sufficient supervision and treatment upon release, increasing the likelihood that they would reoffend. According to the latest research—and common sense—this put our public safety at risk.

Now, as a result of legislation passed late last year, every single person who serves a prison sentence will be supervised upon release. We believe this is a major step forward in keeping Alabamians safer. Curiously, this same law is suddenly under fire from some of the same people involved in its writing.

state Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia.Prior to the new law, Alabama faced a crisis: State prisons had reached extreme levels of overcrowding, operating at 195 percent of capacity. Years of avoiding the issue came to a head in 2014, when the federal government threatened to intervene.

With assistance from national experts who have helped states such as North Carolina, West Virginia and Texas tackle similar problems, the legislature passed a comprehensive plan last year to safely ease the overcrowding, save taxpayers money and reinvest savings into strategies that are proven to bolster public safety.

Newly vocal opponents would have you believe that our prisons are filled only with people who have committed violent crimes, and that to reduce overcrowding we're letting violent criminals out of prison to roam the streets. This is not true.

In 2013, 40 percent of prison admissions consisted of people who violated their probation or parole supervision, and about 30 percent of those admissions were due to technical violations, such as breaking curfews or testing positive for drug use.

The law passed last year created a new category of felonies—Class-D—for the lowest-level property and drug offenses, ensuring that the degree of punishment is proportionate to the seriousness of the crime, and that prison space is reserved for people who commit violent crimes or are most likely to reoffend.

The law also dictates that all people who leave prison will receive supervision to ensure they stay on the straight and narrow. By 2018, 3,000 additional people each year will be monitored who previously would have been unsupervised after release from prison.

How do we oversee all these additional people? The new law funds the hiring of additional probation and parole officers and ensures that supervision resources are focused on people who are most likely to reoffend.

Incarceration is still an option for people who violate the terms of their supervision. Swift sanctions, including short, immediate jail stays, will now be imposed for technical violations of probation and parole. The new law also invests $4 million in  expanding substance-use treatment for probationers and parolees, the first such investment in Alabama's history.

We trust the nationwide research that shows that people are less likely to reoffend if they receive treatment in the community rather than in prison. Requiring people who commit lower-level offenses to serve their sentences on probation or in a community corrections program allows the state to prioritize prison space for people who commit more serious crimes.

A year ago, we could not have anticipated needing to rehash these arguments. Alabama had the most crowded prisons in the country, and federal intervention was a real and frightening possibility. And yet we felt confident we could change course, because stakeholders—legislators, judges, law enforcement officials, and yes, even district attorneys—came together to find a solution. In fact, district attorneys held three seats—more than any other stakeholder—on the Prison Reform Task Force, the group that made the recommendations that led to the new law after months of extensive dialogue.

So, if you hear people cast doubt on this law, look closely at what we would face without it. Picture a line graph spiking to show an astronomical rise in Alabama's prison population. Picture the federal government intervening in our state's public safety operation. And picture people leaving prison with no oversight in the community.

Alabama deserves better, and that's the truth.

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Unearmarking Bill Moves Forward

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