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Ms. Shelby Ridge 2014 Crowned

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

It won’t be hard for judges at the Miss Alabama Nursing Home pageant in August to remember where Marian Shelby is from when she takes the stage.

“I am so proud and honored,” Shelby, 85, said as she was crowned Miss Shelby Ridge and Rehab Select during the facility’s pageant on May 8. “I’ll try to do my best to bring you honors.”

Shelby was one of six contestants who competed in the Miss Shelby Ridge pageant, which packed the facility’s cafeteria and event room. Bessie Smitherman was named first runner-up, Sarah Carter was second runner-up, Christy Ray was third runner-up, Mary Robbins was fourth runner-up and Agnes Chambers was fifth runner-up.

Shelby Ridge residents decked the room out in a Mardi Gras-inspired masquerade ball theme as the six women sought to represent the nursing home in the state pageant, which will be held this summer at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover.

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, served as the emcee, and asked the contestants questions about their lives and about their time at Shelby Ridge. Maurice Mercer, Janna Jones and Kristie Garrett served as judges in the pageant.

While responding to the question “What is your favorite activity?” Shelby said she enjoys the arts and crafts offered at Shelby Ridge, and said Mia is her favorite activity instructor.

Carter also praised Shelby Ridge while answering her question.

“It is a wonderful place. It’s clean, we have wonderful food, the staff is nice to us. What else can you ask for?” Carter said.

Chambers said she would have no qualms about recommending Shelby Ridge to anyone.

“If you have to go somewhere, this is the place to go,” Chambers said, garnering laughter from the crowd.

Robbins said her sons bring her the greatest pleasure in life, and always ask if there’s anything she needs when they visit her, and Ray said laughter is the key to a long and happy life.

Smitherman said the birth of her first child was the most exciting experience in her life, and said she is “blessed in so many ways.”

- See more at: http://www.shelbycountyreporter.com/2014/05/08/there-she-is-shelby-ridge-crowns-pageant-winner/#sthash.LKJnyBWQ.dpuf
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Alabama Must Enact Prison Reform or Pay Big Financial Price

AL.COM

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Why should Alabama politicians care about issues within the state prison system? Why, for that matter, should residents care?

What's being done now to fix the problems, and what are the potential consequences if they aren't adequately addressed?

No one has all the answers, but state Sen. Cam Ward has increasingly familiarized himself with the system and the players during the past five years of his political career.

A team of AL.com reporters, collaborating with the Center for Investigative Reporting and WBHM, are taking a closer look at the state prison system as part of the Alabama Investigative Journalism Lab.

Last week, WBHM's Rachel Osier Lindley sat down for a lengthy talk with Ward, a Republican from Alabaster and chairman of the state legislature's prison oversight committee. Their interview addressed the prison system's history and how legislators and state officials can remedy current challenges.

[Listen to the 5-minute on-air interview and the extended 20-minute interview here.]

Here are some highlights:

Prisons aren't exactly a fun or popular cause for a person to take up in the legislature, so what first got you interested in prison reform?

Ward: "First of all, no one's ever run for election or re-election on the issue of how to solve prisons. I can tell you it's not a big issue in the minds of voters, but it should be. When you look at the rising costs of prisons in Alabama and you look at the issue of overcrowding and how... out of sync we are with the rest of the country, what it makes me realize is that if we don't do something about it soon it's going to create a huge, huge problem for our budget in the future. You know we love to proclaim ourselves to be a state that prides itself on the 10th Amendment but we would really be disregarding that pride we have if we totally let the federal courts come in and take over our prison system, and I think that's what's on the verge of happening. So I think we have to step up and make some bold political choices or else we're going to have a third or fourth of our general fund budget controlled by the federal government."

"We have to make some bold political choices or we're going to have a third or fourth of our general fund budget controlled by the federal government"

What kind of political heat do politicians take when working on prison issues – showing compassion to people in prison – and what kind of pressure does that put on you?

Ward: "Well it is a lot of pressure but if you look at what other states have gone through, you look at Texas, Kentucky, Georgia. Those are... so-called red states that tackled sentencing reform and it worked out great... They saved money. There's a lot of political pressure because there's a stigma there that you're soft on crime if you want to somehow resolve the prison problem. No one's being soft on crime; you're trying to be smart on crime... And as a state that loves to advocate for the bill of rights we talk often about the 1st, 2nd and 10th amendment but there's still a 3rd through the 9th amendment that we have to advocate for and the 8th amendment it clearly lays out cruel and unusual punishment, and if we violate that then the federal courts are going to take over... I'm not advocating for a prisoner to have certain rights over someone who hasn't committed a crime but if we don't maintain those basic rights a federal court's going to do it for us... It's not a politically popular position, but I think it's gaining traction with the awareness we're raising."

Right now the state prison system is under investigation. Do you feel like you or other members of the Alabama legislature's prison oversight committee are personally taking heat for this investigation by the Department of Justice?

Ward: "I think we have a responsibility to respond and do what we can to correct the system and if there are violations taking place that violate someone's rights under the 8th amendment then we need to step up... I have an obligation as a policymaker to make sure we're enacting or engaging in policy matters that are in compliance with the constitution and also good for the state, our state budget and our state system, so we're not catching personal heat but my opinion is we should be more concerned than we have been."

In January, the Department of Justice contacted Gov. Robert Bentley about what they characterized as unconstitutional conditions at the Julia Tutwiler prison in Wetumpka. How did this change the tone of the legislative session for the prison oversight committee?

Inside Julia Tutwiler prison

Ward: "I think it's raised the awareness level... For years going way back to the early '90s, there was a perception that we had to be tough on crime and forget everything else, and we should be tough on crime. There's no question about that, but we should also be smart on crime. I think what Tutwiler did was raise an awareness of 'Hey, we may be looking into a deep black hole that if we don't do something now we're going to fall off the edge of the cliff.' I think it raised an awareness level that some reforms are needed and if we don't engage in those reforms then we're going to pay a big financial price down the road for our state."

And during the 2014 legislative session the Alabama legislature passed a resolution that is creating a task force and that will work with the Council of State Governments on prison problems. What exactly will that task force do?

Ward: "In the past if you look at other states that have successfully navigated through the prison crises that they had, what they did was they had a group – Council of State Governments, which is a bipartisan group of policymakers from around the country – they had that group come in under their justice institute plan and... study your corrections system and make recommendations. It takes about an eight-month study, but they come in and recommend policy, sentencing reform, facilities – everything from A to Z in your system, what you can do to fix it and make it better. But they require you to have a task force of local officials, of local stakeholders to work with them, so the task force we created was to set the stage for them to come in and work with us, to make sure we had a group in place that's going to be very serious about... coming up with some real solutions and real ideas. And I think 2015's going to be the high water mark for sentencing reform in Alabama."

Sentencing reform is a big issue that you talk a lot about. What do you think that Alabama gets wrong with sentencing?

Ward: "There's a lot of disparities in the way we classify certain crimes. There's a disparity in how we classify crack cocaine as opposed to powder cocaine. They're both cocaine, yet we have different penalties. We have this notion in our mind that somehow, someway a nonviolent offender should get the same amount of time as a violent offender... Someone who commits a crime should be punished, there's no question about that. I think it's the degree of punishment what we're looking at. For example, it costs you $41 a day per inmate to put in the state prison... however, I could put that same nonviolent offender into a community corrections facility and it costs you $11 a day. Why wouldn't you take a nonviolent offender, save $30 per day per inmate putting them in a community corrections facility where they have to work and basically pay back their restitution, as opposed to putting them into a $41 a day lockup that quite honestly does nothing but create a masters' degree in criminals?"

Another thing that you are very passionate about besides sentencing reform is community corrections, and what does community corrections mean? Describe what that would look like for Alabama.

Ward: "Community corrections is different per county because every county has a different need... In Shelby County, for example, we have a very large heroin problem... so a community corrections program there may look like one where they stay, they work during the day and there's drug testing available for them... but also they have to go through rehabilitation, drug counseling and the like. Part of their work (would) help fund the facility they're staying in at night. It's a minimum security facility so... you don't have the same security enhancement costs as you do at a maximum security facility."

When did the prison issue start becoming a bigger problem in the state of Alabama?

Ward: "10 to 15 years ago as the population of inmates boomed; however, we first really started getting involved in it in the legislature probably too late, probably about two or three years ago. Two years ago was when we started seeing an uptick in the issues. The crowding issue has been growing for many years. We're at 192 percent capacity; however I would say that where it really started coming to a head was the first time we had some abuse allegations in Tutwiler. This was pre-DOJ report. We had some abuse allegations there but we also had some inmate-on-inmate violence in a couple other facilities, Donaldson as well as Elmore... We called a joint oversight committee meeting, met with the commissioner, met with the various wardens, talked to them about the issue. They agreed there were some things that needed to be addressed with the limited resources they have – security cameras, guards in training, just a host of issues – and then about a year ago, I would say when the DOJ started their investigation, we started becoming more engaged as far as touring the individual facilities, looking at... what needs to be addressed... There is one important thing to remember though – the DOJ report was based on a tour they did roughly a little over a year ago. All that's being reported on now, what their study was based upon was roughly a year, year and a half ago. There's been a lot of changes since their report took place."

So then that takes us into the legislative session for this year, when the Alabama legislature passed a resolution creating a task force to address some of these issues. And then earlier this month Gov. Robert Bentley announced that the state would be hiring a consulting firm to work with the state on addressing problems at Julia Tutwiler prison, and the state will also be working with the Council of State Governments justice center and a few other groups. What is the significance of the state doing this?

Ward: "First of all the biggest significance is that it's the first time in my 12-year career that I've seen the state actually take that seriously. It shows that we recognize there's a problem... and we've got to do something to fix it... I think 90 percent of the issue is awareness and recognizing the problem. Second, I think... it's going to give us a blueprint to go forward... We could throw a lot of bills against the wall and see if they stick, but at the end of the day if you really want to fix it you need to make sure you know first what statistics show, what is a data-driven solution to the problem... I think the big challenge, however, will be in 2015... The people that are going to be on the task force are going to be a broad group of folks... You're going to have all the way across the political spectrum, and I think you have to have that to have legitimacy and make the task force work. But the real challenge will be once that group produces a report and the Council of State Governments produces their report... that means next session it's going to require some real courage on behalf of lawmakers to pass these reforms."

The Council of State Governments Justice Center – tell me more about that group.

Ward: "They have been the leading driver behind prison reform across the country. They come in and they study the system. They get down to the details of data – your inmate incarceration, how many are nonviolent, how many are violent, what crime did they commit, how often do you have people coming back into the system after they've been released. They look at that and say 'Here's a set of recommendations' and the states that have adopted their recommendations have done very good... Now it won't happen overnight, but... over time they have adopted their recommendations, reduced their populations and at the same time saved money and had no increase in crime."

So what do you think it'll take for us to move forward?

Ward: "It took us years and years of neglect and kind of burying our heads in the sand to get here. It's going to take many, many, many years to get back out of it. I don't think it'll be one bill. I don't think there's going to be one budget proposal. I think you're looking at probably 12, 15 different proposals which, over time, will help us get out of this problem we're in. No one wants to be soft on crime. No one's out there saying prisoners are more important than victims; however, there are certain 8th amendment challenges we have that we have to comply with, and if we don't do that then the state of Alabama will suffer the financial consequences for generations to come."

 

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The Good and Not So Good of 2014 Session

The 2014 Session of the Alabama Legislature is now over and what started off as an uneventful session ended as anything but. Every year, not just election years, it is the expressed intent of the leadership in both houses of the Alabama Legislature to “do the people’s work and go home.” And many times, not just election years, we get sometimes get bogged down in procedural machinations and yes, instances of principled disagreement gumming up the works.

At the beginning of this session, I laid out my priorities as follows: Passing a revision of The Alabama Open Meetings Act, passing Judicial Re-Allocation and passing meaningful energy legislation that would help Alabama’s energy providers and job creators stay open for business.

Of the 30 legislative items I sponsored most were considered government reform measures. This included bills that freed companies and the State Department of Labor from filing outmoded and unneeded paperwork, that reduced the level of EPA regulation of stormwater drainage, protected Alabama citizens from financial fraud, and even set up a “blue ribbon panel” of law enforcement and victim’s advocates on tackling our prison overcrowding problem.

And on the last day of the session, just before we adjourned Sine Die, we were able to pass a Judicial Recusal bill I sponsored in the Senate that streamlines the rules for when judges have to step down from overhearing a case. It protects our legal system’s integrity, and prevents companies or attorneys from even the perception of purchasing.

As in most years, not every legislative priority I had was a success. We were stymied in our attempts to pass a 2% pay raise for teachers and unable to pass a pro-business bill to stop lawsuit lending from which is practice of charging extremely high interest rates on money loaned to accident victims, which in turn prevents the victim from recovering the full value of their judgment and creates a domino effect of higher costs for our courts and legal fees. In the end despite months of negotiations we even came up seconds short of passing my Open Meetings Act bill that would have brought more transparency to all levels of government.

I will have the chance to fight for these bills and more another day, and would like to thank you again for the honor of serving you in the Alabama State Senate. I had a successful session and am optimistic about the next four years. I am truly grateful to my family, the wonderful people in my district, and the support staff in the legislature who helped make my service possible.

In 2015, the legislature will have many new fresh faces, ready to bring their agendas and do the work of the people of Alabama. I look forward to working with those new members as well as those who return. It is always a rewarding and challenging experience. 

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Why I Support Paul DeMarco

I call it “bumper sticker politics.” It’s the catchy phrases that promote a political stance or send a message of opposition. While “bumper sticker politics” may stir emotions or grab a headline, those catchy phrases don’t necessarily make a difference in our day-to-day lives. The difference is made by public servants willing to work, who understand the governing process and push for real change and real solutions for our communities.

That’s why I support Paul DeMarco for Congress to replace U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus. I have served with Paul for several years now. He has chaired the House Judiciary Committee while I have chaired the Senate committee. He will be missed in the state legislature. 

There are several good people running for 6th Congressional seat. Many of them are personal friends.  However, I believe Paul’s commitment to real change and advocacy for the people of his district and throughout Alabama will make a difference in Washington. Paul DeMarco is a conservative with proven results. This past session, he took on the Alabama Department of Revenue to pass a Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights to simplify the tax assessment appeals process for individuals and businesses. It may not be a top story on your local news, but it makes a big difference for that small business owner. Paul has fought for accountability and transparency in state government and in his home county. When Jefferson County faced the dark days of bankruptcy, Paul worked tirelessly to reform the system and put the local government on the right track for the future.

Paul is forward looking. He wants to make a difference in the communities he represents. He understands the governing process. He may not always get the flashy headlines, but he works hard to gets things done.

This nation faces many challenges: an out-of-control deficit, a complicated tax system and regulatory requirements that threaten jobs and family businesses. You may not see people “post” it on Facebook or discuss it at the Saturday ballgame at the park, but it affects all of our lives. Paul Demarco knows that and wants to make a difference.

I’ve said it before. The little things, the so-called “boring” things often create better opportunities for us all. Those actions get government out of the way. For that reason, Paul DeMarco is the kind of conservative we can trust to do the right thing in Congress. I hope you will consider joining me in supporting Paul in the June 3rd primary.

 

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Good Session for Business Community

By William J. Canary

The 2014 legislative session that began Jan. 14 and ended April 3 saw significant results for Business Council of Alabama members and the entire business community of more than 1 million employees, their families, and investors, topped by enactment into law of Taxpayers Bill of Rights II legislation.

For more than a dozen years, the BCA has teamed with members, Governmental Affairs Committee members, tax experts, and legislators, to update the original TBOR, which first passed in 1992, and level the playing field in the tax appeals process by separating the tax adjudicator from the tax collector.

Since the beginning, the singular goal of this legislation has been fairness, and the Business Council of Alabama commends the Alabama Legislature for updating the current TBOR.

After passage by the House and Senate, Governor Robert Bentley signed TBOR II into law on March 11 as the Taxpayer Fairness Act. His early support helped move the bill and for that he deserves credit and our heartfelt thanks.

The law creates an Alabama Tax Tribunal independent of the Alabama Department of Revenue where the tax appeals process had been under an ADOR administrative law judge. The new department created from the ALJ division will become an independent executive branch agency beginning Oct. 1.

Its enactment ensures the appearance of taxpayer fairness during state and local government tax appeals. TBOR II is not only about tax appeal fairness but it's also an economic development tool that shows prospective industrial prospects that Alabama's tax fairness model is second to none.

If the legislative session was like a glass half full or half empty, our glass was nearly filled to the brim due to the approval of important measures sought on behalf of the state's businesses.

Among the successes was the BCA's opposition to legislative proposals that attempted to disassemble Alabama's rigorous education standards or to usurp the authority of the Alabama State Board of Education. The voices of business and industry for the State of Alabama stood united in support of the standards that will ensure that our students are college- and career-ready when they graduate from high school.

The Alabama standards are the cornerstone of the state's Plan 2020 to increase graduation rates, reduce college remediation, and raise student achievement. We believe that education standards that allow students to move from state to state, or region to region without fear of falling behind or repeating material, are critical to our economy and our workforce.

Let's be clear about one thing: in no instance has the federal government taken over, or attempted to take over, Alabama's education system, nor will our elected officials in the legislature or on the State Board of Education allow that to happen. That accusation is based in fear, not reality. 

Our children need to be among the best educated in the world to compete for admission into the best colleges and to secure good-paying jobs. We feel strongly that this is a matter best left to the Alabama State Board of Education, a body created and empowered by Alabama's Constitution to handle these issues.

Among the important pro-business legislation that passed were small-business tax relief, neutrality in government construction contracts, income tax credits for dual-enrollment students, and a workforce council:

House Bill 24 sponsored by Rep. Bill Roberts, R-Jasper, requires public agencies to pay contractors working on public jobs within 35 days after the contracting agency approves payment, instead of the current 45 days. Bentley signed it into law on last Wednesday.

HB 30 by Rep. Victor Gaston, R-Mobile, will allow state agencies to withdraw proposed Administrative Procedures Act rule changes without having to go to the Joint Committee on Regulation Review. Governor Bentley signed it last Friday.

HB 49 by Alan Boothe, R-Troy, codifies the establishment of the Alabama Drought Assessment and Planning Team that was created by Governor Bentley's June 24, 2011, executive order. The bill reaffirms the governor's ability to respond to extreme drought conditions under the powers provided under the Alabama Emergency Management Act of 1955, and allows the Office of Water Resources to promulgate rules. Gov. Bentley signed it last Wednesday.

HB 97 sponsored by Rep. Jim Patterson, R-Meridianville, was signed into law by Gov. Bentley on Monday of last week. It authorizes the Alabama Department of Revenue to administratively suspend collection of a tax or fee if the cost of collecting the tax is greater than the amount to be collected.

HB 108 sponsored by former Rep. Greg Wren, R-Montgomery, creates an online electronic filing system allowing businesses to file annual business personal property tax returns at no charge to the taxpayer or to the taxing jurisdiction. Gov. Bentley signed it on last Wednesday.

HB 151 by Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, is the Small Business Tax Relief Act of 2014. HB151 would raise the average monthly tax liability threshold, from $1,000 to $2,500, before a business is required to remit advance estimated sales taxes. By increasing the threshold, an estimated 3,900 businesses will be relieved of making estimated payments, allowing them to redirect those resources to other areas of their businesses. Gov. Bentley signed the bill on Monday of last week.

HB 195 sponsored by Rep. Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City, prohibits specifying union or non-union labor on public works contracts. Bentley signed it into law as Act 2014-107.

HB 384 by Rep. Mac Buttram, R-Cullman, creates an income tax credit for scholarships to support high school students who enroll in two-year colleges while still in high school. The bill became Act 2014-147.

Senate Bill 7 sponsored by Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Pike Road, was signed into law as Act 214-185. It prohibits the Legislature from approving any unfunded mandate on municipalities of local boards of education unless there is funding to pay for the mandate or unless there is a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Voters will soon see the issue on statewide ballots.

SB 22 sponsored by Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, was signed by Bentley on April 2. The law prohibits the conditioning of licensing of certain health care providers on their participation or non-participation in health insurance plans or other activities.

SB 44 by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, creates a method for "crowd funding" of securities of up to $1 million for business investment purposes. Investors will not be able to put in more than $5,000 unless the investor is an accredited investor. Gov. Bentley signed it on Wednesday of last week.

SB 48 sponsored by Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, passed the Senate and House and was sent to Gov. Bentley, who signed it into law on Thursday. The bill would codify language to prevent employers from attempting to avoid their unemployment taxes by shuttering one business and creating a new entity, with no experience rating concerning layoffs.

SB 121, the Patent Trolling bill sponsored by Sen. Orr was signed into law by Bentley on April 1. The law will make it a crime for anyone to assert a claim of patent infringement in bad faith and authorizes the attorney general to investigate claims and file enforcement actions.

SB 163 is the air bag fraud bill sponsored by Sen. Jerry Fielding, R-Sylacauga. The law makes it a crime to knowingly install a defective air bag or to not install one. Governor Bentley signed it on March 11.

SB 184, the 2014-15 Education Trust Fund budget sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, was forwarded to Governor Bentley on the last day of the session. The $5.931 billion spending plan includes a $10 million increase for Alabama's 1st Class Pre-K program, which the BCA wholeheartedly supports. Bentley signed the bill last Friday.

SB 217 sponsored by Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, and signed by Governor on Feb. 18, creates the Alabama Workforce Council. The appointed council consisting of state business and industry managers will advise and support the leadership of the Alabama Department of Education and the Alabama Community College System.

SB 355, the stormwater rules bill, sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, was signed into law by Bentley on Thursday and makes a statement in support of businesses and the regulated community against regulatory overreach from the Environmental Protection Agency and duplicative environmental regulations. The BCA actively supported this legislation. SB 355 would amend and expand Alabama's stormwater law to cover the entire state and not just Jefferson and Shelby counties and their respective cities.

Moving forward we will continue to be the leading advocate for existing industry by standing for a more accountable and efficient state government so that businesses can do what they do best: create jobs. Our mission at BCA remains simple and strategic: We fight every day for the businessman and woman to be able to sign the front of a paycheck, so that others can sign the back.

(William J. Canary is President and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, a statewide business advocacy organization and the exclusive representative in Alabama to the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.)

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Gov Bentley Signs Bill to Crack Down on Financial Fraud

MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA (April 9, 2014) House Bill 325 was signed by Governor Bentley yesterday. This new law will strengthen the State's ability to prosecute serious crimes like financial fraud.

Alabama State Representative Paul DeMarco (R), 46th District, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sponsored the bill with the support of Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard (R), 79th District. This important bill passed the House in February and will enhance the ability to prosecute securities and financial fraud and other serious crimes by increasing the statute of limitations.

Securities Commission Director Borg commended State Senator Cam Ward (R), 14th District, for successfully carrying this bill through the Senate in April; and also thanked Senate Majority Leader, J. T. "Jabo" Waggoner (R), 16th District, and Senate President Pro Tem, Del Marsh (R), 12th District, for their invaluable support of this important bill strengthening the State of Alabama's ability to prosecute crimes against our citizens.

Alabama Securities Commission Director Joseph Borg said, "This new law will have a positive impact on law enforcement's ability to prosecute serious crimes that are categorized as felonies in Alabama. The Commission appreciates the strong leadership and backing of this bill from Representative DeMarco as it will positively impact the ability to successfully prosecute the perpetrators of financial and property crimes against Alabamians and especially on behalf of our senior citizens who are particularly targeted by scamsters and con artists."

Previously the enforcement community only had three years to investigate and prosecute most felony offenses. Most states and the federal government provide for longer periods of time. The additional time will significantly aid law enforcement in gathering evidence that could lead to charges. Complex economic and financial crimes are difficult to detect and are often not reported to law enforcement until after the present statute of limitations has already lapsed. This new law allows for the prosecution of crimes involving securities fraud and other thefts involving deception for a period of five years following the discovery of the deception or fraud, instead of the date of the transaction, thereby limiting a criminal's ability to immunize himself from prosecution by employing schemes which prevent timely discovery.

One example pertains to a fraudster selling an investor a fraudulent Five-Year promissory note, purporting to pay 10% per year, for the purpose of furthering a fictitious enterprise. At the due date, the investor attempts to collect on the note but discovers that the deal was a scam. Under the past statute of limitations, the State couldn't prosecute the fraudster for theft by deception, and could only prosecute under the Securities Act if the fraudster committed some act in furtherance of the fraud within five years of such event, even if the deception giving rise to the fraud was not discovered until much later.

ASC Director Joseph Borg also said, "We are grateful for Representative DeMarco's strong support, sponsorship and understanding of the importance of this new law to protect Alabamians. Also, we thank Senator Cam Ward for promoting this law in the Senate, giving law enforcement stronger tools. This new law will be a great asset to enhance the prosecution of criminals who victimize Alabama citizens."

 

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Our View: Secrecy Makes a Strong Showing in Legislature

Opelika-Auburn News Editorial | Posted: Saturday, March 22, 2014 9:22 pm

Secrecy in government breeds corruption. Like so much dung spread across an already-fertile field to nourish a valued money crop, secrecy brings life to all manner of lucrative wrongdoing, encouraging it to grow, take root and flourish.

Efforts to promote secrecy seem to be on the rise in Alabama – especially in our Legislature. That’s sad, considering how, at the beginning of the current legislative session, a number of lawmakers expressed enthusiasm for a bill sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, and designed to strengthen the state’s Open Meetings Act.

As Sen. Ward pointed out, a series of Alabama Supreme Court decisions had rendered the original Open Meetings Act largely ineffectual. One ruling allowed governing bodies to get around the law by holding so-called “serial meetings.” In other words, they could break down into smaller groups and meet in secret because each group did not constitute a quorum of the whole.

If enacted, Ward’s measure would eliminate serial meetings. It would impose penalties on violators and allow private citizens more power to challenge violations of the law.

We have the greatest respect and admiration for Sen. Ward and his efforts to promote transparency and serve the public’s interests.

However, that bill, which passed the Senate, now lies stalled in the House. We can only hope our lawmakers do the right thing. We will see.

Perhaps more disturbing is the speed with which another bill – one promoting secrecy -- raced through our Legislature and now appears on the verge of winning approval.

Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, has sponsored legislation that would keep secret the names of companies that supply the state with lethal injection drugs for executions. Greer said Alabama and other states are having trouble obtaining the drugs because pharmacies now fear lawsuits from death penalty opponents.

“The Senate Health Committee approved the confidentiality bill (March 19) in a 7-0 vote,” the Associated Press reported. “However, the committee added an amendment that said the names would be confidential unless a judge ordered their release. Sen. Cam Ward, who offered the amendment, said he supported keeping the names confidential, but had concerns about giving blanket confidentiality to any company.”

Once again, Sen. Ward demonstrated a noble wariness of secrecy.

But we wish he had gone further. We wish he and his fellow senators had rejected the bill. We wish more lawmakers would embrace this simple principle: Democratic governments do not spend taxpayers’ dollars without letting taxpayers know who is receiving their money and what exactly they are getting in return for their money.

Failing to follow this principle allows for all kinds of wrongdoing.

We are convinced Rep. Greer has nothing but the best of intentions. We believe he wants to preserve the state’s ability to carry out justice. We are certain he desires only to spare the state’s suppliers of lethal injection drugs from lawsuit abuse, but pursuing other avenues toward tort reform surely would be better for the public’s interest than ensuring nearly unlimited secrecy in the state’s dealings with a few select companies.

Secret dealings with private businesses and secret meetings among public officials make poor governance. They are not needed -- if serving the public’s interest is the goal of governance. They are, in fact, hazardous to the public good.

If the lethal injection drug bill passes and the strengthened Open Meetings Act measure fails, someone in state government will smell the opportunities. You can bet that same pungent aroma will draw like flies any business or lobbying interests eager to enrich both themselves and any “public servants” willing to do their bidding for a price.

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What Less Government Regulation Means for Us Locally

Editorial By Senator Cam Ward

We hear catchphrases and feel good maxims like “We need less government,” and “Government needs to get out of the way of business,” and “let the private sector create jobs” all the time.

But as small government conservatives and Republicans, what does that really mean?

Obviously we agree that government has some basic functions in a civilized society – defense, public safety, transportation and infrastructure chief among them.

So how do we balance between the free market and fairness?

One the greatest Republican presidents in our history, Teddy Roosevelt, was known as The Trust Buster – he broke up monopolies that were stifling innovation and running roughshod over our rights as men, and the rights of The Constitution.

In short: we need a government for order and for society to function, but collectively was must all debate on when “order” becomes “control” and “function” becomes “compulsory adherence.”

This is a pretty esoteric debate, and that is why I want to point out a few functional properties of less government, and getting government out of the way of business, based on two bills I have recently introduced in the Alabama Senate.

The first piece of legislation has to do with the Department of Labor and Worker’s Compensation Insurance.

In the past, insurance companies had to file a form with the state every time they wrote new coverage, or dropped coverage for a company.

It was cumbersome, labor intensive, and in our interconnected, modern world, not needed on either end.

This one little change will save man hours, save tedious form filings, and get government out of the way, so these companies can more efficiently use their resources.

The second bill falling under this category has to do with storm water system regulation.

Currently, the EPA and ADEM set standards for our cities and counties. In the past, some cities have decided to write their own, harsher, standards to include large fines.

This bill simply says that municipalities and counties cannot write their own regulations – allowing companies and workers to know they are operating under one uniform standard.

They don’t have to waste time looking up codes for each county, city or town before going about their normal business operations.

Again, this makes that one piece of their job less cumbersome, and less susceptible to government and regulatory overreach.

These bills are not necessarily headline grabbers, but they allow businesses to function better and more efficiently without needless government regulations and oversight.

That is what less government and getting government out of the way of business mean to me: Doing the little things to create better opportunities for us all.

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Ward's ABA Therapy Bill Gets Final Passage in House

Montgomery—The Alabama House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 13, sponsored by Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) today. 

“Two years ago, my colleagues honored me by passing The Riley Ward Act which mandated that certain types of care for children on the Autism Spectrum were covered by insurance companies,” Ward said. “This legislation adds to that effectiveness by licensing the behavioral analysts – giving them the imprimatur of the state, and allowing the people to be confident in the care they receive.”

SB 13 was sponsored by Ward in the Senate, and carried by Reps. Farley and McCutcheon in the House at the request of both the behavioral analysts, and insurance companies asking for oversight and licensing to insure quality, licensed care through their services, and to make sure Alabama insurance providers could cover these much needed services. 

“The creation of the Behavioral Analyst Licensure Board will make sure that children on the autism spectrum get care from an accredited and licensed behavioral analyst,” Paige McKerchar Executive Director of Alabama Association for Behavior Analysis said. “And more importantly to their parents – that this vital therapeutic treatment will be covered by their insurance.”

Senate Bill 13 now goes to Governor Bentley for his signature.

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Gadsden Times- House Should Pass Senate's Open Meetings Act

Published: Friday, February 28, 2014 at 6:22 p.m.

 

 

A battle was waged in the Legislature this week on behalf of the public and, for once, the public won. We’re often skeptical when legislators say their bills protect the public in one way or another, but that’s not the case with Sen. Cam Ward’s legislation on government transparency.

In 2005, Alabama’s Open Meetings Act got a long overdue update, but a series of rulings by the Alabama Supreme Court stripped several key provisions out of the legislation, rendering it close to toothless.

Ward, R-Alabaster, proposed new legislation to plug the loopholes and it took a concerted effort by him and Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, President Pro Tem of the Senate, to usher the bill through. Ward’s initial proposal drew opposition but he, the Alabama Press Association and a collection of groups such as the Alabama League of Municipalities, the Alabama Association of School Boards, the Association of County Commissions and others worked together to craft legislation that was practical for the affected governmental bodies while protecting the public as well.

One provision the bill restores allows the public to sue over closed meetings. The court had made that more difficult, but Ward says civil actions can be brought by any Alabama resident and provides for penalties ranging from $1 to $1,000 for violations of the open meeting requirements.

The bill also makes it clear that the Open Meetings Act applies to committees and subcommittees, something the court said the 2005 law didn’t outline.

The third provision prohibits serial meetings in which less than a quorum of a board deliberates privately an issue that will come before the board for a vote within seven days. Serial meetings have long been used to circumvent open meeting laws and the bill should help stop the practice.

Open meeting laws are often portrayed as being to the benefit of newspapers and other media, but we see them differently. City councils, county commissions and other governmental bodies are charged with being stewards of public money — your hard-earned tax dollars. If they do business out of the public eye, accountability suffers. We’d like to think that all “public servants” have the public’s best interests at heart, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes their interests get put first. Open meeting laws help prevent that.

Ward’s bill should receive a warm welcome in the House, where approval was unanimous for the 2005 legislation. The bill has the support of Gov. Robert Bentley, so the first hurdle was the biggest. We hope it doesn’t hit a snag before Bentley signs it into law. It is in the public’s best interest.

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