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AMERICAN TORT REFORM ASSOCIATION APPLAUDS WARD TRANSPARENCY BILL

WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--May 21, 2013-- 

The American Tort Reform Association today applauded Alabama lawmakers for final passage of legislation that will bring "good-government transparency to the state's hiring of private sector attorneys on a contingency fee basis."

ATRA president Tiger Joyce said his organization has helped make the case for H.B. 227, the Transparency in Private Attorney Contracting (TiPAC) Act, which passed the House by a nearly 2-1 margin on April 16 and by a 28-1 (with one abstention) Senate vote yesterday.

"As is often the case with the crafting and enactment of positive civil justice reforms, credit for this legislation goes to many," said Joyce. "Representative Paul DeMarco, Senator Cam Ward, Senate Speaker Pro Tem Del Marsh, Speaker Mike Hubbard and Attorney General Luther Strange all helped lead the way, and we expect Gov. [Robert] Bentley, with his solid record of promoting economic growth and jobs in Alabama, to sign the bill into law soon.

"In too many states without comparable statutes, attorneys general or other state officials have sometimes hired their friends or political supporters to perform legal work for the state without an open bidding process and with few if any records kept about compensation and work performed," continued Joyce.

"But Alabama now joins a growing number of states, including neighboring Mississippi, that have chosen the kind of transparency that taxpayers and voters deserve. This legislation will improve the reputation of the state's civil justice system and make it easier to attract businesses and jobs," he concluded.

The legislation provides that the state may not enter into a contingency fee contract with any attorney or law firm unless the contracting agency makes a written determination prior to entering into the contract that contingency fee representation is both cost-effective and in the public interest. It also limits contingency fees relative to the size of the state's recovery in a lawsuit to help assure that litigation brought on behalf of the state is motivated by the public good, not by private profit. It also requires the posting of any contract and any payment of contingency fees online for public scrutiny, among other things.

ATRA has championed a national effort to pass state legislation that codifies a uniform set of standards and brings more transparency and accountability to the hiring of outside contingency fee counsel.

The American Tort Reform Association, based in Washington, D.C., is the only national organization dedicated exclusively to tort and liability reform through public education and the enactment of legislation. Its members include nonprofit organizations and small and large companies, as well as trade, business and professional associations from the state and national level. The American Tort Reform Foundation is a sister organization dedicated primarily to research and public education.

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ELDER ABUSE BILL RECEIVES FINAL PASSAGE ON LAST DAY OF SESSION

MONTGOMERY – Planning on taking advantage of Alabama’s seniors?  You may want to think again.  The bill known as the Protecting Alabama’s Elders Act passed the House last night which will create new articles in the Criminal Code to combat elder abuse and financial exploitation.  It passed the Senate earlier in the session.  

 

"As public officials it is our moral obligation to protect senior citizens from both physical and financial predators. This legislation will defend our seniors from the criminals who prey on them," stated Senator Cam Ward, Sponsor of the Senate version, SB 29.

This legislation will strengthen Alabama’s laws to protect our seniors and provide our law enforcement agencies with the tools needed to punish those who hurt them. 

 

"I am pleased the legislature passed this important legislation so we can make sure law enforcement have the tools that they need to prosecute those who attempt to take advantage of Alabama's seniors," explained Representative Paul DeMarco, Sponsor of the House version, HB 45.  “I am pleased that the legislature recognized the importance of this bill.”   

The legislation was drafted by the Alabama Council for the Prevention of Elder Abuse which was created during the 2012 Legislation Session.  The Council has approximately 30 agencies and organizations who participate.

 

“Combating elder abuse has been a top priority of Governor Bentley,” explained Neal Morrison, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Senior Services which is the Lead Agency designated for the Council.  “I am so glad we were able to collaborate with the 30 agencies and organizations who participate in the Council to pull together and stand in a united front to protect our seniors.  We will not stand by and watch quietly as our seniors are taken advantage of.”

 

The legislation will create additional section(s) in the criminal code for elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.  These new sections will provide law enforcement and prosecutors with additional avenues to prosecute elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation. 

 

“This is truly a phenomenal piece of legislation.  Many people in our state came together and created a much needed and long overdue bill for seniors that has now passed,” stated Nancy Buckner, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Human Resources.  “This process is a model of how entities with common interests can and do work together.  The elder abuse act sends a message to those who might abuse or exploit seniors that Alabama will not tolerate it!”

 

Currently, the penalties are found in the Adult Protective Services Act and apply only to victims who could be categorized as a “protected person” but anyone can be scammed or abused.  The proposed legislation does not change the current APS penalties, but adds new sections to the Alabama criminal code.  The new criminal code sections would apply to victims who are 60 years of age or older, regardless of mental competency, so all that law enforcement officials will have to prove is the victim’s age. 

 

Elder abuse and neglect can be prosecuted as first degree, second degree, or third degree abuse or neglect depending on the type and severity of harm to the victim.  The penalties range from a class A misdemeanor for elder abuse and neglect in the third degree to a class A felony for intentional abuse or neglect which causes serious physical injury.  A class A felony carries a sentence of ten (10) years to life in Alabama.

 

The financial exploitation penalties apply to elderly victims (60 and older) who have been exploited by deception, intimidation, undue influence, force, or threat of force.  Additionally, agents under a power of attorney, guardians, and conservators who exploit the person they have a responsibility to may be subject to the criminal penalties.  The financial exploitation penalties range from a class A misdemeanor for exploitation of money or property totaling $500 or less to a class B felony for exploitation of money or property exceeding $2,500.  A class B felony carries a sentence of two (2) to twenty (20) years in Alabama.

 

 

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LEGAL TRANSPARENCY BILL PASSED BY LEGISLATURE

20-May-2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MONTGOMERY—A legal transparency bill that is a top priority for the Business Council of Alabama in the 2013 legislative session has been approved by the legislature and now goes to Governor Robert Bentley’s desk for his consideration.

HB 227 by Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, is landmark legislation known as the Transparency in Private Attorney Contracting (TIPAC) that will provide a commonsense approach when it comes to the state contracting with outside counsel to handle litigation on its behalf.  The TIPAC bill will provide greater accountability by requiring a contracting agency to prove that any contingency fee contract is cost-effective and in the public’s best interest.  Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, sponsored the legislation in the Senate.

“The BCA remains committed to the continued advancement of legal reform in Alabama. Over the years, we have worked closely with the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform on this type of model legislation to ensure accountability and full disclosure,” said BCA President and CEO William J. Canary. 

 "Alabama will join a vanguard of states like Arizona, Florida, Indiana, and Mississippi who have led the effort to open the relationships between state attorneys general and private lawyers hired to work with them to public scrutiny.  Attorney General Strange is to be commended for his leadership,” said Harold Kim, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform. 

State attorneys general are becoming increasingly more involved in consumer protection cases and are often times relying on outside counsel to handle litigation on behalf of a state.  Currently, these outside firms receive a contingency fee based on the percentage of whatever amount is awarded on behalf of the consumer.  This often results in excessive fees and can cause the appearance of impropriety, which undermines our legal system.

Additionally, to ensure that the private plaintiff's firm is acting in the best interests of the state, and not in the interest of its own profit, the legislation requires government attorneys to maintain control of the case and any settlement decisions.  Transparency is achieved through the requirement that a copy of the executed fee contract be posted online. 

“We applaud the House and Senate legislative leadership and our attorney general who collectively made this legislation a priority and helped ensure its passage,” Canary concluded.

The Business Council of Alabama is Alabama’s foremost voice for business. The BCA is a non-partisan statewide business association representing the interests and concerns of nearly one million working Alabamians through its member companies and its partnership with the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama.  BCA is Alabama’s exclusive affiliate to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Contact: Nathan Lindsay (334) 834-6000

 

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LEGISLATIVE SESSION DOWN TO FINAL DAY

State legislators will have full plates when they return to the statehouse Monday for the last day of the current session.

In addition to bills that have garnered national headlines, such as the Alabama Accountability Act and a gun rights bill, lawmakers representing Chilton County will try to push through bills that affect residents here.

“This is it,” state Rep. Kurt Wallace said about the final day. “We’ll be here until midnight if we have to.”

State Sen. Cam Ward said a data processing fee increase that would raise additional funding for the Chilton County Humane Society has cleared the Senate and is on the schedule for the House of Representatives to consider.

Ward said he expects the bill to pass.

Wallace is less hopeful about a bill he sponsored that would regulate the state’s barber industry.

He said Monday marks the fourth time the bill will be on the House’s schedule, but this time it is so far down the agenda that Wallace said he doesn’t expect it to come to a vote.

“Everybody has bills they are trying to get up there,” he said.

Wallace said he intends to re-introduce the bill during the Legislature’s next session, possibly with some modifications.

Ward, meanwhile, hopes to see final passage of three bills he is sponsoring: one would strengthen laws against financial and physical abuse of the elderly, the second would place caps on the amounts state government can pay to outside legal representation, and the third would increase penalties against an unauthorized person who boards a school bus and assaults the driver or a student.

Wallace and Ward differed on the latest development with the Accountability Act, which has garnered attention nationwide while being hailed by its Republican supporters as groundbreaking for education in the state.

Gov. Robert Bentley announced that instead of signing a set of revisions to the act into law, that he would tack on an executive amendment delaying implemenation by two years.

The Legislature would then consider the amendment.

The Accountability Act calls for tax credits for state residents who take their children out of “failing” schools and enroll them in non-failing schools. Bentley said the state needs to focus first on re-paying more than $400 million borrowed from the Education Trust Fund, a position Ward said he agrees with.

“We need to start paying that money back,” Ward said. “[Bentley’s amendment] doesn’t do away with the tax credit, and it doesn’t do away with school choice.”

But Wallace said legislators have been assured that the act is “fiscally responsible.”

“If everything continues on the path we’ve been on, we’ll be fine,” Wallace said. “We worked really, really hard, and this could put our work in jeopardy. Right now, I don’t support it.”

Wallace said he thinks both the House and Senate would override Bentley’s veto if the amendment came to a vote.

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CHILDREN'S AUTHORS, MUSICIANS VISIT CREEK VIEW

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Students at Alabaster’s Creek View Elementary School who have seen Taylor Swift’s Geico Insurance commercial recognized a familiar face during Awesome Authors Day on May 15.

Josh Castle, a Nashville musician featured on the commercial, donned a rainbow-colored mohawk and peace sign glasses as he played alongside singer-songwriter Roger Day in the school’s cafeteria.

During the performance, Day and Castle played songs dealing with topics ranging from brain-freeze to coastal ecosystems.

“I love coming here,” Day said, noting it was is his fifth straight year to play at Awesome Authors Day. “It’s great for the kids to associate a real live person with a musician, illustrator or writer.”

CVES holds Awesome Authors Day each year to give students a chance to meet authors, musicians and illustrators whose work they have enjoyed throughout the school year.

In addition to Day and Castle, Awesome Authors Day also featured children’s authors Kim Norman, Jo Kittinger and Will Rankeillor, illustrator Carly Strickland and state Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster.

While reading to a group gathered in Lyn Wyatt’s art room, Ward encouraged the students to read as often as possible both inside and outside the classroom.

“No matter what you read, it’s good to keep reading your whole life,” Ward said. “If you take time to read now, that’s going to make you a lot smarter when you grow up.”

 

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Legislature Gives Final Passage to Fleet Management Reform Bill

The Alabama legislature passed a bill to create The Office of Fleet Management today. The new office will be housed in The Alabama Department of Transportation, and is tasked with the cost efficient acquisition, allocation, and maintenance of state owned motor vehicles and facilities.

“This is sound conservative fiscal management in action. It will put the management of all the vehicles of all state agencies under one roof, and answerable to one person,” Ward said. “Currently, each agency buys its fleet vehicles piecemeal, based on their individual needs. The truth is that most of the cars and trucks we use have the same specs and the same usage requirements. Combining the purchase of all vehicles under one office will allow the state to use buying power as a force multiplier and negotiate for better deals.”

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‘Doctor shopping’ prevention bills pass legislature

The Alabama Senate on May 2 granted final passage to a series of bills that will help combat the abuse of prescription drugs.

The three-bill package will enhance the tracking of prescriptions for opioids, painkillers and other commonly abused drugs, prevent “doctor shopping” and provide the State Medicaid Agency with tools to combat drug abuse among its patients. The bills now go to Gov. Robert Bentley for his signature.

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, who sponsored the legislation in the Senate, said these are necessary tools for combating a dangerous and costly problem in the state of Alabama.

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Press conference held in Alabaster to discuss elder abuse

The issue of elder abuse was front and center at a press conference held at the Alabaster Senior Center on Monday.

State Sen. Cam Ward is sponsoring legislation that would increase penalties for elder abuse.

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State Sen. Cam Ward stirs support for elderly abuse legislation in Alabaster

As the Alabama Legislature approaches its home stretch, state Sen. Cam Ward of Shelby County and others at a press conference this morning stirred support of a bill he sponsored that protects seniors from criminal abuse.

"We're only one vote away from this bill getting final passage," Ward said at the Alabaster Senior Citizens Center, urging those in attendance to call their legislators to approve the bill within the session's remaining eight days.

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New legislation paves way for aviation industry

With Redstone Arsenal and its associated aerospace industry in the Tennessee Valley and with Airbus locating its new factory in Mobile, Alabama has an opportunity to become a major player in the commercial aviation industry in the Southeast. The Alabama Commercial Aviation Business Improvement Act increases the state’s chances of expanding on its successful foundation.

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