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Ward Introduces Bill to Strengthen Open Meetings Law

By Phillip Rawls, AP

MONTGOMERY (AP) — The governor is joining two legislators and the Alabama Press Association in trying to strengthen Alabama's Open Meetings Act after recent court rulings allowed more government meetings closed to the public.

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said the Legislature updated the act in 2005 to provide more transparency in government. But he said, "three recent Supreme Court decisions really tore that transparency to shreds."

Ward is sponsoring the new legislation with Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana. At a news conference Thursday, Gov. Robert Bentley and the association for Alabama's weekly and daily newspapers endorsed it.

"It is so important that an entity that is supported by taxpayer dollars always be open to the press, and it should always be open to the public," said Bentley. The governor noted that he voted for the 2005 law when he was a state representative.

Ward, an attorney, pointed to three recent rulings by the Alabama Supreme Court. One said there is no requirement for the Legislature to hold open meetings. Another allowed some committees and subcommittees of government bodies to meet in private. The third said citizens do not have standing to bring suits under the Open Meetings Act if the civil penalty is paid to the state and there is no allegation of a likelihood of future violations

The bill provides that the Open Meeting Act applies to the Legislature, legislative committees, and committees and subcommittees of government boards. It also provides that private citizens can bring suit under the Open Meetings Act and, if they prevail, receive at least $1,000.

Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, agreed that some issues in the law need addressing. But he said the bill creates a new term called "serial meetings." He said his organization is concerned how that might be interpreted if two county commissioners show up at the same function, two more show up at a different function, and then all four vote the same way at the next commission meeting.

"We want to be sure public officials don't have to run from each other,' he said.

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Ward Named Chairman of Permanent Joint Oversight Committee for Energy Policy

Citing Work With National Legislative Committees on Energy, Committee Members Vote to Elevate Ward to Chairman 

January 15, 2014 – Montgomery, Ala. – Citing his national footprint on state-level energy policy, The Joint Legislative Committee on Energy Policy voted unanimously to elevate Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) to serve as Chairman.

“I’m honored that my colleagues see me as a leader, and have chosen to give me this opportunity,” Ward said. “I was present at the conception of this committee, and to see that hard work pay off, and be given a chance to make a real difference in our state energy policy, and the jobs that it brings, is a real proud moment for me.”

Ward has emerged as a leader on energy issues in Alabama, and regionally, through his work with associations of state legislative leaders such as Southern Legislative Conference, State Agriculture and Rural Leaders and as Vice Chairman of The Energy Task Force for The National Conference of State Legislatures.

Ward was recently in Oklahoma City to meet with a group of Agriculture Committee Chairmen to see how those two vital interests can better work together. Ward was the Keynote Speaker for The Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Lunch, speaking to them about the importance of The Port of Mobile in regional energy policy, and the recent attacks on Alabama’s energy interests by environmental groups such as The Sierra Club.

“Cam is passionate about energy policy, and he is known as a leader in national energy committee circles, so this is a no brainer,” Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said. “Cam just gets it, and that’s why you see him out in front on vital issues like energy.”

“My plan is to share the good news about energy exploration and creation in Alabama, and the threats that the current administration and EPA policies pose to this vital industry,” Ward said. “Alabama ranks 13th in Energy production, and has the highest percentage of “mix” in base load production of any southeastern state. That’s a fancy way of saying we’re in the top 25% of energy producing states, and we get our energy from a diverse set of fuels: hydro-electric, nuclear, coal and renewables. Each one of the industries creates jobs for our state, and each receives industry-specific tax incentives to ensure lower consumer costs, and higher worker retention rates.”

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Ward: "We are dealing with a box of dynamite with Prisons."

By- Mike Cason

MONTGOMERY, Alabama --- The chairman of the Alabama Legislature’s prison oversight committee said he expects nonviolent protests at several Alabama prisons to blow over but says they are another sign the state needs to address the persistent problems of overcrowding and understaffing.

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said nobody wants plush accommodations for prisoners but said the current conditions make the prisons ripe for violence and federal takeover.

“We’re dealing with a box of dynamite in our prison system,” Ward said.

Ward said he thought the Department of Corrections was doing the best it could with limited resources. He said he would propose a joint resolution during the legislative session to ask The Council of State Governments to come in a study Alabama’s prisons and criminal justice system and propose ways to improve it. He said the CSG did that in Texas and the state adopted many of its recommendations with positive results. He said there would be no cost to the state for a CSG study.

Alabama has already worked at reforms, including the establishment of the Alabama Sentencing Commission in the late 1990s. The commission compiles data and has advised the Legislature on changes in sentencing laws to allocate more of the scarce prison space for violent offenders.

This week, some inmates at Elmore, Holman and St. Clair correctional facilities have refused to do their assigned prison jobs, such as kitchen, laundry or maintenance work, as a way to protest prison conditions and other issues. Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett said fewer inmates participated in the work stoppage today.

In an incident unrelated to the protests, a St. Clair Correctional facility inmate was stabbed by another inmate Monday and was in critical condition at UAB Hospital. An inmate was stabbed to death by another inmate at the St. Clair prison in August. An inmate died at Elmore Correctional Facility in October after a fight with another inmate.

Ward said solving Alabama’s prison problem will be a long-term process, involving the use of more community corrections programs, pretrial diversion, drug courts and other alternatives to sending offenders to the state penitentiaries.

He said advocating for programs that will improve prisons is never politically popular. But he said failure to act could result in what has happened in California, where federal courts have ordered the state to release inmates.

“I would rather us as a Legislature deal with it … as opposed to a federal judge coming in slashing and burning,” Ward said.

Legislators begin their annual session on Tuesday. The state General Fund budget, which supports prisons and many other agencies, is expected to be one of the toughest challenges facing lawmakers because revenues that support the fund have not kept up with rising costs.

 

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Ward Talks Energy at Mobile Chamber of Commerce Luncheon

MOBILE, Alabama – Mobile and Baldwin County's state political delegation must be "united" to make the region successful in attracting energy productivity to boost economic development, state Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said Friday.

Ward, the keynote speaker before state, county and city officials at the Renaissance Riverview Hotel, said local officials need to be together in expressing a similar message and showing a sense of collaboration in attracting energy development to the area.

"You know what is best for Mobile than anyone else," Ward said during the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce's legislative luncheon. "Your political leadership from the city level, state level, county level and federal level means all the difference in the world in how you are perceived. Your energy economy has to be on the forefront of your overall economy."

Ward only briefly touched upon some of the local issues that have received publicity in the past year – an oil pipeline through the Big Creek Lake watershed, and the development of a coal terminal near Brookley Aeroplex – and said he wasn't going to give a talk on what local leaders "should do" about them.

But Ward emphasized during his speech that it's important for officials to avoid "knee-jerk" reactions to controversies involving the oil, coal, and natural gas industries.

He also urged leaders to utilize the resources provided at the Alabama State Port Authority in providing a prime location in the Southeast to export natural resources.

"If we ship energy to South America, you have to go to Mobile," Ward said. "You have the facilities. Don't let the facilities go to waste."

Ward, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the Alabama Senate, also promoted the Keystone XL pipeline and the Canadian markets for exporting natural resources. The potential storage and shipment of Canadian tar sands oil has caused controversy in Mobile in recent months.

"Why would we reject our neighbor's to the north?" said Ward, who also serves on the executive committee of the Energy Council and is vice-chairman of the Energy Committee of the National Conference of State Legislators. "We, as a country, are crazy if we don't trade with Canada."

He said by linking with Canada, the U.S. and Alabama has the potential to save on fuel costs while avoiding imported oils from Middle Eastern markets. He said by utilizing Canada's oil sands, it will help make the U.S. more energy independent by 2020.

Ward also criticized federal incentives to promote wind and solar energy, saying he felt that "unfortunately, it will never be a big part" of Alabama's economy.

Ward praised the Mobile state delegation, calling it one of the more united in the Alabama. But he urged local lawmakers to remain together on energy-related issues.

Local lawmakers agreed.

"Once (these energy issues) come to us, hopefully we can sit down and discuss those issues and still come out in a united front," state Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard, said. "This is not the first time (the area) has had coal issues and natural gas issues and things like that. It's about how things were treated in the past, and the right way to go forward."

State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, said most of the concerns about local energy projects in Mobile – from the Plains Southcap pipeline through the Big Creek Lake watershed to the development of oil storage tanks near downtown – are related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I think a lot of the uproar and hesitation now to go forward with energy projects is about what we went through with the BP situation," Figures said. "When we don't have the energy coming through here with the pipelines and oil (projects), we don't get to have the amenities that we do."

Figures said she felt the delegation was "moving in a direction of unity" with regards to energy-related issues for the region.

"When you get the facts and figures, that is where the conversation starts," Figures said. "Everyone wants to know the truth of what we're dealing with."

Ward, who's politically backed by Alabama Power, was asked to speak before the Chamber of Commerce's legislative luncheon in October, according to Ginny Russell, vice-president of community and governmental affairs with the chamber.

The Mobile chamber, within the past month, had been a vocal opponent to a 180-day moratorium proposed on oil storage tank development near downtown Mobile. The Mobile City Council voted recently to forgo the moratorium and, instead, decided to have more dialogue about the future of the oil industry for the next six months.

"It was certainly a timely topic," Russell said. "It's just timely that this issue has gotten so public here. There is a lot of community dialogue about it. It's important in that dialogue to understand the impact to the economy and jobs as well as the environmental impact. It's important we get the whole picture here."

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Sen. Ward Speaks at Shelby County Town Hall Forum

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Wednesday, the Shelby County Legislative Delegation met with constituents and the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce in Pelham.  The town hall meeting occurred just days prior to the 2014 State Legislative Session. Each legislator present was given a few minutes to introduce themselves and then the event was opened up for questions from the audience.  Alabama State Senator Cam Ward (R) from Alabaster was the first to address the gathered crowd.

Senator Ward said that this is the fourth year of this legislature.  Typically the fourth year produces a lot less fireworks than other years.  Sen. Ward said that Alabama is one of the last states to still have two separate funds for education and the general fund.  80% of Alabama revenues go towards education and only 20% goes toward the general fund.  The prison system and Alabama Medicaid account for 65% of the general fund.  Everything else that the state does comes out of the remaining General Fund.  Ward said that another problems it that there is not a lot of high growth money earmarked for the state’s general fund.

Sen. Ward said that the education fund budget has seen some growth.  What to do with that education growth will be part of the debate during this session.  Sen. Ward said that rising health care costs for education and state employees is a serious issue and a lot of debate will be about how much money that the state sends to PEEHIP for the teachers and education employees healthcare insurance costs.  Ward said that their costs have risen due to the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Ward warned that the prison overcrowding issue is one of the biggest issues facing the state. Ward said that the state is at 192% of its prison capacity making Alabama the most overcrowded prison system in America.  Ward said that a federal judge ordered California to address its own overcrowded prison system.  California released 35,000 prisoners and crimes, particularly auto thefts, went up substantially.  Ward warned that the prison overcrowding situation will be solved either by a federal judge or by state government.

Sen. Ward warned that roads will continue to be a problem.  As cars have become more fuel efficient the revenues received from gas and diesel taxes decrease meaning that the dollars for roads are going down.

Ward said that on the plus side is the economy.  It is picking up and Alabama has the potential for a growing energy economy.  Between new oil and gas field discovered offshore and the oil sands being discovered in West Alabama, the state is becoming a leading energy exporter.  The state of Alabama is currently ranked 13th in the country in energy exported.

The 2014 Alabama Legislative Session begins on January 15th.

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Ward Continues Regional Leadership on Energy Issues

MONTGOMERY— State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) was among the attendees at a meeting to discuss the formation of a State Energy Chairs Leadership Council, the priorities of such an organization, and the growing number of energy issues contended with by State Legislators.
 
“This was a great opportunity for me to be at the forefront of energy issues on a national level,” Ward said. “From my position as Vice Chairman of the NCSL Energy Task Force, I can tell you these types of organizations and meetings will be vital to ensuring the competitive edge of American Energy production in the future.”
 
State Agriculture and Rural Leaders, or SARL, was formed out of the need for legislators dealing with those issues to share best practices, and to study and be more informed on the issues that effect those vital sectors of American life.
 
The confluence of Agricultural and Energy issues make the formation of a group like SARL, but composed of state level legislative energy chairs a natural outgrowth of the work SARL does.
 
The meeting was paid for by The Council of State Governments and The National Council of State Legislators, so the cost to the Alabama Taxpayers for attendance at this meeting was zero.
 
“My district is rural and suburban, and we have a ton of issues pertaining to Agriculture and Energy, from the biggest peach farm in the state to one of the largest natural gas production facilities in Alabama,” Ward said. “So even though I am the chairman of the Alabama Senate Energy Committee, I understand the connection between Agriculture, Energy and our way of life at a grassroots level. These are dinner table issues in my district, and I am just glad to have been in on the ground floor of the formation of this type of growth.”

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NEW LAW TO SAVE MONEY

MONTGOMERY — An Alabama law that goes into effect today will allow for collaboration, which is a form of alternative dispute resolution in which matters are settled out of court.

The bill that became law applies to matters such as divorces, annulments, property distribution, child custody and child support. The bill was sponsored in the 2013 legislative session by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, and Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster. Both are attorneys.

“It is designed to try to put it in a less controversial, adversarial position,” Black said. “And if it doesn’t work, you can still take it to court.”

Othni Latham, director of the Alabama Law Institute, which helped draft the bill, said it is ideal for people working in good faith to reach the best-possible resolution for themselves or their children. The process involves attorneys, but can include financial planners and counselors.

“The process only works if both parties agree on the front end that they will share more information quicker than they would in litigation,” Latham said.

The new, voluntary option will save the state’s court system money, Latham said, but how much will depend on how many people use the alternative. It could also save individuals money in lawyers’ courtroom fees.

Alabama was the eighth state to pass a collaborative law bill.

Three other laws go into effect today:

Senate Bill 18

Senate Bill 18 allows a specialized Breast Cancer Foundation of Alabama license plate for motorcycles. A portion of the tag fee will go to breast cancer research. Most specialized plates require an additional $50 annual fee.

House Bill 215

House Bill 215 also pertains to license plates and makes the following changes:

Allows for other specialized plates for motorcycles if there are at least 1,000 commitments for purchase before the plates are created.

The 1,000 commitments applies to cars and trucks, too. If a group seeking a specialty plate fails to reach that commitment, it must wait one year before applying again for a specialty tag.

Removes the 8,000-pound limit for trucks to be able to display specialty plates.

Changes the distribution of proceeds from the sale of National Guard license plates from the National Guard Historical Society to the National Guard Foundation.

Allows a retired volunteer firefighter from a department in another state to receive a firefighter license plate for a $23 fee.

Allows for a law enforcement memorial license plate honoring officers killed in the line of duty. Revenue from the sale of that tag will go to the State Law Enforcement Memorial and the general fund that supports state operations.

House Bill 119

House Bill 119 has to do with insurance companies in the state and their reinsurers. Companies can buy reinsurance to help cover some of their risk.

The new law sets up new standards the companies must meet, said Reyn Norman, general counsel for the Alabama Department of Insurance. The law won’t impact the average Alabamian, he said.

Mary Sell covers state government for The Decatur Daily. She can be reached at msell@decaturdaily.com.

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Christmas & New Year A Time for Priorities & Reflection

During the Holiday Season we are usually inundated by the wants of our consumer culture, and have to fight to keep the focus on the real reason for the season. In my house, we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ above all else. And while we probably buy too many toys for our daughter, we also think of ways to serve those who struggle to both pay their bills, and provide a nice visit from Santa for their families.

In this economy, after 5 years of recession and slow growth, it is important that we keep in mind those less fortunate than we are.  I’m talking about the elderly woman who cannot pay the heating bill, the young family trying to stretch their dollars until the end of the year, and the dad working two jobs, plus a seasonal job just to make sure his little girl can get that bike that she wants. These are the folks we need to keep in our thoughts in prayers during this time of good cheer, laughter and mirth.

I personally like to take the time over the Christmas and New Year’s season to count up my blessings, with which my cup runneth over. I have an amazing wife who stands by me through thick and thin, and we have a beautiful young daughter who is thriving in her pre teen years. All the while she is growing into a young lady before our eyes. We are blessed to have a good life.

I also have the distinct blessing of representing the best parts of the state. The people of Shelby, Bibb and Chilton County have allowed me to represent them in both the House and Senate. I do not take a single one of my constituents for granted, and I am thankful for every single one of you.

I’m thankful for the people who have supported my family.  Without you we could not enjoy the blessings we have today. I’m also thankful for the people who welcome me into their homes and businesses.  Many of you face your own challenges, but share in many blessings. I’m thankful for the kind words I receive, and for the people who call my office to give me a piece of their mind that might include words that can’t be printed in a family publication.

You see, without all of these people, our area, and state would not have the type of freedom and the differences of opinion, which make ours the greatest country in the world. Debate is a blessing to be thankful for, not scorned.

This Christmas, let’s all take the time to reflect on our many blessings, give a hand to those less fortunate, and celebrate the common threads we all share. We celebrate The Prince of Peace, so let’s honor him with our words and actions. 

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Sen. Ward Steps Up for Thompson Community Service Project

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Alabaster’s canine mascot, Warrior, wasn’t sure what to think as state Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, leaned in for a smooch in front of hundreds of Thompson Intermediate School students on Dec. 16.

After Ward planted a kiss on the beloved Australian shepherd puppy, the students broke into applause as Warrior backed away and let out a high-pitched bark.

“He promised that if we got 500 items, he would agree to give Warrior a little smooch smooch,” TIS gifted teacher Rita Sparks told the students. “Always remember the importance of community service and giving back to your community.”

For the past several weeks, gifted students at TIS have been collecting items to donate to the Alabaster and Helena-based Faithful Paws Mission, a no-kill animal shelter founded by Alabaster resident Christina Tatum.

On Dec. 16, stacks of items ranging from large bags of dog food to cat toys lined tables in the middle of the school’s cafeteria. During the donation drive, the school’s gifted students made frequent announcements on the TIS morning news show, and several students recruited support from local businesses.

When the drive concluded, the fourth- and fifth-grade students had collected more than 800 items, thanks in no small part to Ward’s promise to the students, said Sparks.

Tatum, a Helena native, said the donations will greatly help the upstart animal shelter, which currently is caring for about 40 cats and dogs who otherwise may have been euthanized in other shelters or died as strays.

Faithful Paws works to provide foster care placement for animals who are looking for their forever homes, Tatum said.

During the presentation, Tatum and other Faithful Paws volunteers showcased a few animals in the shelter’s care, including a dog recovered after he was struck by a car on a local road.

“It means so much to us for the kids to want to do this,” Tatum said after the presentation. “We are trying to make it to as many schools and events as we can right now.”

To learn more about the organization, visit Faithfulpawsmission.org or Facebook.com/FaithfulPawsMission.

- See more at: http://www.shelbycountyreporter.com/2013/12/16/senator-smooches-warrior-the-dog/#sthash.oCmxuQo9.dpuf

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Ward Makes Bibb County Community Development Tour

Senator Ward Announces Rural Development Grants for Bibb County 

Dec 13, 2013 – Bibb County, AL – Senator Cam Ward and the Tombigbee RC&D (Resource Conservation and Development) Council presented checks to projects throughout Bibb County, including schools, libraries and even the county jail.

“The RC&D folks do a good job at filling in funding gaps for worthy projects,” Ward said. “They have a focus on education and restoration projects that will provide opportunity for all the citizens of Bibb County.”

Starting at Brent Elementary School and stopping at The Bibb County Jail, The GM&O Caboose project and ending at the West Blocton Library, Ward and the Tombigbee RC&D presented these projects for money for internet access, facilities restoration and computers.

“Senator Ward was a key fighter for the money for these projects, and we enjoy working with him not only in Bibb County, but in all of the counties we both serve,” Tombigbee RC&D Executive Director Susan Wesson said. “This money will go a long way towards helping these projects, and it would not be possible without Senator Cam Ward’s influence.The Tombigbee Resource Conservation and Development Council Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) is a 501(c)(3) organization that supports educational and community development projects in Central Alabama. The RC&D Program was founded in the 1960s to address rural poverty and help rural communities generate sustainable economic programs. 

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