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Montgomery, Ala. — A person who stops or delays a school bus in an unauthorized manner could face jail time under a new law named in honor of the Midland City bus driver who died while protecting the children he transported to and from school each day.

The Charles “Chuck” Poland Jr., Act, passed recently by the Alabama Legislature and signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley, now makes it a Class “A” misdemeanor to trespass on a school bus. Such offenses include a punishment of up to a year in jail.

Poland was fatally shot on January 29, 2013, when a gunman boarded his bus and Poland refused his demand to hand over two children. Due to Poland’s heroic actions, all but one student escaped. The gunman took that child to an underground bunker, from which he was rescued unharmed after a six-day standoff.

Alabama Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, and State Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, were instrumental in introducing the bills that led to the legislation. Alabama State Department of Education Pupil Transportation Director Joe Lightsey commended the lawmakers for their hard work on behalf of the state’s students and drivers, noting that unauthorized entry on Alabama school buses has increased dramatically in recent years. 

“All too often, unauthorized persons have boarded school buses and threatened or assaulted students and school bus drivers. Current trespass laws do not specifically address the unauthorized entry of a school bus,” Lightsey said. “The Charles ‘Chuck’ Poland, Jr. Act specifically addresses the issue of trespassing on an Alabama school bus and will help school systems protect students and school bus drivers by vigorously prosecuting persons who do so.”

A person commits the crime of trespass on a school bus in the first degree if they are found guilty of any of the following:

▪   Intentionally demolishing, destroying, defacing, injuring, burning or damaging any public school bus.

▪   Entering a public school bus while the door is open to load or unload students without lawful purpose while at a railroad grade crossing or after being forbidden from doing so by the bus driver in charge of the bus or an authorized school official.

▪   As an occupant of a public school bus, refusing to leave the bus after the bus driver in charge of the bus or authorized school official demands that they do so.

▪   Intentionally stopping, impeding, delaying or detaining any school bus from being operated for public school purposes with the intent to commit a crime.

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Successful Session Comes to an End

I will be the first to admit that this has been one of the hardest legislative sessions I have had.  But meaningful reform can only be achieved with hard work. In the end, I am proud of my accomplishments for the people in my district during this session.

My agenda for Senate District 14, and as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, included laws defining Elder Abuse as a crime in our state, a law defining the fee schedules for attorneys contracted with the state which was recognized by The American Tort Reform Association and The Wall Street Journal as a big step forward for transparency, and The Alabama Commercial Aviation Business Improvement Act, designed to help create as many as 4,000 jobs in our state. All of these passed with wide bi-partisan support and were signed into law by the Governor.

We also passed a series of bills sponsored and written by The Alabama Law Institute that clarify and update outdated laws – laws written at the turn of last century can use tweaking to make them apply to the turn of this century. As Chairman of The Alabama Law Institute, I am proud to say that these bills were crafted with the help of 1000s of hours of volunteer, or pro bono, work by attorneys throughout the state. It is always heartening to see people working hard to give back to their profession and the state.

Another landmark piece of legislation to help get our state budgets under control and get more out of less created The Office of Fleet Management. Before this, state agencies had carte blanche to contract with whomever they saw fit to provide vehicles. Now there is oversight and economies of scale when purchasing automobiles for our state fleet. There is also life cycle costing - taking into account gas mileage and other factors instead of going with the cheapest base price, to ensure that we’re not penny-wise and pound-foolish.

There were hundreds of other bills sponsored and passed this session, including those to update our National Guard Armories, provide safety officers for schools, update school curriculum for a 21st Century workforce, repay The Alabama Trust Fund, and of course The Alabama Accountability Act which will ensure no child is stuck in a failing school with no options to transfer to get a better education.

While I will always believe that less government leads to more freedom, sometimes you have to deal with government to create these choices – and I believe every bill I sponsored and every bill I voted in favor of has that goal in mind. I work hard every day for the people of Senate District 14 and the people of our state as a whole. Even if we disagree on policy or funding priorities, my door is always open to speak to anyone who wants to help Alabama be the best we can be. 

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For all the grumbling heard about the two major parties in our state, third-party and independent candidates are rare sights on Alabama ballots. You’re about as likely to spot Nick Saban at Toomer’s Corner.

That’s not just happenstance; it’s decidedly by design. Alabama has some of the strictest ballot access laws in the country, with requirements that make it extremely difficult for anyone not seeking office as a Democrat or a Republican to even make it on the ballot, let alone be elected.

The major parties like it that way, and why wouldn’t they? Alabama elections are effectively a closed shop. The two parties face competition from each other, but they have little cause for worry about anyone else.

Yet it is clear that the two major parties do not have a collective monopoly on good ideas or fresh approaches or even sensible collaboration on the problems facing Alabama. The legislative session that ended this week underscored that once again.

Our state doubtless could benefit from some differing viewpoints, from other policy positions that at the very least could spur renewed debate on important issues and perhaps break through the ideological logjams that so often impede meaningful progress.

That’s why it was disappointing to see, yet again, the failure of legislation that would revise Alabama’s needlessly restrictive ballot access laws. To his credit, Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, has been trying to get the bill passed for several years, but he’s up against a daunting wall of opposition built around the two-party status quo.

Under current law, an independent or third-party candidate faces tremendous obstacles in getting on the ballot. Democratic and Republican candidates are automatically on the ballot, but a third-party candidate gets such placement only if his or her party received at least 20 percent of the vote in the last general election. That’s an extraordinarily high threshold.

An independent candidate must obtain petition signatures totaling at least 3 percent of the votes cast in the last general election race for governor. In the 2010 election, there were 1,485,324 votes cast for governor, meaning that an independent candidate for statewide office would need 44,560 signatures of qualified electors. In reality, the candidate would need to gather far more signatures than that in order to be sure of having the necessary number of valid signatures. It’s a huge barrier to the ballot.

Of course, practicality demands that some reasonable threshold be established. It can’t be so low that any group of grousers at the local coffeeshop can pass around a petition and put a pal on the ballot. At the same time, there’s no justification for setting the threshold so high as to essentially exclude everyone except the Democrats and Republicans.

Ward’s bill lowered the petition requirement to 1.5 percent for statewide candidates. Using the 2010 numbers, that would require 22,280 signatures — not an easy target, but not out of the realm of reality either.

We urge Ward to keep trying and to bring back the bill in next year’s session. In the meantime, Alabamians will be well justified in asking their legislators to explain their opposition to it.

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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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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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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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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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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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