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League of Women Voters of the United States
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“Trust me.” Those words often engender the opposite reaction. Frequently they are used when the speaker will not disclose the reasons for whatever is being proposed or the details or the potential consequences. In recent years and months, our willingness to trust has been seriously eroded. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Wall Street, mortgage bankers, and government institutions and regulators did not have things under control. Highly publicized indictments and trials reveal what appears to be an epidemic of corruption.
At the same time, our leaders tell us that trust is essential to our recovery from what they also tell us is a terrible worldwide economic reality. President Obama and Governor Riley have both stressed that “the people’s trust in government” is a critical factor in our ability to deal with the present crisis and thrive in the future.
In Alabama the League has been fighting for more transparency and accountability, for election law and ethics reform for over half a century. Our current legislative priorities include passing a ban on PAC to PAC transfers and ethics reform. At this writing the House has already unanimously passed its bill to ban PAC to PAC transfers. We will be working to get a genuine ban on this deceptive practice passed by the Senate as well and signed into law. Several promising ethics bills have been filed and the Governor is proposing a comprehensive new Alabama Code of Public Ethics. See the article in this Voter outlining our positions on Ethics and check the website at www.lwval.org often for information regarding our support of specific bills and what you can to help.
While we fight to restore trust in government through better regulation, we must be careful not to further erode that trust by implying that we believe public servants in general are not to be trusted. As League members across the State and Country know from personal contact and experience, our legislatures, government offices, and public buildings from firehouses to schools are filled with men and women of integrity who work hard to serve the public interest, whether as elected officials or hourly workers.
As a nonpartisan volunteer organization, we can also attest that genuine cooperation across party lines is possible and good ideas can come from many sources. One thing we can all do daily to foster better government is to help create an atmosphere that allows politicians to work together for the common good without fearing retribution. Too often voters are told that any compromise, or cooperation with the “other side”, is a sign of weakness, corruption or ideological impurity. Be careful with your own speech. Challenge the extreme statements of others. Ask them to join the League and discover for themselves that nonpartisan efforts to support good government can be rewarding and effective.
A New Constitution
In 1915 an Alabama Governor recommended a constitutional convention because he believed the defects in the 1901 Constitution were “so numerous and radical, and so intermingled in the different sections that trying to fix the document through amendment would be practically impossible.” This fact is included in A History of Attempts to Reform the 1901 Constitution prepared by the League and based in part on a 1976 paper written by Anne Findley-Shores. These documents and two other papers about efforts to change our constitution written by this talented Alabama League leader and crusader, whose memoriam is included in this Voter, are listed on our website. The History and two of the three Findley-Shores papers are posted there. These and other papers on the site, including Charlotte Ward’s paper on the best method for getting a new Constitution, make it clear for how long and why the League has pursued this cause. It also becomes clear why we strongly support current efforts to convene a constitutional convention. Note the call for your action in this Voter in the article by Nancy Ekberg, our Chair for Constitutional Reform.
When we feel that our trust has been betrayed, we can become suspicious about anything new. The familiar, even when it is as bad as the 1901 Constitution, feels safer. For the people to vote to hold a constitutional convention, the people must believe that such a process can work. And hearing “trust us” from the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform (“ACCR”), of which we are a part, won’t be good enough. Recognizing the need to educate Alabama about this process as well as about the flaws in the current constitution, the ACCR Foundation is holding a mock convention, with sessions in February and April. Delegates have been given background materials to read and directed to a website with additional material which includes a link to our website and constitutional reform materials. LWVAL director and Voter editor, Charlotte Ward, serves on the ACCR Foundation board. If you have ideas about other ways the Foundation can build trust in the process, let Charlotte know.
See the Baldwin County League’s report below for an example of what local leagues can do to educate the public on this issue
Studies and Consensus
Congratulations to all six local leagues on their thorough and thoughtful study and consensus process on off site voting. The Board will be reviewing the local league reports and study committee evaluation and expects to complete its work on position statements on off site voting and initiative and referendum at its next meeting.
It is also important that local leagues participate in the LWVUS study and consensus process on the National Popular Vote Compact so that whatever consensus is reached or position taken will truly reflect the consensus of the members.
Convention and Council LWVUS has decided to hold a “virtual council” this year instead of meeting in Washington due to severe budget restraints. Local leagues may want to consider holding a meeting to participate by computer in this first ever virtual council to be held in early June. It is expected to last about four hours.
LWVAL will be holding its convention May 2-3. We waited to select a location in the hopes that one of the local leagues would be able to host this year. As no local league felt able to do that, the State Board is now making arrangements and details will be forthcoming shortly. At this point, we anticipate meeting in a central location. As in past years, the Convention will convene on Saturday morning and adjourn after a Sunday morning session and include business sessions, speakers and workshops. I look forward to seeing you there - wherever “there” is!
Mary Lynn Bates
Environmental News from the LWVUS
The LWVUS has chosen Global Climate Change and Health Care as the two top priority issues for 2009. Our national advocacy team is working with many other groups on a joint statement for a national call to action on global climate change. When the statement is issued in February or March, we can use it to help us shape communication with our Congressional delegation, and local leagues can benefit from educating ourselves about the consensus the national league shares with our allies.
If you are receiving the VOTER on line, you can click here to access the LWVUS global climate change web page. If you are getting a paper VOTER but have internet access, go to the LWVUS website. You can go directly to two recently-released one-page documents at LWVUS Fact Sheets on the Climate Change. The first document outlines why the United States must support aggressive action on reducing greenhouse gases and the second outlines key elements in an effective cap and trade system.
In August of last year, the national League called for a 10-year moratorium on coal-fired power plants and stated that, "A 10-year moratorium on new plants, along with incentives – like Renewable Portfolio Standards and a federal Production Tax Credit – will encourage cleaner and less destructive technologies to grow. It will also allow time to test carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, assess their commercial viability, and determine whether storing CO2 underground for hundreds of years is feasible and safe." They also pointed out that "New technologies can help reduce CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants, but there is no such thing as 'clean coal.'" (See FAQ on 10-year moratorium.)
A national Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) would require that a certain percentage of each state’s electricity must be generated from renewable sources (such as wind, solar, geothermal, biomass) by a selected date (usually 2020). The Alabama Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Energy, co-chaired by Sen. Mitchell and Rep. Wren, has objected to recent proposals for a national RPS, although some version is in place in over half of the states. The Alabama Committee on Energy’s position is that this legislation would be unfair to Alabama because it would not give credit for existing hydroelectric, clean coal, and nuclear capacity as renewable energy sources. However, coal and nuclear are not renewable resources.
There is a major advertising campaign from the coal and power-generating industries to tout the advantages of ‘clean coal’ in spite of the reality that coal is far from clean. It is a major pollution source of carbon dioxide, among other wastes. For example, coal ash wastes stored in a pond in Kingston, Tennessee recently ruptured the dam, releasing a billion gallons of sludge and destroying over a dozen homes. The industry has been required by the Clean Air Act to reduce emissions of mercury, nitrous oxide, and sulfur dioxide (which causes acid rain) and has built scrubbers to remove some of these pollutants. Only in the past year has the Environmental Protection Agency been directed to make a determination about the harmful effects of CO2, but it has yet to act.
The national League’s positions on global climate change and the call for a moratorium on coal-fired power plants will be important for us to support as Congress begins work on the energy, environment and economy priorities of the new administration and our state legislature addresses energy policy.
-- Joyce Lanning
Natural Resources Coordinator and
LWVAL Representative on the
Joint Legislative Committee on Energy
Update: Constitutional Convention Legislation in the 2009 Session
A Joint Resolution that Lets the People Vote on calling a Constitution Convention to rewrite the 1901 Alabama Constitution, will be introduced by Speaker Pro Tem Demetrius Newton in the House and by Senator Ted Little in the Senate on Tuesday February 10, 2009.
Please call your state representative and state senator ASAP and ask them to support the Joint Resolutions to Let the People Vote on the question of calling a Constitutional Convention. The Joint Resolutions are the same as the bills that have been offered by the sponsors for the past three years.
The resolutions provide three opportunities for the people to vote:
Late News on CR
A Joint Resolution to Let the People Vote on calling a Constitution Convention to rewrite the 1901 Alabama Constitution, was introduced by Speaker Pro Tem Demetrius Newton in the House of Representatives HJR 91 and by Senator Ted Little in the Alabama Senate SJR 20 on Tuesday February 10.
The Resolutions have more total co-signers than we have ever had before: counting the sponsors, there are 26 in the House and 15 in the Senate for a total of 41.
House co-sponsors for HJR 91 follow. Democrats are: Marcel Black of Tuscumbia, Barbara Boyd of Anniston, Merika Coleman of Midfield; Chris England of Tuscaloosa, Billy Dukes of Decatur, Priscilla Dunn of Bessemer, Ron Grantland of Hartselle, Laura Hall of Huntsville, Allen Harper of Aliceville, Earl Hillard, Jr. of Birmingham, Tammy Irons or Florence, Joseph Mitchell of Mobile, John Robinson of Scottsboro, Yusuf Salaam of Selma, Tommy Sherer of Jasper, Patricia Todd of Birmingham, Pebblin Warren of Tuskeegee, Lea Fite of Jacksonville, Ken Guin of Carbon Hill, Jeff Mc Laughlin of Guntersville, Oliver Robinson of Birmingham and Randy Hinshaw of Meridianville. Republicans are Joe Faust of Fairhope, Mac Gipson of Prattville and Mike Hill of Columbia.
After Senator Little introduced SJR 20, Senator Roger Bedford stepped to the podium and complimented Senator Little for his persistence in the effort and stated that Alabama needs a new Constitution, not to raise taxes but to move Alabama forward.
Senate co-sponsors of SJR29 follow. Democrats are: Rodger Smitherman of Birmingham, Zeb Little of Cullman, Hinton Mitchem of Union Grove, Wendell Mitchell of Luverne, Bobby Denton of Muscle Shoals, Hank Sanders of Selma, Roger Bedford of Russellville, Bobby Singleton of Greensboro, Linda Coleman of Birmingham, Vivian Figures of Mobile, Larry Means of Attalla and Quinton Ross of Montgomery. Republicans are Steve French of Birmingham and Del Marsh of Anniston.
Senator Lowell Barron heads up the Rules Committee in the Senate. Ken Guin heads up the Rules Committee in the House. Both resolutions were sent to the respective Rules Committees, as expected.
The Joint Resolutions are the same as the bills that have been offered by the sponsors for the past three years. The difference is that resolutions do not require a super majority for a BIR (Budget Isolation Resolution) before they can be considered because they do not include funding. If the resolutions are passed by the Legislature and the voters, then the Legislature would have to approve funding to carry out the convention.
The resolutions provide three opportunities for the people to vote, as noted above.
The bills also place the following restrictions on lobbyists:
Delegates are prohibited from receiving a thing of value (including in-kind) in association with their duties as a delegate to the constitution convention. Lobbyists must report expenditures by themselves or a relative for lobbying activities every two weeks beginning after the convention call vote occurs in June, 2010, and continuing through the final vote in November, 2012, on the convention proposal(s).
Other key provisions in the bills are:
If you as a citizen are concerned about constitutional reform, please call your state representative and state senator while they are in their home district or call them at the State House office and ask them to support the resolution to Let the People Vote on the question of calling a constitution convention. Contact information for your individual legislator can be found at www.legislature.state.al.us. Please also forward this information to your friends and family and ask them to call their legislators as well. You would not be speaking for the League, but for yourself.
-- Nancy Ekberg
Local League News
Two inextricably intertwined projects have been reemphasized and amplified for 2008-9:
at the chambers of the Baldwin County Commission’s building in Bay Minette, AL
located on the northwest corner of Courthouse Square. The Environmental Committee
will present the fourth open meeting attuned to the special needs and concerns of the
northern half of this large county. This seminar, “Critical Water Issues,” will present the
results of the most recent research and latest examination of prevailing conditions in the
areas of most concern. The combined staffs and talented professionals of the Baldwin
County Commission and the mayors and councils of the municipalities volunteer their
special professional knowledge. All of the federal and state agencies have given support
to us to enable this effort.
Captain David Yeager, recently retired as Director of the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, will emcee this seminar. He will also bring the latest information and data to show how the “Stormwater Authority” legislation will enable the setup for this urgently needed infrastructure. He is a staunch supporter and has combined our workshop results with his own extensive work in the environmental field.
Dr. George Crozier, called back into service as the Director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, and our stalwart supporter throughout, assisted in identifying the specific needs to be addressed in Bay Minette, but will miss this meeting. He indicated he would like to take part in the Constitutional Reform Roundtable coming up later this spring.
Dr. Kevin White, Chair of Environmental Engineering, University of South Alabama, is our noted authority on “Wastewater Management” – the most critical issue at the moment. The recent population surge accompanied by rampant building under limited control has created further concerns for sewage disposal practices that may not prove safe and protective of our health and environment.
Dr. John Valentine will be back to give us his continuing research results on the Delta north of the Causeway. He will cover the Baldwin County area to the north with its unique and priceless value to be protected and its balanced chemistry undisturbed.
The extraordinary vision and efforts of the Wolf Bay Watershed group will be presented as an inspiration to this seminar for their use in planning the future of north Baldwin County and all of the non-coastal land areas. Drastic changes in land use and lack of solid guidelines post-hurricanes demands we explore and determine the best management practices for our entire land mass, lest we lose our jewels.
The League wishes the presentations from these mentors to enable the immediate action plans by the task groups and leadership to ensure we do not lose these treasures we hold dear. We wish to assure the quality of life will continue. Above all, we seek to preserve and protect the health, safety and wealth of our ecological and human resources. Therefore, we chose these educational public presentations to inform and unite us for the tasks ahead. We urge our citizens to take advantage of these magnanimous gifts of talent and insight for their understanding of the fragile nature of our beautiful, bounteous Baldwin County.
-- Jeanne Lacey,
ex-officio, for the team.
The LWVGB has focused energy on the need for a county manager for Jefferson County. This was set as one of our top issues at the planning session in the summer. The League and League members have published letters to the editor in several of the newspapers enjoying distribution in the greater Birmingham area and have written to the State Legislative local delegation asking for support for a county manager. On January 27th the GB League coordinated a press conference on the steps of the County courthouse prior to the Commission meeting. All of the local TV stations, the newspapers and one radio station appeared. We invited the Chamber of Commerce and several local organizations. With a group of about 3 dozen we filled a section of the steps but alas while we did receive some good press, we were trumped by chaos at the Commission meeting and the elephants that came to town that day. Maybe the excellent editorial in the Birmingham News the next day quoting the League was our reward. We will continue connecting with our Legislative delegation and hope that the County is provided the opportunity to hire a manager. The County is in a sad state of insolvency due to a number of unwise decisions that someone with education and background in government would have been able to help steer them clear of.
Once again a State study brought people to our meeting. The Off-Site Voting study was the subject for our January meeting. The studies seem to interest people and they tend to come prepared to discuss. The pleasant side is that we each hear ideas and viewpoints that we may not hold but the civil discussion allows us a greater understanding of differing viewpoints.
-- Virginia Randolph
The annual Legislative Forum drew a number of Leaguers and interested citizens although a majority of our nine-person delegation were unable to attend. Representative Betty Carol Graham was especially informative about the education budget and the possibility that state funds may be able to support no more than the minimum program unless federal funds become available. Senator Ted little reiterated his plan to introduce a bill to allow citizens to vote on holding a constitutional convention. Representative Lesley Vance also attended, and all graciously responded to questions from the audience.
The January general meeting was devoted to the off-site-voting consensus. In February, we will look at public transportation locally and statewide, with Nancy Ekberg and Lisa Sandt of the local transit authority as speakers.
Planning has begun for the annual meeting in April. In addition to the Phyllis Rea Award that recognizes outstanding community service, a new award named for Sue Flood will recognize outstanding service to and through the League.
-- Charlotte Ward
The LWVM congratulates the new President and the 111th Congress. We are proud of our active participation in the election process with several local projects such as our Candidates Forum for Mobile County Commissioner--District 3, Project “Vote 18,” election-day reporting for three local television stations, and the Off-Site Voting Study finalized in January.
When asked by our State President for our participation in the Off-Site Voting Study, our members jumped right in, quickly setting up two study groups and having the Mobile County Probate Judge speak to us at our monthly luncheon meeting. We learned a lot, and members came to consensus before the February 1 deadline.
Our “Vote 18” program last October was a huge success, receiving a lot of positive coverage by the local media. We are preparing to take Vote 18 back into the schools this spring and are in the process of training more facilitators. Vote 18 is a national program. It is a fun, fast-paced interactive game taught at high schools during one class period. The goal of Vote 18 is to motivate students to register to vote when they turn 18, show them the value of their vote, and motivate them to stay politically engaged over the long term.
The LWVM will host a reception for all Mobile County elected officials on March 29, 2009, from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. All elected officials in Mobile County, including US and State Senators, Judges, Mayors, County Commissioners, and City Council members have been invited. This reception offers a unique opportunity to meet our elected officials, discuss current events, help them learn more about the issues important to their voters, and thank them for their public service.
We have begun our evening unit meetings for 2009. In these meetings, we objectively study selected issues. In February, we will study recycling, and in March our own member, Bethany Kraft, Executive Director of the Alabama Coastal Foundation, will speak to us about a low impact lifestyle.
The Montgomery League completed its consensus discussions on off-site voting and moved on to the study of the National Voting Compact. Our speaker for our February general meeting is Janice McDonald, Director of the Elections Division of the Secretary of State's Office.
On March 6th the LWVM is joining with several organizations, including the Family Sunshine Center, Faulkner University and its Jones School of Law, Lighthouse/STAR and the Domestic Violence Task Force to co-sponsor Freedom from Fear: A Mayoral Candidates' Forum on Crimes Against Women. We worked with several of these groups in the 2008 General Election to sponsor a forum for judicial and congressional candidates. The election for mayor will be held on the tenth, making this one of the last forums held. The League will be screening the questions submitted for the audience portion of Q&A.
-- Anne Permaloff
The LWVGT has been busy since the last newsletter. On January 15th, we held our second “Meet Your Legislators Night” at Tuscaloosa’s Central High School auditorium. We had six legislators attend—one cancelled at the last minute, and one showed up after declining our invitation earlier. We had 109 members in the audience, about half high school students. We received excellent press coverage. Our biggest frustration was having to pay much more for liability insurance this year ($350 vs. $50 last year) and a new building use fee this year ($260) to use what we judged to be the best venue for the goals we had for our forum: including students and the general public. The County Schools do not require insurance, but are not centrally located. A committee will meet soon to determine how to weigh the costs to benefits ratios of various locations. We will review our priorities again, then go out to find ways to fund them.
We are also beginning an update study on our local race relations position. We had our new Tuscaloosa City Chief of Police Steve Anderson speak recently about race relations in Tuscaloosa. There were some surprises for some of us who may have come with preconceived notions. We are anxious to offer support to our Tuscaloosa City School system, which is majority black by a large margin in a town where number of blacks versus whites is not far from equal. (Our Hispanic population is growing, but not sizable yet.) It will be interesting to see where this study takes us. We are wondering of other Leagues are involved in similar studies.
-- Kathy Byrd
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Ethics Reform in 2009?
A review of LWVAL's ethics positions seems timely as the Governor announces his package of bills for a new Alabama Code of Public Ethics. The specific proposals can be viewed at governor.alabama.gov/issues/ethics.aspx or by clicking on Ethics Reform at the end of the State of the State speech. Although Ethics reform bills have been filed on some of these topics previously, the Governor's package and the statewide attention to ethics issues may offer the League new opportunities to promote the reforms we favor.
League's decision on any the bills must await analysis of the bill and agreement by the Advocacy Team and the Board. The progress of the bills and League positions can be easily followed as Jean Johnson, Technical Director, posts them at www.lwval.org. [Go directly to the LWVAL Legislative Report.] Action alerts, when issued, are sent to Local League spokespersons, posted on the web page, and sometimes sent for members to speak for themselves.
Subpoena power for the Ethics commission has been a League priority since 1973, when that provision was removed from the original bill in the legislative process. A guarantee of stable adequate funding to ensure the Commission's independence has always been in the position. Both issues appear in the Governor’s package. The Ethics position, (under Government in the Program) adopted in 1991, has a section on disclosure of economic interests by public officials and candidates in state and local government.
The importance of limiting the power of lobbyists was a major conclusion from the Legislative Study of 2003-2006. (See Legislative Positions, VI). Confidential interviews of legislators and informed observers, an anonymous survey of all legislators, as well as research—all revealed lobbyists’ roles at every stage of the process, from committee work to Rules Committees’ agendas to final votes. Asked how to improve the Legislature’s ability to work for the good of the state, a substantial number of responders said to reduce the power of lobbyists. One experienced observer said, “Discussion at the desks and around the chamber often is not on the merits or content of the legislation, but on the identification of the bill as xxx’s bill. Once the identification is made with the contract lobbyists, much of the debate and discussion one would hope for stops.” Page 35, The Alabama Legislature: Facts and Issues, Chapter 7, pages 30-35. Available on the LWVAL web site.
League supports a major substantial change in disclosure of lobbyists’ spending on legislators. Now lobbyists may spend $250 every day of the year on each legislator without reporting names, amounts or dates. This total for undisclosed spending is so large that most quarterly reports only check a box saying that the lobbyist has not exceeded the exempted amount. League wants not only to change this system by a significant reduction of the $250 per legislator per day but also to improve citizen access to the reports.
A ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers is a related campaign finance and transparency issue that has always ranked high in LWVAL legislative priorities. The Campaign Finance position and later more specifically section VI.A. of the Legislative position are the bases for action. The package the Governor has announced this year does not address campaign finance reform; it is listed, however, in his Vision for 2010.
Watch for developments as the session progresses.
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