What Have We Been Up To?
by Kathryn Byrd, LWVAL Co-President
I have been Co-President of the League of Women Voters of Alabama for approximately a half year, and it has been a growth experience, to say the least. Even though the legislature has not been in session since I assumed office, our board and off-board members have been busy doing the work of the League. We have been working on our “public face”, with the launching of our “Facebook” page, which has attracted both members and nonmembers to learn about LWVAL matters. Thanks to Scarlett Gaddy for spearheading this effort. Also, our LWVAL website has been upgraded, thanks to the talents of Jean Johnson. Jean also asks that local leagues be sure to email her up-to-date information on their boards. She also recommends that local leagues update their website each month by posting their local Voter. Contact Jean at email@example.com
if you need help.
The Board and some off-board members held a telephone board meeting in November to further discuss our projects for this year. Plans are continuing for the LWVAL to work with the University of Alabama Student Government Association and Alabama Disability Advocacy Program (ADAP) to cosponsor a televised gubernatorial debate in the fall. Plans are for Auburn’s SGA to also work with the LWVAL on a second gubernatorial forum. The LWVGT team would work with UA, and the Eastern Alabama/Montgomery Leagues would work with Auburn, if all goes well. Stay tuned.
The LWVAL has successfully prepared candidate questionnaires for the judicial elections in the past. We plan to build on our successes, using the same format (posted on our website, with press releases advertising this public service). With the expert help of Mary Lynn Bates, Becky Sylvester, and Jean Johnson, the voters of Alabama should have the opportunity to read how the candidates “speak” to the issues, since our dream of merit selection of these judicial candidates remains to be fulfilled.
We have had the opportunity to offer testimony and attend events related to our positions on the Environment. Through Environment Chair Joyce Lanning, we stated our position on coastal zone management at the triennial review of ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmental Management). She has represented us at other events as well. See her report.
The 2010 Alabama legislative session begins very early this year—January 12th. The LWVAL is already looking ahead to what lies ahead. See the LWVAL website to see our three-tiered legislative priority list. Anne Permaloff has examined the prefiled bills and assigned them to members of the board with the appropriate portfolios and/or expertise, since we do not have an official lobbyist on the board at this time. We thank Anne for her excellent guidance as our Advocacy Chair. Check the LWVAL website often during the legislative session.
Our support of Alabama Constitutional Reform continues. Nancy Ekberg and others (including Past LWVAL President Mary Lynn Bates’ husband Jesse) have been busy in the production of a docudrama on DVD regarding some interesting circumstances regarding the development of our infamous 1901 Alabama Constitution. Aptly entitled “Open Secret,” it should be released in the spring. And don’t forget to make a contribution to Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform. For further information, go to www.constitutionalreform.org
There are other times when the League just has to speak out on the issues. One such event occurred recently, when Tuscaloosa News Senior Writer Robert DeWitt wrote an alarming “Commentary” on why property taxes should not be raised. As his rather mean-spirited commentary progressed, DeWitt managed to attack the poor (who, if they worked harder, could raise their standard of living), attacked the views that sales taxes are “regressive,” and more. His commentary appeared on Wednesday, December 1, 2009, and our reply, in the form of a “My Turn” op-ed appeared the following Sunday, December 6th. Both are accessible on the Tuscaloosa News website. Although the article went out under my name, as LWVGT spokesperson and LWVAL Co-President, I received excellent input both locally and from state board members. The League has received so much positive comment from the editorial from fellow Leaguers, and, importantly, from the community—it makes me proud that League is there, serving as a voice of reason.
Finally, the LWVUS convention will meet June 11-14, 2010, in Atlanta. What a wonderful time for Alabama leaguers to see our awesome national organization in action. Plan to try to attend, even for a day—meet Leaguers from around the country to see what their concerns and solutions are. Hope to see you there.
Health Care Study
by Marilyn Garrett, LWVAL Health Care Study Chair
The health care debate is raging at the federal level and whatever is passed will affect all of the aspects- costs, access, quality and equity- which our study was to cover at the state level. It was decided that our efforts now should be to find out where the gaps are in our state health care programs and when (if) we do get a new national health care bill passed we will evaluate its affect on state programs.
Our committee is gathering information on All Kids (state program of SCHIP), Child Caring Foundation, Alabama Department of Public Health and Medicaid. We hope to have that info by the first of the year so that we can share it with local leagues.
Meanwhile, if members out there would be interested in getting some interesting information by state they may peruse the web site for the Kaiser Family Foundation- www.kff.org or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation- www.rwjf.org. There are many other places to get information.
Thanks to committee members who are helping get information and contributing their knowledge. They are Jan Widell, Judy Jones, Lynn Richardson, Anna Blair, Libby Byars and Catherine Hunt.
Remember the League in Your End-of-Year Giving and Holiday Shopping
by Jean Johnson, LWVAL Technical Director
'Tis the season for giving to worthwhile charities. Please don’t forget the League of Women Voters this year. We’ve made it very easy for you to give because now you can make your tax-deductible LWVAL Education Fund (LWVAL-EF) donation ONLINE! Just go to www.lwval.org and click on the “Donate” link in the right column. Donations to the LWVAL General Fund (LWVAL) are also appreciated. Go online to the LWVAL “Donate” webpage or simply make your check out to LWVAL or LWVAL-EF and mail to Virginia Bennett, 1028 East University, Auburn, AL 36830.
You can also benefit the LWVAL Education Fund by shopping online at www.igive.com/lwvalef/ Why not skip the parking, long lines, and general hassle at the mall this holiday season? You’ll find just about anything you’re looking for online at over 700 famous, name-brand stores. The merchants have all agreed to give a portion of sales to the LWVAL-EF at no cost to you! You do have to click through the website above, though, so the merchants will know to provide the appropriate funds to the LWVAL. The amount varies from merchant to merchant but typically this is 1% - 4% of the sale. It adds up quickly when many participate!
Thank you for supporting the League in whatever way you can. Have a wonderful holiday season!
East Alabama League Co-sponsors Gubernatorial Candidates Forum
by Charlotte Ward, LWVAL Co-President and LWVEA Director
The Center for Governmental Services at Auburn University had hoped to be the first to sponsor a forum for 2010 gubernatorial candidates. They contacted the East Alabama League in September, hoping for an October date. That seemed awfully early. We finally settled on Nov. 3, a year from election day. A few other groups had small gatherings for candidates before that.
The November event was a huge success. About 600 people gathered on the AU campus to hear six of the eight announced candidates. (Judge Moore did not respond to the Center’s invitation, and the Treasurer had to cancel.) in addition, about 75 people(your correspondent included) tuned in to all or part of the session as it was streamed live via the Opelika/Auburn News website.
The questions, prepared by League members in consultation with representatives of the Center and the Auburn and Opelika Chambers of commerce, the co-sponsors, covered topics suggested by respondents to a small citizens’ survey conducted by the Center. The topic suggested most often by respondents was ethics in government. Others were education, the economy, especially with respect to helping small businesses, the environment, tax reform, and constitutional reform. The moderator, Jeremy Campbell of ABC 33/40 in Birmingham, kept up the tempo so that every subject got addressed.
I listened for comments relating to league positions. Here is my summary:
CR: Only Artur Davis supports a convention. Bradley Byrne and Tim James acknowledge that CR is needed, but want the legislature to do it article by article. Robert Bentley sees nothing wrong with the 1901 document. The other candidates did not address the issue directly.
TAX REFORM: Davis, Byrne, and Sparks favor dropping the tax on groceries. Bentley feels sales tax is fairest because everyone pays it. Johnson, Byrne, and James expressed fear the “reform” means “increase,” especially on property.
ETHICS: All spoke for improvement, but suggested various approaches. Only James spoke against giving the ethics commission subpoena power.
EDUCATION: Everybody is for it, but no one seemed to have a new improved solution to regular shortfalls.
ENVIRONMENT: Discussion here ranged from ways to fight the “water wars” (Bentley, Sparks) to development of biofuels and nuclear power (James). Sparks and Davis spoke for better standards. Byrne emphasized the need to balance economic and environmental concerns.
It will be interesting to listen for more of the candidates’ position over the next 10 months.
Improving Judicial Selection, Volunteers Needed
by Mary Lynn Bates, Chair, LWVAL Judicial Selection Committee
LWVAL’s position on judicial selection is that judges should be chosen by a merit selection process. We do not support the current system of the partisan election of judges. However, since that is the system we have, we are committed to make those elections as fair and effective as possible. Therefore, for the last couple of statewide judicial elections, we have produced an online voter guide to the candidates for appellate court judgeships. Again in 2010, we intend to produce a nonpartisan, impartial online guide to the statewide primary and general appellate court elections.
The 2010 Guide will be put together with basically the same format, rules, questionnaires and procedure as the 2008 Guide. Volunteers are needed to gather candidate contact information, send letters to candidates, and call candidates or their representatives to inform them about the guide and later to remind them to fill in and submit their online questionnaires. Volunteers are also needed to assist Jean Johnson with the technical production of the Guide, proof read, and to help publicize the Guide through press releases, letters to the editor, email messages, notices to other organizations, etc.
The work runs from March until the election depending on what tasks the volunteer assumes. If you are interested in helping with any part of this project, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Becky Sylvester, Jean Johnson or Mary Lynn Bates and indicate whether there is a particular task or time frame for which you want to volunteer. Because most of the work is by phone or online, you can do it from home and from anywhere in the state.
It is of the utmost importance not only that the Guide be unbiased but that candidates and the public perceive it as unbiased. If you will be publicly campaigning for any of the candidates, you should not volunteer.
Environmental News: League Activities from Birmingham to Copenhagen
by Joyce Lanning
Conference of the Parties (COP) 15 – Climate Change: As an official non-government organization, the League of Women Voters of the United States (LWVUS) authorized an 8-person delegation to the Copenhagen meeting December 6-18, 2009. The League has identified global climate change is one of the most serious threats to the environment, health and economy of our nation. The delegates worked for success in achieving a broad international agreement with commitments to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as well as implementation and oversight strategies to reduce the threats of climate change.
At this writing (December 16, 2009) it is unclear what the outcome will be. Over 100 heads of state will take part in the final two days of meetings, which have been slowed by disagreements over the GHG emissions to be allowed by developed and developing nations and measurement and verification agreements. Also at issue is the monetary support provided to poorer, low-emitting nations to adapt to the no-longer-avoidable environmental changes in the pipeline or ones already taking place.
The U.S. House passed the Waxman/Markey bill (H.R. 2454) with emissions targets for 2020 of 17% below 2005 levels, which is a much smaller amount than most scientists and leaders of many other nations believe is necessary to keep temperature from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit – a target agreed upon last June by 17 of the world’s greatest GHG emitters, including the U.S. Other countries have been unwilling to make commitments until the U.S. does, and that will not be until after the Senate passes a bill and the president signs the results of the conference committee, hopefully in the spring before the next COP meeting in Mexico in December, 2010.
Many states are acting in the absence of federal legislation, but Alabama is not among them. LWVAL will monitor energy and climate activity in the state and participate where our positions and program support our involvement.
LWV Testimony at ADEM Triennial Review of Water Quality Standards
On August 29, 2009, Alabama Department of Environmental Management hosted their Triennial Review Public Hearing where members of the public could give feedback on ADEM’s water quality policies. These comments will be taken into consideration as ADEM creates Alabama’s water policy for the next three years. At least 24 grassroots organizations submitted comments for ADEM’s proposed policies and eleven grassroots groups gave comments at the hearing: Alabama Rivers Alliance, Save our Saugahatchee, Lake Watch of Lake Martin, the Southern Environmental Law Center, Alabama Water Watch and the League of Women Voters of Alabama.
Our testimony, given by our Natural Resources chair, was prepared by several board members with the concurrence of Jeanne Lacy. It was based on the Coastal Zone Management position proposed by the Baldwin County League and adopted at Convention 2009. We called for new assessments for coastal areas because of the impact population growth has had on these regions as well as reform of state and local enforcement of coastal area standards.
We supported the classification of the Magnolia River as Outstanding Alabama Water; final determination of the status should be in early 2010.
Student Climate Rally - OXFAM America
On October 24, 2009, a rally was held on Birmingham-Southern Campus with the participation of enAct (BSC Students Engaged Actively in Environmental Issues), the University of Alabama at Birmingham Green Initiative and Samford University’s Restoring Eden. The event included information on Grow Alabama, community agriculture, the Alabama Environmental Council and The Climate Project. Climate Project presenter Michael Churchman, Executive Director of Alabama Environmental Council, gave a brief introduction to the rationale behind limiting atmospheric CO2 levels to 350 parts per million, and the group saw the Sisters on the Planet film created by Oxfam America.
The national League has partnered with Oxfam in promoting Sisters on the Planet, which not only stresses the need to responsibly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also the need for Congress to be cognizant of and to provide funding for climate change adaptation projects to assist the poor, who are the least responsible for - but the most severely impacted by - climate change.
LWVAL will follow the progress of a newly-forming student group, Coalition of Alabama Students for the Environment (CASE), to determine if there are ways the LWVAL can support their activities.
Interfaith Environmental Initiative Energy Forum and Follow Up
The Interfaith Environmental Initiative of Alabama hosted a very successful Energy Forum 2009: Challenges and Possibilities for Alabama, with a dinner on October 13 at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens featuring Stan Meiburg, acting director of Region 4 EPA, and an all-day workshop on the 14th with about 90 people working together to learn about energy issues and develop ideas for energy efficiency in our state. The League of Women Voters of Alabama and of Greater Birmingham helped advertise the event, which was supported by Natural Resources chair Joyce Lanning.
Five work groups formed after the Forum are: benchmarking to identify, support and measure opportunities for energy efficiency improvements; energy and water efficiency in industry; support of student energy education and action; transmitting efficiency options and opportunities to churches and homes; and information and resources.
This is a collaborative endeavor, convening leadership of groups such as Alabama Environmental Council, Alabama Faith Council, Alabama Power, Alabama Rivers Alliance, Alagasco, Birmingham Southern College, Cahaba River Society, Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, McWane, Inc., Protective Life and the Public Service Commission, among others, to develop a conference around energy challenges and opportunities in a format that facilitates creative conversation while producing practical solutions. (See www.interfaithenvironmental.org
Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Energy
At their meeting on October, 29, 2009 (attended by Joyce Lanning), the Energy Committee reviewed the legislation which was passed during the 2009 Regular Session and adopted pending bills for the 2010 energy package. The legislation adopted in the last session included the following: Green Fleet Review Committee (ACT# 2009-650), Transportation of Ethyl Alcohol (ACT# 2009-651), Life Cycle Costing for the Procurement of State Property (ACT# 2009-652), Life Cycle Costing for the Procurement of State Motor Vehicles (ACT # 2009-653), B20 Resolution (ACT# 2009-162), B5 Resolution (ACT# 2009-231), Codification of the Joint Legislative Energy Committee Resolution (ACT# 2009-805), Interagency Working Group Resolution (ACT# 2009-797), RPS Resolution (ACT# 2009-796).
The six bills and one resolution to be reintroduced when the Legislature reconvenes in January are: 400lb Idler Arm Exemption (2009-HB190, SB213), Codification of the Joint Legislative Committee on Energy Policy (2009-HB189, SB80), Research and Development Bill (2009-HB194, SB260), Energy Star Sales Tax Holiday (2009-HB193, SB388), Alabama Wireless Telecommunications Siting Act of 2009 (2009-HB187, SB69), Energy Efficiency Incentives (2009-HB188, SB288) and the IECC Codes Resolution (2009-HJR41). We will be monitoring them on Alison http://www.legislature.state.al.us/acas/alisonstart.html
, but they do not yet appear as prefiled bills.
Trey Glenn resigns as Director of Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM)
After accepting the resignation of Trey Glenn as director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), the Environmental Management Commission is searching for a new director, with applications due by January 8, 2010. ADEM administers all major environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and solid and hazardous waste statutes. The Department has approximately 600 employees, an annual $70 million operating budget. (http://www.adem.state.al.us/directorsearch.htm
The ADEM Reform Coalition calls for the Environmental Management Committee, to:
“find a director who can reverse the trend of the recent negative reports about Alabama’s environment. Birmingham consistently is among cities nationwide with the poorest air quality. Coastal water quality continues to decline. Stormwater runoff is plaguing all parts of our state. Enforcement and penalties have taken a rapid decline in the past few years with no explanation. Excessive pollution in impoverished and minority communities continue to be allowed. Funding is consistently too low.” (http://www.alabamarivers.org/
The LWVAL board will be watching the process and supporting the hiring of a strong director for this important environmental regulatory body.