Alabama Legislature passes reduction in sales tax on groceries; Fails to pass HB 209 to restrict Absentee Voting; and SB 324 for a Constitutional Amendment for electronic horse racing in Greene Co.
The 2023 regular session of the Alabama State Legislature ended yesterday. Among the legislation that passed was a bill to begin to reduce
State sales tax on groceries.
The Legislature failed to pass HB 209 which would have severely restricted absentee voting in Alabama.; and SB 324 which provided for a referendum on a Constitutional Amendment to codify electronic historic horse racing machines in Greene County, while passed by the Alabama Senate died in the House Tourism Committee.
On June 1, the Senate passed a bill, on a vote of 31-0, that would reduce the current tax rate on food in Alabama over the next couple of years.
HB479, sponsored by Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, will cut the state tax on specific food items from four percent to three percent beginning on Sept. 1, 2023. On Sept. 1, 2024, the rate will fall to two percent only if the Education Trust Fund (ETF) obtains a three-and-one-half percent rate in growth than the previous fiscal year.
Only foods that qualify under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are eligible for the tax reduction.
The legislation comes after years and decades of attempts to revoke the grocery tax. Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, who carried the Senate version of the bill said converging issues have made this the best time to pass the legislation. Those issues include families trying to overcome rising costs due to inflation and a surplus in the budget.
Garrett added that the bill would align Alabama with most states’ policies regarding taxing food. Alabama is one of 13 states that still tax groceries in the country and one of three that offers no form of relief on that tax.
There is a provision in the legislation that will immediately cap local taxes on food at their current rate when the bill is signed into law. This means that any local governing body would not be able to raise the tax on food higher but could still lower it.
Alabama Arise supported repealing grocery tax for years
Alabama Arise has consistently supported repealing the grocery tax for years. Robyn Hyden, executive director for Alabama Arise made a statement about how thrilled her organization was that the bill passed and how it will help all Alabamians.
“Reducing the state sales tax on groceries will provide meaningful help for Alabamians who struggle to make ends meet. Alabama Arise is thrilled that legislators listened to the people by voting unanimously for this essential policy change. And we urge Gov. Kay Ivey to sign HB479 into law quickly. Arise members from every corner of our state have advocated relentlessly for decades for Alabama to untax groceries. We cannot thank our members enough for their persistent efforts to make this bill’s passage a reality.
“This grocery tax reduction will benefit every Alabamian. And it is an important step toward righting the wrongs of our state’s upside-down tax system, which forces Alabamians with low and moderate incomes to pay a higher share of their incomes in state and local taxes than the wealthiest households.
“We appreciate Rep. Danny Garrett, Sen. Andrew Jones and Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth for guiding HB 479 through the Legislature. We’re thankful for Rep. Penni McClammy and Sen. Merika Coleman for championing legislation on this issue this year. And we’re grateful for former Rep. John Knight, former Sen. Hank Sanders, Reps. Laura Hall and Mary Moore, and so many other legislators whose determined work over so many years laid the groundwork for this moment.
“It will be important to ensure grocery tax elimination doesn’t harm our children’s education in the long term. The state grocery tax brings in more than $600 million a year for the Education Trust Fund. That’s about 7% of this year’s total ETF budget, making it a significant funding source for public schools.
“Revenues are strong enough for now to reduce the grocery tax without causing severe harm to education funding. But history tells us that good economic times won’t last forever. In the coming months, lawmakers should identify and agree to a sustainable solution to end the rest of the state grocery tax.”
HB209 dies in Alabama Senate
HB209 a bill that passed the Alabama House of Representatives, which would have restricted the people, who could help voters to apply for and cast absentee ballots, to closely related family members, died in the Alabama Senate on the last day of the session.
HB209 was presented by Republican sponsors as a way to end what they call “absentee ballot harvesting” in Alabama. It would have limited people, other than close relatives, from helping the sick and homebound, college students and people who work out of town, from applying for and casting an absentee ballot.
Black voting organizations like Alabama New South Coalition, Black Voters Matter and others felt that HB209 was another step in Alabama’s unrelenting campaign to suppress and curtail the voting strength of Black and progressive forces.
Rev. Robert Turner of Bullock County and Chair of the ANSC Board of Directors said, “I am glad that HR209 did not pass in this session. We must remain vigilant. Those who want to stop Black people from voting will continue to bring up these bills, which are designed to suppress our votes and make it harder for the homebound and those in nursing homes to vote.”
SB324 for Greene County gaming, dies in Alabama House
SB324, a bill sponsored by Senator Bobby Singleton, proposing a Constitutional Amendment to codify the operation of electronic historic horse racing machines in Greene County, which passed the Alabama Senate, died in the House Tourism Committee.
The Constitutional Amendment, which details the days on which machines are allowed to operate, taxes to be charged and distribution of funds, was subject to a referendum by Greene County voters. Greenetrack is currently hosting electronic historical horse racing machines, under license with the Greene County Racing Commission, based on prior para-mutuel betting legislation that permitted dog racing and simulcasting of dog and horse racing, in Greene County.
Representative Curtis Travis said, “We tried to pass SB324 in the Alabama House, but I was advised by the leadership that no gambling legislation would be allowed to pass in this legislative session. There were too many other priorities and too many new legislators was the reasoning that I was given. We will try again in the next legislative session.”
Bulletin at Press Time
In reference to a recent Ethics Commission complaint filed against Mr. Luther Winn, Jr. of Eutaw, AL, The Democrat learned at Press Time, Wednesday, June 7, 2023, that the Ethics Commission ruled that a Minor Violation had occurred and voted unanimously to accept the administrative agreement reached by the parties, according to Winn’s Attorneys John H. England, Jr. and Bobby Segall.
Bingo facilities distribute $615,868 for month of April
Wednesday, May 31, 2023, the Greene County Sheriff Department issued a listing of the bingo distributions for April, totaling $615,868.38 from four licensed bingo gaming facilities. The bingo facilities regularly distributing through the sheriff include Frontier, River’s Edge, Palace and Bama Bingo.
The recipients of the March distributions from bingo gaming include Greene County Sheriff’s Department, the cities of Eutaw, Forkland, Union, and Boligee, the Greene County Board of Education and the Greene County Hospital (Health System).
Sub charities include Children’s Policy Council, Guadalupan Multicultural Services, Greene County Golf Course, Housing Authority of Greene County (Branch Heights), Department of Human Resources, the Greene County Library, Eutaw Housing Authority, Historical Society, REACH, Inc., Headstart Community Service and This Belong To US.
Bama Bingo gave a total of $117,157.87 to the following: Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $48,070; City of Eutaw, $9,250; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,875; Greene County Board of Education, $10,500, and the Greene County Health System, $12,500. Sub Charities, each received $1,034.22 including REACH, Inc. Community Service received $470.10 and This Belong to Us received $94.02.
Frontier (Dream, Inc.) gave a total of $114,995.01 to the following: Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $48,070; City of Eutaw, $9,250; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,875; Greene County Board of Education, $10,500; Greene County Health System, $12,500. Sub Charities each received $870.53, including the Historical Society and REACH, Inc. Community Service received $395.69 and This Belong to Us received $79.14.
River’s Edge (Next Level Leaders and Tishabee Community Center Tutorial Program) gave a total of $117,157.06 to the following: Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $48,070; City of Eutaw, $9,250.; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,875; Greene County Board of Education, $10,500; Greene County Health System, $12,500. Sub Charities each, $1,034.22, including the Historical Society and REACH, Inc. Community Service received $470.10 and This Belong to Us received $94.02.
Palace (TS Police Support League) gave a total of $266,558.44 to the following: Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $111,426.26; City of Eutaw, $21,441.50; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $8,982.25; Greene County Board of Education, $24,339, and the Greene County Health System, $28,975. Sub Charities received $2,397.33, including the Historical Society and REACH, Inc. Community Service received $1,089.70 and This Belong to Us received $217.94.
The sheriff’s additional supplement for March from four bingo facilities totaled $81,303.76.
Newswires:UN agencies warn of starvation risk in Sudan, Haiti, Burkina Faso and Mali, call for urgent aid.
By: Associated Press
Two U.N. agencies warned Monday of rising food emergencies including starvation in Sudan due to the outbreak of war and in Haiti, Burkina Faso and Mali due to restricted movements of people and goods.
The four countries join Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen at the highest alert levels, with communities that are already facing or projected to face starvation or otherwise risk a slide “towards catastrophic conditions.”
The report by the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization calls for urgent attention to save both lives and jobs. Beyond the nine countries rating the highest level of concern, the agencies said 22 countries are identified as “hotspots” risking acute food insecurity.
“Business-as-usual pathways are no longer an option in today’s risk landscape if we want to achieve global food security for all, ensuring that no one is left behind.” said Qu Dongyu, FAO Director-General.
He called for immediate action in the agricultural sector “to pull people back from the brink of hunger, help them rebuild their lives and provide long-term solution to address the root causes of food insecurities.”
The report cited a possible spillover of the conflict in Sudan, deepening economic crises in poor nations and rising fears that the El Nino climatic phenomenon forecast for mid-2023 could provoke climate extremes in vulnerable countries.
The report warns that 1 million people are expected to flee Sudan, while an additional 2.5 million inside Sudan face acute hunger in the coming months as supply routes through Port Sudan are disrupted by safety issues.
WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain warned of “catastrophic” consequences unless there is clear action to “help people adapt to a changing climate and ultimately prevent famine.”
“Not only are more people in more places around the world going hungry, but the severity of the hunger they face is worse than ever,” McCain said.
Newswires: Tribes call on Haaland to push increased protections for the Grand Canyon.
By: Lyric Aquino, Grist
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland met with tribal leaders representing a dozen Indigenous nations last weekend in a move that could expand protections for land around The Grand Canyon, permanently safeguarding the region from future uranium mining.
The proposed Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument would convert 1.1 million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park into a National Monument, providing significant protections to tribal water sources, delicate ecosystems, and cultural sites, while curtailing the impacts of uranium mining — a proposal tribes in the area have been fighting for since 1985. Baaj Nwaavjo means “where tribes roam” in the Havasupai language, I’tah Kukveni translates to “our footprints” in Hopi.
The region has high concentrations of uranium and mining has been a feature of the landscape since the 1950s. When mining first began in the area, uranium was used primarily for nuclear weapons. Today, uranium from the Grand Canyon is used for nuclear energy plants and power reactors in submarines and naval ships.
In 2012, then-Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, placed a 20-year ban on uranium mining on more than a million acres of federal lands near the Grand Canyon in order to protect surface water from radioactive dust and mining waste. Without increased federal protections, tribal leaders say mining claims can be made at the end of the 20-year-ban, re-opening the Grand Canyon to uranium exploration.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, mining in the area disturbs underground vertical rock formations called “breccia pipes” — formations that often hold hydrothermal fluid or extremely hot water heated by the earth’s mantle and filled with various gasses, minerals and salts, including uranium. When disturbed, those breccia pipes can release their contents into aquifers and eventually, larger water systems.
In 2016, the Pinyon Plain Mine pierced an aquifer flooding mineshafts, and draining groundwater supplies. Between 2016 and 2021, the Grand Canyon Trust estimated that more than 48 million gallons of water had flooded Pinyon’s mineshafts, and the National Parks Conservation Association has consistently reported uranium levels in that water exceeding federal toxicity limits by more than 300%.
When ingested, uranium can cause bone and liver cancer, damage kidneys, and affect body processes like autoimmune and reproductive functions.
In 2016, tribal leaders brought the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni proposal to the Obama administration, but were rejected. Now, the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition, made up of 12 tribes with ties to the area, hope Secretary Haaland will encourage the Biden administration to protect the region.
“We can’t wait until the accident happens,” said Carletta Tilousi, a Havasupai elder and member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. “We are trying to prevent the catastrophe before it happens.”
The Havasupai reservation is an eight mile hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon and one of the most isolated communities in the United States.
But Tillousi says that while stopping uranium mining will be a major goal of the proposal, ongoing contamination issues must be addressed. The Pinyon Plain Mine continues to contaminate the Havasupai’s sole water supply, the Havasu Creek. Pinyon has been operating since 1986, and while the 2012 uranium mining ban stopped the construction of new mines, Pinyon is exempt due to its pre-approval. As of 2020, 30 million gallons of groundwater tainted with high levels of uranium and arsenic have been pumped out of the mines flooded shaft and dumped in an uncovered pond.
“We’re a small tribe, our tribe is made up of 765 people,” said Tillousi. “We need to protect our village and homes.”
Newswires: Dr. Cornell West declares candidacy for President on People’s Party ticket.
By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
Renowned scholar and activist Dr. Cornel West declared his candidacy for the upcoming presidential race under the banner of the People’s Party, as announced on Monday. In a compelling video shared on Twitter, West expressed his intention to run for the pursuit of truth and justice, emphasizing that the presidency serves as a means to achieve these noble ideals. With a strong academic background, including positions at prestigious institutions such as Harvard University and Princeton University, West is recognized for his intellectual activism. In his Twitter video, West articulated his decision to run as a third-party candidate, citing the reluctance of the established political parties to address critical issues concerning Wall Street, Ukraine, the Pentagon, and Big Tech. He referred to former President Donald Trump, a leading contender for the Republican nomination, as a “neo-fascist” and labeled President Biden as a “milquetoast neoliberal.” West’s educational journey has taken him through esteemed universities such as Yale, Princeton, and Harvard, and he presently holds a professorship in philosophy at Union Theological Seminary. Throughout his career, he has been known for his progressive activism and his outspoken critique of former President Barack Obama. Fair wages, affordable housing, abortion rights, universal healthcare, the urgent need to address climate change, and preserving American democracy were some of the significant issues West highlighted in his campaign video. The platform through which West intends to pursue his presidential aspirations is the People’s Party, which Nick Brana founded after previously working on Bernie Sanders’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. While the party attempted to recruit Sanders after his 2016 campaign, the senator declined involvement and subsequently sought the Democratic nomination once again in 2020. “Will we succeed? Only time will tell. But some of us are ready to fight until the end,” declared West in his announcement video, leaning towards the camera, his words resonating with determination. “We will fight passionately, with style, and with a smile.
Newswires: Two more died last week 54 Alabama inmates have died in state prisons this year.
By: Patrick Darrington, Alabama Political Reporter
May 31, two incarcerated individuals in separate prison facilities in Alabama were found unresponsive in their cells and later determined to be deceased following unsuccessful life-saving measures.
The two individuals were Tarrance Demetri Guyton, 56, and Steven Ray Harris, 65. ADOC confirmed that Guyton was reported dead at the St. Clair Correctional Facility and Harris’ death was reported at the Staton Correctional Facility.
With their passing, at least 54 individuals have died in Alabama state prisons this year. The total is likely an undercount.
Both Guyton and Harris are suspected of dying from drug overdoses, sources inside said, but ADOC did not confirm that. Their causes of death will be confirmed following an autopsy and investigation by ADOC’s Law Enforcement Services Division.
With summer arriving, the conditions inside ADOC are anticipated to worsen. With a lack of air conditioning to combat the heat, tensions are expected to flare, leading to more violence.
Newswire : President Biden allocates $115 million to rebuild Jackson, Mississippi’s water system
By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
President Joe Biden has announced the allocation of $115 million to support critical investments in reconstructing Jackson’s water infrastructure. The federal funds are part of the $600 million appropriations package Congress approved last year.
The city of Jackson, with a population of nearly 150,000 residents and a majority-Black demographic, has been grappling with a severe water crisis caused by years of neglecting its infrastructure and exacerbated by significant flooding last summer.
The collapse of the water system in August 2022 left residents without clean and safe drinking water for several days. Since then, ongoing water disruptions have plagued the city, necessitating emergency assistance and technical support from the federal government.
In the latest development, a federal court ruling favored the U.S. Department of Justice, paving the way for installing an independent third-party manager as part of an agreement between the city and the Mississippi State Department of Health.
The Biden administration said the collaborative effort aims to address the long-standing water issues in one of the nation’s poorest cities. President Biden emphasized the significance of ensuring that all Americans have access to clean and safe drinking water while acknowledging the suffering that the people of Jackson have experienced.
He commended the progress in repairing the city’s water system but emphasized the need for further action. Under his “Investing in America agenda,” the administration said it’s already channeling unprecedented resources to communities across the nation, focusing on replacing lead pipes, enhancing water quality, and fortifying the country’s drinking water infrastructure to withstand the impacts of the climate crisis.
Biden stressed the significance of this endeavor, stating, “Until all our children can safely drink water from the tap, our fight for clean water must, and will, continue.” By awarding $115 million to Jackson, the President said he desires to provide the necessary resources and support to tackle the deep-rooted water crisis that has plagued the city for decades.
The Jackson water crisis resulted from systemic issues that have persisted for many years. The system nearly broke last summer when significant flooding made the city’s already vulnerable water infrastructure even more susceptible due to aging pipes and infrastructure neglect.
The initial failure in August 2022 left residents without access to clean and safe drinking water, creating a state of emergency that required immediate intervention. Jackson’s status as one of the poorest cities in the United States has compounded the difficulties faced by its residents, as they have had to bear the consequences of aging infrastructure.
With President Biden’s allocation of $115 million, officials said Jackson could rebuild its water infrastructure and ensure its residents have access to clean and safe drinking water. “While we have made a lot of progress, there is much more work to do to ensure that all Americans have access to clean water,” Biden said.
“Thanks to my Investing in America agenda, we’re already deploying record resources to communities all across America to replace lead pipes, improve water quality, and rebuild the nation’s drinking water infrastructure, ensuring it can withstand the impacts of the climate crisis,” the President stated. “Until all our children can safely drink water from the tap, our fight for clean water must, and will, continue.”