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The Alabama legislative session is over. Lawmakers have returned home, but some say very little was accomplished. APR’s MacKenzie Bates talks to one legislator who says there is still a lot work to do.

Lawmakers ended the session without agreeing a on a variety of issues like Alabama Governor Robert Bentley's prison construction proposal, how the state should spend the BP settlement from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and the lack of money to fund the state’s Medicaid program.

Lawmakers have left Montgomery after the Legislative Session ended Thursday morning.  The House and Senate could not agree on a wide range of issues like how to use the BP Settlement Money and the Prison Construction Bill.

Craig Ford is the Alabama House Minority Leader.  The Gadsden Democrat says a plan to fully fund Medicaid by allowing Alabamians to vote on a gaming bill should have been approved…

Alabama State House
AP

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley's prison construction bill failed to pass on the final night of the legislative session yesterday.

Lawmakers ended the session at midnight last night before a scaled-back version of the bill received a vote in the House of Representatives. Lawmakers attempted to craft a last-minute compromise in their effort to clear the bill through both chambers of the legislature yesterday.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has signed HB61, also known as Leni's Law.  The law will make medical cannabidiol available to Alabamians.

Bentley says "As a physician, I believe it is extremely important to give patients with a chronic or debilitating disease the option to consider every possible option for treatment.”

UTC engine
United Technologies Corporation

Today is the last day of the 2016 legislative session, and the last chance for lawmakers to decide the fate of Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley's $800 million prison construction proposal.

A conference committee will meet later today to try and reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

Bentley is seeking to borrow $800 million to build three new prisons for men — housing up to 4,000 inmates each — and one new women's prison. Most existing state prison facilities would close.

Lawmakers are continuing to disagree over how much of the state's oil spill settlement funds should go to road projects and how much to the Gulf coast.

The roadblock threatened to doom legislation doling out the settlement dollars.

A Senate budget committee was scheduled to vote today on legislation to use $191 million for coastal road projects and $450 million for state debt repayment.

Officials with the Alabama Department of Corrections say two of the state’s prisons are on lockdown after inmates began refusing to complete assigned jobs.

A statement from the department says inmates at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore and the Elmore Correctional Facility first refused to help staff prepare breakfast on Sunday, then failed to report to assigned jobs on Monday.

Alabama State Capitol
Stan Ingold / APR

Alabama lawmakers are beginning the final two days of the legislative session with some major decisions before them.

Governor Robert Bentley's $800 million prison construction plan, proposed payday lending regulations and a division of oil spill settlement funds are among the top issues that will be decided. Lawmakers return to Montgomery Tuesday.   

 A proposed split of the oil spill settlement money is facing critical votes this week. The Senate will consider a House-passed plan to use the money to pay state debts and for road projects in coastal Alabama

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley is due to testify before State Auditor Jim Zeigler later this morning regarding potential misuse of state funds, but Ziegler says he doubts Bentley will show up.

Zeigler says the state auditor has the authority to call any state official to testify under oath if there are suspicions that state money is being misused. Late last month, he ordered the governor to address several areas including the use of BP settlement money and records related to his relationship with former staffer Rebekah Caldwell Mason.

An elementary school in central Alabama has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for promoting better health and environmental education.

The Daily Home reports that A.H. Watwood Elementary was honored among 41 public schools and six private schools across the country by the department's Green Ribbon Schools Program. The recognized schools represent various grade levels from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Students took part in a program that teaches the history of the blues in Alabama.

The Dothan Eagle reports that Mixon Elementary School students jammed with members of the Alabama Blues Project to learn more about the genre's history through the Blues in the Schools program.

The band performed for students at the school for about an hour Thursday, interjecting lessons about the blues and its roots in the Wiregrass between songs.

DraftKings, FanDuel agree to cease operations in Alabama

Apr 30, 2016

Alabama's attorney general says online fantasy sports betting sites have each entered into a settlement to cease operations in the state in a few days.

Attorney General Luther Strange said in a statement Friday that DraftKings and FanDuel will cease operations effective May 2. Strange said his office issued the cease and desist letters to both in early April.

Gas tax, lottery bills dead as legislature nears end

Apr 30, 2016

Lawmakers return to Montgomery on Tuesday for the two days of the 2016 legislative session. Legislators have a number of high-profile bills left to consider before sine die, but many noteworthy bills have already met the chopping block. Though Gov. Robert Bentley in March said he thought Alabama voters would overwhelmingly approve a state lottery if given the chance. A variety of lottery and gambling legislation failed to gain traction during the 2016 session. 

Community Cats

Apr 30, 2016
On All Fours [Facebook]

By capturing stunning images of some of Tuscaloosa's most elusive residents - feral cats - students managed to put faces to many of them, highlighting both the scope of the problem and efforts to stem their population growth through TNR.

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Embattled Gov. Robert Bentley is maintaining he has done nothing illegal or unethical, a day after Alabama lawmakers revived an impeachment effort against him.

Bentley initially tried to sidestep impeachment questions. He says the past year has been "difficult" and implored people to trust him.

Bentley last month acknowledged making inappropriate remarks to a female political adviser.

Governor Robert Bentley’s prison building plan isn’t a done deal just yet. The eight hundred million dollar proposal is undergoing length debate in the State House. Supporters say the building project would solve safety and financial problems, while critics say it will make matters worse. Bentley wants to build three new mega-prisons for men that would hold four thousand inmates each. There would also be a new prison for women. Lawmakers’ complaints include the economic impact of counties that lose prisons.

A state lawmaker says he has enough signatures to re-ignite an impeachment effort against Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.

Republican Rep. Ed Henry says he’s obtained 23 signatures on impeachment articles.

The announcement came after the House passed a rule change requiring 21 votes to start an impeachment investigation. That thwarted Henry's earlier effort with 11 signatures.

A House committee has approved a watered-down payday lending bill. A-P-R’s Stan Ingold has more…

"Legacy of the Storm..."

Apr 27, 2016

“Is it five years? Oh, my gosh…”

Steve Miller’s come a long way since April 27, 2011. He lives in Tuscaloosa’s Hillcrest neighborhood. His new home has lots of windows and there’s plenty of art on the walls. You might not think anything was out of the ordinary. But, the first time APR visited here, things were a lot different.

It was on this date five years ago when a super tornado outbreak hit parts of west and west-central Alabama in 2011.

Over fifty people were killed in the city of Tuscaloosa and twelve percent of the town was destroyed. 

Tuscaloosa’s Acting Planning Director Phillip O’Leary spent the first hours after the tornado in his office. When he finally visited the damage zone, one thing stuck with him…

A state ban on a commonly used abortion procedure is a step closer to reality. The Alabama Senate voted thirty to two to ban what’s known as dilation and evacuation. Critics call the procedure “heinous" and "barbaric." The bill would allow the procedure in the event of a "serious health risk to the mother." Mississippi Governor. Phil Bryant signed a similar bill into law earlier this month. Similar bans in Kansas and Oklahoma have been struck down by state courts.

On this day five years ago, 62 tornadoes struck the state of Alabama as part of the largest tornado outbreak ever recorded. More than 250 Alabamians were killed and over 2000 were injured. One of those tornadoes was an EF-4 that barreled straight through Tuscaloosa, destroying 12% of the city and leaving thousands homeless and unemployed. Since then, the city of Tuscaloosa has largely bounced back, but some areas have fared better than others. Parts of the city have returned to business as usual, while others are still deeply scarred from the storm.

A bill to prohibit a commonly used second-trimester abortion procedure has advanced in the Alabama Legislature.

The Senate voted 30-2 today for Republican Sen. Phil Williams' bill. A companion bill in the House has passed out of committee.

The legislation would prohibit a procedure called dilation and evacuation, or "D&E." The bill would allow the procedure in the event of a "serious health risk to the mother."

The bill's supporters describe the procedure as "heinous" and "barbaric."

Lawmakers will reconvene in Montgomery today for the final five days of the current legislative session, with a lot of work left to do.

Dozens of high-profile bills will be considered this week. One issue still in the air is Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s $800 million bond issue that would close most of the existing state prison facilities in favor of four new large prisons. The bill has cleared the Senate but still faces a floor vote in the House.

A state tax break that some say sparked a renaissance in downtown Birmingham and elsewhere will end unless Alabama senators agree to extend the program.

A bill to extend the tax credits for seven years has stalled amid opposition from Senate leaders. Sen. Trip Pittman says that he did not anticipate any action on the legislation this year.

The three-year program, approved in 2013, gave up to $20 million in tax credits each year for historic building renovation.

confederate memorial
Carol Highsmith / Library of Congress

Many folks in Alabama will be remembering the fifth anniversary of the 2011 tornado outbreak. The twister killed 64 people and injured more than 1500 in the Tuscaloosa-Birmingham area.

WVUA-TV Chief Meteorologist Richard Scott was on the air forecasting the storms as an EF-4 Tornado destroyed 12 percent of Tuscaloosa. Scott says he still does not know how he kept his cool despite a deadly tornado heading in his direction.

A bill in the Alabama Legislature that would have effectively banned abortion in the state has failed to make it to a vote during the current legislative session.

Bill sponsor Representative Ed Henry (R) says the bill is "essentially dead". House Democrats mounted an effective filibuster earlier this week, and the House of Representatives adjourned before voting on the bill.

The Dog's Nose Knows

Apr 23, 2016
Alberto .... [Flickr]

If dogs have a superpower, it's their nose.  Things that have no odor to us will have a unique scent your dog can detect.  Plus, the pattern on a dog's nose is as unique as a human's fingerprint and can be used for identification!

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Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley says he is not responding to the state auditor's order to testify before him.

Bentley issued the statement today, a day after State Auditor Jim Zeigler ordered Bentley to appear before him to answer questions about the use of state funds and his relationship with a former staffer.

Bentley says the appropriate legal process was through the Alabama Ethics Commission where Zeigler has already filed a complaint.  The governor said he is cooperating fully with the commission.

Alabama is getting ready to observe the fifth anniversary of the 2011 tornado outbreak. And, for the past two months, weather researchers from across the country have converged on Alabama to study tornadoes.

It’s all part of VORTEX-SE, a massive federally-funded research project digging into the nuances of how severe weather behaves in the South. Meteorologists suspect there are differences in how tornadoes form and possibly how they behave compared to other parts of the country.

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