Alabama Governor Robert Bentley

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.

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.

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.

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.

Former Alabama law enforcement secretary Spencer Collier is suing Governor Robert Bentley for wrongful termination and defamation.

Collier was fired for allegedly misusing state funds, according to Gov. Bentley and interim Alabama Law Enforcement Agency head Stan Stabler. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange is currently reviewing that accusation. Collier had been placed on medical leave by the governor about a month prior for what was described as an upcoming back surgery.

UAB Hospital
UAB

Alabama lawmakers plan to hold hearings on the state's Medicaid program tomorrow.

The House and Senate general fund budget committees have scheduled a joint meeting tomorrow to discuss funding options for the government health care program that covers approximately a million Alabamians.

House Speaker Mike Hubbard says lawmakers plan to question Medicaid officials about the agency's finances and costs.

Alabama legislators say they need more information on an unprecedented process before they can move forward with articles of impeachment against embattled Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.

Articles of impeachment filed Tuesday are on hold as legislators work to set up a new committee to vet the process. The committee could have subpoena power to hear testimony on allegations against Bentley.

Ed Henry
Albert Cesare / Montgomery Advertiser / AP

An Alabama lawmaker is following through on his threat to file an impeachment resolution against Governor Robert Bentley. APR’s MacKenzie Bates reports this move is in the wake of a scandal involving one of the governor's top aides, who has since resigned.

Hartselle Republican Rep. Ed Henry introduced the resolution yesterday. The action comes after Bentley admitted that he made inappropriate remarks to the former aide, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. However, Bentley denied suggestions that the two had an affair.

Much of Alabama was hit by storms and severe weather last night, and at least two tornadoes touched down in various parts of the state.

Eldridge, Alabama was reportedly hit by a tornado around 8 p.m. last night according to Walker County Emergency Management director Harry Markham. There were no immediate reports of major damage or injuries.

Limestone County Emergency Management director Rita White says a second tornado hit near Ardmore about an hour before. There have been no reports of damage or injuries associated with that tornado either.

A top political aide to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is stepping down. Rebekah Mason’s departure follows an admission by Bentley that he made inappropriate remarks. The governor denies the two ever had an affair.

Mason announced her resignation in a statement sent by the governor's office. She says she would no longer be his senior political adviser and would no longer be paid by his campaign fund.

The family of a soldier killed in a 2010 Fort Rucker helicopter accident has reached a multi-million dollar settlement with two companies.

The Dothan Eagle reports Rolls-Royce Corporation, the company responsible for inspecting the helicopter, will pay $8 million to the family of 38-year-old Jeremy Clark. Clark was an instructor pilot who died in the Dec. 14, 2010 crash. A student pilot was also injured. Helicopter maintenance company L-3 Communications also agreed to pay $500,000.

The Supreme Court is refusing to intervene in the case of an Alabama man who is facing execution for throwing four children off a bridge to their deaths.

The justices did not comment Monday in rejecting an appeal from Lam Luong. He argued that pretrial publicity prevented him from having a fair trial.

Alabama may see the creation of new jobs abroad in the future if the governor approves a recent joint resolution from the state legislature.

The bill would lift the embargo between Cuba and the state of Alabama. This would clear the way for companies like Cleber LLC. That’s an Alabama tractor company aiming to be first U.S. business to build a factory in Cuba since 1959.

Addie Bryant is the chief of staff at Engage Cuba. She says if the resolution is passed, Alabama can expect to see some definite economic benefits.

An Alabama judge says there’s enough probable cause to let a grand jury review the case against a white police officer in Montgomery charged with fatally shooting a black man last month.

Officer Aaron Smith was arrested and charged with murder less than a week after police say he fatally shot 58-year-old Greg Gunn in February.

Alabama lawmakers are expected to give their final approval to the General Fund budget later today. That will set up an expected veto by Gov. Robert Bentley over what he calls inadequate Medicaid funding.

Governor Bentley says the spending plan in its current form is unacceptable and he plans to veto it. The budget is $85 million short of the amount Bentley and state Medicaid commissioner Stephanie Azar say is needed to adequately fund the state's Medicaid program.

Governor Robert Bentley’s plan to construct four new prisons is moving on through the state legislature, but not without a few red flags. APR’s MacKenzie Bates explains.

The Senate Budget Committee sent Governor’s Bentley’s prison building plan to the full Senate. The committee approved the bill yesterday in wake of two violent uprisings at a South Alabama prison. Governor Bentley blames the incidents on overcrowding.

Senator Cam Ward says those situations show that the state desperately needs new prisons.

The Alabama House of Representatives has approved a bare-bones General Fund budget that Gov. Robert Bentley has already threatened to veto over inadequate Medicaid funding.

Representatives approved the spending bill on a 65-35 vote yesterday after a five-hour filibuster by black lawmakers. Democrats harshly criticized the proposed spending plan, which comes up $85 million short of the amount Bentley says is needed to adequately fund Medicaid.

Montgomery Rep. John Knight says Medicaid provides medical care to 1 million vulnerable Alabamians and has few programs to trim.

Sharon Steinmann / AP

The violence continues at a prison in south Alabama. APR’s Pat Duggins has more on the latest incident, and how it appears to be following a pattern.

The state Corrections Department says an inmate was stabbed by another prisoner at the Holman Correctional Facility.

Gov. Robert Bentley is hinting that lawmakers could be back in special session if they fail to pass a budget that he feels adequately funds Medicaid.

Bentley says he would veto any budget without an additional $100 million for Medicaid. While lawmakers could override his veto, Bentley says that did not preclude a special session.

Commissioner Stephanie Azar says Medicaid needs that amount to avoid cuts and continue a switch to managed care.

The Alabama House of Representatives voted unanimously yesterday to approve an education budget that gives teachers their first pay raise in several years.

The spending plan would give a 4 percent raise to teachers making less than $75,000 annually, and a 2 percent raise to all other teachers in the state.

All 105 state representatives approved the budget, sending it to the Alabama Senate for consideration.

In 2013, lawmakers approved a 2 percent pay raise for teachers, but that was offset by increases in benefit costs. The last raise before that came in 2007.

Parts of the Gulf Coast are reeling after a bout of severe weather that caused Governor Robert Bentley to declare a preemptive state of emergency.

A storm reportedly knocked down trees and damaged property in Reform, Alabama, but no one was hurt. The National Weather Service tweeted that radar indicated a possible tornado in that area.

NWS radar also showed a tornado briefly touching down in Hackleburg, in northwest Alabama. Some roofs were damaged, but no injuries were reported.

Gov. Robert Bentley is placing the head of Alabama's state law enforcement agency on medical leave.

Bentley announced the decision today about Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier. The medical leave will last for as long as three months, allowing Collier time to recover from what the governor's office describes as an upcoming back surgery.

Bentley is appointing Stan Stabler as acting director during Collier's absence. Stabler is currently the chief of the dignitary protection unit at ALEA.

The Tuscaloosa Police Department has announced how officers will be disciplined after a violent arrest last fall that went viral.

Police Chief Steven Anderson says Officer James Kent is still on administrative leave with pay pending disciplinary action. Officer Justin Sams received a written reprimand along with remedial training to improve his communication skills.

A Muslim advocacy group is asking to meet with  Governor Robert Bentley about statements he made on a refugee resettlement program that they call insensitive.

During his State of the State address Tuesday, Bentley criticized the federal refugee resettlement program for not disclosing refugees' background information to officials in states they settle in.

Bentley mentioned terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, and said one of the killers and some refugees in Alabama came from "terrorist nations."

Stan Ingold

       

The National Weather Service is confirming that two tornadoes hit west central Alabama last night. An EF-2 storm struck parts of Pickens County, destroying thirteen homes. A second tornado was confirmed as an EF-1. That twister tore through Fayette County. No deaths are reported from either storm. Today’s damage report was made after assessment teams surveyed the area. Forecaster Jason Holmes says even the trees in this rural area can provide clues as to what happened…

Tornado
Scott Peake / Basehunters

The threat of flooding in parts of Alabama follows up a pair of tornadoes that hit west central Alabama last night.

Dozens of homes near Aliceville were reportedly damaged, but police report only minor injuries and no deaths. Damage assessment teams from National Weather Service will spend the morning examining the aftermath of two tornadoes that marched single file just west of Tuscaloosa.

Forecaster Jason Holmes says the clues those teams find today will establish what kind of storm hit specific areas.

Much of Alabama is under threat of severe weather this afternoon and evening. The National Weather Service is predicting damaging winds of up to 70 miles per hour this afternoon. The forecast also includes hail and the possibility of isolated tornadoes. Several school districts across north and central Alabama dismissed early or canceled after-school activities in anticipation of the storms. John de Block is the warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Birmingham. He says the storm threat will continue well into the overnight hours.

Alabama State House
Jay Williams / Flickr

The next session for Alabama’s state legislature will convene at noon today.

State lawmakers are starting the 2016 session on Groundhog Day to some very familiar budget issues, but there will likely be some new debates as well.

Supporters and state officials are rallying at the state capitol today for National School Choice Week.

Alabama is celebrating the variety of educational opportunities for children throughout the state, allowing them to decide what type of school they want to attend.

Sonya DiCarlo is the Director of Communications for the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund. She says there are scholarship opportunities for families to pick the school of their choice.

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