Alabama

Montgomery, AL – Texting on Alabama's public roads will soon be prohibited under a law signed Tuesday by Gov. Robert Bentley.

Bentley says he believes the law will save lives, much like the state's statute requiring motorists to wear seat belts.

The bill prohibits sending text messages, instant messages and e-mails while behind the wheel. It provides exceptions for contacting emergency services and for using global position services.

Montgomery, AL – House budget committee Chairman Jay Love has devised an education budget that would cut fewer teachers' jobs than the one passed by the Alabama Senate.

Love outlined his proposed budget for the House Ways and Means-Education Committee on Tuesday. The committee will vote on the budget Wednesday and the House could consider it Thursday.

Birmingham, AL – Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is set to serve as co-chair of events for the 50th anniversary of Birmingham's civil rights activities in 1963.

Mayor William Bell on Monday announced Rice's participation in the commemoration. He says he expects to have more big names lined up for the events in the months to come.

Important events that year included Martin Luther King Jr.'s letter from the Birmingham jail, the children's marches and the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed four young girls.

Montgomery, AL – The leaders of the Alabama Legislature's reapportionment committee intend to unveil their proposed plans Wednesday for drawing new legislative districts.

The Senate co-chairman, Republican Gerald Dial, says he will recommend Senate districts that don't pit any incumbent senators against one another.

The House co-chairman, Republican Jim McClendon, says people will have to wait until Wednesday to see if any incumbents get their districts combined in his House plan.

Montgomery, AL – Newly hired public employees would pay less of their pay toward pension benefits and get smaller retirement checks than current public workers under a bill up for final passage in the Alabama House.

The House is expected to consider the bill shortly after coming into session Tuesday that would set up a new pension plan for newly hired public workers.

The bill has already passed the Senate and could go to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley if it passes the House,

Montgomery, AL – The U.S. Justice Department says Alabama's immigration law is having a significant impact on the state's Hispanic students.

The department writes in a letter to state Superintendent Tommy Bice that a review of state records shows the law has caused Hispanic students to skip and drop out of school in higher rates.

The letter released late on Thursday says the law has also chilled or prevented parental participation in children's education and made some schools less safe and welcoming for Hispanic students.

Montgomery, AL – Democrats in the Alabama Legislature have proposed what they say would be fair plans to redraw the state's 105 House districts and 35 Senate districts.

The Legislature must redraw district lines every 10 years after the results of the U.S. Census are released.

Lawmakers are expected to meet in a special session beginning May 14 to consider redistricting.

Montgomery, AL – After years of talking about modernizing Alabama's 111-year-old Constitution, the Legislature is going to let voters decide in November if they want to revise the portions regulating corporations and banks.

Republican Rep. Paul DeMarco of Homewood worked for six years to get the two articles approved by the entire Legislature. He finally succeeded this week. The next step is a statewide referendum on the general election ballot Nov. 6.

Montgomery, AL – Gov. Robert Bentley has signed legislation designed to make it easier for businesses to handle tax filings.

New Orleans, LA – A federal judge has pushed back the start of a civil trial for claims against BP PLC and other companies involved in the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier on Thursday set a date of Jan. 14, 2013. Trial had been scheduled to start on Nov. 8.

The litigation centers on the oil spill that began in April 2010 from BP's Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast.

The Justice Department and the state of Alabama had wanted the trial to start this summer, but BP asked for a January 2013 date.

Montgomery, AL – The Alabama Legislature has voted to create the crime of looting because of experiences following the deadly tornadoes that hit Alabama a year ago.

Attorney General Luther Strange recommended the legislation. The Senate gave it final approval 27-0 Thursday. The bill now goes to the governor.

Montgomery, AL – The Alabama Legislature paused briefly from the frantic activities of the final days of the 2012 session to honor NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Marshall acting director Gene Goldman told legislators Thursday the space flight center still has an important mission even though the space shuttle program has been discontinued.

He said Marshall, which developed the Saturn V moon rocket, is currently working on the new ``Space Launch System,'' a long-range rocket to take ``us exploring again beyond Earth's orbit.''

New Orleans, LA – A federal judge in New Orleans has preliminarily approved a proposed class-action settlement that would resolve billions of dollars in claims against BP over the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier's ruling Wednesday allows the settlement process to proceed, but he will hold a ``fairness hearing'' later this year before deciding whether to give his final approval.

Montgomery, AL – The Alabama Senate has voted to count some overtime pay toward the pensions for Alabama's public employees.

The Senate rewrote a House-passed bill to allow public employees to include overtime pay that's up to 20 percent of their regular pay. The bill passed 33-0 Wednesday and now must return to the House for review of the Senate's changes.

Boston, MA – Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is slamming Alabama and Arizona over their tough immigration policies.

The Boston Globe (http://bo.st/IsVl0x ) reports that in a speech earlier this week at Tufts University, Patrick said the actions of states on the issue have been ham-fisted, self-defeating and even racist. He also calls much of the debate over immigration reform hysterical and poisonous.

Montgomery, AL – Two bills aimed at making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion have passed an Alabama House committee. A public hearing was held in a Senate committee, but no vote was taken on another bill that is seen as a step toward banning abortion all together

The House Health committee approved on a voice vote Wednesday a bill to allow the state to opt out of providing health insurance for abortions under provisions of the new federal health care law. The committee also approved a bill that establishes new rules for abortion clinics.

Atlanta, GA – The federal appeals court in Atlanta is considering a challenge from environmental groups seeking to block Shell from drilling 10 new deepwater wells off the coast of Alabama, one of the first drilling approvals since the disastrous 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill.

Attorneys from the Southern Environmental Law Center and other groups Wednesday told the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that federal regulators ``rubber-stamped'' Shell's plans.

Montgomery, AL – The Alabama Supreme Court paved the way for the city of Pritchard to move forward with a nearly 3-year-old filing for bankruptcy.

The ruling released on Friday says cities don't need to have bond debt in order to declare bankruptcy. That means Pritchard's filing can move forward, but also paves the way for Jefferson County's largest-in-history municipal bankruptcy.

Montgomery, AL – The Alabama House has passed a bill that would establish a comprehensive system to grade the performance of schools and school systems.

The bill by Republican Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur passed the House late Thursday 89-5. It now goes to the Senate.

Collins said the ratings would give parents a way of knowing how their children's schools are performing. She said the ratings would by based on a data-based assessment of school performance. Schools would be given a grade of A, B, C, D or F just like students receive on their report cards.

Montgomery, AL – Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has urged a Louisiana federal judge to set a trial date to hear claims of lost revenue by Alabama and Louisiana because of the massive BP oil spill.

Strange said Friday that setting a trial date would put pressure on BP and other companies responsible for the spill. Strange has said that keeping pressure on BP would encourage the oil company to begin serious discussions toward a settlement.

Montgomery, AL – The winner of Alabama's Republican presidential primary, Rick Santorum, hasn't released his 22 Alabama delegates to support another candidate. But delegates say they expect to unite behind Mitt Romney if he locks up the GOP nomination.

Delegates said they don't want the party to get divided and lose sight of beating Democratic President Barack Obama in November.

Delegate Kenny Dean of Birmingham, who was Santorum's grass-roots coordinator in Alabama, said the most important thing is removing Obama from the White House.

Montgomery, AL – Alabama's unemployment rate has fallen for the eighth straight month to 7.3 percent for March.

That's down from a revised rate of 7.5 percent in February and a high of 10.0 percent in July. The state Department of Industrial Relations reports that the last time Alabama's unemployment rate was this low was December 2008. Alabama's rate was also below the national figure of 8.2 percent.

State Industrial Relations Director Tom Surtees said initial claims for unemployment have fallen to pre-recession levels.

Tuscaloosa, AL – Thousands of people still lack permanent homes in Alabama, a year after a swarm of killer tornadoes pummeled the state.

The government says about 3,200 homeowners statewide are either receiving rental assistance or living in mobile homes provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The head of the state emergency management agency, Art Faulkner, says that number doesn't include people who were renting homes before the twisters. He says officials aren't sure how many displaced renters still might lack permanent housing.

Montgomery, AL – The Alabama Senate has given final approval to a bill designed to fight the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine by restricting where cold and allergy medicine containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine can be sold.

The bill by Republican Rep. Blaine Galliher won approval in the House last month and cleared the Senate 27-4 on Thursday. It now goes to the governor for signing into law.

Washington, D.C. – President Barack Obama is honoring the University of Alabama football team for winning the BCS championship in January.

It was the Crimson Tide's 14th championship. Alabama entered the game ranked second and beat top-ranked Louisiana State University 21-0.

Obama says it was a ``fun season to watch'' but also a ``deeply meaningful season'' for the Crimson Tide.

Obama praised the team for their efforts in the Alabama community, noting the importance of athletes helping rebuild Tuscaloosa, Ala., after devastating tornadoes touched down in April 2011.

Montgomery, AL – The deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture wants women farmers in Alabama to know how the department can help them.

Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan will give the keynote address at the National Women in Agriculture Association conference in Tuskegee on Thursday. She says she'll outline the department's programs to help women and minority farmers.

Merrigan says women and minorities are traditionally underserved, despite the fast-growing population of women in the agriculture industry.

Montgomery, AL – The Alabama House is expected to spend much of Thursday debating a bill that makes changes to Alabama's immigration law.

Montgomery, AL – The Alabama House and Senate are looking for a compromise on their different versions of a bill to tie legislators' pay to the state's median household income.

The House voted 77-8 Thursday and the Senate voted 30-2 to send the pay bill to a conference committee of six legislators to seek a compromise.

Montgomery, AL – Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has spent much of the 15 months he has been in office pursuing efforts to recover losses by Alabama and other states because of the massive BP oil spill.

With the second anniversary of the April 20, 2010 spill coming Friday, Strange believes he can see light at the end of the tunnel.

Montgomery, AL – A state legislator has renewed his efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to allow copies of the Ten Commandment to be posted on walls in state buildings, including schools.

The House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee on Wednesday delayed consideration of the bill by Rep DuWayne Bridges of Valley for a week so the committee could study whether or not the bill is constitutional. Bridges has introduced the bill several years in the past. The amendment would have to be approved by Alabama voters.

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