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Senate Passes Education Budget

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Wednesday, April 13, the Alabama Senate passed a $6.3 billion Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget for fiscal year 2017 (FY17).

Next year’s education budget includes: strategic increases for community colleges, student assessments, and scholarships for veterans. It also funds a four percent pay increase for teachers, support staff, principals, and most education employees. Education workers making over $75,000 per year who are not principals and assistant principals get just a two percent raise.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said, “I want to commend Senator Orr’s hard work on passing his first Education Trust Fund (ETF) as chair of the committee. This fiscally-responsible budget is another step in the right direction as we were able to give teachers a raise, provide a bonus to retirees and increase money for textbooks while making sure money is reserved for future use.”

Lt. Governor Kay Ivey (R) said, “When Republicans took charge of the Senate in 2010, many difficult choices had to be made about the future of our approach to funding education. Now, educators and students are benefiting from the structural changes made over the past five years.”

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Senate Finance & Taxation Education Committee Chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) said that the pay increase was necessary to keep and attract quality teachers. “If you are going to attract quality people to education, it is imperative that you compensate them accordingly. The legislature understands this and that it’s been nine years since educators have seen a true raise. I’m pleased the support was overwhelming.”

Sen. Orr said that there was not enough money in the budget to give education retirees a raise or a one time bonus; but that the bonus was a top priority for next year.

Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) said, “Senate Republicans have made education funding and accountability a key priority. This year’s budget shows our commitment to education and the amazing teachers, support staff, and administrators that make it all work.”

Finance & Taxation Education Committee Vice Chairman Rusty Glover (R-Semmes) said, “Education is the foundation of economic growth. When we invest in our students and schools, we get a tremendous return. Senate Republicans did just that today.”

One major point of contention was supplemental appropriations for Talladega College, Lyman Ward Military Academy, and Tuskegee University. Sen. Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) said that philosophically as a conservative he can not support diverting taxpayer dollars to those private schools. The three supplemental bills barely got the 24 votes necessary for passage. Six Senators led by Williams opposed the measures.

Because the Senate made changes to the budget as passed by the House, the Senate Republican Caucus said that they expected that the budget bill will go to a conference committee to work out the differences which they called “minor.”

Senator Marsh is still not satisfied with where Alabama’s public education system is today and that there is still a lot of work to do.

Sen. Marsh said, “Alabama is still 46th and 50th in reading and math, respectively, and only 16 percent of our high school graduates are college ready according to American College Testing (ACT). Education affects every part of this state and I cannot look at these numbers and accept the status quo. I am still committed to reforming our education system until there is noticeable improvement and all children are able to receive a high quality education. I look forward working with those in the education community who share my concerns on new and innovative reforms for next year.”

 

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Shelby discusses disaster assistance for the Wiregrass with Trump

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama’s senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby said Thursday that President Donald Trump “agreed to help” with assistance for those affected by Hurricane Michael in Alabama’s Wiregrass region.

Shelby tweeted Thursday that he spoke with Trump about the need for assistance after Michael devastated portions of Southeast Alabama in early October.

“During my meeting with @POTUS, I brought up the need for disaster relief in the #Wiregrass following #HurricaneMichael,” Shelby tweeted. “President Trump agreed to help.”

While Trump approved a Major Disaster Declaration last week for four affected counties, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Mobile, it only provides public assistance grants, which reimburse local governments and community organizations for certain expenses incurred because of the disaster but can’t be disbursed to individuals recovering from a disaster.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also not yet approved the state of Alabama’s application for an agricultural disaster declaration.

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The Alabama Emergency Management Agency has requested IA grants, and the agency has also provided additional evidence to demonstrate that certain Alabama counties qualify for the individual assistance.

Individual assistance, where it to be approved in the coming days by the Trump administration, would include financial assistance, direct aid and disaster loans. The assistance could be used for losses that were not covered by insurance, are of critical need and couldn’t be covered in other ways. It’s not intended to restore damaged property to its condition before the disaster, according to FEMA.

Most disaster assistance is provided in the form of loans administered by the Small Business Administration.

Shelby’s discussion with Trump comes after U.S. Sen. Doug Jones urged President Donald Trump last week to push for approval of the individual assistance grants for Alabamians impacted by Hurricane Michael. Jones also supported agriculture assistance in a separate letter to the Department of Agriculture.

Neighboring counties in Florida and Georgia have already received IA grants.

Hurricane Michael was one of the most powerful hurricanes to make landfall in the continental United States, causing more than $204 million in estimated agriculture losses and $307 million in estimated economic losses in Alabama, according to a report from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University.

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Jones co-sponsors bipartisan bill to address growing chronic wasting disease problem

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, joined Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, in introducing legislation to authorizes a special resource study to determine how chronic wasting disease (CWD) spreads and could be prevented in deer and elk.

CWD can affect both wild and domestic herds of deer and elk in 25 states. However, state recommendations for preventing the spread of the disease vary. This bill would give state wildlife agencies and wildlife experts information to conduct targeted research on how the disease is transmitted, determine which areas are most at risk, and develop consistent advice for hunters to prevent further spread.

“As an avid outdoorsman and hunter, I am deeply troubled by the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease,” said Senator Jones. “This disease is threatening to impact the wildlife population in Alabama just as it has in a number of other states throughout the country. That’s why it is so vital for the Senate to pass legislation that will ultimately give state and local wildlife officials the tools they need to contain the spread of CWD.”

“Chronic wasting disease has negatively affected white-tailed and mule deer in Wyoming for decades,” said Senator Barrasso. “To protect our wildlife populations and our hunters, we need to know more about how this disease is spread and which areas are most at risk. Our bill gives wildlife managers the tools they need to research and identify exactly where chronic wasting disease is most prominent and how we can better prevent it. It’s a critical first step to addressing this debilitating disease and keeping our wildlife herds healthy.”

“The deer and elk herds affected by Chronic Wasting Disease are a critical part of Colorado’s wildlife heritage and economy,” said Senator Bennet. “We need to learn more about containing CWD, and this bipartisan legislation will provide the information state wildlife professionals need to align their work and prevent further spread.”

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Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), John Thune (R-South Dakota), Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), and Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) cosponsored the legislation.

The “Chronic Wasting Disease Transmission in Cervidae Study Act” addresses the needs identified by state wildlife agencies. The bill requires the USDA secretary to enter into an arrangement with the National Academies of Sciences to review current data and best management practices (BMPs) from the CWD Herd Certification Program and state agencies regarding: the pathways and mechanisms for CWD transmission; the areas at risk and geographical patterns of CWD transmission; and gaps in current scientific knowledge regarding transmission to prioritize research to address gaps.

In October the second confirmed case of CWD positive deer was found in Mississippi. The most recent deer was in Pontotoc County. CWD is the most devastating disease facing the deer population today. Alabama has 1.75 million deer. Currently the state is CWD free; Mississippi was CWD free until this summer.

Mississippi Wildlife officials report that an emaciated 1.5-year-old, free-ranging male white-tailed deer was euthanized on October 8, 2018. The deer’s behavior appeared abnormal. The sample was confirmed CWD-positive by the National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames, Iowa, on October 30, 2018. This is the second case of CWD documented in Mississippi.
Alabama’s WFF has tested nearly 8,000 deer since 2002 and has not detected CWD within Alabama.

As part of WFF’s CWD Strategic Surveillance and Response Plan, WFF will increase its CWD surveillance sampling efforts beyond typical surveillance rates in those counties within the 50-mile radius of the Pontotoc County CWD-positive white-tailed deer. These counties include Franklin, Lamar, and Marion counties.

Additional samples for these counties including, but not limited to, voluntary samples from hunter-harvested deer as well as focused efforts on road kills and abnormally behaving deer.

CWD is a neurodegenerative disease found in most deer species, including moose, elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer. It is infectious and always fatal. It is part of a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies and is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep. These diseases cause irreversible damage to brain tissue that leads to neurological symptoms, emaciation and death of the animal.

Deer infected with CWD can become emaciated, lethargic, have abnormal behavior, and show gradual loss of bodily functions. Other signs include excessive salivation, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, excessive thirst and urination, and drooping head/ears.

Because it is a prion disease, contact with the spinal and brain tissue of a deer carcass can spread the disease to uninfected deer. To prevent the spread of the disease into Alabama it is now forbidden to import the complete carcasses from members of the cervid family (deer, elk, moose, caribou, etc.) from any other state and Canada.

The rules requires that hunters should completely debone the animal and remove and dispose of any brain or spinal tissue from skull plates, raw capes and hides before returning to Alabama. Those skull plates must be free of any brain or spinal cord material. Velvet-covered antlers are also included in the prohibited materials. Root structures and other soft tissue should also be removed from all teeth. Finished taxidermy products and tanned hides are not affected by the ban.

Overhunting resulted in the near extinction of deer in Alabama by 1905, when there were less than 2,000 deer living in the state, until the state of Alabama and a collection of private landowners in south Alabama stepped in to protect the species. The wolf, bison, elk, cougar, passenger pigeon were all wiped out in Alabama by overhunting. From those humble beginnings, the Alabama Conservation Department, restocked the rest of the state, with most of the restocking done in the 1950s and 1960s.

Gun season for deer in Alabama begins on Saturday and continues until February 10.

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Elections

Secretary Merrill orders election workers not to count write-in votes

Brandon Moseley

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The Secretary of State’s office announced Thursday that no county needs to count the write-in ballots for the general election.

In a statement the Secretary of State’s office wrote: “State law requires the Secretary of State’s Office to review county vote totals and compare those totals to the number of write-in votes cast in each statewide race involving a Federal or State office. Following the completion of that review, the Secretary of State’s Office is tasked with determining whether the total number of write in votes is less than the difference in votes between the candidates receiving the greatest number of votes for that office.”

“Secretary Merrill and his team have completed a review of the offices and it has been determined that no county is required by law to count and report write-in votes for any State or Federal office as provided in Alabama Code Section 17-6-28.”

County election officials must still make this determination for any county offices not included in the Secretary of State’s review.

The final vote totals as certified by the County Canvassing Board are due to the Secretary of State’s Office by Friday, November 16, 2018.

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Chad “Chig” Martin and Chris Countryman both ran write-in campaigns for governor.

Allowing write-in votes slows the process of counting the votes down considerably as those ballots would have to be pulled out and counted manually.

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DA Greg Griggers shot in Demopolis

Brandon Moseley

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The District Attorney for Marengo, Greene and Sumter Counties, Greg Griggers, was ambushed outside of his Demopolis office by a suspect Thursday. The attempted assassin was killed by law enforcement according to Demopolis Police Chief Tommie Reese.

Griggers is the DA for Judicial Circuit 17 District Attorney. Authorities are reporting that Griggers was ambushed as he sat in his vehicle outside of his Demopolis office Thursday afternoon. Griggers has been rushed to the hospital where he in stable condition and is expected to survive.

Griggers has served as the elected prosecutor for Alabama Judicial Circuit 17 since 2003.

The Alabama Political Reporter spoke with Barry Matson, the Executive Director of the Alabama District Attorney’s Association.

“We are very concerned for Greg,” Matson said. “All the district attorneys are. There are prayer chains in every office in the state.”

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Matson said that he was en route to the hospital where Griggers is being treated.

Matson said that he talked with Griggers after he got out of surgery and the DAs Association has promised that his office will “Have everything they need to pursue justice and fulfill his oath of office.”

“Greg is a good guy and a great prosecutor,” Matson said. “Our Association is proud to have him as part of our group.”

Michael Jackson, the district attorney for Alabama’s 4th Judicial Circuit, had identified the shooter as a former state trooper. Matson confirmed that to APR, but did not know further details.

“Griggers got shot in the face and they killed the ex-state trooper who shot him,” Jackson told AL.com Thursday afternoon.

Jackson said that Griggers should live: “They say he’s going to recover.”

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said on Twitter, “Praying for the recovery of Greg Griggers, District Attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit, a who suffered a gunshot wound today. Greg is both a friend and a tremendous public servant. Keeping him and his family in our thoughts.”

U.S. Attorney Jay Town said in a statement, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Greg and his family. District Attorney Griggers is a dedicated public servant and an honorable man. This serves as yet another reminder of the perils and dangers that law enforcement at every level face daily.”

Original reporting by the Alabama Media Group’s Connor Sheets, Channel 23 TV’s Chelsea Barton, and the Tuscaloosa News contributed to this report.

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Senate Passes Education Budget

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 3 min
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