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LIVE UPDATES: Tropical Storm Irma in Alabama, power outages affect thousands

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, 8:55 p.m.–The center of Tropical Depression Irma has crossed the Georgia-Alabama line near Phenix City, Alabama.

Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, 7:26 p.m.–The Alabama Emergency Management Agency said strong winds will continue in Alabama till 5:00 a.m. on Tuesday.

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Previously, the EMA estimated that strong winds would dissipate at 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday. The agency said flash flooding is possible and the chance of tornadoes are low in the state.

The eye of Tropical Storm Irma is expected to cross into Alabama around 9:00 p.m. near Phenix City, Alabama.

Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, 5:08 p.m.–President Donald Trump approved Gov. Kay Ivey’s request for federal assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and declared an emergency exists in Alabama.

Trump, who spoke with Ivey Sunday, directed FEMA to supplement the response already being coordinated by the State Emergency Management Agency. FEMA will coordinate all relief efforts as Alabama recovers from Tropical Storm Irma.

FEMA’s assets in Alabama include the following.

  • 5 million meals
  • 100,000 tarps
  • more than 2 million liters of water
  • 47,000 blankets
  • nearly 19,000 cots

Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, 4:09 p.m.–Alabama Power reports 45,000 power outages around the state. The organization reports that there are 23,000 in Eufaula, Alabama, alone and most effected homes are in the eastern parts of the state.

The company said returning power to effected areas can be challenging considering the strong winds coming to the eastern part of the state.

Strong winds are expected to continue until 2:00 a.m. Tuesday.

Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, 2:05 p.m.–The National Weather Service in Birmingham said several counties in East Alabama are reporting damage from falling trees. Again, the worst wind is supposed to occur between 2:00 p.m. today and 2:00 a.m. Tuesday.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued an executive order extending in person voter registration in the U.S. Senate runoff race. Ivey extended it by one day and said she will consider extending it more if the state offices cannot operate on Tuesday.

Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, Noon.–The eye of Tropical Storm Irma crossed the Florida-Georgia border near the city of Thomasville, Georgia.

The former hurricane is now making its way westward to cross into Alabama. Most likely, the eye of the storm will cross into Alabama sometime this evening. The EMA said the strongest wind will be between 2:00 p.m. today and 2:00 a.m. tomorrow.

The National Weather Service in Birmingham reported that wind gusts in Barbour and Russell counties peaked at 40 to 45 mph. The Russell county Emergency Operations Center said it received several reports of damage from citizens already.

Brian Hastings, the director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, said on Twitter that the EMA is focusing on helping Irma evacuees from Florida with basic needs and preparing for strong winds in East Alabama.

Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, 11:21 a.m.–The Alabama Emergency Management Agency said wind gusts south of Dothan, Alabama, were measured at 40 mph at 9:00 a.m. today. The EMA said the strongest winds will occur between 2:00 p.m. Monday and 2:00 a.m. Tuesday.

A meteorologist for the EMA said wind could reach 25 to 35 mph for areas under tropical storm warnings. Wind advisory areas–mainly in West Alabama–will experience wind 20 to 30 mph.

Rainfall is expected to be 2-4 inches for tropical storm warning areas and 1-3 inches for other areas.

The agency said the wind will substantially die down after early Tuesday morning. The chance for tornadoes in the state are low, according to the EMA. The State Emergency Operation Center in Clanton, Alabama, is currently monitoring the situation.

Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, 9:12 a.m.–The National Weather Service in Huntsville cancelled tropical storm warnings in northern Alabama as Irma weakens on its path northward.

Heavy rain and wind are still expected but they won’t reach the threshold to be considered tropical storm winds which are  sustained winds between 39 to 73 mph. Sustained winds in the area will still be 25 to 30 mph and wind gusts could reach 40 to 45 mph.

Tropical storm warnings are still in effect for most central, eastern and southeastern counties in Alabama.

Irma is expected to be downgraded to a tropical depression by the time it reaches North Alabama.

Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, 8:03 a.m.–The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Irma has now been downgraded to a tropical storm as it travels to the Georgia-Florida border.

Despite being downgraded, the tropical storm still presents danger to Alabama citizens as it travels further into the state. Central, central and southeastern Alabama counties will soon be within the storm’s range. Winds are still strong enough to knock down power lines and trees.

Millions of homes in Florida have reported power outages as the tropical storm leaves the southern part of the state.

Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, 6:57 a.m.–Hurricane Irma, whose eye is still in Florida, has begun to affect Alabama. Tropical storm-like conditions have been reported in Alabama’s southeastern counties. The National Hurricane Center defines this as sustained wind speeds of 39 to 73 mph.

The Center expects the storm to cross the Florida-Georgia border later today as a tropical storm. Currently, Irma is a category 1 hurricane just north of Tampa, Florida.

Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, 11:13 p.m.–Gov. Kay Ivey announced Sunday evening that state offices around Alabama will be closed on Monday as Hurricane Irma approaches the state. State offices closing are mostly in central and southeastern counties under tropical storm warnings.

The offices close on a crucial date when Monday is the deadline to register to vote in the U.S. Senate runoff election later this month. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said Alabama citizens will still be able to register online before 11:59 p.m. on Monday. Citizens will not be able to file paperwork to register to vote in person at a local courthouse.

Merrill said there is no provision in state law that would allow acceptance of in-person registration past the deadline of 5:00 p.m. on Monday even if the office is closed.

Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, 11:31 a.m.–Floridians poured into Alabama this weekend to escape Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in the United States Sunday morning.

While it is not yet known exactly how many have come through Alabama, the Florida Department of Energy Management estimates that 6.3 million Floridians were ordered to evacuate; making it one of the biggest evacuations in U.S. history.

Multiple Alabama cities have reported full capacities in their hotels and motels, and hurricane evacuation routes were host to thousands of Florida license plate tags as they travel northbound.

The Alabama State Parks System opened 17 parks in Alabama for evacuees to lodge. As of noon on Friday, 14 parks reported opening slots.

Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott told residents in mandatory evacuation areas to leave immediately at a Saturday news conference in Sarasota, Florida. Scott said the hurricane is something that the state has never seen before.

“If you’ve been ordered to evacuate, you need to leave now,” Scott said. “Do not wait. Evacuate. Not tonight, not in an hour. You need to go right now.”

Scott further advised southeastern citizens to be on the road by noon on Saturday or not leave at all.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey stressed that Alabama must be prepared for the incoming hurricane.

“As Hurricane Irma makes landfall in the United States, Alabama must be prepared in the event the storm comes our way,” Ivey said. “We must also be prepared to help meet the needs of our neighboring states that may face the brunt of the storm. I have spoken with Governor Scott of Florida and pledged the full support of the people of Alabama.”

The hurricane hit the Florida Keys this weekend as a category 4 hurricane and it is expected to be downgraded as it travels north up the state of Florida. The National Hurricane Center in Miami estimates that Hurricane Irma will be a category 1 or even a tropical storm by the time the eye of the storm crosses into Alabama.

The National Weather Service issued tropical storm warnings for southeastern and central Alabama counties Sunday morning.

Jim Stefkovich, a meteorologist for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, said the storm will not cause widespread flooding issues and that expected winds gusts could knock down trees and power lines.

“Beginning Monday morning through Tuesday afternoon, sustained winds of 15-25 mph will occur, with gusts approaching 40 mph for areas near and east I-65, and possibly as high as 55 mph for far east AL,” Stefkovich said. “Winds will decrease in both sustained speeds and gusts from south to north from Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday morning.”

Stefkovich stressed that the overall impact on Alabama will be nothing compared to the damage in Florida and Georgia.

Ivey issued a state of emergency on Friday as the storm’s surge would surely fall on Alabama. Ivey authorized the activation of the State Emergency Operations Center in Clanton, Alabama, and ordered the activation of the Alabama National Guard on Saturday.

“I want to ensure that our people are in place to respond immediately to whatever Irma may bring our way,” Ivey said in a statement. “We are ready to protect the people of Alabama and those who have recently sought refuge in our state.”

Ivey also said she spoke with President Donald Trump on Sunday about relief efforts coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Trump met with his cabinet at Camp David, Maryland, Saturday to discuss Irma.

As a precaution, many schools and universities have cancelled classes for Monday and Tuesday as the hurricane passes over Alabama.

The hurricane’s storm surge is expected to hit Alabama Monday.

 

Sam Mattison is a reporter and copy editor at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him via email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

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Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”

Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.

Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.

 

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In Case You Missed It

Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

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Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.

The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.

Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

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In Case You Missed It

Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

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Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.

Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

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LIVE UPDATES: Tropical Storm Irma in Alabama, power outages affect thousands

by Sam Mattison Read Time: 8 min
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