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Governor signs contract with prison health care provider

Chip Brownlee

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Gov. Kay Ivey speaks at her first State of the State Adress on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Montgomery, Ala. (Adam Brasher/The Auburn Plainsman)

Gov. Kay Ivey’s recently signed a contract with Wexford Health — a company that has been the subject of legislative scrutiny because of its proximity to a prison bribery scandal in Mississippi.

Ivey’s press office said Monday the governor signed the $360 million contract between the Alabama Department of Corrections and the Pittsburgh-based prison healthcare provider on March 9 — a little more than a week after the agreement was delayed by a legislative committee whose members had concerns about the bribery scandal.

ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the department chose the company last year to provide comprehensive medical and mental health care to upward of 20,000 state inmates. The contract, which will begin in April and extend until 2020, was delayed for a maximum of 45 days by the Legislative Contract Review Committee on March 2.

Though the committee is given oversight authority over state contracts, the delay was only temporary and the committee couldn’t block its implementation. It was ultimately the governor’s decision whether to stop the contract, but she decided to move ahead with it.

Other than to confirm her signature, Ivey’s office declined to comment on the decision and directed questions to ADOC.

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“The contract and supplemental funding will increase clinical staffing levels by 25 percent and provide for comprehensive mental and medical care throughout the state prison’s healthcare system,” Dunn said in a statement Monday.

After Mississippi scandals, committee pumps brakes on prison health contract

The Department of Corrections began accepting bids on the contract last year. After the application window closed in August, ADOC selected Wexford as the vendor.

The finalization of the contracts comes after both chambers of the Legislature approved a $30 million supplement to the Department of Corrections’ funding this fiscal year — an increase needed to comply with a recent court decision that mandated changes to medical and mental health care in Alabam’s prisons.

The supplemental funding was sent to the Governor’s Office for her signature on March 13.

Federal Judge Myron Thompson said in his ruling last year that ADOC’s mental health care system was “horrendously inadequate” and ordered broad changes. The ruling said ADOC failed to provide constitutional health care.

Ivey said in early March — before she made a final decision on the contract — that believed it imperative to move forward.

“Certainly health care in our prisons is important, and I have confidence in the firm but I will have to get the details and review the decision and why,” Ivey said Thursday afternoon. “The health care contract is vital to meet the court’s challenge to Alabama, and I’m confident that we’ll find a solution to it.”

Wexford was one of several companies and firms in Mississippi that paid consulting fees to former Mississippi state legislator Cecil McCrory, who last year pleaded guilty to bribing Mississippi prison commissioner Chris Epps, according to The Clarion-Ledger in Mississippi.

More than $1.4 million bribes were allegedly in exchange for Epps’ efforts to steer more than $800 million in state prison contracts to those who stuffed his pockets kickbacks over eight years, according to prosecutors.

The U.S. attorneys prosecuting the case said McCrory received about $4.6 million from his consulting contracts.

Wexford was not indicted directly in the case but was later sued along with other companies by the state of Mississippi for its alleged role in hiring consultants like McCrory to funnel bribes and kickbacks to Epps.

Wexford later terminated its contract with McCrory after the allegations were made public. ADOC has said it would stick by its selection of Wexford because the company was not directly involved or accused of wrongdoing.

ADOC is set to receive more than a 20 percent increase to its budget over the next two years with the $30 million in additional emergency funding to the ADOC’s budget this fiscal year combined with next year’s General Fund.

The budget, which includes an increase of $55.7 million and $4.8 million to buy a privately owned prison facility in Perry County, has been passed by both chambers but still needs final approval because of disagreements between the two chambers.

Even with the new funding, there is still the possibility the federal courts won’t be satisfied with Alabama’s actions following the prison ruling.

Because of the disagreements between the two chambers’ budgets, the Senate will need to concur with the changes made in the House or send the bill to a conference committee, which could prolong the process as the Legislature heads into the final weeks of the session.

If the court finds the state didn’t adequately address the problems it raised last year, Thompson could order the state to spend more money or force the release of prisoners to decrease overcrowding and the burden on the health system.

 

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Hubbard lawyer says Gov. Ivey has a job for him

Bill Britt

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Defense attorney Lance Bell starts closing arguments in Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard trial on Thursday, June 9, 2016 in Opelika, Ala. Todd J. Van Emst/Opelika-Auburn News/Pool

An attorney for former Speaker and convicted felon Mike Hubbard is pushing for Gov. Kay Ivey to appoint him St. Clair County District Attorney, and he is telling people that Hubbard’s good friend and Ivey donor, businessman Jimmy Rane, is going to make it happen.

Lance Bell is a small-town lawyer based in Pell City located in St. Clair County. Bell gained statewide notoriety as one of Hubbard’s criminal defense attorneys. He wasn’t hired for his legal acumen, but because he was mentored in his early career by Van Davis, the acting Attorney General overseeing the Hubbard prosecution, according to those close to his hiring.

In the recent Republican primary, current St. Clair County DA Richard Minor won the nomination for the Criminal Court of Appeals. Minor faces no Democrat competition so undoubtedly he will be elevated to the court in January, leaving a vacancy in the county DA’s office.

Bell is not supported by the majority of Republicans in St. Clair or the county’s judiciary said at least four St. Clair insiders, even though he is ALGOP county chair. However, Bell is saying that because of his relationship with Rane, that he will be chosen because Rane is best friends with Gov. Ivey.

Rane is one of Ivey’s biggest supporters, giving her at least $300,000 in campaign contributions and lending her his airplane to barnstorm the state before the Republican Primary in June.

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According to lawyers who ask to speak on background, Bell engaged in some activities on Hubbard’s behalf that should result in a bar complaint.

As reported by APR‘s Josh Moon, during six hours of testimony in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier, disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley admitted that Bell and Augusta Dowd, another Hubbard lawyer, contacted him about appointing a special prosecutor to investigate prosecutor Matt Hart and acting AG Davis. Attorneys familiar with Bar rules say this is a problem that should land Bell and Dowd in big trouble.

Deposition: Bentley was pressured by lawmakers, attorneys, major donors to upend Hubbard trial

But this is not Bell’s only problem according to the layer APR spoke with about the matter.

Also during the Hubbard trial, it was Bell who contacted ALEA to arrange for attorney and radio host Baron Coleman to issue a complaint accusing Hart of leaking grand jury information. Bell’s actions are recounted in an affidavit by Hall Taylor current ALEA Secretary.

Twice, according to attorneys familiar with the process, Bell used suspect tactics to try and derail Hubbard’s prosecution, and twice, Bell lacked candor before the court, according to two of his peers.

Rane is a powerful millionaire who is dominant in Republican politics, and it is not unusual for him to lavish hundreds of thousands of dollars on high profile candidates like Hubbard and Ivey. Most recently, PACs loaded with Rane’s cash flooded the campaign of appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall who will race Democrat Joesph Siegelman in the fall.

That Bell is spreading the word that Ivey’s got his back was not verified by the governor’s office.

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Ivey announces Carpenter Technology Corporation plans for Alabama Emerging Technology Center

Brandon Moseley

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(ADAM BRASHER/THE AUBURN PLAINSMAN)

Monday Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) joined executives of Philadelphia-based Carpenter Technology Corporation at the Farnborough International Airshow to announce plans for adding an Emerging Technology Center at its campus in Limestone County in northern Alabama.

“Carpenter’s decision to locate this facility at its existing Athens site reflects the company’s confidence in its Alabama operation and the workforce there,” Governor Kay Ivey said. “I know that the discoveries made at this center will power many advances in high-tech manufacturing for Carpenter.”

The facility will initially focus on additive manufacturing (AM) technology development, with future investments slated for soft magnetics and meltless titanium powder. Carpenter is promising to invest $52 million in the Emerging Technology Center, which is vital to accelerate the company’s key growth initiatives and is aligned with its business strategy of becoming an end-to-end solutions provider in the AM area. The project is expected to create an estimated 60 jobs over the next five years.

Governor Ivey and Carpenter officials announced the project during a ceremony at the Alabama Department of Commerce’s “Made in Alabama” booth at the Farnborough Airshow, the aerospace industry’s premier 2018 trade show.

Stephen Peskosky, Carpenter’s Vice President of Corporate Development, stressed the significance of Carpenter’s expanded operations in Alabama. “Our relationship with the state of Alabama has flourished since we selected Limestone County for our forging facility in 2011. With the addition of the Emerging Technology Center, our Athens, AL location continues to be a key location in supporting many of the key markets we serve.”

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Carpenter’s 500,000-square-foot Alabama manufacturing facility began operations in 2014. The facility produces high-end specialty alloy products, primarily for the aerospace and energy markets. It later expanded the Athens site to produce superalloy powders used in applications including jet engine disks and 3-D printed aircraft engine components and other products.

Economic Developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Additive manufacturing, also known as 3-D printing, refers to the process of building parts through the combination of material, layer-by-layer, from a CAD file. The Emerging Technology Center will allow Carpenter employees to conduct research and development of new alloys and 3-D printed parts that will primarily be utilized within aerospace and energy markets.”

Nicole Jones added, “Carpenter’s addition to its already-existing 500,000 square foot facility in Athens (Limestone County) is a testament to north Alabama’s rich technological history and demonstrates confidence in our state’s workforce. Thank you, Carpenter Technology Corporation, for your continued investment in Alabama.”

“We are excited that Carpenter Technology has once again decided to expand their presence in Limestone County,” County Commissioner Mark Yarbrough said. “They have been, and will continue to be an outstanding community partner.”

The company has invested $575 million in its Alabama operations.

“This new facility is vitally important to the growth of Carpenter’s AM industrialization,” said Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, “It not only complements the company’s ongoing AM investments and recent acquisitions in this evolving space, but it also creates high-paying jobs in Alabama while also expanding the capabilities of the state’s already robust aerospace industry.”

Carpenter Technology Corporation (NYSE: CRS) is a recognized leader in high-performance specialty alloy-based materials and process solutions for critical applications in the aerospace, defense, transportation, energy, industrial, medical, and consumer electronics markets. Carpenter was founded in 1889 and has evolved to become a pioneer in premium specialty alloys, including titanium, nickel, and cobalt, as well as alloys specifically engineered for AM processes and soft magnetics applications. Carpenter has expanded its AM capabilities to provide a complete “end-to-end” solution to accelerate materials innovation and streamline parts production.

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Jones testifies before International Trade Commission on negative impact of newsprint tariffs

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) testified at a hearing held by the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) on the negative impacts recently imposed newsprint tariffs have had on Alabama’s newspapers.

Jones has advocated to stop to these tariffs, which are already hurting newspapers. In April, Jones wrote a letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross calling for an end to the newsprint tariff. He has cosponsored bipartisan legislation to suspend the tariffs while the Commerce Department examines the impacts of the tariffs on the printing and publishing industry.

“This issue first came to my attention back in March, when Bo Bolton, publisher of the Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Alabama—home of Harper Lee—traveled all the way to Washington D.C. to meet with me and my team,” Sen. Jones testified. “Bo’s message was urgent and clear: newly implemented tariffs by the Department of Commerce threatened the livelihood of his small-town newspaper, and thousands of other small, community papers that serve as the lifeblood of their communities throughout this country.”

“I have had a regular stream of publishers visit with me sharing the exact same message, asking for any relief possible before they would have to start cutting their services and laying off what few staff they might have,” Jones continued. “The sources for domestically produced newsprint are quite scarce, requiring newspapers around the country to purchase their newsprint from Canadian suppliers. In other words, the domestic jobs that would be protected by these tariffs is relatively minuscule compared to the number of jobs in the United States that these tariffs threaten. But one domestic producer, NORPAC, which is owned by a New York hedge fund, filed a complaint with the Department of Commerce alleging Canadian newspaper suppliers were being subsidized by their government and thus able to sell below market value. As I understand is common practice, the Commerce Department levied preliminary tariffs of 6.53 percent in January. That jumped to an average of 22 percent in March, when the Canadian producer was found to be [selling] below the market price.”

“Here’s what I just don’t understand: why would this Administration levy these outrageous tariffs when our own newspaper publishers, logging industry, and paper suppliers do not support the decision?” Jones continued. It seems to me that the only thing being protected by this tariff is a small portion of a Wall Street hedge fund’s portfolio. It certainly isn’t protecting the 600,000 printing and publishing jobs across the country, including jobs at every newspaper in the state of Alabama.”

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“The Decatur Daily is facing an increase of $450,000 over their 2017 costs, and they’ve eliminated 11 full-time positions already,” Jones said. “Aside from payroll, newsprint is their single largest expense. You’ll hear that refrain from many small papers. Samuel Martin, publisher of the Birmingham Times in Birmingham, Alabama, wrote to me saying that they are, “hanging on by our fingertips already to survive and things like these tariffs will be the difference on surviving for so many.””

Most newspapers and journals are in the process of migrating to the internet. The Alabama Political Reporter does not have an old fashioned print version so uses no newsprint whatsoever.

“While some big-named media outlets have found their footing in the digital age, that’s not the case for everyone,” Jones said. “For many in small towns in Alabama and across the country, folks still like to get their news from actual newspapers. They still like to read a paper front to back. Hold it in hand. They cut the coupons. They read the local events calendar. They learn about what their local officials are doing or, in some cases, not doing. Frankly, there are still far too many places where Americans still struggle to get access to broadband. These folks don’t have the option to go online to get their news. The digital model just doesn’t work there, at least not yet.”

“These small newspapers cover local news that wouldn’t make it into larger regional papers if they were to shut their doors. Local businesses lose perhaps their only outlet in which to reach their customers,” Sen. Jones testified. “The biggest losers in this fight ultimately will be the residents that rely on local newspapers to stay informed. So when I say that these papers are the lifeblood of communities, it is not an exaggeration. It’s a fact. That’s why I have been so deeply concerned about this tariff. If it’s not rolled back, it will present and existential threat to local newspapers that are already strapped. “

“It is why I left duties on Capitol Hill this afternoon to come here today to urge you to reconsider this tariff,” Jones said. “Instead, consider the significant impact it has already had on these small American businesses. I hope you take to heart the urgent calls you are hearing today and make the right decision to eliminate these tariffs and to protect this industry and valuable the service that it provides to all of us.”

Forbes Media Chairman Steve Forbes wrote in The Wall Street Journal that “Since March a tariff of up to 30 percent on Canadian uncoated paper has raised the price of newsprint, making it difficult for cash-strapped newspapers to circulate their work. As if limiting economic freedom weren’t enough, the administration is also undermining Americans’ freedom of expression with this needless tax on journalism.”

North Pacific Paper Company plans to hire 50 new full- and part-time employees, the company announced May 2. The company, owned by the New York hedge fund One Rock Capital Partners, also announced the limited restart of operations for one of its paper machines, idled this past year.

The Longview, Washington-based company attributed the moves to “the U.S. uncoated groundwood papers industry starting to see a level playing field against unfairly traded imports.”

On May 2 North Pacific Paper Company (Norpac) which filed the trade complaint last fall has hired 50 more employees and is reopening a third machine at their Longview, Washington facility which they had shut down last year.

“After years of unfair, demoralizing market conditions and the associated difficult decisions that were required to survive, we have worked with our employees to test and create a system that can respond rapidly to the dynamic needs of the customers we serve. As more clarity regarding the impacts of competing on a level playing field become clear we will further improve our organizational capability,” said CEO Craig Anneberg in a news release.

Doug Jones was elected to the Senate in a special election on December 12.

(Original reporting by newsandtech.com contributed to this report.)

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Governor signs contract with prison health care provider

by Chip Brownlee Read Time: 4 min
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