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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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Bill Britt

Opinion | The last refuge of a scoundrel

Bill Britt

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The Republican Party nationally and especially here in Alabama prides itself on its patriotism.

But what is patriotism?

Noted English scholar Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), best known for “A Dictionary of the English Language” wrote, “It is the quality of patriotism to be jealous and watchful, to observe all secret machinations, and to see publick dangers at a distance. The true lover of his country is ready to communicate his fears, and to sound the alarm, whenever he perceives the approach of mischief.”

Today, it seems that those who expose corruption or sound an alarm where there is injustice are often vilified.

It appears that rewards most often go to those who ignore wrongdoing or worse, enable it.

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Over the last eight years when scandal has rocked the state’s Republican political elite, the state’s Republican governor, Lt. governor, legislators and the Alabama Republican Party did not call out the perpetrators. More often, they remained silent or offered them aided comfort.

Only on the rarest occasions did anyone dare utter a word, much less raise the type of patriotic alarm Dr. Johnson wrote about in his book, “Patriot.”

Likewise, when Gov. Robert Bentley ran amuck, those around him remained silent or enabled his dangerous behavior.

The House did finally launch an investigation into Bentley, but only after it became apparent that he was too weak and incompetent to offer much of a defense. Still today the Republican led government chooses to pay Bentley’s legal bills rather than cut ties with its former leader.

When Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard was brazenly using his office for personal gain, not only did the Republican establishment support him, traditional news outlets, as well as radio talking heads and online media, remained willfully quiet, or in some cases voiced Hubbard’s defense or talking points.

It should be noted that Republican Rep. Will Ainsworth, who is the current Republican nominee for Lt.Governor, did stand in the well of the House and call out Hubbard for his crooked ways. At the time, many said Ainsworth’s political career was over, but they were wrong. There were also other individuals who worked in private to bring about Hubbard’s righteous end, but they were few.

Merriam-Webster found that patriotism was one of the top eight political buzzwords of 2016, but what does it actually mean?

The roots of political patriotism are found in the ancient understanding of the Greek and Roman concepts of loyalty to the republic and is “associated with the love of law and common liberty, the search for the common good, and the duty to behave justly toward one’s country,” according to Britannica.com

Over the last few years, patriotism has been confused with nationalism and they are sometimes used interchangeably, but there is a marked difference. Nationalism is more about the homogeneity of culture, language and heritage, while patriotism places its emphasis on shared values and beliefs.

Patriots may come in many forms, but patriotism has certain irrefutable qualities far beyond mere outward gesture; speaking truth to power, exposing wickedness wherever it’s found and holding high the sacred values that are enshrined in our founding documents.

It is neither the individual who stands for the National Anthem hand-over-heart or the one who kneels head-in-hand, but it is the one who lives the founding principle of our nation who shows patriotism.

Isn’t it time for Republicans here in Alabama to do more than mouth the word patriotism?

The patriot is ever watchful, ever ready and always mindful that there are those among us who will steal, kill and destroy the blessings of liberty while claiming that their’s is true patriotism.

As Dr. Johnson said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

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August Alabama employment breaks record for fourth consecutive month

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington announced that more than 2.1 million people were working in Alabama in August, breaking the previous employment record for the fourth consecutive month.

“For four months in a row now, we’ve been breaking employment records,” Washington said. “Thirty-two thousand more Alabamians are working now than last year. We’ve also seen our labor force grow by 37,000, meaning more people have confidence in the economy and their ability to find a job – and the majority of those have found work, which is great news.”

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) took to Twitter to make the announcement.

“For the 4th consecutive month, Alabama has broken the record for having the MOST employed people EVER!” Gov. Ivey said on social media. “That’s further proof that #WeHaveJobs & more Alabamians are able to provide for their families! Our @al_labor deserves to be commended for their role in this outstanding news.”

2,112,274 Alabamians were counted as employed in August 2018, which is up from 2,105,577 in July, and up 32,101 from August 2017’s count of 2,080,173.

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The civilian labor force, which is composed of people who are working or looking for work, increased over the year by 36,929, up to 2,203,485, compared to August 2017’s count of 2,166,556.

“Our jobs count continues to remain well above two million,” Washington added. “The sectors that are experiencing the most yearly growth are sectors with traditionally high wages, like professional and business services, manufacturing, and construction. In fact, professional and business services employment, which includes high paying occupations like Operations Managers, Software Developers, and more, is at a record high.”

Professional and Business Services employment currently measures 252,100, the highest level ever experienced.

Average hourly wages for selected occupations in this sector include: General and Operations Managers at $59.46/hr., Software Developers, Applications at $45.36/hr., and Database Administrators at $40.64/hr. Wages for other occupations can be found online at: www.labor.alabama.gov/lmi by using the “Alabama Wage Lookup” tool.

Over the year, wage and salary employment has increased by 23,300 jobs. The biggest gains are in the professional and business services sector which has gained 9,500 jobs over the last year. This has been followed by the manufacturing sector with 8,200 jobs, and the construction sector is up 2,300 jobs.

Wage and salary employment increased in the August by 9,600.

Alabama’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted August unemployment rate is 4.1 percent, unchanged from July’s rate, and slightly above August 2017’s rate of 4.0%. August’s rate represents 91,211 unemployed persons, compared to 90,928 in July and 86,383 in August 2017.

Unemployment hit a record low of 3.7 percent in January.

In August, 64 of 67 counties saw their unemployment rates decrease or remain unchanged. 25 of the 26 major cities, and all metros saw either a decrease or no change in their rates from July to August.

The counties with the lowest unemployment rates are: Shelby County at 3.1 percent, Cullman County at 3.4 percent, and Marshall County at 3.5 percent. The counties with the highest unemployment rates are: Wilcox County at 10.0 percent, Clarke County at 8.1 percent, and Lowndes County at 7.9 percent.

The major cities with the lowest unemployment rates are: Vestavia Hills at 2.8 percent, Homewood, Hoover, and Alabaster at 3.0 percent, and Madison at 3.2 percent. The ajor cities with the highest unemployment rates are: Selma at 8.2 percent, Prichard at 7.3 percent, and Bessemer at 5.5 percent.

Republican are seizing on the booming economy as a reason to elect Republicans.

“This week, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) released its Small Business Optimism Index from the month of August, and it showed a new record high in the survey’s 45-year history,”

Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) said. “It has become increasingly clear that Americans are working and prospering, and small businesses are thriving. Thanks to our conservative, pro-growth policies, our economy is booming. I will keep fighting for hardworking Alabamians and our job creators in AL-02 who contribute so much to our local economy. I look forward to seeing this exciting momentum continue!”

Gov. Kay Ivey is seeking her own term as Governor. She faces Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter “Walt” Maddox (D) in the November 6 general election.

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Jones introduces legislation to combat deadly fentanyl trade

Chip Brownlee

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones is introducing a new law intended to combat the trade of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl by targeting foreign countries that don’t stop the export of the drug into the United States.

Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, is introducing the legislation with Jones.

The bipartisan Blocking Deadly Fentanyl Imports Act would block American foreign aid for countries that don’t cooperate with U.S. drug enforcement efforts related to stopping the trafficking of fentanyl.

If the law passes, a fentanyl-producing nation — China for example — would lose access to the Export-Import Bank and be ineligible for other U.S. taxpayer-subsidized aid if it fails to cooperate with the U.S. on narcotics control, Jones’ office said.

“Like many places across the country, Alabama is in the midst of a substance abuse and overdose crisis, in part because of dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl.” Jones said. “Fentanyl not only harms those who use it, but it also poses a serious threat to our first responders should they be exposed. This legislation is another smart step to stop illicit fentanyl from being transported across our borders and into our communities.”

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China is the leading source country of illicit fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds in the United States, including both scheduled and non-scheduled substances, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection seizure data.

Fentanyl, Carfentanil and their “designer” alternates are so deadly that 2 milligrams in contact with the skin or ingested is deadly. A pack of table sweetener usually measures about 1000 milligrams, for comparison.

Without an immediate antidote, like noxolone, a person will die.

Fentanyl is usually used by medical providers for pain relief, and even then, it is rarely used because it is the most powerful opioid available. The street forms of the drug are especially dangerous because they can purposely or accidentally be inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

“The opioid and heroin epidemic has become increasingly lethal in part due to the widespread presence of illicit fentanyl,” Toomey said. “Since fentanyl can be fifty times as potent as heroin, just a tiny amount of this dangerous substance can kill a person, including first responders who may be inadvertently exposed to the drug when responding to an overdose victim or a crime scene. For the sake of our communities and the safety of law enforcement, countries like China must stop illicitly exporting fentanyl and improve their drug enforcement efforts now.”

This law would require the State Department to list in its annual report on narcotics trafficking countries that are major producers of fentanyl. This requirement is already in place for countries that are major sources of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

According to provisional counts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29,418 Americans died from overdoses involving fentanyl in 2017, an increase of 840 percent in just five years.

 

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Shelby announces a $3.2 million grant for new research facility at Troy

Brandon Moseley

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Friday, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) announced that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has awarded a $3,200,000 grant to Troy University to build a new facility for researching recycled plastic materials.

“The new facility at Troy University will serve as an avenue for groundbreaking research, creating an environment for students to learn the issues involving polymers and develop impactful solutions for the plastics industry,” said Senator Shelby. “I am confident that this funding will promote economic development throughout Troy and the surrounding area by training the workforce of the future.”

The $3.2 million grant from NIST will provide Troy with a three-year grant to fund research involving the properties of polymers in plastics during the course of recycling and manufacturing. The new facility will give students the opportunity to learn about the issues and solutions related to plastics recycling. The work at the new center will be guided by an industry road mapping exercise and technical advisory board. The first phase of the funding is primarily intended to develop existing labs to include capabilities in polymer characterization, testing, and processing.

Troy University’s new Center for Materials and Manufacturing Sciences (CMMS) will serve as a fully integrated multi-disciplinary research facility that will aid across majors and academic ranks. Undergraduate students will be encouraged to enter into research early in their academic career in order to develop a sustained and deeper understanding of the field. Faculty researchers and students will form the mainstay for the Center. The establishment of the center will facilitate and enhance Troy University’s present partnering with the local polymer and plastics industry in order to increase competitiveness in the marketplace. This will assist in improving the targeted industries’ ability to retain and increase job production while also allowing for expansion of products and markets – both locally and globally.

According to original reporting by National Geographic’s Laura Parker, 9.1 billion tons of plastics have been created since the plastics industry burst on the scene in the 1950s. Only nine percent of that has been recycled. It is estimated that by the middle of this century there will be more plastics floating around the ocean on a per ton basis than fish. It takes approximately 400 years for platics to degrade in a land fill.

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To read the National Geographic story:
https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/07/plastic-produced-recycling-waste-ocean-trash-debris-environment/

Richard Shelby is the Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Governor signs contract with prison health care provider

by Chip Brownlee Read Time: 4 min
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