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Rep. Sewell authors op-ed calling for action on wastewater infrastructure

Brandon Moseley



Wednesday, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Selma, has authored an op-ed in The Hill calling for action addressing deteriorating wastewater infrastructure.

“Four years ago today Flint, Mich., changed its municipal water source to the Flint River, moving a city of 100,000 residents towards a crisis that would poison children and impact families with long-term, irreversible health conditions,” Sewell wrote. “As Flint and our country continue to grapple with the realities of widespread lead-poisoning and environmental injustice, another water crisis is simmering in America’s backyard. This time, the health of millions of families may be at stake.”

“Deteriorating infrastructure and a lack of investment has left an untold number of families without access to wastewater treatment, creating a system in which untreated sewage sits in pools in backyards and leaks into local waterways,” Sewell continued. “I have seen this crisis firsthand in rural Alabama. In our state’s rural Black Belt, I have toured rural communities where a home’s only sewage system is a straight pipe that carries untreated waste 30 feet into the woods. I have toured towns where failing water treatment systems spray partially treated sewage into municipal pastures, contaminating family farms, private properties, and waterways accessible to thousands of Alabamians.”

Sewell cited one study by the University of Alabama and the University of South Alabama in 2006 that found that 35 percent of inspected homes in Bibb County had failing septic systems and another 15 percent of homes just ran a straight pipe directly discharging untreated sewage into the surrounding environment.

A 2004 study found that an estimated 60,000 residents in Minnesota used a straight pipe to empty untreated sewage into the environment around their house. The EPA estimated that 32 percent of families in central Kentucky will not be connected to a sewer by 2020.


“Most rural Americans are not connected to municipal sewer lines, saddling them with the full cost of installation, renovation, and service of household wastewater systems,” Sewell wrote. “In good soil, the installation of a septic tank can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000. In parts of Alabama’s Black Belt, where the soil requires more complex systems, the installation can run upwards of $12,000. In rural America, where 6.9 million residents live in poverty, spending thousands of dollars on a wastewater system is simply not in the budget.”

Sewell wrote that residents in parts of rural Alabama where straight pipes are common, have tested positive for gastrointestinal parasites thought to have been eradicated from the U.S. decades ago.

During passage of this year’s government spending package, Sewell, working with appropriators in Congress, included an additional $1.8 billion in funding for water and wastewater infrastructure through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“This month, I will be introducing a new bill in Congress allowing a federal water well program to support the build out of household wastewater systems in areas where a lack of resources and infrastructure has persisted for decades,” Sewell wrote.

Sewell represents Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.


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McCutcheon announces committee chairs

Brandon Moseley



On Monday, Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R – Monrovia, announced the lawmakers who will serve as chairs and vice-chairs for the Alabama House of Representative’s 25 standing committees during the 2018 – 2022 quadrennium.

“Each of these members possesses specific talents, experiences, knowledge, and leadership skills, and we worked hard to match those factors with the committees they fit best,” McCutcheon said. “The men and women we name today have my full faith and confidence, and I know they will use their chairman positions to help make our already great state even better.”

McCutcheon was recently selected as the Republicans’ speaker nominee since the House Republican Caucus has 77 members of the 105 member House that is considered tantamount to election in the 105 member House. The early committee chairmanship announcements will allow offices and committee clerks to be assigned and more intensive preparations for the upcoming regular session to begin.

The full committee rosters will be announced during the 2019 organizational session, which is scheduled to convene on January 8.

The members who will chair those House standing committees are:


Rules: Chairman Mike Jones, R – Andalusia, and Vice Chair Paul Lee, R – Dothan.

The Consent Calendar Subcommittee: Chairwoman Pebblin Warren, D – Tuskegee.
Ways and Means Education: Chairman Bill Poole, R – Tuscaloosa, and Vice Chair Danny Garrett, R – Trussville.

Ways and Means General Fund: Chairman Steve Clouse, R – Ozark, and Vice Chair Kyle South, R – Fayette.

Agriculture and Forestry: Chairman Danny Crawford, R – Athens, and Vice Chair Steve Hurst, R – Munford.

Boards, Agencies, and Commissions: Chairman Howard Sanderford, R – Huntsville, and Vice Chair Mike Holmes, R – Wetumpka.

Children and Senior Advocacy: Chairman K.L. Brown, R – Jacksonville, and Vice Chair Randall Shedd, R – Cullman.

Commerce and Small Business: Chairman Jim Carns, R – Vestavia, and Vice Chair Dimitri Polizos, R – Montgomery.

Constitution, Campaigns, and Elections: Chairman Matt Fridy, R – Montevallo, and Vice Chair Bob Fincher, R – Woodland.

County and Municipal Government: Chairman Reed Ingram, R – Montgomery, and Vice Chair Margie Wilcox, R – Mobile.

Economic Development and Tourism: Chairwoman Becky Nordgren, R – Gadsden, and Vice Chair Ron Johnson, R – Sylacauga.

Education Policy: Chairwoman Terri Collins, R – Decatur, and Vice Chair Danny Garrett, R – Trussville.

Ethics and Campaign Finance: Chairman Mike Ball, R – Madison, and Vice Chair Rich Wingo, R – Tuscaloosa.

Financial Services: Chairman Chris Blackshear, R – Phenix City, and Vice Chair Jimmy Martin, R – Clanton.

Fiscal Responsibility: Chairman Chris Sells, R – Greenville, and Vice Chair Mike Holmes, R – Wetumpka.

Health: Chairwoman April Weaver, R – Brierfield, and Vice Chair Ron Johnson, R – Sylacauga.

Insurance: Chairman Kerry Rich, R – Albertville, and Vice Chair Corley Ellis, R – Columbiana.

Internal Affairs: Chairman Randy Wood, R – Anniston, and Vice Chair Nathaniel Ledbetter, R – Rainsville.

Judiciary: Chairman Jim Hill, R – Odenville, and Vice Chair Tim Wadsworth, R – Arley.

Local Legislation: Chairman Alan Baker, R – Brewton, and Vice Chair Ritchie Whorton, R – Valley.

Military and Veterans Affairs: Chairman Dickie Drake, R – Leeds, and Vice Chair Connie Rowe, R – Jasper.

Public Safety and Homeland Security: Chairman Allen Treadaway, R – Morris, and Vice Chair Allen Farley, R – McCalla.

State Government: Chairman Chris Pringle, R – Mobile, and Vice Chair Chris Sells, R – Greenville.

Technology and Research: Chairman Joe Lovvorn, R – Auburn, and Vice Chair Corey Harbison, R – Good Hope.

Transportation, Utilities, and Infrastructure: Chairman Lynn Greer, R – Rogersville, and Vice Chair Joe Faust, R – Fairhope.

Urban and Rural Development: Chairman Randall Shedd, R – Cullman, and Vice Chair David Standridge, R – Hayden.

The 2019 regular session will begin in March. Voters gave the Republicans their largest supermajority in history. The GOP won control of the House for the first time in 2010.  McCutcheon was released from the hospital over the weekend after receiving treatment for heart issues.


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Department of Corrections hints at billion dollar prison plan

Bill Britt and Chip Brownlee



A federal prison in Aliceville, Alabama, is similar in style to the types of prisons ADOC has sought to build to replace aging and overcrowded prisons across the state.

At the most recent Legislative Contract Review hearing, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn revealed that the state is planning to build three mega-style prisons at a cost of approximately $1 billion.

Less than two years ago, the Legislature rejected a plan by then-Gov. Robert Bentley to spend approximately $850 million on four new so-called mega-prisons. Dunn appeared before the review committee to secure approval of an extension to a contract with Birmingham-based Hoar Program Management, LLC, to complete a study that would result in a request for proposal to build the three facilities. The taxpayer outlay for Hoar’s work will total nearly $11.5 million.

The Contract Review Committee did not immediately approve the expenditure but has no authority to stop the project beyond 45 days.

Until Dunn’s revelations at the recent contract review meeting, Gov. Kay Ivey’s administration has been quiet about any plans to build new prisons.

In the same week Dunn spoke about needing a billion dollars for new prisons, Ivey informed in-coming lawmakers that raising a fuel tax to pay for infrastructure projects would be her top priority in the 2019 Legislative Session.


When Bentley pushed for four prisons in 2017, the project nearly passed the Legislature, but it is unknown how the Republican super-majority will react to two large projects in one Legislative session.

The Alabama Department of Corrections originally opened bidding in November 2017 for the contract to hire a team to oversee a comprehensive plan to improve the state’s corrections infrastructure. That was just months after the Bentley-backed plan died in the final days of the legislative session.

The plan was shot down two years in a row during the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions. In 2017, a toned-down version of the plan passed in the Senate but died in the House in the final days of the legislative session.

The death of the prison bill was largely the result of splits between moderate and conservative GOP lawmakers who disagreed over the size of and methods within the plan, which would have authorized three new 4,000-bed regional men’s facilities and a 1,200-bed women’s facility at a cost of about $875 million.

The bill would have authorized a non-tradition design-build bidding process and a $1 billion bond issue, both of which drew the ire of conservatives who had worries about the cost and the bidding process.

Under Bentley’s original plan authorized by the Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act (APTI), the almost one billion dollars needed would have been borrowed off the books and controlled by a small group of individuals as part of a government corporation.

Most of the state’s existing facilities would have been shut down once the new prisons were built.

Under Section 14-2-6, the Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority governs the financial aspects of the state’s prison system. The Code of Alabama allows the authority to create a public corporation that has the power to issue bonds to build prisons and then lease the prisons it owns to the authority. The public corporation consists of the governor, the commissioner of corrections, the director of finance, the lieutenant governor and the attorney general as determined by Code of Alabama Section 14-2-2 through Section 14-2-6.

Under Section 14-2-6, the board of the authority consists of three members: the governor, who serves as the president of the authority; the ADOC commission, who serves as vice-president; and the director of finance as secretary.

It is unclear how Ivey plans to structure funding for three mega-prisons.

During the contract review meeting, Dunn secured a contract extension for architectural firms Goodwyn Mills & Cawood and the Seay Seay & Litchfield. Seay Seay & Litchfield does not list a specific amount, but Goodwyn Mills & Cawood is being paid $1.95 million for its services.

“ADOC’s approach is to have engineering and architectural services on contract in the event that a need arises,” said Alabama Department of Corrections Public Information Manager Bob Horton. “There are remaining funds on the SS&L contract for anticipated projects, so this is a no cost, time extension contract.”

Horton said the amendment to the Hoar Program Management contract, “will provide needed funding for the Alabama Prison Project Management Team, led by HPM, to continue the development of a comprehensive, long-range prison infrastructure revitalization plan.”

The plan floated in previous years — conceived by ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn, pushed by then-Gov. Robert Bentley and sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward in the Senate — was an effort to reduce severe overcrowding in Alabama’s prisons, which has been verging on 200 percent capacity. The severe overcrowding has been declining in recent years after a number of sentencing reform bills went into effect.

But ADOC officials and the plan’s supporters have said new facilities are needed to expand capacity and improve conditions as overcrowding has proven persistent despite the sentencing reform.

Those issues — combined with worsening dilapidation of prisons that were built largely in the 1960s and 1970s, though some opened as long ago as 1939 — have resulted in numerous lawsuits and calls for improvement to the state’s prison infrastructure. Needed maintenance is estimated at $440 million.

Since taking office, Ivey has backed away from Bentley’s plan, though she did consider a special session her first year in office to address the prison construction bill after it failed in the regular Legislative session in 2017.

In her first State of the State Address, Ivey called for more modest methods of improving Alabama’s prisons. Compared to Bentley’s $1 billion, bond-funded plan, Ivey’s proposal, which ended up passing the Legislature last year, moved away from a complete overall of the prison system. Instead, the Legislature allocated a $30 million supplement to the Department of Corrections’ funding for last fiscal year — an increase legislators said at the time was needed to comply with the court decision that mandated changes to medical and mental health care in Alabam’s prisons.

ADOC received more than a 20 percent increase to its budget this year, with the $30 million in additional emergency funding to ADOC’s budget last fiscal year combined with this year’s General Fund allocations.

The new talks of a prison construction plan come as ADOC is struggling to comply with a federal court ruling last year that found Alabama’s prison mental health care to be “horrendously inadequate.” That ruling was the second phase of a three-part lawsuit. The third phase, which challenges medical and dental care in Alabama prisons, has yet to be heard.

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Opinion | Alabama voters: stupid or scared?

Josh Moon



Is it fear or stupidity?

What is that drives voting in Alabama?

It’s not self-interest. And it’s certainly not the greater good. So, what is it that leads so many in this state to vote against themselves and all of the other people like them?

Fear or stupidity? It has to be one of those, right?

Either you don’t understand how you’re voting against your own interests, or you’re simply too afraid of taking a stand on your own, going against the grain, leaving the team.


Or maybe there’s another option. You tell me.

Please, tell me what I’m supposed to think when I see this scenario: Alabama’s rural hospitals are failing at an alarming rate. At this point, nearly 90 percent of them are losing money. If something doesn’t change, on top of the five hospitals that have already closed, as many as 18 more — 18! — could close in the next 24 months.

Should Medicaid expansion be on the 2019 legislative agenda? Experts say it has to be

And yet, a month ago, Alabama voters went to the polls and elected, and re-elected, a group of people who have no plan to deal with this health care crisis and who have mostly opposed the one viable option for avoiding this calamity — Medicaid expansion.

But it’s actually worse than that.  

Because this crisis is not just about keeping hospitals open. It’s also about providing care to the poor, and providing preventative care to children and working adults. It’s about catching catastrophic illnesses before they become catastrophic. And it’s about supplying a reasonable level of emergency care to seniors, infants and pregnant mothers.

All of which would be solved by expanding Medicaid.

And yet, the Republicans who were just elected have no intention of doing so. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh has said out loud that the expansion is dead as far as he’s concerned, and since he controls what hits the floor in the Senate, it’s pretty much dead.

Marsh got better than 60 percent of the vote.

He got those votes despite offering no plan — nothing, zip, zero, zilch — for addressing the ongoing health care crisis in this state.

He wasn’t alone.

Not a single Republican lawmaker who was elected in November offered a single plan for addressing either the insurance coverage gap that has left more than 300,000 people in this state without coverage or the rural hospital crisis that could leave about that many people driving more than an hour to the nearest ER.

Those Republicans were elected in a landslide.

So, I ask again: Stupid or scared?

At this point, there really aren’t other options.

Because there’s not even a serious opposition to Medicaid expansion. Those who oppose it just sort of … oppose it. Without reason.

Because there is no good reason. Study after study have shown that the expansion more than pays for itself in a short period of time, bringing huge employment gains and tax revenue to the state.

If figures from a study completed two years ago are even close to accurate, it would be one of most successful economic development projects in the state’s history.

In addition, keeping those rural hospitals open and possibly increasing the number of hospitals and doctors’ offices around the state would be a huge draw for businesses looking to relocate. In fact, some businesses that have considered relocating to Alabama over the past three years have specifically cited the state’s poor health care system when choosing other states.

There’s also the small matter of how the expansion would affect everyday Alabamians. Studies in states that have gone through with the expansion have found that citizens in those states enjoy improved health, better service and care and are in better financial shape than before the expansion.

So, here we are.

We have a legitimate crisis that affects every person in this state. We have a viable, good solution to that crisis. There is no downside to that solution. But we are not implementing this solution because somehow it is more politically advantageous to resist.

Again, stupid or scared?


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Nearly $50 million awarded to assist low-income Alabamians with winter energy bills

Chip Brownlee



Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded nearly $50 million in grants to assist with energy bills.

The $46.6 million in grants was awarded Friday to help low-income families in Alabama with their energy bills.

The grants, which were issued to 21 community service agencies throughout the state, provide emergency funds to help low-income families heat their houses this winter.

“During the winter, many low-income families are forced to choose between staying warm in their houses or having food on their table and required prescriptions in their medicine cabinets,” Ivey said. “These grants mean that many elderly, disabled, and families with children do not have to make those choices. I am pleased to provide this assistance to help those most in need.”

The grants to assist with energy bills come after Ivey awarded grants totaling $3.1 million for programs that help low-income residents take steps to secure gainful employment and improve their quality of life.


Ivey awarded the grants, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is them, and the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grants.

The state is distributing the funds through its Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The program helps eligible low-income households afford the energy required to heat their houses.

Residents apply for assistance through local community service agencies who determine eligibility based on income, family size and available resources.

ADECA administers a wide range of programs that support law enforcement, economic development, infrastructure upgrades, recreation, energy, water resources, job training and career development.

“Gov. Ivey understands the critical nature of these funds in helping qualified families heat their homes during the cold weather,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell. “ADECA is pleased to join with the governor to make these funds available as we enter what are typically the coldest months of the year in our state.”

Community service agencies receiving grants:

  • Community Action Partnership of Huntsville/Madison and Limestone Counties Inc. (Madison and Limestone) – $2.77 million.
  • Community Action Agency of Northeast Alabama Inc. (Blount, Cherokee, DeKalb, Jackson, Mar­shall and St. Clair) – $3.64 million.
  • Community Action Agency of Northwest Alabama Inc. (Colbert, Franklin and Lauderdale) – $1.25 million.
  • Community Action Partnership of North Alabama Inc. (Cullman, Lawrence and Morgan) – $2.3 mil­lion.
  • Marion-Winston Counties Community Action Committee Inc. (Marion and Winston) – $708,340
  • Community Action of Etowah County Inc. (Etowah) – $1.06 million.
  • Community Action Agency of Talladega, Clay, Randolph, Calhoun and Cleburne Counties (Cal­houn, Clay, Cleburne, Randolph and Talladega) – $2.05 million.
  • Walker County Community Action Agency Inc. (Walker) – $782,250.
  • Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity (Jefferson) – $4.57 million.
  • Community Services Programs of West Alabama Inc. (Bibb, Choctaw, Dallas, Fayette, Greene,
  • Lamar, Perry, Sumter and Tuscaloosa) – $5.45 million.
  • Pickens County Community Action Committee and Community Development Corp. Inc. (Pick­ens) – $366,450.
  • Community Action Partnership of Middle Alabama Inc. (Autauga, Chilton, Elmore and Shelby)- $2.15 million.
  • Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization Inc. (Hale) – $430,140.
  • Community Action Committee Inc. of Chambers-Tallapoosa-Coosa (Chambers, Coosa and Tallapoosa) – $1.05 million.
  • Alabama Council on Human Relations Inc. (Lee) – $1.29 million.
  • Macon-Russell Community Action Agency Inc. (Macon and Russell) – $1.06 million.
  • Montgomery Community Action Agency (Montgomery) – $2.51 million.
  • Organized Community Action Program Inc. (Bullock, Butler, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Lowndes and Pike) – $2.88 million.
  • Southeast Alabama Community Action Partnership Inc. (Barbour, Coffee, Geneva, Henry and Houston) – $2.37 mil­lion.
  • Community Action Agency of South Alabama Inc. (Baldwin, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Marengo, Monroe and Wilcox) – $3.1 million.
  • Mobile Community Action Inc. (Mobile and Washington) – $4.82 million.

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Rep. Sewell authors op-ed calling for action on wastewater infrastructure

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 2 min