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Opinion | Fighting the opioid epidemic

Bradley Byrne

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For too long, a problem of epic proportion has been growing outside of the headlines in the United States: the opioid epidemic.  The reality is that we can no longer wait to take action.  Drug overdose is now a leading cause of death in the United States.  One hundred seventy-five Americans are dying every day from this crisis. From big cities to small towns, the opioid epidemic has hit our communities hard.

Unfortunately, Alabama has not been spared.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Alabama ranks highest in the nation as having more opioid prescriptions than people.  Alabama also ranks number one as the highest prescribing state in the nation for opioid pain reliever prescriptions. These statistics are incredibly alarming.

An opioid is a type of narcotic derived from the opium poppy, which includes drugs such as morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. While these drugs are often prescribed in response to injuries and body pains, they can be prone to abuse and addiction.

The reality is many of the people who become addicted to opioids first start taking the drugs legally after receiving a prescription from a doctor.  For example, I have heard testimony from athletes who suffer a sports-related injury, undergo surgery, and then become addicted to opioids during the recovery process.  In many cases, this addiction can escalate, driving individuals to street drugs like heroin.

Almost all of us have a loved one or know somebody who has been affected by this terrible epidemic.  The personal stories are what make this nightmare a harsh reality.  Right here in Southwest Alabama, I have heard far too many stories about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.  The impacts of this crisis reach far beyond the person suffering from addiction to parents, to children, to brothers and sisters.  So many have been hurt.

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On October 26, 2017, President Trump announced that his administration would declare the opioid crisis a Nationwide Public Health Emergency.  On a strongly bipartisan basis alongside President Trump, Congress is also responding.

In March, the House voted to set aside $4 million toward combating the opioid crisis in the government funding bill for Fiscal Year 2018.  We kept up the momentum last week when the House passed over 25 targeted bills to help prevent and treat opioid addiction and abuse while also ensuring our nation’s drug laws are working to stop the flow of illegal drugs.

One such bill that passed the House is the THRIVE Act, which creates a program to provide low-income individuals recovering from opioid and other substance use disorders with a clean, safe, and structured environment following rehabilitation.

Additionally, the House passed the STOP Act, which aims to halt opioids like fentanyl from coming into America from other countries through a loophole at the Postal Service. The majority of opioids arrive to America through the mail from other nations, such as China, Mexico and Canada. So, this legislation represents an important step to help solve the problem.

It is clear that our work to end the opioid epidemic is far from over.  However, I was pleased to see such strong bipartisan support for many opioid bills this week as we work to make a real difference on behalf of the American people.  You can learn more about the legislation we are working on at www.opioidcrisis.gop.

We cannot and will not sit back and allow the opioid crisis to take the lives of the people we love. We must fight back and ensure Americans get the help they need. I look forward to continuing the work with President Trump to end this epidemic once and for all.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | National Hunting and Fishing Day: Celebrating Alabama’s sportsmen and women

State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh

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Saturday, September 22, is our nation’s 46th annual National Hunting and Fishing Day. As Co-Chair of the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and as a member of the 48-state National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses, I am proud to take time to celebrate the time-honored traditions of hunting and angling. I am also pleased to recognize the historical and ongoing contributions of our state’s original conservationists — sportsmen and sportswomen.

Alabama hunters and anglers are the primary source of conservation funding for the Yellowhammer State. Through the purchase of licenses, tags, and by paying self-imposed excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing tackle, motorboat fuel, and other equipment, hunters and anglers drive conservation funding in Alabama and the United States, through the American System of Conservation Funding, a “user pays public benefits” System. Last year alone, this System, combined with hunting and fishing license sales, contributed over $47 million to fund state conservation efforts administered through the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). All Alabamians benefit from these funds through improved access to public lands, public shooting ranges, improved soil and water quality, habitat restoration, fish and wildlife research, private and public habitat management, hunter education, boat access area construction and many other DCNR projects funded through this System.

Hunting and angling are also a significant economic driver for our state. Alabama sportsmen and women spend roughly $2 billion per year on their outdoor pursuits, supporting nearly 40,000 jobs in the state and contributing over $165 million in state and local taxes.

Hunting produces countless benefits for our state’s conservation funding and economy, therefore it is important that Alabama sportsmen and women invest time and effort to encourage future participation by the next generation in these time-honored traditions. This effort to increase hunter participation is called recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) and over 450 individual R3 programs nationwide have had regional success. R3 programs, as well as many others, need your support and it’s going to take the involvement of every Alabama hunter, regardless of age, to ensure the future of the outdoor pursuits we celebrate on National Hunting and Fishing Day. Our hunting and angling heritage should not be taken for granted, and getting the next generation of Alabama’s sportsmen and women involved in the outdoors will help ensure the conservation of our abundant natural resources for the future.

More information on National Hunting and Fishing Day is available at www.NHFDay.org or on the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation website at www.congressionalsportsmen.org/policies/state/national-hunting-and-fishing-day

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Del Marsh, a Republican from Anniston, is the President Pro Tem of the Alabama State Senate.

 

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Opinion | Setting our funding priorities

Bradley Byrne

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I know this may be hard for you to believe, but there was a major, bipartisan victory in Congress last week that failed to gain any of the attention it deserved. I want to highlight some of the progress we made last week and explain why it should matter to those of us back in Alabama.

Last week, both the House and the Senate passed a funding bill that covered three very important parts of our government: military construction and veterans services, energy and water development, and Legislative Branch operations.

I am pleased to see us passing targeted funding bills instead of waiting until the last minute to pass a massive omnibus funding bill. Over the last few years, the House has been able to pass funding bills only to see the process stall out in the Senate.

Thankfully, since Alabama Senator Richard Shelby became Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the process has actually been moving again in the Senate. This has allowed us to focus on passing the smaller funding packages that are targeted toward our priorities.

So why is this funding bill important? Obviously funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is important for our state given the large number of veterans that call Alabama home. The bill includes the largest dollar amount in funding for the VA in our nation’s history. This means the VA will have the resources necessary to take care of our veterans, hire high-quality employees, and cut back on the claims backlog.

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There have been serious issues at the VA over the last few years, so I am pleased the funding bill dedicates more for the VA inspector general. This money will allow for stronger accountability at the VA as we work to make sure no veteran is left behind.

The bill also includes funding for military construction programs in Alabama and across the country. As we work to rebuild our nation’s military, we must not forget about our military infrastructure. This funding includes money set aside for military housing programs. If we are to retain the best and brightest in our military, we need to ensure they have first class facilities.

Next, the funding bill sets aside funding for the Army Corps of Engineers. Those of us in Southwest Alabama know the important work the Corps does on a daily basis to keep our waterways open and navigable. This is important to those of us who like to spend time on the water for recreational purposes, but it is especially important for our economy since so much of our commerce is conducted on waterways.

Just consider the Port of Mobile and the important commerce that goes in and out of that Port each day. Under this funding bill, the Corps will receive $7 billion for navigation projects, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, and to help with flood prevention and restoration projects. This money is very important for our country, but especially important for our state.

Finally, the bill funds our nation’s nuclear security strategy by dedicating money to support our nation’s nuclear weapons and the Navy’s nuclear reactors. The bill sets aside money to ensure nuclear weapons do not fall into the wrong hands and funding to prevent against cyberattacks. Our national security must always be the top priority.

As you can see, this commonsense government funding bill is good for our country and Alabama.  I was pleased to see it pass the House on a strong vote of 377 to 20, and I hope we can keep up the positive momentum to continue getting the job done for the American people.

 

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Opinion | Next Generation Alabama PAC

Randall Woodfin

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For the third consecutive year, the Alabama Crimson Tide sit atop of the Associated Press college football preseason poll. This ranking comes on the heels of celebrating the university’s fifth national title in 11 years and securing one of the nation’s top recruiting classes.

But building a winning program like Alabama is not easy. The team loses dozens of talented players to graduation and the NFL draft every year, and assistant coaches often leave the program for coveted opportunities with other universities. But thanks to the legendary coach Nick Saban and his next man up mantra, everyone affiliated with the program is adequately prepared and expected to successfully assume the role of the person before.

This is the type of culture and continuity that I long for in the Democratic Party, and wish to replicate in conservative states across the South – especially in Alabama.

As mayor of the largest, most progressive city in Alabama, my role encompasses more than just serving as Birmingham’s chief executive. I am also obligated to fight for issues that I don’t control, but directly affect families in my community. These issues range from affordable healthcare, high-quality early childhood education, and inclusive economic policies that move communities like Ensley and Collegeville forward.

Effective advocacy demands that I bring a distinct voice and consideration to shaping the future for Democrats in my state.  To that end, I am proud to present “Next Generation Alabama” as a tool to cultivate progressive leadership in every corner of the state.

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NextGen Alabama is an Alabama political action committee focused solely on building the Democratic bench in Alabama. We will create our own next (wo)man up mentality in state and local elections across Alabama, supporting talented candidates and passionate campaigns that truly make a difference.

Too many times, Democrats execute campaign strategies that fail to leave behind a grassroots infrastructure that will position the party for future success. We do not register nearly enough new voters or engage infrequent voters. Nor do we invest nearly enough in voter contact data, or develop the campaign operatives and volunteers that other races can leverage down the road.

NextGen Alabama seeks to modify this antiquated approach to Democratic campaigning by focusing on movement building and longevity. We must meet voters in their communities, on their doorsteps and in their churches. That is the only way Democrats will be able to flip conservative states in the South.

We will only invest in nontraditional campaigns that prioritize grassroots organizing and voter contact. And we will only support progressive candidates that are unapologetic about engaging directly with our base and infrequent voters – the kinds of voters who can unlock the chokehold that Republicans have had on Alabama for far too long.

NextGen Alabama is not meant to challenge the Democratic State Party.  If anything, the Democratic Party of Alabama will be our partner in progress. The depth of our challenges in Alabama deserve an all-hands-on-deck strategy. Birmingham deserves to play a leading role in fashioning the future for Democrats in the state, and NextGen will be the platform for doing so.

Think about it. Our values and common decency are currently under assault. Republican leadership in Washington and Montgomery continue to put the profits of millionaires and large corporations before the interests of average families like those I serve in Birmingham. But we can’t change Washington or Montgomery if we don’t first rethink the pipeline of men and women that we send there.

I urge fellow Southern Democratic mayors, particularly in conservative states, to capitalize on your platform. Building our personal brand is not enough, we must build our party and elect the right people who will support the policies that affect the quality of life of our residents.

If you find yourself – like me – representing a blue island in a sea of red, you have an obligation to change the tide for the communities you serve.

Sparking Democratic enthusiasm in your own city will no longer suffice. Democrats across the state need your energy and resources.

Remember, dynasties and winning programs aren’t created overnight. They are only created when individuals are committed to a cause greater than themselves. We all have a role to play, and NextGen Alabama is just getting started.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Alabamians need an Ethics Commission that will enforce the laws

Secretary of State John Merrill

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I am disappointed to find myself, once again, in a position to ask what purpose the Alabama Ethics Commission serves to the people of this state. To whom are the elected officials or those seeking public office to look to for ethical political leadership? The people of Alabama need an Ethics Commission that will enforce the laws and regulations it is charged with enforcing, with consistency.

When campaigns file their fundraising disclosures with the Secretary of State’s office, they are required to file on a given date no later than 11:59 p.m. When candidates and political action committees (PACs) fail to file these reports in a timely manner, the law requires the Secretary of State’s Office to issue a civil penalty based on the amount of contributions and expenditures from that reporting period. In the event that a candidate or PAC wishes to appeal the penalty, the Secretary of State’s office is required to send those requests to the Alabama Ethics Commission, allowing members of the Commission to determine whether the penalty should be upheld or not.

At three previous Ethics Commission meetings, in February, April and June of 2018, the commission waived fines on 12 appeals that were filed outside the 14-day window allowed by law.

However, during the Commission’s meeting on Sept. 5, they declined to hear cases filed outside the 14-day window, saying they didn’t have jurisdiction and declining to rule on whether that penalty would stand — despite having previously done so previously 12 times in 2018.

It the position of the Secretary of State’s Office that these specific matters were improperly set aside and should be reinstated by the Commission. And, in spite of a request from counsel for the Ethics Commission, the Secretary of State’s Office will continue to adhere to the requirements of state law which clearly establishes the Commission as the sole body with authority to overturn a penalty issued for a campaign or political action committee filing a financial disclosure form after the due date.

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Previously, Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton stated, “the commissioners reviewed those files and discussed them in detail before our meeting. So they reviewed every one of them as they have for every meeting.” If that is true, then why have they just now become aware of these appeal date issues? Each appeal delivered to the Alabama Ethics Commission is delivered as a file which includes each file that was not timely filed and a copy of the date the appeal was filed.

The Code of Alabama directs the Secretary of State’s Office to work in conjunction with the Alabama Ethics Commission to administer the Fair Campaign Practices Act. Therefore, without communication and cooperation between our agencies, as well as the commission’s consistent application of the laws and rules established by the Legislature, the FCPA does not work.

 

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Opinion | Fighting the opioid epidemic

by Bradley Byrne Read Time: 3 min
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