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President’s American heart, hands and grit promise may spur infrastructure campaign

Bill Britt

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As part of his Make America Great Again promise, President Donald Trump offered the American Infrastructure Initiative in February of this year. Many Alabama lawmakers hoped to pass a statewide infrastructure package during the last legislative session, but like President Trump’s plan, it stalled because Republicans feared voter backlash in an election year.

As reported in The Hill, “The Trump administration, for its part, has been relatively quiet on the plan since the president said a proposal from Congress would likely come after this year’s midterm elections.” The same is true for the current leadership at the Alabama State House.

State legislators privately say infrastructure legislation will be a top priority in the next legislative session. They also admit the real battle may not be whether or not to pass a bill but how the funds are to be divided, setting up a struggle between major population centers and rural communities.

As Chip Brownlee reported in February, “Alabama’s infrastructure in 2017 received a C-minus grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which found that the state’s roads, bridges, waterways, and transit were in mediocre or poor condition. Roads received a D-plus grade and ALDOT rated 50 percent of the interstates and state highways — which carry as much as 60 percent of road traffic — as fair, poor or very poor and said maintenance must be a priority.”

Infrastructure bill makes brief appearance in the Senate

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A 2015 study published by the Brookings Institute found, “[O]nly a quarter of jobs in low-skill and middle-skill industries can be reached within 90 minutes by a typical metropolitan commuter.” Its analysis also notes that, “Successful cities will be those that connect workers to jobs and close the digital divide between high-income and low-income neighborhoods.”

Why Infrastructure Matters: Rotten Roads, Bum Economy

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon and Gov. Kay Ivey have both expressed support for a modest fuel tax increase to fund new road projects. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh has also led talks about how to improve the state’s deteriorating infrastructure.

The last time the Legislature successfully addressed full revenue funding for roads and bridges was in 1992. Since then, a generation of Alabamians have grown up and entered the workforce only to face a crumbling infrastructure that barely supports 21st century jobs.

The League of Municipalities estimated the state has a $360 million annual shortfall in tax revenues from the existing motor fuels taxes. They, like other stakeholders, are concerned not only over the lack of available money but also the funding mechanism and how the pie will be split between state, county and municipalities.

The Trump administration plans another run at keeping the President’s pledge to, “build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways all across our land.”

President Trump’s success may buoy state lawmakers encouraged by his words to build a better infrastructure using, “American heart, and American hands, and American grit,” as the President promised.

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Byrne applauds Austal on LCS contract

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, the U.S. Navy awarded two of three Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) to Austal USA. Congress appropriated funds for 3 LCS in Fiscal Year 2019.

Two of those will be built by Austal USA in Mobile, Alabama. The third will be built by Lockheed Martin in Marinette, Wisconsin. Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) applauded Austal for the contract awards.

“The fact that Austal received two of the three contracts from Fiscal Year 2018 for Littoral Combat Ships is yet another indication of the high quality work being performed at our shipyard in Mobile,” Rep. Byrne said. “This marks the third straight year that Austal has received two of the three contracts – a testament to the fact we are delivering capable ships on time and on budget. Congratulations to the almost 4,000 men and women who work at the shipyard and help equip the Navy with warships.”

Austal USA of Mobile, Alabama was awarded a fixed-price-incentive firm target modification to a previously awarded contract for the construction of two Littoral Combat Ships. The Navy may release a competitive solicitation(s) for additional LCS class ships in fiscal year 2019, and therefore the specific contract award amount for these ships is considered source selection sensitive information so is not being released by the Navy at this time.

The work will be performed in Mobile, Alabama; Pittsfield, Massachusetts; Cincinnati, Ohio; Kingsford, Michigan; Bristol, Connecticut, and various other locations of less than 1 percent each and is expected to be completed by September 2024. Fiscal year 2018 Shipbuilding and Conversion, Navy funds are obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the fiscal year. This contract modification was awarded via a limited competition between Austal USA and Lockheed Martin.

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The 2019 Defense Department funding bill funded a 33rd, 34th and 35th littoral combat ship, three more than the 32-ship requirement set by the Navy. The Barack H. Obama (D) administration cut the original 55 ship requirement to 32 in 2014. The mission modules that will make each of the ships specialize as a mine sweeper, a submarine hunter or small surface combatant have been delayed due to technical issues.

The littoral combat ship is a set of two classes of relatively small surface vessels designed for operations near shore, the littoral combat zone, by the Navy. Austal builds the trimaran hulled Independence class. Lockheed Martin builds the more conventional Freedom class.

At this point 15 LCSs are deployed with the navy and the other seventeen are in various stages of construction and development. These newest three were not supposed to be built under the Obama administration plan to halt the LCSs at 32. Will there be more LCS’s greenlighted in the 2020 budget is in question.

Currently Austal USA and Lockheed Martin are competing for the contract for 20 new guided missile frigates which will be larger, multi-mission, and more lethal than the two LCSs. Both shipyards have submitted a more stretched design based on their Independence and Freedom class LCS hulls. The Obama Administration Defense Department had capped the number of LCS and frigates at 50. Now it appears that the Republican controlled Congress has reverted back to the original 55 ship requirement. Where the LCS contract was divided between Austal and Lockheed, the contract for the frigate is supposed to go to just one ship builder, dramatically reducing the work at either Mobile or Marinette.

Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District which includes Mobile where Austal USA builds the Independence class. Byrne is seeking another term; but faces Navy veteran Robert Kennedy Jr. (D) in the November 6 general election.

Original reporting by Defense News’ David Latner contributed to this report. Wikipedia was also consulted.

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Transgender former student sues Huntsville City Schools

Chip Brownlee

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A former student who is transgender sued Huntsville City Schools last week.

The lawsuit filed in federal court by Zelda Menefee alleges the school district failed to act when she was harassed, physically assaulted and bullied because she was transgender, and that administrators ignored the actions.

Menefee, 19, said the bullying was so bad — and it came from both teachers and students — that she eventually dropped out of school in May 2016 and earned an equivalency diploma instead. She attended Grissom High School.

The lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Alabama alleges that Menefee was placed in boys’ PE courses, where the male students made fun of her clothes and harassed her. She reported at least two bullying instances to a teacher, but the teacher did nothing, according to the lawsuit.

She was eventually allowed to enroll in female PE courses, but she couldn’t dress in the girls’ locker room or have a locker with other girls in the class, the lawsuit states.

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Menefee began transitioning from male to female in summer 2014, changing her first name, her identity documents and her dress to indicate a female gender. She was a freshman at Grissom in January 2015.

“Unfortunately, LGBTQ – and especially transgender – students face disproportionate levels of bullying, harassment, and discrimination in schools,” said Sara Ann Macisaac, the Alabama field organizer for the Human Rights Campaign. “Yet, many school administrators remain woefully unprepared and unsupported to deal with the type of bias-based discrimination that occurs on a systemic level.”

HRC Alabama says it’s important that school districts throughout the state have enumerated anti-bullying and nondiscrimination protections, and that staff and administrators know how to spot bullying, bias and harassment.

“At a time when the federal Department of Education continues to turn its back on transgender students, this in-state work remains crucial,” Macisaac said. “No student should ever encounter the discrimination described by Zelda Menefee.”

Menefee alleges administrators refused to investigate her claims of bullying, discrimination and assault and that she was specifically threatened for being transgender, punched and had food thrown at her during lunch.

A student even pulled her wig off in the hallway and assaulted her, and administrators did not act, according to the lawsuit.

Teachers bullied her too, refusing to allow her to use female restrooms, relegating her to a nurses restroom, and making her change out of female clothes like a knee-length skirt into athletic pants and t-shirts, the lawsuit alleges.

Both teachers and students refused to call her by her female name, told her she wasn’t a girl, and called her “sir,” she says in the complaint. She was pictured in the yearbook under her male name, and school officials canceled a beauty pageant because she asked to participate.

The lawsuit is demanding money damages for violations of her First Amendment rights, anti-discrimination guarantees and failed supervision by school staff.

 

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Small business group endorses Kay Ivey for governor

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018 the NFIB Alabama Political Action Committee has endorsed Kay Ivey for governor. The National Federation of Independent Businesses is the nation’s leading small-business association. NFIB State Director Rosemary Elebash announced the endorsement Monday at a news conference at Southern Distributor/Auto Electric and Carburetor Co., an NFIB member business in Birmingham.

The NFIB Alabama PAC’s endorsement is based on the candidate’s record and position on small-business issues.

“Kay Ivey is the clear choice for Alabama’s small businesses,” Elebash said. “Kay Ivey is a strong leader who understands the challenges facing Alabama’s job creators. She opposes higher taxes and burdensome rules and regulations that would make it harder for small businesses to succeed and create jobs. This spring, she signed legislation prohibiting cities from requiring companies to purchase a municipal business license before driving through their jurisdictions for work purposes.”

“As Governor, I have made it my job to create a strong environment for job creation,” Gov. Ivey said. “That’s why I’ve worked closely with the NFIB and the state Legislature, signing the largest tax cut in a decade and eliminating unnecessary regulations that make it more difficult and more expensive to do business. Being endorsed for Governor by Alabama’s small businesses is truly an honor. I am grateful for their trust, support and everything they do to keep Alabama working!”

“Since taking office a little over a year ago, Governor Ivey has announced more than 15,500 new jobs and more than $8 billion in capital investment, creating exciting new opportunities for all kinds of small businesses,” Elebash added. “Under her leadership, our pro-business climate has received national recognition from the likes of the influential Business Facilities magazine, and Alabama’s employment rate is the highest it’s ever been.”

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The President of Southern Distributors Steve Kampwerth said, “I would lie to welcome our guests including our esteemed guest, Governor Kay Ivey.”

Kampwerth personally thanked Gov. Ivey for her support for Senate Bill 316 during the last legislative session. “This bill established a 10,000 maximum before they had to apply for a local delivery license. As an auto parts distributer, we had to apply for hundreds of these licenses annually. Thank you governor for supporting this bill.”

Director Elebash said that each election, “We send a ballot to each of our members statewide. For the very first time since I have been here, Governor Ivey received the endorsement of 98 percent of our members. That is a record.”

Gov. Ivey was elevated to the office in April of 2017 Elebash said. “The NFIB has passed more than 80 small business bills in that period of time.”

“It is my honor to be here and spend time to people like you that our devoted to keeping Alabama working,” Gov. Ivey said. “Job creators are important to keep Alabama working.”

“It is not enough for our business to survive but to thrive,” Ivey said.
Elebash promised that, We will be working each day to make sure that our member are out working to help turn out the powerful small-business voting bloc on Election Day.

Reporters asked Ivey about her school sentry program that allows schools to arm one administrator.

“It is up to each school system to make their own decision,” Ivey said on whether or not they participate in the program.

Ivey said that she was not surprised by the recent court decision against the Alabama prison system and said that the prison system was working on filling its staffing shortage.

“We are working best and fast as we can,” she said. “Just because you have to hire more folks, it doesn’t mean they are available.” The prisons, “Are an Alabama problem, it will be solved by Alabamians.”

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, a Jimmy Carter appointee, ordered the state to show why it should not be held in contempt of court for failing to meet his deadline for increasing the number of staff devoted to mental health in the prisons. The Southern Poverty Law Center is suing the state and the Alabama Department of Corrections on behalf of the convicts claiming that the lack of mental health staff amounts to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked Director Elebash why they were not supporting Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter “Walt” Maddox (D) who has promised a lottery as a solution for some of the state’s revenue problems.

“We consider that as more of a social issue,” Elebash said. “None of my members have said that to me. My members have real world problems. They call me and say I have a problem,” with a regulation or something, such as like the issue here about the local delivery licenses. “Governor Ivey has been real good at working with us.”

“Gov. Ivey is all about action, not words,” Elebash said.

The NFIB said in a statement that “Today’s endorsement puts the considerable grassroots support of the state’s small businesses behind the governor’s campaign. Small-business owners and their employees vote in high numbers and are known for recruiting friends, family members and acquaintances to vote. NFIB will encourage its Alabama members to help turn out the powerful small-business voting bloc on Election Day.”

For more than 75 years, NFIB has been the voice of small business, advocating on behalf of America’s small and independent business owners, both in Washington, D.C., and in all 50 state capitals. The NFIB is nonprofit, nonpartisan, and member-driven. Since its founding in 1943, NFIB has been exclusively dedicated to small and independent businesses and remains so today.

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Senate passes defense FY2019 appropriations bill

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) announced final Senate passage of the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY2019) Defense Appropriations Act. The bill was included in the conference report to accompany H.R. 6157, the minibus appropriations package which also contains the FY2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies funding bill.

The package provides $674.4 billion in funding for the Department of Defense, which is an increase of $19.8 billion above the FY2018 enacted level. The House is expected to vote on the legislation next week. If the house passes it, the package will be sent to the President’s desk for his signature.

“This is the most significant step we have taken yet,” said Senator Shelby. “For the first time in a decade, we are sending a Defense spending bill to the President’s desk on time. Returning to regular order has required us all to sacrifice and work together for the good of the process. I want to thank my colleagues – particularly Leaders McConnell and Schumer and Vice Chairman Leahy – for their help in moving the Defense-Labor-HHS conference report before the Senate. This conference report contains critical funding for defense and domestic priorities. It accelerates the rebuilding of America’s military and provides our men and women in uniform with the largest pay increase in nearly a decade. It also increases NIH’s budget by $2 billion and provides critical resources to combat the opioid epidemic.”

The appropriations minibus conference report was approved in the Senate by a vote of 93 to 7.

The Department of Defense portion of the package contains funding for defense priorities throughout the state of Alabama.

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“We must approve defense appropriations legislation to fund military readiness, procurement, and testing — all of which are required to keep U.S. military forces the best trained, equipped, prepared, and strongest force in the world,” continued Senator Shelby. “This historic legislation further highlights Alabama’s strong national defense capabilities and provides our state with the opportunity to continue producing essential tools to support our men and women in uniform. I am confident that this legislation will allow our defense programs to remain of the highest caliber.”

The Defense and Labor-HHS-Education bills represent the majority of discretionary federal spending. Neither has been signed into law before the end of the fiscal year in a decade. The measure provides an outline for military leaders to have the resources they need to meet current and future threats to U.S. national security.

The legislation includes items critical for the Wiregrass including: an additional $95 million for future vertical lift research, which will help accelerate development of helicopters flown at Fort Rucker; $10 million to upgrade Navy MH-60 Seahawk helicopters; $1.0 billion for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missiles; $111 million for Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles (LRASMs) (The measure also encourages the Navy to evaluate the capabilities and costs of a surface-launched LRASM.); $307 million for Joint Air-to-Ground Missiles (JAGMs); $663 million for Joint Air-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSMs), which recently made its debut in strikes on Syria in response to their use of chemical weapons; $484 million for Hellfire missiles, which are made in Troy and used for training at Fort Rucker; $254 million for Javelin missiles for the Army and Marine Corps.

The legislation has provisions impacting North Alabama including: $11.1 billion for investments in researching transformational technologies to address modern and future Army warfighting needs; $10.4 billion for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), including $1.1 billion to support urgent MDA unfunded priorities and emergent threats; $191 million for Standard Missile Improvements, which are built in Decatur, and supports work done by MDA at Redstone Arsenal and many local companies; $184 million in additional funding to further develop directed energy technology and transition these activities to both offensive and defensive capabilities; $664 million in additional funding to support and accelerate offensive and defensive hypersonics research and prototyping efforts; An additional $15 million to integrate Small Glide Munitions onto on Unmanned Aerial Systems (This highly successful weapon is used by Special Operations Command and built in Huntsville); $306 million in additional funding to expand and accelerate cyber research across the Department of Defense, including $127 million for Army cybersecurity research efforts and $116 million in Missile Defense Agency cybersecurity enhancements. This bill encourages the enhanced use of cyber red teams to address cyber intrusions that threaten our weapons systems, an area of particular excellence for Huntsville.

In space, the defense bill includes” $200 million in additional funding for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) development efforts to ensure assured access to space. United Launch Alliance (ULA), which builds rockets in Decatur, continues to be seen as the most reliable and capable space launch provider.

The bill even includes Advanced Shipbuilding Capabilities with $15 million to establish North Alabama as a center for classified, high power large-scale electron beam welding. This technology is critical to new Navy Columbia-class submarines and many high-performance aerospace systems such as hypersonic reentry vehicles, scramjet missiles, and rocket and jet engine turbomachinery.

The legislation has provisions impacting Anniston including: $276 million for Hydra rockets, which are built in Anniston and fired from Army and Marine Corps helicopters; Funding for Army Vehicles which are overhauled and maintained at Anniston Army Depot (ANAD): $2.5 billion to continue modernizing M1 Abrams tanks; $393 million for Stryker vehicles, including an additional $94 million to support increased Stryker DVH A1 conversions; An additional $110 million for Paladin Integrated Management artillery vehicles; and $18 million in additional funding for M88A2 Hercules Improved Recovery vehicles.

The legislation also has provisions impacting Mobile’s shipbuilding industry including: Two additional Littoral Combat Ships (LCS); One additional Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) ship; An additional $700 million in Advance Procurement for LPD and LHA amphibious ships.

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Shelby has served the people of Alabama in the U.S. Senate since 1986.

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President’s American heart, hands and grit promise may spur infrastructure campaign

by Bill Britt Read Time: 2 min
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