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Fight for Legislature’s Job Creation Package round up by bill

Susan Britt

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By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY – As promised, job growth legislation was the top priority in the first week of the Alabama Legislature’s 2012 Regular Session, as bills aimed at boosting job creation passed the House of Representatives on Thursday.

“As much progress as Alabama has made reducing unemployment faster than any other state and adding 41,000 jobs since last year, too many people are still without work in this tough economy,” House Speaker Mike Hubbard said. “That’s why our number one focus is boosting private sector job growth and getting more Alabamians back to work. We have legislation designed to help existing businesses grow and hire more workers, and give our state more tools to recruit new jobs.”

Three bills authorizing incentives targeting industries with great potential for growth in Alabama received House passage Thursday and will now go to the Senate for its consideration. These are:

The Alabama Data Processing Center Economic Incentive Enhancement Act, House Bill 154 sponsored by Rep. Dan Williams (R-Athens), passed by a vote of 72 yeas, 18 nays and 2 abstentions.

•Data processing centers are key components of the 21st century economy.  These centers employ a skilled workforce, provide high-paying jobs, and have a low environmental footprint.  Alabama is uniquely positioned to compete for jobs in this growing industry.

•This proposal would expand the scope of certain tax incentives in order to focus on recruiting more data processing centers to Alabama.

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Aviation and Aerospace Economic Incentives, House Bill 39 sponsored by Rep. Paul Lee (R-Dothan), passed by a vote of 80 yeas, 8 nays and 4 abstentions.

•This bill would provide for a special tax incentive allowing Alabama to target aircraft manufactures and aircraft parts manufactures.

Enhanced Incentives to Recruit Job-Creating Coal Mining Projects, House Bill 144, by Rep. Bill Roberts (R-Jasper), passed by a vote of 80 yeas and 3 nays

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•This bill enhances the state’s ability to recruit coal mining companies by allowing them to qualify for certain existing tax incentives currently available to manufacturers and other businesses.

The following is a breakdown of the jobs package day in the Alabama house of Representatives.

 

HB 151

Economic Development and Tourism Committee

Number of amendments: 1

Sponsor: Rep. Alan Baker (R-Brewton)

Although with no real impact on job creation, this bill would change the titles for the Alabama Department Office to be renamed and the Director of Development to the Department of Commerce and the Secretary of Commerce.

The amendment will also authorize the Secretary of Commerce to employ people outside of the State Merit System. Specifically, this bill will create three additional assistant secretaries that would increase personnel costs by an estimated $140,350 per additional secretary.

Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), shared her opposition to the bill saying that since the hires would be made outside of the merit system that it would be left to the discretion of the director whom to hire. She called this a “slippery slope.”

Rep. Alan Harper (D-Aliceville) ranking minority member of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee explained that the Economic Development Professional Office had lost 3-4 recruiters last year and he would like to see those people replaced. He also said, “The only  way to increase the Education Trust Fund is to increase jobs.”

BIR*: 89-0
Amendement: 92-0
Final 94-1

 

HB 144

Economic Development and Tourism Committee

Number of amendments: 0

Sponsor: Rep. Bill Roberts (R-Jasper)

This bill expands existing tax incentives to encourage new capital investments by companies in the coal mining industry. Add coal mining to list of other companies that that qualify for tax abatements concerning sales, use, mortgage, deed and non-educational property tax under the state’s 1992 abatement law. This would also include them in the state’s income tax capital credit.

Rep Roberts said that this bill is designed to allow the coal mining industry to be included in the existing tax incentives. He said that the industry is a major source of employment, employing approximately 4,000. The average wage is $25 per hour and with overtime, miners can make from $70,000 to $95,000 per year. He said that Alabama’s coal is metallurgical coal and that the Port of Mobile processes 52 million tons per year.

Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) opposed the bill. She said, “I want more jobs to come to alabama make no mistake about that.” She said that this bill is fiscally irresponsible and that more information is needed. She said that the bill needs transparency and demanded that it include the proposed number of jobs to be created.

Rep. John W. Rogers, Jr. (D-Birmingham) said that “We can’t afford to lose anymore money out of Jefferson County.” He was concerned about the coal funds that are collected by Jefferson County.

BIR: 74-7-1
Final: 80-3

 

HB 39

Economic Development and Tourism Committee

Number of amendments: 1

Sponsors: Representatives Lee, Moore (B), Chesteen, Shiver, Barton, Weaver, Gaston, Ison, Fincher, Mask, Millican, McMillan, Collins, Johnson (K), Williams ℗, Wren, Wallace Buttram, Sessions, Beckman, Baker, Patterson, Sanderford, Faust, Galliher, Hill, Farley and Clouse

House bill 39 relates to sales tax exemptions for any parts, components, and systems used in the conversion, reconfiguration, or maintenance of aircraft certified as a transport category airplane or rotary wing aircraft. The bill will reduce potential sales tax receipts to the Education Trust Fund (ETF). The reduction is estimated at a minimum of $4.8 million and a maximum of $7 million.The abatement has no time limit associated with it.

Local sales taxes will not be effected unless a resolution is made by the local governing bodies.

Rep. Lee said, “I hope that we can be known for this type of business in Alabama.”

Rep. Oliver Robinson (D-Birmingham) asked where the places were in the state that would be effected by this bill. Rep. Lee responded that it would be Dothan, Mobile and Huntsville.

Rep. Greg Burdine (D-Lauderdale) said that 300 jobs at $300,000 salary would be a loss of $15 million tax dollars.

Rep. Demetrius C. Newton (D-Birmingham) expressed his concern over the estimated loss of $7 million to the Education Trust Fund already identified in the bill. Lee responded by saying, “When people are working they are spending so that will put the money back in the fund.”

Rep. James E. Buskey (D-Mobile) said that in his district they service FedEx aircraft which generates $12 million in payroll taxes and employ 1600 workers. He said that their contract expires in 15-16 months. He said that they many move to another state because that state provides this type incentive. He said, “It is worth it. It is needed.”

BIR: 78-11-3

Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) said that it “what might be helpful is to develop a plan. We need a general plan of recruiting business of this nature. A plan that says, ‘we think we can bring X number of companies, creating X number of jobs, generating $X in taxes.” She said she didn’t want to just write a blank check. She said that an abatement forever, “I can’t support that.”

Amendment: 82-1
Final: 80-8-4
Opened for Co-sponsors: 48

 

HB 154

Economic Development and Tourism Committee

Number of amendments: 0

Sponsors: Representatives Williams (D), Wood, Bridges, Buttram, Boothe, McMillan, Treadaway, Farley, McClendon, Williams (J), Greer, Millican, Long, Johnson (W), Roberts, Rich, McCutcheon, Faust, Shiver Nordgren, Fincher, Lee Henry, Gaston, Moor (B), Tuggle, Johnson (K), Collins, Baker, Weaver and Beckman.

This bill would allow abatements of taxes for data processing centers (call centers) from certain types of ad valorem taxes and construction-related transaction taxes for a period of up to 30 years. It allows municipalities, county, or public industrial authority to grant these abatements.

This bill would enact the Alabama Data Processing Center Economic Incentive Enhancement Act of 2012.

It amends the employment threshold from 50 new employees to 20 new employees provided that certain minimum capital investment requirements are met to qualify for for abatements under the state’s 1992 abatement law as well as the state’s income tax capital credit. It also amends the the maximum allowable abatement period from 10 to 30 years and expands the allowable items for which tax abatements may be granted.

To qualify the average wage of employees cannot be less than $40,000 including benefits.

Included in this bill are warehousing and storage facilities not necessarily related to data processing centers. The facilities can be distribution warehouses for major retailers.

Rep. Dan Williams (R-Athens) said that this bill is an amendment to existing legislation passed last year and will include direct and indirect jobs. He said it also includes processing system warehouses.

BIR: 79-2

Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) asked what budget it is going to effect. Williams replied that the abatement was from sales taxes and non-educational taxes.

Rep. England replied that it would effect the General Fund. Williams replied that it would not effect any existing tax collections.

Naming off many of the departments financed from the General Fund, England expressed his concern that with the state of that fund and how this future lack of funding would impact it.

Rep. Williams said that this bill contains no caps, that individual counties set the caps. England said that the caps should be set by the House. He went on to say that because of the loopholes in other incentive plans that the state of Alabama is “being fleeced.”

Rep. Alan Harper (R-Aliceville) said that this bill is like the coal bill and that the sales and other taxes goes to the education fund not the general. Williams responded by saying this is only for new jobs.

Rep. Harper said that site selection companies run searches on states for the best incentive packages for companies looking to move there location. He said that most of these are high-paying specialized jobs and that servicing these types of companies creates jobs especially since these are technology jobs. He said, “I would choose 70 cents for 30 cents any day.”

Rep. James E. Buskey (D-Mobile) asked if the abatement under this bill is non-educational. Williams responded, “Yes.”

Rep. Buskey asked why change the requirement for employee from 50 to 20. Williams response was that because of the advancement of technology not as many employees are needed.

Rep. Laura Hall (D-Madison) asked how the state would keep these companies after the incentives expire reminding Williams that Dunlop and Chrysler left after their incentives had expires.

Rep. Blaine Galliher (R-Gadsden) reminded the House of the arguments that they had over the incentives for Mercedes. He said the Rosewood Act contained $320 million in incentives. He said that before 1993 it was very difficult to get companies to consider coming to Alabama. He said that Mercedes “changed the global perception of Alabama.” He said that set the stage for Honda and now everyone calls Alabama the “Detroit of the South.”

Final: 72-18-2

Bills 159 and 160 were under discussion when a recess was called at 3:36 p.m. There are 22 remaining bills in the jobs package. The House has been adjourned until Tuesday, February, 14 at which time the will resume with HB 159 and HB 160.

More jobs bills will be on the agenda when lawmakers reconvene on Tuesday. Those include:

◦The  “Heroes for Hire” Tax Credit Act, House Bill 152, sponsored by Rep. DuWayne Bridges (R-Valley), passed unanimously out of the Education Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday.

•With wars winding down in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of Alabama veterans will soon return home to a difficult economy in which it is hard to find a job.

•This proposal would offer Alabama businesses a $2000 tax credit for hiring a veteran recently returned from war.

◦The Alabama Job Creation and Retention Act, House Bills 159 & 160 Sponsored by Rep. Barry Mask (R-Wetumpka), passed out of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee on Wednesday.

•Alabama’s success in landing world-class companies like Mercedes, Honda, Hyundai and ThyssenKrupp proves how effective tax incentives can be for bringing jobs to this state.

•This constitutional amendment (HB 159) would allow voters to give the Governor and the Alabama Development Office more flexibility in offering tax incentives to land major economic development projects and retain companies that might otherwise relocate outside Alabama without having to call a special session of the Legislature.

•The corresponding enabling bill (HB160) sets strict parameters for how incentives can be used to ensure return on investment.

 

*BIR is the budget isolation resolution. It’s a constitutional requirement from the first term of Gov. Fob James requiring the House and Senate prior to adoption of the budgets to submit bills and constitutional amendments to a preliminary, BIR vote.

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Health

Alabama’s COVID-19 hospitalizations, cases continue rise

Average daily hospitalizations continue an ongoing increase as cases nationwide surge.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Alabama hit 863 on Wednesday, the highest daily count since Sept 4, as average daily hospitalizations continue a steady increase and cases nationwide surge.

UAB Hospital in Birmingham on Wednesday was caring for 72 COVID-19 inpatients — the highest number the hospital has cared for since Aug. 21. 

In the last two weeks, Alabama has reported an increase of 15,089 new COVID-19 cases, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health and APR‘s calculations.

That number is the largest increase over a 14-day period since the two weeks ending Sept. 9. On average, the state has reported 1,078 new cases per day over the last two weeks, the highest 14-day average since Sept. 9.

The state reported 1,390 new confirmed and probable cases Thursday. Over the last week, the state has reported 7,902 cases, the most in a seven-day period since the week ending Sept. 5. That’s an average of 1,129 cases per day over the last seven days.

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Alabama’s positivity rate, based on 14-day case and test increases, was nearly 16 percent Thursday, the highest that rate has been since mid-September.

Public health experts say the positivity rate, which measures the number of positive cases as a percentage of total tests, needs to be at or below 5 percent. Any higher, and experts say there’s not enough testing and cases are likely to be going undetected. 

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“I really won’t feel comfortable until we’re down to about 3 percent,” said Dr. Karen Landers, the state’s assistant health officer, speaking to APR last week

While new daily cases are beginning an upward trajectory, the number of tests administered statewide is not, contributing to the increasing positivity rate. The 14-day average of tests per day on Thursday was 6,856 — a nearly 10 percent decrease from two weeks prior. 

Over the last two weeks, ADPH reported 206 new COVID-19 deaths statewide, amounting to an average of 15 deaths per day over the last 14 days.

So far during the month of October, ADPH has reported 303 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. In September, the total was 373. Since March, at least 2,843 people have died from the coronavirus.

The number of new cases nationwide appear to be headed toward a new high, according to data gathered by the COVID Tracking Project. The United States is now reporting nearly 60,000 cases per day based on a seven-day average. At least 213,672 Americans have died, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

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Courts

U.S. Supreme Court rules Alabama can ban curbside voting

“The District Court’s modest injunction is a reasonable accommodation, given the short time before the election,” the three dissenting justices wrote. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision, allowed Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill to ban curbside voting, staying a district court injunction that had allowed some counties to offer curbside voting in the Nov. 3 election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Supreme Court’s majority in its order declined to write an opinion, but Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor’s five-page dissent is included.

The lawsuit — filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program — was brought on behalf of several older Alabamians with underlying medical conditions.

“The District Court’s modest injunction is a reasonable accommodation, given the short time before the election,” the three dissenting justices wrote. 

Sotomayor, who wrote the dissent, closed using the words of one of the plaintiffs in the case. 

“Plaintiff Howard Porter Jr., a Black man in his seventies with asthma and Parkinson’s disease, told the District Court, ‘[So] many of my [ancestors] even died to vote. And while I don’t mind dying to vote, I think we’re past that – We’re past that time,’” Sotomayor wrote. 

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill on Wednesday applauded the Supreme Court’s decision. 

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“I am proud to report the U.S. Supreme Court has now blocked a lower court’s order allowing the fraudulent practice of curbside voting in the State of Alabama,” Merrill said in a statement. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have worked diligently with local election officials in all 67 counties to offer safe and secure voting methods – including through the in-person and mail-in processes. I am glad the Supreme Court has recognized our actions to expand absentee voting, while also maintaining the safeguards put into place by the state Legislature.”

“The fact that we have already shattered voter participation records with the election still being 13 days away is proof that our current voting options are easy, efficient, and accessible for all of Alabama’s voters,” Merrill continued. “Tonight’s ruling in favor of election integrity and security is once again a win for the people of Alabama.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, expressed frustration after the ruling in a tweet.

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“Another devastating loss for voters and a blow for our team fighting to ensure safe voting for Black and disabled voters in Alabama. With no explanation, the SCOTUS allows Alabama to continue making it as hard as possible for COVID-vulnerable voters,” Ifill wrote.

Curbside voting is not explicitly banned by state law in Alabama, but Merrill has argued that because the practice is not addressed in the law, he believes it to be illegal. 

A panel of federal appeals court judges on Oct. 13 reversed parts of U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon’s Sept. 30 order ruling regarding absentee voting in the upcoming Nov. 3 elections, but the judges let the previous ruling allowing curbside voting to stand. 

In his Sept. 30 ruling, Kallon wrote that “the plaintiffs have proved that their fears are justified” and the voting provisions challenged in the lawsuit “unduly burden the fundamental Constitutional rights of Alabama’s most vulnerable voters and violate federal laws designed to protect America’s most marginalized citizens.”

Caren Short, SPLC’s senior staff attorney, in a statement said the Supreme Court’s decision has curtailed the voting rights of vulnerable Alabamians.

“Once again, the Supreme Court’s ‘shadow docket’ – where orders are issued without written explanation – has curtailed the voting rights of vulnerable citizens amidst a once-in-a-century public health crisis. After a two-week trial, a federal judge allowed counties in Alabama to implement curbside voting so that high-risk voters could avoid crowded polling locations,” Short said. “Tonight’s order prevents Alabama counties from even making that decision for themselves. Already common in states across the South and the country before 2020, curbside voting is a practice now encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It should be a no-brainer to implement everywhere during a pandemic; the Alabama Secretary of State unfortunately disagrees, as does the Supreme Court of the United States.”

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Education

SPLC files complaints in Pike County over suspension of two Black students

Both complaints, filed in Pike County Juvenile Court, ask the court to reverse suspensions of RaQuan Martin and Dakarai Pelton, both Black and former students at Goshen High School. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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The Southern Poverty Law Center on Wednesday filed two complaints with an Alabama juvenile court alleging the Pike County Board of Education arbitrarily suspended two students in violation of their due process rights under the U.S. Constitution. 

“Students across Alabama continue to be excluded from school without regard for their due process rights, leading to unwarranted and unlawful suspensions and expulsions,” said Michael Tafelski, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC’s children’s rights project, in a statement. 

“This is particularly troubling for Black students who are three times more likely to be excluded from school for minor and subjective infractions than their white peers. Education is an important aspect of a young person’s life and the decision to exclude them from school should not be taken lightly,” Tafelski continued. 

Both complaints, filed in Pike County Juvenile Court, ask the court to reverse suspensions of RaQuan Martin and Dakarai Pelton, both Black and former students at Goshen High School. 

The complaints state that on Nov. 22, 2019, both students were approached by the school’s principal “in connection with alleged rumors that a group of students had ‘smoked’ that same day in the parking lot at school.” The principal alleged he had video security footage of them doing so, but wouldn’t show the students the footage, according to the complaints. 

Both boys told the principal that they had not used marijuana, but had both accompanied another student to their car in the parking lot, and both left when the other student showed them what appeared to be drug paraphernalia.

“The students, both seniors at the time, denied the allegations and even took drug tests that showed they had no drugs in their system that day. But the school refused to consider this evidence,” the SPLC said in a press release. 

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The complaints state that the district failed to provide the students proper notice, including details about their charges, evidence of wrongdoing, a meaningful opportunity to be heard or to present evidence of their own and question witnesses during their hearings. 

“Only you know what did or didn’t happen in that vehicle … you dodged a bullet here because we didn’t have the proof that we need,” said one school board member to one of the students during his hearing, according to the complaint. 

“There was no proper investigation at all,” said Shatarra Pelton, Dakarai’s mother, in a statement. “It was unorganized and overblown. The school was unable to produce any evidence other than hearsay.” 

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After a brief hearing, both seniors were suspended for the rest of the school year, missing out on a chance to finish their high school athletics and potentially missing out on college football scholarships as a result, the complaints state. 

Prior to their suspensions, both students had no disciplinary referrals and were making good grades, according to the complaints. 

“On Jan. 13, the students appealed the Council’s decision to the Pike County Board of Education, and the board agreed to consider allowing the students to return to GHS if they participated in drug treatment classes, passed urine and hair follicle drug tests and maintained perfect attendance at the alternative school. After completing all the requirements, the students returned to school on Feb. 21 – three months after their removal,” the SPLC said in the release. 

“He had a rough senior year, to say the least,” said Tasha Martin, RaQuan’s mother, in a statement. “He missed senior night, he missed everything.” 

“They didn’t get to play not one game,” Martin said. “They had some coaches visit them while they were in alternative school but when the coaches found out that they couldn’t go back to school, they stopped coming. Our families were devastated; sometimes me and Ms. Pelton would be on the phone and just cry to each other. It has been really tough.”  

“I want schools to understand that it’s not just a moment you’re ruining, you’re ruining a lifetime,” Pelton said. “With no factual basis, only an unproven accusation, you have just completely deterred a student’s life. Most schools say that they are there for their students, but you are showing them the total opposite.”

Pike County Schools during the 2019-2020 school year referred 49 students to a disciplinary hearing, according to the SPLC. Of those, 48 students were either suspended or expelled, and although Black students made up less than 50 percent of the student population, Black students made up 80 percent of the referrals.  On average, Black students make up 77 percent of all students referred for disciplinary hearings in the district, according to the SPLC.

Both complaints can be read here and here.

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News

Biden urges Democrats to support Doug Jones

In the email, Biden asked voters to split a contribution between the Biden campaign and Jones’s campaign.

Brandon Moseley

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Former Vice President Joe Biden appears at a campaign rally in Birmingham with then-candidate Doug Jones in 2017. (CHIP BROWNLEE/APR)

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Wednesday asked Democratic donors to support the re-election of U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.

“I wanted to reach out to you about an old friend of mine: Doug Jones,” Biden said. “You might not believe this, but I met Doug more than 40 years ago, when I was a newly-minted junior senator, and he was in his early 20s, just beginning what would become one of the most impressive and dedicated careers of public service I’ve had the privilege of watching.”

“Doug has devoted his entire career to fighting for justice,” Biden said. “He’s the man who would not rest until the Klansmen who killed four young Black girls in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing were finally brought to justice. Doug has shown us, even in our darkest moments, that hope for the American promise is never lost — and what we can do when we stand united.”

In the email, Biden asked voters to split a contribution between the Biden campaign and Jones’s campaign.

“I need Doug’s help in the Senate,” Biden said. “He’s running neck-and-neck in his race in Alabama right now, and he needs our help to win.”

Biden said this election is “a battle for the soul of our country” and “few places are those stakes as clear as in Alabama.”

“I remember in 2017 when everyone counted Doug out,” Biden said. “When they thought that a message of unity would lose in a state where a long history of division still runs deep. But when I visited Alabama to help Doug, I saw what he saw – Alabama was ready to come together.”

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Biden was an early endorser of Jones in the 2017 special election, when Jones defeated former Chief Justice Roy Moore in that election. Jones returned the favor in the 2020 Democratic primary, endorsing Biden when the former vice president was having difficulty raising money and was polling well behind Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.

Jones campaigned hard with Biden in Selma and other campaign stops across Alabama prior to Super Tuesday on March 3.

“His win gave me hope,” Biden said. “I was both honored and proud to have escorted him onto the floor of the Senate and stood behind him when he was sworn in as a United States Senator. And his record has been extraordinary – passing 22 bipartisan bills helping farmers, military families, and those devastated by natural disasters. And in perhaps the most crucial fight of all – our health care – Doug has been there again and again standing up for all of us, especially those with pre-existing conditions. Every time we needed him to stand up for us, Doug Jones was there. I’m going to need Doug’s voice in the Senate. Alabama and America will need Doug’s voice in the Senate.”

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“Doug and I share a vision for a united country – one that puts faith over fear, fairness over privilege, and love over hate. And Doug, his campaign, and his career remind us that it’s a vision we can only realize if we come together,” Biden said.

In an Auburn University Montgomery poll, Biden trails Trump in Alabama by 17 points. Jones trailed former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville by 12 points. The Jones campaign claims that there has been a tightening of the race since then and it is a statistical tie. The Tuberville campaign disputes that claim.

Republican insider Perry Hooper Jr. said, “Whether it is the AUM poll, the Al.com poll, or internal polls by the (Tuberville) campaign, the margin is between 12 and 18 points in favor of Tuberville.”

The Jones campaign has been inundating the state airwaves with TV and radio ads due to the vast advantage that Jones has had fundraising. More than 82 percent of Jones’ money raised in the third quarter reporting cycle came from outside the state of Alabama.

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