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Martha Roby: The Contraception Mandate Issue

Martha Roby

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From the Office of U.S. Rep. Martha Roby

The Contraception Mandate Issue:

The disorder surrounding the Obama Administration’s contraception mandate provides yet another example of why government-run health care is bad for America.

The original rule, authored by the Department of Health and Human Services as required under President Obama’s health care reform law, would force religiously affiliated charities, schools, universities, and hospitals to offer free contraceptives to their female employees, even when doing so violates the religious beliefs of the employer.

To be clear, this is not a question of whether individuals may use birth control—that, of course, is well settled. The question raised by the administration’s policy is whether the government can force a religious institution to provide birth control against its wishes. I believe the answer to that question is no.

Many people of diverse faiths immediately identified this mandate as an attack on the Constitutional right to exercise freely the religion of one’s choosing. The public’s uproar over the policy was swift, and it became clear that many Americans would not tolerate a test of their First Amendment rights. The White House, feeling the pressure, announced a weak “accommodation” to the rule: although the religious institutions are not required to provide birth control, their insurers are—and at no cost to the employee.

Forced money laundering does not make this policy better. The administration’s “accommodation” is a political solution that demonstrates no serious respect for long held religious beliefs.

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In many respects, the administration’s “accommodation” is an inadequate answer, and the House is expected to consider legislative responses to the situation this week. But the whole affair reminds us of everything that is wrong with a one-size-fits-all, government-run health care system. One of the first votes I took after taking office was to repeal the health care law, which increases the size of government, burdens job creators, and does nothing to bring down costs for most Americans. (The democratically run Senate has rejected efforts to repeal the law.) Since then, my House colleagues and I have stayed focused on passing legislation to dismantle this government take-over of health care piece by piece.

We are only now understanding the true scope and reach of the health care law, and in the future we may see more issues arise that challenge our traditional, conservative values. That is one reason why I recently joined the Values Action Team in Congress, which is a group of like-minded members dedicated to supporting life, family, and less government intrusion into our churches and schools.

Our Values Action Team meets and communicates regularly to ensure that each member is up-to-date with the latest information on values-related issues and legislation. We will mobilize quickly to make sure our voices are heard in the ongoing debate about government’s role in American society, and we will continue to block policies that are offensive to our constitutionally protected liberties.

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Alabamian Serves as Witness at House Committee on Education and the Workforce Hearing:

It was an honor to introduce Mr. Charles Cooper, a native Alabamian, as a witness for an important House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing this week. Congressional Committees routinely call on witnesses to provide expert testimony during hearings. Mr. Cooper testified during a hearing to examine the President’s unprecedented National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recess Appointments.

A founding member and the current chairman of the litigation firm Cooper & Kirk, Mr. Cooper is named one of the 10 best civil litigators in Washington, D.C., by The National Law Journal. He previously clerked for Judge Paul Roney of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and to Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. In 1985, President Reagan appointed Mr. Cooper to the position of Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel.

The House Committee Education and the Workforce hearing examined the important constitutional questions surrounding President Obama’s recess appointments to the NLRB, an organization that has proven hostile to small business and job creators in recent years. The lack of public disclosure surrounding these board nominees is unprecedented and unacceptable.

I was pleased that Mr. Cooper could participate in the hearing to offer his experience from past legal work. His knowledge supplied information about the impact that these important issues will have on employers governed by the board. I appreciate his participation and look forward to taking up this issue in future Committee hearings to ensure that the NLRB is subject to the strictest oversight.

Meetings in the Office this Week:

It was a great week in the office with many visits from various groups, schools, and organizations from Alabama. I was delighted to speak with so many people and to hear from them on the issues taking place in Congress that affect them at home.

Much thanks to the following groups who met with me this week: the Medical Association of the State of Alabama; the Alabama Association of School Boards; the Alabama Association of Elementary School Administrators; Evelyn Causey of the Hayneville Phone Company; members of the Women Construction Owners and Executives; the Alabama Education Association; the Alabama Rural Water Association; Auburn University faculty and staff  attending the Agriculture Promise Conference; members of the Alabama Narcotics Officers’ Association; members with the Alabama Army National Guard; the National Association of Farm Service Agency County Office Employees; Angie McCarter with Davidson Tech and Doug Sealf with People Tech; employees of Molded Fiber Glass Companies; Dr. Lee Burge, Dean of Engineering at Tuskegee University; and Auburn President Jay Gogue and Members of  Auburn Board of Trustees.

Contact Me:

Keeping close contact with you is my top priority as I am traveling between Alabama and Washington, D.C. As the 112th Congress continues, I hope you will stay updated on my activities by joining me at:

–          Web site http://roby.house.gov/

–          Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/Representative.Martha.Roby

–          Twitter page @ RepMarthaRoby

–          Flicker page at Martha Roby

–          Sign up for the Weekly Column http://roby.house.gov/contact-me/newsletter

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Retired U.S. Marines general endorses Doug Jones

Krulak, a Republican, served as the 31st commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps and as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Retired United States Marine Corps Gen. Charles Krulak has endorsed Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.

Retired United States Marine Corps Gen. Charles Krulak has endorsed Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, the incumbent senator’s campaign announced Tuesday. 

Krulak, a Republican, served as the 31st commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps and as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He’s also the former president of Birmingham-Southern College. 

“Although I am a life-long Republican, I’m urging you to vote for Doug Jones. His work on the Armed Services Committee supports our veterans and military families, and ensures that we have the best equipped military in the world,” Krulak said in a new ad from Jones’s campaign. “Senator Doug Jones’ strong record of getting things done for Alabama and our military has earned our vote.” 

Jones in 2018 filed an amendment to make U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports on VA-run nursing homes public, and in 2019, introduced legislation that eliminated the Military Widow’s Tax, which impacted an estimated 2,000 surviving military spouses in Alabama alone.

In September, Jones introduced a bipartisan bill to address veteran suicide.

Krulak commanded a platoon and two rifle companies during his two tours of duty in Vietnam, according to his U.S. Marine Corps University biography. He was assigned duty as the deputy director of the White House Military Office in September 1987.

Krulak was promoted to General on June 29, 1995, and became the 31st commandant of the Marine Corps on July 1, 1995. He retired from the Marine Corps in June 1999.

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Crime

Alabama inmate dies after inmate-on-inmate assault

Edwin Wells, 29, died on Oct. 10 from injuries during an apparent inmate-on-inmate assault at the Easterling Correctional Facility, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed on Tuesday. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A Prattville man became at least the 19th Alabama inmate to have died this year in a state prison of circumstances that were avoidable. 

Edwin Wells, 29, died on Oct. 10 from injuries during an apparent inmate-on-inmate assault at the Easterling Correctional Facility, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed on Tuesday. 

Wells death makes at least the 19th inmate to have died from either suicide, drug overdoses or homicide, according to records kept by the ACLU of Alabama’s Campaign for Smart Justice. His death is at least the seventh suspected homicide in state prisons this year. 

ADOC doesn’t typically publish information on an inmate death unless a reporter discovers the death through other means and requests the information, with the expectation of deaths of inmates who tested positive for COVID-19, which the department does regularly release. 

“The ADOC condemns all violence in its facilities, and the fatal actions taken against Wells by another inmate are being thoroughly investigated,” said ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Rose in a message to APR. “Wells’s exact cause of death is pending a full autopsy, and more information will be available upon the conclusion of the investigation into his death.”

A U.S. Department of Justice report in April 2019 found that Alabama’s overcrowded, understaffed prisons for men were likely in violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment and its prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, and that ADOC regularly failed to protect inmates from sexual and physical violence perpetrated by other inmates.

An expected followup report by the Department of Justice in July detailed why the federal government believes systemic use of excessive force within Alabama’s prisons for men violates the Eighth Amendment. 

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As of Tuesday, at least 29 state inmates and two prison workers have died after testing positive for COVID-19. There have been 453 confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates and 429 among prison staff as of Oct. 14, according to ADOC.

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Infrastructure

Alabama’s Black Belt lacks quality internet access, report finds

Twenty-two of 24 Black Belt counties are below the statewide average of 86 percent of the population who have access to high-speed internet, and two Black Belt Counties — Perry and Chocktaw — have no access at all. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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During an online video briefing Monday on a report about a lack of internet access in Alabama’s Black Belt, University of Alabama student Brad Glover warned reporters that he could get kicked off the briefing at any moment. 

That’s because he was talking during the video briefing by way of audio only, using his cell phone, as he does not have access to high-speed internet access at his Linden, Alabama, home in the Black Belt’s Marengo County. 

The COVID-19 pandemic that sent students home to study online left many in the Black Belt and other rural parts of Alabama in the lurch, without access to the high-speed internet enjoyed by so many other Americans, according to the latest report in the University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center’s Black Belt 2020 series. 

The latest report, titled “Internet Access Disparities in Alabama & the Black Belt,” found that 22 of 24 Black Belt counties, as defined by the Education Policy Center, are below the statewide average of 86 percent of the population who have access to high-speed internet, and two Black Belt Counties — Perry and Chocktaw — have no access at all. 

“It is still a terrible struggle for me to connect to get the things done that are required,” said Glover, who interned with the Education Policy Center. 

Stephen Katsinas, director of the Education Policy Center, said that in the 1930s, nine of ten rural homes lacked the electric service that urban American homes, by that point, had for 40 years. 

“The Rural Electrification Act was passed to address this abject market failure,” Katsinas said. “Today, as the COVID pandemic has shown, access to high-speed internet is as essential to rural Alabama as the REA was in the 1930s. Alabama must directly address the market failures that exist today to bring high-speech internet to every rural Alabamian, so that our rural workforce can access the lifelong learning skills they need, and our rural businesses can compete globally.” 

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The COVID-19 pandemic has also spotlighted the need to expand the growing area of telemedicine. 

Dr. Eric Wallace, medical director of Telehealth at UAB, told reporters during the briefing Monday that patients are largely doing telehealth from their homes, and explained that disparities in access to high-speed internet present a problem for them. 

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, UAB has done approximately 230,000 telehealth visits, and 60 percent of those were done by video,” Wallace said. 

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“Forty percent are audio only, and why is audio only? It’s because we do not have broadband,” Wallace said. “So it’s not just broadband. It’s broadband. It’s tech literacy. Socioeconomics, to have a device in your home. It’s all of that.”

Wallace said that the coronavirus crisis has made clear that telemedicine is a “100 percent necessity” and that patient satisfaction studies make clear it’s not going anywhere. 

The reasons for disparities in access to high-speed internet are myriad, explained Noel Keeney, one of the authors of the report and a graduate research assistant at the Education Policy Center. 

Keeney noted a study by BroadbandNow that estimates there are 154 internet providers in Alabama, but there are 226,000 Alabamians living in counties without a single provider, and 632,000 in counties with just a single provider. 

Even for those with access to internet providers, Keeney said that just approximately 44.4 percent of Alabamians have internet access at a cost of $60 monthly or below. 

“If we really care about our rural areas, we need to make an investment, and it needs to cut off that cost at a very low rate,” Wallace said. 

Katsnias said there’s a growing consensus on the part of Alabama’s political leaders that access to high-speed internet is an important issue, noting that Gov. Kay Ivey in March 2018, signed into law the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act, which has given internet access to nearly 100,000 Alabama students. 

“In March, Gov. Ivey awarded $9.5 million in broadband expansion grants, with a significant amount going to Black Belt communities,” the report reads. “This was followed by $5.1 million in additional grants in May.” 

“The State of Alabama also allocated $100 million in federal CARES Act-related dollars for “equipment and service for broadband, wireless hot spots, satellite, fixed wireless, DSL, and cellular-on-wheels to increase access for K-12 students undergoing distance learning,” the report continues. 

An additional $100 million in CARES Act funds were made available to facilitate virtual learning across Alabama’s K-12 schools, researchers wrote in the report, and another $72 million in federal aid went to the state’s colleges and universities. 

Katsinas said however those federal funds are spent, the state still needs a long term plan for how to address the disparities in access to high-speed internet. 

“We need a long term plan and we need to do what we can do immediately,” Katsinas said

Read more of the Education Policy Center’s reports in the “Black Belt 2020” series here.

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Economy

Governor announces auto supplier IAC plans Alabama expansion

IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday that International Automotive Components Group North America Inc. plans to invest over $55.9 million in expansion projects that will create 182 jobs at two Alabama facilities.

“International Automotive Components is a leading global auto supplier, and I am pleased that this world-class company is growing significantly in Alabama and creating good jobs in Cottondale and Anniston,” Ivey said. “IAC’s growth plans show that Alabama’s dynamic auto industry continues to expand despite today’s challenging environment.”

Nick Skwiat is the executive vice president and president of IAC North America.

“Alabama was the logical choice due to its skilled workforce and proximity to the customer,” Skwiat said. “We are excited to see the continued growth of the automotive industry in Alabama and we plan to grow right along with it. We thank the Governor and Secretary Canfield for their leadership in this sector.”

IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County. This facility will produce door panels and overhead systems for original equipment manufacturers. That project will create 119 jobs at the production site in Cottondale.

IAC also plans to invest $21.6 million at its manufacturing facility located in the former Fort McClellan in Anniston. That East Alabama project will create another 63 jobs.

This project builds on a milestone 2014 expansion that doubled the size of the Calhoun County facility. There IAC manufactures automotive interior components and systems. Key components produced at the Anniston plant include door panels, trim systems and instrument panels for original equipment manufacturers.

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IAC Group is a leading global supplier of innovative and sustainable instrument panels, consoles, door panels, overhead systems, bumper fascias and exterior ornamentation for original equipment manufacturers.

IAC is headquartered in Luxembourg and has more than 18,000 employees at 67 locations in 17 countries. The company operates manufacturing facilities in eight U.S. states.

“With operations around the globe, IAC is the kind of high-performance company that we want in Alabama’s auto supply chain to help fuel sustainable growth,” said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield. “We look forward to working with IAC and facilitating its future growth in this strategic industrial sector.”

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Danielle Winningham is the executive director of the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority.

“International Automotive Components is a valued part of Tuscaloosa County’s automotive sector,” Winningham said. “We are grateful for IAC’s investment in our community and the career opportunities available to our area workforce as a result of their investment.”

“The City of Anniston is excited that IAC has made the decision to expand here. I have enjoyed working with the leadership at IAC, the Calhoun County EDC, and the state of Alabama to get this project finalized,” said Anniston Mayor Jack Draper. “This is even further evidence that Anniston is indeed open for business.”

Only Michigan has more automobile manufacturing jobs than the state of Alabama. Honda, Mercedes, Hyundai, Polaris, Toyota and soon Mazda all have major automobile assembly plants in the state of Alabama.

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