Connect with us

News

Governor Bentley Details Pension Reform Proposals

Governor Robert Bentley

Published

on

From the Office of Governor Robert Bentley

MONTGOMERY – Governor Robert Bentley on Wednesday detailed pension reform legislation that will ensure the viability of the state’s retirement system while also saving taxpayers more than five billion dollars over the next 30 years.

“The economic realities of recent years have made it clear that steps need to be taken now to ensure the long-term solvency of Alabama’s retirement system,” Governor Bentley said.  “The measures we are proposing will protect the retirements of hard-working Alabamians who are depending on the system.”

“I want to make it clear, these changes would only affect new hires who begin their employment in the year 2013 or later,” Governor Bentley added.  “Under these proposals, current employees and retirees will not see any changes in their benefit structure.”

At a news conference in Montgomery, Governor Bentley was joined by House Speaker Mike Hubbard, Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, Retirement Systems of Alabama Chief Executive Officer Dr. David Bronner, and bill sponsors Senator Arthur Orr and Representative Mac McCutcheon.

“I commend Governor Bentley for his foresight in crafting these reasonable changes to Alabama’s public pension benefits,” Dr. Bronner said.  “By proposing these modest changes to the system and applying them only to new hires, Governor Bentley’s legislation will help secure the financial viability of the retirement system and, most importantly, uphold the promises made to one of Alabama’s most valuable assets: our public employees and teachers.”

Proposed changes include:

  • A minimum retirement age of 62 for most state employees.

Currently, anyone may retire once vested (10 years of service) at age 60 or with 25 years of service at any age.  The reform proposals set a minimum retirement age of 62.

Advertisement

 

  • Law Enforcement – Minimum retirement age of 56.
  • Adjust pension payments from an average of the highest-paid 3 years out of the last 10 years of service to an average of the highest 5 years.
  • In exchange for the restructuring of benefits, new hires would see their employee contribution rate changed from 7.5% to 6.0%.  This will increase their take-home pay.
  • Total estimated savings over 30 years: $5.03 Billion
  • Average annual savings over 30 years: $162 Million

 

The proposed changes will bring the state’s retirement system more in line with the private sector.  Many other states across the country have adopted similar measures.  The changes honor Alabama’s commitments to current employees while still providing a solid retirement for future employees as well.

“A pension isn’t just a number on a piece of paper.  It’s a person’s livelihood – what families count on as they plan for the future,” House Speaker Mike Hubbard said.  “We have an obligation to make sure the state delivers on the promises it has made in terms of retirement benefits. That’s why we are working together to put forward a reasonable plan that will shore up the system going forward and protect the retirement savings of so many beneficiaries.”

“It has become increasingly clear that ignoring pension reform is no longer an option for the sake of Alabama teachers and state employees,” added Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh.  “This is not a partisan issue, nor is it unique to the state of Alabama. Since 2007, nearly every state in the nation has been forced to deal with the financial burdens public pension funds are placing on state budgets. Governor Bentley, Dr. Bronner and members of the House and Senate have shown great leadership in working together on a solution that will make sure the state keeps its promise to our hard-working teachers and state employees.”

Senator Arthur Orr is the Senate sponsor of the legislation to be introduced.

“We made a long-term commitment to our hard-working teachers and state employees through their participation in state retirement programs, and it is our responsibility to ensure this promise is kept,” Senator Orr said.  “By enacting these common-sense reforms, we are ensuring the long-term solvency of our retirement system and that taxpayer resources are spent responsibly.  I especially want to thank Dr. Bronner for his commitment to the long-term solvency of the retirement programs and Governor Bentley for his leadership in making sure this problem is solved in a sensible way.”

Representatives Mac McCutcheon and Jamie Ison are House sponsors of the legislation.

“Like most states, Alabama is taking necessary steps to change the way retirement benefits are calculated for new hires,” Representative Ison said. “While some might try to play politics and demagogue this issue, I expect this plan to be well-received in the House.  Everyone understands that we have to get our fiscal house in order, and pension reform is a big step in that direction.”

“Public employees deserve to have peace of mind, knowing that they can take the promises we’ve made them to the bank,” Representative McCutcheon said.  “I appreciate the Governor and Dr. Bronner working with the House and Senate to come up with a plan that ensures we’ll have the resources to fund needed retirement benefits in the future.”

Advertisement

Health

ADPH investigating cases in Chambers as county emerges as state’s worst hotspot

Chip Brownlee

Published

on

The Alabama Department of Public Health is investigating and performing contact-tracing in Chambers County as the number of COVID-19 cases in the county made another jump Thursday.

The number of positive confirmed cases in the county has nearly doubled in the past two days, rising from 36 on March 31 to 66 on April 2. The county has the highest number of cases per capita of any county in the state.

As of Thursday afternoon, the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Chambers County per 100,000 people rose to 198 — more than three times the number in Jefferson County, the area of the state with the most total cases at 318.

The number of cases per 100,000 people in Jefferson County — the most populous of the state’s 67 counties — sits at 48.

Dr. Karen Landers, the assistant state health officer at the Alabama Department of Public Health, said Thursday that the department is still investigating what might have contributed to such a high number of infections.

“We’re looking at that data,” Landers said. “At the moment, we do not have an indication specifically that we can discuss in terms of absolute linkage, but we are looking very closely at that data. And certainly, contact tracing is part of our review to see how those cases might be related.”

The high number of cases in East Alabama could be attributable to a higher rate of testing. East Alabama Medical Center has submitted about 1,325 tests to the state’s lab as of Wednesday, a hospital spokesperson said. It’s unclear how many tests have been performed in the state because not all commercial labs are reporting their negative tests.

“We followed up with our Health Alert Network asking that all information be input to this,” Landers said. “We know that some commercial labs report to us and some don’t.

Advertisement

Asked whether the state should require commercial labs to report their negative results, Landers said, “This would be a decision for our state health officer to consider.”

Neighboring Lee County has the second-highest number of cases per 100,000 people at 55. There are 91 total cases in Lee County.

Epidemiologists at ADPH are contact-tracing all positive cases in the state. But Chambers County appears to be a particular area of concern.

The rising number of cases in East Alabama is putting increasing strain on East Alabama Medical Center, where 30 patients were hospitalized as of Wednesday and an additional dozen are hospitalized with a suspected case of the virus.

Continue Reading

Health

Alabama hospitals facing “dire” equipment shortages

Chip Brownlee

Published

on

Every morning the team at UAB Hospital gets a report on the number of patients who come into the hospital infected with COVID-19 and their status. Then the doctors and other health care professions on the team receive an update on the number of days they have left before their supply of personal protective equipment runs out.

“The situation is dire,” said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, the director of the division of infectious diseases at UAB, during a virtual town hall with Sen. Doug Jones Thursday. “It is not just masks. It’s gloves. It’s hand sanitizer. It’s gowns.”

In some of the PPE categories, the number of days left before supplies run out is in the single digits. The hospitals may get new shipments of supplies, but if the situation deteriorates, the shortages might worsen.

“I don’t want to underplay the real threat that we — just like New York City and other hospitals — could be running dangerously short on those things soon. I think it is of the utmost importance that people understand how important that situation is,” Marrazzo said.

Marrazzo also serves on Gov. Kay Ivey’s COVID-19 task force. She said businesses across the state are enlisting to take up the challenge, but the threat that Alabama’s hospitals could run out before supplies can be refilled is real.

“This is not a hypothetical scenario,” Marrazzo said. “This is real. And these are the people who are working to take care of you and your family in our communities every single day, who are being asked to be concerned, and sometimes even make decisions about who gets to use the various degrees of PPE.”

Hospitals across the state — including East Alabama Medical Center in hard-hit Lee County — have been asking for donations of masks, gowns, gloves, hand sanitizer, bleach wipes and other necessities as a nationwide shortage of these essential medical supplies continues.

The Alabama Department of Health is not currently releasing the number of patients hospitalized in the state, but an analysis by APR yesterday showed that more than 120 COVID-19 positive patients are hospitalized in ten of the state’s largest hospitals.

Advertisement

The number statewide is surely higher.

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo

At UAB alone, there are 58 patients hospitalized — about a third of them on ventilators or ICU care, Marrazzo said. At EAMC, as of Wednesday, there were 30 positive COVID-19 patients and a dozen more suspected of having the virus. Hospitals as small as the Lake Martin Community Hospital in Dadeville are treating COVID-positive patients.

“What we’re seeing is very similar to what other hospital systems are seeing,” Marrazzo said. “We are in good shape right now, and people are working tirelessly … to make sure we have the surge capacity to figure out if we do exceed the number of beds, how we deal with that.”

The number of inpatients in the state’s hospitals is currently manageable, officials have said, after elective procedures and other non-essential medical procedures were canceled to free up beds, but hospitals are still facing a national supply shortage, and the number of patients could begin spiking soon.

Estimates from the University of Washington project that Alabama has little more than two weeks to prepare for the peak of hospitalizations.

“Alabama is critically unprepared and under-resourced to weather the storm that we’re in the midst of, and it could get worse,” said Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat from Alabama. “States are competing against one another and against FEMA for life-saving equipment. That doesn’t need to be this way. We should have done better. We can do better.”

Alabama is still waiting on 20,000 units of testing supplies and kits, Jones said. Alabama has also asked for one million N95 protective masks and 2 million surgical masks, but FEMA has said that Alabama will only receive 152,000 of the N95 masks and 362,000 of the surgical masks it has requested.

The national stockpile is “woefully inadequate,” Jones said, adding that it was disturbing that more than 5,500 masks already received from the national stockpile were rotted and expired in 2010, according to a report from the Montgomery Advertiser.

The state has requested 200 ventilators, though estimates suggest the state may need more than a thousand ventilators if the outbreak worsens. Jones said the state is going to make additional requests, but there are only 10,000 ventilators in the national stockpile and in the U.S. Department of Defense surplus. Every other state in the country is also requesting these supplies.

“I hope that they will put Alabama at the top of the list so that we can get ahead of what we know we’re going to need,” Jones said. “We need to have more.”

A lack of testing supplies in Alabama has made grasping the scale of the outbreak difficult. In Mobile, officials have had difficulty getting needed supplies to test in the region nearest to a deadly and growing outbreak in Louisiana. In Huntsville, officials had to close a drive up testing site because they were not able to get supplies.

The CEO of Huntsville Hospital called the nationwide lack of testing materials a “travesty” earlier this week.

Thousands of units of testing materials and kits are coming, Jones said, “but we need millions,” he said. “There’s an alarming lack of tests in underserved and African-American communities. There’s not enough information about when and how these communities are going to get tested.”

Jones did not place blame on the Alabama Department of Public Health but said the problem is national — and international — in scope.

“It is not because the state is not working hard. They’re working 24 hours a day and they’re trying,” Jones said. “It’s just that the tests have not been available.”

The senator also called on President Donald Trump to issue further orders under the Defense Production Act to compel companies to produce needed medical supplies.

“It is unfortunate when you’re pitting one state against the other, one hospital within a state against the other, and one country against the other,” Jones said. “So, we haven’t had that coordination out of the administration. I’m hoping that’s going to change as the Defense Production Act comes up with ventilators. I’m hoping that we will see that more with production of masks [and other PPE].”

But Jones did call on Gov. Kay Ivey to implement a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order. He said the state should take aggressive measures to limit the spread of the virus before the situation worsens. Marrazzo echoed that call.

Continue Reading

Governor

Gov. Ivey OKs release of some parole violators in jails

Chip Brownlee

Published

on

Gov. Kay Ivey is allowing the release of some alleged probation and parole violators in the custody of jails across the state. She’s also issued a number of new directives to free up health care resources.

The measures are intended to slow the transmission of COVID-19 and prepare for a rise in hospitalizations.

In a new executive order, Ivey is allowing sheriffs and local officials across the state to release some inmates being held in jails on alleged probation or parole violations if those inmates have been in jail custody for more than 20 days without a parole or probation hearing.

Violators who are being held on new criminal charges or other criminal charges aren’t eligible for release, according to the order, which mainly applies to those in custody on technical violations.

If a hearing is not held within 20 days, the sheriff shall release the violator unless they are being held on other criminal charges.

“Because the conditions of jails inherently heighten the possibility of COVID-19 transmission, I find that it would promote the safety and protection of the civilian population to allow local officials to reduce the number of local inmates being held in county jails in a way that does not jeopardize public safety,” Ivey wrote in her order.

The order does not apply to inmates in state prisons.

You can read Ivey’s full order here.

Advertisement

In the same modified executive order, Ivey ordered state agencies to allow for an expanded scope of practice for health care workers like nurses, nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists. Experts fear there may not be enough health care practitioners to care for the number of patients that may require hospitalization and inpatient care.

This part of the order, intended to reduce strain on medical workers caring for COVID-19 patients, will relax but not completely eliminate the degree of supervision required for these non-M.D. health care professionals to care for patients.

As the number of COVID-19 cases in the state rises and hospitals begin to feel the strain of the outbreak, Ivey also directed state agencies to provide temporary waivers so hospitals and nursing homes can free up bed space and open new facilities if needed.

Additional new directives in Ivey’s supplemental order:

  • Allows expedited process for out-of-state pharmacists, nurses, and doctors to obtain temporary licenses to practice in Alabama
  • Expedited reinstatement of medical licenses, allowing retired doctors, and others who left the profession in good standing to return to practice
  • Pharmacy Board can expedite procedures to establish temporary pharmacies.
  • Notary publics can notarize documents remotely.
  • Government agencies can postpone unnecessary meetings or meet remotely.
  • Corporate shareholder meetings can be conducted remotely.
Continue Reading

News

Alabama Dept. of Corrections has tested 17 inmates for COVID-19

Chip Brownlee

Published

on

The Alabama Department of Corrections has tested 17 inmates in nine of the state’s prisons for the novel coronavirus. All tests so far have been negative.

Five more inmates have been tested, but their results are pending.

ADOC began publishing test data on its website Thursday. It says it will update the information twice a week.

“The Alabama Department of Corrections remains committed to maintaining transparency – without compromising security –throughout the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak, and has been working to aggregate relevant data to keep the public informed about the health and well-being of those who live and work in our facilities,” the department says.

The first batch of testing data released from the department comes as a number of advocacy groups, families, former law enforcement officials and activists have called on the state to take extraordinary steps to protect vulnerable inmates in the state’s prisons.

They say that overcrowding in the prisons makes them particularly susceptible to an outbreak of the virus.

 

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Authors

Advertisement

The V Podcast

Facebook

Trending

.