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Bill’s compete to limit “Meth” ingredient access

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt

Alabama Political Report

Two competing bills have recently passed out of House Committees regarding pseudoephedrine the active ingredient in the manufacture of “Meth.”

The bills are HB363 sponsored by Rep. Blaine Galliher (R-Gadsden) and HB88 by Mike Millican (R-Hamilton).

Both bills are designed to limit addicts and illegal drug manufacturers access to the chemical compounds that are required to make the powerful narcotic methamphetamine.

Millican’s bill would make these chemical obtainable only by a doctors’ prescription. The problem for some critics and consumers is that these are the active ingredients in the world’s most popular cold and allergy medicine such as Sudafed, Allegra D, TheraFlu, Zyrtec-D and Claritin-D.

Galliher’s bill would severely restrict the sale of these products but stop short of making them prescription-only medicines.

In the coming days, Senator Bill Holtzclaw (R- Madison) will introduce SB344 which is a companion to Galliher’s bill and Senator Paul Bussman (R-Cullman) will sponsor the companion to Millican’s HB88.

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“In the off season we had two senators come out with competing bills that were the same bills but competing relating to pseudoephedrine. One was by Senator Bussman and one was by Senator Bedford,” said Senator Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison). He said that after looking at the bills he was concerned about overburdening “doctors’ offices with people having to go to a doctor and pay a co-pay to get a prescription to go get a drug that you can get right now.”

During this time he said he learned of Galliher’s bill and contacted him immediately for a meeting.

“This is a very controversial subject,” said the Chair of the Senate Judicial Committee Cam Ward, (R-Alabaster). “A few years ago Alabama changed its laws to make it tougher to obtain pseudoephedrine. Since that time there has been a push to make the law go even further.”

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There has also been some disagreement within law enforcement as to which bill should become law.

Galliher says he has been a long-supporter of law enforcement and acknowledges that there are those in the field that have advocated for the prescription-only bill.

“Another important piece to it that sometimes I think is overlooked, Galliher and I are working on a part that expands into the drug paraphernalia aspect that law enforcement doesn’t currently have any kind of leeway into,” said Holtzclaw. “What is important to me is that expands beyond that to the law enforcement realm that says if law enforcement makes a bust and while they are there they recognize that there are Drano bottles over here, 9 volt batteries over there and ammonia over there this guy is getting ready to cook meth he is just waiting on the ingredient.” Law enforcement can make the arrest based upon this paraphernalia.

“I want to give law enforcement every tool we can to help them fight illegal use but also allow the consumer the opportunity to purchase this medicine without having to have a prescription to receive their sinus and cold medicine,” said Galliher.

“I have been told that in the most recent meth lab busts, 80 percent of the pseudoephedrine confiscated is not pseudoephedrine used for something else. It is coming in from Mexico. It is a off brand name that is coming in from the South,” said Holtzclaw.

The Commander of the Etowah County Drug Task Force, Rob Savage, says he believes this bill gives law enforcement many of the tools they have been needing to fight this heinous crime adding, “I believe this is a commonsense approach, that also strengthens our ability to fight this crime.”

Millican’s bill is a result of the reported success of a similar bill passed in Mississippi. in which the state has seen a 70 percent drop in Meth labs.

The facts have be born out that the western parts of Alabama have seen significant sales and crime relayed to meth-making ingredients and meth manufacturing.

Meth is a drug easily produced once the ingredients are gathered. It can be manufactured in barns, garages, back rooms of businesses, apartments, hotel and motel rooms, storage facilities, vacant buildings and even vehicles.

Savage, says he believes the Galliher and Holtzclaw bills will give law enforcement many of the tools they have been needing to fight this heinous crime adding, “I believe this is a commonsense approach, that also strengthens our ability to fight this crime.”

Galliher says he wants to make it difficult for abuser to get the ingredients for making meth but find a balance that does not raise the cost and inconvenience lawful users of allergy and cold medicines.

Recently the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) said in a written statement, “The proposed legislation (HB88) would require individuals to obtain a prescription for products containing common cold and allergy remedies such as pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, and phenylpropamine, in an effort to combat the manufacturing of methamphetamine. While the BCA recognizes the critical need to eliminate meth labs in Alabama, requiring all employees to take time off work to visit their physician to obtain a prescription for common cold and allergy medications would result in increased employee healthcare costs and reduced worker productivity.”

Many business groups have leveled complaints against the prescription-only law and have encouraged lawmaker to find a middle way.

“A lot of people do not want to have to get a prescription to purchase these most basic, cold and allergy medicines,” said Ward. “What I think we are seeing with what is being called the Holtzclaw compromise is something that retailers and small businesses as well as law enforcement feel comfortable with.”

“I believe this abuse of pseudoephedrine is a terrible thing, it is horrible and destroys lives,” said Galliher, this is why this bill gives law enforcement new abilities to pursue those who abuse the drug in a new and aggressive manner.” Savage says that he agrees with Galliher’s assessment and is thankful that those on the frontline of the drug wars will be better equipped under the proposed law.

Galliher said, “The fact is 95 percent of the people who purchase products made with pseudoephedrine are using it for legal reasons.”

Alabama is currently using a real-time, stop-sale technology called the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) to block the illegal sale of pseudoephedrine while still allowing retail sales to legitimate customers. It has been reported that in one year since implementation, NPLEx potentially kept more than $30 million of meth off the streets. Under the new law NPLEx use will be straightened and pseudoephedrine will only be able to be purchased at pharmacies and sold under the supervision of pharmacist.

The solution will come out of the Senate after the two competing bill have had their hearing.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Doug Jones applauds signing of veterans mental health and suicide prevention bill

The legislation is aimed at bolstering the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs mental health workforce to serve veterans. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

President Donald Trump over the weekend signed into law legislation cosponsored by Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, that aims to bolster mental healthcare for veterans and address veteran suicides. 

“Too many veterans – in Alabama and across the country – lack access to affordable, compassionate and effective mental health care. Through increased access to local and innovative treatment options, this new law will help veterans get the life-saving mental health services they may need,” Jones, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Wednesday.

U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and Sen. John Tester, D-Montana, introduced the landmark Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which would bolster the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs mental health workforce to serve veterans. 

The law also increases telehealth access for rural veterans, implements a pilot program to give veterans access to complementary care and establishes a grant program requiring the VA to better partner with agencies helping veterans to identify earlier those who are at risk of suicide. 

The law also strengthens how the VA will be held accountable for addressing veteran suicide, and it will allow the studying of the impact of living in high altitudes on veteran suicide risks and diagnostic biomarker research to identify depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and other conditions.

More than 20 veterans die by suicide every day, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates, and of those, 14 have received no treatment or care from VA. 

“The social isolation and increased anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated many of the issues our veterans face,” the senators wrote in a letter to Senate leadership before it was approved and signed into law by the president. “Our nation’s veterans and their families are waiting on Congress to take action to deliver these desperately needed resources. We must act now to provide this vital assistance to Americans who have sacrificed so much for our country and who deserve the best our nation has to offer. As such, we are seeking immediate passage of S. 785 when the U.S. House of Representatives reconvenes in September.”

The law is named in honor of
Commander John Scott Hannon, a member of the Navy SEALs who served in the U.S. Navy for 23 years. Hannon was helping other veterans even while he was receiving mental health treatment himself. He died by suicide on Feb. 25, 2018.

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Veterans can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, and then press 1, or text to 838255. 

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Congressional candidate James Averhart endorsed by list of U.S. dignitaries, retired military leaders

The 1st Congressional District Democratic candidate has been endorsed by a list of retired U.S. dignitaries and retired military leaders, his campaign said Wednesday. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Congressional candidate James Averhart

James Averhart, the Democratic candidate in Alabama’s 1st Congressional District and a retired U.S. Marine, has been endorsed by a list of retired U.S. dignitaries and retired military leaders, his campaign said Wednesday.

“James Averhart is an integral leader — a man of principles and a patriot. He is the best choice to represent District One on The Hill,” said Ambassador Theodore Britton, a World War II Veteran who was nominated by President Gerald Ford to serve as U.S. ambassador to the island nations of Barbados and Grenada.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. General Walter E. Gaskin, who served as commanding general of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, said Averhart is experienced in matters of government and policy and understands the lay of the land in Washington D.C.

“He will be ready to hit the ground running to get things done for the district, and moreover, be that bridge to unite the parties in Congress as well as the nation,” Gaskin said in a statement.

“James Averhart is a strong dynamic leader who will get the job done. He is meticulous and a consummate professional that will advocate and work for all citizens of our district and Alabama,” said Ambassador J. Gary Cooper, a retired Marine Corps major general who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to serve as assistant secretary of the Air Force, Manpower and Reserve Affairs, and was nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve as U.S. ambassador to Jamaica.

“At a time when it seems that the Republican leadership is in lockstep with a president, who considers those in service to our great nation to be ‘suckers’ and ‘losers,’ is antithetical to what this country needs. We have over 30,000 citizens hospitalized and over 211,000 deaths due to coronavirus, which could have been prevented with sound, methodical leadership. We have been disappointed by this President and the Republican leadership standing with him. It is time for substantive change in our Nation’s Capital,” Averhart said.

“The American citizenry deserves and expects more of its leadership. We should no longer settle for those who continue to promulgate untruths and spew divisive rhetoric. We deserve leadership who will extol the truth and hold in high regard a united nation,” Averhart said.

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Avergart’s Republican opponent in the Nov. 3 election is Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl.

The following are a list of Averhart’s endorsements, according to his campaign:

Ambassador Theodore Britton

  • Nominated by President Gerald Ford to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the island nations of Barbados and Grenada
  • Served as the U.S. Special Representative to West Indian island nations of Antigua, Dominica, St. Christopher, Nevis, Anguilla, St. Vincent, and St. Lucia
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Ambassador J. Gary Cooper 

  • Vietnam Veteran and Retired U.S. Marine Corps Major General
  • Nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica.
  • Nominated by President George H.W. Bush to serve as Asst Secretary of the Air Force, Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

Lieutenant General Ronald L. Bailey

  • First African American to command the 1st • U.S. Marine Division
  • Served as Deputy Commandant for Plans, Policies and Operations, U.S. Marine Corps.
  • Retired in 2017 following 41 years of service.

Lieutenant General Walter E. Gaskin

  • Served as Commanding General of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, NC Served as Commanding General, Marine Corps Recruiting Command, Quantico, Virginia
  • Served as Chief of Staff, Naval Striking and Support Forces-Southern Europe
  • Served as Deputy Commanding General, Fleet Marine Forces-Europe in Naples, Italy

Major General Cornell A. Wilson, Jr.

  • Served as Director, Reserve Affairs Division, Manpower and Reserve Affairs – Headquarters, U.S. MArine Corps, Quantico, Virginia.
  • Appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory, NC, to the position of Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs.

Lieutenant General Willie J. Williams

  • Served as Director of the Marine Corp Staff
  • Retired in 2013 after serving 39 years in the U.S. Marine Corp.

Brigadier General John R. Thomas

  • Served as Director for Command, Control, Communications and Computers, U.S. Marine Corps.
  • Served as Director and Chief Information Officer, U.S. Marine Corp.

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AARP’s COVID-19 dashboard shows Alabama nursing home lagging behind national averages

In each of five parameters Alabama fared worse than the national average.

Eddie Burkhalter

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A recently-released dashboard shows that Alabama’s nursing homes, residents and staff alike, are suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and there’s concern over what may happen in the coming days and weeks. 

“We know we’re moving into a very dangerous time right now, with flu season, and weather getting colder and people moving indoors,” said AARP Alabama spokeswoman Jamie Harding, speaking to APR on Monday. 

AARP partnered with the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University in Ohio in the creation of the dashboard, which in this first set uses data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to look at five parameters for the four-week period ended Sept. 20. 

In each of the five parameters — nursing home resident deaths per 100 residents, resident cases per 100 residents, staff cases per 100 residents, supply of personal protective equipment and staffing shortages — Alabama fared worse than the national average.

In the last month, there were 1.03 COVID-19 deaths among Alabama nursing home residents per 100 residents, tying with Mississippi as the second highest death rate in the nation, coming just behind South Carolina, which had the most, at 1.2 deaths per 100 residents, according to the AARP reports. 

As of Oct. 14, 45 percent of Alabama’s total COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic were among nursing home residents, totaling 1,088 resident deaths at the time, according to the dashboard. For the four weeks ending Sept. 20, nursing home residents made up 48 percent of the state’s deaths. 

Harding also noted that by the time CMS publishes the nursing home data “it’s about two to three weeks old” so the public isn’t getting up-to-date information on what’s happening in nursing homes, but she said at least the AARP’s dashboard will show trends in the data over time. 

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“We want the state, we want our leadership to take this data seriously, to see that we are not performing well on these five metrics, which are very critical metrics, and we want to know how this is going to be addressed,” Harding said. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health has declined to release county-level or facility-level details on coronavirus in long-term care facilities and nursing homes, citing privacy concerns. 

“So that’s the problem, and Alabama has stubbornly refused to release daily reports, and remains one of just a handful of states still refusing to release the daily report, and we really have no good answer,” Harding said. 

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Harding also discussed a COVID-19 outbreak at the Attalla Health and Rehab, first reported by AL.com, in which the facility had to be evacuated due to a huge spike in cases there, peaking on July 10. Some residents were taken to a local hospital, while others were taken to Gadsden Health and Rehab and Trussville Health and Rehab, sparking an outbreak of COVID-19 at Trussville Health and Rehab. 

AL.com’s reporting noted that while at least 10 states have special strike teams ready to send staff and supplies to nursing homes experiencing an outbreak, Alabama does not. 

The new outlet quoted Dr. Karen Landers, assistant state health officer with the Alabama Department of Public Health as saying that the department doesn’t have the staffing to form such teams. 

“That is an indication that this was a problem they were never prepared for, and they should have been,” Harding said.  “They are the Department of Public Health. This is their work. This is their job.” 

Harding also said that as of at least the end of September, the Alabama Nursing Home Association hadn’t yet begun spending the $50 million in CARES Act funds, which Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Aug. 7 would be made available to reimburse state nursing homes via the hospital association’s Education Foundation for the cost of fighting against COVID-19. 

John Matson, ANHA’s spokesman, told ABC 33/40 reported on Sept. 28 that the funds were in a holding account and the first claims should be paid in early October. Matson said an accounting firm had been hired  to help handle the administration of the funds. 

Harding expressed concern that the federal aid wasn’t being spent to help protect state nursing homes quickly enough, and said that the Attalla nursing home outbreak was made worse by a staffing shortage as workers either became sick themselves or quit to protect themselves and their loved ones. Alabama nursing homes weren’t overstaffed before the pandemic, she said. 

“We would like to see some of that $50 million dollars spent to address staffing emergencies,” Harding said. 

Matson, in a response to APR on Monday, said that since mid-March, Alabama’s nursing homes have been in the center of a fight to defend the most vulnerable citizens of our state from the most insidious and infectious virus attack in the last century. 

“Every resource has been pushed to the extreme,” Matson said. “While critics have the luxury of creating dashboards generated from government databases, the caregivers of Alabama’s nursing homes have relentlessly fought day-by-day, risking their own health, to care for the residents who depend on us. Our people are heroes and our nursing homes have met an unprecedented challenge.” 

Matson said every dollar of the $50 million spent must be justified by documentation, every claim is to be audited by an independent auditing firm before reimbursements are approved and ANHA filed regular reports to the Alabama Department of Finance which are publicly viewable. 

ANHA’s report for September, filed Oct. 15, states that many facilities were just then become eligible to apply for some of those $50 million due to requirements that the facilities deduct from amounts claimed any other coronavirus aid the facility may have received from other sources, such as the “Medicaid COVID add-on of $20 per day per Medicaid patient, DHHS Provider Relief Funds; and SBA payroll Protection payment loans attributable to payroll, if any.” 

“Therefore, due to the application of these mitigants, many facilities are just now becoming eligible to apply for and receive funds,” the report reads. 

The September report also states that to guard against funds not being available “in the event of a second or later COVID-19 wave, the Foundation is holding back 25% of approved claims.” 

The report also says that 12 facilities as of Sept. 30 were approved for $6.5 million in claims, with $1.6 to be held back for possible future COVID-19 waves. As of Oct. 13, there were $10.4 million in pending claims filed by 65 facilities, according to the report, and there were $16.9 million on total claims paid or pending.

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Birmingham refinances $179 million in debt

“When I became mayor in November 2017, it became apparent the city was not on sound financial footing,” said Mayor Randall Woodfin.

John H. Glenn

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Birmingham's skyline (STOCK PHOTO)

Birmingham has refinanced $179 million in general obligation debt, securing the lowest interest cost for the city in decades and accruing $44 million in present value savings from bond refunding. *Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Birmingham filed one of the largest municipal bankruptcies in U.S. history. Birmingham has never filed for bankruptcy. However, Jefferson County was involved in one of the largest municipal bankruptcies in U.S. history. The headline also said Birmingham paid off the debt. It has refinanced the debt.

“When I became mayor in November 2017, it became apparent the city was not on sound financial footing,” said Mayor Randall Woodfin. “A key reason was the city was not paying into its pension at the level that was needed. Today, we have dramatically increased our payment to the pension. I want to thank the council for their support in this effort. We have reduced the cost of borrowing money and have strengthened our financial position.”

Bond refunding reduces the payments for debt service in the general fund by upward of $5 million per year for the next five years, allowing $13 million in real cash savings for commercial development use in the future.

Stifel served as senior bookrunning manager for the issue and led the structuring of the financing, as well as the sales and underwriting.

Based on number of issues sold, Stifel is the leading underwriter in the country and has a major presence in the State of Alabama.

Birmingham has now nearly doubled its contribution to its pension fund since the 2017 fiscal year.

The city’s commitment to increasing its pension funds, coupled with a focus on maintaining services and infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic has generated confidence in the city’s finances among rating agencies.

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Four credit rating agencies — S&P, Moody’s, Fitch and KBRA — reaffirmed the city’s current ratings. A downgrade could have cost the city millions of dollars during the recent bond refunding and created bigger challenges for the operating budget.

Birmingham’s Porter White & Company and Atlanta’s Terminus Municipal Advisors LLC served as municipal advisors for the city during the refunding phase.

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