By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Senator J.T. “Jabo” Waggoner is a Birmingham native who is the current Majority Leader of the Senate. He is also Chairman of the Senate Rules, Confirmations and Local Legislation No. 2 Committees.
We spoke with Senator J.T “Jabo” Waggoner about his experience as a legislator and hopes for this legislative session.
APR: I wanted to talk to you about your experience as a senator in the state of Legislature, would you share with me some of the milestones you have been a part of here. For instance, when they are talking about the texting bill and you say, “I was here for seat belt laws. I was here for child restraints. I understand this, I know what I am talking about here.”
What are some of your proud moments of legislation that you have been involved in over the years? And now as the senior senator, your thoughts on that.
WAGGONER: I was first elected in 1966, when I was 29 years old. I stayed in the House for 17 years up until, I guess, ’83-’84.
The makeup of the legislature back in 1967 was all male, all white and all Democrat. I have seen a total transition from the way it was in those days to the way it is in 2012. We have a membership in the House and Senate that is really indicative of the population of Alabama. We have African-Americans, we have females, we have males, we have Republicans, we have Democrats, and that is the makeup of Alabama.
I have been in the Senate since 1990, 22 years, and I have always been in the minority until 2010. When I first got elected, there were very few Republicans in the Senate in the early 90s but through the years our membership has grown and grown and we are now what is called a “Super Majority,” (when I say ‘we’ I am talking about the Republicans).
My colleagues in 2011 elected me as Majority Leader of the Alabama Senate. I have had honors and plaques and very nice things done for me through the years but I think that day in January of 2011, when my 21 Republican colleagues elected me as majority leader was my finest moment during my political career.
I was also named Chairman of the Confirmation Committee and I am Chairman of the Jefferson County Senate Delegation. Last year, in addition to those assignments, I am now Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee. That committee sets the agenda for every legislative day. It is a very important role. My responsibilities have just about doubled since I’ve been Chairman of the Rules Committee but it goes with the territory.
I have passed hundreds of bills during my career. I have sponsored many, many bills. I’ve co-sponsored a lot of bills.
The one that is my pet bill this year is to make illegal texting while driving. I was in the legislature when we passed the seat belt law and, of course, there was a lot of opposition. There were people saying, “Government should not be telling us that we have to wear a seat belt.” Well, it took several years to convince a majority of the Legislature that it is all about saving lives. So, finally the seat belt law passed and there is no telling, through the years, how many lives that bill has saved.
Then a few years later, we passed a bill that required infants and children up to a certain age to be put in what is called ‘a child restraint mechanism.’ It is a car seat, is what it is. And, of course, we heard the same arguments as we did on the seat belt law that government should tell me I have to put my child in one of these car seats. Well, we finally passed that.
Well, here comes texting. Law enforcement personnel will tell you that it is very, very dangerous that while driving you are taking your eyes off of the road and you are texting a message to a friend or someone in your family. It has been introduced [to the Legislature] two or three years. It passes the House and gets tied up in the Senate and has failed to pass. We are hearing the same arguments. That it is “racial profiling” and “government shouldn’t be telling me that I can’t be texting while I drive if I want to. That is government interference.”
But there is no telling how many accidents have happened through the years since we have had cell phones and the ability to text. Eventually, and hopefully this session, we will pass the texting bill. So that is just one of the bills that I am very interested in.
To look back over my career, I would say the most important bills, the ones that meant more to me personally is a bill that I sponsored several years ago. It was for children with problems. We called it the “Early Intervention Bill.”
It is where you take children at an early age and you have several departments of state government that get involved in the early intervention of these special-needs children.
That bill does not effect a wide array of Alabama citizens but the people that take advantage of it, it means a lot to those people.
APR: How does it help them exactly?
WAGGONER: Well, there are several departments that go together: The Department of Education, the Mental Health Department and several others. They come together and take these special-needs children under their wings and give them advantages that previously they did not have. Previously, it was up to the parent to take care of these special-needs children.
Now the state of Alabama through early Intervention Rehab Services, which is another department that is involved, these kids get a lot of attention today, whereas 20 years ago they got no attention and no help from the state.
APR: They had their own trailer out behind the school that was their special schoolroom. That was all of the treatment that they received then.
WAGGONER: Yes, they were on their own. But, that one program that I sponsored and created has really meant a lot to me and those parents still come to see me, like this Kelly Rainer [referring to a picture] she comes by every year to talk about the Early Intervention Budget. So, I am very close to that family. I keep a picture [on my shelf] to remind me of that legislation.
It has been a rewarding experience through the years because you are put into a position to really help a lot of people. You know, my phone rings constantly. Some people are reasonable, some people are very nice, then you get some pretty rough customers to talk to every once in a while and that’s okay. They are expressing their opinion to their elected official and they have the right and the authority to do that.
It has been a great experience. I am in my 39th year in this legislative arena. It has been a very rewarding experience and one that I wouldn’t change for any other experience. I have really enjoyed it.
Of course, today, being in the majority, it is a lot more rewarding. I feel like I have more input and influence over this process than I did when I was in the minority for those many years.
APR: I have to say, the day you broke the filibuster, watching you was like watching a ballet from the gallery. I had never seen a filibuster. This is actually my first time being this involved in the government role and we are totally immersed in it. Watching you that day go in and invoke Cloture and start pushing those rules out of Rules Committee while Del Marsh and Cam Ward and all of the rest making sure that the microphones were occupied while Singleton was about to have a coronary, was a thing of beauty to watch your experience kick in and all of these other senators follow your lead, essentially, as if you were in a dance together.
WAGGONER: That is when we Clotured three or four times in one day, wasn’t it?
APR: Yes, it was and it was wonderful to watch. What do you hope to accomplish this session?
WAGGONER: Today, [Thursday], was the 15th legislative day, and we are in [session] 30 [days], so we are half way. Of course we are taking Spring Break all of next week but we will come back April 3. We have some heavy lifting the last 15 days.
We have both budgets, the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund. The General Fund is in horrible condition, the education budget is fair.
Not like it used to be. We could survive with education but the General Fund is really an ongoing problem.
We have the immigration law to deal with, we have charter schools. We have several complicated, real controversial pieces of legislation that we have to deal with. Jobs bills.
We have a local issue in Jefferson county that is a high-profile situation.
We will be working some late nights the last 15 days of the session. We may be be here until the middle of May.
We start the budget process the week after we come back. The education budget will originate here in the Senate. The General Fund will originate in the House.
APR: Do you have any advice to young senators?
WAGGONER: I think that young senators really need to learn the rules of the Senate which is our Playbook, so to speak. We live or die by our rules. Some of them are very complicated and hard to understand but it is hard to survive out on the Senate Floor unless you have a reasonable knowledge of the rules under which we operate and by which we operate.
The new Republican senators that were elected in 2010 are bright and hardworking. They are here for all of the right reasons. They are fully involved. They are learning the rules. They are learning the process. In my opinion, the Republican legislators that have been elected in the House and Senate, I think this legislature is in good shape for the foreseeable future because of the bright, young, knowledgable, energetic guys that represent their districts in Alabama.
We would like to thank Senator Waggoner for taking time out of his very busy schedule to speak with us. We wish him much success and God speed.
Trump Truck and boat parades this weekend
As Election Day draws near, Alabama Republicans are excited about promoting the re-election of Donald J. Trump as President and the election of Tommy Tuberville for U.S. Senate. This weekend two pro-President Trump events are happening in the state. There will be a truck parade from Ashland to Phenix City on Saturday sponsored by the Clay County Republican Party, while there will also be a boat parade on Wilson Lake in the Shoals sponsored by the Colbert County Republican Party on Sunday.
The pickup trucks will assemble at the Ashland Industrial Park in Clay County, 8240 Hwy 9, Ashland. There is a pre-departure rally at 10:00 a.m. central standard time. The trucks will depart at 11:00 a.m. and then proceed on a parade route that will take them into the bitterly contested swing state of Georgia. The Trump Pickup Parade will wind through east Alabama and West Georgia traveling through LaGrange and Columbus before concluding near the Alabama/Georgia line in Phenix City, 332 Woodland Drive, Phenix City at approximately 2:00 p.m. central time. Speakers will begin at 3:00. Trump flags will be on sale at the event.
The Phenix Motorsports Park will be hosting what sponsor hope could possibly the world’s largest Pickup Tuck parade in U.S. history that is routing over 50 mile through Georgia in effort to “pickup” President Trump’s numbers in GA.
A number dignitaries have been invited to address the Phenix City rally, including Coach Tuberville. Former State Sen. Shadrack McGill, Trump Victory Finance Committee member former State Rep. Perry O. Hooper Jr., and Paul Wellborn, the President and CEO of the largest Family owned Kitchen Cabinet manufacture in the USA are among the featured speakers who have committed to speak at the event.
Entertainment will be provided by: Charity Bowden, an up and coming country music singer who was the runner up on “The Voice”. Charity will sing ‘I am Proud to be an American’ as well as songs from her Voice performances. The McGill Girls will also perform. The three beautiful and talented sisters will be singing patriotic songs in three part harmony. Geoff Carlisle, a professional DJ will be keeping the crowd pumped with music and entertainment.
Following the speakers and the entertainment there will Trump truck-vs- Joe Bidden truck races down the drag strip for the finale.
The Northwest Alabama boat parade will be on Sunday. The boats will gather at 2:00 p.m. near Turtle Point and then the flotilla will parade around the open waters of Wilson Lake til 3_00 p.m.. There will be a contest for best decorated Trump boats.
Trump supporters have held a number of large boat parades across the state to show their support for the re-election of Pres. Trump.
Boat parade sponsors say that this parade will be: pro-American, pro-law enforcement, pro-military.
COVID-19 hospitalizations, new cases continue to rise
The number of rising hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama is a concerning sign of a possible coming surge of the disease, state health experts said Friday. Alabama hospitals were caring for 888 coronavirus patients Friday, the highest number since Sept 9.
UAB Hospital was caring for around 80 COVID-19 inpatients Friday afternoon, said Dr. Rachael Lee, an infectious disease specialist at UAB, speaking to reporters Friday. UAB Hospital hasn’t had that many coronavirus inpatients since Aug. 18, when the disease was surging statewide.
“We have been dealing with this since March, and I think it’s easy for us to drop our guard,” Lee said.
Alabama added 3,852 new coronavirus cases on Friday, but 1,287 of them were older positive antigen tests, conducted in June through October and submitted to ADPH by a facility in Mobile, according to the department. Still, Alabama’s daily case count has been increasing, concerning health officials already worried that as the weather turns colder and the flu season ramps up, Alabama could see a surge like the state had in July.
Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily cases was 1,247 on Friday, the highest it’s been since Sept 4. Over the last 14 days, Alabama has added 17,451 new COVID-19 cases.
Friday’s inclusion of those older positive test results throws off the day’s percent positivity, by Thursday the state’s percent of tests that were positive was nearly 16 percent. Public health officials say it should be at or below five percent or cases are going undetected.
The state added 16 COVID-19 deaths on Friday, bringing to total confirmed deaths statewide to 2,859. Over the last two weeks, 206 deaths were reported in the state. Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily deaths on Friday was 15.
Alabama state health officer Dr. Scott Harris told APR by phone Friday called the rising new cases and hospitalizations “worrisome.”
Harris noted the data dump of older confirmed cases in Friday’s data, but said “but nevertheless, I think it’s clear our numbers are going up.”
Harris said it’s not yet clear what’s causing the continued spread, but said it may be due at least in part to larger private gatherings. ADPH staff has mentioned a few outbreaks association with such gatherings, but Harris said it’s hard to know for certain if that’s the major driver in the state’s rising numbers.
“It’s football season and the holidays are coming up and school is back in session,” Harris said. “I think people are just not being as safe as they were.”
Harris noted that on ADPH’s color-coded, risk indicator dashboard, red counties, which denotes counties with rising cases and percent positivity, the 17 red counties on Friday were distributed across the state.
“So there’s not one event, or even a handful of events. It seems like there’s just a lot of things happening in a lot of places,” Harris said.
Alabama’s rising numbers are mirrored in many states. The U.S. reported more than 71,600 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, nearing the country’s record highs, set in July.
Birmingham approves $1.3 million contract for real-time crime center technology
Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.
The Birmingham City Council approved a five-year, $1.3 million contract with Motorola this week to provide new technology for the police department’s real-time crime center amid unease and public concern over the potential use of facial recognition software within the new systems.
Mayor Randall Woodfin insisted in his remarks made before the council that the new technology is meant to integrate existing hardware and technology inside the real-time crime center. “You’re not buying any additional new equipment,” he said, “You’re buying something to integrate all those systems.”
The software suite includes Motorola Solutions’s CommandCentral Aware, a system that aggregates video, image and other data information into one interface, and BriefCam, a “video synopsis” system that will further integrate and analyze information from Birmingham’s ShotSpotter systems, public cameras and police body cameras.
Briefcam offers facial recognition capabilities, which was the main concern of community members speaking before the council, and the risk that use of the technology could disproportionately affect Black people. Facial recognition technology has a record of racial bias and misidentifies Black people at rates five to 10 times higher than white people.
“Despite assurances that there will not be facial recognition implemented at this phase that does not prevent it from being implemented in the future,” said Joseph Baker, Founder of I Believe in Birmingham and one of the Birmingham residents voicing concern on the proposal. “I believe that this software, if fully implemented, can easily lead to violations of unreasonable searches.”
Another resident who spoke against the resolution was Byron Lagrone, director of engineering at medical software solutions company Abel Healthcare Enterprises. Lagrone pointed to IBM and Amazon as examples of companies that have halted or abandoned facial recognition and object tracking software altogether over racial bias concerns.
“The prevailing attitude, among technical people is this technology is not effective, and it causes high amounts of harm for next to no gain,” Lagrone said.
Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.
“It’s explicit in this contract that facial recognition will not be used,” Woodfin said, “[If] facial recognition wants to be used in the future of this city. It would have to be approved by this body. … The mayor’s office or the police department doesn’t have unilateral power to use facial recognition. That is not part of what our contractual relationship is with Motorola.”
Woodfin also clarified that the total $1.3 million price of the contract will not be paid as a lump sum but spread out over the five-year commitment.
The city council voted 8 to 1 to approve the contract, with District 8 Councilman Steven Hoyt speaking in favor of the use of facial recognition capabilities.
“You can’t say, ‘I’m going to build a house but I’m not going to use the restroom,’” Hoyt said. “If it’s in the house, you’re going to use the restroom. … If it has the capability of facial recognition, guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to use it. I’m going to vote for it because I know we’ve got to have every tool we can garner to fight crime, because it’s out of hand.”
Hoyt also suggested a review of the information collected by the new system apparatus.
“I do think, for the public’s sake, we need to have some way we review that and see how it’s being used,” Hoyt said. “We need that to go along with this.”
District 3 Councilwoman Valerie A. Abbott — who said she was the victim of a burglary the day before the vote — echoed the mayor’s insistence that the facial recognition capabilities would not be deployed unless authorized by the city council, reading a letter from Motorola stating “in order to enable facial recognition, Motorola will require an addendum or change order to the contract,” which would have to come before a public meeting of the city council.
“I too would not want facial recognition,” Abbot said, “I’m voting in favor of this because the majority of my constituents are telling me they want more and better policing, capture of criminals, prevention of crime.”
District 5 Councilman Darrell O’Quinn was the lone no vote among the near-unanimous city council, stating that he had “some reservations about how we’re doing this and will vote my conscience.” Later, O’Quinn was quoted in BirminghamWatch, saying his vote reflected his concerns about “taking on a new debt obligation in the midst of a projected $63 million shortfall in revenue.”
Opinion | Doug Jones’s pathway to victory: Substance over lies
Jones said his work in the Senate should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity.
Alabama Sen. Doug Jones believes voters will ultimately see through Tommy Tuberville’s lazy campaign and lies, and that enough of them will be moved by his work over the last two years to send him back to D.C.
Jones’ comments came during a lengthy interview on the Alabama Politics This Week podcast. He also discussed his plans to address some of Alabama’s most pressing issues and also praised Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican.
But it was Jones’ comments about Alabama voters — and whether too many of them are incapable of moving away from the Republican Party — that were most interesting. Jones still believes there are open-minded voters in the state, and that there isn’t enough attention being paid to polls showing a growing dissatisfaction in Alabama with President Donald Trump.
“There are a number of things that Donald Trump has done that people (in Alabama) don’t agree with,” Jones said. “There are a number of things that he’s done that’s hurt Alabama and that they’re not OK with. That’s where I come in.”
Jones said his work in the Senate, where he’s sponsored the most bipartisan legislation over the last two years, should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity.
“I tell everyone, you owe it to yourself to look at every candidate and every issue,” Jones said. “I do that. I’ve been a Democrat all my life but I don’t think that I have ever pulled a straight lever. Because I look at every issue. I will tell you that there have been times that I didn’t vote for people who are Democrats for whatever reason — I just couldn’t do it. I think we owe it to ourselves to do that.”
Jones had the perfect example to drive the point home.
“Y’all all know our state auditor, Jim Zeigler? Jim wasn’t always a Republican. Jim’s first runs for office were as a Democrat.
“I rest my case.”
You can listen to the full interview at the Alabama Politics This Week website, or you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.