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Rep. Drake and Sen. Beason Support HB 306

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Alabama State Representative Dickie Drake (R) from Leeds says that he is still pushing for his bill to ban counties in Alabama from making non-sewer users pay a fee for the sewers they do not use.  In an ‘Alabama Political Reporter’ exclusive phone interview Rep. Dickie Drake said that he still intends to introduce his bill on the floor of the State House in the coming weeks.  Rep. Drake said that he asked to carry over the bill temporarily on March 14th when Democrats threatened to filibuster the bill.

The Alabama Political Reporter talked to Senator Scott Beason (R) from Gardendale about HB 306 and he says that he supports the bill to ban non-sewer user fees.  Senator Beason said that he wanted the Senate to pass the bill last year when it passed the House but it died in the Senate because the legislative session expired before the Senate could take up the bill.

The bill banning non-sewer user impact fees statewide was introduced and championed by Rep. Dickie Drake’s brother, Rep. Owen Drake (R) also from Leeds.  Owen died from cancer over the summer and Dickie ran for the vacated seat in the subsequent special election and has since reintroduced his brother’s legislation.

HB 306 would “prohibit any county from levying or collecting a fee or charge for sewer service on any person, entity, or property not directly connected to any sewer system owned or operated by the county.”

Non-sewer user fees have been proposed by attorneys representing the powerful Wall-Street banks that hold the debt that Jefferson County defaulted on when the county stopped paying its debts rather than make deep cuts to its payroll and operations.

Jefferson County Commissioner George Bowman supports a non-user fee.  He recently told reporters: “Just from a fairness standpoint, everybody in the county that drinks the water and has benefited from the EPA mandate that we improve the system should share in the cost,” Bowman said. “The challenge is to come up with a term that is palatable for people who are not on the sewer. Some people have said a ‘clean water fee,’ some folks have said a ‘nonuser fee.”

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The Jefferson County Commission has ordered lawyers to draw up a rate study to determine how much money that a non-sewer user should pay in the proposed scheme to charge non-sewer users to maintain the sewer system they do not use.  Rep. Drake said that he has constituents in his district (and cited the Southern Trace and Rowan Springs neighborhoods as examples) who already pay a sewer bill for their neighborhood association owned corporately managed sewer system who would now also be billed the non-sewer user impact fee if the Jefferson County Commission proceeds with their controversial nonuser fee proposal.

55% of Jefferson County residents are on the Jefferson County sewer system, but 45% are not.  In a written statement, Rep. Drake said, “45% of Jefferson County residents who use a septic tank would be forced to pay into the county’s sewer system.  Though proponents of the fee argue that “everyone benefits from the county’s sewer system,” the bottom line is that this is simply an additional tax.  In these tough economic times, it simply doesn’t make sense for anyone to pay for a service that they do not use, and it is not right or fair to require them to do so.”

Sen. Beason said that Jefferson County should cut their budget to match their current revenues.  Sen. Beason said he supports un-earmarking tax revenues for Cooper Green Hospital and the Jefferson County Health Department to help Jefferson County emerge from bankruptcy but he was opposed to charging the sewer impact fee and he was opposed to the permanent reintroduction of Jefferson County’s unpopular outlawed Occupation Tax.

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Sen. Beason says that Jefferson County spends more money per county resident than any other health department in the state by far.  Currently the Jefferson County Health Department is getting roughly $20 million and Cooper Green gets an estimated $40 million in taxpayer subsidies from the County.  Unfortunately Cooper Green can’t balance its budget even with that and has asked the County to give them another $8 to $11 million this year including $3.5 million to pay past due bills.

Rep Drakes said in his written statement, “The County Commission has taken steps demonstrating a commitment to seeing this tax imposed, including hiring attorneys to direct studies on appropriate fee rates.  One County Commissioner was even quoted earlier this year saying that names for the tax are being tested so they can find a “term that is palatable”.  Whether such a tax has a palatable name or not, it is still not fair to residents of the County.”

HB 306 is being cosponsored in the House by Representatives McClendon, Nordgren, Mask, Shiver, Merrill, Treadaway, DeMarco, Williams (J), Farley, Gaston, McClurkin, Carns, and Weaver.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Congress

AFL-CIO endorses Adia Winfrey for Congress

Brandon Moseley

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Congressional candidate Adia Winfrey. (VIA WINFREY CAMPAIGN)

Monday, the Dr. Adia Winfrey for Congress campaign announces that she has received the endorsement of the Alabama AFL-CIO in her campaign for Congress.

At their annual convention last week, union leaders from across the state recognized Dr. Winfrey’s passion, ability to lead, and attentiveness to the issues affecting working men and women, as reasons to endorse Dr. Winfrey, the Democratic challenger, in Alabama’s Third Congressional District race.

“Labor unions have long been a leading force in our nation’s economy,” Dr. Winfrey wrote. “Workplace safety standards, employee benefits, equal pay for women, non-discrimination policies, and so much more can be attributed to directly to union members who were willing to speak up for what is right. I look forward to being a voice for Alabama’s hard working men and women in Congress.”

Dr. Winfrey is challenging nine term incumbent Mike Rogers (R-Saks) in the November 3 general election. During his 18 years in Congress, Mike Rogers has earned only a 16 percent lifetime rating by the AFL-CIO for his votes.

“For 7 generations my family has called Talladega, Alabama home,” Winfrey said. “I am the mother of four amazing children, a Doctor of Psychology, author, founder of the H.Y.P.E. (Healing Young People thru Empowerment) Movement, and…I am running for Congress in Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District! I believe in the future of our beautiful state and nation. It is time for leadership with a new vision which is #FocusedOnAlabama.”

Winfrey has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wilberforce University and a doctorate of clinical psychology degree from the Wright State University School of Professional Psychology. She is the founder of the H.Y.P.E. (Healing Young People thru Empowerment) Movement.

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Environment

Gulf State Park will have a prescribed burn in late August

Brandon Moseley

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A fire at Gulf State Park. (VIA ALABAMA STATE PARKS)

Monday, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced that that it is planning to have a prescribed burn as Gulf State Park later this month.

The planned prescribed burn at Gulf State Park is a necessary part of a forest management plan associated with longleaf pine restoration, wildfire fuel reduction and invasive species control. The 140-acre burn will take place in a section of the park’s campground between August 18 and September 3, 2020, weather permitting. Camping reservations are not being accepted for campsites 1 to 123 and sites 469 to 496 during the burn period.

If weather conditions are favorable during the burn period, an additional 110 acres of marsh near the campground might be burned as well to reduce the risk of wildfire in that area. The planned burns will not affect camping reservations for campsites outside of the burn location.

The Alabama Forestry Commission will conduct the prescribed burns for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) State Parks Division. They assure the public that every effort is being made to ensure safety and proper smoke management during these burns.

Prescribed fire is an effective way to reduce wildfire risk, enhance wildlife habitat and maintain a healthy forest ecosystem. This is especially important in the south Alabama coastal region due to the vegetation type and a longer growing season. The use of prescribed fire enables the Alabama State Parks Division to better manage its parks’ forest resources into the future.

For more information about the benefits of prescribed fire, visit www.outdooralabama.com/prescribed-fire-alabama.

Gulf State Park has two miles of beaches, a spacious campground a brand new Lodge and Conference Center, Lake Shelby, miles of walking paths, camping sites, and a fishing pier that allows anglers to fish out into the ocean for schools of saltwater fish normally accessible only to fishermen with boats. Gulf State Park has gorgeous white sand, surging surf, seagulls, pelicans, restaurants, a pool at the lodge, and a variety of activities for the entire family to enjoy.

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Gulf State Park is a destination that Alabamians visit over and over again all year round. Gulf State Park has beaches, hiking, camping, dining, canoeing, a dog park, indoor lodging amenities, freshwater fishing, saltwater fishing, educational adventure at the Nature Center as well as new programs starting at the Learning Campus and Interpretive Center. Gulf State Park is located on the southern end of Baldwin County, fronting the Gulf of Mexico. The Alabama gulf coast is world renowned for its beaches.

The fishing pier is presently closed for renovation and some facilities may not be available currently due to COVID-19 restrictions. Check with the park for more details.

The Alabama State Parks Division relies on visitor fees and the support of other partners like local communities to fund the majority of their operations. Alabama has 22 state parks across the state available for a variety of entertainment needs. Six of those parks are developed into resorts. They are Cheaha State Park, DeSoto State Park, Gulf State Park, Joe Wheeler State Park, Lake Guntersville State Park, and Lakepoint State Park.

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To learn more about Alabama State Parks, visit www.alapark.com.

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National

Saban tries to save the college football season

Brandon Moseley

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University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban.

Monday, University of Alabama head football Coach Nick Saban said that he wants to play the 2020 season for the players.

“I want to play, but I want to play for the players’ sake, the value they can create for themselves,” Saban told ESPN. “I know I’ll be criticized no matter what I say, that I don’t care about player safety. Look, players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home. We have around a 2% positive ratio on our team since the Fourth of July. It’s a lot higher than that in society. We act like these guys can’t get this unless they play football. They can get it anywhere, whether they’re in a bar or just hanging out.”

Saban’s comments came on a day when the very future of the 2020 season was on the brink. The Mountain West Conference announced that it was suspending all sports indefinitely due to the coronavirus. Hundreds of college football players have taken to Twitter and social media begging the powers that be not to kill this season. They were joined by Saban and other prominent figures in the sport, including Michigan head football Coach Jim Harbaugh, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and even President Donald J. Trump (R).

“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled. #WeWantToPlay,” Trump said on Twitter supporting a statement by Lawrence.

Some conferences had already made up their minds to punt on the season.

“Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our students, student-athletes, coaches, faculty, staff and overall communities,” said Dr. Mary Papazian, chair of the MWC board of directors. “Through the hard work of many over the past several months, the conference made every effort to create an opportunity for our student-athletes to compete, and we empathize with the disappointment this creates for everyone associated with our programs. The best interests of our students and student-athletes remain our focus and we will persist in our efforts to forge a viable and responsible path forward.”

A decision to postpone of cancel the 2020 college football season could come as early as this week. A growing tide of voices are calling for the cancellation or postponement of the college football season

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ESPN’s Heather Dinich reports that this is based on what the athletic conferences are hearing from their medical advisory boards about the long term affects of COVID-19.

College Presidents are very concerned that COVID-19, while rarely fatal in college students, can leave survivors with heart issues that may well be long lasting. The mother of one Indiana player reported that her football player son contracted coronavirus while on campus for pre-season for strength and conditioning training. Her son developed symptomatic COVID-19, that included breathing difficulties. Now he is over the COVID-19; but has heart inflammation that jeopardizes his playing career and perhaps even his long-term health.

There is a similar situation with a Major League Baseball player who had COVID-19 and not has heart inflammation, which doctors say can be a side effect of contracting COVID-19. Over half of college football players are African-American, the demographic that has seen the highest rate of bad outcomes from COVID-19, including death.

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The University of Louisville recently had to cancel all football activities on campus when a group of football players, in violation of the coronavirus social distancing protocols, attended a party on campus and not thirty players tested positive for the coronavirus.

A number of college football players have contracted the virus including University of Alabama, Auburn University, and Clemson players.

The presidents are concerned about the long-term health effects of COVID-19 on college athletes as well as the rest of the student body and faculty and staff. They are also concerned about the schools’ legal liability if they don’t do everything in their power to fight the spread of the virus and cancelling fall sports is arguably necessary to fight the spread of the virus. Congress failed to pass legislation that would have given schools and employers liability protection from COVID related lawsuits.

The Mid-American Conference (MAC) and South West Athletic Conferences (SWAC) (which includes Alabama A&M and Alabama State) have already voted to postpone fall sports to Spring. The decision by the MAC puts pressure on the other Division 1 Football Bowl Series schools to also postpone or cancel the season. The University of Connecticut has already cancelled its 2020 football season, the first Division 1 school to make that decision. Others could follow.

On Tuesday, the Big 10 Conference presidents will meet on possibly postponing the 2020 season to December or later.

The PAC 12 conference college Presidents will also meet to discuss the possibility of postponing or cancelling all fall sports. A number of PAC 12 players have come out vocally expressing concerns about the safety of playing the sport during the global pandemic.

The Big 10 and PAC 12 are two of the “Power Five” conferences along with the Southeastern Conference (SEC), the Big 12, and the ACC. If either the Big 10 or PAC 12 were to postpone or cancel the football season it would be difficult for the other schools to continue without them; though most conferences have already adopted a ten game conference only season. Alabama and Auburn are members of the SEC.

The Power Five conference commissioners met on a conference call Sunday night to prepare a recommendation on how to proceed if the Presidents decide that playing sports in the fall are an unnecessary risk. They were unable to reach a decision on whether that recommendation should be to play the 2020 fall sports in the spring or to cancel fall sports altogether as spring sports, including baseball and softball were last spring.

The commissioners of the SEC and ACC both released statements saying that they are moving forward to play. It is highly possible that some of the Power Five conferences will play this fall and some will play in the spring. How this would affect the college post season is still unclear.

“The college football season should be canceled, it should be canceled today,” said ESPN sports commentator Stephen A Smith on Monday. Smith cited a lack of leadership looking out for the health of college athletes in college football.

ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit had already come during the spring and predicted that the sport could not be played this year due to athlete safety. There is a growing consensus in both the medical and academic community that this may be the case.

A decision by the PAC 12 on Tuesday, could start a domino effect that will lead to the cancellation or postponement of all fall sports.

Some analysts have expressed skepticism that the 2020 and 2021 football seasons could both be played in the 2021 calendar year and even that the COVID risk will be less in the spring than it is now.

The SEC had already reduced the season from 12 games to 10 and postponed the state of the football season to Sept. 26. SEC football players were already supposed to be in camp preparing for the fall season; but the conference has postponed the start of football practices to August 17.

The Alabama High School Athletic Association at this point still plans to play high school fall sports including football.

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Health

More than 1,000 Alabamians have died this summer from COVID-19

Through June, July and the first week and a half of August, the state has amassed an additional 1,103 dead from the coronavirus pandemic.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

More than a thousand Alabamians have died from COVID-19 this summer as schools prepare to start back. Through June, July and the first week and a half of August, the state has amassed an additional 1,103 dead from the coronavirus pandemic.

Summers in Alabama are known for barbecue, beach adventures, days at the lake, watermelons, blackberries, golf weekends and long vacations. The summer of 2020 will also be remembered for more than 81,000 coronavirus cases and for the mounting death toll from the virus.

The state headed into summer with 630 Alabamians dead from COVID-19 on May 31. That number has since increased 1,733.

As Alabama reopened its economy, many Alabamians chose to ignore the governor’s statewide “safer-at-home” order and carried on with their activities without wearing a mask or practicing social distancing. Some of them paid for their mistake with their lives — or the lives of loved ones.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported at least 296 deaths in June and 605 in July — the most of any month thus far in the pandemic. At least 202 Alabamians have died in the first 10 days of August.

On July 15, Gov. Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris modified the “safer-at-home” order to mandate the wearing of masks in public and whenever you might be within six feet of another person not from your household. School systems that are reopening this month are doing so with mask requirements.

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The public health emergency runs through the end of August, but will likely be renewed for September unless there is marked improvement in the number of cases.

Doctors and hospitals are doing a better job at saving COVID-19 patients or the death tolls would be even worse; however, the uptick in deaths in Alabama is due to the sheer number of people being infected.

As of Monday, 99,390 Alabamians had tested positive for the coronavirus. More than 80,000 of those cases were diagnosed just this summer since June 1. The sheer volume of people infected is leading to Alabama’s surging death toll.

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At least 81,438 have been diagnosed over the summer with 1,655 being diagnosed on Monday alone. The seven- and 14-day averages of cases have been coming down since July 20 after coronavirus positives peaked on July 19 at over 1,850 cases per day, on average, in mid-July.

The current seven-day average is at 1,352 cases per day.

The surging number of coronavirus cases has led to higher numbers of Alabamians having to be hospitalized for the virus. On Sunday 1,595 Alabamians were hospitalized with the virus.

Alabama schools start back this month, though many systems have started back online due to concerns that in-person classes will only spread the coronavirus.

There are several things that citizens should do to protect themselves from the virus. The first is to stay at home rather than risk contracting the virus by going out. If you do go out, wear a mask or cloth face covering. Always stay six feet away from other people not from your household.

Do not shake hands or hug. Wash your hands frequently. Isolate sick members of your family from the rest of the household. Avoid parties and large gatherings. Don’t touch your face.

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