By Brandon Moseley and Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
The Jefferson County Commission is asking the Alabama House of Representatives to give them a massive $62 million tax increase package that never sunsets. The Jefferson County Commission has continued to refuse to close Cooper Green Hospital or present a plan to either the legislature or the bankruptcy court to downsize Jefferson County Government’s spending. The Commissioners have taken a hardline negotiating position with the Alabama legislature. The Senate has already passed the controversial tax increase package, putting all the pressure on the Republican controlled Alabama House of Representatives to “save Jefferson County.”
‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ talked with Representative Dickie Drake (R) from Leeds about the controversial occupation tax proposal, which is likely to come before the House on Wednesday. The mammoth tax increase package was introduced in the Senate by Senator Jabo Waggonner (R) from Vestavia. Rep. Drake said that Sen. Waggoner’s, “Occupation tax would be permanent and would not sunset and would not do anything to resolve the Cooper Green situation.”
Rep. Drake said, “Trying to help Jefferson County without fixing Cooper Green is like pouring gas into a pickup truck with a hole in the gas tank. You can keep pouring gas in to it but at some point you have to fix the tank. Pouring money into Jefferson County without fixing Cooper Green won’t save Jefferson County.”
Attorney Jim White who has studied the situation closely told ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ that all sides of the Cooper Green issue admit that there is no good information available about Cooper Green. “It is very hard to make good decisions if you do not have good information. You can not manage what you can not measure and you can not measure what goes on at Cooper Green.” The Black Democrats in the Jefferson County legislative delegation have strongly resisted efforts to close or require reform at Cooper Green Hospital to this point.
On Monday, Rep. Patricia Todd (D) from Birmingham told ‘The Alabama Political Reporter,’ “If they (the U.S. Supreme Court) uphold the act (Obamacare), then we don’t need Cooper Green. If they strike down the Act, which I don’t think they will do, then we can go to work on indigent care for Jefferson County. To make a decision on indigent care until we know how the Supreme Court rules is premature in my opinion.”
Rep. Todd said that Rep. Jim Carns (R) from Jefferson County was going to introduce a substitute bill in the House on Wednesday. Representative Drake said that he does not know anything about whether there is going to be a substitute bill or not and did not know what Rep. Carns was planning to do, but acknowledged that an unofficial meeting between legislators was still scheduled for that Tuesday night.
Rep. Drake said that he had tried to introduce his own substitute bill in the Committee, but was unable to get a second for it.
Rep. Drake told us that “Cooper Green is sucking the money and the life out of Jefferson County.” Cooper Green has a budget approaching $90 million and hundreds of employees. The Republicans in the Jefferson County legislative delegation had proposed building a state of the art clinic to replace Cooper Green Hospital. All the local hospitals had agreed to take Cooper Green’s patients.
On Tuesday it was revealed the Jefferson County Commissioner George Bowman (D) and administrators at Cooper Green Hospital had been holding secret bank accounts which they used to pay friends and consultants without informing either the other Jefferson County Commissioners or County Manager Tony Petelos of the existence of the accounts. In September, Commissioner Bowman denied paying those consultants anything when asked directly by fellow Commissioners. Earlier in the week it was revealed that Cooper Green had an additional $5.4 million in unpaid invoices they had been hiding from the Commission.
Rep. Drake said that there are “so many ideas being kicked around” by legislators and that the Republicans were still trying to come up with some sort of a compromise. Rep. Drake acknowledged that some legislators were trying to kill the bill and complained that the mainstream media was trying to slander the legislators who favored compromise.
Rep. Drake said that he doesn’t want to saddle the people with a perpetual occupational tax and that the Republicans in the House delegation had offered the Commission a 63 months long Occupation tax to get their financial affairs in order and deal with the problems at Cooper Green, a so called bridge tax, but could not get it done.
Rep. Drake said I want to help Jefferson County; but said that he did not want to saddle the people with a perpetual Occupation Tax. “Jefferson County got along just fine for years without an Occupation Tax.”
Rep. Drake said that he is not sure how he was going to vote if Sen. Waggoner’s bill was the only bill on the floor. Drake said that he had constituents who were for the Jefferson County bailout and constituents who were urging him to vote against the tax and his email box was full from both sides.
Alabama DHR announces grants providing temporary assistance for stabilizing child care
The Alabama Department of Human Resources announced on Friday a new grant program to provide assistance to licensed child care providers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Temporary Assistance for Stabilizing Child Care, or TASCC, grant program’s purpose is to stabilize the number of child care providers that are open and providing services, as well as encourage providers to reopen.
DHR is now accepting applications for TASCC grants. The deadline to apply is August 7, 2020. The total grant amounts will be based on each provider’s daytime licensed capacity with a base rate of $300 per child.
To be eligible for a grant, licensed providers must be open or plan to reopen no later than August 17, 2020, and continue to remain open for a period of one year from the date of receiving the grant award. As of this week, 1,306 of Alabama’s 2,448 child care facilities were open in the state.
“We are proud to offer this program as a support and an incentive to an important sector of our economy. These grants will give the support many providers need to reopen and assist those already open,” said Alabama DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner. “This program is going to be vital for our child care numbers to reach the level required to provide adequate services as parents return to work. We have already made significant strides in reopening facilities over the past several months; in April only 14 percent were open while now 53 percent are open.”
These grants will provide support for paying employees, purchasing classroom materials, providing meals, purchasing cleaning supplies, providing tuition relief for families, as well as other facility expenses.
DHR recommends child care providers read all guidance prior to submitting a TASCC application. Child care providers need to complete the application to determine the estimated grant amount. Grant applications will be processed as they are received and grants awarded once approved.
An online fillable application is available for the TASCC grant at www.dhr.alabama.gov/child-care/. The application must include an Alabama STAARS Vendor Code in order to be processed. For questions regarding the application, please email DHR at [email protected].
Gov. Ivey awards grant for new system to aid child abuse victims
Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded a $375,000 grant to establish a statewide network that will ensure that victims of child abuse receive immediate and professional medical care and other assistance.
The grant will enable the Children’s of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pediatrics to collaborate with the Alabama Network of Children Advocacy Centers in creating the Child Abuse Medical System.
“Child abuse is a horrendous crime that robs children of their youth and can negatively affect their future if victims do not receive the proper professional assistance,” Ivey said. “I am thankful for this network that will ensure children get the professional attention they need and deserve.”
The medical system will be a coordinated statewide resource that includes pediatric physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and other medical professionals along with specialized sexual assault nurse examiners.
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grant.
“ADECA is pleased to join with Gov. Ivey and those dedicated people who are part of the Child Abuse Medical System to support these children at a time they need it most,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell.
Ivey notified Tom Shufflebarger, CEO of Children’s of Alabama, that the grant had been approved.
ADECA manages a range of programs that support law enforcement, economic development, recreation, energy conservation and water resource management.
U.S. Attorney Jay Town announces resignation
Jay Town, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, on Friday announced his resignation and plans to work at a Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company.
Town’s resignation will be effective Wednesday, July 15, according to a press release.
“After much thoughtful prayer and great personal consideration, I have made the decision to resign as the United States Attorney of the Northern District of Alabama. I have tendered my resignation to Attorney General William Barr. General Barr expressed his gratitude for my service to the Department of Justice and to the Northern District and, despite having hoped I would continue in my role, understood and respected my decision,” Town said in a statement.
“I am extremely grateful to President Trump, to whom I also tendered a letter, for his special trust and confidence in me to serve as the U.S. Attorney. It was an honor to be a part of this Administration with an unrivaled class of United States Attorneys from around the nation. I will forever remain thankful to those who supported my nomination and my tenure as the U.S. Attorney,” Town continued.
Town said his job with the unnamed Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company is to begin later this year, and the company is to announce his position “in a few weeks.”
“The Attorney General of the United States will announce my replacement in the coming days or weeks,” Town said in the release.
Town has served in his position since confirmation by the U.S. Senate in August 2017. Prior to that appointment, Town was a prosecutor in the Madison County District Attorney’s office from 2005 until 2017.
Attorney General William Barr in a statement Friday offered gratitude for Town’s three years of service.
“Jay’s leadership in his District has been immense. His contributions to the Department of Justice have been extensive, especially his work on the China Initiative and most recently as a Working Group Chair on the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice. I appreciate his service to our nation and to the Justice Department, and I wish him the very best,” Barr said in a statement.
The U.S. Justice Department in April 2019 notified Gov. Kay Ivey that the department’s lengthy investigation into the state’s prisons for men found systemic problems of violence, sexual assaults, drugs and corruption which are likely violations of the inmates’ Constitutional protections from cruel and unusual punishment.
Town’s office leads the discussions between the U.S Department of Justice and the state on the prison conditions.
Problems with violence, deaths and drugs in Alabama’s overcrowded, understaffed prisons have not markedly improved in the year’s since the U.S. Department of Justice released its report.
Alabama’s daily COVID-19 deaths second highest since start of pandemic
In the past two weeks the state recorded 190 coronavirus deaths, a 38 percent increase from the previous two weeks.
Alabama saw 35 deaths from COVID-19 on Friday, the second highest daily number of deaths since the pandemic began.
The previous record daily high was May 12, when the state recorded 37 coronavirus deaths. Prior to that, the high was on April 22, when Alabama saw 35 deaths from the virus. In the past two weeks the state recorded 190 coronavirus deaths, a 38 percent increase from the previous two weeks.
While cases have been surging since mid-June, deaths have largely remained stable. Deaths are considered a lagging indicator, meaning that it takes longer for deaths to begin rising after cases and hospitalizations begin rising.
“The fact that we’re seeing these sharp increases and hospitalization in cases over the past week or two is really concerning,” said UAB expert Dr. Jodie Dionne-Odom earlier this week. “And we expect, given the lag that we know there is between cases and hospitalization — about a two-week lag, and a three-week lag between cases and deaths — that we’re on a part of the curve that we just don’t want to be on in our state.”
It’s unclear whether this new rise in deaths will become a trend, or whether it is a one-day anomaly, but the 14-day average of deaths per day is now nearly as high as the previous peak on May 14 — weeks after the state hit its first “peak” in cases per day in late April. The previous high of the 14-day average of deaths per day was 16 on May 14. The average is now at 14 deaths per day, on average.
The uptick in deaths comes after days of record-high new daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The state added 1,304 new COVID-19 cases Friday, down from Thursday’s record-high of 2,164, but the trend of rising daily cases has continued largely unabated since early June.
The 14-day average of daily tests was at an all-time high Friday, at 8,125, which was 308 more tests than the previous high, set Wednesday. The percent of tests that were positive also increased, however, so the new cases can’t be attributed solely to more testing.
The 14-day average of the percent positivity was 14.22 on Friday. Excluding Thursday’s figure, because the Alabama Department of Public Health didn’t publish total tests administered on Thursday, which threw off percent positive figures, Friday’s 14-day average was the highest it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic.
There were a few higher 14-day average percent positivity days in April, but those numbers were skewed as well, because ADPH wasn’t able to collect all testing data from commercial labs during that time period.
Along with surging new cases, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Thursday was higher than it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic. On Thursday 1,125 coronavirus patients were being treated in state hospitals, which was the fifth straight day of record current hospitalizations.
UAB Hospital’s COVID-19 Intensive care units were nearing their existing capacity earlier this week. The hospital has both a COVID ICU and a COVID acute care unit designated to keep patients separated from those who don’t have the virus, but it has more space in other non-COVID units should it need to add additional bed space.
Hospitals in Madison County this week are also seeing a surge of COVID-19 patients. Paul Finley, the mayor of the city of Madison, told reporters Wednesday that local hospitals were reporting record numbers.