By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Alabama is faced with difficult times and the outcome of the special constitution vote will determine how much worse things will become.
“The bottom line is the money is there,” says Dr. Henry Marby executive secretary of the Alabama Teachers Association. The state is holding a special referendum to pass a constitutional amendment to allow the state to take money from the state’s savings account to fund Medicaid, the department of corrections and keep other vial services from collapse.
“The Lord provided Alabama with this money because we are given these natural resources and we get that money every year,” said Marby. “It doesn’t cost the taxpayers one dime because it is from oil and gas being severed out of the Gulf of Mexico or out of some southern counties that have wellheads.”
These are windfalls that started back in the 80s that Alabama has benefited from over the years and the chief beneficiary of that has been the state General Fund.
“People who don’t like taking it out of the savings the question to them would be, ‘Well, are willing to pay more out of your pocket?’” said Mabry. “The answer that I have heard is, no, people don’t want to pay more in taxes. So if they are unwilling to pay more in taxes and they want to keep the same services then the money has to come from somewhere.”
The big complaint by critics of the constitutional amendment is that there is not a provision in the amendment to pay the funds being taken off of the savings account.
“Money will continue to flow into the oil and gas fund so you will make up for that money in a 5-year period,” said Mabry. “We’ve got $2.8 billion in [the savings account], there now. After this constitutional amendment is passed and we go through and fund the General Fund and so forth, we will still end with the same $2.8 billion because the money will keep flowing.”
Mabry concedes that, “In 10 years will the fund will have more than it does today? No, it won’t. It will have $437 million less. But then, you will not have put at risk almost $1.5 billion of federal money, so it is an investment.”
Some opponents of the September constitutional amendment have likened it to Former Governor Bob Riley’s Amendment One.
According to Wikipedia, “In the first year of his administration, Riley proposed ‘Amendment One,’ which would have made swift changes to the state’s tax system. The plan essentially consisted of income tax breaks for lower brackets, offset by various tax hikes on consumption, property and income from higher brackets. Part of the problem that this plan sought to address was the strong dependence the Alabama tax system placed upon sales tax, which makes the state budget dependent upon the economy in the state. The plan was estimated to yield an overall state revenue increase of $1.2 billion per year.”
The September constitutional amendment only does one thing and that is to allow the state to use a portion of the gas and oil royalties to keep the government solvent.
If the amendment does not pass it is estimated that six thousand prisoners will be released from state penal institutions. “You say 6,000 prisoners, that is 100 per county. Think about that, if you released 100 convicts in each county, that would be noticeable in some counties,” said Mabry.
Around $50,000 dollars will be used to fund Alabama’s corrections system. Alabama has the lowest per-inmate cost of all 50 states. However, Alabama’s prisons operate at almost 200 percent of capacity and are constantly under threat of a federal takeover.
“We are over capacity and everybody says, ‘So what, who cares, release prisoners.’ The problem is if they get out and then we have these situations like happened in Tuscaloosa, all of these shootings, what then?” says Mabry. “The whole point of having the Department of Corrections and the penitentiaries is to put the people that are unsafe to society away from society. So if people want those kind of characters out on the streets and more of them then I guess we don’t have to pay for the prisons.”
Mabry expressed concern over the cuts that will occurs to senior services, “Are these people to be abandoned, what about what the bible teaches about, the least among us and widows and orphans?”
There is exasperation in his voice as he says, “You want to cut 500 people from having Meals-on-wheels every day? What are those elderly people going to do?”
He says he has many questions about the wisdom of some planned retooling of how the states elderly will be effected, “I have done some research on it because the former Medicaid commissioner kept talking about it saying, ‘We need to look at privatization, we need to look into these other federal home- and community-based waivers that help serve these people.’”
“What was happening was…” Mabry says as he moves to the blackboard again.
“We are spending something like $10,000 but we are going to save all of this money. We are spending $50,000 in the nursing home and we are going to spend $10,000 in this other thing. If you look at the breakdown on this $10,000 it is a home-health aide for 4 hours a day for 5 days, 2 frozen meals per day for 5 days.”
Mabry does not feel this is acceptable care for Alabama’s seniors, “The point was that the folks that are in the nursing home, they need to be in the nursing home because they can’t take care of themselves. And then you are going to leave them alone most of the time?”
This type of cost savings measure according to Mabry is fraught with pitfalls, “You’ve got some high schooler from one-half a day to 8 hours per day, then they are left by themselves for 2 days. You have got to have some level of independence about you. But if you have an incontinence problem or you can’t feed yourself you can’t be put in this situation.”
The home and community-based services waiver that the state applied for over a year ago would reduce the price of senior care but at what cost says Mabry.
“So, what are they going to do? Leave people to die? Obviously if you are just looking at the figures, looking at ways to save money sure you are going to save money but you are also putting people at risk of hurting themselves.”
Governor declares state of emergency ahead of Tropical Storm Zeta
Zeta is currently a tropical storm over the Gulf of Mexico, but it is predicted to make landfall as a category one hurricane.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday issued a state of emergency as Tropical Storm Zeta approaches the Gulf Coast.
“Ahead of Tropical Storm Zeta’s anticipated landfall Wednesday evening as a Category 1 hurricane, I am issuing a state of emergency effective today at 4:00 p.m.,” Ivey said. “While this storm is not expected to have an impact as large as storms we’ve seen move through the Gulf earlier this year, we want to be in the best place possible to respond to anticipated rain, storm surge and mass power outage. I encourage everyone to remain weather aware and tuned in to their trusted news source as this storm could shift direction or change intensity. We continue to track the path of this storm and will stay in touch with the people of Alabama with any updates.”
Zeta is currently a tropical storm over the Gulf of Mexico, but it is predicted to make landfall as a category one hurricane. The National Hurricane Center is predicting Zeta to make landfall in Mississippi on Wednesday and then proceed toward Alabama, but these storms can and do move.
A more easterly track could prove devastating to the Alabama Gulf Coast as was the case with Hurricane Sally, which shifted course in September, hitting Alabama, though Zeta is expected to be weaker than Sally at landfall.
The storm surge from the Mississippi-Alabama border to Dauphin Island is forecast to be 5 to 8 feet. Mobile Bay to the Alabama-Florida border is expected to have 3 to 5 feet of storm surge and from the border to Navarre, Florida, could experience 2 to 4 feet of storm surge.
Hurricane force winds are a possibility with this storm. Tropical force winds are expected to be an issue for Southern Mississippi and Alabama well inland. There is expected to be heavy rainfall across the state Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
The Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency announced that sandbags are available inside the county commission office at Robertsdale Central Annex (22251 Palmer Street) until 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Wednesday or while they last.
Bring any help and shovels you will need. There is a limit of just 25 bags per person. Alabama’s coastal counties are currently under a Tropical Storm Warning, a Storm Surge Warning for Mobile County and a High Rip Current and High Surf Warning.
Congressman Bradley Byrne said, “I just finished up briefings from Alabama EMA, FEMA, and the National Hurricane Center regarding #Zeta. We should not take this storm lightly and should start making preparations right away. After sundown Wednesday, I’d encourage everyone in Southwest Alabama to stay home and off the roads until sunrise Thursday. This storm will have impacts as far north as Montgomery, so those in Washington, Clarke, and Monroe counties will see tropical storm force winds and heavy rain. I’d encourage everyone to charge their phones and other necessary electronics. If you have an emergency during the storm, call 911 and do not try to drive.”
Coastal Alabama is still in the process of recovering from Hurricane Sally which hit the state on Sept. 15.
Alabama’s COVID-19 hospitalizations surpass 1,000 for first time since August
The 1,001 patients in hospitals with COVID-19 on Tuesday is a 34 percent increase from a month ago.
Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in Alabama on Monday crossed the 1,000 mark for the first time since Aug. 31 — a sign that Alabama may be headed for another peak in hospitalizations as the state prepares for winter and flu season.
The 1,001 patients in hospitals with COVID-19 on Tuesday is a 34 percent increase from a month ago, and the seven-day average of COVID-19 hospitalizations by day Tuesday was 917, a 21 percent increase from Sept. 27.
“Unfortunately, not surprised but frankly, depressed by our trends,” said Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association and Alabama’s former state health officer, speaking to APR on Tuesday.
Work is under way to help hospitals prepare for another surge, ensuring there’s enough of therapies like Remdesivir, ventilators and personal protective equipment are in place, Williamson said.
Alabama on Monday had just 16 percent of the state’s ICU beds available, and since the start of the pandemic, with a few exceptions, Alabama hospitals have had less than 20 percent ICU availability, Williamson said. During the state’s last peak in mid-July, coronavirus patients were using 445 ICU beds, he said, and by Sept, 20 that had dropped to 274, where it hovered ever since.
On Monday, 292 COVID-19 patients were in ICUs, Williamson said.
Williamson said at the state’s worst point during July, Alabama had just 109 ICU beds available but that “the problem wasn’t beds. It was staff.” Without staff to care for the patients, empty ICU beds would do a patient no good.
A nurse can typically care for up to six patients, but only three or four COVID-19 patients, who require extra care, Williamson said. And there’s concern that fatigue among hospital staff will again become a challenge.
“You’re seeing it nationally now, in folks who are going through this second wave. Staff are just exhausted because they’ve seen it before. They know how somehow this is going to turn out for a significant number of patients,” Williamson said. “And part of it is just the incredible frustration that a lot of this was preventable.
As treatment options and the knowledge of how to better care for COVID-19 patients have improved, fewer coronavirus patients are taking up those ICU beds, but they’ve been replaced with people who come to hospitals sicker than before the pandemic.
Williamson said many of them may have put off going to the hospital during the state’s surge, and as a result, find themselves sicker than they would have otherwise been.
Alabama’s hospitalizations began dropping in the weeks after Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statewide mask order in July, which she has extended twice, but after dipping down as low 703 on Sept. 25, hospitalizations have been rising.
Williamson said looking at the rate of increase in recent weeks, he predicts the state could again see daily hospitalizations of 1,500 as in July, and said while current hospitalizations for seasonal flu patients are in the single digits, there’s concern that as flu season continues the combination of flu and COVID-19 patients will strain hospital staffing resources and bed space statewide.
Williamson said from personal observation he is seeing more people not wearing masks, or wearing them improperly, and said the state could dramatically reduce the risk of COVID-19 if the public regularly wore masks and wore them properly.
“The period between Thanksgiving and the first of the year could be really, really problematic, given what we’re now seeing with COVID,” Williamson said.
Alabama added 1,115 new confirmed and probable coronavirus cases on Tuesday, and the 14-day average of new daily cases hit 1,375. Over the last two weeks, the state added 19,244 cases, although 3,747 were older test results from labs that weren’t properly reporting to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Alabama’s 14-day positivity rate is at nearly 21 percent, although those older test results skewed the figure higher than it otherwise would have been. Just prior to those older cases being added to the count, however, Alabama’s 14-day average of percent positivity was 15 percent. Public health experts say it needs to be at or below 5 percent of cases are going undetected.
ADPH reported 26 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday. Over the last four weeks, ADPH added 391 coronavirus deaths to the state’s total, which stood at 2,892 on Tuesday.
Agriculture Department providing shelters for livestock evacuating due to Zeta
The Alabama A&M Agribition Center will open effective immediately for livestock that is being evacuated.
In response to Tropical Storm Zeta, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries has been in contact with partners to provide a temporary sheltering facility for evacuated livestock including horses and cattle.
Animals moving in response to Tropical Storm Zeta will be exempt from a certificate of veterinary inspection.
The Alabama A&M Agribition Center (4925 Moore’s Mill Rd, Huntsville, AL 35811) will open effective immediately for livestock that is being evacuated. The shelter is only equipped to shelter livestock, not pets or companion animals such as dogs or cats.
This facility will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. To contact the A&M Agribition Center call 256-689-0274. Evacuees will need to bring their own shavings, water buckets, feed, etc.
When evacuating, it is important for livestock owners to be prepared to care for their animals while they are away. Please be sure to bring the following items with you: a current list of all animals, including their records of feeding, vaccinations and tests.
Make sure that you have proof of ownership for all animals. Supplies for temporary identification of your animals, such as plastic neckbands and permanent markers to label your animals with your name, address and telephone number. Handling equipment such as halters and appropriate tools for each kind of animal. Water, feed and buckets as well as tools and supplies needed for sanitation.
For questions or concerns about sheltering livestock during a tropical storm evacuation, please contact ADAI Emergency Programs at 334-240-7279 or by email. The Alabama Cooperative Extension Service has also prepared an article on how to prepare to evacuate a farm.
There are more than 1.3 million head of cattle and calves on Alabama farms, according to figures released by the Alabama Agriculture Statistics Service. The cattle herd represents an enormous investment for Alabama farm families and is valued at approximately $2.4 billion.
Alabama has nearly 100,000 horses with a total value of over $500 million. Alabama has 57,000 hogs with annual production of $21.4 million a year. Alabama has more than 40,000 sheep and goats.
Farms in Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties were hit hard by Hurricane Sally and repairs to barns and fences from that storm are still ongoing.
Prosecution accepts misdemeanor plea in high-profile environmental administrator’s case
The plea deal came shortly before Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Stephen C. Wallace was to hear arguments on selective and vindictive prosecution.
Almost two years ago, Trump administration EPA Region 4 Administrator Onis “Trey” Glenn III was charged with more than a dozen state felony ethics violations. On Monday, he pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges after reaching a plea agreement with the prosecution.
The plea deal came shortly before Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Stephen C. Wallace was to hear arguments on selective and vindictive prosecution.
According to a statement from the Ethics Commission at the time, Glenn, along with former Alabama Environmental Management Commissioner Scott Phillips, was charged after a Jefferson County grand jury returned indictments against the two on Nov. 9, 2018, according to a statement from the Ethics Commission.
Rather than moving forward with the case, prosecutors dropped the felony charges against Glenn. They opted to reach an agreement to accept a plea on three counts of “unintentional” violations of the ethics code. Glenn received a two-year suspended sentence for his actions.
“In the interest of efficiency, we were pleased to take advantage of the opportunity to resolve this matter,” Glenn’s attorney Matt Hart told APR when reached for comment. “My client pleaded to unintentional, misdemeanor violations of the ethics law, and the matter is concluded.”
Questions surround the prosecution’s decision to settle the case for a confession to minor offensives in such a high profile case. Still, from the beginning, the case was marred by allegations that the Alabama Ethics Commission’s lawyers had mishandled the investigation and indictments.
Indictments against Glenn and Phillips were reported by AL.com even before the pair was arrested or served with the indictments. In AL.com’s report, Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton said that then-Jefferson County District Attorney Mike Anderton had requested the Ethics Commission help indict the two men.
As first reported by APR, shortly after Glenn and Phillips’ indictments, Albritton and his team’s actions raised serious questions about the process that led to charges against the two men. APR reported that Albritton and Ethics Commission lawyer Cynthia Propst Raulston approached Anderton, and he did not request help with the case from the commission, as was reported in AL.com.
Later, APR confirmed that the Ethics Commission approached Anderton, contradicting Albritton’s public statement. In a sworn statement given on Feb. 9, 2019, Anderton said it was Ethics Commission lawyers who approached him, as first reported by APR in November of last year.
According to Anderton, in the fall of 2018, Propst Raulston approached him because “she had a case she wanted to present to the Jefferson County Grand Jury.”
He further states, “I told Ms. Raulston that I would facilitate her appearance before the grand jury but that my office did not have the resources to support her case. I also told her that she would have to prosecute the case herself.”
These and other aberrations came into sharper focus when Hart — the state’s most famous prosecutor of his generation turned defense attorney — began diving into the particulars of the prosecution’s case.
Glenn’s defense argued from the start that procedural process was circumvented when Albritton and Propst Raulston took the complaint directly to a grand jury rather than the Ethics Commission as prescribed by the Legislature.
An ethics commissioner told APR privately that the commission was never informed about a complaint against the two men, nor was the investigation.
According to internal sources, actions taken by Albritton and Propst Raulston created turmoil at the commission and raised a question about who would prosecute the case on the state’s behalf.
During the process, Albritton, Propst Raulston, and other attorneys for the commission asked the attorney general’s office to take over the case; however, according to sources within the office, the AG turned them down after a review found “statutory problems” with how the case against Glenn and Phillips was handled.
In a motion to dismiss, the defense said, “In sum, the Ethics Commission Staff trampled Mr. Glenn’s rights in obtaining the indictment without giving him his required notice and an opportunity to be heard as required by the Alabama Ethics Act, and then after indictment denied him notice as guaranteed by the Grand Jury Secrecy Act and failed to protect his presumption of innocence as required by the Rules of Professional Conduct.”
While not explicitly noted in the motion to dismiss, the relationship between environmental group GASP and the prosecution was a subject that would have been heard in the hearing on selective and vindictive prosecution.
Immediately following Glenn and Phillips’ indictment, GASP posted a celebratory tweet, even taking credit for the indictment.
Just so y’all know, Gasp made this possible. We were the ones whose presentation was shared by Glenn and Phillips. We paid for the exhibits in PACER so we could piece this story together. We did the leg work and the organizing. We need your support to keep doing it! https://t.co/5ubmIMciEQ
— GASP (@gaspgroup) November 13, 2018
Former GASP director Stacie Propst is the sister of Ethics Commission lawyer Propst Raulston who presented the case to the Jefferson County grand jury.
While many in the environmental community celebrated Glenn’s indictment, the defense argued the prosecution took an illegal short cut to indict him, which denied Glenn due process and amounted to selective and vindictive prosecution.
Monday’s plea agreement ended the two-year drama without further exposure as to what happened behind the scene. Phillips’s case is still pending.