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PARCA offers analysis of proposed statewide amendments for the November 6th General Election

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Staff Report

From the Office of PARCA

BIRMINGHAM—PARCA is considered by many to be Alabama’s most trusted research organization.

The organization is a nonpartisan group with the goal of providing information, “that will lead to the improvement of state and local government in Alabama.”

PARCA recently released their analysis of the 11 proposed amendment to appear on This year’s General Election on November  6.

Within the following boxes, is the  prescribed language for the proposed constitutional amendments that will appear on the ballot statewide. Beneath each ballot box, the PARCA staff has provided a brief descriptive analysis of the proposed amendment.

Statewide Amendment 1

Public Service Announcement

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, relating to the Forever Wild Land Trust, to reauthorize the trust for a 20-year period. (Proposed by Act 2011-315)”

Yes ( ) No ( )

Statewide Amendment 1 asks voters to authorize extending the state’s land preservation program, Forever Wild, for another 20 years.

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Originally created in 1992 by Constitutional Amendment 553, Forever Wild receives 10 percent of the earnings of the state’s oil and gas trust fund, up to a cap of $15 million annually. It uses the proceeds to preserve land with ecological or recreational value.

According to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), Forever Wild has received $193 million over its initial 20-year term. Over that time, the Forever Wild Trust has preserved 231,000 acres. That includes 61,000 acres leased for 99 years to preserve public hunting lands traditionally available in the conservation department’s Wildlife Management Areas. Land purchases have been used to expand existing state parks as well as to add to or establish nature preserves and recreational attractions.

The program operates independently in some cases but also works in conjunction with local governments on initiatives.

Forever Wild often matches its own money with grants from federal land and forest preservation programs as well with grants and donations from individuals and conservation-oriented nonprofits. The program can only acquire land from willing sellers.

The Forever Wild Trust is overseen by a 15-member appointed board of trustees and receives staff and land management support from the State Lands Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The Commissioner of the DCNR is the ex-officio chair of the board.

According to a 2005 comparison performed by the Trust for Public Lands, Alabama ranks last among Southeastern states in publicly protected land, in terms of the percentage of land area preserved, total acreage protected, and acreage protected per capita. If Forever Wild were able to acquire the same total acreage over the next 20 years, Alabama would still rank last in the Southeast, even if other states acquire no more land during that period.

Statewide Amendment 2

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended, to allow issuance by the State from time to time of general obligation bonds under the authority of Section 219.04 and Section 219.041 to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended, so long as the aggregate principal amount of all such general obligation bonds at any time outstanding is not in excess of $750 million. This amendment would replace the maximum aggregate principal limitations currently contained in said Sections 219.04 and 219.041. The proposed amendment would also allow issuance by the State of general obligation refunding bonds under the authority of Sections 219.04 and 219.041 to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended, subject to certain minimum savings thresholds and limitations of maximum average maturity. (Proposed by Act 2012- 567)”

Yes ( ) No ( )

This proposal would amend the Alabama Constitution to restate the terms of the existing $750- million cap on general obligation bonds for economic development that can be issued under the authority of Constitutional Amendments 666 and 796.

The limit currently applies to the “aggregate principal amount” of bonds issued and not to the aggregate principal amount of bonds outstanding at any time. The proposal has two parts: (1) it permits the state to refinance existing debt, which should have been permitted by the original authorizing amendments, and more importantly (2) it permits the state to issue new debt as old debt is retired, not to exceed an aggregate principal amount of $750 million at any time. The effect of the proposal is both to correct an error in the original amendments and to expand the state’s ability to issue debt for economic development.

It is normal for bonds to be refinanced (or “refunded”) when interest rates fall, in order to reduce debt service payments, and refunding bonds normally do not count against the total of bonds issued under a cap because they simply replace bonds that are already counted in the total. The language in Amendments 666 and 796 did not explicitly allow for this adjustment in the calculations. Under the terms of this proposal, the refinancing of outstanding bonds authorized by Amendments 666 and 796 would not count against the $750-million limit. According to state finance officials, the state has issued about $720 million in bonds to date, with about $590 million outstanding. If enabled to refinance outstanding bonds where advantageous, the state could save about $30 million in interest costs currently, and the savings could increase in future years as additional existing bonds become eligible for refinancing.

The state would also be able to issue new bonds under the authority of the prior amendments as it pays down the principal from existing bonds, so long as the outstanding bond amounts do not exceed the $750-million limit. This converts the one-time authorization to an ongoing authorization limited only by the total of bonds outstanding at any time. It would create a permanent funding mechanism for economic development. The bonds would be issued as general obligations of the state, payable from the general revenues of the state. The primary source of repayment would be a trust fund that receives revenue from oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, backed up by the General Fund. While both of these sources are down in recent years, state officials project that the savings from future refinancings would offset much of the additional debt service that would result.

Statewide Amendment 3

This proposal would amend the Alabama Constitution to define the boundaries of the Stockton community in northern Baldwin County, designate the area as a “Landmark District,” and prohibit the Legislature from passing a local act that annexes any property in the District into an existing municipality.

Annexation of property into municipalities is governed by the general laws of the state. One of the optional methods is for the Legislature to pass a local law that annexes an area into a specific municipality. This can be done without the consent of the property owners affected, which normally would be required. The proponents of this measure wish to prevent the use of such a procedure to annex property within the Stockton Landmark District to any existing municipality.

According to the Census Bureau, the Stockton community has a little over 5,000 residents. This is clearly a local issue. It was placed on the statewide ballot, rather than only on ballots in Baldwin County, because one legislator voted against the proposal. The Alabama Constitution requires unanimous legislative approval for proposed constitutional amendments to be considered local and decided solely by local voters. This proposal will be adopted only if it passes in Stockton, Baldwin County and statewide.

Statewide Amendment 4

“Relating to Baldwin County, proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to define the Stockton Landmark District within the county and to prohibit the annexation by local law of any property within the district into any municipality. (Proposed by Act 2011-316)”

Yes ( ) No ( )

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to repeal portions of Amendment 111, now appearing as Section 256 of the Official Recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended, relating to separation of schools by race and to repeal Section 259, Amendment 90, and Amendment 109, relating to the poll tax. (Proposed by Act 2011-353)”

Yes ( ) No ( )

The proposed Statewide Amendment 4 would remove certain obsolete and discriminatory language currently found in Sections 256 and 259 of the Alabama Constitution, and related amendments.

The original Section 256 required a “liberal system of public schools”; however, it also required separate schools for white and black students. Amendment 111, adopted in 1956, contained three paragraphs amending Section 256. The first called for promoting education but removed any right to education at public expense. The second authorized the Legislature to provide for schools as it saw fit. The third allowed the Legislature to authorize parents or guardians to choose segregated schools for their children.

The proposal in Statewide Amendment 4 would eliminate the third paragraph of the Amendment 111 version of Section 256, which explicitly authorized segregated schools. The proposal also would repeal Section 259 and associated amendments, which once authorized poll taxes to be levied on the privilege of voting.

The provisions to be eliminated have been held by federal courts to violate the U. S. Constitution and are no longer in effect. Proponents of these changes claim that removing language related to school segregation and poll taxes is the right thing to do and will improve the state’s image. Some opponents of the proposal object to its failure to address the first two paragraphs of the Amendment 111 version of section 256, which eliminated the requirement to support public schools.

Statewide Amendment 5

This proposal would amend the Alabama Constitution to dissolve the Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Prichard and transfer its assets and liabilities to the Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners of the City of Mobile. The terms of this amendment would require approval in the area served by each utility, as well as statewide. The rates of existing Mobile customers are not to increase as a result of the merger.

According to news accounts in the Press-Register, the Mobile system serves about 90,000 customers and is the largest water and sewer utility in the area. It provides water on a wholesale basis to the Prichard system, which then resells to its 11,300 retail customers. The Mobile system charges lower water rates and favors the merger as a way to add customers and provide more cost-effective services throughout the area. The Prichard system is opposed. A group of Prichard customers favors the merger due to the prospect of lower rates.

Statewide Amendment 6

This proposal would add to the Alabama Constitution language to prohibit any person, employer, or health care provider from being compelled to participate in any health care system. The apparent intent is to overturn in Alabama the requirement for individuals to purchase health insurance and other federal mandates adopted in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that was passed by Congress in 2010.

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), twenty states have adopted laws that oppose some of the provisions in the ACA. At least three states have adopted constitutional amendments like the current Alabama proposal, and similar amendments are on the November ballot in two other states. Seven states have passed legislation to join an interstate health care compact that, if approved by Congress, would give responsibility and authority for health care matters to the member states rather than the federal government.

In June 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ACA’s requirement for individuals to purchase health insurance. The CRS has written that direct conflicts between federal and state laws “are likely to be

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to provide for the transfer of the assets and liabilities of the Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Prichard to the Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners of the City of Mobile, presently known as the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System. (Proposed by Act 2011-543)”

Yes ( ) No ( )

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to prohibit any person, employer, or health care provider from being compelled to participate in any health care system. (Proposed by Act 2011-617)”

Yes ( ) No ( )

Statewide Amendment 6

This proposal would add to the Alabama Constitution language to prohibit any person, employer, or health care provider from being compelled to participate in any health care system. The apparent intent is to overturn in Alabama the requirement for individuals to purchase health insurance and other federal mandates adopted in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that was passed by Congress in 2010.

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), twenty states have adopted laws that oppose some of the provisions in the ACA. At least three states have adopted constitutional amendments like the current Alabama proposal, and similar amendments are on the November ballot in two other states. Seven states have passed legislation to join an interstate health care compact that, if approved by Congress, would give responsibility and authority for health care matters to the member states rather than the federal government.

In June 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ACA’s requirement for individuals to purchase health insurance. The CRS has written that direct conflicts between federal and state laws “are likely to be

 

States Constitution.” That clause (Article VI, second paragraph) reads: “This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof… shall be the supreme Law of the land …, anything in the constitution or Laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”

The complete CRS report can be found here.

 

Statewide Amendment 7

 

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to amend Amendment 579 to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, now appearing as Section 177 of the Official Recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended, to provide that the right of individuals to vote for public office, public votes on referenda, or votes of employee representation by secret ballot is fundamental. (Proposed by Act 2011-656)”

Yes ( ) No ( )

This proposal would add a new paragraph to Section 177 of the Alabama Constitution, which governs elections and voting. The new paragraph would guarantee individuals the right to vote by secret ballot whenever state or federal law requires voting to elect public officials, approve ballot issues, or designate employee representation by unions in the workplace.

Basically the proposal has two parts. Section 177 currently states that “The Legislature shall by law provide for … secrecy in voting.” This proposal adds a guarantee that the law must provide for electing public officials or approving referendums by secret ballot.

The remaining language of the proposal is very similar to a constitutional amendment approved in 2010 by Arizona voters. The purpose of the Arizona amendment, and this Alabama proposal, is to preserve the requirement for secret ballots in the authorization and designation of employee representatives in the workplace.

Under federal law, the designation of unions to represent employees occurs under the requirements of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Employees sign cards indicating that they want to have a union represent them, and if the results are contested, a secret ballot is held. Contests can come from either employees or the employer.

After the national elections in 2008, an amendment to the NLRA was proposed that would have eliminated the requirement for a secret ballot if a majority of the employees had signed such cards. The bill, known as the Employee Free Choice Act, did not pass. The Arizona amendment was proposed to maintain the certainty of a secret-ballot requirement for designating a union.

The Arizona amendment was challenged by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which argued that it is pre-empted by federal law. The U.S. District Court for Arizona held that it is premature to judge how the State of Arizona will implement the brief language in the amendment and whether it will do so in a way that conflicts with the NLRA.

The complete Order of the U.S. District Court can be found here.

 

Statewide Amendment 8

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to repeal the existing provisions for legislative compensation and expenses and establish the basic compensation of the Legislature at the median household income in Alabama; to require legislators to submit signed vouchers for reimbursement for expenses; and to prohibit the Legislature from increasing the compensation or expenses payable to its members. (Proposed by Act 2012-269)”

Yes ( ) No ( )

This proposal would repeal from Alabama law existing provisions for legislative compensation and expenses. It would replace these with a standard for legislative compensation based on the median annual household income in Alabama, and a standard for legislative expense reimbursement based on allowances for state employees generally. The proposal would apply to the Lt. Governor, who serves as President of the Senate, as well as members of the Legislature.

According to the fiscal note accompanying the proposal, members of the Legislature currently receive a salary of $10 per day for 105 days during the legislative session, a $50 per diem expense allowance for 45 days, a monthly expense allowance of $4,174 per month, and $0.10 per mile for one roundtrip to and from Montgomery. The Speaker and Lt. Governor receive salaries of $12 per day for 105 days per session and an additional $1,500 for monthly expenses. The expense allowances require no vouchers.

If adopted, the proposed amendment would provide legislators with a salary equivalent to the median annual household income in Alabama, as determined annually by the State Personnel Board. The U.S. Census Bureau produces median annual household income data for each state that could be used in making this determination. The Alabama estimate for 2010 was $40,474. The fiscal note accompanying the proposal calculates that this would reduce average legislative compensation by approximately $7,208.

The procedures for legislative expenses would also be changed. Expenses would be paid in the same amounts and manner as allowed under law for state employees generally, including a requirement that legislators submit signed vouchers for their expense reimbursements. The presiding officer of each House of the Legislature would be responsible for approving expenses based on a determination that they are in the service of the state.

The proposed amendment would prohibit the Legislature from increasing or supplementing these provisions for compensation and expense reimbursement. Its terms would take effect for officials elected in the 2014 General Election.

Statewide Amendment 9

“Proposing an amendment to the private corporation provisions of Article 12 of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to become effective January 1, 2014, to continue the authority of the Legislature to pass general laws pertaining to corporations and other entities; to continue the authority of the legislature to regulate and impose a business privilege tax on corporations and other entities; and to repeal various provisions concerning private corporations, railroads, and canals. (Proposed by Act 2012-275)”

Yes ( ) No ( )

 

In 2011, the Legislature created a Constitutional Revision Commission to review selected Articles of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901 according to a set schedule and make recommendations for revision where considered necessary. The Commission is chaired by former Governor Albert Brewer. In February 2012 it presented recommendations to the Legislature including a revision of those Sections in Article XII that pertain to Private Corporations.

The proposed Statewide Amendment 9 contains the Commission’s recommendations related to Article XII. The existing Article XII includes eighteen Sections on Private Corporations. The revised version would eliminate ten Sections that have become obsolete, such as antitrust provisions that predate federal antitrust laws, and details now covered in Alabama statutes that largely follow the Model Business Corporation Act.

Four Sections would remain unchanged; these Sections preserve the Constitution’s existing language related to eminent domain, the definition of a corporation, the state’s power to revoke corporate charters, and railroads.

The remaining four Sections would be amended or consolidated. They would:
 Continue the Legislature’s authority to pass general laws pertaining to business entities, and

recognize the authority to legislate concerning non-corporate business entities.
 Continue the Legislature’s authority to levy a business privilege tax.
 Preserve existing language giving corporations the right to sue, and subjecting them to being

sued, in court.
 Preserve the basic principle of limited shareholder liability.

The full text of this proposed amendment, together with commentary on all changes, can be found on the Constitutional Revision Commission’s website, which is hosted by the Alabama Law Institute.

 

Statewide Amendment 10

 

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, effective January 1, 2014, to amend Section 247 relating to the authority of the Legislature concerning banks and banking, to repeal various other provisions of Article XIII concerning banks and banking; and to repeal Amendment 154 to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, now appearing as Section 255.01 of the Official Recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended, subject to the contingency that a new Article XII of the state constitution is adopted that repeals existing Section 232 of the state constitution, and subject to the contingency that Sections 10A-2-15.01 and 10A-2- 15.02, Code of Alabama 1975, are repealed. (Proposed by Act 2012-276)”

Yes ( ) No ( )

The proposed Statewide Amendment 10 contains the recommendations of the Constitutional Revision Commission related to Article XIII. This Article currently consists of nine Sections. In the revision, four of these Sections would be repealed due to subject matter that is covered by statutory law or no longer necessary.

Of the remaining five Sections, one specifies the types of banks covered by the Banking Article; it is unchanged in the proposal. The other four contain grants of power to the Legislature over banks and banking, and limitations on that power. These Sections are consolidated but remain unchanged except for the elimination of obsolete language.

The revised Banking Article includes the following provisions:

  Banks are to be established under a general banking law.

  Bank charters are to have unlimited duration.

  The state and its local governments are not to be bank stockholders, or to lend credit 
to banks.

  The Legislature must provide for the regular examination of banks by a public officer. 
The full text of the proposed amendment, together with commentary on the changes from existing provisions of the Constitution, can be found on the Constitutional Revision Commission’s website, which is hosted by the Alabama Law Institute.

Statewide Amendment 11

 

“Relating to Lawrence County, proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to prohibit any municipality located entirely outside of Lawrence County from imposing any municipal ordinance or regulation, including, but not limited to, any tax, zoning, planning, or sanitation regulations, and any inspection service in its police jurisdiction located in Lawrence County and to provide that a municipality prohibited from imposing any tax or regulation under this amendment shall not provide any regulatory function or police or fire protection services in its police jurisdiction located in Lawrence County, other than public safety mutual aid. (Proposed by Act 2012-308)”

Yes ( ) No ( )

Act 2012-308 proposes an amendment to the Alabama Constitution that would prohibit any municipality located entirely outside Lawrence County from imposing any of its municipal ordinances or regulations within that part of its police jurisdiction that is located in Lawrence County. It further prohibits such a municipality from providing any regulatory function or police or fire protection services in its police jurisdiction located in Lawrence County, other than public safety mutual aid.

Alabama law provides for a defined area, known as a “police jurisdiction,” that surrounds the corporate limits of a municipality, enabling the municipality to provide public safety, enforce criminal ordinances, regulate construction and development through municipal building codes, license businesses, and levy certain types of taxes in order to pay for the services that are provided.

For example, the City of Decatur in Morgan County has police jurisdiction reaching into Lawrence County. According to Decatur officials, the City has not enforced its police jurisdiction within Lawrence County, but this bill would prohibit Decatur, or any other city outside that county, from doing so in the future.

Originally, this proposed amendment was to be considered a local amendment for Lawrence and Morgan Counties. After further consideration and reading, the Attorney General’s Office reached the conclusion that the proposal should be considered a statewide amendment. This was approved by the Local Constitutional Amendment Commission, and the Secretary of State recertified it as Statewide Amendment 11. As a statewide amendment of local application, it will be adopted only if it passes in Lawrence County, all seven of the surrounding counties, and statewide, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

For more information see www.parca.samford.edu

PARCA’s mission is to provide objective, nonpartisan information that will lead to the improvement of state and local government in Alabama.

The Alabama Political Reporter is a daily political news site devoted to Alabama politics. We provide accurate, reliable coverage of policy, elections and government.

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Elections

Trump Truck and boat parades this weekend

Brandon Moseley

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Trump boat parade

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.

Public Service Announcement

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.

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Health

COVID-19 hospitalizations, new cases continue to rise

Eddie Burkhalter

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COVID-19 Corona Influenza Virus Molecules Image Stock Photo

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.

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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.

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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.

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News

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.

John H. Glenn

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(STOCK PHOTO)

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.

Public Service Announcement

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.

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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.”

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Elections

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. 

Josh Moon

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Alabama Sen. Doug Jones speaks during the Democratic National Convention.

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. 

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“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. 

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