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Sewell Supports Bipartisan Fiscal Cliff Bill

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

U.S. Representative Terri A. Sewell released a written statement following her vote for the passage of the Senate’s bipartisan fiscal cliff bill.

Rep. Sewell said, “Tonight, I voted in favor of the bipartisan Senate bill to avert the fiscal cliff and avoid tax increases for 98% of Americans and 97% of our small businesses. While not perfect, the bill is a balanced and measured approach that includes revenues and spending cuts and permanently extends vital tax cuts for the middle class and working families.  Moreover, two million Americans including 18,000 Alabamians who have experienced long-term unemployment will continue to receive emergency unemployment benefits.”

Rep. Sewell said, “I believe that the difference between a divided government and a dysfunctional government is the ability to compromise.  I am glad that ultimately we have shown that when we work together for the common good of all Americans, this Congress can achieve workable solutions. To be sure, I do have serious concerns about the agreement.  I had hoped we would realize more revenues and I am deeply concerned by the spending cuts to diabetic and renal care which disproportionally affects the minority families in my district and across this country.  However, the compromise agreement is an acknowledgement of the need for shared sacrifice by all Americans to obtain economic growth.  For the first time in twenty years, a bipartisan agreement has increased tax rates on the wealthy so that they contribute their fair share and the burden of deficit reduction is not solely on the middle class.”

Congresswoman Sewell concluded, “My vote tonight provides certainty to our financial markets, fixes permanently the AMT issue and protects 25 million working families by extending Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit and American Opportunity Tax Credit, which helps families pay for college.  While there is still much work to do, I applaud President Barack Obama and our House and Senate Congressional Leadership for listening to the American people.”

President Obama said,

“The sum total of all the budget agreements we’ve reached so far proves that there is a path forward, that it is possible if we focus not on our politics but on what’s right for the country. And the one thing that I think, hopefully, in the New Year we’ll focus on is seeing if we can put a package like this together with a little bit less drama, a little less brinksmanship, not scare the heck out of folks quite as much.  We can come together as Democrats and Republicans to cut spending and raise revenue in a way that reduces our deficit, protects our middle class, provides ladders into the middle class for everybody who’s willing to work hard. We can find a way to afford the investments that we need to grow and compete. We can settle this debate, or at the very least, not allow it to be so all-consuming all the time.”

Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell represents Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District.

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Health

State’s order closing businesses wrongfully blocks abortions, ACLU says

Eddie Burkhalter

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The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama on Monday filed a court document arguing that Alabama is restricting access to abortions under the guise of protecting the public from COVID-19. 

Without a court injunction before 8 p.m. on Monday the groups tell the court in the filing that more than 20 abortions in Alabama will have to be canceled this week, including one for a woman “who will be pushed past the legal limit for abortion in Alabama if she does not obtain an abortion this week.” 

Both groups filed a supplemental complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama that argues Alabama state health officer Dr. Scott Harris’s March 27 public health order effectively bans abortions in Alabama, despite the court’s previous ruling blocking the state’s near-total ban on abortions. 

“On March 19 and 20, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the State Public Health Officer issued a series of emergency orders restricting “elective” medical procedures in an effort to enforce “social distancing,” the court filing states. “At the time, counsel for the Alabama Department of Public Health (“ADPH” or “the Department”) assured counsel for Plaintiffs that the Department did not intend to enforce the orders against abortion clinics, which provide essential, time-sensitive medical care.” 

But Harris’s March 27 order prohibits any medical or surgical procedure except those necessary to treat an “emergency medical condition” or to “avoid serious harm from an underlying condition.” 

“The Attorney General has taken the position that the March 27 Order prohibits some unknown quantity of pre-viability abortions,” the court filing reads. “Because Plaintiffs cannot risk criminal, along with licensure penalties, for continuing to perform abortions under these circumstances, they have had to stop performing pre-viability abortions. As such, the recent actions of the Attorney General and ADPH have effectively nullified the relief this Court granted in its preliminary injunction ruling.” 

In emails attached as exhibits to the supplemental complaint, Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, sought clarification from Marshall’s office as to whether the March 27 order banned all or some types of abortions, whether through medication or surgery. 

“Per the order, we are unable to provide you with a blanket affirmation that abortions will, in every case, fall within one of the exemptions,’ wrote Katherine Robertson, chief counsel in the Alabama Attorney General’s office in response to Randall Marshall at ACLU of Alabama’s request for clarification. 

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Jennifer Dalven, Director, Reproductive Freedom Project at ACLU in a response to APR’s question said in a call with reporters Monday that the Alabama Attorney General’s office’s vague response is troubling. 

This law, or this action, threatens doctors with criminal penalties just for providing essential health care to their patients,” Dalven said. “And the refusal of the Attorney General and the Department of Health to provide any clarity about what they think doctors are allowed to do, and what they’re not allowed to do puts doctors in a terrible position of being forced to risk their licenses and risk prosecution if they provide this care.”

“Government response to the spread of COVID-19 must be grounded in science and public health, not politics,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, in a statement. “As leading medical experts have recognized, abortion is essential, time-sensitive health care. Alabama’s attempts to prevent patients from accessing abortion care does nothing to slow the spread of COVID-19, it just stops people from getting this essential care. ”

“Abortion providers take seriously their responsibility to protect the health and safety of their patients, the staff, and their community,” said Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said in a statement. “But pregnant people need health care whether it’s prenatal care and childbirth services or abortion care. Preventing them from getting an abortion doesn’t do anything to stop the COVID-19 virus, it just takes the decision whether to have a child out of their hands.”

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Over the last week, COVID-19 cases in Alabama increased faster than 40 other states

Chip Brownlee

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Over the last week, the number of COVID-19 cases in the state of Alabama grew faster than 43 other states and the District of Columbia.

Only seven states saw their total confirmed cases increase more rapidly than Alabama, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project. The number of positive cases confirmed by lab tests in the state increased 383 percent between March 23 and March 29.

Alabama’s rate of increase over the last week outpaces New Jersey, New York, California, Washington and Louisiana, the states generally considered to be the epicenters of the outbreak in the United States.

Of course, Alabama has far fewer cases than these hardest-hit states, which saw their outbreaks begin earlier. But all of the hardest-hit states have much larger populations than Alabama, except Louisiana.

As of Monday morning at 10 a.m., Alabama had 831 cases of the virus. At least six people have died in the state, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health, but hospitals are reporting more deaths that the ADPH has not yet confirmed. East Alabama Medical Center has reported six deaths since Friday. Only one of those is reflected in the Department of Health’s data.

Alabama’s case count has ballooned despite sparser testing than other states. It’s hard to know how many people have been tested in the state because commercial labs are not required to report their negative tests.

According to the Department of Public Health, 6,531 people have been tested. But that data is primarily from tests performed by the state’s Bureau of Clinical Laboratories and the few commercial labs that are reporting their negative test results.

It will be difficult to know how widely the virus has spread until random testing or mass testing can be conducted. Shortages of testing materials have forced hospitals and testing sites to limit testing to those who are showing more severe symptoms of the virus and who may need hospitalization.

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Regardless, public health officials and experts at the state’s hospitals believe there has been widespread community transmission of the virus for weeks. People have tested positive for the virus in at least 55 of the state’s 67 counties.

On Friday, Gov. Kay Ivey ordered additional business closures but again refused to issue a stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order. Businesses ordered temporarily closed include athletic events, entertainment venues, non-essential retail shops and service establishments with close contact.

Alabama’s confirmed case count is growing more rapidly per capita than many states. This graph, which uses a log scale, shows that Alabama has more confirmed cases per million people than Florida, Colorado, South Carolina, Georgia or California did at the same points in their outbreaks.

At a press conference on Friday, State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said he was concerned that Alabama’s case count appears to be growing faster than larger states. He placed some of the cause on the state’s increasing roll-out of testing.

“As we test more and more places, we do find larger numbers that show up quickly,” Harris said. “At the same time, we do think that disease transmission is going on and more people are becoming infected.”


Note:
You may notice that the data used in this story does not exactly match the data on our Mapping the COVID-19 Outbreak page. That is because COVID Tracking Project collected their data at a different time than us. We update our charts for each day until midnight, COVID Tracking Project stops collecting data earlier in the day. We used COVID Tracking Project’s data in this story so that it would match the data of other states.

 

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Health

UAB to begin preclinical testing of potential COVID-19 vaccine

Eddie Burkhalter

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The University of Alabama at Birmingham is putting six labs to work testing a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the university announced Monday. 

Scientists at UAB will be conducting preclinical testing on mice of Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Altimmune’s vaccine called AdCOVID. Once that testing is complete the company could begin testing on humans later this year, according to a press release from UAB. 

“This project will be our highest priority for the group in the next few months as the goal is to get the data to Altimmune as rapidly as possible, so that they will use the information gained from the preclinical study to design their clinical trial in people,” said Frances Lund, the Charles H. McCauley Professor and Chair for the UAB Department of Microbiology, in a statement. “The expertise and infrastructure at UAB will be invaluable to the rapid progression of this vaccine into clinical studies.” 

According to the statement the Maryland company believes that if the AdCOVID vaccine candidate is as stable as the company’s influenza and anthrax vaccines candidates, it may allow “inexpensive and efficient distribution of the millions of doses needed for widespread vaccination of populations.” 

Attempts to reach a spokesman at Altimmune weren’t immediately successful Monday morning. 

“It is critical that the biotechnology industry and academic institutions work together to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, and UAB is an ideal partner to support us in this effort,” said Vipin K. Garg, president and chief executive officer of Altimmune in a statement. “UAB has an impressive track record of cutting-edge research in virology and immunology, as well as in the clinical development of vaccines. In fact, Altimmune was founded through a technology license from UAB in 1997. We are excited to collaborate with UAB in our efforts, and we look forward to addressing this crisis together.”

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Take action, lead

Bill Britt

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My wife and I lived in New York City on 9/11 and heard the first plane roar overhead before crashing into tower one of the World Trade Center. That act of terror was swift, startling and violent.

COVID-19 is a slow-burning fire consuming resources, businesses and most terribly, lives.

Any reasonable person knows that now is a time to take decisive actions, big and small.

In the days following the attacks of 9/11, our leaders followed a steady drumbeat to war, a war that still lingers.

Today, there is no one to battle except the virus itself, and anyone with eyes to see and a mind to reason understands that our nation and state were ill-prepared to lead the charge.

This doesn’t mean that government leaders aren’t trying; it simply means at varying levels they were not ready.

In the aftermath of 9/11, some excused the government’s ineptitude to detect the plot against the United States as a failure of imagination.

But a few weeks after the terrorist attack, I met with a top insurance executive who said that their company had gamed out a scenario where two fully fuel 747s would be highjacked and crashed into each other over the island of Manhattan setting the entire city ablaze.

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It was not a failure of imagination, just as the coronavirus outbreak isn’t either. In both cases, it was inaction.

Winston Churchill said, “I never worry about action, but only inaction.” Our leaders have been slow to act. He also said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

So it is again, there is nothing new under the sun.

It’s easy to sit back and critique, second guess and rattle off to anyone who will listen to how you would have done it differently. Armchair pundits and Monday morning quarterbacks are always in abundance.

Leadership is rare and only in times of real human crisis do we see who is up for the challenge.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the famous line from John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961. “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

Alabamians may not know how to shelter-in-place, but we do know how to hunker down for a spell.

What we don’t do very well is nothing.

At APR, we are busier than ever trying to inform the public on the ever-expanding calamity accurately. We neither seek to sensationalize or trivialize the news.

Daily, my concern is for the people of our state, the human toll this crisis will reap.

Yes, the economy is essential, but jobs and businesses can be replaced. Who can replace a human life?

No one knows when this pandemic will subside or what cost we will pay for early missteps, but every life saved is a victory and every life lost should weigh heavily on our souls.

The Biblical account of Job is rich in its instruction about loss and suffering. Job’s family, home, and business were all destroyed, but afterward, they were restored by a devine second chance.

And what did Job do to break the chain of misfortune?

“And the LORD restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.” KJV Job 42:10.

If you don’t pray, think about your friends and wish for their well-being.

All across our state, prayers and well wishes I’m sure are raining down.

We are all in the midst of a potential catastrophe of unknown proportions.

Yes, the government can do more and they must, but each of us should do what we can to help others as well. We must all lead in our own way.

The people of our nation and state are rising to the occasion, but still, many are in denial and they are adding to the problem.

Leadership is not an elected or appointed position; it is a choice; leaders stand up and lead.

 

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