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Senate Welcomes Hightower

Susan Britt

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By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY–On Tuesday, the Alabama Senate welcomed Senator Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) to the body. Hightower was elected in a special election to replace the vacant Senate seat in District 35 when Senator Ben Brooks left after being elected to a judgeship in Mobile Circuit Court.

He was appointed vice-chairman of the Banking and Insurance Committee as well as receiving appointments to Commerce, Transportation and Utilities; Job Creation and Economic Development and Local Legislation No. 3.

Hightower received a BS in Commercial Banking/Finance with studies in economics from the London School of Economics & Political Science. He later received his MBA from the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt.

He has held professional positions all over the world.
Hightower defeated Representative Jim Barton (R-Mobile) and Nick Matranga in the race for the seat by a double-digit margin, 46.5 percent. In a runoff Hightower bested Barton taking 64 percent of the vote.

“I am just delighted to be here and represent District 35. I want to know every one of you and work with you. I think there is strength in unity and I know that there are times that there is not unity but I look for the day when there is unity because all of us want a better Alabama, don’t we?” said Hightower in his acceptance speech.

“I just wanted to take the time to publicly welcome Senator Hightower, and to welcome you to the Mobile Delegation. We are looking forward to having you and working with you,” said Senate Minority Leader Vivian Figures (D-Mobile).

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President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said, “Obviously we are very happy to have Senator Hightower in the body especially for those people of District 35 who have not had representation this session. They now know that they have representation. It is always great to have the whole state involved.”

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122,000 Alabamians would lose health coverage if ACA is overturned, study finds

Eddie Burkhalter

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At least 122,000 Alabamians and 21.1 million in the U.S. overall would lose health coverage if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act, according to a recent study. 

The Washington D.C.-based think tank Urban Institute’s analysis found that Alabama’s uninsured rate would increase by 25 percent if the court strikes down the Affordable Care Act (ACA), after oral arguments in a case against the landmark health care law is to begin on Nov. 10.  

President Donal Trump’s administration and 18 states, including Alabama, are asking the country’s highest court to strike down the entire ACA. 

Trump, speaking to CBS News’s Lesley Stahl in a recent interview, said he would like the Supreme Court to end the ACA. There’s concern among many that Trump’s pick to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the court, conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett, could be a deciding factor in the repeal of the ACA when the Supreme Court hears the case just after the Nov. 3 election.

“I hope that they end it. It’ll be so good if they end it,” Trump told Stahl.

“Repealing the ACA would throw our health care system into chaos in the middle of a pandemic and a deep recession,” Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said in a statement. “Tens of thousands of Alabamians would lose health coverage when they need it most. And hundreds of thousands would pay more for coverage or lose protections for their preexisting conditions.”

Health care coverage losses could be even larger next year, as the COVID-19 pandemic and recession likely still will be ongoing, according to the study. 

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“The ACA has been a health lifeline for many Alabamians during the pandemic,” Hyden said. “It provides coverage options for people who have lost their jobs or seen sharp reductions in their income. And it ensures people aren’t denied insurance just because they got sick.”

Ending the ACA would also reverse gains made in reducing racial disparities in health care coverage, researchers in the study found, noting that overturning the ACA would strip health coverage from nearly one in 10 Black and Latino Americans under age 65, and more than one in 10 Native Americans nationwide would lose health insurance. 

People with preexisting conditions would be charged higher insurance rates, or have their coverage dropped altogether, if the ACA is struck down, according to the study, which also found that the law’s repeal would harm people who have health insurance through their jobs. 

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Those who have health insurance through their jobs could see their plans reintroduce annual and lifetime coverage limits, and requirements for plans to cover essential benefits and provide free preventive services would disappear, according to the study, as would the requirement for insurers to allow young adults to be covered through their parents’ plans.

While millions would lose health care if the law is repealed, the country’s top earners would receive tax cuts, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which found that the highest-income 0.1 percent of households, which earn more than $3 million annually,  would receive tax cuts averaging about $198,000 per year. 

“A portion of these tax cuts — about $10 billion per year — would come at the direct expense of the Medicare Trust Fund, since the additional Medicare tax the ACA instituted for couples with earnings over $250,000 flows to the fund,” the Center of Budget and Policy Priority study reads. 

Pharmaceutical companies would pay $2.8 billion less in taxes each year, according to the study, while millions of seniors would pay billions more for prescription drugs due to the gap in Medicare’s prescription drug benefit if the ACA is repealed. 

“The ACA has left Alabama better equipped to fight COVID-19 and rebuild our economy after the recession,” Hyden said. “And those benefits would be even greater if Alabama would adopt Medicaid expansion.

“Striking down the ACA would harm the Alabamians who have suffered the most during the pandemic and the recession. It would deprive our state of the opportunity to save lives and strengthen our health care system by expanding Medicaid,” Hyden continued. “And it would shower huge tax cuts on rich people while making life harder for everyone else. Alabama officials should stop seeking to undermine the ACA and start investing in a healthier future for our entire state.”

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Two military pilots killed in plane crash in Foley

Brandon Moseley

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Navy Lt. Rhiannon Ross, age 30, of Wixom, Michigan, died when her T-6B Texan II trainer aircraft crashed. Also killed was Coast Guard Ensign Morgan Garrett, a 24-year-old student aviator.

Friday, a Navy pilot and a Coast Guard student pilot were killed when their Navy T-6B Texan II training airplane crashed into a home in Foley. No one in the house was killed.

Commander Zach Harrell, a public affairs officer with Naval Air Forces, said that the plane crashed around 5:00 p.m. A house and two cars on the ground were hit in the crash.

“It is with a heavy heart that we mourn two of our pilots who lost their lives during an aircraft crash in Alabama today,” the Chief of Naval Air Training said in a Twitter post. “Our deepest sympathy goes to their family and friends at this difficult time. Rest in peace, Shipmates. We have the watch.”

Navy Lt. Rhiannon Ross, age 30, of Wixom, Michigan, died when her T-6B Texan II trainer aircraft crashed. She was a Navy instructor pilot, officials announced on Sunday. Also killed was Coast Guard Ensign Morgan Garrett, a 24-year-old student aviator.

Ross earned her commission in April 2012. Before joining the Florida-based Training Squadron Two in February 2018, she served three years with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26 out of Norfolk, Virginia.

Garrett was from Weddington, North Carolina, and was a 2019 Coast Guard Academy graduate.

“Their spirit, friendship, and devotion to their country will not be forgotten,” Navy officials said in a Sunday news release.

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Ross was a member of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor’s Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps, according to her Navy career bio. Her personal awards include a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal.

Friday’s accident marked the Navy’s first aviation-related fatality in more than a year.

“The incident is currently under investigation,” Harrell said. “The Navy is cooperating fully with local authorities.”

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U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, said on Twitter, “Very sad to hear about the Navy trainer aircraft that crashed in Foley. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the two service members who lost their live.”

Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, said, “As we await additional information, I hope you will join me in praying for the victims and their families. According to the Baldwin County Sheriff’s office, the plane was a US Navy aircraft.”

A home caught fire after the plane crashed but the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office also said no one on the ground was injured.

The T-6B Texan II is a tandem-seat, turboprop aircraft primarily used to train Navy and Marine Corps pilots, according to the Navy.

There are 245 T-6Bs based at the Navy’s two aviation training bases, Naval Air Station Whiting Field, outside of Pensacola and Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas. The airfield is about 45 miles from the crash site.

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Zeta poses potential threat to Alabama Gulf Coast

Brandon Moseley

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The National Hurricane Center is predicting that Tropical Storm Zeta will come ashore somewhere between Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle at or near hurricane strength later this week.

Hurricanes/tropical storms can and do change direction in the Gulf of Mexico; but at this point the forecast is for it to come ashore at or near the eastern Louisiana Gulf Coast. The storm could be felt along the Alabama Gulf Coast, which is still in the process of recovering from Hurricane Sally in September.

All Alabamians, but particularly residents of Mobile and Baldwin Counties are being urged to continue to monitor the progress and track of Zeta as it leaves the Yucatan Peninsula and enters the northern Gulf of Mexico. The storm is expected to bring storm surge, heavy winds, heavy rainfall, and isolated tornados wherever it comes ashore.

ABC 33/40 Birmingham television meteorologist James Spann said that Zeta should be a hurricane by early this morning as it approaches the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. As Zeta moves into the northern Gulf of Mexico Wednesday, it should drop below hurricane strength again due to increasing shear and the cooler shelf waters. The NHC is forecasting Zeta to arrive on the Southeast Louisiana coast late Wednesday or Wednesday night.

Zeta is expected to bring widespread rain across Alabama after midnight Tuesday night, and Wednesday will be wet with rain much of the day. The rain will continue into Wednesday night, and will end from west to east during the day on Thursday. Rain amounts could be between one and three inches for most of inland Alabama. For now, no major flooding issues are expected in Alabama.

State officials are continuing to monitor Zeta. At this point, there are no plans to request evacuations of Alabama residents; but residents of coastal Alabama and low lying areas should pay close attention to emergency management authorities as the storm potentially approaches.

2020 has had more named storms and hurricanes than any year on record.

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We are near “a dangerous tipping point” with coronavirus: former FDA head

Brandon Moseley

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11,729 Alabamians were diagnosed with the novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, in the past seven days, by far the worst week in the month of October. So far 29,654 Alabamians have been diagnosed with the coronavirus during the month of October. That is already higher than the entire month of September, in which the state had just 28,643 cases in the entire month.

The state of Alabama is following a national trend of surging cases here in the middle of October. 79,453 Americans were diagnosed with the coronavirus nationally on Saturday alone, shattering the record worst single day of the pandemic in the USA, 77,295 set on July 16.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows admitted that efforts to control the virus have failed.

“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Meadows said on CNN’s “State of the Union. “We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations.”

Alabama Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth (R) was one of those diagnosed with the virus this week. The Lt. Gov. reports no symptoms.

Former Food and Drug Administration head Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CBS News Sunday that the coronavirus situation in the nation is at “a dangerous tipping point” amid a widespread surge of the coronavirus cases.

Gottlieb told CBS News’ “Face The Nation,” that there may not be any “forceful policy” to prevent a crisis.

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“We’re in a dangerous tipping point right now,” Gottlieb said. “We’re entering what’s going to be the steep slope of the epidemic curve. These cases are going to continue to build.”

326 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 in October to take the state’s total death toll from COVID-19 up to 2,866, 78 of them in just the last week. 384 Alabamians died from COVID-19 in September. 582 died in August and 630 in July, but if the number of cases continue to rise, the death toll will likely rise with it.

“If we miss this window this is going to continue to accelerate and it’s going to be more difficult to get under control,” Gottlieb warned. “Most states have just a lot of spread. That’s going to change over the next two or three weeks. Things are going to look much more difficult. So we need to take steps right now.”

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Gottlieb admitted that there is no public support for a second economic shutdown so we will have to find “other methods”; but lamented that he did not see “any forceful policy happening any time soon.”

920 Alabamians were in the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms on Sunday, the highest number since September 2.

184,355 Alabamians have been diagnosed with the coronavirus thus far in the pandemic. 107,050 of those cases are still active. 74,439 Alabamians have recovered from the coronavirus, but public health authorities warn that COVID immunity drops rapidly following infection, thus people who survived cases six months ago can potentially be reinfected.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is the Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Fauci said that a decision on whether or not to approve a COVID vaccine could be coming early in December.

“We will know whether a vaccine is safe and effective by the end of November, beginning of December,” Dr. Fauci said. “The amount of doses that will be available in December will not certainly be enough to vaccinate everybody — you’ll have to wait several months into 2021.”

Gottlieb warned that a coronavirus vaccine is “not going to affect the contours” of the virus during the next few months.

“Even if vulnerable Americans get vaccinated by the end of the year, they’re”not going to have protective immunity until 2021,” Gottlieb said.

Public health officials are warning citizens to continue wearing their masks, social distance, stay home as much as possible, wash hands frequently, stay home if you are sick, quarantine if you test positive for the coronavirus whether you have any symptoms or not, and get vaccinated for the flu as flu season will soon be upon us. Alabama remains under a statewide “Safer at Home” order with a mandatory mask order thru November 8; but that is likely to be extended past Thanksgiving given the surging virus cases.

The global COVID-19 pandemic 1,159,009 persons through Sunday.

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