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Republicans Positive About 2013 Legislative Session

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Monday is the last day of the Alabama 2013 Legislative Session and Alabama’s Republican Leadership is very positive about the results of this session.

Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R) from Auburn said on Facebook, “While President Obama and liberal Democrats continue to expand the size and reach of federal government, in Alabama we have dared to defend your rights. This session we’ve defended Alabamians right to life, protected the 2nd amendment, taken on education reform, and continued to focus on job creation – just to name a a few. I’m proud of House Republicans’ hard work for the people of Alabama.”

The Alabama House Republican Caucus wrote on Facebook, “As House Republicans prepare for the last day of session, Governor Bentley has already declared this as the best legislative session ever. Between passing bills to strengthen the 2nd Amendment, protect life, reduce red tape, and pay back the Alabama Trust Fund (just for starters), we couldn’t agree more.”

Alabama Senate Del Marsh (R) from Anniston told ‘The Anniston Star’s Courtney Davis, “In my opinion this has been the most successful session of the quadrennium because a lot of the things we talked about the first year, the efficiencies, the streamlining of the agencies, all thats taken place this year. So it took us two years, literally, to get in position to pass this legislation to get it through the studies.”

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) told Al.com in Gulf Shores, “”This has been, overall, the best legislative session I believe this state has ever had.” “I truly do believe that.” “We have overhauled Medicaid, which had been unheard of, the way that happened. We got the (Gulf State Park bill) passed dealing with the state lodge that six governors have not been able to do.” “I mean, there are just so many good things that we have accomplished this year.”

Alabama Senator Tom Whatley (R) from Lee County said in a written statement, “Over the past two and half years we have created over 2,000 new jobs in East Alabama with hundreds of millions in economic infrastructure investments and the workforce and technology developed here in our community. While the media focuses on, and I am proud of, the additional funding for our K-12 schools, the commitment to Pre K Program, providing teachers with liability insurance, adding post secondary representatives to the Teachers Retirement Board, and providing a 2% pay raise for teachers.”

Alabama state Representative Mac McCutcheon (R) from Capshaw said on Facebook Sunday, “The last day of the leg. session, 5/20/13, is looking like a full day with many issues. I have been working in Montgomery this week preparing for the last day. The Senate will address a backlog of local bills and State wide House Bills. To add to the mix there will be Executive Amendments to the Flex/Accountability Bill coming to both houses. The House will be addressing priority Senate Bills, gun bill and Resolutions to include a Common Core Resolution. Should be an exciting close to a productive session.”

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Elections

League of Women Voters of Alabama sue over voting amid COVID-19 pandemic

Eddie Burkhalter

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The League of Women Voters of Alabama on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Gov. Kay Ivey, Secretary of State John Merrill and several Montgomery County election officials asking the court to expand Alabama’s absentee voting and relax other voting measures amid the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The nonprofit is joined in the suit by 10 plaintiffs who range in age from 60 to 75, many of whom have medical conditions that put them at greater risk for serious complications or death from COVID-19. 

“Voting is a right, not a privilege, and elections must be safe, accessible, and fairly administered,” the League of Women Voters of Alabama said in a press release Thursday. “Alabama’s Constitution specifically requires that the right to vote be protected in times of ‘tumult,’ clearly including the current pandemic.” 

Currently, to vote absentee in Alabama, a person must send a copy of their photo ID and have their ballot signed by a notary or two adults. The lawsuit asks the court to require state officials to use emergency powers to waive the notary or witness requirement, the requirement to supply a copy of a photo ID and to extend no-excuse absentee voting into the fall. 

Among the plaintiffs is Ardis Albany, 73, of Jefferson County who has an has an artificial aortic valve, according to the lawsuit. 

“Because she fears exposing herself to COVID-19 infection, Ms. Albany has already applied for an absentee ballot for the November 3, 2020, general election,” the complaint states. “Her application checked the box for being out of county on election day, and she is prepared to leave Jefferson County on election day if necessary to vote an absentee ballot.” 

Another plaintiff, 63-year-old Lucinda Livingston of Montgomery County suffers from heart and lung problems and has been sequestered at home since March 17, where she lives with her grandson, who’s under the age of five, according to the complaint. 

“She fears acquiring COVID-19, given her physiological pre-morbidity, and she fears spreading the virus to her grandson at home,” the complaint states. “She has never voted an absentee ballot, but she wishes to do so in the elections held in 2020. She does not have a scanner in her home, cannot make a copy of her photo ID, and has no way safely to get her absentee ballot notarized or signed by two witnesses.” 

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In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Gov. Ivey pushed the Republican runoff election back until July 14. Although Merrill has allowed those who may be concerned about voting in person in the runoff to vote absentee by checking a box on the ballot that reads “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls.”

Merril has not extended that offer for voters in the municipal and Presidential elections in November, however. 

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alabama continue to rise, while testing for the virus has remained relatively flat in recent weeks. 

“We’re extraordinarily concerned about the numbers that we have been seeing,” said Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, speaking during a press briefing Thursday. 

Harris said the department continues to see community spread of the virus and have identified several hotspots. He’s concerned that the public isn’t taking the virus seriously or following recommendations to wear masks in public and maintain social distancing, he said Thursday. 

“One hundred years ago the nonpartisan League of Women Voters was founded to protect and preserve the right to vote and the integrity of the electoral process,” said Barbara Caddell, President of the League of Women Voters of Alabama, in a statement. “The unexpected risks posed by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) challenge our election system to the utmost.  Today, we ask that Alabama’s courts use Alabama’s laws to make it safe and possible for all citizens to vote.”

The League of Woman Voters of Alabama’s lawsuit is similar to a suit by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program which asks the court to require state officials to implement curbside voting for at-risk citizens during the coronavirus pandemic and to remove requirements for certain voter IDs and witnesses requirements.

The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday filed a brief in that suit that states the department doesn’t believe Alabama’s law that requires witnesses for absentee ballots violates the Voting Rights Act.

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Health

Two patients at Mary Starke Harper Geriatric Psychiatric Center die from COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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Two patients at the state’s Mary Starke Harper Geriatric Psychiatric Center have died from COVID-19, the Alabama Department of Mental Health confirmed to APR on Thursday. 

There remained 17 active coronavirus cases among patients at the state-run facility, said ADMH spokeswoman Malissa Valdes-Hubert in a message Thursday. 

One patient at the facility has recovered from the virus, Valdes-Hubert said. Two nurses at the facility have also tested positive for the virus, Valdes-Hubert said on May 15. 

There were no confirmed cases at ADMH’s two other facilities in Tuscaloosa, Bryce Hospital and the Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility as of Thursday, Valdes-Hubert said.

Among the preventative measures being taken at the Mary Starke Harper facility are staff temperature checks and screening for other symptoms, and workers are required to wear FDA approved masks, Valdes-Hubert previously said.

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News

Inmate at Elmore prison dies after attack from another inmate

Eddie Burkhalter

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A man serving at the Elmore Correctional Facility died Wednesday after being assaulted by another inmate, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed Thursday. 

Jamaal King, 33, died Tuesday from injuries he received after an attack from another inmate, ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Banks wrote in a message to APR.  

“The ADOC condemns all violence in its facilities, and the fatal actions taken against King by another inmate are being thoroughly investigated,” Banks said in the message. 

King was serving a 22-year sentence after being convicted of murder, according to ADOC. His exact cause of death is pending an autopsy.

 

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National

Alabama includes antibody test results in total test counts

Chip Brownlee

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The Alabama Department of Public Health is combining some antibody test results with diagnostic test results in its total tested count on the state’s public coronavirus dashboard, potentially complicating the picture of the virus’s spread.

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said Thursday that some antibody test results have been included in the state’s “total tested” count on its public dashboard, but that the state is working to separate the two categories of tests.

“I think the total number does include some antibody tests, although I’ve asked our staff to sort of ferret those out and start reporting those separately,” Harris said.

Diagnostic PCR tests, which are the vast majority of tests performed currently, check for a current infection, while antibody tests, which use blood and are sometimes called serologic tests, check for a past infection.

The acknowledgment that Alabama has combined the two types of tests on its public dashboard comes after several states faced a backlash from public health experts who say the two types of tests should not be combined.

Combining the two types of tests muddies the picture and could mislead the public and policymakers about where and when the virus spread. Depending on how many antibody tests have been included, it may also falsely inflate the total tested count.

Several other states — including Texas, Virginia and Vermont — said they also recognized the issue and have been working to fix them. The CDC also came under fire for combining the two types of tests in its public reporting of testing numbers.

Harris said he was not sure how many antibody tests have been included in the total tested category, but that the state is working to separate the tests into two different counts.

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“I’m not sure what that number is but we’re going to start reporting that separately just to make that clear to the public,” Harris said.

The state health officer also said the state does not use antibody test results to calculate the percent of tests that are positive, an important metric used to determine if the state is doing enough testing and if increased cases are the result of increased testing or community transmission.

“When we look at the percent of positive tests, those are not including antibody tests at all. We’re only looking at people who were tested with a PCR (diagnostic) test to see if they were actively infected,” Harris said during a live-streamed town hall with U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell Thursday. “And so that percent positive rate, which is the one we’re monitoring the most, is the one that does not include the antibody tests.”

On Wednesday, the CDC urged caution when seeking antibody tests because the tests could be wrong up to half of the time.

The CDC also warned that antibody tests are not accurate enough to use to make public policy decisions or personal safety decisions, despite calls from some policymakers who say the tests can be used to give people an all-clear to return to normal life.

Experts warn that getting a positive antibody test should not be taken as a license to think you are now immune from the virus. There is limited evidence about how long immunity lasts, and the test could be a false positive.

“Serologic testing (antibody testing) should not be used to determine immune status in individuals until the presence, durability, and duration of immunity is established,” the CDC said.

The CDC also cautioned against using antibody tests to make decisions about returning to work or school.

“Serologic test results should not be used to make decisions about grouping persons residing in or being admitted to congregate settings, such as schools, dormitories, or correctional facilities,” the CDC said. “Serologic test results should not be used to make decisions about returning persons to the workplace.”

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