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Slow death for SB122

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Senate Bill 122, died on the floor of the Senate Monday night as the clock ticked toward Sine Die.
The bill touted as a vehicle to streamline government to many looked more like a consolidation of power.
The bill was designed to abolish longstanding institutions such as the Legislative Council, the Legislative Committee on Public Accounts, the Joint Fiscal Committee, the Legislative Building Authority, and the Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment as well as taking the teeth out of the publicly examiners office. SB122 would have consolidated these and other legislative offices under a small select committee appointed by the Speaker and President Pro Tem.
Under SB122 there would have been no oversight of salaries, budgets, accounting or purchases made by the offices of the Speaker, the Pro Temp or the Lt. Governor.
The new ruling Joint Committee on Legislative Operations would have even been exempt from Alabama’s Open Meetings Act in certain circumstances.
One little known fact was that the House amended SB122 to give sole authority to grant press credentials to the Speaker of the House and the Lt. Governor.
Under the current rules the non-partisan Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House have the authority to grant press credentials to members of the media.
Most had thought that the bill was dead but it was revised in the final hours of the session. The House passed SB122 after Rep. Greg Wren (R-Montgomery) took to the floor on three occasions to say that one of the best parts of SB122 was that the legislature would now have the power to decide who would be able to report from the floor of the Statehouse. Wren also incorrectly stated that only the Secretary of the Senate has such authority currently.
Having partisan politicos decide who can and cannot have press access would have sent a chilling message to those who dared report unpleasant facts on the ruling party.
Wren was called for this report but failed to respond to a request for comment.
In the senate, freshman Sen. Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) on several occasions made unsuccessful attempts to have the press credentials of the Alabama Political Reporter revoked during the 2013 session.
It would appear that Wren, Williams and others want to limit freedom of the press within the halls of the Statehouse.
Also within the bill was a section that would have allowed for the removal of the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House at the whim of the committee.
This section was seen by many as a move to instate a “puppet regime” of the committees to serve as clerk and secretary.
Under current law the Secretary of the Senate, is elected by the senate body. He or she can only be removed for cause by a vote of a majority of the members elected to the Senate.
SB122 would have changed this law, making it easy to remove the secretary. The same would have been true for the Clerk of the House.
Prior to the 2013 session the Secretary of the Senate served as the parliamentarian for the upper chamber of the state legislature.
Part of the secretary’s duties was to serve as a neutral arbiter of the many arcane rules governing the body. However, in 2013, Lt. Governor Kay Ivey chose to hire her own personal parliamentarian changing what had been the tradition of the Senate.
SB122, would have rewritten many of the functions that have served the state for over a century. This was conceived all under the banner of streamlining government.
SB122, died as the Democrats chewed-up the clock on the senate floor ending the 2013 session.

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Crime

Two charged in Moody police officer’s death

Eddie Burkhalter

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Two people have been arrested in the shooting death of Moody police Sgt. Stephen Williams.

St. Clair County district attorney Lyle Harmon in a press conference Friday announced that Birmingham residents Tapero Corlene Johnson, 27, and Marquisha Annissa Tyson, 28, have been arrested and charged with capital murder in the officer’s death. 

Williams was shot while responding to a call at the Super 8 Motel on Highway 411 late Tuesday night. 

Moody Police Department Chief Thomas Hunt during the press conference said the department’s officers are hurting. 

“We’ve lost a brother. We’ve lost a dear friend,” Hunt said. 

Williams’ visitation will be Sunday, June 7, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Ridout’s Southern Heritage Funeral Home at 1011 Cahaba Valley Road in Pelham.

His funeral will be held on Monday, June 8 at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church in Moody at 962 Church Street.

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“I’ve never felt the fear I felt then:” Demonstrators describe Huntsville protest

Chip Brownlee

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Photo: Sarah Myers

Protesters gathered in Huntsville on Wednesday, first at an NAACP rally against police brutality, and later an unorganized protest downtown near the Madison County courthouse.

The largely peaceful demonstrations ended when police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators who refused to disperse after a protest permit expired at 6:30 p.m.

The Huntsville Police chief and Madison County sheriff have said they used appropriate force to disperse an “unauthorized protest against the government.”

Police claim the protest had to be dispersed because “anarchists” from out of state hijacked the gathering and threw rocks and water bottles at police.

“It’s darkness coming on, when we lose the fight,” Chief Mark McMurray said. “We have daylight, we win. It’s 90 minutes. It’s an unauthorized protest against the government. That’s what it is. That’s what anarchists do. This was not NAACP. This was a separate splinter group that took advantage of a peaceful protest and hijacked it to cause anarchy against our government. Their way is to cause damage, set fires, loot, pillage.”

At least 24 people were arrested, all locals from Madison County — 20 of them charged with disorderly conduct. Several people were injured by “less lethal” rubber bullets and tear gas deployed by police. At least two police officers sustained minor injuries and returned to work the next day, the police chief said Thursday.

Below are some accounts and videos from demonstrators at the protest, based on their own recollection of what happened. Their accounts have been edited for length and clarity. This post may be updated with additional perspectives.

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Video: Eddie Swift


Sarah Myers from Huntsville:

We came to the protest in the park initially at around 5:30 p.m. It was so packed we could barely get anywhere near the crowd or speakers, but we came with medical supplies in case people got maced again like they did Monday.

We dispersed our supplies to various people around the park, and then shortly after headed home. At 7:30 p.m., we came back because we saw people posting about how the protest moved to the courthouse square and there was a strong police presence. I wanted to document and make sure people were okay. I had no idea what would happen.

As we approached the square at about 7:30 p.m., all the stairs to the courthouse were barred up and heavily armed, shielded officers wearing gas masks lined the entire perimeter of the courthouse.

I’ve never felt the fear I felt then. I genuinely felt as if I could be shot at any moment for any reason. They were intimidating, smug, snickering amongst themselves as we protested.

I suppose, we were blocking the streets, so we gave them a “reason.” I say that very loosely and sarcastically because the way they responded was in no way appropriate toward civilians — even if we were standing in the street.

I’ve heard about the 6:30 p.m. expiration of the permit — which I guess the NAACP agreed upon — but is public property not always fairground for a protest? Even if we, as a separate group, wanted to continue after 6:30?

Photo: Eddie Swift

Maybe I’m wrong, but what I do know is we were 99 percent peaceful. The majority SHOULD HAVE spoken. The police could have easily taken a knee with us, as many police in many cities have done, and we would have been gone by 8.

But what they did instead was wait for the clock to strike “8” (7:45) and started sounding off loud intense alarm sounds, so I fell back about a block. I’m honestly not even sure on a perfect timeline after that — all hell broke loose, time stretched and warped and still hasn’t really returned to the same.

I cannot get my mind off of that night, the feeling of terror in my own city.

They were trapping us, yet shoving us, there were people screaming blood-curdling screams because of pepper spray or tear gas being sprayed directly into their faces.

Immediately turning around to see a young boy, who looked no older than 17, with a huge hole blown out of his calf and blood covering his entire leg. He was in such shock that you couldn’t even tell anything was wrong until you looked down. We were trying to help this guy, and they still just kept shooting behind us, dropping gas on us, shoving us while we knelt down on the sidewalks, trying to aid people.

We literally just had to take off running for shelter in the parking garage on Jefferson in the middle of helping that guy because there was just constant shots approaching behind us.

Everyone I saw who was shot, was shot with their backs turned to the police. People who were trying to disperse, being maced as they ran by. A medic helping someone on the sidewalk, and police throwing smoke canisters at them.

It was barbaric, unnecessary terrorism. Someone needs to be held accountable for the absolutely uncalled for brutality that happened that night.

Even if someone threw a water bottle or yelled at them, we were unarmed. We were 99 percent peaceful and not participating in antagonizing the police, but when they decided they were over it, they didn’t care who was what or what was what. They started shooting, harassing, arresting, and gassing innocent people who pleaded with them and protested for change.

We left at the point that the riot police began advancing down Jefferson. It just seemed like there was nothing else we could do. They made it clear to leave if you can — or get brutalized one way or another.

I don’t really know what else to say other than I got a glimpse of what a black person goes through everyday … who do you call when its the police that are attacking us?

Warning: Video contains violence and profane language.

Video: Eddie Swift


Dr. Pippa Abston from Huntsville:

I arrived at Big Springs Park at about 4:30 before the start of the protest at 5 p.m. I am pleased to say that multiple medical people and first aid volunteers came. We had at least one EMT. People brought armloads of supplies and water. We had a medical area set up towards the back, and some of us walked through the crowd. I carried a medic sign on a pole.

After the speakers — which I don’t think I can do justice to describing, other than to say extremely inspiring — we were led up the stairs on the side of the park to march. There was chanting. It seemed to me that there were a whole lot more people than on Monday night. The line of marchers really couldn’t move much. We chanted.

Instead of a big march around the square, mainly people seemed to settle in the area in front of the courthouse. Everything I saw appeared peaceful in that area. Again, there were large numbers of police on the courthouse steps. This time they were holding large numbers of wrist ties, indicating to us that they planned to do a lot of arrests, I suppose. We could see people posted on top of the courthouse, and I was told they were snipers, but I couldn’t get a close enough look to verify that.

Suddenly — and again for no discernible reason — police dressed in riot gear lined up along the intersection where Fountain Circle turns into Southside Square. We heard a siren and then once again, unintelligible talking over some kind of sound system. I was roughly opposite the courthouse steps, and none of us could hear them.

Video: Pippa Abston

It turned into that game “operator” that kids play. People were passing along information that they had heard, but it wasn’t the same information. Some said we were supposed to leave in 4 minutes, others said everybody just had to get off the street and onto the sidewalks.

Toward Clinton, which was blocked also on Monday, there was no riot line of police, but there were some police cars, and it wasn’t clear to anyone standing there if that was an exit route. I asked several people if anyone had provided an exit route, as is required, and they said no.

Around that time, some people started coming up to us and reporting that first aid volunteers were being detained and ordered to remove their red cross signs made with tape, on the grounds that they were impersonating doctors. Because of this, the many medical volunteers we had were not identifiable to the crowd.

Several people came to me over the course of the night, because I still had the sign and a red cross on my shirt and backpack. I had put my medical license in with my ID, and I said “let them just try that.” But no one did.

We were also told that police on the courthouse roof were targeting medics — that they were pointing out our position. We were warned by several people to watch out because of that.

A few minutes later, people started passing down the word that they were about to start shooting rubber bullets. So the medical team I was with once again went down the stairs towards Big Spring Park, thinking likely that would be the way folks would flee again.

There was an initial rush of folks running down the stairs again, with some screaming, but this was brief and then people went back up again. We were unsure what to do but decided to stay in the park to be ready for their return. We heard chanting.

Photo: Sarah Myers

After some amount of time, which I did not note because I intentionally left my watch at home, a large crowd of people came screaming, running down those same stairs again into Big Spring Park, being chased by police and we heard shooting of rubber bullets.

We ran also. We heard several large explosions that sounded like bombs. We were told it was tear gas.

Even though it wasn’t really too close to where we were, my eyes did burn.

People passing us said that police had told them we had to leave Big Spring Park, a city park, because it was private property, and that we would be fine if we went across Church Street as long as we didn’t get near businesses.

So a lot of us — maybe 100 or so — walked over there. As we were heading there, we saw a large line of patrol cars with lights and sirens on, coming down Church Street, and we wondered if it was ok after all to go there, but they passed by. We were told they were circling the courthouse.

People milled around on the sidewalk area across near Church Street, which is definitely public property, talking, wondering what was next. Again, we stayed in case we needed to give medical help and also because we had never received any instructions from the police about where to go.

We got word that they were loading up large numbers of police into trucks and coming … to do what, we didn’t know, but we were worried, so we walked further away from Church Street toward the Von Braun Center area.

We saw a line of police advancing down Clinton and onto Monroe Street, and we were worried we were going to get trapped. A large crowd to the left of us were moving past the art museum, and suddenly there were explosions again and what looked like fireworks aimed at the crowd. I was told it was tear gas.

People were running and screaming and several of us were trying to help wash their eyes. These tear gas explosions happened several times. We thought they were trying to drive us to Monroe Street, but we had also seen troopers marching that way, and we didn’t know if we were going to get cornered.

We were still washing people’s eyes. Some people were having intense skin reactions to the gas, burning and redness.

One person had been hit so badly in the eyes that they couldn’t see to find their ride, so they walked with my group back to where we were parked and got a ride with my friends. It seemed like protesters were mostly dispersing from that end of the park. We heard there were continuing protests on Jefferson Street.

I made it home. That was like being in a war, getting shot at, having gas thrown at us. And once again, one of the scariest parts was that it wasn’t clear where to go and be safe from being shot at.

We have to keep showing up for these protests. They are obviously trying to terrorize us into staying home, but we must persist.

The Huntsville police chief is saying that us putting on eye protection and getting out first aid equipment was one of their reasons for gassing and shooting us, because it was a sign we wanted violence.

If I go hiking during hunting season with an orange hat on, am I hoping a hunter will shoot me in the head?

If I lock my car door, am I hoping to have my window broken?

If I wear a mask, am I hoping to get COVID-19?

They had snipers yesterday. If we come wearing bulletproof vests — and no, I don’t own one — are they going to shoot us and say well, look what they made us do?

Could it be that we are aware of their weapons and their history of unprovoked brutality and want to protect ourselves while we exercise our First Amendment rights?

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Health

Ivey awards more than $17 million in federal coronavirus aid to local agencies

Eddie Burkhalter

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More than $17 million in coronavirus relief aid has been awarded to 20 state community action agencies, Gov. Kay Ivey’s office announced Friday. 

“COVID-19 has disrupted lives in many ways and in varying degrees,” Gov. Ivey said in a statement. “It is my hope that the services provided by these funds will help people as they work toward a quick and complete economic recovery.”

The Community Service Block grants made available by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will be used by the various local agencies to provide aid to those impacted by the pandemic, including seniors,  the disabled and low-income families, according to a press release from Ivey’s office. 

“Gov. Ivey is determined to help Alabama and Alabamians emerge from this pandemic as strong if not stronger than ever,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “ADECA stands ready to be a part of that process with the funds made available through our programs.”

Agencies, amounts and coverage areas include:

  • Community Action Agency of Northwest Alabama Inc. – $668,160 (Colbert, Franklin and Lauderdale counties)
  • Community Action Partnership Huntsville/Madison and Limestone Counties – $1.05 million (Limestone and Madison counties)
  • Community Action Agency of Northeast Alabama Inc. – $1.35 million (Blount, Cherokee, DeKalb, Jackson, Marshall, and St. Clair counties)
  • Community Action Partnership of North Alabama – $775,602 (Cullman, Lawrence and Morgan counties)
  • Marion-Winston Counties Community Action Committee Inc. – $226,538 (Marion and Winston counties)
  • Walker County Community Action Agency Inc. – $273,782 (Walker County)
  • Community Action Agency of Talladega, Clay, Randolph, Calhoun and Cleburne counties – $1.02 million (Calhoun, Clay, Cleburne, Randolph, and Talladega counties)
  • Community Action of Etowah County Inc. – $379,592 (Etowah County)
  • Pickens County Community Action Committee and Community Development Corp. Inc. – $117,329 (Pickens County)
  • Community Service Programs of West Alabama Inc. – $1.65 million (Bibb, Choctaw, Dallas, Fayette, Greene, Lamar, Perry, Sumter and Tuscaloosa counties)
  • Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity – $2.19 million (Jefferson County)
  • Community Action Committee Inc. of Chambers, Tallapoosa, Coosa – $351,259 (Chambers, Coosa and Tallapoosa counties)
  • Community Action Partnership of Middle Alabama Inc. – $793,918 (Autauga, Chilton, Elmore and Shelby counties)
  • Montgomery Community Action Committee and Community Development Corp. Inc. – $911,887 (Montgomery County)
  • Alabama Council on Human Relations Inc. – $550,919 (Lee County)
  • Macon-Russell Community Action Agency Inc. – $375,068 (Macon and Russell counties)
  • Organized Community Action Program Inc. – $806,165 (Bullock, Butler, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Lowndes and Pike counties)
  • Community Action Agency of South Alabama – $1.24 million (Baldwin, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Marengo, Monroe, and Wilcox counties)
  • Southeast Alabama Community Action Partnership Inc. – $827,944 (Barbour, Coffee, Geneva, Henry and Houston counties)
  • Mobile Community Action Inc. – $1.77 million (Mobile and Washington counties)
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Crime

“A horrific scene”: Seven found dead after Morgan County shooting

Brandon Moseley

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Seven people were found dead in a horrific scene at a home in rural Morgan County late Thursday night after gunshots were reported.

The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office Friday morning said its deputies responded to the scene Thursday night. At approximately 11:23 p.m. deputies responded to a gunshots call in the 500 block of Talacuh Rd in Valhermoso Springs. Police confirmed seven adult fatalities.

“The scene is secure and no immediate threat to the public in the area,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement, but no suspect in custody.”

There are media reports that the victims include four men and three women.

“Morgan County Sheriff and Madison County Sheriff Crime Scene Units are processing the scene,” the Sheriff’s Department said in the statement. “The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office is part of the FBI Violent Crimes Taskforce which is also assisting. Sheriff Puckett, Coroner Jeff Chunn and District Attorney Scott Anderson have been on scene throughout the night and morning.”

Upon arrival at the residence, deputies saw part of the home was on fire and later discovered seven bodies inside after the fire was extinguished. The deputies were able to put out the fire before the fire department arrived. A dog was also found dead in the home.

“It is a horrific scene and to be able to process it will take some time,” MCSO’s public information officer Mike Swafford told WAAY. “We don’t have a motive at this time. We don’t have a determined suspect at this time. Investigators are following leads to piece together exactly what happened and who was involved. We can say we don’t believe there is an active threat to anybody in the area.”

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The neighbors called 911 to report the gunshots

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