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Dr. Joe Godfrey, talks about 2013 session and social conservative agenda

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY — With three Legislative sessions down in the quadrennium, social conservatives still see some heavy lifting ahead.

Dr. Joe Godfrey, Executive Director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, or ALCAP, believes that House Bill 57, also known as Women’s Health and Safety Act, was a major victory for social conservatives in Alabama.

“This bill was a victory for the women of our state, and we hope it is one for the babies,” said Godfrey.

Known around the Statehouse as “Brother Joe,” Godfrey lobbies tirelessly for issues that are at the heart of the state’s social conservative agenda. According to the organization’s website, the decade old ALCAP “is an interdenominational ministry that, working together with the churches of Alabama, serves as “Alabama’s moral compass.” Their work is primarily focused on matters addressing moral concerns like alcohol, tobacco and drugs, as well as gambling, pornography and other promiscuous behavior.

The fight for the sanctity of human life is perhaps the pinnacle of ALCAP’s efforts. While the GOP supermajority promised to make social issues a hallmark of their legislative agenda during this quadrennium, this year’s legislative session has been the only session to see a major bill pass for Republicans’ pro-life constituency.

In his State of the State address given earlier this year, Governor Robert Bentley said, “The most vulnerable, the most helpless, the most abused and the most oppressed. The elderly, the ill – and especially the unborn -everyone has been endowed with the Right to a Life. I will do everything as Governor to protect those who cannot protect themselves, and protect our Freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.” Bentley kept true to his word by signing “The Women’s Health and Safety Act” into law on April 9th.

However, many bills, such as the Religious Liberties Act, failed to make it to the Governor’s desk.

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“I was disappointed HB108 failed to get through the Senate; that was a great disappointment” said Godfrey. According to the House summary of bills, “The Religious Liberty Act would allow certain employers to opt out of specific overreaching ObamaCare mandates requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives and abortion-inducing agents.” This bill was not only of great importance to Christian, conservative business owners in Alabama; voters from around the nation have called for similar legislation in their states.

Another ALCAP supported bill that failed to pass was Prattville Senator Bryan Taylor’s legislation that would stiffen the penalties for gambling in Alabama. “I was really disappointed in that one. That one was stopped by a Republican senator and a few that refused to cloture a fellow republican,” said Godfrey. He added that this was a case of letting, “party politics take precedent over what was best for Alabama.”

The GOP supermajority could only muster 18 of their 21 votes needed to end the Republican filibuster of the bill, according to Godfrey.

During the final days of the 2013 legislative session, President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said, “I have a supermajority and I can pass any bill I want too.” Yet many bills important to social conservatives were left hanging, while pro-business – and more specifically Business Council of Alabama (BCA) backed bills – sailed through the legislative process.

Social conservatives have voiced concerns over the fact that their issues have taken a backset to those of business conservatives. But Godfrey believes that one is good for the other.

“I remember after the Republicans took the leadership in both houses and the constitutional offices; that I had a representative from a business come to me and say that she had been hired to try to get the business community working together with the religious community,” said Godfrey. “I told her we are pro-business. The problem is that the businesses are not supporting our social issues. We want them to support the things that we are in favor of on the social agenda.”

Godfrey Continued, “We are for people having the opportunity to make money and to generate wealth, but they don’t seem to see the importance of the social issues.”

One of Godfrey’s main areas of work in the legislature is lobbying against expanding the sale and distribution alcohol. “There were a lot of alcohol bills that were passed [this session]: local bills allowing Sunday alcohol sales, local bills allowing draft beer and keg beer. Of course there was HB9, the home-brew bill which we were disappointed to see that pass.” Godfrey said his concern is that, “people don’t think that alcohol is a dangerous drug, and it is. It destroys lives and families. It is not good for business, and yet that is the argument they use, ‘Oh it is good for business.’” The expansion of alcohol sales has been increasing every year since the GOP took over the Alabama Legislature, and this has social conservatives like Godfrey scratching their heads.

“I have laughed about the fact that apparently conservative Republicans like to drink liquor as much as liberal Democrats because they have been passing oodles of liquor bills over these last few years,” Godfrey said.

Godfrey added that he hopes that in the final legislative session of the quadrennium the legislature will push back against the alcohol lobby.

“[The alcohol lobby] keeps flexing their muscles in the state,“ Godfrey said. “I keep telling legislators that we are talking about a mind altering, addictive drug. It needs to be controlled. It needs to be limited. Taking away the limits, taking away the restrictions and keep liberalizing the laws is not in the best interest of the state.”

When asked if he thought voters paid attention to bills passed by the legislature, Godfrey said, “I think that there are pockets of people who pay attention. The home brewers certainly pay attention to whether those legislators voted for their bill or not.”

Godfrey said he hopes that voters will, “look at the big picture and see the total package and realize that this person doesn’t agree with everything that I stand for but they do on some things, and that they vote for them based on their integrity; based on their honesty and that sort of thing.”

Godfrey said he prays that people will vote for a person of, “high moral conviction and integrity.” He added that it is not realistic or necessary that they agree with social conservatives on every issue, “but that they are people with moral fiber and a high level of integrity.”

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Health

Three firefighters, police officer in Mobile test positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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Three firefighters and a police officer in Mobile have tested positive for COVID-19, city officials said Tuesday.

James Barber, executive director of public safety with the city of Mobile, said during a press conference Tuesday that the four city employees tested positive.

The positives come after Mobile-based Synergy Laboratories donated 500 “test kits” and 131 asymptomatic first responders were given the 10-minute rapid blood tests on Monday.  

Barber said the four employees have been quarantined at home until swab tests confirm the virus and physicians provide further guidance.

The rapid blood tests search for antibodies in the blood, which could show a past infection, but not necessarily active infections that are still contagious.

The swab tests will confirm an active infection if one exists. It’s possible the first responders have already recovered from the virus and are no longer contagious.

“That testing continues today,” Barber said of the rapid blood testing of first responders.

Barber said he didn’t have results from Tuesday’s testing yet, but that Monday’s testing resulted in just more than 3 percent of those tested showing positive results for COVID-19. 

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There were 53 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death from the virus in Mobile County as of Tuesday evening, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. 

As of Tuesday evening, there were 999 confirmed COVID-19 cases across Alabama, 13 confirmed deaths from the virus and 23 total reported deaths, some of them not yet confirmed as being caused by the virus.

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Economy

Freelancers, gig workers can begin filing unemployment claims

Chip Brownlee

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Stock Photo

Employees like freelancers and the self-employed can now file for an unemployment claim in Alabama, the Alabama Department of Labor said Tuesday, under the CARES Act, the coronavirus response bill passed by Congress and signed by the president last week.

The Alabama Department of Labor is encouraging employees who believe they may qualify for programs under the CARES Act to file a claim.

These employees will also need to certify weekly to continue to let the department know that they remain unemployed.

Although ADOL does not yet have technical guidance or a start date regarding the CARES Act programs, benefits may be paid retroactively from the time the employee separated from his or her job or otherwise became eligible under the federal CARES Act, not from the time the application was submitted or approved.

In Alabama, many freelancers, independent contractors and the self-employed are not typically able to file for unemployment insurance.

Last week, more than 70,000 people filed an initial jobless claim. Claims can be filed online at www.labor.alabama.gov or by calling 1-866-234-5382.

The Department of Labor is asking for patience when trying to file a claim.

ADOL says employees who may be affected include:

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  • The self-employed
  • Church employees
  • Non-profit and governmental employees
  • Independent contractors
  • Gig economy workers
  • Those who have exhausted their regular UI benefits.

These employees should also meet one of these conditions:

  • The individual has been diagnosed; or
  • A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed; or
  • The individual is providing care to a household or family member; or
  • A child or other person for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility as a result of COVID-19; or
  • The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency; or
  • The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because the individual has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine; or
  • The individual was scheduled to start work and does not have a job as a result of COVID-19; or
  • The individual has become “the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19”; or
  • The individual has to quit their job because of COVID-19; or
  • The individual’s place of employment is closed because of COVID-19.

This list is not exhaustive.

Further details regarding the CARES Act programs will be forthcoming, the department says, including information regarding Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provides for an additional $600 a week in unemployment compensation benefits.

The additional $600 weekly benefit will only be available for weeks beginning March 29, 2020

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Health

Two hospital employees in Huntsville test positive for COVID-19

Chip Brownlee

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Stock Photo/Huntsville, Alabama

A physician and another employee at Crestwood Medical Center in Huntsville, Alabama, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the hospital said Tuesday.

“Crestwood Medical Center learned that 2 of our associates (one physician and one employee) have tested positive for COVID-19,” spokesperson Lori Light said in a statement Tuesday.

One is in the hospital for care while the other is at home under quarantine.

The hospital has also had two patients test positive in the Emergency Department, but neither of the patients needed inpatient care, the spokesperson said.

“Working in coordination with the health department, we are following established CDC procedures to identify and communicate directly with any potentially exposed staff and patients,” the Crestwood Medical Center spokesperson said.

Overall, there are at least 13 COVID-19 patients in Madison County, the hospital’s CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said Tuesday during a briefing.

There are 11 inpatients at Huntsville Hospital’s facilities, according to Huntsville Hospital spokesperson Susan Esslinger.

In Alabama, the number of positive cases is nearing 1,000. At least 23 deaths related to COVID-19 have been reported. The Alabama Department of Public Health has officially confirmed 13.

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Crime

Alabama inmate killed by another inmate at Ventress Correctional

Eddie Burkhalter

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via the Alabama Department of Corrections

A Birmingham man serving at Ventress Correctional Facility in Clayton was killed by another inmate, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections. 

Dennis Benson, 40, who was serving a 36-month sentence for possession of a controlled substance and receiving stolen property, died March 30 after being attacked by another inmate, ADOC said in a statement. 

“The ADOC condemns all violence in its facilities, and the fatal actions taken against Benson by another inmate are being thoroughly investigated,” the department said in a statement.

Benson’s cause of death is pending a full autopsy, and more information will be available upon the conclusion of the investigation into his death, according to the department. 

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