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Commissioner Oden Speaks Out: “Victory for Alabama families.”

Staff

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Staff Report

MONTGOMERY –  “Our actions today represent a victory for Alabama families. This Commission was tough on Mobile Gas. We were even tougher on Alabama Power. By adopting the PSC staff’s recommendation, we have lowered Alabama Power’s potential revenues by up to $65 million per year and ensured that electric rates will remain stable for both 2013 and 2014.

During the course of our numerous public hearings on Alabama Power’s Rate RSE, this Commission heard from many who talked about topics ranging from economic development to community involvement to the environment. While I appreciate the deeply held belief of many that Alabama Power works to recruit jobs to Alabama and support worthy charities, my focus has always been on doing what’s right for Alabama families and businesses.  And that is what we have done today, with customers potentially saving an average of $30 – $45 per year going forward. While that may seem modest, there have been over 40 authorized or pending rate increases in the Southeast alone since Alabama Power’s last rate increase in October of 2011.

Another important success resulting from this process is our modernization of the RSE formula in Alabama. My experience in the world of finance taught me that a company’s financial performance cannot be properly evaluated without looking at both its equity and debt structure. Adoption of the weighted cost mechanism promotes transparency by allowing, for the first time, an accurate side-by-side comparison of the profit Alabama Power is allowed with that of utilities in other states, after accounting for differences in their debt and equity structures. As we were in the 1980s with the adoption of Rate RSE, Alabama is once again a leader in how we regulate utilities with this modernization of the formula.

Finally, I am proud to say that we have strengthened our already intense reviews required under RSE by adopting an even more rigorous review process.  We have also formalized a 6 year review of the RSE mechanism to be led by the Office of the Attorney General and the PSC staff. With these modifications, I am confident that the RSE formula and this Commission will continue to serve the people of Alabama well for years to come.”

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Byrne secures authorization for additional Austal ship in NDAA

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, this week announced that the House Armed Services Committee approved the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 by a vote of 56 to 0. The bill includes a Byrne amendment authorizing $260 million to construct an additional Expeditionary Fast Transport vessel at Austal Mobile. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for a vote for passage.

“Today’s defense authorization bill received strong bipartisan support and will ensure that the men and women of our military have the resources necessary to protect American interests and safety,” Byrne said. “Like most legislation, the bill isn’t perfect, but the committee’s willingness to work together towards a common goal should be a template for the entire House of Representatives to follow.”

“It is great news for Southwest Alabama and our entire nation that the committee accepted my amendment to authorize the construction of an additional EPF at the Austal shipyard in Mobile,” Byrne said. “Passage of this amendment acknowledges the critical role the 4,000 men and women at Austal Mobile play in supporting our nation’s military readiness and moving us closer to our goal of a 355-ship fleet. In fact, just this week we reached a landmark when the Austal-built USS Oakland LCS was delivered to the Navy, becoming the 300th ship in our Navy’s fleet. Construction of an additional EPF will strengthen Austal’s footprint in Mobile and bolster its contributions to our national defense, and I hope Congress moves quickly to pass this bill into law.”

The NDAA sets policy and authorizes funding for the entire United States military and has been passed by the House each year for the previous 59 years. The bill is expected to receive a vote in the House as soon as this month.

An Expeditionary Fast Transport is a 338-foot shallow draft aluminum catamaran designed to be multi-mission capable of intra-theater personnel and cargo lift, providing combatant commanders high-speed sealift mobility with inherent cargo handling capability and agility to achieve positional advantage over operational distances. Bridging the gap between low-speed sealift and high-speed airlift, EPFs transport personnel, equipment and supplies over operational distances with access to littoral offload points including austere, minor and degraded ports in support of the Global War on Terrorism/Theater Security Cooperation Program, Intra-theater Operational/Littoral Maneuver and Sustainment and Seabasing. EPFs enable the rapid projection, agile maneuver and sustainment of modular, tailored forces in response to a wide range of military and civilian contingencies such as Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief. It is a non-combatant transport vessel characterized by its high volume, high speed, and flexibility. Its large flight deck can accommodate a variety of aircraft.

The EPF is designed to transport 600 short tons of military cargo 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots in Sea State 3. The ships are capable of operating in shallow-draft ports and waterways, interfacing with roll-on/roll-off discharge facilities and on/off-loading a combat-loaded Abrams Main Battle Tank (M1A2). The EPF includes a flight deck for helicopter operations and an off-load ramp that allow vehicles to quickly drive off the ship. The ramp is suitable for the types of austere piers and quay walls common in developing countries. The ship’s shallow draft (under 15 feet) will further enhance littoral operations and port access. This makes the EPF an extremely flexible asset for support of a wide range of operations including maneuver and sustainment, relief operations in small or damaged ports, flexible logistics support or as the key enabler for rapid transport.

EPF has a crew of 26 Civilian Mariners with airline style seating for 312 embarked troops and fixed berthing for an additional 104. Military Sealift Command (MSC) operates and sustains the EPFs, which will be allocated via the Global Force Management for Theater Security Cooperation, service unique missions, intra-theater sealift and special missions.

Byrne represents Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.

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Health

Second Julia Tutwiler Prison worker dies after testing positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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A second employee at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women has died after testing positive for COVID-19, the Alabama Department of Corrections said Thursday. 

The worker recently tested positive for coronavirus and has since died, the Alabama Department of Corrections said in a press release, which doesn’t note when exactly the person tested positive or passed away. 

The death comes as cases and deaths among inmates and staff continue to mount across the state’s prisons. 

ADOC last week announced the first death of a prison worker at Tutwiler, while an outbreak of COVID-19 at the infirmary at the Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore County resulted in the deaths of two men serving there.   

As of Thursday there have been 10 confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates and 30 cases among staff at Tutwiler prison. At Staton prison, there were 18 cases among inmates and 23 among workers. 

ADOC on Thursday also announced another worker at Tutwiler self-reported that they tested positive for COVID-19, as did a worker at the Bullock Correctional Facility and one at Limestone Correctional Facility. 

Additionally, another inmate who was exposed at the infirmary at Staton prison, two and St. Clair Correctional Facility and two at Easterling Correctional Facility also tested positive for the virus. 

Confirmed cases among staff continue to outpace cases among inmates, and that likely comes down to access to testing. ADOC doesn’t offer free testing for staff, but ask that any worker who tests positive outside of work self-report the test results to the department. Inmates must either be exhibiting symptoms and be tested at the request of an ADOC physician, or they are tested at local hospitals while being treated for other conditions, which is how the majority of confirmed cases among inmates have been identified. 

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Even though confirmed cases among inmates — 75 as of Thursday — remains much lower than confirmed cases among staff — 171 as of Thursday — nine inmates have died after testing positive for the virus, while two workers have died after learning they were positive for the virus. 

Of the approximately 22,000 inmates in Alabama prisons, 413 have been tested since the start of the pandemic, according to ADOC’s statistics.

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Courts

Supreme Court sides with Alabama in COVID-19 voting case

Brandon Moseley

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The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision Thursday blocked a federal district judge’s order that would have made it easier for many Alabamians to vote during the pandemic, issuing an emergency stay of the lower court’s injunction in People First of Alabama v. Merrill.

The court’s more liberal justices dissented, while the five conservative justices voted to strike down the lower court ruling, which had blocked absentee ballot witness requirements in a few Alabama counties and a statewide ban on curbside voting programs.

The decision to grant the stay means that Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill’s ban on curbside voting remains in place, and he may intervene into any county in Alabama to prevent curbside voting.

Voters in every county in the state must still follow all the required witness, notary and photo ID requirements for absentee ballots.

Federal District Judge Abdul Kallon had found in favor of the plaintiffs and issued an order allowing local officials to implement curbside voting. Merrill and the secretary of state’s office appealed the lower court ruling to the Supreme Court, who issued the emergency stay.

The court could still hear Alabama’s appeal, but the ruling was a blow for the groups representing the plaintiffs in the case. Caren Short is the senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“While we are deeply disappointed with today’s ruling, we look forward to presenting our clients’ case at trial later this summer,” said Short. “Our goal is simple though unfortunately at odds with Alabama officials. We want to ensure that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama voters will not be forced to choose between exercising their fundamental right to vote and protecting their health or the health of a loved one.”

Deuel Ross is the senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

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“We are deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court‘s stay,” said Ross. “Unfortunately, this means that Alabama voters who are at greater risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 will be required to risk their health and violate CDC recommendations in order to vote on July 14. This is occurring at a time when COVID-19 infections are soaring in Alabama and nationwide. Nonetheless, the litigation will continue and we intend to seek relief for our clients and other voters in time for November.”

Plaintiffs argued that making voters go to the polls and wait in line to show a photo-ID would be a bar to voting given the fear of the coronavirus in Alabama. Voters will have to decide whether voting in the July 14 party runoff elections is really worth the risk of possibly contracting the novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and possibly dying.

At least 14 Alabamians died from COVID-19 on Thursday, taking the state death toll to 961. Additionally, 1,162 Alabamians tested positive for the coronavirus.

The state argues that voter ID and other security measures are necessary to protect the integrity of the vote and prevent voting fraud. Since his election as Alabama secretary of state, Merrill has said that it is his goal to “make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

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Elections

Gary Bauer endorses Hightower for Congress

Brandon Moseley

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Congressional candidate Bill Hightower’s campaign announced Wednesday that he has received the endorsement of national social conservative leader Gary Bauer.

“I am proud to endorse Bill Hightower for Congress,” Bauer said. “Bill is a man of God who is an unapologetic voice for faith, family and freedom. He has worked to defend the unborn both in public and private life for 40 years and there has been no stronger advocate for protecting our religious liberties.”

“Bill Hightower has a proven pro-family, pro-life record that the voters of south Alabama can count on,” Bauer said. “As their congressman, I know Bill Hightower will stand with President Trump to defend our values, protect our constitutional rights, secure the border and put hard-workings America first.”

“Susan and I have followed Gary Bauer since his service to President Reagan, and his later work on the Family Research Council,” Hightower said. “Because of our personal support of James Dobson’s, Focus on the Family, with whom Gary worked, we have for at least 30 years leaned heavily upon his conservative, family-oriented commentary on culture. It is an honor to be endorsed by Gary, because like him, I am a staunch supporter of Israel and deem our religious freedoms as core to who we are as Americans.”

Bauer currently serves as president of American Values, a public policy think tank, and was Washington director of Christians United for Israel Action Fund. Bauer has held several positions in the administration of former President Ronald Reagan including deputy under-secretary of education from 1982 to 1985 and under-secretary of education from 1985 to 1987.

Bauer was then appointed assistant to the president for policy development, a position he held until January 1989. He later served as a senior vice president of Focus on the Family and as president of the Family Research Council.

In 2000, Bauer sought the Republican nomination for president of the United States. Then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush won the nomination and went on to win the 2000 election.

Hightower is running in Alabama’s 1st Congressional District in the July 14 Republican Primary runoff against former State Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise.

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Incumbent Congressman Bradley Byrne is not running for re-election.

Hightower has a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Alabama and a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University. Hightower has worked for several Fortune 500 companies around the world before moving back to South Alabama in 2002. He has started and run several small businesses in the Mobile area. Hightower is a husband, father and grandfather.

The winner of the Republican nomination will face the winner of the Democratic primary runoff in the Nov. 3 general election. On the Democratic side, James Averhart is running against Kiani Gardner.

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