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Leeds Criticized for Charging To Move Cars

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Tuesday, numerous transfer trucks along with other motorists were involved in accidents across Alabama.  One of the biggest traffic snarls was in Leeds where several of the 18 wheelers jack-knifed in icy conditions. Thousands of motorists who work in Jefferson County, but live in Leeds, St. Clair County, or points beyond backed up behind the blocked interstate.

In Leeds, icy conditions and a steep grade made U.S. Highway 78 impassable to most non-four wheel drive vehicles.  That combination left thousands of vehicles, including this reporter trapped on the interstate or parked alongside the road in Leeds near the 140 exit.  Many motorists left their vehicles and made the four mile march to Moody where friends or family could come rescue them.  On Wednesday, moving all the abandoned vehicles looked like a daunting task.  Towing companies were brought in by the city of Leeds to attempt to clear the situation.

Many motorists reported receiving phone calls that said come get your car now or it will cost $175 to get it out of an impound lot.

Leeds Mayor David Miller said on Facebook,

“Well no matter what you do there’s always somebody who attacks you with a false set of ‘facts.’ Despite the real fact that the City has been working around the clock to sand roads and assist people who are stranded to get to the City shelter at the civic center or to the shelter at the First Methodist Church Family Life Center where they are housed in warmth and fed for free, I am being attacked for people actually having to pay to have their cars towed when they are blocking the road or are in a position to cause a hazard. It is claimed that ‘only Leeds’ is charging for this service and all the other municipalities are doing this for free. Here are the facts: 1. It is illegal for any municipality to provide towing service to a private individual for free. 2. The City of Leeds is not charging anyone for towing services. They are being charged by the towing company for their service.”

There was outrage from many commentators including the Alabama Media Group’s John Archibald.

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Republican Public Service Commission Candidate Jonathon Barbee said on Facebook, “Per ALDOT and Governor Dr. Robert Bentley, no one should try to move their cars or drive on the roads until tomorrow morning. If you are being towed by Leeds or Locust Fork, or any other city, you do not have to pay these towing companies. If you’ve had to pay, please bill it back to your Insurance Company as an Ice Accident and report it to ALDOT. If a tow truck company is holding your vehicle and expecting pay, please remind them of the state order and they are in violation of the “State Of Emergency” act by the Governor. Here is the phone number 334-242-7100. If you need an attorney to help in a Class Action suit against the company and the city, please contact (205) 201-0049. Don’t let them bully you. Fight Back!”

Alabama Legislative Watchdogs Director and prominent Leeds resident Deanna Frankowski said, “Have spoken to Governor Bentley’s staff and there has been NO discussion with Mayor Miller of Leeds regarding towing reimbursement by the state. The fact is that Governor Bentley communicated to Mayor Miller that the state is sending equipment to Leeds to tow cars to the side of the road at NO CHARGE to citizens.”

Mayor David Miller responded to the criticism on Facebook, “The city didn’t have any cars towed or moved on or from the interstate. Our focus was on getting the roadway cleared up the hill into the city so that we could get the stranded people on the interstate who were coming down from their cars along with the people who had made it off exit 140 onto hwy 78 only to be stuck there to shelter. By removing the cars on Scott City Hill which were blocking the roadway, we were able to get something over 300 people at last count to shelter.”

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Mayor Miller continued, “An update on the towing situation in Leeds. As I stated earlier, we had to tow a number of cars which were abandoned and blocking access for us to get stranded persons from the interstate and at exit 140 to our shelters. Local private towing companies were used for this purpose and took the towed vehicles to their lots in downtown Leeds where they can be retrieved. Unfortunately at the time there was no way for the City to legally pay for these services, but the emergency required the cars be moved. Several have suggested that we should have just moved the cars to the side rather than tow them. That would have been a solution if there had actually been a “side” to move them to. This was not a wide city street with room to get the cars safely out of the way, but a steep hill with no side room.”

Miller said, “I completely understand the frustration and anger generated by this action and the perception that the City was charging the citizens for towing the cars. It was even suggested by some that the City was getting a percentage of the towing fees. None of this was true.  Most important is what we have been able to do to resolve this situation since it developed. I have been in contact with Mr. Art Faulkner, State EMA Director and arranged for heavy equipment from McClellan to clear the vehicles from the interstate that are still in the roadway. These vehicles will not be towed, but will be moved to the side of the interstate so that the owners may return when weather permits and retrieve their cars.”

The Mayor continued, “Of even more importance to Leeds citizens is that I have been able, working through Governor Bentley and his office, Senator Slade Blackwell and Rep Dickie Drake to come up with an arrangement for reimbursement to all persons whose cars were towed. This is something which the City could not directly do on its own and we are greatly appreciative of this assistance to our citizens.

Many thanks to our police, fire and street department personnel and to those many private citizens who gave such a great effort to minimize the impact of this weather event and to aid over 300 people to get transported to our shelters. Thanks also to the Leeds First United Methodist Church and to Cedar Grove Baptist Church who opened their facilities to handle the people we could not accommodate at the Civic Center.”

The sudden snow storm was a shock too many on Tuesday.  Weather forecasters correctly forecast that Tuesday was going to be a winter weather event; but they wrongly forecast the time that the storm was going to hit and they wrongly predicted that the most populous region of the state, the I-20 corridor, would just get a lite dusting.  Alabama Department of Transportation resources were reportedly pre-positioned hundreds of miles away in Montgomery and Mobile.  School systems, trusting their weather forecasters felt safe in opening schools.

At approximately 10:00 a.m. the “light dusting” began and it quickly became a mini-blizzard dumping two to three inches of snow on the Birmingham-Hoover metro area.  School superintendents responded by dismissing children.  Similarly panicked employers shut down offices across the metro area.  Everybody was suddenly on roads all at the same time devoid of sand or salt water treatments that were rapidly turning to ice.

It was a traffic disaster.  Transfer trucks on Arkadelphia Road became hopelessly stuck on the frozen road surfaces, parents rushing to pick up children from schools got their cars stuck or crashed.  Parents could not reach schools to pick up children and often got stuck themselves.  On Interstate 20 multiple tractor trailers crashed near Moody and at Chula Vista.  On U.S. Highway 280 in Homewood numerous crashes stopped traffic.  Motorists who managed to avoid the icing conditions on the back roads got to I-65, I-59, or I-20 to find the roadways shut down by numerous collisions.

Thousands of Alabamians and motorists from other states were trapped overnight in traffic on Interstate 20, U.S. Highway 280, I-65, and other roadways in frigid temperatures while crews worked to remove the wreckage of trucks and automobiles to reopen frozen interstates.

Jonathon Barbee is a TV producer/director from Trussville who is challenging incumbent PSC Commissioner Terry Dunn in the June 3rd Republican Primary.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Alabama women to Ivey: Support fair processes

Last week, Ivey co-authored a letter of support for Barrett and released it to media outlets.

Josh Moon

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Gov. Kay Ivey held a Coronavirus update Press Conference. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

A letter signed by a bipartisan group of about a thousand Alabama women takes issue with Gov. Kay Ivey’s recent support of Republican Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, and it encourages Ivey and other state officials to instead support fair processes.

Last week, Ivey co-authored a letter of support for Barrett and released it to media outlets. In response, the letter from Alabama women calls the process to nominate Barrett, which is occurring after more than 50 million votes have been cast and in a Senate that is predicted to change from Republican to Democratic control, unfair and “anti-democratic.”

The letter, which doesn’t criticize Ivey or request that she rescind her endorsement of Barrett, asks instead that Ivey and other state leaders honor women by implementing and following fair processes that provide women with equal opportunities.

The full letter is below:

Dear Governor Ivey,

We are a group of women. We are current and future mothers, grandmothers, caregivers, leaders and champions of all citizens of our great state. We are moderates, progressives and conservatives. When we agree with our leaders, we say so, as we have in your support for education, workforce development, and sensible mask policies.  

We also speak up when we do not agree. Thus, we want to respond to your letter in support of Amy Coney Barrett because it does not represent our views. 

Like you and Judge Barrett’s father, we want to tell all young girls that they can do anything their male counterparts can do and they can be anything and everything they want to be. We want it to be a truth, not just a signal “that the most qualified individual will get the job”.  In addition to those things, we want them to know and believe that the process will be fair, because no matter the job, the process should be fair. And our children and young people (boys or girls) should be able to trust that democracy works and can be counted on. How can we assure them when this process has been so rushed and undemocratic?

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We are women who oppose Judge Barrett’s confirmation, because confirming her at this time, when 50 million Americans have already cast their votes, is anti-democratic. Regardless of what ways she does or does not think or talk like us, what matters is that a confirmation should not take place after the election is underway. 

We do not expect you to rescind your support of Judge Barrett. However, we urge you and the other women leaders who have advanced to top positions in our government to stand with us in asking for a fair process that takes place after the election. A process that helps us to believe that our voices and our votes matter because the American people should have the right to choose who nominates the next Supreme Court Justice.

Respectfully, 

Emily Hess Levine
Lindsey Chitwood
Megan Cheek
Kira Fonteneau
Ronne M. Hess
Cindi Cassis Branham
Anna Brantley Fry
Joellyn M. Beckham
Kristen Berthiaume
Alexandra Ruthann Bullock McElroy
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The letter is signed by more than 800 women. The full list of signatures was sent to APR with the letter. We have chosen to list only the first 10 for the sake of brevity.

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Health

Study: COVID-19 infection rates more than double without lockdowns

Infection and fatality rates would have been higher without stay-at-home orders, a new UAB study found.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

New research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham says that if there had been no stay-at-home orders issued in the U.S. in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the country would have experienced a 220 percent higher rate of infection and a 22 percent higher fatality rate than if such orders were implemented nationwide.

Seven states never imposed stay-at-home orders, or SAHOs. The study analyzed daily positive case rates by state against the presence or absence of statewide SAHOs between March 1 and May 4, the period when such orders began to be implemented. Twelve states lifted their SAHOs before May 4.

The researchers defined SAHOs as being in effect when a state’s governor issued an order for residents of the entire state to leave home only for essential activities and when schools and nonessential businesses were closed.

“During March and April, most states in the United States imposed shutdowns and enacted SAHOs in an effort to control the disease,” said Bisakha Sen, the study’s senior author. “However, mixed messages from political authorities on the usefulness of SAHOs, popular pressure and concerns about the economic fallout led some states to lift the restrictions before public health experts considered it advisable.”

The research also sought to determine if the proportion of a state’s Black residents was associated with its number of positive cases. It found that there was.

“This finding adds to evidence from existing studies using county-level data on racial disparities in COVID-19 infection rates and underlines the urgency of better understanding and addressing these disparities,” said study co-author Vidya Sagar Hanumanthu. 

The research can help advance a greater understanding of racial disparities in the health care system as a whole, and help leaders make future decisions about shutdowns as the virus continues to spread, Sen said.

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“While the high economic cost makes SAHOs unsustainable as a long-term policy, our findings could help inform federal, state and local policymakers in weighing the costs and benefits of different short-term options to combat the pandemic,” she said.

The study was published Friday in JAMA Network Open.

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Elections

Jones to attend Auburn student forum, Tuberville hasn’t yet responded to invitation

Jones has agreed to attend the forum, but it was unclear whether Tuberville planned to attend.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Sen. Doug Jones, left, and Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville, right.

The College Democrats at Auburn University and the College Republicans at Auburn University have asked U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, and his Republican opponent, Tommy Tuberville, to attend a student forum on Wednesday.

“We are excited to invite the candidates running for our U.S. Senate seat and provide this opportunity for any Auburn student to hear directly from them, and we hope it will inform our student bodies’ decisions with the November 3rd election only days away,” said Carsten Grove, president of the College Democrats at Auburn University, in a statement.

Jones has agreed to attend the forum, Auburn University College Democrats confirmed for APR on Sunday, but it was unclear whether Tuberville planned to attend. The student organization  was still awaiting a response from Tuberville’s campaign.

Jones has for months requested Tuberville join him in a debate, but Tuberville has declined.

“AUCR takes great pleasure in coming together with AUCD to co-host the Alabama Senate candidates in this forum. We are looking forward to a very informative and constructive event,” said Lydia Maxwell, president of the College Republicans at Auburn University.

Dr. Ryan Williamson, assistant professor of political science, is to emcee the forum, which will be open to all Auburn University students in the Mell Classroom Building at 6 p.m., according to a press release from the College Democrats at Auburn University.

Students will be permitted 30 seconds to ask a question of either candidate, and each candidate will have two minutes to answer, according to the release.

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Capacity at the forum will be limited and precautions taken due to COVID-19. Any student with an Auburn ID is welcome and attendance will be first come, first served.

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Health

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

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

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

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. Oral arguments in a case against the landmark health care law are to begin on Nov. 10.  

President Donald 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 pre-existing 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 from an employer 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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