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.
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.”
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.
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alabama continue surge
On Monday, 1,335 patients with COVID-19 were being cared for in hospitals statewide, the most to date.
Alabama on Monday saw the highest number yet of COVID-19 patients in hospitals since the start of the pandemic, and the second-highest single-day increase in coronavirus cases on record.
On Monday, 1,335 patients with COVID-19 were being cared for in hospitals statewide. That was 172 more COVID-19 patients than were hospitalized the previous day — and the largest single-day increase in hospitalization numbers reported by the Alabama Department of Public Health.
The last record number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama was on Friday, when 1,201 people were being treated statewide. The increase Monday is also 134 more patients than were being care for on Friday.
Friday was the sixth straight day of record-breaking COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alabama. Friday also saw the second-highest number of deaths in a single day in the state, when ADPH confirmed 35 new deaths as a result of COVID-19, nearly breaking the previous record of 37 set on May 12.
On Monday, the state also added 1,860 to Alabama’s total case count, bringing the cumulative total now to 54,768 confirmed cases. That’s the second-highest single-day increase in cases since the start of the pandemic. With 25,783 people presumed to have recovered from the virus, and at least 1,096 dead, more than half of the state’s cases, or 27,889, are presumed to be active.
Testing has ticked up slightly in the last few weeks — Alabama’s seven-day average of tests conducted was 9,176 on Monday, 93 more than the previous high set on July 5 — but the percentage of tests that are positive continues to increase as well, a sign that new cases aren’t just due to more testing.
The seven-day average positivity rate Monday was 16.18 percent, which was almost 30 percent higher than it was a week ago. Taking into account the Alabama Department of Public Health’s incomplete testing data on July 9 and in early April, which threw off the positivity rate, Monday’s seven-day average was the highest on record for Alabama.
Public health officials say that the percent of tests that are positive should be at or below 5 percent or there’s not enough testing being done and cases are going undetected.
Madison County continues to see a surge in new cases. The county added 267 new coronavirus cases on Monday, and over the last week added 1,044 new cases, which was 70 percent more than were added the week before. Madison County’s positivity rate this week has been roughly 16 percent.
Jefferson County followed closely behind Madison County, adding 266 new cases Monday and 1,602 cases within the last week, which was a 30 percent increase from the week before.
In Mobile County, there were 157 new cases Monday.
Mobile County’s weekly total of new cases for the last week was 23 percent higher than the previous week.
Extra $600 in COVID-19 unemployment benefits ends July 26
The extra weekly unemployment payment of $600 ends later this month.
Despite surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across Alabama and in many other states, an extra $600-per-week in unemployment compensation through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program is expected to expire July 26.
That extra money, meant to help those whose jobs were displaced by coronavirus and through no fault of their own, was made possible through the CARES Act, the federal aid program that is to continue through Dec. 31, 2020, but the extra weekly payment of $600 ends later this month.
“At this time, the federal government has not changed or extended the FPUC program. States do not have the ability to extend FPUC,” the Alabama Department of Labor said in a press release on Monday.
The end of the extra assistance will impact more than 25 million Americans, during a time when COVID-19 continues to spread actively through communities.
More than $1 billion has been pumped into Alabama’s economy through the extra $600-a-week payments to Alabamians, according to the New York City-based think tank The Century Foundation.
The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments make up 60 percent of total unemployment benefits paid during the pandemic.
In Alabama, 35,760 people are receiving the extra $600 a week, which totals approximately $91.7 million weekly into the state, according to The Century Foundation, which estimates that benefits to Alabamians receiving unemployment assistance will decrease by 70 percent once the extra $600 a week dries up.
The average current combined unemployment benefits in Alabama is $854.95 and after the end of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments, the remaining unemployment benefit will be roughly $254.95.
There are also racial justice implications in the end to the extra $600 a week in aid, according to the think tank.
“Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina all have average unemployment benefits below $300 per week, as a result of both low wages and unemployment insurance rules that simply offered less protection to predominantly black workforces,” The Century Foundation’s report notes.
In Alabama, 57 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic from March to April were women and 50 percent were white, while 43 percent were Black, while Black people make up only 27 percent of the state’s population.
The report states that the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit was intended to be a public health measure, helping workers while they stay home until it is safe to go back to work.
“Just as rushed reopenings put families at risk, eliminating FPUC now will force people to rush back to work before it is safe,” the report reads.
Job seekers can visit their local Career Center or search jobs online without cost at alabamaworks.alabama.gov.
Barry Moore receives two key endorsements
Barry Moore, candidate for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District, received two key endorsements from the Alabama First Responders Association and the Veterans Leadership Fund. Both groups made the decision to endorse Moore because of his pro Veteran, pro Law Enforcement, and Pro First Responders stance.
“We at the Veterans Leadership Fund, an initiative at GatorPAC, are proud to endorse Veteran, Barry Moore for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. At VFL, we have a rich history of supporting candidates who best represent true conservative values and have served our great country. As a self term-limiting representative, a devout conservative, and a true man of the people, Barry Moore is the ideal representative for veterans and conservatives alike,” said Rob Maness, founder of GatorPAC and the Veterans Leadership Fund.
“The Alabama First Responders are proud to endorse Barry Moore for Alabama’s second Congressional district. Alabama’s heroes put their lives on the line every day. We must protect their jobs, and make sure that their families will be covered if something tragic happens in the line of duty. Barry always voted in support of first responder legislation while he served in the Alabama Legislature. We are confident that Barry Moore will continue his support while serving in Congress,” said interim Director Brett Trimble.
Moore responded with the following statement:
“I am very honored to receive both of these endorsements. I am a Veteran and having the support of the Veterans Leadership fund is quite an honor. I have always worked to support and defend our Veterans. When I served as the Chairman of Military and Veterans Affairs in the Legislature, I always made sure our servicemen and women were a top priority.
“First Responders are the backbone of our communities. They serve the citizens and put their lives on the line each day. When a disaster happens we can always count on these brave men and women to respond with courage and empathy. President Trump has shown great care in protecting and defending our law enforcement officers. We can’t let the Democrats attempt to defund the Police. When I’m serving in Congress, I will stand strong with the President and DEFEND our Police and first responders.”
Moore is a small businessman, Veteran, former member of the Alabama Legislature, husband, and father of four from Enterprise.
Sessions says Alabama doesn’t take orders from Washington after Trump inserts himself in race again
GOP Senate candidate and former Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, released a statement pushing back against President Donald Trump’s endorsement of his opponent, former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, in which he said “Alabama does not take orders from Washington.”
The blunt comments were in response to a Twitter post from Trump once again inserting himself in the Alabama Senate race.
“I’ve taken the road less travelled,” Sessions said. “Not sought fame or fortune. My honor and integrity are far more important than these juvenile insults. Your scandal ridden candidate is too cowardly to debate. As you know, Alabama does not take orders from Washington.”
This was after Trump tweeted, “Big Senate Race in Alabama on Tuesday. Vote for @TTuberville, he is a winner who will never let you down. Jeff Sessions is a disaster who has let us all down. We don’t want him back in Washington!”
Trump has called his decision to appoint Sessions as U.S. attorney general his “biggest mistake” as president.
The rift between the two former friends began in 2017 when Sessions, newly appointed as attorney general, recused himself from the Russian collusion investigation. Sessions has steadfastly defended the decision and continues to maintain that he was forbidden by U.S. Department of Justice policy forbidding anyone who was part of a campaign from investigating that campaign.
Sessions was the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump in the 2016 presidential election and worked tirelessly throughout 2016 as a surrogate for the Trump campaign.
Sessions maintains that had he not recused himself from the Russian collusion investigation things would have gone worse for Trump. As it was, his duties in the matter fell on fellow Trump appointee Rod Rosenstein, who appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel.
The special counsel investigation successfully prosecuted a number of close Trump associates for various failings in their personal and professional lives, but ultimately never was able to indict the president or a member of the Trump family, and it never was able to produce tangible evidence that the 2016 Trump campaign was involved in collusion with Russian intelligence agencies to defeat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Sessions is running for the Senate seat he gave up to be attorney general.
Tuberville has been avoiding the media since a New York Times report detailed how Tuberville’s business partner David Stroud cheated investors out of their savings and was sentenced to ten years in prison. The two had formed a hedge fund, managed by Stroud, a former Lehman Brothers broker. Tuberville maintains that he was Stroud’s biggest victim, but the investors sued Tuberville, who settled out of court.
Sessions’ campaign maintains that incumbent Sen. Doug Jones’ campaign will capitalize on the scandal during the general election similarly to how they capitalized on allegations against former Chief Justice Roy Moore to win the 2017 special election to win the Senate seat vacated by Sessions to be attorney general.
Sessions was a late entrant into the Senate campaign. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, has endorsed Sessions.
“Jeff Sessions is a good friend and a respected former colleague,” Shelby wrote. “I believe he is well-suited to return to his role as United States Senator for the state of Alabama, where I served with him for more than 20 years. He has my full support and endorsement.”
Sessions was Senator from 1997 to 2017. He was U.S. Attorney General from 2017 to Nov. 2018. Prior to his Senate service, he served the state as Alabama Attorney General, Republican Party Chairman, and U.S. Attorney under Presidents Ronald W. Reagan (R) and George H. Bush (R). Sessions was also a former assistant U.S. Attorney and a U.S. Army reserve officer. He is a native of Alabama who grew up outside of Camden in rural Wilcox County.
The Republican primary runoff is on Tuesday. In order to vote in any Alabama election you must: be registered to vote, vote at your assigned polling place, and have a valid photo ID. It is too late to register to vote in this election or obtain an absentee ballot; but if you have an absentee ballot today is the last day to return it either through mail or by hand delivering it to your courthouse absentee ballot manager’s office.