By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, State Representative Paul DeMarco (R) from Homewood went to the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives to introduce a substitute calendar for the last day of the legislative session. Rep. DeMarco did this because the powerful House Rules Committee had left off legislation he was carrying in the House for Senator Jabo Wagoner that would have reformed the powerful Birmingham Water Works Board.
Rep. DeMarco called the Birmingham Waterworks Board (BWWB) a “blight on our community” and asked that legislators adopt his calendar that would have included this legislation (which had already passed the Senate) on the calendar of the bills to be addressed by the House on the final day of the 2014 legislative session (bills not passed by both Houses during the session have to be reintroduced and go through the whole process in the next legislative session……likely beginning in February 2015).
DeMarco said that the bill would put the BWWB under the ethics commission, expand the board to include ratepayers currently not being represented, require public hearings for rate increases and would cap the amount of compensation that board members can receive. DeMarco’s legislation was opposed by the BWWB, the City of Birmingham (which appoints BWWB board members), and the Black Legislative Caucus.
House Rules Chairman Mac McCutcheon (R) from Capshaw said that he was here to defend the calendar that was passed by the Rules Committee. McCutcheon asked that DeMarco’s motion for a new calendar be tabled.
The motion passed with considerable Republican support, effectively killing efforts to reform the BWWB and increase representation on the Board for this year.
Former Jefferson County Republican Party Chairman Chris Brown said on Facebook, “I am disgusted by the Republicans who helped to kill Birmingham Water Works Reform. These Republican legislators sided with Democrats, Liberal Special Interest Groups, and Big Montgomery Lobbyists and against the People.”
Brown said, “Rep. Richard Baughn voted against the People. He will be part of the Jefferson County delegation next year. Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin didn’t vote at all. Was this issue not important enough for her to even vote on? Rep. Mac McCutcheon, Chairman of the Rules Committee and Speaker Hubbard voted YES to a calendar that would not bring up the reform bill for a vote. The Mobile House Delegation was a particular disappointment with Rep. Victor Gaston, Rep. Margie Wilcox, and Rep. David Sessions all siding with Democrats and Liberal Special Interests and voting to go along with the status quo. Special thank you to my clients from outside of Jefferson County who stood with us today in trying to do the right thing – Rep. Mike Holmes, Rep. April Weaver, and Rep. Bill Roberts. Big Thank you to Sen. Jabo Waggoner and Rep. Paul DeMarco for their leadership on this important issue and for their willingness to stand up for what is right.”
Rep. DeMarco said in a statement later, “Today on the last day of the legislative session, my last day as a state representative, special interests and the establishment did it again. Without so much as a recorded vote, a House committee made up of Republicans and Democrats blocked my bill to make the Birmingham Water Works Board more accountable to you the rate payer. This is what we’re fighting against: special interests, big money politics and the status quo.”
Rep. DeMarco said, “Even some fellow Republicans chose to side with big money special interest and the not conservative good government we believe in. This fight is not over. I want to end the grip of special interest and the status quo. I am fighting for you right now. And I will fight for you in Washington.”
Alabama State Senator J.T. “Jabo” Wagoner (R) from Vestavia told the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce in a meeting before the session also covered by the Alabama Political Reporter that the bill puts limits on the amount of compensation that waterworks board members could receive, require that the Water Works Board provide the public notice of rate increases, and would change the makeup of the board.
Currently the Birmingham City council appoints all the members of the board even though the water works has grown into a regional water system that serves customers in Shelby County, St. Clair County, Walker County, Blount County, as well as Jefferson County. Wagoner said that the bill would change the makeup of the Board to make it more representative.
Senator Wagoner said that the Birmingham Water Works Board gets water from Shelby County for free and then the Birmingham Water Works turns around and charges Shelby County residents for that water. Similarly the Water Works gets Blount County for free and then turns around and sells the water back to Blount County residents.
DeMarco is running for Congress in a crowded District Six field that includes: Tom Vigneulle, Gary Palmer, Will Brooke, Robert Shattuck, Sen. Scott Beason and Dr. Chad Mathis. The Sixth District Congressional District seat is currently held by Rep. Spencer Bachus (R) from Vestavia. After serving in the seat for 21 years, Rep. Bachus announced that he would not seek re-election when his current term expires.
The citizens of Birmingham established the current Water Board in 1951, although the Birmingham Water Works system dates back to 1873, only two years after the founding of Birmingham.
In 1951, Birmingham purchased the water system from a private operator and established an independent Water Board. The Birmingham Water Works Board has seen major expansions every decade from 1950 to the present. The system now boasts four water sources and approximately 3,903 miles of transmission lines. More than 500 employees operate this expansive system.
In the 1960s, the Birmingham Water Works expanded to people in outlying communities, many of whom had polluted wells. Grant assistance from the Office of Health and Urban Development allowed the BWW to provide service to these areas in North Jefferson County. Expansion continued beyond the limits of Jefferson County.
Senator Jabo Wagoner is the Majority leader in the Alabama Senate and is the Chair of the powerful Senate Rules Committee.
USDA is seeking rural energy grant applications
The deadlines to apply for grants is Feb. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021. Applications for loan guarantees are accepted year-round.
United States Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand on Wednesday invited applications for loan guarantees and grants for renewable energy systems, and to make energy efficiency improvements, conduct energy audits and provide development assistance.
The funding is being provided through the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program, which was created under the 2008 Farm Bill and reauthorized under the 2018 Farm Bill. This notice seeks applications for Fiscal Year 2021 funding.
The deadlines to apply for grants is Feb. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021. Applications for loan guarantees are accepted year-round.
REAP helps agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce energy costs and consumption by purchasing and installing renewable energy systems and making energy efficiency improvements in their operations.
Eligible systems may derive energy from wind, solar, hydroelectric, ocean, hydrogen, geothermal or renewable biomass (including anaerobic digesters).
USDA encourages applications that will support recommendations made in the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to help improve life in rural America.
Applicants are encouraged to consider projects that provide measurable results in helping rural communities build robust and sustainable economies through strategic investments.
Key strategies include achieving e-Connectivity for rural America, developing the rural economy, harnessing technological innovation, supporting a rural workforce and improving quality of life. For additional information, see the notice in the Federal Register.
Trump says that coronavirus vaccine deliveries will begin within two weeks
Trump said that front-line workers, medical personnel and senior citizens would be the vaccine’s first recipients.
President Donald Trump said Thursday that coronavirus vaccine deliveries will begin as early as next week.
“The whole world is suffering, and we are rounding the curve,” Trump said. “And the vaccines are being delivered next week or the week after.”
Trump made the announcement during a special Thanksgiving holiday message to U.S. troops overseas via teleconference. Trump said that front-line workers, medical personnel and senior citizens would be the vaccine’s first recipients. He also argued that his election opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, should not be given credit for the vaccines, which were developed during the Trump administration.
Trump referred to the vaccines, which were developed and tested in less than ten months as a “medical miracle.”
Regulators at the FDA will review Pfizer’s request for an emergency use authorization for its vaccine developed with BioNTech during a meeting on Dec. 10. The director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research says a decision is expected within weeks, possibly days after that key meeting.
The latest trial data for Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine showed that it was 90 percent effective.
The CDC plans to vote next week on where the distribution of approved vaccines will begin and who will be allowed to get the first vaccines when they become available.
Dr. Celene Gounder, a member of Biden’s COVID Advisory Board, warned against rushing a vaccine to market.
“The single biggest risk of rushing an approval would be Americans’ distrust the vaccine,” Grounder said. “It’s essential people feel confident this is a safe and effective vaccine.”
Moderna said that its vaccine is 94.5 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.
AstraZeneca says its preliminary results showed its vaccine ranged from 62 percent to 90 percent effective depending on the dosage amount given to participants. AstraZeneca is having to launch a second round of global trials to clear up the discrepancies.
Many Americans appear to have ignored CDC warnings to scale back Thanksgiving holiday plans. More than six million Americans flew over the holiday week, raising fears by public health officials that the surge in coronavirus cases we are experiencing now will be followed by a bigger surge in the next three weeks.
As of press time, there have been 62 million diagnosed cases of coronavirus cases in the world, including nearly 13.5 million in the United States, but many cases are mild and go undiagnosed.
A CDC researcher estimates that the real number of infections in the U.S. has topped 53 million since February. More than 1.4 million people have died around the world since the virus first appeared in China late last year. The death toll includes 271,029 Americans and 3,572 Alabamians.
The Iron Bowl is Saturday
Alabama will have to play without head football coach Nick Saban who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Auburn University college football team will play the University of Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa on Saturday with the game kicking off at 2:30 p.m. Attendance is strictly limited because of COVID-19 restrictions. The game will be televised on CBS stations.
Alabama will have to play without head football coach Nick Saban who has tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing mild symptoms. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will coach the Crimson Tide in Saban’s absence. He has a 46-35 record as a head coach at USC and Washington.
Auburn will be coached by Gus Malzahn, who has a 67-33 record as a head coach. He is the fifth winningest coach in Auburn history, trailing only Shug Jordan, Mike Donahue, Pat Dye and now-Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville.
Alabama has a 7-0 record and is currently the No. 1 team in the country in the college football rankings. Auburn is 5-2 but with a win could still win the SEC West with wins in its remaining two games, and if Alabama were to lose another game down the stretch. Alabama is just one game ahead of Texas A&M for first place in the SEC West, but the Tide has the tiebreaker by virtue of having defeated the Aggies in head-to-head competition.
In addition to team honors, there is a lot riding for individual players in today’s game. Alabama redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones has thrown for 2,426 yards and 18 touchdowns in Alabama’s first seven games. Jones’s strong performance has made him a Heisman contender and has earned him consideration as a possible first-round or high second-round draft pick by the NFL if he were to leave Alabama early.
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix has thrown for 1,627 yards and ten touchdowns over seven games.
Alabama and Auburn played their first football game against each other in Lakeview Park in Birmingham on Feb. 22, 1893. The game is called the Iron Bowl because historically the game was played on a neutral site: Birmingham’s historic Legion Field. Birmingham at the time was best known for the iron that was mined there and then made into steel and other metal products.
The game is now played as a home and home series, but the Iron Bowl name has stuck with the rivalry.
Alabama leads the series with 46 wins to Auburn’s 37. There has been one tie. Auburn defeated Alabama 48 to 45 in last year’s high scoring contest.
Vaccines should protect against mutated strains of coronavirus
Public health experts say it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public.
Multiple vaccines for COVID-19 are in clinical trials, and one has already applied for emergency use authorization, but how good will those vaccines be against a mutating coronavirus? A UAB doctor says they’ll do just fine.
Dr. Rachael Lee, UAB’s hospital epidemiologist, told reporters earlier this week that there have been small genetic mutations in COVID-19. What researchers are seeing in the virus here is slightly different than what’s seen in the virus in China, she said.
“But luckily the way that these vaccines have been created, specifically the mRNA vaccines, is an area that is the same for all of these viruses,” Lee said, referring to the new type of vaccine known as mRNA, which uses genetic material, rather than a weakened or inactive germ, to trigger an immune response.
The U.S. Food And Drug Administration is to review the drug company Pfizer’s vaccine on Dec. 10. Pfizer’s vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, as is a vaccine produced by the drug maker Moderna, which is expected to also soon apply for emergency use approval.
“I think that is incredibly good news, that even though we may see some slight mutations, we should have a vaccine that should cover all of those different mutations,” Lee said.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found in a recent study, published in the journal Science, that COVID-19 has mutated in ways that make it spread much more easily, but the mutation may also make it more susceptible to vaccines.
In a separate study, researchers with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation found that while most vaccines were modeled after an earlier strain of COVID-19, they found no evidence that the vaccines wouldn’t provide the same immunity response for the new, more dominant strain.
“This brings the world one step closer to a safe and effective vaccine to protect people and save lives,” said CSIRO chief executive Dr. Larry Marshall, according to Science Daily.
While it may not be long before vaccines begin to be shipped to states, public health experts warn it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public. Scarce supplies at first will be allocated for those at greatest risk, including health care workers who are regularly exposed to coronavirus patients, and the elderly and ill.
Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, speaking to APR last week, urged the public to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing for many more months, as the department works to make the vaccines more widely available.
“Just because the first shots are rolling out doesn’t mean it’s time to stop doing everything we’ve been trying to get people to do for months. It’s not going to be widely available for a little while,” Harris said.