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Birmingham Officials Get Briefing on Ukraine Situation

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

In the last eight months, the Ukraine has dominated International news in ways that no country ever wants to dominate International headlines.  Ukraine has seen months of civil strife and unrest that has led to the ousting of the pro-Russian Ukranian President, the invasion of the Crimea by Russian armed forces and separatists seizing government buildings in Eastern Ukraine.

On Wednesday, May 14, the President and founder of the First Investment Group, Borys Soboliev, was in Birmingham to meet with local business and political leaders about the situation.  Soboliev is on the board of directors of the U.S. Ukraine Business Council and has served the Ukrainian government in a variety of roles both before and after independence from the USSR.  Soboliev was hosted by Alabama State Senator Scott Beason (R) from Gardendale at a press conference with Alabama journalists including the Alabama Political Reporter at Birmingham’s Vulcan Park.  Sen. Beason is a candidate for Congress representing Alabama’s Sixth District.

Chairman Soboliev said that he was here to stress the strategic importance of the United States Ukraine relationship and to build a stronger trade relationship.  Soboliev said that some Americans take the stance that what happens in Ukraine does not affect them much.  Soboliev said however that Ukraine has tremendous strategic importance including mineral deposits.

Soboliev grew up in a Ukraine that was part of the old Soviet Union.  Soboliev said it his my privilege is to compare the different periods.  The relationship between the United States and Ukraine has become more and more open in both deeds and in words.  Ukraine has become the breadbasket for Europe, Asia, and Africa.  The modernization of Ukrainian agriculture was primarily due to the contributions of John Deere, DuPont, and Caterpillar.

Ukraine has done much to develop its role in the international economy through trade development agencies, multinational companies, and the World Bank.  Part of Soboliev’s mission is to show opportunities for investment.

Soboliev said that one of Ukraine’s major strategic importance is its titanium deposits.  Ukraine has large concentrations of the important metal.  Ukraine hopes that with knowledge and expertise of American companies that they can lower the cost of making things with titanium so that it continues to become used more and more in sectors beyond defense to include sectors like automobiles.  Titanium deposits are found in both the western and eastern portions of Ukraine.  Soboliev said that 95% of Russian Ukrainian titanium products are made with Ukrainian titanium.  The only other places with comparable titanium deposits are Madagascar and Kenya and there are ecological problems with mining there.

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Soboliev said that titanium (which is stronger than steel and does not corrode) will replace iron in many applications.  Ukraine is working on their capabilities to bring the cost of working with the material down.  This is a real practical area where western and Ukrainian strategic partnership has been working.

Soboliev says that following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea other cities in the Ukraine, including Donetsk, have been invaded by Russian nationalists and terrorists.  Ukraine has felt the compassion of the United States and other nations and they really appreciate this attitude.

Senator Scott Beason asked Soboliev: “How deeply involved do you think is the Russian Government involved in the autonomy movement?”

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Soboliev said that much of what we hear about the situation is influenced by Russian propaganda.  “Ukraine has no resources to pay for propaganda at all.”  Soboliev said that Putin has used Russian media and TV channels to spoil minds of people in the Ukraine.  None of this is new.  “The Nazis used similar tactics in the thirties.  What we are watching on Russian TV is so falsified.”

Joseph Goebbels said that people will more readily believe a big lie than a small lie.

Soboliev accused the Russians of putting women and children in front of their military equipment in Crimea.  Ukrainian military forces could not fire on the civilians.  Soboliev claimed that many of the Russian nationalists who seized the buildings in Eastern Ukraine are really Russian troops.  Soboliev said that authorities in the Ukraine have captured over 100 and have recognized them as members of Russian Special Forces units.  The Russians pay protesters cash on a daily basis in cash to protest in support of the Russians in front of the buildings which are held by Russian Special Forces.

Soboliev said, “We are undermined by our neighbor.”  This is, “His (Putin’s) way of sustaining his empire of evil.”

Soboliev said that Putin has called the collapse of the Soviet Union the most tragic event of the 20th century.
Soboliev said that when he was working for the Ukrainian Republic before the fall of the USSR, in 1991 we were called on to Moscow and we (the Republics) were told to pay money to prop up the USSR to prevent its bankruptcy and we had no money to give.  Soboliev said, “The insolvency of the Soviet Union was a product of its development.”

Soboliev said that Putin carried the luggage for the Mayor of St. Petersburg at the time so knows little of the actual events.  “I participated in that.  If a government has no money it will collapse.  I saw this with my own eyes.”

Soboliev said the City Hall here in Birmingham has to balance its budget and so should national governments.  Soboliev said that this is not how to run the country.  The development of trade and free markets is the real solution for Ukraine and for Russia.

Soboliev said that melding the nation is a challenge for Ukraine because many are settled on their own national roots.  Americans don’t care they go where the jobs and the opportunities are.  Ukraine can improve the unemployment situation in the east by moving workers from the east to the west to develop the titanium industry.

Soboliev said, “He (Putin) failed with his blitzkrieg.  He is not original.  He is just repeating ideas of 1930s.”

Putin expected mass uprisings in support of his Russian occupation and all he has gotten are some drug addicted persons who are unemployed and getting paid.  We are proud that we have no difference on the banks of the Dneiper.

Soboliev said that he has some relatives in Sebastopol (the capital of the Crimea).  They were expecting subsidies from the Russian takeover.  Those that are elderly were expecting Soviet times to come back.  “Then they were poor but secure.  Now when Putin said no cash no money they are a little bit upset.  There was nothing in the stores then but what was there was cheap.  This is the legacy of Soviet times which has made us where we don’t work but are expecting the good Czar to come and bring it.”

Soboliev accused Putin of manipulating gas prices and said that the Ukraine wants to move to normalize the market prices for natural gas.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked Soboliev if it was a mistake on the part of Ukraine to agree to give up its nuclear arsenal.  Soboliev said, The 1994 Budapest Memorandum was signed by four Presidents including Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton and it guaranteed that no hostile actions would be pressed on the Kiev authority in any direction.  Soboliev said that, “As Deputy Finance Minister at that time, keeping even one ICBM was detrimental to our state budget.  It was not possible to keep the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world.”

The failure of our guarantors to has displayed bad example to world including Iran.  One of the guaranteeing countries (Russia) invaded our territory.

Soboliev said that when you analyze the situation inside the Russian Federation there are a lot of places that would prefer independence to remaining in Russia.  If there was a referendum in Kaliningrad today 100% would participate and 120% would vote for rejoining Germany.  If a referendum was held in the Kurile Islands the residents would overwhelmingly vote to rejoin Japan.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with six and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook.

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House

Bill would make owning pre-1960 slot machines legal for personal use

Eddie Burkhalter

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Vintage slot machines are highly sought-after by collectors, but owning one for personal use is a crime in Alabama. That could change this year. 

Rep. Chip Brown, R-Mobile, told APR by phone on Wednesday that he was approached by a group of antiques collectors who asked that he write a bill that would allow a person to own the vintage slot machines for personal use. 

Mention of legislation around gaming machines of any kind raises caution in Montgomery, where legislators and special interests have for decades fought over gambling and whether to establish a state lottery. Brown said he was well aware of the sensitivity of the subject matter when crafting the bill, which makes clear it won’t allow any of the old machines to be used for commercial purposes. 

“All this does is it just allows individuals to collect pre-1960 slot machines for their own home collection,” Brown said.  “I was very careful when we drafted the bill to make sure that it wouldn’t open the door to any bigger issues.” 

House Bill 260 reads that “The crime of possession of a gambling device does not apply to a slot machine manufactured before 1960, with the intention that the slot machine be used only for the personal and private use of the owner or for public display as a historical artifact in a manner that the slot machine is not accessible to the public.”

Alabama is one of eight states that do not allow ownership of slot machines made in any year. Other state laws vary, allowing residents to own machines made before certain years. 

Pre-electric slot machines are highly sought-after, and can fetch many thousands of dollars. Brown said those who want to own one for personal use ought to be be able to do so. 

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“I’m hoping I can get it in debate in committee next week,” Brown said of his bill.

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House

Bill strengthening foster parents’ rights in child custody cases clears senate committee

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, a bill that would require a juvenile court to consider a child’s relationship with his or her current foster parents and the child’s best interests when making a determination of whether to terminate parental rights received a favorable report in the Senate Committee on Children and Senior Advocacy.

House Bill 157 is sponsored by State Representative Paul Lee (R-Dothan).

Lee said that when we talk about our education system, nothing is more destructive than a lack of home life. A lot of these children are in foster care for two or three years. Then when parental rights are about to be terminated relatives show up at court even though they have been AWOL in the life of the child. Presently the judge can not take into account the role that the foster parents have played. This bill allows him to use the three years weight in making his decision.

HB157 passed the full House on Tuesday where it passed 94 to 1.

24 hours later the Senate Committee on Children and Senior Advocacy, chaired by State Senator Larry Stutts (R-Sheffield) gave the bill a favorable report. There was no opposition to the bill thus there was no public hearing.

The bill was cosponsored by Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur).

Collins said, “Some of these children, these babies, have been in foster care for years. This gives foster care families some say in permanent decisions with the child.”

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Collins said that she met with a group of foster parents from her district and this bill was a priority for them.

According to the synopsis: “Existing law provides factors for a juvenile court to consider in making a determination of whether to terminate parental rights. This bill would require a juvenile court to consider a child’s relationship with his or her current foster parents and the child’s best interests when making a determination of whether to terminate parental rights. This bill would provide that a juvenile court is not required to consider a relative for candidacy to be a child’s legal guardian if the relative has not met certain requirements. This bill would also provide that service on an individual whose parental rights have been terminated are not entitled to receive notice of pendency regarding an adoption proceeding involving a child for whom the individual’s parental rights have been terminated.”

The bill states that: “If the juvenile court finds from clear and convincing evidence, competent, material, and relevant in nature, that the parents of a child are unable or unwilling to discharge their responsibilities to and for the child, or that the conduct or condition of the parents renders them unable to properly care for the child and that the conduct or condition is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, it may terminate the parental rights of the parents. In a hearing on a petition for termination of parental rights, the court shall consider the best interests of the child.”

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According to the bill the judge should award custody to the foster parents over a relative, “In a proceeding for termination of parental rights if both of the following circumstances exist: “(1) The relative did not attempt to care for the child or obtain custody of the child within four months of the child being removed from the custody of the parents or placed in foster care, if the removal was known to the relative. “(2) The goal of the current permanency plan formulated by the Department of Human Resources is adoption by the current foster parents.”

The bill now goes to the full Senate for their consideration.

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House

State leaders unveil a major mental health legislative initiative

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R – Rainsville), Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth (R), Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R – Monrovia), Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R – Anniston), Alabama Department of Mental Health Commissioner Lynn Beshear, State Education Superintendent Eric Mackey, House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville), as well as the legislators carrying the bills held a press conference to announce a major mental health legislative initiative at a State House news conference.

“47,000 Americans lost their lives to suicide last year,” Rep. Ledbetter said. “It is the second leading cause of deaths for teenagers.”

“We are failing with mental health,” Ledbetter said. “I told the Governor that we are failing mental health. She asked us to lead an initiative to address mental health.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) tasked Ledbetter with leading an effort to improve and expand the mental health services that state government offers the citizens of Alabama. Ivey discussed the importance of the issue during her 2020 State of the State Address.

“The Speaker and the Pro Tem, either them or their staff, have been at every meeting we had,” Ledbetter added. “A member of the Governor’s staff also attended

Ledbetter proposed five pieces of legislation:

A School Service Coordinator Bill sponsored by Ledbetter and Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D – Birmingham) requires each school system within the state to employ a mental health service coordinator subject to legislative appropriation.

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A 72-Hour Hold Bill sponsored by Rep. Wes Allen (R – Troy) and Sen. Donnie Chesteen (R – Geneva) authorizes law enforcement officers to place individuals who are believed to have mental illness and pose a threat to themselves or others under 72-hour protective custody, which includes transportation to a hospital for evaluation and treatment.

A CIT Training Bill sponsored by Rep. Rex Reynolds (R – Huntsville) and Sen. Andrew Jones (R – Centre) requires the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission to provide mandatory crisis intervention training and continuing education to law enforcement officers.

A Crisis Care Center joint resolution by Rep. Randall Shedd (R – Fairview) and Sen. Garlan Gudger (R – Cullman) calls for the immediate creation and funding of three 24-hour crisis care centers, which serve as an alternative to costly hospital and emergency room visits by providing suicide prevention and other mental health services on an immediate, walk-in basis.

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A Stepping Up joint resolution by Rep. Anthony Daniels (D – Huntsville) and Sen. Steve Livingston (R – Scottsboro) encourages Alabama’s 67 counties to implement and embrace the Stepping Up initiative, which seeks to reduce the number of individuals in jail with mental illness.

Ledbetter said that several of these items come with a price tag. The three crisis centers will costs $18 million. This is, “One of the major priorities of our 2020 legislative session.”

“Thank you for you and your committee’s work,” You have put a lot of time and effort in it.” Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said. “Alabama, we hear you. We can do a better job. We will do a better job in addressing mental health.”

“This has been an ongoing experience for our legislature to stop and take a look at what we do with mental health in our state,” Speaker McCutcheon said. It is time that we step up. The last time Alabama stepped up on mental health without a court order was in the 1960s with Lurleen Wallace’s $47 million bond issue.”

“It is time to quit kicking the can down the road,” McCutcheon said. “The House will commit a full day to these bills’ passage.”

“What I have found in my time in Montgomery is if somebody does not take a lead on a particular topic nothing gets done we just keep talking about it,” Marsh said thanking Ledbetter and the task force.

“You either have a family member, a friend, or a community member who is affected by mental illness,” Marsh said. “Mental health is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue. It’s a simple issue of providing needed services that will help reduce recidivism in our prisons, improve performance in our schools, and enhance the quality of life for all Alabamians.”

Sept. Mackey said that, “This is an ongoing effort. Everybody has been wanting to work together to address mental helaht in this state.”

Mackey said that they “Are hearing from teachers that there are students coming into their classrooms with mental health issues as early as kindergarten and even as early as Pre-K.”

“We want to see that families have the mental health support that they need so that those kids come to school capable of learning,” Mackey said.

Alabama Department of Mental Health Commissioner Lynn Beshear expressed thanks that the legislative and executive branches of government are uniting their powers to address a growing problem.

“The fact that the governor and the Legislature are working so closely and cooperatively on this issues demonstrates its importance to Alabama and its citizens,” Beshear said. “The Alabama Department of Mental Health works hard to provide the best services possible with the dollars we are given, but this legislative initiative and intense emphasis will help us to literally save lives and provide hope where it does not currently exist.”

“The stepping up initiative is the foundational piece,” Beshear said. “This is an initiative that began in 2015 in the White House.” “The goal is to reduce the number of individuals with mental illness in jail.”

“The Montgoemry area was one of the first fifty to sign on to this,” Beshear explained. “They sent teams to receive training. At this time we have 21 county commissions that have signed the stepping up resolution.”

“When a person is discharged from the hospital, the hospital sends them home with a care plan,” Beshear added. “When a person is discharged from jail they need a care plan. If we can reach people early or at a crisis point in their disease process we can prevent it from progressing further.”

Commissioner Beshear said that, “Law enforcement, healthcare, government and the business community come together to create a plan at the regional level.”

The mental health reform bills could be in House and Senate bills as early as next week.

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Elections

Bloomberg making final Alabama push

Josh Moon

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The Michael Bloomberg campaign is making Alabama one of its top Super Tuesday priorities — hoping that state Democratic voters will help catapult the former New York City mayor into the running for the party’s presidential nomination. 

Bloomberg has already spent more time in Alabama than most of the other candidates — including kicking off his presidential run by qualifying first on the Alabama ballot and speaking at an Alabama Democratic Conference meeting — and has flooded the state with workers and cash, buying advertising spots and building infrastructure the likes of which Alabama has rarely seen. 

With the primary less than a week away now, Bloomberg’s campaign is making a last push. 

That will be highlighted by the former mayor’s visit to the state over the weekend and a number of surrogates making their way around Alabama throughout the coming days. 

That starts in earnest on Thursday, when former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, one of the first mayors to endorse Bloomberg, travels to Miles College for a “community conversation” with students and others. 

The visit to a historically black college is no coincidence, as Bloomberg’s campaign looks to regain the support of black voters after his history as NYC mayor drew major fire from his Democratic primary opponents. Having the endorsement of the ADC, the state’s black caucus, will certainly help, but former Vice President Joe Biden maintains strong support among black voters and moderates in Alabama.  

Nutter will be joined at Miles by former Birmingham Mayor William Bell, who also has announced his support for Bloomberg. 

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Following the event at Miles, Nutter will travel to the Alabama State House in Montgomery for a meeting with the Alabama Baptist Association Leadership and then on to Selma, where he’ll attend a reception for the Alabama Conference of Black Mayors.

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