By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, June 03 U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R) from Alabama announced that the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies passed the Fiscal Year 2015 CJS appropriations bill, which contains critical provisions affecting fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to Sen. Shelby’s office among the other important provisions, the legislation includes language directing that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) take into account the benefits of artificial reefs and offshore energy exploration infrastructure when conducting stock assessments for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico, including red snapper. The legislation also requires that NOAA take into consideration any imbalance occurring in the ecosystem due to larger and more red snapper prior to making any changes to red snapper quotas for the Gulf of Mexico.
Sen. Shelby said in a written statement, “The bill provides sufficient resources and direction to improve the management of our Nation’s fisheries, including new approaches to manage red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. These new approaches should provide a more equitable system for commercial fishermen and increase the number of fishing days for recreational anglers.”
Recreational fishing is a huge tourist attraction in Alabama. One of the most popular saltwater fish species is red snapper. The Federal government regulates how many red snapper that can be legally be put on a boat. Commercial fisherman successfully argued to Federal fisheries officials that recreational fisherman have exceeded their collective quota.
The Federal government punished recreational fishermen by limiting the amount of days that a recreational fisherman can fish for and keep a red snapper to just 9 days this year. Outside of that nine day season any red snapper caught by a recreational fisherman must be released back to the ocean.
U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R) from Montrose has been a staunch credit of Federal red snapper policy. Congressman Byrne said recently that, “Local experts like Dr. Bob Shipp at the University of South Alabama have long argued that the federal government’s data collection practices are flawed and do not accurately reflect the Red Snapper stocks in the Gulf…This fight is not over, but we are making progress. We are forcing the Federal government to give back power to those who know what they are doing and have a vested interested in caring for these stocks. I’m glad to restore common sense into the regulatory process and provide relief to our fishermen who are in dire need, and I’ll keep working to make steps forward on this issue.”
Shelby’s office said that the legislation passed on Tuesday also includes other provisions affecting the Alabama Gulf Coast.·
The report includes language providing $2.5 million for operations of the Disaster Response Center (DRC) in Mobile, of which up to $500,000 can be used for activities of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council established under the RESTORE Act.
The report includes language directing NOAA to work with the National Science Foundation to conduct a Vortex SE study focusing on the unique climate and topography of the southeast region. The Vortex I and Vortex II studies had focused solely on the Midwest region.
Language is included in the report encouraging NOAA to participate in cooperative research with other relevant federal agencies and Sea Grant universities to pursue research in aquatic animal health.
The report included language directing NOAA to leverage existing resources to better understand the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, including through a sentinel species program.
The report also included language encouraging NOAA to study the effects of offshore oil platforms on highly migratory pelagic species, including yellow fin tuna. Shelby’s office said that the report also included language encouraging NOAA to support off-bottom oyster aquaculture and research related to disease and reproduction that could be beneficial to commercial operations.
Sen. Shelby said that the report included language expressing the Committee’s disappointment in the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) and the mismanagement of the recreational reef fish fishery in the Gulf of Mexico that has resulted in shorter seasons for recreational anglers. The language directs NOAA to augment or replace MRIP data with data collected from electronic monitoring or reporting when feasible.
The report also acknowledged the threat posed by invasive lionfish and encouraged NOAA to partner with interested state, local, non-profit, and private entities to research ways to mitigate the negative impacts caused by this invasive species, including in the Gulf of Mexico where there are numerous artificial reefs.
Senator Shelby is the Vice Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.
Byrne was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986 after a decade in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Prior to that Sen. Shelby served in the Alabama legislature.
Alabama hospitals nearing COVID-19 summer surge levels
Wednesday was the 18th straight day with more than 1,000 people in hospitals in Alabama with COVID-19.
Alabama hospitals reported caring for 1,483 people infected with COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest number of patients since Aug. 11, when the state was enduring its summer surge. Wednesday was also the 18th straight day with more than 1,000 people in hospitals in Alabama with COVID-19.
The seven-day average of hospitalizations was 1,370 on Wednesday, the 36th straight day of that average rising. The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 2,453 new cases Wednesday. The 14-day average of new cases was — for the eighth day in a row — at a record high of 2,192.
Across the country, more than 80,000 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 on Tuesday, a record high and the 15th straight day of record hospitalizations nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project, a coronavirus tracking website.
The CDC this week recommended people not travel for Thanksgiving to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
“The only way for us to successfully get through this pandemic is if we work together,” said Dr. Kierstin Kennedy, UAB’s chief of hospital medicine, in a message Tuesday. “There’s no one subset of the community that’s going to be able to carry the weight of this pandemic and so we all have to take part in wearing our masks, keeping our distance, making sure that we’re washing our hands.”
Kennedy said the best way she can describe the current situation is “Russian Roulette.”
“Not only in the form of, maybe you get it and you don’t get sick or maybe you get it and you end up in the ICU,” Kennedy said, “but if you do end up sick, are you going to get to the hospital at a time when we’ve got capacity, and we’ve got enough people to take care of you? And that is a scary thought.”
The Alabama Department of Public Health on Wednesday reported an increase of 60 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. Deaths take time to confirm and the date a death is reported does not necessarily reflect the date on which the individual died. At least 23 of those deaths occurred in November, and 30 occurred in other months. Seven were undated. Data for the last two to three weeks are incomplete.
As of Wednesday, at least 3,532 Alabamians have died of COVID-19, according to the Department of Public Health. During November, at least 195 people have died in Alabama from COVID-19. But ADPH is sure to add more to the month’s tally in the weeks to come as data becomes more complete.
ADPH on Wednesday announced a change that nearly doubled the department’s estimate of people who have recovered from COVID-19, bringing that figure up to 161,946. That change also alters APR’s estimates of how many cases are considered active.
ADPH’s Infectious Disease and Outbreak team “updated some parameters” in the department’s Alabama NEDSS Base Surveillance System, which resulted in the increase, the department said.
Judge reduces former Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard’s prison sentence
The trial court judge ordered his 48-month sentence reduced to 28 months.
Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker on Wednesday reduced former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s prison sentence from four years to just more than two.
Walker in his order filed Wednesday noted that Hubbard was sentenced to fours years on Aug. 9, 2016, after being convicted of 12 felony ethics charges for misusing his office for personal gain, but that on Aug. 27, 2018, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed convictions on five of those counts. The Alabama Supreme Court later struck down another count.
Hubbard’s attorneys on Sept. 18 filed a motion to revise his sentence, to which the state objected, according to court records, arguing that “Hubbard’s refusal to admit any guilt or express any remorse makes him wholly unfit to receive any leniency.”
Walker in his order cited state code and wrote that the power of the courts to grant probation “is a matter of grace and lies entirely within the sound discretion of the trial court.”
“Furthermore, the Court must consider the nature of the Defendant’s crimes. Acts of public corruption harm not just those directly involved, but harm society as a whole,” Walker wrote.
Walker ruled that because six of Hubbard’s original felony counts were later reversed, his entrance should be changed to reflect that, and ordered his 48-month sentence reduced to 28 months.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Wednesday said Walker’s decision to reduce Hubbard’s sentence was the wrong message to send.
“Mr. Hubbard was convicted of the intentional violation of Alabama’s ethics laws, the same laws he championed in the legislature only later to brazenly disregard for his personal enrichment,” Marshall said in a statement. “Even as he sits in state prison as a six-time felon, Mike Hubbard continues to deny any guilt or offer any remorse for his actions in violation of the law. Reducing his original four-year sentence sends precisely the wrong message to would-be violators of Alabama’s ethics laws.”
Nick Saban tests positive for COVID-19, has “mild symptoms”
It’s unlikely Saban will be able to coach in person during Saturday’s Iron Bowl against Auburn.
University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban has tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the Iron Bowl and has mild symptoms, according to a statement from the university on Wednesday.
“This morning we received notification that Coach Saban tested positive for COVID-19,” said Dr. Jimmy Robinson and Jeff Allan, associate athletic director, in the statement. “He has very mild symptoms, so this test will not be categorized as a false positive. He will follow all appropriate guidelines and isolate at home.”
Saban had previously tested positive before Alabama’s game against Georgia but was asymptomatic and subsequently tested negative three times, a sign that the positive test could have been a false positive. He returned to coach that game.
It’s unlikely Saban will be able to coach in person during Saturday’s Iron Bowl against Auburn, given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for quarantining after testing positive and with symptoms. Neither Saban nor the university had spoken about that possibility as of Wednesday morning.
Civil rights leader Bruce Boynton dies at 83
The Dallas County Courthouse Annex will be renamed in honor of Boynton and fellow Civil Rights Movement leader J.L. Chestnut.
Selma attorney and Civil Rights Movement leader Bruce Carver Boynton died from cancer in a Montgomery hospital on Monday. He was 83. The Dallas County Courthouse Annex will be renamed in honor of Boynton and fellow Civil Rights Movement leader J.L. Chestnut.
“We’ve lost a giant of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama. “Son of Amelia Boynton Robinson, Bruce Boynton was a Selma native whose refusal to leave a “whites-only” section of a bus station restaurant led to the landmark SCOTUS decision in Boynton v. Virginia overturning racial segregation in public transportation, sparking the Freedom Rides and end of Jim Crow. Let us be inspired by his commitment to keep striving and working toward a more perfect union.”
Boynton attended Howard University Law School in Washington D.C. He was arrested in Richmond, Virginia, in his senior year of law school for refusing to leave a “whites-only” section of a bus station restaurant. That arrest and conviction would be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where Boynton and civil rights advocates prevailed in the landmark case 1060 Boynton vs. Virginia.
Boynton’s case was handled by famed civil rights era attorney Thurgood Marshal, who would go on to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. The 1960 7-to-2 decision ruled that federal prohibitions barring segregation on interstate buses also applied to bus stations and other interstate travel facilities.
The decision inspired the “Freedom Rides” movement. Some Freedom Riders were attacked when they came to Alabama.
While Boynton received a high score on the Alabama Bar exam, the Alabama Bar prevented him from working in the state for years due to that 1958 trespassing conviction. Undeterred, Boynton worked in Tennessee during the years, bringing school desegregation lawsuits.
Sherrilyn Ifill with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said on social media: “NAACP LDF represented Bruce Boynton, who was an unplanned Freedom Rider (he simply wanted to buy a sandwich in a Va bus station stop & when denied was willing to sue & his case went to the SCOTUS) and later Bruce’s mother Amelia Boynton (in Selma after Bloody Sunday).”
His mother, Amelia Boynton, was an early organizer of the voting rights movement. During the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in 1965, she was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. She later co-founded the National Voting Rights Museum and annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma. His father S.W. Boynton was also active in the Civil Rights Movement.
Bruce Boynton worked for several years at a Washington D.C. law firm but spent most of his long, illustrious legal career in Selma, Alabama, with a focus on civil rights cases. He was the first Black special prosecutor in Alabama history and at one point he represented Stokely Carmichael.
This year has seen the passing of a number of prominent Civil Rights Movement leaders, including Troy native Georgia Congressman John Lewis.