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Brooks and Byrne Support Travel Ban From Ebola Infected Countries

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Sunday, October 12, Congressman Mo Brooks, (R) from Huntsville, called for the Obama administration to ban travelers from Ebola infected West African Countries from entering the United States. On Thursday the Huntsville Congressman was joined by Congressman Bradley Byrne (R from Mobile) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R from Ohio) in calling for the travel ban.

Congressman Mo Brooks said on Facebook, “Over the weekend I talked with The News Courier to weigh in on the US strategy to defeat the Islamic State as well as this Administration’s response to the Ebola virus. The President must take swift measures to quarantine or ban those traveling to the United States who have been in Ebola-stricken areas. Allowing people to come from outbreak areas into the United States threatens the lives and health of American citizens.”

On Thursday, Congressman Bradley Byrne said in a statement, “The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a humanitarian and national security crisis that calls for serious measures. President Obama should be doing more to address this outbreak, and he should start by placing a temporary ban on flights into the United States from west Africa. A travel ban would help to halt new cases of Ebola from entering our country and allow our medical community to focus on stopping the spread based on the current cases.”

Rep. Byrne continued, “That said, a travel ban alone won’t be enough to protect the American people from the spread of Ebola. We must continue to implement intensive screenings of air passengers to limit the spread and quarantine any potential cases. We should also only treat Ebola patients at one of the four special isolation facilities in the United States where they can receive the best and most secure care possible.”

In original reporting by the News Courier’s Adam Smith, Congressman Brooks warned that the case of Ebola patient Thomas Duncan, who died in a Dallas apartment on Wednesday, could be repeated if President Obama does not act swiftly to measures to ban travel to the United States by people who have been in Ebola-stricken areas.

Thomas Duncan died in Texas Presbyterian Hospital and already two of the nurses who treated him have become infected by the disease. Hundreds of people in the Dallas area and beyond have already been exposed to this deadly illness.

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In a statement, the Speaker of the U.S. House John Boehner (R from Ohio) said, “Our hearts go out to the health care workers who have contracted the Ebola virus here in the United States, as well as those who have been impacted by it around the globe. We pray for their speedy recovery, and we pray for those who are helping to treat and care for these individuals, including our medical experts and military personnel who are in West Africa to help stem this deadly disease. Concerns about the possibility of an outbreak of this sort prompted the House to provide more funding for the CDC than requested, and the tragic developments seen in recent weeks demonstrate that decision was a prudent one.”

Speaker Boehner continued, “In a September 16 speech in Atlanta, President Obama said the ‘chances of an Ebola outbreak here in the United States are extremely low.’ Since that time, several Americans have been diagnosed with the virus and untold more potentially exposed to it. Today we learned that one individual who has contracted the virus flew to Ohio through the Cleveland airport in the last few days. A temporary ban on travel to the United States from countries afflicted with the virus is something that the president should absolutely consider along with any other appropriate actions as doubts about the security of our air travel systems grow.”

The GOP Speaker said, “It is also imperative we ensure that federal, state and local agencies, along with our public health infrastructure, are prepared, remain vigilant, and follow proper protocols to identify the virus and take appropriate measures for those who have been exposed to it. Numerous committees – including the House Armed Services Committee and the Committees on Appropriations, Homeland Security, Energy & Commerce, Foreign Affairs, and Transportation & Infrastructure – are actively assessing the administration’s response, and hearings have already begun. The Homeland Security Committee held a hearing in Dallas to examine the federal, state, and local response thus far. Tomorrow, the Energy & Commerce Committee will hear from the CDC and NIH to look into their response to the crisis. These oversight efforts will continue, and the House stands ready to act if it becomes clear legislation is needed to ensure the threat is countered aggressively and effectively.”

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Boehner said, “The administration must be able to assure Americans that we will stop the spread here at home. We will continue to press the administration for better information about what steps will be taken to protect the American people, including our troops, from this deadly virus. And we will work with the administration on appropriate policy options that will help stop the spread of this horrific disease both here in the United States and around the globe.”

Different strains of Ebola have sporadically popped up in isolated rural villages in Central Africa for decades. A lot of people got sick. Everyone stayed away and the disease burned itself out. It is believed that bats and other wildlife in the jungle harbor the illness between the human outbreaks.

Unfortunately, a booming population in Africa (over a billion) and urbanization means that more Africans live in much greater population density than their ancestors did. This time Ebola popped up in West Africa in much heavier populated more mobile areas. Thousands have already died and according to some experts the number of people infected are doubling every three or four weeks causing a collapse of the health care systems in hard hit countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia. While the Obama administration has ordered officials at five airports to check immigrants from infected countries for fever, Ebola has a 21 day incubation period. If a person were infected ten days ago, they likely have the virus within them but have no fever and no other symptoms.

In 2010, the Obama administration overturned Bush administration protocols for an Ebola epidemic as too harsh. The administration is now struggling to come up with a response to the crisis and the potential for more infections in coming weeks.

President Obama has ordered up to 4,000 U.S. troops to West Africa to combat Ebola at it’s source.

Congressman Byrne said, “As I have said before, I strongly condemn the use of US military personnel to address the Ebola outbreak in west Africa. Our military men and women are stretched too thin already with multiple threats of Islamic extremists in the Middle East and in Africa. Our military is not adequately trained for these medical missions, and there are better suited organizations, like the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations (UN), to address this unique medical challenge.”

Rep. Byrne concluded, “My heart breaks for all of the families in Africa and here in the United States who have been harmed by this deadly virus, and I want to see real leadership and serious action to ensure that more lives are not lost.”

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Judge dismisses lawsuit, settling ownership of Alabama Democratic party

Eddie Burkhalter

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Montgomery County Circuit Judge Greg Griffin on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit over who was in control of the Alabama Democratic party, meaning the so-called reform group championed by U.S. Sen. Doug Jones has won out. 

Griffin in his order filed Thursday morning wrote that his court lacked jurisdiction “over what appears to be an intra-political-party dispute regarding the officer elections and governance of the Alabama Democratic party.” 

Griffin’s ruling means that state Rep. Chris England, who was picked to lead the state Democratic party by the reform group, is the party’s chair. 

The ruling puts an end to the lawsuit filed by former ADP chairwoman Nancy Worley, after the Democratic National Committee ruled that her re-election as chair was invalid. 

England was elected ADP chair after the DNC ordered new elections and the adoption of new bylaws.

 

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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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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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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 health 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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