By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Saturday, February 14, US Senator Richard Shelby (R) spoke to the Pell City Chamber of Commerce about a number of topics including the need for balanced budget amendment.
Sen. Shelby said that the debt is the biggest challenge that this country faces:
“This is a great nation if we don’t destroy it….Debt can destroy it….I always thought that it was a flaw in our Constitution that it is not required that Congress not spend more than it takes in.”
If we had a balanced budget the economy would be booming. We created entitlements and keep on spending, keep on borrowing. The US debt in 1980 was just $900 billion. 1980 Seems like yesterday to me, but I know a lot of you were not even born yet in 1980. That was $900 billion after World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Great Society.
Alabama’s senior US Senator said, now in 2015, the U.S. debt is $18 trillion. “I worry about it every night.” The Federal Reserve is printing money. Nobody wants to talk about because it is not pleasant. We are slated to go to $26 trillion. That is scary.
Sen. Shelby said, “We have lived a pretty good life.” I hope that our children are able to.
How are we going to pay off that debt? By printing money? That is what Germany did in the 1920s.
Sen. Shelby has recently introduced a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution.
Sen. Shelby said that Pell City was a great place and that he would like to live here when he is done in Washington, but he is not ready to finish yet. It is a great place to live. Pell City has had a lot of growth and is continuing to grow.
Sen. Shelby said that he has done a lot more in Washington but that he would like to do a lot more. Shelby joked, “I need to be the czar, the king. I wouldn’t like for anybody else to have that much power.” “At times, President Obama seems like he doesn’t want Congress up there or anybody to hold him accountable.”
Senator Shelby said that he has to be a Senator for the whole nation, but “It is the people of Alabama who send you there…A lot of people forget that. I don’t.”
Shelby says that he travels all over Alabama. “This is my first county this year.” Shelby said that travel keeps his feet on the ground. “I never moved up there (Washington). My home is here in Alabama and when my time is over I will be coming home to Alabama.”
Shelby said that he and US Senator Jeff Sessions (R) serve together we are good friends. “I am on the Senate Appropriations, Banking and Rules committees. He is on the Armed Forces, Judiciary, and Budget committees.” It is a good mix for Alabama.
Shelby said that we try to work with our congressional delegation. There are six Republicans and one Democrat, Terri Sewell. We have a pretty good relationship with each other when it comes to issues pertaining to this state.
Shelby thanked Alabama Republicans for the new Senate Majority. “We raised a lot of money” for Republican Senate candidates in other states. “We have a majority, but don’t have 60 which is enough to shut down debate.” Shelby said that while the Republicans have control of both Houses of Congress, “We don’t have the presidency. That is what we need next.”
“I knew the President when he was in the Senate. He wasn’t here long. This is the most left wing ideological driven administration I have seen in my time in Washington. Their view is not my view.” “I don’t understand how people could vote for this kind of regime,” Shelby said.
Sen. Shelby said that another major challenge the country faces is the radicalization of the Muslim world. Sen. Shelby said that when he was the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee he visited every country in the Middle East. “I don’t see any resolution,” to conflict there. “In the Middle East we have got the Muslims fighting each other. They have been doing this for 1500 years.”
Shelby said that the Sunnis and the Shias hate each other. The Alawite minority in Syria is akin to the Shias and are fighting the Sunnis. “There is not going to be any peace over there. I have been to all of these places. I have been to Syria.” The Sunnis have fought back in Iraq and have taken over half the country. The Hassad regime was oppressing the Sunnis, but we are kind of helping them because the people they are fighting (ISIS) are worse than he is.
Shelby said that Obama wants Congress to give him this power to fight ISIS (the Islamic Society of Iraq and Syria); but Shelby expressed reservations.
Sen. Shelby said, “I don’t know about putting our ground troops in there.” What is the end game? I don’t think we should give the President this much power. Some of my Republican friends do. If it was a President I had a lot of respect for and I knew he had a lot of Resolve that would be one thing. Is this good for America?
Shelby said that China is on the rise and now their economy is equal to ours. They are already an economic challenge and could become a military challenge as well.
Shelby said that Putin’s territorial ambitions in Europe are another challenge.
Sen. Shelby said that the U.S. still produces more products and services than any other country in the world. We are still the wealthiest country in the world. Shelby said that the discovery of vast new sources of gas and oil will help us balance our economy.
Shelby said, “Energy is very important.” He favors building the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian oil to the gulf for refining. It would lower the price of oil. Canada has heavy oil tar sands. “They are going to develop those tar sands. They are going to sell that oil, whether they sell it to use or sell it to China. A pipeline is a lot safer than hauling it by truck or by rail.”
Sen. Shelby said that Obama is going to veto it. “I wish he would sign it would create thousands of jobs.” Shelby called the President’s decision, “Mind boggling.”
Alabama State Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) asked why the Republicans don’t use the nuclear option and change the rules where everything is done by a simple majority vote. “Are we just being fair?”
Sen. Shelby answered that the Democrats used the nuclear option to stack the courts last year. “Each Senate makes its own rules. We have precedents, but it is not the law…it is rules. The rule is it takes 60 votes to cut off debate. It used to be 67 but hey changed the rule because they thought southerners had too much power. Then last year Democrat changed the rules because we were blocking Obama’s appointments.
Sen. Shelby said that the GOP Senate Caucus kept that. “A lot of Republicans are naïve.” They wanted to go back to the 60 rule. I think we ought to go to the 51 rule. We would pass right now our immigration bill. A lot of the people in the caucus disagree.
Sen. Shelby said, “They (Senate Democrats) broke the eggs. Lets break some more. They will surely do that if they get back in power.”
Sen. Shelby said that he found revelations that NBC anchor Brian Williams was dishonest very funny. Pretty soon Brian Williams will be with Napoleon in France. “When they (dishonest journalists) lie they tell another lie.”
Shelby said, “This administration is going crazy not just environmental but everything else including banking regulations.” “We need to win the presidency.” “The power of the presidency is real.”
Sen. Shelby said that if we develop our gas and oil resources especially in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio we will be the number one producer of oil and gas in the world. The lower cost of energy is already reigniting manufacturing in America because energy costs are important.
On interest rates, Sen. Shelby said, “We have all benefited from lower interest rates.” The Federal Reserve has bought $4.5 billion in securities. Now what are they going to do with them? Shelby said that he supports an audit of the Federal Reserve System.
Shelby said that the Federal Reserve may raise interest rates in the late summer or fall, but warned that “Europe is not doing as well as we are. Germany is doing better than everybody else but their economy is not booming. If Europe goes into a tailspin that affects us. China is not growing as fast as they were.” International economic problems could lead to the Fed not raising rates.
Shelby said, “I voted against that (Obamcare).” We have had the best healthcare system in the world. Obama and the Democrats sold this because it lowered costs. “That was all a lie.” “The Supreme Court of the US has a case before them dealing with the Obamacrare bill.” If they follow the law in their ruling, Obama’s health care law will be in jeopardy. “I hope we don’t rush to the rescue. This is a monster. I am against it.
Sen. Shelby warned that if Iran gets nuclear weapons it will lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has the money and resources to go nuclear in response and Egypt will follow. “It changes the whole dynamic in the world” and “Puts little Israel in a quandary.” “Can you imagine if the fanatics in the Middle East get a hold of nuclear weapons?” “We haven’t had a nuclear exchange and we don’t want one.”
Pell City City Clerk Penny Isbell introduced Sen. Shelby. She said that he has introduced a flat tax and a balanced budget amendment every year that he has been in the Senate. Shelby is a fifth Generation Alabamian and a graduate of the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama School of Law.
Plaintiffs ask for panel of judges to reconsider ruling on Alabama voter ID law
Plaintiffs suing Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill alleging the state’s voter ID law discriminates against minorities on Monday asked a panel of judges to reconsider an appeals court decision that affirmed the law.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund on Monday filed a petition Monday asking that all of the judges on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reconsider the July 21 decision by a panel of three judges that fell 2-1 in favor of the state’s voter ID law.
The 2011 law requires voters in Alabama to show a valid, government-issued photo ID to vote. The NAACP, Greater Birmingham Ministries and several minority voters sued, arguing that lawmakers knowingly crafted the law to prevent Black people and other minorities, who are less likely to have such photo IDs, from voting.
The three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in its July 21 opinion found that the burden of Alabama’s voter ID law is minimal, and does not“violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution, nor does it violate the Voting Rights Act.”
Merrill has argued that the state’s voter ID law is meant to deter in-person voting fraud and that the state makes available mobile photo ID units able to provide voters with the necessary IDs.
District Judge Darrin Gayles in his dissenting opinion wrote that voter fraud in Alabama is rare, and that “while there have been some limited cases of absentee voter fraud, in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent.”
Gayles wrote that Merrill presented evidence of just two instances of in-person voter fraud in Alabama’s history.
“Despite the lack of in-person voter fraud, Secretary Merrill claims Alabama enacted the Photo ID Law to combat voter fraud and to restore confidence in elections — a dubious position in light of the facts,” Gayles wrote.
Gayles noted that former State Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, before his retirement in 2010, sponsored similar voter ID bills.
“During this time, Senator Dixon made repeated comments linking photo identification legislation to race, including ‘the fact you don’t have to show an ID is very beneficial to the Black power structure and the rest of the Democrats’ and that voting without photo identification ‘benefits Black elected leaders, and that’s why they’re opposed to it,'” Gayles wrote in his dissenting opinion.
“It is clear from the statements of the legislators who enacted Alabama’s photo ID law that they passed it for the unconstitutional purpose of discriminating against voters of color,” said LDF senior counsel Natasha Merle in a statement Monday. “As long as this law is intact, Black and Latinx Alabamians will continue to be disproportionately excluded from the state’s electoral process.”
Attorneys in the filing Monday told the court that “roughly 118,000 Alabamians lack qualifying photo ID, and Black and Latinx voters are twice as likely to lack qualifying ID as compared to white voters. Given this evidence, a trial was required to determine whether HB19 violates the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.”
AARP Alabama asks for details on $50 million federal COVID-19 aid to nursing homes
The Alabama chapter of AARP is asking the state to ensure federal coronavirus relief funds are spent wisely and in the open. Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday announced $50 million in grants would go to state nursing homes to aid in the fight against COVID-19.
Candi Williams, AARP’s Alabama state director, told APR on Monday that the organization, which advocates for the elderly, wants a better understanding of how that money will be spent and to ensure some is spent for ongoing COVID-19 testing.
A spokesman for the Alabama Nursing Home Association says details on how the money can be spent is already publicly available, however, and Ivey in early June announced the award of $18.27 million in federal CARES Act funds to be spent toward regular nursing home COVID-19 testing.
“What we’re looking for is specifics on how it will be used, and we want those specifics to be made publicly available,” Williams said.
Ivey on Friday said the money is to be administered by the Alabama Nursing Home Association Education Foundation. The Alabama Hospital Association is to administer up to $50 million in grants to state hospitals through another program.
“This allocation of up to $50 million will be for operational costs that are COVID-19 related, such as PPE, cleaning, personnel costs and other costs incurred related to the pandemic,” Ivey’s office said in a press release Friday.
“In partnership with the state of Alabama, the Alabama Nursing Home Association Education Foundation will administer the funds fairly and impartially on behalf of the people of Alabama, for all of Alabama’s nursing home facilities,” the statement goes on to say.
Williams said the public deserves to know how the federal funds will be used, and said Ivey’s office hasn’t yet signaled whether those details will be made public.
Ivey’s office, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment, and referred a reporter to the Alabama Nursing Home Association.
John Matson, communications director for the Alabama Nursing Home Association, told APR that AARP Alabama need only read the memorandum of understanding published along with Ivey’s announcement about the grants on Friday to see how the money must be spent.
According to the memorandum, the Alabama Nursing Home Association Education Foundation can only disburse the funds to nursing homes “for the purposes of responding to or mitigating the COVID-19 public health emergency” and details what facilities must do to receive the money.
Among the requirements, nursing homes in their applications must provide supporting documentation, which can include invoices, purchase orders, payroll records and financial records, according to the memorandum. The foundation must also provide the Alabama Finance Director’s Office with a detailed report on the 15th of each month noting how the money was spent, according to the document.
“I think it would be helpful for them to read that,” Matson said, referring to AARP Alabama and the memorandum of understanding.
AARP Alabama is also asking that the money be used for ongoing and methodical testing of all residents and staff in the state’s long-term care facilities.
“We’ve seen across the country that testing can be hit or miss, and testing frequency can vary,” Williams said. “We’ve seen in other states where that has helped curb the loss of life and helps protect residents.”
Matson noted that Ivey in early June also announced a separate $18.27 million in federal CARES Act funds to be spent toward regular nursing home COVID-19 testing and “proactive surveillance” through the end of the calendar year, which is also being administered by the Alabama Nursing Home Association Education Foundation.
Alabama’s long-term care ombudsmen, who are tasked with protecting residents’ rights and investigating health and safety concerns, have been largely banned from entering Alabama’s long-term care facilities since early on in the pandemic when the facilities ended visitations to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Williams said AARP would also like to see the safe reentry of ombudsmen into state facilities and for those details to be included in a publicly-released plan.
“We also have been advocating for transparency and real-time data about the COVID cases and death in Alabama nursing homes and long-term care facilities. That continues to be a struggle,” Williams said.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is collecting that state data, but it’s weeks old by the time it’s published on the federal agency’s website, Williams said.
“Having that information would help us protect the residents, staff and surrounding communities, but also making sure families have that information,” Williams said.
The Alabama Department of Public Health has declined to release county-level or facility-level details on coronavirus in long-term care facilities and nursing homes, citing privacy concerns. Many other states do release that information, however.
According to CMS, there have been 3,841 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 562 deaths among residents in Alabama nursing homes as of July 26. AARP Alabama said COVID-19 deaths of nursing home residents make up approximately 42 percent of the state’s total coronavirus deaths.
There may be one more red snapper weekend coming
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced Thursday that their preliminary 2020 red snapper numbers show that Alabama fisherman may have not reached their quota on the pounds of red snapper taken this year. This opens the possibility that the state may add a fall opportunity to catch the fish, which is highly prized by saltwater anglers.
Scott Bannon, the director of the Alabama Marine Resources Division, said that the preliminary harvest numbers for the private recreational sector indicate about 100,000 pounds remain in the quota of 1,122,622 pounds.
The red snapper season for private recreational anglers, which includes state charter vessels, was supposed to have originally lasted 35 days, beginning the Friday of Memorial Day weekend; however, state regulators cut the season to just 25 days when they noticed an uptick in the number of boats on the water this year compared to previous years.
It now appears that the state did not reach quota.
Bannon said he and Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Chris Blankenship are discussing options that would give Alabama anglers another option to catch Alabama’s most prized reef fish species.
“The private recreational angler season went really well even though we closed a little earlier than we anticipated,” Bannon said. “The data showed a tremendous number of people took advantage of the season, especially with the opening earlier on May 22.”
Bannon said that the MRD detected a significant uptick in angler participation this year when they analyzed the data.
“The average vessel trips for the season were 713 trips per day,” Bannon said. “That means a lot of people went fishing compared to the last two years, which had an average of about 530 vessel trips per day.”
Bannon believes that the coronavirus crisis was a major factor in more Alabamians going fishing this year.
“I think people took advantage to go snapper fishing when they could not participate in other activities,” Bannon said. “They could not get on cruise ships. They couldn’t go to Disney. People were not playing travel sports. Boating was considered a safe outdoor activity, so I do think the COVID-19 pandemic affected the snapper season. I think it prompted more people to go snapper fishing than we had in the past.”
Bannon said that they might have shortened the snapper season even further than they did without Tropical Storm Cristobal, which significantly limited fishing on the third weekend of snapper season.
“Even after the second weekend, I had people tell me about the high number of boats they were seeing offshore,” Bannon said. “They said there’s no way we’re going to make it to July 19. My thoughts were that as the season progresses the fervor dies down in July, and fishing gets a little tougher. Again, with not having other activities available, the weather outside that Cristobal weekend was really good and people went fishing.”
“The Cristobal weekend slowed down the catch effort,” Bannon explained. “You can also see the weekend days had much higher catch effort.”
The five Gulf states were granted control of red snapper management in 2018. Alabama added Mondays to the weekend to try to spread out the effort and provide more opportunities to fish.
“I think adding Mondays was a success,” Bannon said. “Some people felt that had a negative impact and reduced season length because of the Monday fishing. But if you add up all of the Monday effort, it is barely more than our peak Saturday. Mondays did exactly what we hoped it would do. It provided opportunities to avoid the Saturday chaos, allow people who work weekends an opportunity to go, and allow people who were on vacation who had to travel on Saturday to have an extra opportunity. And, if you were local, the feedback I got was they took advantage of Mondays instead of trying to fish on Saturdays when the effort was so high. They didn’t fish any more because it was open on Mondays; they just fished a different day.”
Red snapper season closed down after July 3.
“I know there was disappointment that we didn’t have red snapper for the Alabama Deep Sea Rodeo, being the nation’s largest fishing tournament,” Bannon said. “With all of the other challenges the rodeo had with the COVID-19 issues and all the events that were canceled, I think they had the best event they could under the circumstances.”
Alabama charter boat fleet still operates under federal management through NOAA Fisheries. The charter season opened on June 1 and ran straight through August 1.
“I think the charter season went really well, especially considering that, when the coronavirus first hit, a lot of people were canceling trips early in the year,” Bannon said. “As boating was considered a safe activity, many of the boats adjusted their capacity so people felt comfortable and safe. They lost the Cristobal weekend just like everyone else, but they got to fish pretty consistently for the 62 days they were open. From my discussions with the captains, they considered it a very good season considering the COVID circumstances. And I think they’ll have a good fall season as people still have limited outdoor activities. The charters will target other fish, like amberjack, which is scheduled to be open until October 31. They can also catch vermilion snapper (beeliners) and other reef fish species as well as king mackerel.”
Bannon said that he was encouraged by the variety of sizes of red snapper.
“We had a large number of smaller fish, which we attribute to a strong year-class of fish,” Bannon said. “Those younger fish will crowd those reefs. What you should see in the next year or two, those fish will be growing up around those reefs and then dispersing. We should be able to follow the year-class and see how it works out over the next few years.”
What state regulators will do to allow more fishing opportunities for red snapper, or even if there will be another red snapper weekend, has not yet been determined.
August is the month to renew your hunting and fishing licenses.
Alabama has an enormous variety of outdoor opportunities for hunters and fishermen. You can literally hunt and fish year-round in Alabama. Unlike youth sports or attending sporting events, concerts, movies, shows or shopping, the whole family can participate in both hunting and fishing while still socially distancing and protecting themselves from catching and spreading the coronavirus.
Alabama Legislative Black Caucus holds meetings on racism in wake of George Floyd death
Members of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus in recent months have been meeting with Gov. Kay Ivey, state law enforcement officials and others to voice their concern over systemic racism in Alabama, the group said in a statement Friday.
Alabama Legislative Black Caucus members in June met with Ivey, and in follow-up meetings with other state officials and leaders of higher education, members discussed what they believe needs changing to battle racism in Alabama, according to the press release.
“We are very appreciative of Governor Ivey and all of the officials with whom we have met thus far,” said State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, chairwoman of the ALBC, in a statement. “Our dialogues have been very substantive and productive as the Caucus presented our concerns and recommendations. Our goal is to get to the root of and eradicate racism and anything that communicates hatred, bigotry or divisiveness within the State of Alabama. The tragic and senseless death of George Floyd caused us all to take a closer look at the systemic racism at work here in Alabama.”
ALBC members met with officials from Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Sheriffs Association, the Alabama Association of Police Chiefs and Katie Britt, president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama along with BCA’s Executive Leadership Committee.
Members also met with The University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis St. John, and Jay Gogue, president of Auburn University.
In the statement, ALBC members applauded the University of Alabama’s Board of Trustees for voting unanimously to rename Nott Hall — named for Josiah Nott, a doctor who believed in white superiority — Honors Hall.
“The University of Alabama had already started this endeavor before our meeting with them this past Tuesday,” said State Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Gallion, vice chairman of ALBC, in a statement. “That was a great first step and strong leadership was shown. We are looking forward to the other institutions of higher learning in Alabama to do the same as well. The Caucus also hopes that all members of the Alabama Legislature have been inspired to adopt and make meaningful changes in legislation that governs our state.”
Figures said the group of elected senators and representatives are holding these talks, with plans for others, “so that people will stop focusing on Alabama’s sordid past, and instead see a beautiful Alabama present, and the makings of a bright future for all Alabamians.”
“During each of these meetings, our members have had the opportunity to voice what we feel the necessary changes should be. I just hope this openness to positive change continues throughout the upcoming 2021 Alabama Legislative Session,” said State Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, in a statement.