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Newman Holds on to School Board Seat

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Tuesday, April 12, north Alabama voters went to the polls and Incumbent Jeff Newman (R) held on to his State school board seat with 62.1 percent of the votes cast to Bonner’s 37.1 percent.

Turnout was terrible in District 7 where as of press time only 11,087 votes had been cast in the 12 county district.

In the week before the runoff the powerful Business Council of Alabama (BCA) pumped over $50,000 into Newman’s campaign, through their PROGRESS PAC. The Alabama Farmer’s Federation PAC contributed another $10,000.

Jeff Newman has more than three decades of experience in education, Newman most recently retired as superintendent of education of the Lamar County School System. Prior to his service as superintendent, he served as an administrator of federal programs, a career technical principal and director, a high school assistant principal, and an agribusiness teacher.

Bonner won well over 45 percent of the Republican Primary vote and narrowly missed winning the largely rural 12 county northwest Alabama State school board district outright. Bonner however failed to get his voters to return the polls in sufficient numbers to be competitive in the runoff.

While Newman won a convincing victory, the other BCA endorsed candidate lost his bid for re-election. Former principal Jackie Zeigler defeated Matthew Brown in District one.

 

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Alabama Dept. of Corrections has tested 17 inmates for COVID-19

Chip Brownlee

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The Alabama Department of Corrections has tested 17 inmates in nine of the state’s prisons for the novel coronavirus. All tests so far have been negative.

Five more inmates have been tested, but their results are pending.

ADOC began publishing test data on its website Thursday. It says it will update the information twice a week.

“The Alabama Department of Corrections remains committed to maintaining transparency – without compromising security –throughout the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak, and has been working to aggregate relevant data to keep the public informed about the health and well-being of those who live and work in our facilities,” the department says.

The first batch of testing data released from the department comes as a number of advocacy groups, families, former law enforcement officials and activists have called on the state to take extraordinary steps to protect vulnerable inmates in the state’s prisons.

They say that overcrowding in the prisons makes them particularly susceptible to an outbreak of the virus.

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Health

Sen. Doug Jones calls on Alabama governor to order shelter-in-place

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama Sen. Doug Jones during a virtual town hall on Thursday called on Gov. Kay Ivey to implement a statewide shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order.

“I have been promoting stay at home orders for some time,” Jones said, adding that he “absolutely” thinks the state should implement such an order.

“The reason I would like to see one is because it sends a strong message to the people of Alabama of how significant it is to use the social distancing, to use whatever means necessary to stop the spread of this virus,” he said.

Jones said an order from the governor would have more force than social media messages asking people to stay home.

Public health experts have also called for such measures.

“People’s health is about the least political thing there should be,” said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, the director of the Division of Infectious Diseases and a professor of medicine at The University of Alabama Birmingham, who participated in the town hall. “I don’t care what you call it, but the messaging should be consistent. We should all be playing from the same playbook.”

Ivey has said she is trying to balance the economy and public health by closing beaches and closing some non-essential businesses. But she has not ordered people to stay home. She has said she doesn’t want to put more strain on the economy by adding a more restrictive shelter-in-place order.

“The governor remains committed to exploring all options and has not ruled anything out, but she hopes that we do not need to take this approach,” Ivey’s spokesperson said Wednesday. “The governor’s priority is protecting the health, safety and well-being of all Alabamians, and their well-being also relies on being able to have a job and provide for themselves and their families. Many factors surround a statewide shelter-in-place, and Alabama is not at a place where we are ready to make this call.”

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Jones said what would be best for the economy is to defeat the virus.

“We help this economy by staying home because we can stop the spread, and we can get rolling again pretty soon,” Jones said.

Jones also encouraged the president to continue to invoke the Defense Production Act to direct companies to manufacture more personal protective equipment, testing supplies and ventilators for hospitals fighting the virus. “We need to have more and if it takes an invoking of the Defense Production Act, then so be it.”

In the town hall, Jones warned that Alabama is on the verge of a health care crisis. As of Thursday morning, there are nearly 1,200 lab-confirmed cases of the virus in the state and at least 32 deaths.

“Our healthcare response is getting overwhelmed,” Jones said.

Jones continued to call on Alabamians to heed the advice of medical professionals who are asking people to stay home except for most essential needs.

“Listen to the medical professions. Do it for yourself and do it for your parents and do it for each other,” Jones said.

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Congress

Alabama municipalities may be left out of $2 trillion stimulus package

Bill Britt

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As the largest economic stimulus in American history flows to states and municipalities around the nation, stipulations in the two-trillion dollar emergency fund may leave Alabama cities out altogether.

As enacted, the third stimulus bill, the CARE Act, directs funding for states, and local governments, the catch is that the act only allocates funds for municipalities with a population of 500,000 or more.

No city in Alabama has a population of 500,000, leaving an unanswered question as to who gets what and who gets nothing?

The state has 463 municipalities spread out over 67 counties. Not one has a population nearing half a million yet each one is experiencing the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are working with Treasury and the Governor’s office to understand what municipalities can expect,” said Greg Cochran, deputy director of the Alabama League of Municipalities.

Alabama will receive $1.9 billion from the stimulus package, as a block grant, which could be allocated in a 55-45 split, according to the League’s estimation with around $1.04 billion to the state and $856 million going to local governments.

“Currently, there is little guidance on how those shared resources are to be distributed to local governments,” said Cochran. “Nor is there clear directive that those resources are to be shared with local governments with less than 500,000 populations.”

The National League of Cities is also seeking clarification from Treasury Department on these questions and guidelines to ensure funds are shared with local governments.

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“Congress is working on a fourth stimulus bill, and we are working diligently with our Congressional delegation, NLC and other stakeholders to have all cities and towns are recognized for federal funding assistance,” Cochran said.

However, on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cast doubt on a fourth package, saying that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s needed to “stand down” on passing another rescue bill. “She needs to stand down on the notion that we’re going to go along with taking advantage of the crisis to do things that are unrelated to the crisis,” as reported by The Washington Post.

Alabama’s biggest cites, Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa, are already facing strain under the weight of the COVID-19 outbreak.

But so are smaller cities like Auburn, Hoover, Madison, Opelika and others. Lee County and Chambers County have far more cases of the virus per capita than the state’s more populous counties.

“I was not really happy with the way that they limited the money,” Jones said, adding that the money could go to counties with 500,000 or above. Jefferson County would qualify for that.

Jones also said he would like to see more money for city and county expenses not directly related to COVID-19 like fire and police. “We’re going to have to do what I think we can to backfill some of the expenses,” Jones said.

In addition to health and welfare concerns for residents during the COVID-19 calamity, cites are dealing with what is certain to be a downward spiral on tax revenue and other sources of income and a subsequent rise in costs. The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that at least 90,000 people have applied for unemployment compensation in the state over the last two weeks.

“Knowing that our municipalities will experience a loss in revenue because they rely on sales, motor fuel and lodgings taxes, we are urging our state Legislature to be mindful of actions they take when they return regarding unfunded mandates/preemptions,” said Cochran. “Additionally, we are concerned about the adverse impact this could have on 2021 business licenses, which are based on sales from 2020.”

The combined population of the state’s two biggest cities, Birmingham and Montgomery, do not equal 500,000, the threshold for receiving funds under the Care Act.

Cochran says that the League is working tirelessly to find answers as to how local governments can participate in Congress’s emergency funding.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | For humanitarian and public health reasons, we need to get people out of our jails

Bishop Van Moody

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For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners (Psalm 69:33)

We are facing a crisis unlike any in our lifetime. A virus is infecting us at unprecedented rates. Over 100,000 have been infected in the United States and the death toll in our country is already in the thousands. 

But we’re not doing everything possible to keep us safe. The county jails in Alabama, which lock up thousands of people, are a major health risk. The incarcerated population can’t practice “social distancing” and instead are left to languish in these facilities with no soap or supplies to sanitize their own cells.

Imprisoned  people are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses such as COVID-19. People incarcerated in jails are housed in close quarters, and are often in poor health. And, according to a report from the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, the county jail population quadrupled between 2014 and 2018.

The way to mitigate that health risk is clear. We need to release people who are no risk to our communities and vulnerable to exposure immediately. And jail officials need to come up with a plan, and make it public, for how they will deal with a COVID-19 outbreak in their facility. 

Gov. Kay Ivey acknowledged the danger in her State of Emergency declaration, finding that “the condition of jails inherently heightens the possibility of COVID-19 transmission.”  Ivey’s declaration said that people charged with crimes could be served with a summons instead of being arrested. But that doesn’t do much for the people already locked up and awaiting trial. 

And a COVID-19 outbreak in these jails with the current incarcerated population would be disastrous for public health. The incarcerated people who get infected would have to be taken to our already overcrowded hospitals, and people who work in the jails are also in danger of both being infected, and spreading the infection to people on the outside. Lowering the total number of people locked up would make an outbreak less likely, and also make it easier to quarantine people who have been infected.

But there is also a moral and humanitarian reason to get people out of these jails. The crime rate in our state didn’t quadruple in the last few years, but our jail population did. Many of the people now locked up aren’t there because they committed horrible crimes, they’re locked up because they’re too poor to afford bail. Some are even elderly and therefore at “higher risk for severe illness”, according to the CDC.

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It is wrong to lock people up because they can’t afford to pay bail. If a judge has already decided that someone does not pose a threat to the community and they can get out of jail if they can pay a fee, then they shouldn’t be locked up at all during a crisis like this.Poverty is not a crime and under these circumstances, it should not put you at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Last month county jail inmates with bonds under $5,000 were ordered released in Autauga, Elmore and Chilton Counties, as long as the sheriffs and wardens sign off on it. Mobile Countyhas also announced it would release certain pre-trial inmates.. These actions were taken due to fears of the spread of COVID-19.

Other states have also started doing this. Montana, California, New Jersey, Washington and Wyoming are amongthe states that have actively worked to reduce it’s incarcerated population in the last few weeks.

Actions like these need to be the norm going forward. COVID-19 is scary, but we must meet it with Christian love and compassion. We must extend that to our brothers and sisters behind bars who pose no threat to our communities and are awaiting their day in court. We must consider those who are elderly and already ill. This virus is the worst thing many of us have seen in our lifetimes, let’s combat it with love and compassion, instead of hate and fear.

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