By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Chronic Wasting Disease is continuing to spread across the country with Mississippi being the latest state to test positive for the disease that has killed thousands of deer across the country and spread to 25 states and two Canadian provinces.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has regulations against importing deer, elk, mule deer, moose, or other cervid meat from state infected with CWD unless it is completely deboned. The regulations are designed to prevent the spread of CWD to Alabama, but to be effective everyone must participate.
“We don’t want people to panic, but we want people to be cognizant and understand that this is a major issue. It can be prevented, but it’s going to take everybody participating,” said WFF Director Chuck Sykes.
CWD is a transmissible disease found to affect deer and other cervids. It is believed to be caused by an infectious prion and has an extended incubation period.
Diagnosis requires examination of brain and lymphatic tissue. Infected deer become emaciated, behave erratically and eventually die.
“Mad cow disease” (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) is the best known of the prion diseases, which did enormous damage to the agricultural economy in Great Britain and resulted in government orders to destroy 4.5 million cattle.
A link between eating the brain and spinal column of cattle infected with mad cow disease (BSE) and the human prion disease called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease has been strongly suggested. BSE and CWD are possibly related to scrapie, which is another transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) found in sheep and goats. All of the know TSEs are fatal, but have long incubation periods.
“We’ve been warning about this for years, that this was not something that was fabricated, and we needed to do everything in our power to keep it out of Alabama,” said WFF Director Chuck Sykes. “Now it’s hit home. It’s real close now. What it means is we, as an agency, can only do so much. We can set regulations. It’s up to the hunters to fulfill those regulations. That’s why we’ve made a big media push to get the word out.
It is illegal now to import whole carcasses of dead cervids into Alabama. Any member of the cervid family harvested in those CWD-positive areas must be properly prepared before it can be legally brought into Alabama. Parts that may be legally imported include completely deboned meat, cleaned skull plates with attached antlers with no visible brain or spinal cord tissue present, upper canine teeth with no root structure or other soft tissue present and finished taxidermy products or tanned hides.
Diagnosis of CWD requires examination of brain and lymphatic tissue. Infected deer become emaciated, behave erratically and eventually die.
Sykes said, “People have got to start reporting what they see if they see someone doing something wrong,” he said. “We’ve only got so many officers in the field. We cannot be everywhere. We’ve already got preventative measures. We’ve got the carcass importation regulation. We’ve got the live deer importation ban. We’ve got testing we’re doing. We’re doing everything we can to stay on top of it, but we know there are still people illegally bringing live deer into the state. We know there are people illegally bringing carcasses into the state. That’s because they’re selfish, and they’re only worried about what’s inconvenient for them and not what impact it could have on our economy or our way of life.”
Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner John McMillan and ADCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship announced that new testing equipment has been purchased by the ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division for the State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. The equipment, known as Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA), will be dedicated to testing samples for CWD. Agriculture and Industries will employ a technician to conduct the tests.
“We have been working alongside ADCNR for quite some time to update our lab equipment to give us this testing capability,” said Commissioner McMillan. “A recent case of CWD in a free-range, white-tailed deer in west Mississippi prompted us to make this announcement now.”
The testing equipment is undergoing a validation process required by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratory. Once complete, the laboratory will be able to test deer samples and quickly determine the presence of CWD.
“We have had an active CWD surveillance program since 2002 in partnership with the ADCNR and game breeder facilities,” State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Frazier said. “This testing capability will be an additional safeguard in protecting the deer population in the state.”
There is no scientific evidence of any transmission of CWD to domestic livestock or humans; but much of Alabama’s rural economy depends on hunting and the revenue generated by the sport which has a $1.6 billion a year economic impact to the state. While Alabama is also rich in turkey, quail, doves, geese, rabbits, squirrels, feral hogs and other game species, deer hunting is by far the biggest economic driver of the hunting economy.
Chris Cook, Deer Project Program Leader for the WFF, said that in states with confirmed cases, a containment zone, usually a 5-mile radius, is established. The deer density is then established and a specific number of samples is taken for testing. If more positives are confirmed, the containment zone is expanded until officials can determine the distribution of the disease.
“Then you move forward with management actions to contain the disease,” Cook said. “You encourage people to harvest deer to keep the population down, not to eradicate it. That’s been shown not to work. You just try to limit the spread of the disease inside the containment zone.”
Cook has been in touch with the Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks officials to get information on the positive CWD deer.
“It was on a hunting club,” Cook said. “They had seen the deer for three days. One of the hunters was on a food plot. He watched the deer come in, and it was staggering around. It fell down and died while the hunter was there. They contacted the wildlife department, and unfortunately it tested positive. And this was the county where they had taken the most samples from doing CWD surveillance. It certainly caught them by surprise. It just shows you everybody needs to remain vigilant to report dead and dying deer so we can get samples to find out why that deer was in that condition. And we need the public to remain vigilant.”
“Mississippi has implemented its CWD response plan, which is exactly what needs to be done,” said University of Georgia School of Veterinary Medicine professor John Fischer, who heads the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study. “It’s unlikely there will ever be a smoking gun indicating how the disease got there. It just needs to be dealt with. And the response needs to be adaptable as more information becomes available.”
Fischer said that the prion (an abnormal protein) that causes the disease is virtually impossible to eliminate. “That’s one of the big confounders of management. The prion can persist in the environment and remain infectious for we don’t know how long. Even if you were able to remove every susceptible animal out there and hold the ground open, we don’t know how long you would have to wait to repopulate the area. I don’t think anybody knows.”
“All you can do is do the best you can to prevent the introduction of the disease into the state,” Dr. Fischer said. “Early detection is going to give you a better success of managing the disease. In areas where the disease appears endemic, the primary goal is to slow down geographic spread. Eradication doesn’t appear reasonable at this stage.”
According to researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), grass plants can bind, uptake and transport infectious prions, which are much smaller than bacteria. Prions are single proteins that cannot be destroyed by typical “kill strategies” such as extreme heat or ultraviolet light.
“With prions, nothing like that works,” said Claudio Soto, Ph.D., a UTHealth researcher and lead author of an article about the topic published May 26, 2015, in Cell Reports.
Prions are protein-based infectious agents that cause the characteristic spongy degeneration of the brain, leading to emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions, and death.
Soto’s team analyzed the retention of CWD and other infectious prion proteins and their infectivity in wheat grass roots and leaves that had been incubated with prion-contaminated material. They discovered that even highly diluted amounts of the material can bind to the roots and leaves. From there, they fed the wheat grass to hamsters, which became infected with the disease. The team also found the infectious prion proteins in plants that had been exposed to urine and feces from prion-infected hamsters and deer. The team found that plants can uptake prions from contaminated soil and transport them to different parts of the plant. By doing this, the plants can act as a carrier of CWD. Dr. Soto has suggested that plants may play an important role in environmental prion contamination and the horizontal transmission of the disease. (Horizontal transmission occurs when an infectious agent is transmitted between members of the same species.) Scientists already knew that these CWD prions are good at binding to soil, especially clay-based soils, and that they can persist there. Soto said that when some of the soil where an infected dead animal had been buried was injected into research animals several years after it had been buried, the injected animals came down with prion disease.
Soto warns that there is a good possibility that prions have been progressively accumulating in the environment.
In 1985 the Colorado Division of Wildlife tried to eliminate CWD from a research facility by treating the soil with chlorine, removing the treated soil, and applying an additional chlorine treatment before letting the facility remain vacant for more than a year, they were unsuccessful in eliminating CWD from the facility.
“It underscores the nasty nature of this disease and the challenge it is to manage it on a natural landscape,” said Matt Dunfee, coordinator of the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance. “It’s hard to contain, especially when it spreads through the soil or on plants. We haven’t been able to eliminate it on a natural landscape known to be infected.”
There has never been a deer to human transmission of a prion disease; but the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) caution hunters to avoid eating meat from deer that appear to be infected and to wash hands and utensils thoroughly after processing a deer carcass.
Cook warned everyone to be vigilant, “f they see a carcass that looks suspicious or a live animal being transported, contact one of our district offices or call the 24-hour hotline (Operation GameWatch 1-800-272-4263).”
(Original reporting by the Food Safety News’s Phil McCausland and Outdoors Alabama’s David Ranier as well as consultation with Medicenet, and Wikipedia contributed to this report)
Tuberville calls for term limits, balanced budget and lobbying reform
Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.
Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville’s campaign began emphasizing key structural reforms that the Republican nominee hopes to advance if elected to the U.S. Senate including congressional term limits, withholding lawmakers’ paychecks unless a balanced budget is passed and a ban on former officials becoming lobbyists.
“Only an outsider like me can help President Trump drain the Swamp, and any of the proposals outlined in this ad will begin the process of pulling the plug,” Tuberville said in a statement. “Doug Jones has had his chance, and he failed our state, so now it’s time to elect a senator who will work to fundamentally change the way that Washington operates.”
Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.
“You know Washington politicians could learn a lot from the folks in small town Alabama, but Doug Jones … he’s too liberal to teach them,” Tuberville added.
Polls consistently show that term limits are popular with people across both political parties, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that imposing term limits would be adding a qualification to be a member of Congress and that can only be done by constitutional amendment.
It is an unspoken truth that when Americans send someone to Congress they never come back. They either keep getting re-elected like Alabama’s own Sen. Richard Shelby, who is in his sixth term in the Senate after four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. On the other hand, they may become lobbyists getting paid to influence their colleagues on behalf of corporations, foreign governments or some well funded non-government organization.
Tuberville said he would ban that practice.
A balanced budget amendment almost passed in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.
Since that failure, Congress has increasingly passed bigger and bigger budget deficits. The U.S. government borrowed more money during the eight years of President George W. Bush’s presidency than the government had borrowed in the first 224 years of the country combined.
President Barack Obama followed and the TARP program propped up the post-Great Recession economy. Rather than cutting the deficit, President Donald Trump invested billions in the military and a tax cut without cutting domestic spending. The 2020 coronavirus crisis has further grown the budget.
The government has borrowed trillions to prop up the economy and provide stimulus while investing billions into medical research and treating the virus victims. Congress is currently debating a fifth stimulus package that would add more to the deficit.
Both a balanced budget amendment and a term limits amendment would have to be ratified by the states if passed by Congress. Tuberville is challenging incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.
House passes General Fund Budget
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.
The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.
Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”
Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.
The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.
Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.
Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.
The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.
Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.
The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.
Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.
The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.
In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.
SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.
Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”
State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”
The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.
The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.
The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.
The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.
Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.
SB185 passed 101-0.
Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.
Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1 for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.
SB215 passed the House 87-0.
The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.
State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.
SB231 passed 87-2.
The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.
The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.
The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.
Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.
Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.
Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.
Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday
By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter
The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.
Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.
Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.
The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.
Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.
Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.
Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.
Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.
Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.
Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.
The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.
Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.
It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.
Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor
By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter
Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.
The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.
Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.
Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.
Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.
The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.
- Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)
Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.
Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.
The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.
Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.