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Lawmaker admits new ethics bill would have saved Mike Hubbard from prosecution

Bill Britt

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Alabama speaker Mike Hubbard stands in Judge Jacob Walkers courtroom before the start of Hubbards ethics trial on Tuesday, May 24, 2016 in Opelika, Ala. (Todd J. Van Emst/Opelika-Auburn News/Pool Photo Todd Van Emst)

In what may be one of the most brazen acts of upending state ethics laws, Republican Rep. Rich Wingo admitted on Tuesday that his legislation, HB387, is designed to save others from being prosecuted like former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard.

Wingo, during a floor debate, unwittingly gave the real reasons behind HB387, which was passed in the House this week. “If we had had this bill four or five years ago maybe we could have been spared the embarrassment that this body experienced with the former Speaker,” Wingo said.

Here, Wingo is referring to the conviction of then-Republican Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, who was found guilty of using his office for personal gain by accepting contracts with entities that had business before the state.

As Wingo makes clear, if HB387 had been the law of the land when Hubbard was in office, a simple filing would have allowed him to use his office for personal gain without worry.

During the debate, Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, asked, “Do we have anybody doing work outside of their regular scope of work?”

Wingo answered, “Yes, I think so.”

House OKs bill to clarify consulting contracts by state legislators

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So, according to Wingo’s answer to Hall, not only does his bill hope to see other legislators avoid Hubbard’s fate but also to provide cover for those who may be currently breaking the law.

Wingo’s confession that HB387 is intended to inoculate current and future lawmakers from prosecution is frightening enough, but it also may give the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals just the reason they need to overturn some of Hubbard’s felony convictions.

This so-called clarification bill is a sickening example of just how far some legislators will crawl to please the state’s business elites. It is also further testimony to how even good lawmakers will shrink from doing their duty.

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The bill passed the House with 67 yeas, zero nays and 26 abstentions. Generally abstaining from a vote means the law is loathsome, but the lawmaker is too cowardly to oppose it outright.

Sold as a “notification” requirement, HB387, sponsored by Republicans Wingo and Sen. Trip Pittman, would require that legislators notify the ethics commission if they enter into an employment arrangement that is outside the member’s scope of work.

In other words, if a legislator who is a lifelong music teacher suddenly signs a contract to do PR work for a company doing business with the state, all he needs to do is fill out a form and file it with the Ethics Commission.

Keep in mind that under this Republican-supported bill, the Ethics Commission is neither authorized or required to do anything at all with the notification.

Under this vague statute, a simple notification replaces the need for a legislator to seek a formal advisory opinion from the Ethics Commission, as is currently the final check on such contracts. While the commission as presently configured is little more than a rubber stamp for cronyism, it is better than what is offered by HB387.

Alarmingly, the bill doesn’t make a distinction between legislators being hired by a principal, which under current law draws a Class III felony charge.

As passed in the House, the bill allows a lawmaker to enter into a contract and receive money, i.e., a paycheck from a principal.

HB387 promises to make the notifications public, but in reality, these contracts would be virtually hidden from news media and citizens. To monitor these notifications would require a daily search of the Ethics Commission database – something few organizations can afford.

This week, two pieces of legislation have passed the House, and any honest observer knows these are bills meant to weaken current law and potentially aid Hubbard, and his fellow travelers.

Businessmen who were forced to testify at Hubbard’s trial—or face prosecution themselves—want to do away with the laws that convicted Hubbard. Some of these same men lurk in the shadows pushing these bills through high-powered lobbyists and law firms.

These wealthy businessmen paid good money for Hubbard, and they don’t plan on losing on their next investment.

Even now, these elites have found a new “Hubbard,” who is gaining power and trust while doing these business giants’ bidding under the cover of darkness.

Wingo’s bill is designed to aid them in their venture.

 

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Alabama DHR announces grants providing temporary assistance for stabilizing child care

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Department of Human Resources announced on Friday a new grant program to provide assistance to licensed child care providers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Temporary Assistance for Stabilizing Child Care, or TASCC, grant program’s purpose is to stabilize the number of child care providers that are open and providing services, as well as encourage providers to reopen.

DHR is now accepting applications for TASCC grants. The deadline to apply is August 7, 2020. The total grant amounts will be based on each provider’s daytime licensed capacity with a base rate of $300 per child.

To be eligible for a grant, licensed providers must be open or plan to reopen no later than August 17, 2020, and continue to remain open for a period of one year from the date of receiving the grant award. As of this week, 1,306 of Alabama’s 2,448 child care facilities were open in the state.

“We are proud to offer this program as a support and an incentive to an important sector of our economy. These grants will give the support many providers need to reopen and assist those already open,” said Alabama DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner. “This program is going to be vital for our child care numbers to reach the level required to provide adequate services as parents return to work. We have already made significant strides in reopening facilities over the past several months; in April only 14 percent were open while now 53 percent are open.”

These grants will provide support for paying employees, purchasing classroom materials, providing meals, purchasing cleaning supplies, providing tuition relief for families, as well as other facility expenses.

DHR recommends child care providers read all guidance prior to submitting a TASCC application. Child care providers need to complete the application to determine the estimated grant amount. Grant applications will be processed as they are received and grants awarded once approved.

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An online fillable application is available for the TASCC grant at www.dhr.alabama.gov/child-care/. The application must include an Alabama STAARS Vendor Code in order to be processed. For questions regarding the application, please email DHR at [email protected].

 

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Gov. Ivey awards grant for new system to aid child abuse victims

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Gov. Kay Ivey delivers the 2019 state of the state address. (CHIP BROWNLEE/APR)

Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded a $375,000 grant to establish a statewide network that will ensure that victims of child abuse receive immediate and professional medical care and other assistance.

The grant will enable the Children’s of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pediatrics to collaborate with the Alabama Network of Children Advocacy Centers in creating the Child Abuse Medical System.

 “Child abuse is a horrendous crime that robs children of their youth and can negatively affect their future if victims do not receive the proper professional assistance,” Ivey said. “I am thankful for this network that will ensure children get the professional attention they need and deserve.”

The medical system will be a coordinated statewide resource that includes pediatric physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and other medical professionals along with specialized sexual assault nurse examiners.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grant.

“ADECA is pleased to join with Gov. Ivey and those dedicated people who are part of the Child Abuse Medical System to support these children at a time they need it most,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell.

Ivey notified Tom Shufflebarger, CEO of Children’s of Alabama, that the grant had been approved.

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ADECA manages a range of programs that support law enforcement, economic development, recreation, energy conservation and water resource management.

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Courts

U.S. Attorney Jay Town announces resignation

Eddie Burkhalter

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U.S. Attorney Jay Town announced his resignation Friday. (WHNT)

Jay Town, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, on Friday announced his resignation and plans to work at a Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company. 

Town’s resignation will be effective Wednesday, July 15, according to a press release. 

“After much thoughtful prayer and great personal consideration, I have made the decision to resign as the United States Attorney of the Northern District of Alabama.  I have tendered my resignation to Attorney General William Barr. General Barr expressed his gratitude for my service to the Department of Justice and to the Northern District and, despite having hoped I would continue in my role, understood and respected my decision,” Town said in a statement. 

“I am extremely grateful to President Trump, to whom I also tendered a letter, for his special trust and confidence in me to serve as the U.S. Attorney. It was an honor to be a part of this Administration with an unrivaled class of United States Attorneys from around the nation.  I will forever remain thankful to those who supported my nomination and my tenure as the U.S. Attorney,” Town continued.

Town said his job with the unnamed Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company is to begin later this year, and the company is to announce his position “in a few weeks.” 

“The Attorney General of the United States will announce my replacement in the coming days or weeks,” Town said in the release.  

Town has served in his position since confirmation by the U.S. Senate in August 2017. Prior to that appointment, Town was a prosecutor in the Madison County District Attorney’s office from 2005 until 2017.

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Attorney General William Barr in a statement Friday offered gratitude for Town’s three years of service. 

“Jay’s leadership in his District has been immense.  His contributions to the Department of Justice have been extensive, especially his work on the China Initiative and most recently as a Working Group Chair on the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice. I appreciate his service to our nation and to the Justice Department, and I wish him the very best,” Barr said in a statement.

The U.S. Justice Department in April 2019 notified Gov. Kay Ivey that the department’s lengthy investigation into the state’s prisons for men found systemic problems of violence, sexual assaults, drugs and corruption which are likely violations of the inmates’ Constitutional protections from cruel and unusual punishment. 

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Town’s office leads the discussions between the U.S Department of Justice and the state on the prison conditions. 

Problems with violence, deaths and drugs in Alabama’s overcrowded, understaffed prisons have not markedly improved in the year’s since the U.S. Department of Justice released its report.

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Health

Alabama’s daily COVID-19 deaths second highest since start of pandemic

In the past two weeks the state recorded 190 coronavirus deaths, a 38 percent increase from the previous two weeks.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama saw 35 deaths from COVID-19 on Friday, the second highest daily number of deaths since the pandemic began. 

The previous record daily high was May 12, when the state recorded 37 coronavirus deaths. Prior to that, the high was on April 22, when Alabama saw 35 deaths from the virus. In the past two weeks the state recorded 190 coronavirus deaths, a 38 percent increase from the previous two weeks.

While cases have been surging since mid-June, deaths have largely remained stable. Deaths are considered a lagging indicator, meaning that it takes longer for deaths to begin rising after cases and hospitalizations begin rising.

“The fact that we’re seeing these sharp increases and hospitalization in cases over the past week or two is really concerning,” said UAB expert Dr. Jodie Dionne-Odom earlier this week. “And we expect, given the lag that we know there is between cases and hospitalization — about a two-week lag, and a three-week lag between cases and deaths — that we’re on a part of the curve that we just don’t want to be on in our state.”

It’s unclear whether this new rise in deaths will become a trend, or whether it is a one-day anomaly, but the 14-day average of deaths per day is now nearly as high as the previous peak on May 14 — weeks after the state hit its first “peak” in cases per day in late April. The previous high of the 14-day average of deaths per day was 16 on May 14. The average is now at 14 deaths per day, on average.

The uptick in deaths comes after days of record-high new daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The state added 1,304 new COVID-19 cases Friday, down from Thursday’s record-high of 2,164, but the trend of rising daily cases has continued largely unabated since early June. 

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The 14-day average of daily tests was at an all-time high Friday, at 8,125, which was 308 more tests than the previous high, set Wednesday. The percent of tests that were positive also increased, however, so the new cases can’t be attributed solely to more testing. 

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The 14-day average of the percent positivity was 14.22 on Friday. Excluding Thursday’s figure, because the Alabama Department of Public Health didn’t publish total tests administered on Thursday, which threw  off percent positive figures, Friday’s 14-day average was the highest it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic. 

There were a few higher 14-day average percent positivity days in April, but those numbers were skewed as well, because ADPH wasn’t able to collect all testing data from commercial labs during that time period. 

Along with surging new cases, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Thursday was higher than it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic. On Thursday 1,125 coronavirus patients were being treated in state hospitals, which was the fifth straight day of record current hospitalizations. 

UAB Hospital’s COVID-19 Intensive care units were nearing their existing capacity earlier this week. The hospital has both a COVID ICU and a COVID acute care unit designated to keep patients separated from those who don’t have the virus, but it has more space in other non-COVID units should it need to add additional bed space.

Hospitals in Madison County this week are also seeing a surge of COVID-19 patients. Paul Finley, the mayor of the city of Madison, told reporters Wednesday that local hospitals were reporting record numbers.

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