Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, announced the filing of the Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations bill and urged passage of legislation that would provide critical funding for the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Justice, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation.
“This is a strong bill that provides significant support for my priorities on the Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee, such as law enforcement, national security, economic development, scientific research, and space exploration,” Shelby said. “Furthermore, it will rebuild and strengthen our military with the biggest increase in defense funding in 15 years, while also creating opportunities to renew America’s aging infrastructure throughout the nation. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this bipartisan bill.”
The FY2018 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill reached an enormous $59.6 billion. That is $3.05 billion above the FY2017 enacted level. The bill fund federal law enforcement agencies, state and local law enforcement grants, space exploration, basic science research, economic development programs, trade enforcement, and ocean observations and weather forecasting.
The bill funds the U.S. Department of Commerce at $11.1 billion an increase of $1.9 billion over FY2017, to focus on core economic development activities, protecting intellectual property rights, strengthening trade enforcement, advancing cybersecurity research, and improving severe weather forecasting.
The bill includes $301.5 million for the Economic Development Administration (EDA). This is a $25.5 million increase over FY2017. Increased funding expands the Public Works program to support brick-and-mortar projects in communities across the country and broadband infrastructure and access to unserved areas of the country. The bill also provides $30 million in grants to assist troubled coal mining communities.
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) – $1.2 billion for NIST, $247 million above the FY2017 enacted level. This amount includes a $10 million increase over the FY2017 level for the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership. Targeted funding will continue to support our nation’s cybersecurity posture through cutting-edge research, expanded advanced manufacturing opportunities, and the promotion of high quality standards to maintain fairness in the marketplace.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) receives $5.9 billion, which is $234 million above the FY2017 enacted level. The bill provides full funding for NOAA’s flagship weather satellites, which are critical for accurate weather warnings to protect lives and property. Increased funding is provided for the National Weather Service to address failing infrastructure at its Weather Forecast Offices across the country.
The bill also includes increased funding for our nation’s fisheries. This includes continued support for more accurate and agency-independent data and language allowing NOAA to experiment with alternative management regimes. Provisions in the bill promise to help expand opportunities for American commercial and recreational fishermen.
The bill funds the Department of Justice (DOJ) at $30.3 billion, $1.3 billion above the FY2017 enacted level. The constantly-changing landscape of criminal activity at home and abroad tests the DOJ’s ability to deal with emerging threats. The bill reportedly ensures that federal law enforcement agencies work together to focus limited resources in a manner that safeguards taxpayer dollars while preserving public safety.
Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) receives $504.5 million which is, $64.5 million above the FY2017 enacted level, including funding for at least 100 new Immigration Judge (IJ) Teams to help reduce the extensive and growing backlog of pending immigration cases.
The bill funds the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at $9.03 billion, which is a $263 million increase above the FY2017 enacted level. Within funding provided, the FBI is expected to enhance its investigative and intelligence efforts related to terrorism, national security, human trafficking, and cyber threats, while also enforcing U.S. criminal laws. The bill directs the FBI to ensure full funding for the operations of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), and to review protocols associated with communication and information sharing between the Public Access Line and FBI field offices.
The bill also funds law enforcement grant programs at $2.9 billion for DOJ State and Local Law Enforcement Activities, including the Office on Violence Against Women, juvenile justice programs, and community crime prevention grant programs. The bill contains $330 million to fund the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (CARA) grant program, a $227 million increase over FY2017, and $32 million for Community Oriented Policing Services’ (COPS) anti-heroin task forces grants. Overall, a $299.5 million increase in grant funding is provided above the FY2017 level to combat the opioid and heroin crisis. The bill also contains $415.5 million for Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) and $177.5 million for initiatives to address rape kit and other DNA evidence backlogs. DOJ is directed to require all applicants for Byrne-JAG, COPS, and State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) grants to certify that they are in compliance with all applicable federal laws, including immigration laws.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) receives $20.7 billion, a $1.1 billion increase above the FY2017 enacted level and $1.6 billion above the budget request, to support the human and robotic exploration of space, fund science missions that enhance the understanding of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe, and support fundamental aeronautics research. This includes: $2.15 billion for the Space Launch System (SLS), which is $212 million above the request; $1.3 billion for the Orion crewed spacecraft, $164 million above the request, to continue development of NASA’s next deep-space crewed capsule; $760 million for Space Technology, $74 million above the FY2017 enacted level to advance projects in early stages of development that are expected to demonstrate capabilities needed for future space exploration; $100 million is provided for Education programs that were proposed to be eliminated in the budget request. NASA EPSCoR is funded at $18 million, Space Grant is funded at $40 million, the Minority University Research and Education Project is funded at $32 million, and STEM Education and Accountability Projects are funded at $10 million.
Shelby is the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS). He has served Alabama in the U.S. Senate since his 1986 election and in the Congress since his election representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional District in 1978.
Governor announces auto supplier IAC plans Alabama expansion
IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County.
Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday that International Automotive Components Group North America Inc. plans to invest over $55.9 million in expansion projects that will create 182 jobs at two Alabama facilities.
“International Automotive Components is a leading global auto supplier, and I am pleased that this world-class company is growing significantly in Alabama and creating good jobs in Cottondale and Anniston,” Ivey said. “IAC’s growth plans show that Alabama’s dynamic auto industry continues to expand despite today’s challenging environment.”
Nick Skwiat is the executive vice president and president of IAC North America.
“Alabama was the logical choice due to its skilled workforce and proximity to the customer,” Skwiat said. “We are excited to see the continued growth of the automotive industry in Alabama and we plan to grow right along with it. We thank the Governor and Secretary Canfield for their leadership in this sector.”
IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County. This facility will produce door panels and overhead systems for original equipment manufacturers. That project will create 119 jobs at the production site in Cottondale.
IAC also plans to invest $21.6 million at its manufacturing facility located in the former Fort McClellan in Anniston. That East Alabama project will create another 63 jobs.
This project builds on a milestone 2014 expansion that doubled the size of the Calhoun County facility. There IAC manufactures automotive interior components and systems. Key components produced at the Anniston plant include door panels, trim systems and instrument panels for original equipment manufacturers.
IAC Group is a leading global supplier of innovative and sustainable instrument panels, consoles, door panels, overhead systems, bumper fascias and exterior ornamentation for original equipment manufacturers.
IAC is headquartered in Luxembourg and has more than 18,000 employees at 67 locations in 17 countries. The company operates manufacturing facilities in eight U.S. states.
“With operations around the globe, IAC is the kind of high-performance company that we want in Alabama’s auto supply chain to help fuel sustainable growth,” said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield. “We look forward to working with IAC and facilitating its future growth in this strategic industrial sector.”
Danielle Winningham is the executive director of the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority.
“International Automotive Components is a valued part of Tuscaloosa County’s automotive sector,” Winningham said. “We are grateful for IAC’s investment in our community and the career opportunities available to our area workforce as a result of their investment.”
“The City of Anniston is excited that IAC has made the decision to expand here. I have enjoyed working with the leadership at IAC, the Calhoun County EDC, and the state of Alabama to get this project finalized,” said Anniston Mayor Jack Draper. “This is even further evidence that Anniston is indeed open for business.”
Only Michigan has more automobile manufacturing jobs than the state of Alabama. Honda, Mercedes, Hyundai, Polaris, Toyota and soon Mazda all have major automobile assembly plants in the state of Alabama.
AUM poll suggests Alabamians divided on prison reform proposals
90 percent of Alabamians favor some type of reform to the state’s prison systems, but there is little agreement on what efforts should be pursued.
Last week, a poll by Auburn University at Montgomery’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration found that approximately 90 percent of Alabamians favor some type of reform to the state’s prison systems, but there is little agreement on which reform efforts should be pursued.
- 36.6 percent: “Reduce or eliminate criminal sentences for non-violent crimes.”
- 30.3 percent: “Parole inmates convicted of non-violent crimes.”
- 25.9 percent: “Increase funding to improve existing prison facilities.”
- 21.4 percent: “Construct new prisons to be operated by the state.”
- 14.5 percent: “Contract with private firms to construct new prisons the state would then lease to operate.”
- 27.5 percent: “Increase funding for prison staff such as correctional officers, healthcare providers, educators, etc.”
- 15.2 percent: “Increase funding for probation officers.”
- 9.9 percent: “I support none of these options.”
The totals do not add up to 100 because it was a “select all that apply” poll.
Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan of signing a decades-long lease with private prison contractors was the least popular idea. Repairing the existing prisons 25.9 percent support while constructing new prisons had just 21.4 percent support.
The most popular prison reform measures, according to AUM poll director David Hughes, address prison overcrowding through criminal sentencing reforms.
“Approximately 37 percent of respondents support policies to reduce or eliminate sentences for non-violent offenders, and another 30 percent support paroling inmates convicted of non-violent crimes,” Hughes said.
The governor has included justice reform proposals in her all-encompassing plan. Those proposals were going to be considered by the Legislature in the 2020 legislative session but because of the coronavirus, the 2020 legislative session was cut short and the Legislature went home without addressing that or many other issues.
Much less popular is Ivey’s plan to build three new mega-prisons in Escambia, Elmore and Bibb counties.
“Only 21 percent of respondents supported a proposal to build new prisons the state would then directly operate,” Hughes said. “The least popular proposal we polled involved the state contracting with private firms to construct new prisons the state would then lease. Only 14 percent of respondents approved of this reform measure.”
The state has grossly underfunded its prison system for decades and the Alabama Department of Corrections is still dangerously overcrowded and understaffed, despite recent efforts by the Legislature to deal with its chronic underfunding of the system.
A U.S. Justice Department investigation begun by the Obama administration and concluded by the Trump administration declared that the state has the most dangerous prison system in the country. The prisons are plagued by rampant drug use, extreme violence, and the prisons have not done a good job at preparing prisoners to return to society.
The poor track record of rehabilitating prisoners means that inmates are released without job skills, education and still battling mental health issues and drug dependency. Too many inevitably reoffend and get sent back to prison exacerbating the overcrowding situation.
The U.S. Department of Justice warned the state in July that it was violating prisoners’ constitutional rights and that the attorney general may file or join lawsuits to intervene. A federal court has already found that the prisons were understaffed by a thousand guards and that inmates were not receiving necessary mental health care.
The AUM Poll was conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 3. It solicited online participation from 1,072 registered voters in Alabama. Respondents were weighted according demographic factors such as age, gender, race, education and income to produce a more representative sample of Alabama’s voting age population.
The survey has a 4-point margin of error.
Aderholt fully supports Barrett’s confirmation process
Confirmation hearings began last week and a vote on her confirmation is expected in the next week just days before the general election.
Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, updated his constituents on the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Aderholt said, “I do support her fully and I know she will defend life, protect the Constitution, and uphold our freedoms.”
Confirmation hearings began last week and a vote on her confirmation is expected in the next week just days before the general election.
“Senate Democrats are not seriously questioning Judge Barrett on her credentials, instead they have decided to attack her character and her beliefs,” Aderholt said. “I am disappointed to see this unfold on the national stage, but I think Judge Barrett stood strong and did well during this first week of hearings.”
“While I do not have a vote in her confirmation process, I do support her fully and I know she will defend life, protect the Constitution, and uphold our freedoms when she is officially sworn in as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court,” Aderholt said.
Barrett is a Notre Dame graduate, has served on the U.S. Seventh Court of Appeals and is a former clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
“I clerked for Justice Scalia more than 20 years ago, but the lessons I learned still resonate,” Barrett said. “His judicial philosophy is mine, too: A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.”
Barrett vowed to keep an open mind on any matter that comes before the court, though Democrats fear she is prepared to overturn Supreme Court precedent on abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act.
That the Republican controlled committee will recommend that Barrett be confirmed appears certain. A vote to confirm Barrett to the nation’s highest court by the full Senate could occur just days ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
President Donald Trump has been the president of the United States for less than four years but if Barrett is confirmed, then he will have selected one third of the U.S. Supreme Court. Barrett fills a place created by the death of the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September.
Aderholt is in his 12th term representing Alabama’s 4th Congressional District. He faces Democratic nominee Rick Neighbors in the Nov. 3 general election.
Coalition of attorneys general file opposition to Alabama attempt to ban curbside voting
The AGs argue that Alabama’s suggestion to the courts that curbside voting invites fraud is “unfounded.”
A coalition of 17 state attorneys general have filed an opposition to Alabama’s attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to ban curbside voting.
In a friend-of-the-court brief, led by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, the attorneys general argue to that curbside voting is safer for those at greatest risk from COVID-19, and that a ban on the practice would disproportionately impact the elderly, the disabled and Black Alabamians.
They also argue that Alabama’s suggestion to the courts that curbside voting invites fraud is “unfounded.”
“The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, established by President Trump following the 2016 election, ‘uncovered no evidence to support claims of widespread voter fraud,’” the brief states, adding that there is no evidence that curbside voting in the many states that allow it invites fraud.
“The practice is longstanding and widespread—as noted, more than half of states have historically offered curbside voting in some form,” the brief continues.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Oct. 13 said the state will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a federal appeals court ruling allowing curbside voting in the Nov. 3 election.
A panel of federal appeals court judges on Oct. 13 reversed parts of U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon’s Sept. 30 ordered ruling regarding absentee voting in the upcoming Nov. 3 elections, but the judges let the previous ruling allowing curbside voting to stand.
The lawsuit, filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, was brought on behalf of several Alabamians with underlying medical conditions.
“Curbside voting is a longstanding, secure voting option that local jurisdictions have made available to protect the health of vulnerable voters, including elderly, disabled, and voters with underlying health issues,” Racine said in a statement. “Curbside voting minimizes the risk to persons who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19, and local jurisdictions should be able to offer this common-sense accommodation to voters. State Attorneys General will keep fighting to ensure that voters can safely make their voices heard at the ballot box this November.”
The brief filed by the coalition of state attorneys general comes as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations across Alabama has been ticking upward.
Racine is joined in the brief by attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.