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Shelby urges passage of new omnibus spending deal

Brandon Moseley

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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.

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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.

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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.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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National

Commissioner praises prison employees for putting lives on the line during pandemic

Brandon Moseley

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ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn on Thursday praised the department’s employees for “literally putting their lives on the line” coming into work during the COVID-19 crisis. Dunn was speaking to the Alabama State Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee, which is holding budget hearings in Montgomery.

“I cannot praise them enough,” Dunn said. “They are going into the facility knowing that it (the coronavirus) is there. Not just our corrections officers but also our healthcare workers.”

“Many of our workers are single moms,” Dunn said. “We have several families where both the husband and wife work for the department and they have children and they are coming to work each day.”

“188 of our staff have self-reported” being coronavirus positive, Dunn said. “109 of them have already been able to return to work. That is a tribute to the dedication of our staff. Unfortunately, we have had two employee deaths.”

“We are working on an expanded testing protocol, so we can eventually test the entire inmate population and can offer testing to our staff,” Dunn said. Employees also have the option of going to their doctor for testing.

“To this point we have tested 523 inmates, 2 percent of our population, and that number will continue to expand,” Dunn assured legislators.

Dunn said COVID-19 has negatively impacted ADOC’s efforts to hire more corrections officers. They have had to cancel job fairs and some new officer trainings due to the coronavirus shutdown. Dunn assured the senators that there has been progress in addressing the staffing issues that have been cited in a lawsuit in federal court.

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Dunn said that to this point in 2020, ADOC has had a net increase of 150 corrections officers. The Department has made 455 new hires, but has lost 305 due to attrition for a net gain of 150.

Dunn showed a graph to the state Senators showing that the number of corrections officers working at ADOC peaked at around 2,000 in 2011. Since then the number of officers has declined precipitously dropping to as low as 1100, before beginning to rise in the last year.

“Our hiring efforts have been slowed down by COVID-19,” Dunn explained

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Dunn said that they are talking with many candidates who are interested once their unemployment runs out. “We have a whole pool of folks who are waiting and seeing.”

“We always understood that this was going to be a process,” Dunn told Senators.

“Our personnel budget next year is $300 million,” Dunn said. “We have reduced our overtime over $300,000 this year. We have a much tighter management control over that. Part of that reduction is due to the increase in staffing.

Committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, told Dunn, “The over is a very sensitive matter.”

Dunn said that any savings from reducing overtime is being used to pay for the new hires.

Dunn said that the prisons are currently operating at 155 percent capacity. Dunn predicted that once the state builds the three new mega-prisons currently in the bid process that ADOC will be operating at 120 to 125 percent capacity. Dunn said that the state has determined from the California case that 137 percent capacity is right at about the line where the federal courts would intervene. ADOC has set the capacity goal at 120 to 125 percent to have a buffer percentage.

ADOC is funded in the State General Fund (SGF) budget. Alabama has an arcane budgeting system where over 90 percent of state funds are earmarked and there are two separate budgets: the SGF and the state education trust fund budget (ETF). Alabama historically has underfunded its prisons and has long neglected its aging prison infrastructure.

COVID-19 remains a very serious problem in Alabama. 2,064 Alabamians were reported positive on Thursday and another ten died, taking Alabama’s death toll to 1,042.

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Congress

Rogers leads Homeland Security Committee Republicans

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mike Rogers.

Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, on Thursday delivered an opening statement highly critical of the Chinese government at a Homeland Security Committee hearing in Washington entitled “Examining the National Response to the Worsening Coronavirus Pandemic.”

“I appreciate you granting my request to allow Members to use the hearing room today,” Rogers said. “We should be conducting our important oversight and legislative business here in Washington. We are much more productive when Members are here, in person, doing our work together. We’ve already proven we can do it safely. I hope we will return to regular order as soon as possible.”

“As you know, I strongly disagree with the Speaker’s unilateral decision to shut down the House of Representatives,” Rogers explained. “We should be conducting our important oversight and legislative business here in Washington. We are much more productive when Members are here, in person, doing our work together. We’ve already proven we can do it safely. I hope we will return to regular order as soon as possible.”

“As I said before, our hearts go out to those who have lost their loved ones to COVID-19 and those who are currently undergoing treatment,” Rogers continued. “COVID-19 is an unprecedented global pandemic that requires an unprecedented response.”

Rogers was highly critical of the Chinese government and their role in the global pandemic.

“Unfortunately, we lost precious time early in the response when China hid the disease from the world,” Rogers said. “For weeks the Chinese Communist Party refused entry to outside medical experts. The Chinese suppressed journalists from reporting. Worst of all, China deliberately withheld evidence of the virus’ structure and deadly spread. During this, the Chinese hoarded life-saving medical supplies and encouraged foreign travel, seeding the virus across the globe. I want to commend Ranking Member McCaul’s work on the Foreign Affairs Committee to extensively document this deadly cover-up in a recent report.”

“It’s clear that China has pulled out all the stops to manipulate everyone from media outlets to the World Health Organization,” Rogers continued. “The WHO maintained for months that China had promptly self-reported COVID-19. They did not. And after months of lying the WHO has come clean. The WHO now says it found out about COVID from media reports and whistleblowers from China. The Chinese Communist Party once again has been caught with blood on its hands.”

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“Facing an extraordinary public health crisis and China’s deadly coverup, the Trump Administration has responded with a whole of government response,” Rogers stated. ”To date, the Administration has – Prohibited the entry of travelers from global hot spots; Invoked the Defense Production Act to increase supplies of critically needed medical equipment, such as ventilators; Coordinated the delivery of over 167 million respirators, 682 million surgical masks, and 17 billion gloves; Sent over $125 billion to the states to support the medical response to COVID-19; Distributed over $500 billion in PPP loans to small business; and Helped facilitate the testing of over 36 million tests. In fact, we are now capable of conducting over 700,000 tests per day. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the number of positive tests are rising in many areas. That’s why it’s so important for all Americans to continue to heed the advice of our federal, state, and local public health officials.”

“I am pleased to see a couple of public health and emergency response officials on the panel today,” Rogers said. “Colonel Hastings currently serves as the Director of Alabama’s Emergency Management Agency. He had a very distinguished 30 year career in the Air Force. For the last 3 years, he has done a tremendous job leading EMA’s response to several natural disasters and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Colonel, thank you for joining us today. I appreciate all the witnesses for appearing. I look forward to hearing how you all are using the emergency funding and resources provided by Congress and the Administration to respond to this crisis.”

“I am also interested in knowing what more Congress can do to help you effectively respond,” Rogers said. “Our country has faced outbreaks of serious disease in the past. In each case, we’ve marshalled our collective resources and ingenuity to overcome the crisis. I’m confident that will be the case with COVID-19.

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Rogers is the ranking member of the House Homeland Committee.

More than three million Americans have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including more than 48,000 Alabamians. The novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, shows no sign of slowing anytime soon as 61,864 Americans were diagnosed just on Wednesday. The virus was first identified late in 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China late in 2019. The first positive test for the virus in Alabama was in mid-March.

Rogers represents Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District.

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Congress

Perry Hooper endorses Tuberville

Brandon Moseley

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Former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr., Trump National Victory committee member, formally endorsed former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville for U.S. Senate on Thursday.

“I have known Coach Tommy Tuberville since he first arrived at Auburn in 1999,” Hooper said. “Since day one when I went to watch my sons practice football, he was always talking to me about Republican Party Politics. I knew it was in his blood. Little did I know at the time, I would be joining the President in supporting him for the United States Senate.”

“Coaching football is more about leadership than X’s and O’s,” Hooper continued. “Tommy’s leadership abilities were the first thing that impressed me when we first met. He has been places recruiting that few people running for office have. He has been in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, convincing Mommas how he was going to help mold their 17 years old sons into men. He really cares about everyday people and what is best for our neighborhoods and schools. He has been a great teacher of life lessons as well as an outstanding football coach. He brought in former Auburn Linebacker Chette Williams to serve as the Auburn football team chaplain. He is a dedicated Christian and dedicated to his family which includes his former players. This is what this country needs now – leaders not career politicians.”

“Tommy Tuberville is a principled, free market conservative who has the support of President Trump and has put together a great campaign to defeat Doug Jones,” said David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth PAC “President Trump’s endorsement is by far the most important endorsement a candidate can earn for a Republican Primary, and we are glad to join President Trump in supporting Tommy Tuberville.”

Club for Growth PAC has been strongly supporting Tommy Tuberville for Senate and Barry Moore and Bill Hightower in the Second and First Congressional Districts.

During these turbulent times, the President needs Tommy Tuberville on his team.,” Hooper said. “As the President stated in his endorsement “Tommy Tuberville loves his country and will never let it down”. He is 100 % behind the President and the Trump Agenda. He could easily have retired after his long successful football career, but there is one more chapter in his life – serving in the US Senate. He has been a winner on and off the football field; as Senator he will be a big win for America and Alabama.”

Hooper is a member of the Alabama Republican Executive Committee and a strong supporter of Auburn University athletics.

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Tuberville faces former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, July 14, in the Republican primary runoff. The winner of the Republican nomination will face incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, in the Nov. 3 general election.

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Congress

Sewell announces $4 Million federal grant for the Dannon Project

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell

Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, announced Wednesday a $4 million federal grant to be awarded to the Dannon Project through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Pathway Home grant program. The Pathway Home program focuses on assisting justice involved individuals with community re-entry and employment.

“As we continue to reexamine systems of racial inequity and oppression, I am grateful for organizations like the Dannon Project who work to fill in the gaps left by our deeply flawed criminal justice system,” said Sewell. “In a state with one of the most underfunded and violent prison systems, with one of the highest rates of overall incarceration in the country, and where Black Americans are jailed at 3.3 times the rate of white Americans, we can clearly see the need for the work of the Dannon Project. Of course, this funding is just a drop in the bucket of what is needed for true reform, but it is a step in the right direction.”

The Dannon Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit located in Birmingham, Alabama. The Dannon Project helps non-violent offenders who have been involved in the criminal justice system with re-entry by providing valuable resources such as short-term training, certifications, job placement and case management, beginning six months prior to release.

Kerri Pruitt is the executive director of the Dannon Project.

“The Dannon Project is thankful to receive this award and for the opportunity to make an impact in communities we serve,” said Pruitt. “Under the Pathway Home program, enrolled participants will have the option to follow one or more of three job training tracks: Industry-Recognized Credentials; Pre-Apprenticeship; or Career Pathways. The first two opportunities focus on training and job placement in employment sectors predicted to have the greatest job growth and/or high demand for skilled workers within the major industries of Birmingham’s regional economy. The third option, Career Pathways, will focus on facilitating participants’ enrollment at post-secondary institutions to attain educational credentials for their desired areas of employment.”

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said that 82 percent of prison releases who get employment never re-offend.

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said that 95 percent of the inmates in the Alabama prison system will at some point re-enter society.

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Sewell is in her fifth term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.

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