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House passes bill to fund school security

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill to provide a funding source for upgrading school security.

Senate Bill 323 was sponsored by State Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, and carried in the House by State Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa. The bill would allow local school systems to tap the Education Advancement and Technology Fund for improvements to school security.

Under current law, the fund can be used for repairs, insurance, technology and transportation. Under the Rolling Reserve Act, money is earmarked for the School Stabilization Fund. Once that amount has been reached, the overage – if there is an overage – goes to the Education Advancement and Technology Fund. That money is then redistributed to the school systems for the approved purposes on a per capita basis.

Poole said the bill would allow school systems to use the money for security cameras, making entrances more secure, such as metal detectors and other nonrecurring uses related to security. “Any tool we can add to the toolboxes that schools have to keep the premises safe is critical.”

State Rep. Koven L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, offered an amendment to allow school systems to borrow from the stabilization fund in case of a disaster. They would have to pay the money back within two years and would lose their Education Advancement and Technology Fund money if they did not pay it back.

Poole is called this a “bridge loan” to be used by a disaster-impacted school system between the time of the disaster and when insurance finally paid. Poole said that the state requires that all school systems carry insurance to avoid some of the financial disasters that natural disasters like the Enterprise High School tornado event caused in the past.

Poole said that total money available for loans would be limited to just ten percent of the stabilization fund per disaster and 20 percent in the event that there were multiple natural disasters.

Poole said that schools who do not pay all of the money back within two years will be charged eight percent interest. The governor will be responsible for certifying that there has been a natural disaster, that repairs are needed and for authorizing the comptroller to release the funds. K-12 schools, two year colleges, state colleges and universities, including Tuskegee University, would all be protected under this amendment.

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Several legislators expressed concerns that allowing schools to borrow money from the stabilization fund would defeat the purpose of the Rolling Reserve Act.

State Represenative Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, said, “This is a noble concept; but it is a dangerous concept to start disturbing the Rolling Reserve and it is an administrative nightmare to manage.”

Rep. Brown withdrew his amendment in the face of the opposition. Brown represents Jacksonville, which was hit hard by a tornado late Tuesday night.

State Representative John Knight, D-Montgomery, offered an amendment to prevent local school systems from using the money for weapons for teachers or administrators.

Poole asked the House to table Knights’ amendment.

The House voted 52-21 to table the Knight amendment.

Poole offered a technical amendment to clean up the synopsis now that Rep. Brown’s amendment is not part of the bill.

SB323 passed the House 96 to zero.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked Poole if there should be a fund established to provide assistance to school systems impacted by disasters like tornados, hurricanes or fires.

Poole, who chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Education Committee, did not believe that a disaster fund was necessary.

Reporters asked Poole if the Legislature should have prevented the school system from using the money to buy guns to defend against school shooters.

Poole said that that is a local school board decision and that the Legislature did not want to be telling the school boards what to do.

Reporters asked Poole if the money could be used to hire school resource officers.

Poole said that money from the fund can not be used for recurring expenses like salaries.

The bill has already passed the Senate but because Poole added a technical amendment on the floor, it has to go back to the Senate for their approval.

Gov. Kay Ivey has already announced her support for the measure.

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Economy

Freelancers, gig workers can begin filing unemployment claims

Chip Brownlee

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Stock Photo

Employees like freelancers and the self-employed can now file for an unemployment claim in Alabama, the Alabama Department of Labor said Tuesday, under the CARES Act, the coronavirus response bill passed by Congress and signed by the president last week.

The Alabama Department of Labor is encouraging employees who believe they may qualify for programs under the CARES Act to file a claim.

These employees will also need to certify weekly to continue to let the department know that they remain unemployed.

Although ADOL does not yet have technical guidance or a start date regarding the CARES Act programs, benefits may be paid retroactively from the time the employee separated from his or her job or otherwise became eligible under the federal CARES Act, not from the time the application was submitted or approved.

In Alabama, many freelancers, independent contractors and the self-employed are not typically able to file for unemployment insurance.

Last week, more than 70,000 people filed an initial jobless claim. Claims can be filed online at www.labor.alabama.gov or by calling 1-866-234-5382.

The Department of Labor is asking for patience when trying to file a claim.

ADOL says employees who may be affected include:

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  • The self-employed
  • Church employees
  • Non-profit and governmental employees
  • Independent contractors
  • Gig economy workers
  • Those who have exhausted their regular UI benefits.

These employees should also meet one of these conditions:

  • The individual has been diagnosed; or
  • A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed; or
  • The individual is providing care to a household or family member; or
  • A child or other person for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility as a result of COVID-19; or
  • The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency; or
  • The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because the individual has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine; or
  • The individual was scheduled to start work and does not have a job as a result of COVID-19; or
  • The individual has become “the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19”; or
  • The individual has to quit their job because of COVID-19; or
  • The individual’s place of employment is closed because of COVID-19.

This list is not exhaustive.

Further details regarding the CARES Act programs will be forthcoming, the department says, including information regarding Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provides for an additional $600 a week in unemployment compensation benefits.

The additional $600 weekly benefit will only be available for weeks beginning March 29, 2020

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Health

Two hospital employees in Huntsville test positive for COVID-19

Chip Brownlee

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Stock Photo/Huntsville, Alabama

A physician and another employee at Crestwood Medical Center in Huntsville, Alabama, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the hospital said Tuesday.

“Crestwood Medical Center learned that 2 of our associates (one physician and one employee) have tested positive for COVID-19,” spokesperson Lori Light said in a statement Tuesday.

One is in the hospital for care while the other is at home under quarantine.

The hospital has also had two patients test positive in the Emergency Department, but neither of the patients needed inpatient care, the spokesperson said.

“Working in coordination with the health department, we are following established CDC procedures to identify and communicate directly with any potentially exposed staff and patients,” the Crestwood Medical Center spokesperson said.

Overall, there are at least 13 COVID-19 patients in Madison County, the hospital’s CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said Tuesday during a briefing.

There are 11 inpatients at Huntsville Hospital’s facilities, according to Huntsville Hospital spokesperson Susan Esslinger.

In Alabama, the number of positive cases is nearing 1,000. At least 23 deaths related to COVID-19 have been reported. The Alabama Department of Public Health has officially confirmed 13.

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Crime

Alabama inmate killed by another inmate at Ventress Correctional

Eddie Burkhalter

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via the Alabama Department of Corrections

A Birmingham man serving at Ventress Correctional Facility in Clayton was killed by another inmate, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections. 

Dennis Benson, 40, who was serving a 36-month sentence for possession of a controlled substance and receiving stolen property, died March 30 after being attacked by another inmate, ADOC said in a statement. 

“The ADOC condemns all violence in its facilities, and the fatal actions taken against Benson by another inmate are being thoroughly investigated,” the department said in a statement.

Benson’s cause of death is pending a full autopsy, and more information will be available upon the conclusion of the investigation into his death, according to the department. 

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Health

Wisconsin students test positive after spring break on Alabama beaches

Eddie Burkhalter

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A number of college students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have tested positive for COVID-19 after spending time on Alabama’s beaches during spring break, according to the university and multiple news outlets.  

University Health Services (UHS) and Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) recently became aware of a cluster of COVID-19 cases associated with a spring break trip organized by seniors, many of whom might be members of fraternities and sororities at UW-Madison,” wrote Dr. G. Patrick Kelly, interim medical director at UW-Madison’s University Health Services in a letter to sorority and fraternity members as reported by WKRG.  

“This trip started in Nashville, Tennessee around March 13 and moved to Gulf Shores, Alabama around March 16. Most students returned home by March 20. Multiple students on this trip have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 and many others are reporting similar symptoms,” the letter continues. 

Gov. Kay Ivey closed the state’s beaches on March 19. Prior to that decision, images circulated on social media of college students gathering along the state’s shorelines. 

UW-Madison has asked students who returned from Alabama to self-quarantine for 14 days.

 

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