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Sponsor says better House leadership could have saved racial profiling bill

Chip Brownlee

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Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, speaks to reporters after the Senate adjourned Thursday. (Chip Brownlee/APR)

A piece of legislation that would have implemented a method to track racial profiling data in police stops didn’t make it out of this year’s legislative session after House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, pronounced the bill dead on a radio show Thursday morning.

Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, who sponsored the legislation, said better leadership in the House could have saved the bill, which earlier this session received a unanimous vote in the Senate.

“It’s very obvious there’s not any coordination. There’s not any kind of guidance that needs to be used in the House when you have 105 people,” Smitherman said. “Frankly, I’ve never seen the House scattered in the way it is right now.”

Smitherman said the chamber was disorganized and the rules of order that have been established in the Legislature “clearly weren’t adhered to.”

“I had to wake up this morning by a call telling me that leadership in the House was on talk radio and they made a statement that they aren’t going to bring the bill up today and didn’t even have the protocol and the common courtesy to even text me and tell me first, the sponsor of the bill,” Smitherman said.

Much of Wednesday was spent in a tit-for-tat scenario between the two chambers of the Legislature as the Senate waited on the House to pass Smitherman’s bill before taking up the Education Trust Fund budget for concurrence.Smitherman was slowing down the Senate in the hopes that the House would pass his bill in time for it to get back up to the Senate for final passage.

A series of short recesses followed and so did tension.

Senators openly and boldly express frustration with the House’s pace this year — a pace that resulted in the death of several Senate bills. At one point, McCutcheon even came to the Senate chambers to confront a senator about his disparaging comments directed at the House.

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Smitherman did the same Thursday, making his way to the House after the Senate adjourned sine die.

Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon presides over the Alabama House of Representatives. (Chip Brownlee/APR)

McCutcheon said Thursday that the bill died because the Senate abruptly adjourned Thursday night before the House could get to the bill. The speaker, who finished his second session handling the gavel, said Thursday that there was never any orchestrated effort or strategy to kill the bill.

Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, who carried the bill in the House, echoed Smitherman’s disappointment.

“That’s not generally how things are done here,” Coleman said. “Generally, the sponsors of the bills would have been told what was going to happen before we read it in the media.”

The Senate passed the bill in February. It would have defined racial profiling, prohibited law enforcement officers from engaging in it and required law enforcement agencies to track the race of those pulled over for traffic stops. Agencies would have also needed to adopt written policies.

“Everything that they asked to put in this bill, we compromised,” Smitherman said.

Local police departments, county sheriffs and ALEA would have been directed to file annual reports with the Attorney General’s Office from a complaint system created to allow for individuals to submit suspected instances of racial profiling.

“We don’t have a way right now to log every single stop. We don’t have that anywhere. So say if someone feels as if they were racially profiled, where is the data that is going to back that up,” Coleman said.

Agencies already submit reports about their traffic stops but will now need to include the race, ethnicity, color, gender and age of those stopped and the same statistics for the officer who performed the stop. The hope was that the statistics would allow the state to identify if there’s a problem and in which agencies and departments.

Officers are already required to collect racial data in arrests and citations.

Coleman said there seemed to be a concerted effort in the House to kill the bill.

“We had promises over and over again, and the only thing we can go on here is someone else’s word,” Coleman said. “Of course things happen, delays happen, but that bill could have come up on a previous special order and we would have had time to hear that bill yesterday.”

Opponents of the bill have said it would burden law enforcement officers in the field.

Smitherman and Coleman said they plan to refile the bill next year and have higher hopes that the bill will pass outside of an election year.

“In this situation, the necessary courage to just bring it forth did not prevail in the House,” Smitherman said. “I think once you get new leadership, in some areas, that will allow that to take place.”

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Health

Birmingham’s mask ordinance to expire Friday

Eddie Burkhalter

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Birmingham’s ordinance requiring citizens to wear masks while in public is set to expire Friday. 

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin in a statement Tuesday cautioned the public against letting their guard down, however, and said despite the expiration of the ordinance, the public should continue to wear masks while out to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

“The City of Birmingham implemented the mandatory face covering ordinance as an additional level of protection as the state began the phased re-opening process. I want to thank the people of Birmingham for following the law. The ordinance raised the level of awareness to the importance of wearing a face covering when in public and within six feet of other people,” Woodfin said in the statement. “While the ordinance is set to expire on Friday, we must not let our guard down. Public health leaders say covering your nose and mouth is a critical tool to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. I urge everyone to keep social distancing, wear face coverings in public, and do what you can to limit the spread.” 

City employees and guests to city facilities will still be required to wear face coverings after the ordinance expires Friday, according to Woodfin’s statement.

The Birmingham City Council, with one dissenting vote, approved the ordinance on April 28  requiring the wearing of masks while in public, which went into effect May 1. Failure to comply with the ordinance could result in a fine of up to $500 and/or 30 days in city jail. Failure to comply with the ordinance could result in a fine of up to $500 and/or 30 days in city jail. 

The ordinance had been set to expire May 15, but City Council members later agreed to extend the measure until May 29. 

The Birmingham City Council’s decision to require the wearing of masks came after Gov. Kay Ivey replaced her “stay-at-home” order with a less restrictive “safer-at-home” order, which allowed some businesses to reopen with social-distancing restrictions.

The number of new confirmed cases of coronavirus across Alabama last week was higher than during any other week since the pandemic began and increase faster than in 46 other states and the District of Columbia, according to an APR analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that, because of the virus’s approximately two-week incubation period when a person could have coronavirus but show no symptoms, people should practice social distancing by keeping 6 feet from others and wear face masks while in public.

Doing so not only helps protect the wearer of the mask, but also all those around them. 

“It is critical to emphasize that maintaining 6-feet social distancing remains important to slowing the spread of the virus,” the CDC’s website states.  “CDC is additionally advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.”

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Economy

Ag commissioner concerned about collapsing beef prices

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Rick Pate (R) is concerned about dropping cattle prices and the impact that that is having on Alabama’s farmers and ranchers.

“We have been very dialed into the crisis Alabama Cattle Producers are up against,” Pate told the Alabama Political Reporter. “We will continue to closely monitor this dire situation and the market impact it is having on Alabama’s cattle farmers . . . as well as consumers.”

“After I was contacted by a number of Alabama’s stockyards and Cattle producers expressing concern with regards to market inconsistencies and increased consumer prices…… I wrote a letter to Senators Shelby and Jones requesting that they join in on a push for an investigation of the meat packing industry,” Pate said. “I am encouraged by the support we are getting from both Jones and Shelby. It’s also great to see Alabama Producers joining in together in an effort to formulate a strategy to address the current situation.”

Commissioner Pate shared the April 6 letter.

“Over the last five days, I have been contacted by many stockyards and cattle producers concerning the seemingly inconsistent drastic reduction in futures prices for cattle while at the same time consumers are purchasing more beef at grocery stores than at any time in recent memory and at the same time grocery store shelves are empty of beef,” Pate wrote the Senators. “There is concern from many in the cattle industry that the large meat packing companies are manipulating markets to put cattle produces and local stockyards at a disadvantage during a national crisis. Due to depressed cattle prices and uncertainty over cattle prices multiple stockyards will not conduct business this week.”

“I understands that Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mike Rounds of South Dakota have recently asked the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies to investigate whether the large packing companies are manipulating beef markets to fix prices at a level that negatively impacts beef producers,” Pate wrote. “I urge you to join your fellow senators in calling for this investigation to make certain that Alabama cattle producers are not suffering from artificially low beef prices.”

COVID-19 has impacted many areas of our lives. That includes at the grocery store where selection of beef, pork, and chicken products can be a hit and miss proposition for shoppers due to hoarders and to less cattle, hogs, and chicken being killed because of slaughterhouses suffering high absenteeism due to COVID-19. The big four major packers: Tyson Foods, Cargill/Excel, J.B.S. Swift, and National Beef process over 80 percent of the cattle. When their daily productions dropped there was an oversized effect on cash and futures markets, because of the lack of competition and because 70 percent of the cattle they process are forward contracted. If a feedlot was not forward contracted they often could not sell their cattle at any price.

The spot market or cash market generally determines live cattle prices. Some in the industry have accused the big four meatpackers of engaging in an “allied strategy” to manipulate the spot market so that the four major companies can profit at the expense of farmers and ranchers.

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Sen. Grassley praised President Donald J. Trump’s recent call for an investigation into possible anticompetitive behavior in the beef industry. Last month, Grassley lodged a similar request with the Departments of Justice and Agriculture.

“While consumers are facing record-level prices at the meat counter, America’s Beef producers are being forced to sell their cattle to meatpackers at a loss, if they can sell them at all,” Sen. Grassley said. “Consolidation in the meatpacking industry has exacerbated the market pain on both sides of the supply chain, and producers and consumers need to know whether unfair business practices by packers are to blame.”

“I’ve called on the Trump administration to look into unfair or anticompetitive practices and I’m grateful that President Trump has made this issue a priority,” Grassley added. “USDA is looking into unfair pricing practices. DOJ must also examine if any collusion within the packing industry has taken place in violation of our antitrust laws.”

Grassley has long raised concerns about consolidation in the meatpacking industry and pressed USDA to protect independent producers.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recently called for an investigation into the business practices that lead to unfair marketplace for beef producers. R-CALF filed suit against the Big Four packers last year alleging that the four companies are engaging in an “allied strategy” in defiance of U.S. anti-trust law.

Rick Pate is a cattle rancher in Lowndes County. The Pate family has raised Charolais beef cattle in Alabama for decades.

(Original writing and research by Montgomery area writer Amy McGhee contributed to this report. McGhee’s parents have a Black Angus beef cattle farm in Tennessee.)

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Elections

Sessions, Tuberville build campaign war chests headed toward runoff

Brandon Moseley

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Former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) is running in the July 14 Republican Party primary runoff against former Auburn head football Coach Tommy Tuberville. Both turned in Federal Elections Commission reports showing campaign activity through the end of April when Alabamians were still under shelter in place orders to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Sessions was able to transfer over his previous campaign account and he has slightly more cash on hand than Tuberville, but Tuberville had the most votes in the March 3 Republican primary and has led throughout in most of the polling.

Former Auburn football Coach Tommy Tuberville in his filling with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) reports that the campaign has collected total contributions of $2,299,292.20. Tuberville has loaned his campaign $1,000,000. The campaign reports operating expenditures of $2,074,302.74 and has refunded $15,525 in contributions to individuals. Tuberville has repaid $750,000 of the loan that he made to himself. His campaign reports other disbursements of $1,000. .

The Tuberville campaign is reporting a cash balance of $458,819.40 with debts and loans owed by the committee of $393,043.23.

Tuberville’s largest contributors include: Terry Young of Birmingham, AL $10,000. He is the CEO of Southern Risk Services. Douglas Gowland of Gates Hills, Ohio $10,000. He is retired. Stiles Killett of Atlanta, Georgia $10,000. He is the Chairman of Killett Investment Corporation. Marcus Calloway of Atlanta, GA $10,000. He is self employed real estate attorney. Connie Neville of King’s Hill, Virginia $8,400. Connie is a self employed designer. William Neville of King’s Hill, VA $8,400. He is a manager with U.S. Viking. Sandra Hicks of Rainsville, AL $8,000. Sandra is a homemaker. Dennis Hicks of Rainsville, AL $8,000. Dennis is the CEO of Colormaster. M.S. Properties LLC of Wellington, AL $7500. Austin Brooks of Vestavia Hills, AL $6,400. Brooks is a senior associate with Highpoint Holdings.

Jefferson Beauregard “Jeff” Sessions III reported total receipts of just $1,740,194.28. Of that $1,619,657.39 came from contributions. Sessions’ total individual contributions were $1,237,923.39. Sessions also raised $381,73 from other campaign committees. Sessions reported other receipts of $114,759.89. Sessions had total disbursements of $3,815,148.56 of which $3,709,022.56 were operating expenses. The Sessions’ campaign reports ending cash on hand of $749,235.59.

Sessions has received a number of contributions through the WinRed platform. WinRed is an American Republican Party (GOP) fundraising platform endorsed by the Republican National Committee and President Donald Trump. It was launched to compete with Democrat’s success in online grassroots fundraising with their platform ActBlue. Contributors to the Sessions campaign include: Scott Forney of San Diego, California $5,600. He is the President of General Atomics. John Gearon Jr. of Atlanta, GA $2,800. John is an executive with the Gearson Foundation. Jean Penney $2,600 of Gurley, AL is retired. Steven Thornton $7,600 of Huntsville is the CEO of Monte Sano Research. Susan Braden of Washington D.C. $2 800 is retired. Betty Ann Stedman $5,600 of Houston, TX is an investor. Hans Luquire $5,000 of Montgomery, AL is self employed in the HVAC business. Dr. Carl Gessler Jr. $2600 of Huntsville, AL is a heart specialist. Samuel Zell $2,800 of Chicago, IL is the Chairman of Equity International. Leon Edwards $2,800 of Mountain Brook, AL is the owner of Edwards Chevrolet.

The Alabama Republican Party primary runoff was originally scheduled for March 31, but was moved to July 14 due to fears of the spread of the coronavirus.

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The winner of the Republican primary runoff will have just a few short months before going up against incumbent Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) in the November 3 general election.

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Congress

Roby: Applications for farmers to sign up for food assistance program open today

Brandon Moseley

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Monday, Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) sent an email to constituents with a link on how farmers and ranchers can sign up for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program which opens today.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last week released details on the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) for farmers, ranchers, and producers affected by COVID-19,” Rep. Roby wrote. “Applications open on May 26 and will be accepted at USDA Farm Service Agency offices through August 28.”

You can learn more about CFAP here.

According to USDA, the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, or CFAP, provides vital financial assistance to producers of agricultural commodities who have suffered a five-percent-or-greater price decline or who had losses due to market supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19 and face additional significant market costs.

Eligible commodities include: malting barley, canola, corn, upland cotton, millet, oats, soybeans, sorghum, sunflowers, durum wheat, hard red spring wheat, wool, cattle, hogs, and sheep (lambs and yearlings only), dairy, apples, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, kiwifruit, lemons, oranges, papaya, peaches, pears, raspberries, strawberries, tangerines, tomatoes, watermelons, artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, sweet corn, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, dry onions, green onions, peppers, potatoes, rhubarb, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, taro, almonds, pecans, walnuts, beans, and mushrooms.

Alabama farmers hard hit by low commodity prices and market disruption caused by COVID-19 may apply beginning today.

Alabama Farmers Federation National Affairs Director Mitt Walker said farmers have eagerly anticipated the details of the CFAP since President Donald Trump and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the $16 billion program a month ago.

“Farmers in Alabama appreciate President Trump, USDA Secretary Perdue and Congress for recognizing the detrimental impact COVD-19 has had on the industry,” Walker said. “Securing our nation’s food supply is critical, and unfortunately, the virus has dealt our farmers another blow when many were already having a tough time making ends meet.”

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Walker said the Alabama Farmers Federation staff have already begun looking over the final rules and will work closely with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to assist farmers in applying for these funds.

CFAP will provide up to $16 billion in direct payments to deliver relief to farmers and ranchers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Pres. Trump and Secretary Perdue unveiled the program during a press briefing at the White House, accompanied by farmers including American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Zippy Duvall.

“I want to begin by expressing our profound gratitude to everyone here today and the farmers and producers across the country who have kept our nation fed and nourished as we have battled the invisible enemy,” the President said. “Now, we are standing strong with our farmers and ranchers once again. In normal times, roughly about 40% of fresh vegetables and about 40% of beef grown and raised in the United States is distributed to restaurants and other commercial food establishments. But as you know, the virus has forced many of our nation’s restaurants to temporarily close, and this has taken a major toll on our farmers and growers. For this reason, my administration is launching a sweeping new initiative, the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.”

You can read more about program specifics at the Alabama Farmers Federation site.

Congresswoman Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She is serving in her fifth term and will retire at the end of this year.

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